When I was in my 20s, moving around from house to house, apartment to apartment, from city to city was a standard way of life. Like many people that age, I don’t think I ever lived in a single place for more than a year. 2 years spent in a single home or neighborhood was rare and by the end of that stint, the itch for a change would be overwhelming and it was time to move again. It’s really hard to fathom settling down in one place when you’re in your 20s.
This year is officially the year that we’ll call our current apartment home longer than any place either of us have lived outside of our childhood homes. We bought this apartment in 2004 and moved in the spring of 2005. We didn’t move far though. Exactly 8 blocks north in the same Park Slope neighborhood we’ve lived in for the last 11 years.
Yeah, Park Slope. Have you heard of it? It’s that neighborhood that always gets slammed by New Yorkers and other people who think they know (by NYers, fine, but by others who decide to latch on to the few ridiculous things that get magnified by the gossip blogs and message boards? Well, that’s sort of annoying), but whatever. Sure, some things about the neighborhood bugs, but what neighborhood doesn’t? NY Mag declared Park Slope the #1 neighborhood last year which probably hit the nail on the coffin as far as the neighborhood slinging goes, but perfect or not, it’s actually perfect for us and that’s the only thing that matters anyway.
As a New Yorker, I’ve lived in 3 boroughs. I grew up in Queens and spent most of my late teens, 20s, college and grad school years living in downtown Manhattan aside from the 5 years I lived in the NW. Now I call Brooklyn home, but when I was growing up in Queens, we never thought about Brooklyn at all. I don’t recall even ever going there, not even once. It just wasn’t on our radar except that it was where one of the top 3 competitive science and math high schools was located, but it was always last on everyone’s list (#1 was Stuyvesant in downtown Manhattan where my brother went, #2 Bronx Science, and #3 was always Brooklyn Tech). When you’re a kid growing up in Queens, Manhattan was the place where you planned to escape to when you turned 18 and that’s what I did. It wasn’t that I didn’t like growing up where I did (I actually loved high school), but I knew that I didn’t need to go back. So when Mark and I were looking for a bigger place in 2000 than our tiny East Village apartment that we lived in for 4 years, we knew that we would be headed to Brooklyn.
But I don’t think that I ever told you that I’ve lived in this neighborhood before. Yes, 20 years ago during my 3rd and last year of art school. I have no idea what prompted me and 2 friends to leave the East Village and move to Brooklyn. Maybe it’s because it was the East Village and it got to be too much after awhile. I’ve written a little bit about my life there before, and at some point I think I got tired of having my studio apartment on St. Marks and Ave A be the gathering point and drop in place for every squatter, hippie and vegan anarchist punk I knew. So after scouting around a few apartments in Brooklyn neighborhoods I knew nothing about (My parents thought I was crazy in the sense that if I was leaving the city, they thought I should just move back to Queens), we settled on a ground floor, floor-through apartment in a wood frame house in the South Slope. It wasn’t one of those pretty, iconic brownstones that you see in photos here, but the house was built around the turn of the century and had plenty of the same pre-war details that you see in the fancier brownstones 12 blocks north in the landmark preservation zones.
This was 1990. Park Slope back then was really nothing like it is now. I mean, a lot of the same stuff was around, but the gentrification of the neighborhood was only just beginning, but very very slowly, and that wouldn’t really blow up until the maybe 15 years later. The avenues where our home is near now were off limits to us back then. Much like we wouldn’t walk past Avenue C and D in the East Village, we never walked below 7th or 6th Avenue in the Slope. Nothing probably would have happened to us or anything, but you know, it’s not something that you did and even we, who knew nothing about Brooklyn, knew that.
Our time in Brooklyn was definitely quieter than our former East Village life, though that commute trip back home from the city on the F train to the 15th street stop in the Slope, particularly late at night, was all kinds of long. The middle school kids on our block used to throw rocks at us too whenever we turned the corner from 7th Avenue towards home. They liked to taunt us particularly when we hauled loads of laundry from the laundromat. The friends who mattered to us still made the trip out to visit us so I guess the move worked in cutting out the riffraff from our lives. We still always had a lot of people in the house though. I can still remember our landlord, who lived above us, and I wonder if he still lives in that frame house on 16th Street. Now that I’m older and a homeowner and all that adult stuff, I can appreciate how patient, and I mean REALLY patient, he was with us considering we had people staying with us all the time and late night music jams into the night several times a week. Geez. Maybe he saw his younger self in us and that’s why he didn’t complain, although I’m sure we gave him plenty of things to complain about. All I remember is that when we told him we were leaving the apartment 1 year later, he just smiled this funny smile and said nothing.
