Breukelen

“That makes me really angry,” says the man on the street loudly. New Yorkers announce their anger like other people announce their hunger. He’s looking straight ahead, sticking his chest out to get value from the gym membership. It takes me a second to notice the ear piece. It’s my first day back in cell phone range for many months, and now half the jaywalkers seem like screaming crazies.

The sky is grey, the wind whips up whirlpools of leaves from Central Park, and the people are monochrome, hard-faced bundles. They walk past shop windows decked out with $3,000 skirts. Either they can afford them, or they can’t, and neither state looks good for the soul. I walk all the way down from 66th and Madison to 30th and 8th and feel like a stranger. It’s a year and a half since I lived in this city.

But then I reclaim my bike from its foster parent, Andrew. I’m wobbly after a long absence, the more so since lanky Andrew has raised the saddle so that I ride down 30th Street on tip-toes. All the way out to Brooklyn I go, following my bike’s nose like a trail horse down my old Chinatown shortcuts. I brake at all the red lights I used to skim through and I breathe in short adrenaline pants. My fate is to get doored, or mown down by a left-turning cab, or gored by a courier. I can’t believe that I used to do this every single day.

At the foot of the Manhattan Bridge, where you dismount to carry your bike down the steps onto Brooklyn concrete, new graffiti covers the end wall. “BROOKLYN,” it says, “I’M HOME.”

When I first moved to New York, in 1997, I’d tell anyone who asked that I hadn’t come to New York to live in the outer _boroughs_. Instead I plonked myself smack in midtown, convinced by the withering insult “bridge and tunnel” that only Manhattan could be cool. I was a foolish rube. On this comeback tour, it took an afternoon in Brooklyn to teach me to love New York again. I’m still here five days later, courtesy of Domenic and Joe, the best hosts in the city. Dom spent half an hour hooking up wireless access on my laptop. Joe makes my Illy coffee every morning. There are stacks of _New Yorkers_ and fluffy towels. I have running water, a bedroom big enough to party in, and I’m a few blocks from Michael Barrish, who introduced me to my new favourite diner, right around the corner.

I’m home.

4 thoughts on “Breukelen”

  1. I was just a toddler, but I still remember our family’s early days in a tiny railroad apartment over the old Borikan Social Club at Smith & President — it’s a yoga studio now — and the Sundays when mother would march all seven of us kids down to the Gowanus Canal and we’d dive in off the Union St Bridge with a bar of Sunlight soap to share between us and we’d laugh and splash and fight in the shallows dodging tugboats and the odd empty whiskey bottle. Mom would drape our crisply pressed church outfits over the railing, seven little charcoal suits and dresses lined up from littlest to biggest, and she’d wait with one huge towel and dry us off each in turn as we emerged gleaming and goosepimpled into the cool sun of the Brooklyn morning. We’d be just finished wrestling our tiny limbs into our Sunday finest when the churchbells would ring and ma would hustle us up to 9 o’clock Mass at St. Mary Star of the Sea.

    Us kids always got a full three pews to ourselves. Running water is so overrated.

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  2. First dibs on the shirt that says “Dervala (heart) Brooklyn”.

    I miss BK like nothing else. I’ve been homesick all this time without realising it. And the realisation hits like a ton of rocks.

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