I’ve already gotten used to the rhythm, of Brooklyn, on Lefferts Place, in this particular corner of this teeming city — the morning sounds; the sidewalk construction, kids shooting hoops out on the sidewalk, mothers pushing babies in strollers that prattle and clack on uneven pavement, cars blasting hip hop, planes on final descent into LaGuardia, the phantom whoosh of the subway, people walking by talking into cell phones, or thin air. And these are not even folks who have a blue tooth embedded into their ear, they’re just like talking to thin air. And the traffic. My God, the traffic. I thought I’d mastered maneuvering my way through cars and bikes and people, and when I crossed the street this morning, I almost got hit by a car. The guy could have slowed down. I mean, come on.
That, honestly was the most unpleasant thing that happened to me in five days here in New York. The rest has been quite a remarkable gift and today, on Saturday morning, the pace slowed just a tick, the Bethel 7th Day Adventist church on the corner fills up with young boys in crisp white shirts, their daddies in suits, mamas and grandmas in dresses and shiny straw hats, I am sad to leave. Partly because I have to say goodbye to my Patrick — I’ve felt so safe since I’ve been here, with blood, you know. And partly because of the sweetness which has embraced me since I came. You don’t think “New York City” and “sweet” in the same breath, I bet. But I have experienced an abundance.
From the guys who run the Outpost Cafe — who now know Lobby by name, to the darling kids I shot the breeze with at McCarren Dog Park and Dan and his Ibizan hounds at Hillside Dog Park last night, to Mark and Dawn, an incredible couple I sat next to at a sidewalk cafe last night, whom I adore, I must say that I love this city. I do. Libby totally dug it too, and thanks to my friend Tracy in St. Louis, who has four amazing dogs, who gave me a training tip on how to get Libby to go on command, she actually does.
She could go at will at our first park, a small one, McCarren Dog Park where she sniffed a handful of dogs and I chatted up Elle King and her dog, Blue. She’s a musician, plays banjo, plays out, makes a living and she’s awesome, I liked It’s Good To Be a Man.
Jason, and his brindle pit, aptly named Brin, were sharing a bench in the shade. He and Elle had been talking a bit, but when you insert a reporter into the mix critical data starts to emerge. Jason did not know that Elle was a musician. Elle did not know that Jason has a dobro, also a part-time musician and carpenter, who brought Brin from upstate New York.
Brin’s a stitch, one of the most playful dogs in the park. He carried his plastic baseball in his mouth all the way from Jason’s flat to the park. By the time I flushed out their mini-back-story, phone numbers were exchanged. And I’m not talking mine.
On my last night in NYC, I wanted to go to what I’d heard from my son’s girlfriend Bridgette to be the biggest dog park in New York. It was pretty cool. There was one moment of peril, when I lost site of Libby, who’d traipsed far down into a tree-covered ravine next to the freeway. I freaked, even though I knew it had a high fence, but it still scared me, so I chase her, all gorilla style, tearing through the urban jungle, only to have her beat me back out to the sunshiny open area, where she lay panting. She thought it funny.
When I quit sucking air, I chatted with this dude, Danny with the Ibizan sibs, Phobos and Deimos, who tells me Hillside Dog Park got to be a dog park because it’s not fit for humans.
Well, okay then. It’s on a steep hill, right under the BQE and apparently there’s a large waterworks easement that runs through the park and developers don’t want to mess with that nonsense, so the whole thing went to the dogs. And there are dogs o’plenty! Danny brings his guys twice a day, says he could not even HAVE a dog if not for Hillside being just a few blocks away. He says he knows most the dogs on a first-name basis. He gave me a ton of info on the Ibizan breed, (skinny hips, I’m SO jealous!) and then urged me to stroll down Columbia Heights to catch the view. Man, was this worth it.
Coming back, near sunset, I pass through lovely, tree-laden streets in Brooklyn Heights, with lovely old brick homes and pass a woman who’s greeting her grown kids, who’ve just walked up the sidewalk, pulling suitcases behind them.
