WILLIAMSBURG: Last Day of Rest
As the late afternoon sun peeks through the leafy trees at the East River State Park, the sounds of children playing by the rocks echoes from a distance. The narrow cobbled lane almost resembles an aisle, flanked on both sides by rectangular grassy plains and tanned sunbathers, soaking up the sun.
Further down the lane, a dozen or so large ducks huddle by the sprinklers, quacking loudly. Two German mothers, Caro and Maria, rest on the rocks, watching their young children play in the sand by the water of the East River.
Caro wears her hair in a loose top bun, over bright brown sunglasses rimmed with large cat-eye frames. Maria has long dark brown hair, with just a few streaks of grey. Speaking in German, she shows Caro her arm of tattoos, many of them sketches of animals—including a distinctive tiger etched in the middle of her forearm.
This day is one of “the last days of adventure” before the children go back to school, Maria says. Caro candidly admits she is curing a hangover, “not from alcohol” though. She just went to bed really late.
GREENPOINT: The Farmers’ Market
Near the farmer’s market in the center of McGolrick Park, children run barefoot through the grass and climb trees. Getting dirt under their nails, the electronic generation finding its way back to its roots. On the other side of a wrought iron fence, parents stroll through the intermittent shade of canopies, erected by local vendors to bring some kind of respite from the late summer’s heat.
Almost like a big top circus, the navy and green and white tents house fresh ice pops, homemade pickles, and locally brewed ciders. A large, tired dog lies down as his owner peruses a rainbow of peppers and berries, tomatoes and greens. A handful of produce stands push what is surely one of the last luscious harvests before the chill sets in.
On the edges of the park, groups of hunched over Polish men hang out. Their thick accents filter above the singing cicadas and squeaking swingsets. They talk of how Greenpoint is changing. “It’s not as off the grid as it used to be,” said one man over the crumpled turning of his newspaper.
CARROLL GARDENS: At the station
Outside the southeast side of Carroll Street Station is a small plaza bordered by a café, a geometric garden, and a modest teal blue halal cart, the buzzing intersection of Smith Street and Second Place just behind it. It’s just after 6:00 p.m., and still.
Then: the sound of train doors opening echo from the platform below to the plaza above. In a matter of moments, the gray tiles of the plaza are covered with sneakers, heels, dress shoes, and furry paws. They crisscross one another. There’s a hard tap-tap-tapping sound, too—it’s the halal cart attendant, preparing a meal. Customers line up and wait.
BENSONHURST: The Ice Cream Seller
During a weekday afternoon at Benson Playground at the end of the summer, an ice cream truck playing a melody comes by the playground. Eric stands in front of a window with pictures of all types of ice creams, waiting for his customers.
A woman wearing a grey uniform comes out of the playground, nods at Eric, and waves to him, but she doesn’t buy an ice cream. For the next half hour, no one stops in front of the ice cream truck. It’s soon going to rain, and people are leaving the playground.
“Don’t go away, it’s ice cream.” Eric murmurs.
Eric waits until the playground is almost empty, then he drives a few blocks up to Bensonhurst Park. He occasionally looks at screens while he’s driving, which show the locations of his rival ice cream trucks.
He stops outside the park gage and soon has his first customer.
“Hello? How are you doing?”
The old man points at the picture Popsicle snow cone without saying anything.
Eric quickly gets the snow cone from the freezer and hands it to him. “Thank you. Have a lovely day.” After the old man walks back, a teenager from the basketball court runs towards Eric. He’s wearing a loose, white T-shirt and sweating. He gives a five-dollar bill to Eric, smiling.
Eric smiles back:” What do you want this time? Chocolate or vanilla?”
BUSHWICK: The Talkers
Reginald and King Jay, embracing the tranquility of the hour, relax in office chairs on the sidewalk outside the thrift store they operate together at the corner of Dekalb Avenue and Broadway. Inside and outside the store sit neatly stacked pieces of hardware and furniture, like a wide charcoal grill and a washing machine. The store is known as The Lion’s Den, One Stop Shop. Flying the traditional Rastafarian flag, The Lion’s Den attracts several neighborhood patrons, who King Jay addresses by name as they walk past.
