My first apartment was in Brooklyn. It was across the street from Prospect Park, the one I love the most! Brooklyn is a very diverse city to live in. You have a few good areas, a few bad areas, and then plenty of places in between which are boring, not close to the City, or right next to the ocean. When I first got here, my priority was probably not to be too far from Manhattan, as I knew this is where everything would be eventually going down.
So I moved in what can be called Prospect Park South or Lefferts Gardens. I am not too sure about the distinction. I simply call it Flatbush, because I was literally two minutes away from Flatbush Avenue. It was a good location for people who do not know much about New York yet and who want to be on the road all the time. I just had to walk 1 minute to the Parkside Avenue stop on the Q train and within 20 mins I was catapulted to Union Square or Canal St – whichever one I preferred. The Q back then (that makes it sound sooo long ago, but we are talking about less than one and a half years ago) was one of the better trains. It never seemed to have many delays, came regularly, even at night, and did not have as much trouble with weekend construction other trains usually have (but that is an entire story in itself). If I wanted to go elsewhere I took the orange line, meaning the B (that was when it had still stopped there), which took me right into the Lower East Side or Greenwich Village. Sounds like the sweet life? I guess it could have been….
Even as a newbie coming to New York and not knowing much about good and bad neighborhoods, I quickly made up my mind about Flatbush and its inhabitants. It is a West-Indian area with many people coming from Haiti and Jamaica. Although I saw one or two white faces wandering the streets, I always felt quite in a minority when doing my daily chores at the Laundromat or food shopping at the Pioneer. My experience when walking down one block to Flatbush quickly turned into a torture. West-Indian guys who were yelling vulgar remarks at me – a situation I really did not know how to deal with in the beginning at all. Rude cashiers at the 99ct stores. Other shoppers who just shoved me out of their way without saying a word or simply looking down upon me when standing in line. I believe this is how black people must have felt back in the 60ies, when they were walking through a white neighborhood. The reverse reaction in a modern setting did not suit me well. It first made me feel helpless, then mad, and finally I gave up finding a good reason as to why people react stupidly, and stopped caring.
Walking down to Duane Reade always seemed like running the gauntlet, though. Even after seeing how my roommate, a blond Canadian chick, who absolutely could not be mistaken for a Latina, dealt with all of the curious looks did not made me feel less uncomfortable. I always had the feeling I was the outsider, the awkward shaped piece sticking out of the mass. While my body language and also demeanor changed over time, I did not enjoy walking around the neighborhood and even further than to the stores I knew. The post office, which was a good 15 mins walk away, was always an interesting experience. Frustrated employees who liked to yell at their valued customers. Then of course the MTA ticket booth, which was a pure game of power between the victim standing outside and the “officer” sitting inside.
One thing you should know about Flatbush is that it is one of the neighborhoods who are still actively fighting gentrification, despite more and more newcomers (mostly whites) moving into the area. The prices are good, so is the location – a few reasons as to why it could become quite popular. At the same time, the old inhabitants do not want to be driven away from their neighborhood – their home. This might have caused a reasonable resentment that has been carried over to every non-black or non-Haitian person in the area.
I was glad I only lived 1 minute away from the train station. Flatbush could turn into a dangerous area during the dark hours. I never had any reason to make my way past the station and I really did not have much desire after being eyed by a gang of girls on one memorable summer night.
This was also the very first apartment in which I had bedbugs. Now for all of you who do not know what this is: I was about as clueless as you. Then I moved to Brooklyn and found out that itchy mosquito bites that won’t go away after 2 weeks most likely do not mean you were bitten by an insect. After careful examination of my bed sheets, I discovered a total invasion of those brown creatures, which you happen to see with your bare eye, no worries. Two exterminators and some very poisonous spray later we had gotten rid of those awful bloodsuckers. They were still among my top reasons of why I eventually moved.
I guess I am making matters sound a bit worse than they are. There are many advantages of living close to Flatbush. The quick transportation to the City being one. Then I really loved the proximity to the park. One quick jump over the street, and the green trees were all mine. I developed a daily jogging routine during that one hot summer of 2010. We also attended a few BBQs and even had some of our one. My roommate’s birthday in May was the best mixed-racial experience and cultural event I have witnessed so far. I remember us carrying bags of groceries and hot dogs to where her West-Indian friend had found an old grill, while preparing the foods for the gazillion amounts of relatives that kept stopping by and eating our food away. The laughs at Memorial Day. A certainly most interesting 4th of July, during which ambitious churchgoers tried to convince us to attend mass in Harlem.
And then of course long nights contemplating life in the park. Seeing my roommate get fancy Jamaican hair styles at the Caribbean hair salon right around the corner. Hearing our ghetto neighbor yell at her grandchildren and beat her dog half to death. All of that was part of my experience in my very first apartment here.
After 9 months it was time to move out. First, my roommate’s latest lover, who happened to be a mere teenager and a full 18 years younger than her, managed to swipe my sterling silver jewelry I had left on the window sill. Second, I was still not too impressed by the neighborhood and decided to check other lands. And lastly, the bed bug epidemic was literally haunting that area of town and I was afraid of being struck again.
No real harm was done, and I was gone soon enough! I still like to go there every once in a while to snag a delicious slice from Family Pizza. Truly the best on that side of the park!