Collin Anderson Memorial Award, Honorable Mention
Brooklyn: We Go HARD
I remember the first time I spelled the word “Brooklyn” out. It was in the second grade and my teacher just spelled the word out on the green chalkboard. I could feel the familiarness with the word as the palm of my hands began to sweat. There was this connection like electricity that flows through an outlet going through me as I wrote the letter B in capitalization with my pencil. Turns out it is not electricity; it’s the culture of Brooklyn, something that many people think they know but don’t. This culture can only run through you if you’re from here.
Here’s what the culture of Brooklyn looks like:
Brooklyn is filled with public schools, with mostly black and brown students, so every school starts with P.S followed by a number. In front of the brown large walls of the school are the black gates that the children with bags filled with composition notebooks, pencils, and candy from home. It has “P.S. 335” bolded in green on a white sign that says “Welcome Students!” all year round. The students shout out from their small lungs as their excitement makes it all the way to their classrooms for their teachers to hear. When it comes to lunchtime, they talk for as long as those 45 minutes can last them. The school number is 335 because it’s located in a specific part of Brooklyn, Crown Heights, where I live. Located on St. Marks and Rochester, you could see on the corner the tall gray street light pole that has the words “St. Marks” ingrained in white on the green street sign. You can see a street light pole with a stop sign on every corner so that every time a sign connects it makes perfect squares every time. On some of those street signs, you can see some different types of letters and symbols marked in graffiti. That type of art became its own art form in Brooklyn in the 1980s. I even did some graffiti paintings of Jimmy Neutron (my favorite kids’ show across the street from the school building in the 2010 summer program. My apartment is between Rochester St. and Utica Avenue which is one block up and to the right. The walk is basically like an upside-down “L”. You can use that “L” walk and find ways to get to Bergen St or Sterling or Saint Johns Place.
It’s the same walk for the all-yellow corner store on my block called Deli-Grocery, which is the name for almost every store like it in Brooklyn. But in Brooklyn, we just call it the corner store because there will always be one on every corner. If it’s a store owned by Hispanic owners, then it’s a bodega. If my mom wants me to go to this store, she would say, “Go to the Spanish store” (even though Hispanic is the right word). With so many Hispanic families owning bodegas I’m always asking her which one and she would reply “The yellow one!”. When you walk into the bodega on my corner, you can see that the store is the size of a small room. The see-through glass door opens to reveal the blue ATM machine to the right that has a fee charge of 99 cents. In front of the door is the side opening to the cashier entrance and when you walk around that you can see the packs of ice, different ice cream, and white ice cups below the counter in a freezer. Above it lies the insane amount of candy and chocolate behind the glass that only the kids of the neighborhood should be enjoying (not older kids like me). Behind the counter has cigarettes, batteries, tampons, rolling papers, lighters, small packets of Tylenol, and more small things counters include behind them. Walking down one of the two small aisles of the store you’ll find all different types of chips, doughnuts, and twinkies. On the opposite side of that, you’ll see cartons of milk, juices like Arizonas and Minute Maids, small and big bottles of water, and sodas all contained in an open cool refrigerator with see-through drapes (like in a supermarket) dropping down slightly revealing each beverage. On the other aisle when you make a left turn from walking in this aisle will show you only more chips and more beverages except for this time its alcoholic ones. Above both of these aisles hang the toilet tissues, paper towels, detergent, and paper plates. These stores don’t really have frozen foods or meats like supermarkets. They just make hot sandwiches in front of you. Chopped cheeses are the best. They have steak meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, ketchup, and mayonnaise. When all of those ingredients mix together, they give your taste buds a thrill of excitement and the hairs on your arms rise up with every flavor. I walk into the store and the guy that makes my food says “Let me guess? Chopped cheese?” to me and while laughing I reply “You know me too well”. He laughs and then says “That’ll be 500 dollars.” (It’s actually $3.50). Of course, the sandwich maker in a bodega has to have a sense of humor, or else making sandwiches for the whole neighborhood won’t be fit for them to do. On my block, there are three stores on the corners, a schoolyard across the street, a daycare, and about 5 apartment buildings with only 1 house. This is a usual thing for most Brooklyn streets. And just like other blocks of Brooklyn, my block has a history.
Here’s what’s not the culture of Brooklyn:
There’s been a car crash in ‘06, a shooting of a young black boy named Tyrell in ‘08 (someone I knew), and an accident where a kid was accidentally pushed off the roof in ‘05 (that was in my building). I was there when that accident with the kid happened. All the windows on my building caught glimpses of the red and blue flashing lights from the five police cars and two ambulance trucks. Tons of the residents from my building surrounded each other across the street. We were separated from the entrance of the building where it’s blocked. I stood with my mother and father as my sister sat on the cold, hard pavement. It was too dark to see exactly where the parents were. But I could hear the mother’s cries come from one of the back of the ambulance trucks. It sounded like a scream that you hear when the monster catches the person in scary movies. That night ended with a child not returning home and a mother no longer having a child. And just after that, the next day, five boys decided that it would be fun to flash their guns in a park filled with kids playing and unworried parents. And the cops decided to use their even bigger weapons on people who can’t fight back. That’s when my mom told me that it’s not the people that are unsafe and dangerous; it’s the ones that want to keep us here caged. My father said to me that day, “Don’t go outside past 8 o’clock. Be back in the house by 7.” Before that, it was safer to stay and play outside in the park. But even still, everyday my mom is telling me something that happened on the news in the neighborhood so I won’t leave the house and she won’t have to face the burden of being a worried parent. They showed the story on the news. They covered it for about a week straight. But there were more things in Brooklyn going on. When you turn to the news you could always see some type of violence or death. Channel 12 News (Brooklyn News) didn’t seem to care that The Big Apple Circus would soon be in Brooklyn for the first time. Frankly, Brooklyn became what everyone else always sees on the news. We go hard in Brooklyn because those of us who live here have to see that every day. We have no other choice but to keep the culture safe, that electrical feeling I was talking about. Yet, these are the things that came with the culture, not what makes up of it.