Reginald is smaller than King Jay. His skin is brown, and he wears brown tinted dreadlocks that are tightly coiled into a neat bun. He is a retired NYPD police officer. Reginald, who sits upright with one leg crossed, talks with his hands, using the right arm in particular to illustrate his points. King Jay, the self-employed business man, is bigger and darker: his dreads are jet black and they hang freely without a care in the world. He leans back into his chair as he smiles and laughs.
Both are well-versed conversationalists. They discuss with ease how money and power corrupts religion. They spit out obscure details of ancient Egyptian history. King Jay recalls a time ten years ago when he was given an impossible three weeks to set up his store. Reginald mentions a house music party in McCarren Park that he will attend over the weekend.
Especially, they talk about how being black has colored their lives as men. Though they are pontificating on some of the heaviest issues of the day, but they seem to enjoy just sitting and talking in the sun.
CROWN HEIGHTS: After the Killings
“Did you see there were deaths up ahead?” the woman pushing a stroller asks in Spanish.
“Oh yes, there were deaths. It’s always like that,” the man answers.
The conversation takes place on Flatbush Avenue, in the direction of Empire Boulevard, with the trees of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and Prospect Park on either side. Further ahead, on a bench near the park’s entrance, a man named Cornell is drinking a can of beer in a paper bag. Middle-aged and tall, with a clear voice, his tired eyes belie his vehement opinions. He “doesn’t drink white-people beer,” he points out. It doesn’t give him a “buzz.” On the victims of the day before, he says that “they were innocents.”
The victims were Tyrele Borel, 17, and Tiarah Poyau, 22, both of Brooklyn. On September 5 they took part in the Crown Heights J’Ouvert Caribbean festival, which starts before dawn. Both were shot and killed within less than half an hour of each other, around 4 a.m. on Empire Boulevard. Cornell has some Caribbean ancestry of his own and used to attend J’Ouvert, but he says he isn’t into big crowds anymore. Police estimated 250 thousand attendees prior to the event and responded by dispatching 3,400 police officers. According to Cornell, however, “It only takes a second; now everybody’s got a gun.”
It’s late afternoon and further down from Cornell’s bench, on the corner of the boulevard, workers from the police department are still loading barricades onto a truck. The barricades can be seen on every block from there, already dismantled, waiting to be picked up, along with some of the 250 NYPD floodlights spread across the neighborhood. The press is also still there. That makes Cornell laugh in disbelief: “It’s over.”
The first blocks on Empire Boulevard coming from Flatbush contain mostly restaurants. To the left is a Checkers burger place, a Gospel Truth Church, and a MacDonald’s; to the right a Wendy’s, a Dunkin Donuts, a Popeye’s, a Western Beef Supermarket, and a Pizza hut. The van from ABC7 Eyewitness News is on the parking lot of Wendy’s, while NY1’s has positioned itself on the corner next to Checkers, where the news team tells a passerby that the murders happened “in the vicinity,” and that “someone has been arrested.” “In the vicinity” is also the term employed by police reports to place Borel’s murder, while specifying that Tiarah Poyau’s shooting took place on 44 Empire Boulevard. Western Beef Supermarket is there; people come and go on the sidewalk with their grocery bags.
“Cowards,” Cornell calls the gangs he holds responsible. “Cowards that run in packs.” In between sips of beer he says that he witnessed an assassination once, when a man walked up to another and shot him in the head in a bar. “But these kids don’t know how to shoot,” they are “shooting indiscriminately” and “when you shoot in a crowd you’re going to hit someone.”
It has started drizzling but trees protect Cornell’s bench. He takes out a cigarette stub and lights it. “Most people don’t know where they come from or where they’re going, that’s why they’re crazy.” He has children of his own, and he says he put them through college. Now they live down south and he doesn’t want to bother them even though he’s “struggling.”
He says he knows, too, that the parents of those responsible for the murders “try to teach them right from wrong.” They come from the islands because the parents want a better life for them. He knows kids from Trinidad. He knows they are poor, knows “they get bullied, they get talked down” because they are badly clothed. So they want stuff, they want expensive shoes and caps worth hundreds of dollars. “How do they get it without education or a job? When you don’t care about life you take life.”
He has finished his can of beer now and throws the paper bag over his shoulder. He says if he can get some money he’ll have another one.
“Satan is running this planet,” he says.
DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN: The boy with the water
On a Wednesday morning in early September, preschool children occupy the Cadman Plaza Park in Downtown Brooklyn. Every few minutes, their nannies, sitting on the benches under the trees, ask the kids not to go too far.
