It was very agreeable to stroll around Bushwick, Brooklyn on Sunday; the weather golden and sunny for the few hours of daylight that December allows us. They say we’re going to get a foot of snow dumped on us in a couple of days, but with all these people milling around with their jackets unzipped, buying fruits on the corner of foot-long sausages off the grill or scrubbing their cars by the fire hydrant and chatting colorfully with each other in the fresh cool/warm breeze, you wouldn’t guess it. Tell the blooming rose bushes that it’s winter. The many closed restaurants and stores due to Covid-19 restrictions mean that many of us are now flushed outside and talking to each other, or stuck inside our homes and talking to ourselves.
It was gratifying to see that Maria Hernandez park is so uniquely lively in the way that New York reliably blends many cultures and languages so effortlessly. Artificially constructed prohibitions between cultures are actively torn down in this city of hundreds of languages, and we’re proud of this social experiment that succeeds, again and again, disproving xenophobes worldwide. I watched some volleyball games with Mexicans and enjoyed seeing runners, teenaged soccer teams, meandering walkers, angling skateboarders, impatient kids skipping ahead of moms and dads, and self-conscious hipsters picnicking in the dappled grass beneath leafless trees.
I sat on a park bench struggling to eat with a small plastic fork from the container of Mexican-deli breakfast (yellow rice, black beans, scrambled eggs with jalapenos, and four tortillas in tin foil). I gently fended off an interested family dog who wanted to put his nose on the plate and I sportingly watched the attempted volleyball games in front of me – not much volley and a lot of laughter from participants who spent half the time explaining the rules and the other half chasing a runaway ball across the grass.
After I finished my late breakfast I might have stayed a little longer on the bench and stared into the sky aimlessly in reverie but this Russian guy named Peter on the next bench engaged me with a discussion about the volleyball game and the poor skills of the family who were playing. He quickly turned the volleyball conversation to some of his favored topics such as how his wife stole thousands of dollars from him by purchasing clothing at Century 21 for discounted prices. She cut the bottom off the price tag so it only had the original high price – and he would give her too much money. He said that she sent the money to her relatives in Russia, who are all lazy and do nothing. He also revealed that all the women teach each other these tricks so I should be careful.
Other topics from Peter included how many people on welfare are drunks, how he drove a taxi for 30 years and he learned to piss in a bottle because there aren’t enough public bathrooms. He also taught me that people are more likely to give taxi drivers a $20 bill in the morning than in the afternoon and that black people are the most likely to get out of the car and run without paying. Although, he said, one time a black guy gave him double the fare because he could tell that Peter was having a very bad day.
You may have noticed that many art-school 20-somethings are wearing non-fashion fashion; cutting their pant-legs three inches too short and plodding along ironically in clunky shoes or white sneakers. I’m sure it’s all very clever but they don’t really seem like “hipsters” to tell the truth; a little conformist in their non-conformity. But that’s probably me and my projections. Compared to the hyper-gentrified areas like Williamsburg in 2020 Bushwick still feels more genuine, more human – full of old-timers and characters and eclectic patches of community.
One newly coalescing “church” of about 30 people in a rented office space on the ground floor was spilling out onto the sidewalk Sunday – due to the raucous and enthusiastic live band. The choir of singers was using that gospel feature of phrase repetition to work the clapping-dancing congregation into a frenzy and it was definitely working. I felt a rush of euphoria and was inspired by the volume and energy and smiles through the clear glass modernist windows.
With slightly different religious enthusiasm I also am drawn like a magnet to 99-cent stores, with their befuddling eclectic possibilities and home adornments I didn’t realize I need. There are still a few walk-in, rag-tag art galleries with unframed art hung from little binder-clips, but truthfully I’m also drawn to people selling their wares on folding tables on the sidewalk – like arrangements of all the plastic lambs and cows and chickens that you will need to assemble your home nativity scene. Naturally, a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe will complete your display.
I don’t like to see so many people looking like they are struggling, and there are greater numbers who appear like they are barely scraping by. New York has lost many jobs and the government is not helping to meet the need, regardless of which party is in office. That number of desperate people looks like it is growing and I saw numerous people opening recycling bags on the sidewalks to collect returnable cans, and perhaps four or five people asked me for money while I was walking.
Another church, St Joseph Patron Roman Catholic Church, was very friendly and the parishioners seemed dedicated to it, greeting each other before the service inside the vestibule. The heavy wooden front doors were wide open possibly to allow fresh air to flow and a nervous pre-teen rushed past me in his embroidered brown vest that said, “Usher”. Church ladies and men were selling religious-themed artifacts (laser engraved wooden crosses, for example) on the sidewalk in front of the church and at another table, they were serving food from aluminum trays with long-handled spoons onto paper plates to people who were not part of the church, who walked down the sidewalk with a plate of food.
I’m always in love with New York, except when I hate it. I don’t know what I expected from this Sunday walk, but as usual, I felt deeply grateful for so many beautiful scenes and people and discoveries. Art on the streets is everywhere I look.
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