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Alfred Gingold

Alfred Gingold

Posted: August 21, 2009 01:18 PM

Thy Neighbor's Ass


Last month marked the twentieth anniversary of my family's move to our current address, so I've been thinking about my neighborhood and the whole idea of neighborhood, at no time more strongly than a couple of Saturday morning's ago, when I was walking home with George from his off-leash hour in Prospect Park. At the top of the block I noticed one of my neighbors, a man who lives eight or ten houses up from me, retrieving his garbage can from between two parked cars, where it had been left by the sanitation guys. My neighbor was wearing a t-shirt and the hand that was not holding the garbage can, which he cupped demurely over his front bits. He wore nothing else, naught, nada, zip, gornisht - a backside outside in the morning breeze. It's only witnesses besides me seemed to be the fellow's wife, who stood in a bathrobe at the top of their stoop, smiling, and the petite lady of the house next door, who was sweeping the sidewalk in front of her house, her eyes fiercely focused on her broom. George and I walked by, and I said "Quite a way to begin the day," with perhaps a shade too much pep. She nodded as she swept.

It's things like the unexpected appearance of my neighbor's ass that remind me that no matter how gentrified Park Slope gets, it's still Brooklyn. Manhattan may have the flash, the glamor and location, location, location, but for deep dish, dyed in the wool eccentricity, you've got to come to Brooklyn.

I speak as a long-time resident, though hardly a pioneer. By 1989, Park Slope was widely thought to be Over, the bargains gone, the discreet charms of the neighborhood growing more bourgeois by the minute. The main drag, Seventh Avenue, had a Benetton and two restaurants with tablecloths - but it also had shoe repair shops, butchers, bodegas and dark bars specializing in shots and beers for a hardscrabble, beefily forearmed clientele. The bars had names like Mooney's, Minsky's and Snooky's; some of them had no names at all.

We've come a long way since then. There are no cobblers or butchers on Seventh anymore, and your best bet for a boiler-maker is probably Farrell's in Windsor Terrace. On the other hand, if by "brewski" you mean coffee, Seventh Avenue can accommodate you many times over, likewise if you're looking for a new cell phone, a manicure or a refi.

Not that the path of gentrification has been smooth or direct. For a while, there was a store around the corner that sold fried ravioli -- just fried ravioli. The place didn't make it, but not for lack of free samples; indeed, the samples may have been part of the problem. Still, the ravioli place lasted longer than the Benetton did. Today, someone sells custom-made makeup out of the same space. When the white tablecloth restaurant that replaced Snooky's closed recently, there were local murmurs about retribution and karma. There is resistance to the nabe getting too high-toned.

I don't think there's much to worry about, not so long as we have folks like my drawer-dropping neighbor, or the Cat Lady across the street or the Sweeper or Opera Man, a plumpish gent who strolls the streets giving forth with song in a manner reminiscent of Adam Sandler's SNL character, only not so charming. There's no telling when Opera Man's countertenor stylings will assail the ear: perhaps when you're trying to read the paper, perhaps when you're in bed waiting for the Ambien to kick in. My wife believes he must be a professional singer, whereas I think he's simply a lunatic with pipes. If I'm walking George and we pass Opera Man in mid-aria, he -- that is, George -- growls, because he knows passive aggression when he smells it. I sympathize, but hold the leash tightly. After all, it's his nabe too, I assume. This is Brooklyn, where the weirdos are more than part of the passing parade; they live here.