Meanwhile, the kids find ways to entertain themselves on the drab lawn. A boy named Liam, who looks about five, is filling up a black plastic bag with water from the drinking fountain. He wears a blue polo shirt with his name and number 5 on the back. He doesn’t catch too much water, as the bag is not plump at all, but he seems satisfied.
Several girls are sitting on the bench, as Liam walks to the back and tries to pour the water on them. Although there is little water in the bag, the girls still stand up quickly, shouting, laughing, and running to their nannies.
“Liam!” shouted by a boy who just arrives. Liam immediately loses interest in chasing girls, running to his friend.
BEDFORD-STUYVESANT: Music man
Just inside the wedged door of Hometown Studios on Bedford Street, hundreds, possibly thousands, of CDs, DVDs, posters, and vintage recording devices, are lined up on shelves sprawled throughout the room. The musical Here play on in the background as Jamal Talib, the owner of Hometown Studios, stretches out his hand in welcome. Jamal’s friends, Vernell and Wayne, sit facing the TV screen, enjoying the day.
Fifteen years and the studio is still standing, stapled with posters of Michael Jackson and news clippings from Billboard magazine articles, written by Jamal’s music peers. Pictures of Roy Cape, a Calypso musician; Lord Shorty, who started The Soul Of Calypso Music; Mighty Sparrow of Calypso music; and a well kept collage of the many more influencers of Caribbean music, hang in the room. The book The Roots of Calypso by George D. Mahdraj, is on the low shelf by Jamal’s desk in the main recording studio, downstairs in the basement. Jamal produces what he calls “Caribbean music.” That is what Hometown Studios is all about.
The wedged door opens again and a customer bellows out, “I want jump music!” Jamal is busy running his business.
GOWANUS: A wedding for all seasons
On the corner of Third Avenue and Seventh Street, just across from the “Brooklyn, where freelance is full-time” sign, stands a black building with white text that reads “Morbid Anatomy Museum.”
Just through the glass doors, a badger points northwest, ushering visitors into the first-floor coffee shop. Charts of beetles and vertebrate skeletons adorn the walls behind a long-haired-mustachioed-barista. Tarantulas in jars and skeletons of rodents line the upper shelves. Beneath them, four men (three of them patrons), all mustachioed, carry about their day as various, unnamed metal songs play in the background. A mustachioed man with a skull tattoo on his bicep dabs his forehead with a paper towel.
Behind the humans, the king-of-the-jungle watches over. He does not look at the baboon on a boudoir behind him, nor the gazelle or antelope, nor the ostrich between. Next to him, a hyena lounges on the floor like a lapdog whose pant has frozen in time. Minutes earlier, the sunlight stretched over them all, but now it looms just beside the long-haired-mustachioed man who is not the barista. He draws a sketch. “Walter Potter” reads the poster behind him. “The man who married kittens.”
A couple ascends the stairs to the museum. There they find some fish, conjoined cows, an extinct carrier pigeon, hooves of a pachyderm, squirrels playing poker, a Great Dane, a hound dog, a Yorkie and friends lounging on Victorian beds. The piece de resistance stands center in the room. Inside the glass tableau, 16 kittens attend a priest and a bride and groom at the dais in front of them. The guests are clad in Victorian gowns, tuxes, and beads. Though they frown (Walter Potter was, after all, a “self-taught taxidermist,” says an employee) they all witness the occasion in which the bride extends her paw for a ring.
Downstairs, the music has changed to blues. The long-haired-mustachioed-man who is not the barista rolls up his painting and slings his bag over his shoulder, now engulfed in sunlight. “I really do wish I could take that taxidermy class,” he says to the ticket-seller before heading out.
PARK SLOPE: The Readers
The Park Slope branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is teeming with life at 2 p.m. on a warm afternoon in early September. The shrieks inside are from those either too young for school or lucky enough to still have a few remaining days of summer. The parents who hush them seem to find solace in wooden chairs and cell phone swipes. For a library, it’s pretty loud.
A mother in a gray dress tries to read to her one-year-old. He crawls away. The mother scans the room, watching the older kids read and lie still without instruction. She lunges after her baby, who has moved on to tasting the table.
A small girl with wide blue eyes catches the attention of a mother in a gray dress, who gazes for a few seconds before turning to look for her own baby. “What beautiful eyes she has,” the mother says, to no one in particular.
