Posts Tagged ‘Park Slope’

Old-time sign over Farrell's Bar and Grill

Old-time sign over Farrell's Bar and Grill

 Visited Farall’s, just south of Prospect Park on 8th Ave . . . 

Farrall’s has been around since 1933, a holdover from the days when Park Slope was an Irish neighborhood. Not so long ago, it was the haunt of Irish New York luminaries like Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hammill. I’d walked by but never gone in.  From the outside it looks like any old time New York bar – long wooden bar, big glass windows. I’d heard it had been taken over by cops and firemen who were generally hostile  to anyone not one of the above but on that Sunday afternoon it was almost empty. Two men behind the bar – one young, one old, the older guy talking about how a rich mayor like Bloomberg could never be good for the New York working man. 

People came and went, some hipster types like me, or youngish couples grabbing styrofoam cups of beer with the plastic lids at the bar then going back outside, presumably to enjoy the sunny afternoon in the park. I started talking to the old guy. When I said I was from Canada, he said he used to go to Montreal in the 50’s and early 60’s, back when “everyone stayed up all night, every night” reminding of that part of my birth city’s history when the NY jazzmen went up to play in the clubs, when the strip shows, the gambling joints,  made Montreal the decadent – and deeply corrupt – outpost of New York and Boston, indeed the entire northeast.  He told me Farell’s used to be the haunt of a lot of Mohawk Indians, down from Khanawakhe, the same Mohawks who came down for almost  a century to work as high steel ironworkers, whose lack of fear of heights was legendary – some 500 Mowhawks, I’ve read, worked on the World Trade Center (In looking up basic info on the Mohawk ironworkers, I found this excellent post about the Mohawks by undercoverblackman including a link to a radio interview with one of the ironworkers and some great comments with more stories). 

Flag of the Mohawk Warrior Society

Flag of the Mohawk Warrior Society

The bartender said they used to live in the area. “They had to spend a certain amount of time on the reserve to keep their treaty status so they’d just declare their neighborhood in Brooklyn a ‘reseravation’ and claim their treaty status that way. They liked to drink beer – some of them even drank beer before they went up to work – but they couldn’t touch hard liqour, they’d go crazy and you wouldn’t even recognize ’em.” He said they all went back to Khanawakhe (just south of Montreal) in the summer of 1990 when the Mohawks in Khanawakhe and neighboring Khanasatakhe faced down first the Quebec police force, then the Canadian Army. In that long hot summer, they blockaded the Mercier Bridge, cutting off 6000 suburban Montrealers from downtown, inspiring blockades by native Indians across Canada. Since I was raised in western Canada and saw first hand the desperation of native life, the Mohawks had my full sympathy, and I was glad the Canadian Indians had rallied together and put Canada on notice. When I came back to Montreal that fall, the city felt like it had been occupied, with army helicopters and APV’s buzzing around, heading for the two reserves – each less than five thousand people  – south and east of the city. 

The barman intimated that the Mohawks hadn’t been around for awhile and I didn’t ask what had happened. In Joseph Mitchell’s  excellent essay ‘Mohawks In High Steel’ he mentions that they were centered in the Gowanus region, in the area now called Boerum Hill, but perhaps some lived around Park Slope as well. The links with the Irish go way back – many Mohawks have Irish features, with square faces and even freckles, a legacy of the 18th and 19th centuries, when the Iroqouis Confedaracy was strong enough to play off the French, British, and the Americans, when their relative prosperity made them attractive enough that many Irish immigrants simply went native. St. Catherine Tekakwitha, the only native American Catholic saint, comes from Khanawakhe. Yet I wonder what happened to these legendary Mohawk ironworkers, why they didn”t come down anymore, especially since unemployment on the Mohawk reserves, I’ve ehard, has shot up in recent years . . . 

And it’s funny, in the ever-changing tableua that is Brooklyn, America’s clearing house, to see these links with a past that has been swept away.

Mohawk Warriors at the blockade during standoff.

Mohawk Warriors at the blockade during standoff.

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Prospect Park . . .

The kids are out in force. Or rather, their parents are out in force, dragging pushing them along . . .

In the Barnes and Noble on 7th Ave, the SUV sized baby carriages are parked twenty deep by the door, as parents drag, carry tiheir kids along the shelves, position them in Starbucks in the back. The kid’s section downstairs is a hive of nannies – black, Asian – with young white children in tow . . .

There just seem to be more and more kids in Park Slope. All around the same age as well, between 1 and 5. This is a whole generation that will grow up together, all the same age. Ironically, for a neighborhood that got so solidly behind America’s first black President, the kids are almost all white – even on Prospect Park’s East Side, you see hardly any black kids now.

While I was sitting at one of the tables, a guy came up trailing a little boy and a little girl. He had one of those effete voices, vaguely ironic in an inoffensive way and he coaxed his kids up a hill, carrying a soccer ball.

“Mommy’s waiting . . . we’ll get something to eat.”

Behind him, the kids sat down at a table. “I want to sit here!” the boy said. The girl started crying, then the boy jumped up and ran away, screaming because he saw a spider. The father came back, coaxing the boy back to the table.

“Oh, I’m sure it’s alright. But Mommy’s waiting for us.”

“Maybe Mommy will come down here!” The boy said, the spider forgotten about.

“I don’t think so.”

Ten minutes later, they were still making their way up the small incline. “Come on, people!” the father actually said, in his mincing nasal voice while the kids paid him no attention, standing behind trees, falling down, wandering back down the hill.

