Just before 2 a.m. I had a sudden craving for peonies so I went out to the very expensive deli in pursuit of them. There were no peonies, however, only a team of Latin American laborers restocking the juice and milk display.
It was too beautiful an almost-summer night for anyone to be shopping. Everyone was out on the street instead. I had already walked the length of the neighborhood earlier that evening and found the streets unusually alive, even for the Southside, where every night is an all-out block party. Tonight was an especially big one. Even more old men were sitting at their folding tables, more teenagers were pushing and shoving each other on and off of chain-link fences, more cars were parked with all four doors open and music blaring.
I’ve lived in this neighborhood long enough for each street corner to harbor its own memories, ranging from the monumental to mundane. There is the awning where I waited out that terrific rainstorm and there is exactly the spot where that horrible fight I had with that boyfriend started and that’s the lampost I once had a long conversation with while drunk. When I walk by these corners I sometimes imagine that I am in a Back-to-the-Future-esque time warp and can actually see the ghosts of my other selves crowding the streets with a history significant only to me. Then I reproach myself for being narcissistic and not living in the moment, and I try to say goodbye to the past while also admonishing it to stay there, but it never does, and all my former selves go on about their business, dripping wet, screaming mad or crying drunk as they may be.
Tonight I approached the block party of today and the ghosts of yesteryear from the lordly height of the elevated train platform. I stepped off the stairs and almost directly onto a discarded condom. I am always confounded by used condoms on the street. If there are so many used condoms in the street how come we never find people having sex there? Or do people have sex in cars and throw the condoms into the street? Whenever I see a used condom, no matter how grossed out I am, I am always pleased to see that at least someone is practicing safe sex.
Perhaps because of the used condom, I became preoccupied that the woman walking ahead of me was a hooker. She was dressed like the Halloween or Hollywood version of a hooker–black miniskirt, leopard print tube top, black boots. She wore it like she was at work, like this outfit was part of her dress code. Maybe she is just confident in her body, I thought for a moment. But there was something about her exposed flesh that made it seem not entirely her own.
In the basement-level religious paraphernalia store a cherubic toddler was walking amongst the candles. A guy was trying to talk a girl into coming into a club with him, softly, sweetly, insistently. On one empty block I smelled weed and looked up to see a young guy contemplatively smoking a joint in a darkened doorway. I looked away so he wouldn’t feel watched, even though I wanted to smile at him, a smile that would say, right on, man. Tattered Dominican flags crisscrossed the street, their shreds hanging in dignified desecration.
My street is on the decidedly Italian side of the neighborhood and accordingly marked by an enormous green, white and red flag that that appears to float transparently when backlit by the streetlamps. On the cross street there is an equally large American flag that I am prone to staring at for long periods of time on my way home, thinking about America and all its crimes and complications. I will meditate on this transparent flag for several minutes, standing in the middle of the street, hoping for a singular revelation about the empire to make itself known to me.
In the space of ten blocks I had passed under three different flags. Then I went home and watched Pollock. After that sad story I needed something bright and hopeful to clear my head. It was such a well-made movie, such a pointlessly tragic story. A very talented artist drank too much and wasn’t very nice to the people around him, achieved fame, was largely misunderstood and then died, taking an unlucky girl with him. Out into the night I went for peonies, the opposite of abstract alcoholic suicide.
Metropolitan Avenue was as crowded as I’d ever seen it at any time of day. Little kids were still riding their bikes and pregnant women fanned themselves on stoops. The L train was terminating at Lorimer and running buses on the rest of the line. Several hundred people were lined up at the corner like patient refugees of a hipster exodus. I imagined that as the recession worsened and the trust funds diminished and the graphic design jobs grew fewer and further between and rents went unpaid for too long, buses would line up at Union and Metropolitan to take the hipsters to refugee camps where they would construct roofing out of found materials that would win design awards. “We left with little more than the iPods in our tote bags,” people would say decades later, when the grant monies came in for the oral histories. “And we never saw our overpriced apartments again.”
On one corner a woman was screaming into a cell phone, “I swear on my daughter I will call the cops on you!” and on the next corner another woman was screaming something very similar into a pay phone. The woman on the pay phone started beating the boxy part of the phone with the receiver while the woman with the cell phone continued screaming, pacing and gesticulating. What if they could switch phones and keep yelling, I wondered. Would whoever made them each so angry notice the difference in pitch? Kellogg’s Diner’s new neon sign was flashing away in its garish fuchsia and I was thinking how dramatic it would be to walk the catwalk surrounding that new neon sign, how if Back to the Future were remade in Williamsburg the climactic moment could occur not on the clock tower but on the Kellogg’s Diner sign. Instead of driving really fast in a DeLorean the hero would have to catch an L train before the doors closed. In the window of the fancy restaurant I used to frequent before my more extreme poverty set in I watched a waiter drink wine at the only table without its chairs up, in the bright light that marks the end of the evening. I passed the stop sign where I once met eyes with the famous actor who died young and almost stepped on another used condom. Must be spring fever, I thought, everybody’s doin’ it and there are no peonies to be had in Brooklyn tonight.