“MOM THIS IS THE SECOND BOOK I WANT,” yells Lilly, clad in pink clothing.
“Don’t stand on the carpet, it’s kind of dirty,” scolds a father who has deep bags under his eyes.
A baby screams in the background. A grandmother-granddaughter duo with matching curly hair reads Five Little Monkeys out loud. Grandpa soon joins, sporting golf shorts, a tucked-in polo, and a look of adoration.
The librarian wears a chain belt and Nikes. She lifts chairs above the heads of children as she tidies up. She keeps her composure. It’s definitely not her first day on the job.
FORT GREENE: The coach’s daughter
The basketball court at Brooklyn Technical High School is dappled in the afternoon sunlight, and it is packed. A ring of parents, siblings, and community members has formed to watch the championship match of the 10-and-under groups in Nike’s Project Win summer camp.
It’s clear that the organization has gone to great lengths to make this game feel as authentic as possible. A stack of trophies the size of a small child sits in the corner, waiting to be awarded to the winning team. A tall man in a referee’s striped black and white shirt follows the teams up and down the court, needing only to jog casually to keep up with the sprinting children.
Off to the side, an emcee—clad in a backwards baseball cap and a sleeveless shirt—paces up and down, calling the game with rampant enthusiasm. He gives each kid a nickname—Cookie, Brown Sugar—as he gives the blow by blow to the audience of proud parents.
Each team has exactly one girl on it; the emcee refers to the one on the red team only as “The Coach’s Daughter.” Every time he calls her that, she misses her shot. The red team is now lagging far behind as the minutes wind down.
Coach’s Daughter becomes increasingly frustrated, focusing so hard on the ball that she trips over her own feet a few times. A tall, skinny boy from the other team trips her and, as she steps back to the foul line to take her shot, the emcee calls out the fateful nickname, “Coach’s Daughter.” The ball doesn’t even make it to the rim.
RED HOOK: Small Mysteries
A driver sweeps crumbs and candy wrappers from the floor of a school van on Lorraine Street before straightening up and whamming the door shut. Behind him rises a three-story red brick building, the tallest structure on the block. Huge, laser-cut letters are stuck along the front of it, from sidewalk to roof, spelling “Bumblebees” in bright colors. “Day Care Center” reads the board over the front door.
The muted sounds of kids chattering at the end of a school day permeate from the school— which looks nothing like a school from the outside despite the large and colorful lettering. There’s no park outside, no swings, no play area. A little boy and girl hop onto their scooters and push themselves off the sidewalk, throwing quick glances backward before scooting across the wide street and cutting onto the sidewalk on the other side.
Across from Bumblebees and behind the sparse grass and skinny trees of a park are the squat buildings of the Red Hook Housing. Out in front of that complex of unadorned red brick, a chirpy little boy wearing a white baseball cap runs up with a bat to the static figure of a man perched on the back of a park bench. The man’s elbows are on his knees and his face is in his hands. He wears his cap so low that it shadows his face. The boy jumps onto the bench next to the man to shake his knee, but the man is lost to the child.
A little further down, the road branches towards the left, where under the white line of the horizon lies the blue of the ocean. The walls on King Street are covered by murals and graffiti art. On one wall, a piano player thumps out the keys of a song. He has thrown his head back in pain as blood bursts out of his fingers and the muscles in his arm ripple and break. Colors flow from the piano keys up through his hand and arms, winding through his body and then leaking out through a muffler that streams behind him and falls across the table of a young woman who has averted her face.
Propped against the sea at Reed Street, looking like it just popped out of a children’s storybook, there stands a strange house. An inflated shark is stuck over the front door. Steering ship-rudders are glued beside the shark, and another shark sticks its head right out of the wooden front of the house. All sorts of seafaring knick-knacks—anchors, red floating tubes, sails, and sailing boats—are stuck to black granite paper that has been nailed all over the house. A slender, aged woman cruises in on a blue motorcycle too large for her small frame. She kicks it to a halt before the pirate-house, and walks to the front door to press the buzzer.
BAY RIDGE: A Close Call
On the corner of Third Avenue and 82nd Street, under dark and looming clouds, Keri Twente walks with her infant daughter, Carmella, who is tightly coddled in a sling, breastfeeding.
