Ditmas Stroll

27 Apr

I “write” a lot in my head. I compose as I go on a neighborhood walk, thinking about a letter I want to write to a friend or an imaginary post that never goes up on this blog (or shouldn’t). Often I come up with somewhat ambitious ideas that I never do anything with, like eating my way around the world and writing about it. Then I realize I probably won’t get to eat my way around the world literally, but of course I could give it a try in New York. Write about a meal I’ve had in each neighborhood of each borough. How delicious.

The other day I went on one such stroll, from Kensington into Ditmas Park. I didn’t end up eating anything because I couldn’t stop myself from wandering. I followed the old routes of my childhood. Maybe now the ambitious plan would be a psychogeographic memoir. Some of the things I love to read are about places and lives in those spaces. So why not try that.

Here is the house I grew up in, on Beverly Road, second story of a 3-family. Here, across the street, the ancient apartment buildings that gave me my boombox lullabies. Both structures are gray and dingy. Broken glass still on the sidewalk, just as I remember. Children playing whiffle ball on a brown, balding lawn between concrete walkways.

Firecrackers would swoop up onto our roof on the night of July the 4th, crackling smoke in the windows. My father would rush out through the window in his underwear and, with invincible flat feet, kick the offending pyrotechnic back into the street where it was launched.

I cross Coney Island Avenue, past the 11-7 and the former Kantacky Fried Chicken (most likely sued by Kentucky Fried Chicken across the street). I enter the green zen of Beverly Square and Ditmas Park. Rows and rows of enormous trees line these streets. Unlike Kensington, where people lop off branches and chop chop chop (we need sunlight, they say, or, the next storm could send these trees crashing down, they say). In Ditmas Park no one chops trees. No one squints in the light. There is a coolness here, amongst Victorian houses in various stages of renovation or disrepair.

I wander passed lawns bedecked with pink flamingos and plaster-cast lions. Houses renovated in the ‘80s by Park Slope expatriates, and houses renovated by Flatbush’s upwardly mobile. Porch swings, silver cats, magnolia trees. Columns at each intersection proclaim each street name with British regality: Marlborough, Stratford. Argyle. Dorchester. Remnants of 19th century moguls.

More interesting to me are the houses still in ruin: relics of a past and food for a darker appetite. A green house with musty brown shards of windows; mummified in plastic; shutters hanging askew off their hinges. A copper plaque on a porch column by the steps reads the name of a doctor, an orthopedist: ancient doctor for an ancient generation. All gone. A dusty sign written in careful block letters pleads, “DON’T PLAY ON THIS PORCH…” the rest is unintelligible, but the warning is clear: the porch steps are broken, a ragged hole. Collapsed where some small child may have played, fallen through and eaten by some slithering monster underneath.

Next door, a house with new stucco and two slender saplings of cherry trees, fresh-blossomed and swaying in the spring breeze.

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