I wonder how it will be for these kids. On Vancouver’s East Side, where I lived for awhile when I was young, a whole generation came up after the war. Their fathers had served long and hard in the Canadian forces in WWII,  and were given one of rows of  identical houses in Vancouver’s East Side for their efforts. The men came back battered and tough, with all the usual problems of men brutalized by war, and many passed that on their kids, who grew up tough, and feared throughout the city, since they were all the same age, grew up fighting, formed gangs.

Or I think of the kids I up in Lillooet, BC, a remote logging town in the middle of British Columbia. A  couple dozen American draft dodgers and hippies settled in the valley north of town in the 70’s, fleeing the Vietnam war,  building homesteads and raising their kids. Beautiful country, but tough country too, with long winters and few amenities, and the Americans were true to their principles, carving farms, ranches, homes and community out of nothing. But they had one blind spot: they named their kids  ‘Flower’ and ‘Juniper’, silly hippy names that guaranteed that when these kids went to school with the other kids in the tough logging town . . . well, you can imagine. So these kids too grew up tough and by the time I came around in the late 90’s, they were roaring around town in little pick-ups, blaring AC-DC and drinking a lot of beer, so tough from fighting all through school that no one would fuck with them at all. Some, to their parent’s dismay, even became loggers.

And the kids in Park Slope?

Their parents are professionals, well-off, liberal. Many of the women probably gave all to their careers until the biological clock went off and they realized they had to have kids soon or that was it and suddenly they have to juggle kids and career. The kids don’t look happy – even in the park, on this very warm and sunny day, you hear them screaming, crying, pushing their parent’s boundaries as far as they can. 

I don’t quite understand the modern parenting thing of setting no boundaries for your kids. It’s definitely an Anglo-Saxon thing – in non-British Europe, or French Canada, kids are kids and parents are parents – and both groups are happier for it. In the more liberal, upwardly mobile circles, there sometime seem to be no barriers at all. A few weeks ago, in another Starbucks, I witnessed a kid actually punching his father in the face because he didn’t like the sandwich selection. Having grown up in a violent home, I’m no fan of corporal punishment, but if that were my kid . . . let’s just say on certain occasions reasoning with junior is not quite enough.

Who thinks of the kids and how they’ll grow up? How they’ll feel as teenagers? 

In West Van, a tony, very English suburb of Vancouver where I moved when I was fiftten, the kids ran riot. Their parents were professionals, worked long hours, and tended to give them money instead of affection – and often set no boundaries at all. The first party I went to, some kid had invited twenty of his friends and two hundred people showed up, and methodically trashed his house for him, throwing the stove off the balcony, dog food into all the beds, ripping out the wainscotting, the cabinets and smashing beer bottles on the shag rug until the glass was six inches deep. The kid wasn’t even unpopular – it was just an excuse to trash a house. Later, when the cops showed up, the kids barricaded themselves in, hurling beer bottles at the cops in a pitched battle that lasted an hour or more. 

Sons and daughters of lawyers, doctors, what have you. I’d just moved down from a mining town where if you did that kind of thing, you’d be dead. The kids had spirit, I guess, but they virtually guaranteed no more house parities after a couple more such incidents. 

Generational change is hard to predict. But I sit in the park and wonder how these kids will turn out in ten, twenty years time.

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Brownstones in that fabulous radioactive glow

Brownstones in that fabulous radioactive glow



Tree in Prospect Park - Again, note the fabulous radioactive glow

Tree in Prospect Park - Again, note the fabulous radioactive glow

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   I hadn’t been in JFK for years. Like the Heygate, it seems a product of the 60’s love or reinforced concrete. The arrivals ‘lounge’ is like something out of Communist Poland or Bulgaria – dingy concrete spaces, a single Dunkin’ Donuts booth, then a long concrete rampway under a parking garage to the new Airtrain which whizzes you along a circular elevated track past the different terminals of JFK and on through a desolate stretch of parking lots and factories (the anonymous Queens night spreading out beyond the window in a blur of lights and dark spaces), and onto a desolate station of the A line.

   The first thing that strikes me is how much more subdued people seem here. None of that weird aggression you get in London with people yelling into their cell phones. I hardly noticed people talking into the their cell phones here – even the young black guys. That was the first pleasure in being back – the easy courtesy of Americans.

   Then comes the familiar aluminum sided train with the scratched up, that hideous orange interior. Hard NY faces – a black guy with a sparse beard and one of those skullcaps fitting tightly over his head, getting off somewhere deep in Brooklyn’s ghetto heart.

   And after the long haul through these familiar subway stations beneath Bedford Stuyvesant, the wait on the bridge at Smith and 9th, the Manhattan skyline spread out in the dark, the bell of the Williamsburg Bank Tower, the vast industrial spaces around the Gowanus Canal – reminding me how industrial Brooklyn, indeed all New York, remains – that until very recently this was a 20th century industrial city (unlike London, which is a 19th century industrial city).

   Twelve hours after I locked the metal door behind me on Claydon House, I pulled into my friend’s apartment on 8th Ave, Park Slope. I’d never seen the street so quiet – with the neighborhood bar on the corner, the bodega with the stacks of organic potato chips and fresh produce, the big trees hanging over the street, the smell of grass and woodland from the park nearby it was like stepping out into the suburbs.

   We went to the 12th street bar on the corner where a basketball game was on TV and Bon Jovi was playing on the stereo. The barmaid flirted with us and a plate of nice seafood with a good glass of Pinot Noir came to less than ten pounds. It was good to be back in New York. 

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