Stranger in a Strange Land


Posted on April 21st, by James McAllen in Uncategorized. 1 Comment

Let me first dispense with the formalities –

The book is done.
Kinda.

The first draft is complete, and now it just needs a period of incubation before I give it a polish.
The only problem is, I can’t leave it alone. I keep going back and tweaking it, rather than giving it time to breathe.
Today was the first day that I left it completely alone.
I hope.
It’s only 3:30.

Secondly, winter if officially over.

I know that it’s been over for a month, but I really haven’t been able to fully enjoy one day of spring yet. The past few months have been dark, and dreary weather wise, and busy as hell otherwise. I’ve been all about getting on with my life and my family, and spending all my free time writing. I haven’t done a walkabout since before Christmas, which incidently was the last time I wrote a blog.

Today, that changed.

Normally, I pick a part of the city that I never really explored, and then set off in search of adventure. Today I decided to stay a little closer to home. I went to that forbidden zone on the north side of the BQE.

Williamsburg.

Land of the skinny jeans and micro-brews and wool hats in the summer.

I always knew of Williamsburg, we just never went there. There was no reason to, there wasn’t anything there. It wasn’t Manhattan. It wasn’t Coney Island, and it wasn’t the Bronx. Williamsburg was the place where they dumped the bodies.

I was going to jump on the train, but to get to Williamsburg by train from my neck of the woods, you kinda have to go to the city first. Unless you want to take the G. No one likes the G train. In 50 years, I’ve never taken the G.

The BQE is packed, so I make my way through the streets, which isn’t as terrible as I thought it would be, but when I get over to Metropolitian Ave, I can’t park. Anywhere. From North 10th to South 5th street. Nothing. I spend 25 minutes cursing my decision before I get lucky and someone pulls out in front of me on Bedford Ave. You’d have an easier time getting a spot in midtown at noon.

I wander around down near the waterfront. There is new construction going on everywhere. It’s loud and it’s annoying. I’m still cranky from looking for parking, and the banging of the pile driver isn’t helping matters.

I decide to take a walk on the Williamsburg bridge. Of all the bridges in NY, the Williamsburg is the ugliest. It looks like a kid did it with an erector set.┬áDespite the traffic and the trains, it’s rather peaceful. Joggers on one side, bikes on the other, and one middle-aged weirdo with a camera wandering around in between. I take a few photos and head back. I have no desire to be in Mahattan today. It’s strictly Kings County.

I walk up Bedford Ave. The streets become more and more crowded as I make my way north. There are lots of cafes and tiny eateries along Beford. At one point, there was a Thai restaurant, next to Thai cafe next to another Thai fusion joint.

I shit you not.

The people all seem happy and friendly, but to me, it’s obvious that they aren’t from here. They aren’t from anywhere. They seem to all have just materialized here in Brooklyn. Every one looks out of place. Especially me. I feel so out of sorts.

When I was a kid, my aunt told me that the Village was a place where anyone who felt like they didn’t belong could go and fit right in. That’s what I always loved about the city. This place isn’t like that. It feels totally artificial.

And to top it off. The women are all ugly. Body hair is cultivated down here. These broads braid their arm-pits.
And every man has a beard. A long beard. I want to scream “Shave your fucking faces!” but then it hits me.
I have a beard.
But my beard is different.
It has a purpose.
To cover up my fat face.
I decide to let it go.

I wander into a cafe on North 9th street and take a table outside. I imagine that I’m a tourist in some strange city, which essentially, I am. I’m drinking unsweetend Ice Tea and eating a chicken quesadilla when I get the news that Prince has died. I’m not sure how to feel. I mean, the guy was brilliant, and those three or four records in the 80’s were simply amazing, but for the last 20 years it seemed like the dude was more interested in denying the world his talent, rather than sharing it. There was that whole era with the symbol, and Slave written on his face, and then recently the nonsense with having all his music removed from public sites. Still, 57 is still way to early to go.

Within minutes, everyone in the cafe is on their phones, sharing the news. I can hear the whispers of “I can’t beleive it”. A car rolls by with “When Doves Cry” blaring from the stereo. I know we’re going to be inundated for the next few days. It’s cool. I haven’t heard “Take me with you” in a while. Me and the wife love that song.

After lunch, I head back towards the waterfront. There’s a pier with some amazing views of the city. I stop for a while. On the waterfront, there are 4 or 5 brand new high-rise buildings going up; 30, 40 stories.
That isn’t Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is brownstones and 4th floor walkups. Brooklyn is railroad apartments over a delicatessen.

I’m itiching to get back to Bay Ridge. Except, I don’t live in Bay Ridge anymore. I live in Dyker. The other side of the Gowanus. I like my house, and I love my roommates, but once I step outside, I feel a little lost. I miss 3rd avenue. I miss the vibrancy and the energy, but when I go there now, it’s not the same. It’s not the place I grew up in. Only Owl’s Head Park provides me with refuge. She’s never changed.

Brooklyn has always been the greatest place on earth, but it’s always been the people that made it great.
Or was it Brooklyn that made the people great?

The greatest football coach was from Brooklyn, as was the greatest basketball coach. The greatest major league pitcher was from Brooklyn, as was the greatest basketball player. (MJ was born in BK. You can look it up.)

The great one, Jackie Gleason, was from Brooklyn, as was Woody Allen and Mel Brooks.
Carl Sagan is from Brookyln, and so is Milton Friedman, and Lou Ferrigno, and David Geffen and Lena Horne.

The Three friggin Stooges are from Brooklyn.

The list is endless.

The only thing Brooklyn never had, was a great Rock and Roll band.

Oh, there have been some amazing musicians and singers; Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand. Carole King and Lou Reed, and a whole host of great rappers, but there has never been a singular great band from Brooklyn NY.

Manhattan had more than it’s share of greatness. Long Island had Billy Joel an Public Enemy. Jersey had Springsteen. Even Queens had Kiss and the Ramones.

It’s the one area where Brooklyn was sorely lacking.

In my teenage dreams, I always thought it would be me. Those Rock and Roll dreams have never died. Despite the greying hair and the expanding waistline, I’m still a Rock Star once the house in empty.
I’m not sure if the neighbors like it.

I’ve always been too afraid to let those dreams die.
Maybe it’s time.

My job is moving in a few months. Up to Orangeburg NY. It’s a nice town, on the other side of the Hudson. I’m gonna make the commute for a while, but we’ll see what happens after a few months of that.

The practical part of me thinks it’s a good idea. I can get twice the house for half the money. I can get a huge yard and an in-ground pool. I can get a riding mower with all the attachments.

And I can drive four miles for a quart of milk.

And I can sit on my porch and reminisce about what a slice of pizza tastes like.

Yes, the life of a suburban house frau seems like the life for me.

Oh god, I’m gonna be sick.

The lure of the west has been calling me for a while.

When I was 15, I read a book, and saw a movie and bought a bunch of records. The singer was telling us that the west is the best. I’ve been moving to LA ever since. I’ve answered the call each of the last two summers with my partner at my side. Maybe it’s time.

I love you Brooklyn. I always have, but it seems we’ve grown apart. Was it me that changed? Or was it you? I’m not sure. Maybe we can still work it out. Maybe we just need some time apart.
A trial separation.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.





One thought on “Stranger in a Strange Land

  1. Don’t leave us! Think of the fig trees. Yeah, Williamsburgh is a little annoying. If you want a real zen walk, circumnavigate Prospect Park, about four miles, give or take. And remember, you can take the kid out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take the Brooklyn out of the kid. Great stuff (love the Doors’ reference, too)

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