Keri hears wheels screeching and looks up to see a silver hatchback barreling toward her and her baby. Before she has time to cower, the car hits a tree between Keri and the street. It bounces toward the intersection, narrowly missing another car before it comes to a halt in the middle of four-way traffic.
After a moment, a woman gets out of the plain-looking hatchback, now with a dent the size of a yoga ball, rendering the back passenger-side door unusable. There’s a “for sale” sign in the window right above it. She’s yelling about how there’s a kid in the car. Keri looks down at Carmella, who is too occupied with nursing to notice a thing.
Keri stays at the scene as the ambulance comes to check on the lady and her child passenger. They’re both fine, but Keri is waiting for the cops. She’s been in an accident before, and knows that she should stay to make sure that no innocent driver gets pinned with the blame.
A small crowd gathers outside the corner pizza shop to discuss what happened so they can fill others in on the details. It’s drizzling now, and they stand under the shop’s green awning, looking on at the scene that ends their summer.
GOWANUS: At the Parole Office
A man walks west on Second Avenue, down the corridor of manufacturing warehouses. He stops, his backpack slung over his shoulder. “Do you know where 15 Second Avenue is?” he asks. I tell him the truth: no. But three blocks later, my GPS announces my arrival at the New York State Department of Corrections Parole Division: 15 Second Ave.
This New York State Department of Corrections Parole building is nestled against a chain-link fence, through which the new, solar-powered Whole Foods across the canal is visible. A man, maybe in his late 30s, ascends the ramp to the glass door. A female employee in her late 60s or so, with a hunched back and eyes looking in different directions, walks out of another door. Before she gets in a cab, I ask her about the area. “I don’t know nothin’. I just go in and out,” she says.
Inside, a woman with tattoos on her arm sits on a cabinet just in front of the metal detector. A teenage girl dances around the entrance, stopping abruptly when I cross her path. Two officers—one white, one black—sit next to a room with a glass wall. They wear Kevlar vests, guns attached to their hips, and gazes glued to computer screens in front of them. On the other side of the glass three men—one white, two black—sit in the front of a few rows of seats, several chairs between them, their heads hung.
I exit the building, descend the same ramp, and turn the corner onto Sixth, where a Dominican flag hangs overhead. I hear someone jogging up behind me, and turn to find a mental health worker from the parole building waving my Metro Card in the air. I had dropped it. We chat a bit. “You should be careful around here,” he says before turning back towards the facility.
DUMBO: Kristen Welker from NBC
The two Village Video cameramen rest on the rocks under the Manhattan Bridge by the East River. One of them has sad eyes; the other wears a wry smile on his face. Who are they waiting for? They’ve been in the same spot since 5 a.m., filming for different shows. At first, it was fun to watch couples come and go, with their photographers. They’ve seen seven wedding photo shoots today. But now it has become repetitive.
Finally, a beautiful woman in a silky, purple shirt storms into the scene. A wide-shouldered man follows her. The cameramen jump up on their feet and smile widely. The woman hugs them. She’s Kristen Welker, NBC News White House correspondent, broadcasting today about Hillary Clinton, whose headquarters are here in Brooklyn.
Welker applies some makeup, fixes her hair, then starts speaking. “I can’t hear you,” she says to someone on the other end of the wires. She takes notes, speaks again, stops, and waits. The performance compels passersby. She smiles at them and motions for them to walk by.
A half hour later, Welker is done. She hugs the two cameramen like they are friends. She picks up her notebook, a pen, some equipment. It seems like everything’s going to fall out of her hands, but she juggles it, finding her balance. “I have to hop on the plane,” she says. And then she rushes off.
SUNSET PARK: The Substitute Swimsuit
The sidewalk is wet here in the Sunset Park Recreation Center in Brooklyn. The massive and cooling trees are decorated with bright blue streamers and balloons. The still air is smoky with the smell of grilled meats in celebration of a child’s birthday.
Children run in and out of the sprinklers. All but one is wearing something reminiscent of a Disney or Nickelodeon character. That little girl is wearing a blue and white striped blouse that has been turned into swimwear for the day. It hangs almost below her knees.
Kat Lejkowski, wearing sunglasses, is seated on a thick towel on a bench drinking Gatorade. She is a recent law school graduate, here to watch her niece—the little girl in the striped blouse—play and keep her safe. Kat explains the outfit: “She’s wearing my stuff, because her grandma forgot to give her a bathing suit.”
