Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

The kid’s rapping to music from his dad’s cell phone speakers. To the tinny report of beats and melody, the kid delivers resounding rhymes. He sits on a subway car bench. His diminutive legs don’t even come close to touching the floor, so they dangle, swinging back and forth to his voice’s rhythm. His dad and mom, and a sister who’s smiling, all move their heads and shoulders to the lead of this little emcee.
At the 95 Street stop I exit the station. The first thing I see is a landmark visible from most streets and corners of Bay Ridge: The majestic Verrazano Narrows Bridge looms above, a blue-steel harbinger of this southern end of Brooklyn.

I’ve got a friend who lives in Bay Ridge. I stop by his house, and he says he’ll join me, but only after a hefty portion of chips and salsa (this is Costco-size stuff, keep in mind).
We’re walking down Fort Hamilton Parkway when a Ferrari zooms by. I associate Ferraris with the more obviously affluent sections of the city (if any sections at all), and Bay Ridge isn’t in this group. My friend says he’s not surprised, there’s a “culture of expensive automobiles” in these parts.
Again the Verrazano commands the area, presiding authoritatively over the neighborhood. We pass the functioning Fort Hamilton of the US Army, situated at the base of the bridge where it begins to slope upward on its path into Staten Island.
We wander north on Third Avenue—into the 80s, the 70s, the 60s. Two incorrigible tikes on trikes nearly collide with us before they veer expertly around and down a side street. Many shops have signs in Arabic. Many bodegas and restaurants advertise a healthy stock of Middle-Eastern food.
Soon we come back south.

Hungry, we stroll into King Falafel on Third Avenue. We both order the falafel pita sandwich. Not only is it delicious, but we especially like the flat—rather than round—falafel. A man walks in and talks a minute with a cook behind the counter. We figure he’s a familiar patron because he’s invited to sit in the empty, unlit back seating area. As he sits, the lights turn on. He’s offered a grape leaf free of charge as he looks at the menu. Some admirable hospitality at King Falafel.

Then we’re back at my friend’s place. His second-storey apartment has a terrace, and we lounge outside playing old American spirituals and folk songs and some blues, too. A little kid in a blue shirt looks up longingly from the street. When I see him he jumps and darts away. A few minutes later, he’s back. I look down at him. Maybe he enjoys the music. When he sees me looking, again he nervously scuttles away. He returns three or four times. Picking on the guitar, I look down toward him each time. And each time he hurries away.

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