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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Update: Another Church To It's Knees

So the article about the closing of Our Lady of Loreto church out I just posted about led me to this link, which led to pictures of the neighborhood surrounding the church as it once was. After a few pics it hit me, I totally have a personal recognition of this church, back in 2003 I worked a few blocks away at a sweatlodge of an office/factory. The church sat as a large part of the blurry unremarkable background shapes that made my view of the area. Until one day I focused in.

Now I totally gotta make with the storytelling.

Before I get to the story check out the pictures. What I see is a quaint little neighborhood, that is punctuated in the background by relatively gigantic residential developments. I wonder what effect they had on the neighbors when construction began and doesn't that remind you of several places in today's nyc like this.

Anyways, the story is simple. I'm riding the A or the L out to Broadway Junction to the sweat-lodge I worked in, and I happened to have a stack of comic books (don't ask) which I had no use for (mostly) as the ride out to the far reaches of Brownsville and East New York went on I noticed a kid, one of two, catching random hell from their mom, who looked youngish to me. I asked the mom and offered the kids the comics (mostly).

The comics had that magically pacifying influence that is their true worth. The kids sekkled down, so did the mom since her boy's were distracted. And I felt like cool on ice. The comic magic seemed to extend further than I expected, after speaking briefly to the kids, their faces buried in ink lines and primary colors, the only other passenger on the train, a tall 6 foot plus, elder, white haired man of euro-amero features walked over toward me. I was in that corner two seat so he couldn't have been coming over to anything else except to exit the car or pea out the door. He did neither. Instead he small talked with a thin waxy coating of nostalgia, about comic books from when he was a boy. In true protective new yorker style I wondered at first how many comics I was going to have to part with. But the tall elder man seemed happy to just talk and actually seemed interested to tell his perspective.

That was when I stopped being self focused and actually became aware of the man. He was clearly over 65 maybe over 75. Tall yes, but I could imagine the "youth toughs" of any NYC era making short work of him. When I overlaid that consideration with the fact that in my 15 years of coming to Brownsville I never saw a white skinned person in the area save for teachers, cops and the workers in the outpost-sweat-lodge I was headed to, I began to really wonder what this man's story was and where could he possibly be going? I asked what stop he was getting off at and he said either Broadway Junction or Atlantic Avenue, most of the Atlantic Avenue station was still in use then before more of the formerly massive connecting station was torn down in 2004, but even then the platforms and stairs were rickety at best, so Broadway Junction seems right. Anyway, that raised more questions which I asked and the story i remember was this, he was raised in the neighborhood from the age of five or eight as I recall. Doing some loose math and knowing that the vertical landscape of projects in Brownsville were mostly built post war I began to imagine his view, but before I got carried away in my imagination I asked him. and he verified he remembered when they were built, he called the neighborhood "small" before the large scale residences. he talked about never having left the neighborhood which i simply can't imagine considering the dive it took from the 50's to the 90's and how far down some areas still are today.

We chatted almost idly. He remarked about some of what had been in the area, more about how many people lived there, busy it was. "It was some neighborhood" he added, but there was no deeper definition. I asked him about family, and he mentioned a daughter outside the city and his desire not to his home.

For the remaining stops I kept wanting him to paint a picture of the neighborhood as it was to some how satisfy my sense of logic. But I tried not to press him into service as my personal historian. As we approached our stop the subway climbed the elevated tracks arching slightly over Atlantic Avenue I thought this place couldn't have always been desolate garages, creaky frame houses and car strewn lots. Then I looked at the church steeples sliding into view from behind less impressive structures and rooftops. I'd noticed the church towers from time to time and when I did I wondered who still went there. Contrasting them to the distant apartment complexes I started to see something else.

After twice hearing myself ask the tall elder man the same,"what was it like?" question with a different set of words, I decided to relax myself. He had already done enough for me by giving me an image of the neighbor as alive and basically pleasant as anyplace you'd want to be. Since then whenever I pass out that East New York way his simple descriptions enhance my visions of the place. Anyway, like I said he got off at his stop and I don't remember which- wait. I remember now, it was Atlantic Av, because I remember now watching him walk away, incredulous to me, along side that midday desolate heavily trafficked street with cars tearing through toward and away from JFK. Non pulsed he casually strode along Atlantic, into a tatter old neighborhood, and coincidentally in the direction of that church, Our Lady of Loreto.

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