Monday, December 1, 2014

Knowing Me ... Knowing Brooklyn ...

"Dere’s no guy livin’ dat knows Brooklyn t’roo an’ t’roo, because it’d take a guy a lifetime just to find his way aroun’ duh goddam town." -- Thomas Wolfe, Only The Dead Know Brooklyn 
Brooklyn has always been a special place. In the greatest city in the world, Brooklyn has an identity all its own -- the New York within New York. Brooklyn obnoxiously "does its own thing" in a city where doing your own thing and being obnoxious reigns supreme. Brooklyn is an odd place, too. Consider ... 

How many places can claim to have been a city? Then a borough? Then a Brand?

How many places have produced both Supreme Courst Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Jay Z?

 How many places in NYC can claim to have a park that's even better than Central Park?
If New York City was a rock group, Manhattan would be the lead singer and Brooklyn would be the lead guitarist with mystique -- Manhattan is Mick, Brooklyn is Keith (everybody likes and respects Mick but everybody just loves "Keef"). I guess, taking this scenario to its logical conclusion, the Bronx would bass, Staten Island would be keyboards, and Queens would be the drummer.

 What is it about Brooklyn then that makes it so special? It's hard to say. It's something ineffable, elusive but ... it's there ...   

Perhaps, because, if you aren't a hardboiled native like Wolfe's character, then you can become one. Brooklyn invites all. It's a land of immigrants -- whether it is young hipsters coming in from around the country (think Girls) or foreigners coming to America (think ... uh ... I'll get back to you on that). 

For me, Brooklyn is personal. Both of my maternal grandparents were from Brooklyn, children of immigrants. My grandfather was born in the City of Brooklyn in 1895 and was part of the Brooklyn regiment in WWI. Who I am, for better or worse, it because of Brooklyn. To know me, you need to know the history of Brooklyn and what it means, not just to NYC, but to America and the world.

But that was then. Brooklyn used to be a refuge for the tired, poor, huddled masses earning to be free, the wretched refuse cast upon the teeming shore of the New World. Now it's a place for million dollar glass highrise condos. Lots and lots of condos. 

Of course, Brooklyn is more now than just a place to live -- it's a lifestyle. Heck, Brooklyn has gone international! Go to Europe today and stores and stuff there are all being labeled "Brooklyn" this or that in order to show their "cred." Brooklyn is beyond cool. It's practically redefining the planet.

And yet ... as the glass condos rise ever higher into the Brooklyn sky, taking real estate prices with them, and as the immigrants and hipsters to pour in, making it ever more diverse and cool -- that old world Brooklyn, the "Brooklyn before the Brand", still exists. It exists underground, in the many graveyards of the borough, where the Brooklynites of lore sleep in their eternal rest: Leonard Bernstein, Horace Greeley, FAO Schwartz, John Matthews "the Soda Fountain King", and many others (including my grandparents). There they lie ... gone but never forgotten.

So to know Brooklyn is to know it's people -- past and present. Only then will we know its future. 

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