It stabs my heart a bit, as somebody fixing supper inside, the wonderful aroma of onions and garlic trails through her gated courtyard and I’m imaging any number of delicious meals that might be, remembering the countless meals I’ve cooked in happy anticipation of my far aways coming home. She nods, says good evening — people DO acknowledge strangers on the street here.
And then some beefy guy from Queens in white tennis shoes, steps out of a mini-van and asks if I’ve seen any Chinese carry-out nearby, and ridiculously I DO know, having just passed one on the steep hill I’d just climbed I give him directions and realize I need a beer in a bad way. It was hot, I’d been walking for blocks, but dogs and restaurants is itself an uphill battle, but I wave to a guy inside this one joint, point to Libby and point to a table and he nods and smiles. I’m relieved. I approach this two-top, next to a two-top occupied by a couple whom I would open my home to now for the rest of my life.
I pulled the table away slightly from where they were sitting, Libby is a BIG dog and they’re like, “It’s okay, we love dogs. We won’t bite.”
So I say okay, get out her collapsible bowl, which the waiter promptly fills up, I get a vodka tonic and finally sit for a minute, calling Pat to give him my “twenty” so he can come meet me.
By the time Pat arrives, not only am I enamored with this darling couple, and care about them, I’m serious, I care about them, but we discover in less than a New York minute that Mark actually works on Boardwalk Empire, set construction, the same HBO series Pat has been doing locations work for. I had mentioned that he’d been delayed getting off work, naming the production and Dawn does the “OMG, that’s the same show Mark works on!” Do I need to insert it’s a small world?
Pat rolls up and it’s rapid-fire conversation all the way around – Mark belongs to three unions, good insight for a young kid in the film/TV biz here in NYC. Then we move on the other coincidences–that I’m rolling into DC today and have to sneak Libby into my daughter’s dorm at George Washington University, where of course Dawn went to school, regaling me in her stories about handcuffing herself to the gates of the White House in 1985 at a ProChoice rally, the key to the cuffs in her panties, which she refused to disclose to the cops. Her dad, a NYC courts official helped get her out of the pokey. She tells me more about her father — from whom she was estranged for a time, but they made peace before he died. He was a drinker, her dad.
And so was she. Big time. Big time. And so was Mark. Big time. They’re both sober now, got married just two years ago. You can see how much they love each other. That’s a beautiful thing to behold, this kind of survivor love. It’s self-love, it’s “let me hold your hand and I’ll help you too” love. They’ve just gutted and are rehabbing a house that Dawn’s grandma advised her to buy years ago. A grandma who Dawns loved passionately, a grandma who still speaks to her when she needs a dose of advice from a Sicilian who lived to be 97. Shit fire man, I’d take advice from a Sicilian woman who’s 97 and traveled to Amsterdam to visit her granddaughter Dawn when she was 89 years old!! 89 years old, wanting to stop and take photos of the girls in the windows of the red light district, with a disapproving Dawn saying, “no, grandma, that’s not cool.”
But, the house, now, that’s when Dawn listened to her grandma. And now, Dawn and Mark are making it a sober house. A growing concept in helping recovering alcoholics take the next step after their initial rehab. A sober house — where people in recovery can get a little extra time to learn the ropes of sobriety. This is Dawn and Mark’s way, in their own words, to pay it forward. I only hope I can do something this good some day.
I’ll take this story and tell it to my little brother J.R. who’s recovering, literally one step at a time from an alcohol-induced stroke he had in April which nearly killed him. He’s lost his job, he’s on disability now. He was just three years shy of full retirement from a great government job. But that devil alcohol, it’s a killer. But it didn’t get Jay. My little sister-in-law Karen has inherited a situation she wasn’t banking on. It’s tough. They’re working on it. Every day. They’re working on it. He’s looking forward to me being there in August. Wants to show me some cool dog parks. I’ll tell him all about these great people I met and how they’ve left their mark on me.
We come, we see, we share. People pay it forward, to us.
What do I leave? A little love. A little piece of me, a little piece of my heart in Libby’s half-empty water bowl at the Outpost Cafe.
I cry. Libby is waiting and so is D.C.