The avenues of Bay Ridge, particularly 3rd, 4th (where I live) and 5th, particularly in the 80s through the 100s, are wide and busy, dominated by ugly apartment buildings and dirty but charming businesses, delis and greengrocers, renters and immigrants, subway stations and bus stops. Turks, Christian Lebanese, latinos, Russians, every kind of person, even displaced homosexual rednecks like me bustle around and look stressed out and etc. This world runs in stripes up and down the avenues.
Running across the avenues, though, are the streets, slow and sweet, comprised of smallish, nicely-tended houses that have not been subject to a mortgage payment for decades. Old Irish and Italian people raise their grandchildren here, or their Pomeranians. You rarely see a “For Sale” sign unless somebody dies. Somebody has always died, though. So there’s that. When they have block parties, only people who actually live on the one strip of street between avenues are invited. This world doesn’t extend to the avenues, only between them.
The other day while walking back home (to 4th avenue) from the grocery store (on 5th) I saw a chubby kid, maybe fourteen, practicing his bagpipes on the front porch of his house on 81st street, cheeks red from puffing. Whenever a strange pedestrian from the Avenue (like, for example, myself) walked by, he politely stopped and waited. Then he started back up. After I passed him, a family of four crossed the street, and the dad started singing along with the pipes, something about a hero attempting something difficult, with the help of some large number of “wild hearts strong behind him.” They laughed and waved and the dad moved his arms like a conductor. The kid, abashed by the attention, stopped playing and waved back, but they told him to start playing again. “Play, play,” they said. But they didn’t stay around to listen. They kept walking after he started playing again. And they didn’t sing anymore, either. But they knew him, and he knew them — even if they had never met.
This interaction reminded me of home, and of my childhood, without actually possessing any characteristic features of my actual home, or my actual childhood.