BEDFORD-STUYVESANT: Big Haircut
Two men sit by the entrance of Red Carpet Unisex Salon on Franklin Avenue. Tyrese is a 24-year-old DJ who wears a tattoo of a baby within a womb, headphones hovering over its ears, on his left arm. He has been coming to cut his hair at Red Carpet since its opening. Dexter, 42, is the owner of Red Carpet. He is enjoying a midday meal he had picked up from Queens—rice, shrimp, chicken, and peppers.
Dexter takes a bite before he speaks. He does not wish to discuss anything more than the removal of the communities and the people in Bedford-Stuyvesant, due to gentrification. “People from Harlem, Bronx, Long Island, and New Jersey—they are the people who come in here.” The people who live in the neighborhood, he says, “cannot afford it.”
A young boy sits in one of the many service chairs within the salon, his tall afro being picked at and trimmed by his stylist. A woman sits behind him, her eyes and hands occupied by her cellphone as her stylist tugs and pulls at her hair. The sound of a blowdryer echoes off the walls. “The justice system is fraudulent!” Dexter exclaims. “It ain’t right.”
Dexter shrugs his shoulders. He points to the cracks on his tiled floors. “I’m not fixing the floors,” he says, “the chairs—nothing, in this salon. Next few years you come, I won’t be here to answer your questions. The system, is a fraud.”
Tyrese, now wearing sunglasses, sits, laid back. It is almost time for his trim.
PARK SLOPE: The Slow Dog
There is an open, sloping field filled with clusters of people in the middle of Prospect Park just south of Grand Army Plaza. There are the yogis and Frisbee players, the readers and the sleepers. There’s the fit young couple alternating between sit-ups and planks, and the two motherly figures sitting on blankets as their toddlers tumble on the lawn. For all of the activity, it is quiet here. From the center of the field, nothing but the sound of a distant car and a laughing baby can be heard.
A young woman named Natalie Maroni sits in the shade with the old dog her family recently adopted. His name is Roger. He pants heavily, sounding as if each breath requires more effort than the one that comes before it. Maroni says it is Roger’s first trip to the park. The August heat has prevented him from being able to spend much time outside. As Roger pants in the shade, Maroni explains his aversion to young puppies—he prefers a slower, more relaxed pace. The dog flops down next to his owner with a lethargy that rivals the readers and the sleepers close by.
As Roger settles in, Maroni gazes over her book. An airplane can be heard overhead. A few bugs buzz through the field. A mother holds her sleeping baby on a bench, his head tilted to the side.
RED HOOK: A dog’s life
On an early September morning on Court Street in Red Hook, a dog named Piggy trots towards her daycare and grooming center. Holding her leash is a little boy who walks besides his father. The streets are empty and the shops still shut, but Animal Loving Care is open for business.
Philips stands behind the counter, jotting down instructions from customers on a clipboard. (Red hasn’t had a dump yet; Shelby needs to eat her breakfast; Anti-itch wash, please, and a short puppy cut.) Piggy pushes her nose against the glass door and wags her tail until Philip buzzes her in.
The dogs in the pen are in an uproar, running amongst each other like gas molecules.
“Bye Buddy,” a child calls out.
“Lucy! No, no, no!” shouts an old woman as her dog rushes back towards the open door.
Olive, a black lab mix with a coat as shiny as her black eyes, bounds up behind the counter every time a new arrival comes in, watching with her paws pressed against the countertop, stretching her neck as high as it can go.
At the edge of the pen, sitting by herself, is a brown Pitbull mix called Cali. She gazes outside, unmoved by the energy in the room, until another dog motivates her by his constant licking to get up and chase him off.
A basin stands in the corner of the inner room, prepped with shower and shelves with various shampoos. At least a half dozen differently sized scissors are hung up on hooks. A before-and-after picture of a scruffy-looking puppy suddenly turned clean and prim hangs on the softboard.
Cali begins to bark from her watching place behind the pen’s fence. A man and woman are standing in the door, and she’s up and wagging her tail frantically. Her previous moodiness disappears as she runs up towards the couple, circling their legs again and again. “She’s so happy, look at her smiling,” another employe, Umar, says to the couple.
“We’ve never left her alone for a whole week before,” says the woman.
“Ready to go, girl?” the man asks Cali, but she’s already at the door.
