Tuesday, June 10, 2014

LEFFERTS GARDENS

The neighborhood behind the house was called Lefferts Gardens.  It used to be part of Flatbush, but the realtors carved up Brooklyn into ever smaller neighborhoods because they could only gentrify so much at a time.

In this part of Brooklyn, like most others, there were lots of row houses and pre-war apartment buildings (this term is used to delineate apartments built before World War II. They have bigger rooms, bigger casement windows, solid wood doors and oak floors.

Originally settled by Native Americans, then the Dutch, this area had also been an Italian and Jewish neighborhood where Rudy Guliani, Barbra Streisand, and Lanie Kazan grew up.  When I moved there, it was 90% black - populated African Americans and Caribbean and African immigrants.

It was kind of “me and them” at first  A few times I got called derogatory names, usually preceded by the word “white,” until I finally explained that no one had to tell me that because I already knew I was white.  I was sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb white.  Everyone settled down after a while, or maybe it was just me.  

I found that young black men were the most polite and respectful people I ever met in any part of Brooklyn, or Manhattan either for that matter..  The subway clerks, behind those bulletproof glass windows, set the tone for rudeness in the City or anywhere in the world in my opinion.  And the Brooklyn US Postal employees (also behind bulletproof glass) can be distinctly rude.  But I digress.

The sidewalks were crowded and people in that neighborhood liked to walk side by side with their friends – stretching five or six people across  – so that sometimes I had to step into the street to get around.  The streets were very dirty and noisy, too, because a lot of the stores played music for their customers and some stores sold music and were particularly loud.  When I say stores, some of these places were 4 feet wide and 6 or 8 feet deep – like a walk-in closet. 

The roads were not what you would find in Manhattan.  Some potholes were the size of a bathtub and half as deep.  Bad news if you are on a bike.  And the tar in the streets was melted and pushed into waves in the street.  There were “gypsy cabs” – these were private cars and vans that had not obtained a hack license from the city.  They transported people around the neighborhood and people recognized and flagged them down. 

There were also disguised police vehicles – beat-up vans or old Toyotas with mismatched doors.  I’d be at a corner waiting for the signal to change and all of a sudden one of those crappy looking vehicles would pull out a flashing cherry light, hit the hammer (siren), and take off after someone.  It was funny.

Most of the stores were built into the ground floor of old houses that you wouldn’t even notice if you weren’t looking.  The two upper floors were rented out as apartments or used for storage and some of them still had the painted brick advertisements from the 1950s.  To me, Flatbush Avenue was for exploring history and architecture, but not the best place for that in Brooklyn.


Post by Alana Cash

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