I mentioned the other day that I'm currently staying on the Brooklyn promenade, on a lovely street called Columbia Heights. Past residents of my apartment building include Truman Capote, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan and Walt Whitman. Of course, I cannot neglect the most awesome resident of the Standish: a little known reporter named Clark Kent.
Our historical neighbors aren't too shabby either. Normal Mailer set the tone for neighborhood scandals. He writes in The Naked and the Dead of a Brooklyn Heights that no longer exists:
“The candy store is small and dirty as are all the stores on the cobblestoned streets. When it drizzles the cobblestones wash bare and gleaming on top, and the manhole covers puff forth their shapeless gouts of mist. The night fogs cloak the muggings, the gangs who wander raucously through the darkness, the prostitutes, and the lovers mating in the dark bedrooms with the sweating stained wallpaper of brown. The walls of the street fester in summer, are clammy in winter; there is an aged odor in this part of the city, a compact of food scraps, of shredded dung balls in the cracks of the cobblestones, of tar, smoke, the sour damp scent of city people, and the smell of coal stoves and gas stoves in the cold-water flats. All of them blend and lose identity.”
Walt Whitman wrote expansively of Brooklyn. (Btw, did you know that Bram Stoker based Dracula on Whitman? Thank you for that, Granta Magazine...). Here, in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry":
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.
I leave you with Hart Crane, another one-time neighbor. He perfectly captures the incongruities and surreal beauty of living just a tiny distance from one of the craziest places in the world in "To Brooklyn Bridge." "Till elevators drop us from our day," indeed.
"To Brooklyn Bridge"
How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him, Shedding white rings of tumult, building high Over the chained bay waters Liberty-- Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes As apparitional as sails that cross Some page of figures to be filed away; --Till elevators drop us from our day . . . I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene Never disclosed, but hastened to again, Foretold to other eyes on the same screen; And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced As though the sun took step of thee, yet left Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,-- Implicitly thy freedom staying thee! Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets, Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning, A jest falls from the speechless caravan. Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks, A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene; All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . . Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still. And obscure as that heaven of the Jews, Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow Of anonymity time cannot raise: Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show. O harp and altar, of the fury fused, (How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!) Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge, Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,-- Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars, Beading thy path--condense eternity: And we have seen night lifted in thine arms. Under thy shadow by the piers I waited; Only in darkness is thy shadow clear. The City's fiery parcels all undone, Already snow submerges an iron year . . . O Sleepless as the river under thee, Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod, Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend And of the curveship lend a myth to God.