This morning at about 8 a.m., I set out on a long walk where my goal was to see the place I lived in Park Slope for 2 years before I moved to Madison in 1984. I'd lived in 4 other places in New York City before that: East 91st Street, East 85 Street, Jane Street, and Washington Square Village. Every single one of those places was a 2 year lease, so that was 10 years in New York, with the last 2 years in Brooklyn, on 3rd Street.
I wanted to start out walking south on Smith Street, because readers keep writing in the comments that I will probably like Smith Street. And they were right. I did like Smith Street. (Smith Street was named after Samuel Smith, who had a big farm centered at what is now the intersection of Smith and Livingston and who was mayor of Brooklyn for a short time in 1850. Source: "Brooklyn By Name.")
I found a nice café, where I sat by a window, ate some eggs -- not cold eggs, scrambled eggs, with salmon -- and picked up some WiFi:
Café LULUc. Where they serve delicious french fries with their eggs.
There were lots of other interesting looking places, like Stinky Brooklyn (a cheese store):
Now, Smith intersects with 3rd Street, so that looked simple enough, and I knew there was the issue of getting over the Gowanus Canal. You can't just walk down any street going east around there. You need a bridge over the canal. But 3rd Street, I knew, had a bridge, and I was just hoping the area wouldn't be too dicey. The fact is, it did scare me a little. There was that abandoned handbag near the "hazmat trained only personnel" sign:
And then the canal itself:
It's creepy. The canal was once a creek, Gowanus Creek, named after what "Brooklyn by Name" calls the "Canarsee sachem Gowane," that is the leader of the Carnarsee Indians named Gowane. There were Indians here once, and that oily horror was a creek. The creek was widened into a canal, and industrial development followed.
I walked quickly, across numbered avenues, beginning with 3rd Avenue, toward my goal just east of 7th Avenue. There were only a couple blocks that made me nervous. That block between 4th and 5th Avenues brought back a strange memory. We were driving home one night and the instant we entered that block the police put up a barricade behind us. In front, there were police cars everywhere and cops -- did I see guns? -- squatting for protection behind opened car doors. What were we supposed to do? We kept driving. There's always another block to get to.
Crossing 7th Avenue felt like walking into the past. The trees were so heavily overgrown. Maples, making the street a dark tunnel. A dark tunnel into the past -- more unsettling than the Gowanus Canal.
Which building did we live in? It was one of the first few brownstones on the north side of the street, but which one? They look nearly alike. I looked at the gates, which have different designs, and thought that when I saw the right one the memory of it would light up my brain. We lived on the ground floor -- or I should say the below-ground floor, because the window sills were at ground level. That meant we looked out at that wrought iron gate constantly. Shouldn't I recognize the one that I gazed at for 2 years?
No. No memory flashes. I kept walking up the street, toward Prospect Park. (Named after Mount Prospect, which is now the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Eastern Parkway, but was a strategic outlook -- a prospect -- for our soldiers in the Revolutionary War.) A quarter century ago I walked these two blocks toward the park a hundred times, with two young boys and a husband. See that bench by the 3rd Street entrance to the park?
A big family drama took place there. Where does ours rank on the list of thousands of human dramas that have taken place there?
I decided to walk down 2nd Street, back to 7th Avenue and then walk north on 7th Avenue, which was my long walk to the subway to go to work (at a Wall Street law firm). I wanted to see how it had changed in all these years. Had it become as posh as I've gotten the feeling it has when, living in Madison, Wisconsin, I read in the New York Times about life in Park Slope? (Answer: No!)
As I walked toward 7th Avenue, I saw this:
I know that little building! It wasn't blue 25 years ago. And it wasn't called Two Boots. Nor did it have an alligator out front for my kids to beg to ride. But I knew that stumpy building. It had a big noisy ventilation fan on the roof that undercut the pleasure of hanging out in our backyard (like this).
So let's count the paces from here to 7th Avenue, walk back to 3rd Street and count out the same number (35), and then, here it is:
This is it. Past arrived at. But it's closed up, shut off to me now. I can only weakly replay the mental pictures of the things that went on in those years, when we were all so young.