The things I remember most about my year in Park Slope was spending a lot of time in Prospect Park which was 2 blocks away, our obsession with the Eggplant and Broccoli in Garlic dish at this one Chinese joint on 7th ave, selling handmade jewelry at the same Flea Market that’s in the school yard on weekends where Mia goes to school now, and our late night craving runs driving up and down 7th Ave in a friend’s car, stopping at every deli and bodega until we were able to hunt down Tofutti cartons. I also remember the long hike up and down 7th going to and from the Food Coop from our place on 16th street. Yes, the infamous Food Coop, one of the oldest and biggest in the country, which is the brunt of so many jokes (though some of it is well deserved). It’s the only time I’ve been a member, though Mark and I go back and forth about joining all the time. Back when I joined the coop shifts were 4 hours long (4 HOURS!! As opposed to the 2.5 hrs it is today) and your shift always felt like it came much sooner than the 4 weeks in between shifts. This was before the expansion and before the coop got all big. Back then, it was pretty much 1 room and the produce was still kept in cardboard boxes that it was shipped in. It wasn’t fancy, but it was dirt cheap and being vegan college students back then, joining the Coop was a no brainer. Plus there were always interesting characters working at the Coop, just like I imagine there is now. We made friends with a very cool and precocious 12 year old kid who worked a shift at the Coop cutting cheese into small cubes. He was raised by a single mother in the neighborhood who was a practicing Wiccan and they had a cat named Hecate. It sounds totally weird, but we hung out with him a lot and he was a really cool kid. I guess being a single mother, she was ok with us stealing him away for picnics in the park and vegan dinners at our house.
When I moved to Brooklyn a second time in 2000 after I graduated from grad school, Mark and I moved to a block and house not too different from that house on 16th street that I left 10 years before. I was back living in the South Slope, but this time, below the avenues that we would never walk past in those days. Unlike some of the blocks further north that were really starting to show the signs of gentrification, our old block was still pretty old school in 2000. There were these 2 elderly sisters across the street from us who brought out their lawn chairs and sat in their front yard in their house dresses with their dogs every evening of the year without fail except in extreme cold weather. Neighbors treated alternate side of the street parking like a sport, waiting in their cars a full 20 minutes before it was time to move the cars back, and when it was time, it was a mad race for a parking spot. Our old block was also home to 2 families who may have been the only openly public republican families in the heavily predominant liberal neighborhood. They posted their republican candidate signs at every election. Many of these people on that block had been living there for 15 or more years, including our landlords who we became close with. They had 2 girls and we lived on the top floor of their brick townhouse. We had our privacy even though it was pretty close quarters, but it was comforting to know that a family lived downstairs from us. This was Mia’s first home and even though we vowed that we would keep in touch with them when we moved a mere 8 blocks away 5 years later, we only saw them once out in the neighborhood.
It’s pretty interesting to live in a place long enough to see a neighborhood evolve, for better or worse. The playground across the street from us where the girls often play was still sketchy even when we first moved to the neighborhood 11 years ago and I made sure to cross the street and walk on the opposite side whenever I had to walk by those few blocks. Most of the restaurants and shops that line 5th ave today didn’t exist back then. We’ve seen them come (and go). I used to dismiss the notion that I might somehow be part of the movement of people who moved here, gentrified the place up and priced out all the old timers, the Hispanic population in the South Slope, artists and writers. I used to think, “No no! I’m not a lawyer! I don’t make Wall Street salaries!”; “But we moved here pre-2005 when 5th Ave was still kind of sketch and we didn’t live in “fancy” Park Slope proper. Hell, even though we own we *still* don’t live in the fancy part of town up by the Park in a 2 million dollar brownstone”; “I lived here in the 90s when NOBODY moved here. Doesn’t that make me an old timer?” I don’t know if we are part of the gentrifying population or not, if we’re really yuppies or not (um, ergh), if it really matters in the end or not. What I see today is a really nice place to live, where neighbors really feel like neighbors, not just people you pass on the street without acknowledging, where the community really cares about its schools, where the kids can still play on sidewalks like we did when I was a kid. Brooklyn is our home. It will be for awhile.