WILLIAMSBURG: The Buffalo Buyers
The sound of autumn rain is drumming from a distance as a steady stream of shoppers make their way around Buffalo Exchange, on the corner of Driggs Avenue. The store houses a vast collection of vintage and second-hand clothing. It smells like a woody mixture of must and smoke.
The playlist alternates between indie and hip-hop. The clothing items hang heavily on circular racks. Footwear is grouped together according to color and style: leather boots in one spot, 80s-style trainers in another. There are mannequin heads made out of polystyrene scattered around on the shelves, one in particular sporting oversized shades and a black beanie, with the name BEYONCÉ written on it giant letters.
The clientele, many of them bearded with tattoos, stand in line patiently with big, bin bags full of old clothes, waiting to show their items to the Buffalo Buyers. Behind the till, at the front of this line, a Buffalo Buyer named Cassidy says the day has been a “slow, steady stream of people” full of sellers trying to change their wardrobes for fall.
Her colleague, Tiara, is working at the fitting room desk. She describes the style of the store as “vintage and retro.” According to Tiara, her colleagues are equal opportunity buyers, putting both high-end and low-end items on the shop floor; with an emphasis on style and quality, not brands. “Desirability is key.”
COBBLE HILL: Into the Circle
The sun, still beaming at four in the afternoon, warms the cobblestones through Cobble Hill Park, as along comes the grainy rumbling of a stroller—a baby, the mother, the grandmother. The women focus on a green bench, cool under the trees, then on the child, still in the carriage, quietly waiting.
Then, golden arms reach toward the child, lifting it up to the mother’s chest. The grandmother’s eyes crease at the corners as she smiles. While the mother and child make their way through the park, the grandmother sits, observing some new mothers with their toddlers across on the sunlit grass. Five strollers circle the patch of grass, where the new mothers have spread their sheets.
At another bench, a young girl in pink fixates on the park’s jungle gym a few steps away from her. She turns and looks upon her mother, brown eyed and bronze, who is also watching another child, a blonde and blue eyed toddler, for permission to go to the brilliantly lit corner of the park where the gym is. The mother’s eyes quickly dart from that corner to her daughter to the corner once more. Finally, the mother hushes her child. “There’s no shade over there,” she said. “We go here.”
The toddler she is caring for coos toward the five other toddlers in the patch of grass. Then the group of children observes as the child and his caretaker approach. In rhythm, they all reach to the child, welcoming him to the circle. A couple of paces back, the young girl in pink follows her mother.
CLINTON HILL: The Flower Lady
The day’s drizzle has lifted, but the campus at Pratt Institute is still thinly populated. Among the students floating in and out of the Pratt library doors in little groups of twos and threes, there is an older woman. She is slightly hunched, with a straw hat and bright turquoise Birkenstocks over a pair of white socks.
She moves slowly toward a bench on the edge of the library terrace, resting her hands on the metal bars in front of her. She pulls out her phone and begins to take pictures of the flowers when it rings.
“…How are you liking it…?” she asks in the accent of a native New Yorker.
“…You can call me if you need anything…”
She hangs up and immediately dials another number, this time on speakerphone, but a business’ automated voice tells her that no one is there. Try again later.
Slowly, she gets up, walking towards the steps, pausing for a long moment to put down her blue tote bag—the kind that’s given away free at events—and stashes her pink umbrella in it. She stays bent over for a moment before continuing down the stairs to the gardens at the back of the school. She leaves her blue bag unattended on a bench and wanders through Pratt’s rose garden, examining each bush intently, as if they were her own.
DUMBO: The Urban Sketcher
During the golden hour on a Friday in late August, everyone—artists, tourists, and photographers—was trying to catch the perfect sunlight in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Jane Wingfield came to sketch it. She found a spot by a brick wall of St. Ann’s Warehouse and started taking out her tools: colors, palette, and brushes. She looked down, trying to organize, hiding from the gazes of the passersby. “What are you doing?” asked a visitor. “Sketching,” Jane said. “It’s a scary thing and sketching in public is a bit daunting. You don’t know who’s gonna stop.”
But Jane, who is retired and from Seattle, soon became oblivious to the world around her. She dipped the tip of the brush into the paint and looked up to the Brooklyn Bridge, illuminated by the setting sun. Her mouth opened slightly in surprise, as if she’d seen God. She quickly gazed down to try to capture what she’d seen.
— Demi Vitkute