For displaced, misplaced, and nostalgic ex-Brooklynites

My First Time

by William S. Kennedy


t was spring of 1975. I was in my junior year of college and looking to move out of my parents' house. One of my classmates suggested that I check out Brooklyn. Living in Manhattan, I had the usual reservations regarding Brooklyn and was not overly impressed with my classmate's apartment - a small studio with low ceilings in one of the upper floors of a Park Slope Brownstone. This was about to change as he suggested we check out the view from his roof.

What first attracted me was the uniformity of the brownstones. Every house on the block was the same height. We literally could have walked from roof to roof to the end of the street. I noticed that unlike the view of the Manhattan skyline, with its tall buildings, I saw rows and rows of brownstones, church steeples and trees, lots of trees. Looking west, I watched the streets dip until they reached Fourth Avenue, then slowly rise as they passed over the Gowanus Canal and reached Carroll Gardens. To the north was the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, the tallest building in Brooklyn, but not tall enough to block my view of lower Manhattan.

Looking south, I could see the Smith-9th Street stop of the F Train, the highest point of elevation on the entire New York Subway System. Behind that, I could see cars travelling on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. And behind two Sunset Park highrises was the Verranzano Bridge. A slowly setting copper red sun gave shape to the buildings on the distant plains of New Jersey.

Four months after standing on that rooftop, I moved - to Astoria. My friend, and eventual roommate, was born in Queens, shared my pre-view prejudice and did not want to live in Brooklyn. We lived in a neighborhood that was defined by its unfinished quality, lack of character and Archie-Bunker-mentality.

Eventually, I made it, not only to Park Slope, but also to the same block where I had stood on that rooftop four years earlier. Unlike Queens, I felt like I was coming home. I jogged around Prospect Park, rode my bike down Ocean Parkway, bought beer and raw oysters at Joe's Seafood on Emmons Avenue and finished them down on the rocks at Manhattan Beach. I ate at The Camper Down Elm on Union Street and was waited on by Kelly McGillis some two years before she starred in "Witness". I dated, fell in love with, but did not marry any of the six Brooklyn women I was involved with during the time I lived on St. John's Place.

Of the 32 years I lived in New York, the ones I loved and the ones I missed the most were the six years I lived in Brooklyn, I'll never forget the feeling of getting off the subway and being immediately surrounded by trees and brownstones. I'll never forget my friends, or my experiences, there.

And I'll never forget that view.

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