The only chocolate chip
Now a trendy area of Brooklyn, at the time I was the ONLY black person I ever saw in our Italian neighborhood. The only chocolate chip! The neighborhood was lined with old-timers who hung out in front of their stoops; large personalities in small folding lawn chairs. I was terrified to move into the neighborhood, because there had been a racial incident that had caught news attention, earlier that year. This incident had occurred in a different area, but it too was an old Italian neighborhood and coming from California, I was not familiar with the town that I had rented an apartment in and wasn't sure if I should expect the same level of intolerance there. Try to imagine...I was a somewhat hippied-out, slim, black girl, from from Northern California, and my boyfriend/later husband (later ex...lol...), a kind of sturdy, Norwegian accompanied by our little Yorkie...uh...yea, we stood out.
Since I would be coming home alone, late some nights, this did not feel like a great choice.
We had been staying with our friends Jose and Scott. They lived on the dodgier side of town, we often heard gun shots at night, eh...in the day too. It was also a further walk from the subway for me.
All Eyes were on Us
Luckily, we found a 3rd floor walk-up, fairly close to the subway and we were relieved. One of my best friends from high school lived a 5 mins. walk away, so I knew one person in the area. The day we moved, all eyes were on us. Funny enough, we had next to nothing to move in, so their wasn't much to watch. I suppose that in itself was telling. A couple of suitcases, a pot and pan, sleeping bags a huge pillow and my boyfriends stereo. We bought a used futon mattress shortly thereafter, and I made a great chop block table out of pallets and foraged scraps of wood (well before that became a thing...). We dumpster dove for some sweet chairs, linen (table clothes and curtains) and paid a few bucks to a (later realized) crackhead under the bridge for what looked like a table top. We went to the woodshop a few doors down and asked them to cut wood, we had found, for us, so that we could fasten it to the "table top". We tried to imagine the height of a normal table and gave them a rough estimate. It turned out to be, uncomfortably high (I felt like I was 3 years old sitting in a grown up chair at the table), but not high enough for our stools (our legs would not fit under the table).
There were a few "alternative-artist" types that had begun to move into the area and were not liked much. Change... Even though I was a professional dancer, I was pleased to have never been considered one of those artsy-types. I quickly realized this label didn't refer to someone being an artist, it was a catchall phrase for an attitude. Artsie, referred to young people and thirty somethings, who had money, to pay illegal rent increases (because it was still cheaper than Manhattan) were "bringing it here and ruining the area". They had little respect for the old beauty of the neighborhood and contributed to a general feeling of being assaulted. They were "taking over". It seemed they sought to change the area to their own personal liking (artistic, but cookie cutter), by a dollar vote, not to blend in with the existing environment. I heard, "they're buying up all of the warehouses, they are all over". It's funny I felt protective of it too, I kind of got it. If you go to the old neighborhood now, one can clearly see, the old-timers claims were true.
THE WELCOME COMMITTEE
The welcome committee came by way of Ruby (aka Ruby-legs), our widowed, grandma-like neighbor. She stood at the top of our stairs and stared as we lugged our things upstairs from the car. "That's all you got?!", she was shocked. What a great way to really get to know your neighbor, but to watch them drag in completely unboxed possessions out of their car. We were definitely not going to be taking over the neighborhood anytime soon, we didn't even have a bed!
We arrived in town without work and we were struggling to make ends meet. We would buy up, day old bread from one of the warehouse bakeries (and freeze it), loads of apples, a block of cheese and large quantities of pasta from another warehouse. That is pretty much what we ate, unless Ruby made red sauce for us with Ziti, escarole or broccoli rabe, my favorite, which I had never heard of before moving here. Ruby would invite us over regularly to eat and since we had no television, we would come in at night and watch tv with her too. She gave us nicknames, everyone in the neighborhood, automatically but a -y on the end of everyone's name, but she could do that with my, so she called me Adg. I loved her. My mother had just passed away a couple of years prior and my boyfriends family had sort of abandoned him once he moved to America. We were two kids completely out of our element and she made this town feel like home.
Irreverent Shopping Trips
Ruby had three sons that loved her very much. One of them had not married yet and would drive to take her shopping each week. We went shopping weekly as well, so we figured out that we could fill that duty for them. After taking care of my father, recently, I realize now how nice it probably was for her son to have gotten a little break. We would take her out whenever we went shopping. We had a great time, it was an adventure. We were always a bit irreverent and laughed a lot! If she needed something in between, we would pick that up for her as well. It was from her, that I began to realize how differently advertising hit the generations. She believed the commercials wholeheartedly. She always used to throw a random item on her shopping list, like, "Adg, how about you get some of that French Toast Crunch (might not have been the brand, but it was like that)? I see the commercials and it tastes just like french toast!". She of course let me know she had never had it before, but the commercial said it was so; so it was.
Ruby brought balance and happiness to our NYC lives, lives that had always tended to be unnaturally devoid of representatives from other generations. We had a very special relationship and when the neighbors or her son spoke of us to her, they referred to us as, "the kids". We had started a community in the most unlikely place; we had moved across country with nothing and now we had a little piece of home.
After many years we moved from that part of town, about a 20 min drive away. I still wonder whether that was the right decision. The following year, we had our first son and visited Ruby, but it wasn't the same as living next door. Ruby came to visit once, maybe twice, but her health was not so great and it was difficult for her to travel.
We tried to get our Ruby to move with us. She was a tough lady, that was one of the things I loved about her. She told us as she had always said, " I want to die where my husband died" and so she did.