Here’s what is Brooklyn culture:
Just a few blocks up there’s the Crown Heights Utica Station for the 3 and 4 trains. On that same block of the train station is Eastern Parkway where the Labor Day Parade is. It’s actually the West Indian Day Parade where all Caribbean immigrants who take up a good 60% of Brooklyn come out to celebrate on the strip with their beautiful costumes and with each other. Sometimes even the police officers who patrol would dance too. On that day that station is closed off. But on any other day, that station is one of the busiest ones. Everyone uses these trains to get to the buses near it. You could take the B12 bus into Brownsville or the B17 into Bed Stuy or take the B46 to Kings Plaza Mall (the only mall in Brooklyn) and back to Bushwick, where it’s mostly filled with Hispanics. Most people use the 4 train because it’s express and the 3 train is local so there are more stops added. Those trains can be dangerous late at night though, so I would advise not to be alone. You could either be robbed, harassed, or killed. Take that train two stops up on the Manhattan-bound side and you’ll be on Atlantic Avenue which is where the Barclays Center is. That’s the building Jay Z built (he’s from Marcy project buildings which are on the border of Bed Stuy and Bushwick, 30 minutes from me). The Barclays center is covered in bright blue paint and glass with a circle opening on the top of the building. The area is one of the most beautiful areas with it’s small planted trees, phone charging booths (these are new), gray-tile pavement, and enough brown wooden benches for you to find a seat (at least one that doesn’t have a homeless person on it sleeping). It’s close to downtown Brooklyn and it’s also the home of the Brooklyn Nets basketball team (that means it’s always crowded over there). And if you have never been to Downtown Brooklyn and live in Brooklyn, you’re not from Brooklyn. Downtown Brooklyn has all the high rise buildings and crowded shopping chain stores next to each other like H&M, Forever 21, Best Buy, Victoria’s Secret, and even Chuck E. Cheeses. Each store lines up to the next like blocks in Tetris. Every parent who lives in Brooklyn has taken their child to Chuck E. Cheeses at least once. That’s where I had my 10th birthday party. Every kid from my block showed up.
One more stop on the 4 train past Atlantic and you hit Court St. That’s where the infamous movie theaters are and unfortunately the one that everyone in Brooklyn goes to because it’s so close to downtown. That neighborhood is far nicer than my neighborhood. It’s where even the people who don’t live in Brooklyn go to. The rent for the houses in that area can prove this. Yet, rent everywhere in Brooklyn seems to be going up as more white people (gentrifiers as we tend to call them) are moving into the borough pushing out families like mine who live in run-down apartments. If only you could see the new houses on the blocks near my house. They look like condos and buildings that for sure have heating. Just a few blocks up and to the right of the movie theatres you would find the most fascinating place in Brooklyn: the view of the Brooklyn Bridge. If you haven’t been there before, you haven’t seen the cool pictures the millennial photographers with their huge Nikon cameras take of the rocks on the pier. The smell of the ocean water and the brown and black color of the stones on the bridge makes it a scene from romance movies. Except it’s not the beach. It’s the big brown Brooklyn bridge that is believed to be indestructible and unique. You can see the High Street train station from that spot. High Street is where all the “cool kids” and families bring their kids to go on the carousel and play in the rocks that touch that ocean water. You’ll see photographers taking photos, musicians playing instruments for money, artists selling their work, friends, and even friends of friends there. It’s right under the bridge so you hear everything from the sounds of wheels on cars rolling to the rust of the train tracks as the train speeds. It’s the closest you’ll get to the ocean water in Brooklyn since Coney Island doesn’t have clean water. Coney Island is 75% of the boardwalk and 25% of the amusement parks. Going there is more for funnel cake, the boardwalk, and the new rides. Though you may see people in the water that doesn’t mean you should go in. Most people with common sense know not to go to Coney Island beach unless it’s just for a social gathering. The B and Q trains run to Coney Island but that’s an hour and a half ride for me. I guess I forgot to mention Brooklyn isn’t as small as people may think. You can be an hour away or five minutes from something. It really depends.
Still, nothing beats hearing the school kids come out of their school buildings as they play and laugh with each other, the old men playing domino games on small tables in front of the bodega, and the constant noise of the police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and train stations all around Brooklyn. I love all of it, even if most of the things I hate to see is on the news for everyone to see. Because that’s not it, that’s not the culture, that’s just what you see on TV. But if you really want to know, you should come to Brooklyn.
Keaona Gray-Outlaw is a professional writing major at SUNY Cortland. They released their first self-published book “Shelter, Protection, and Unwatered Seeds” and the Crystallize Review is their first publications online. They are passionate about writing both poetry and fiction. They are captivated by work that instills purpose, creativity, and explores non-conforming ideas.