One by one, beneath an April evening sky, the brownstones and butcher shops and vegetable markets of Park Slope, Brooklyn, begin to light. The Lucky Pub's manager plugs in the aging neon Budweiser sign with the lop-eared dog. At the Korean market, the owner switches on the bell-shaped lanterns that sway from his red-and-white awning. Commuters spill from the subway onto Seventh Avenue and stop for a moment at the top of the stairs to breathe in the evening air. It is as though the air of Brooklyn is perfumed with relief, the scent of home. Not much has changed since the subway was built in 1930, rattling the cellars beneath Ninth Street. Cordeiro's Market has been there for fifty years. And the Lucky Pub recently put in new paneling, but the crowd hasn't changed in character since World War II. Nor has the display behind the bar: faded shamrocks, pressed between glass and cotton, that Paddy Dunfey found in Prospect Park somewhere between 1930 and 1950.
But now, in 1989, there are new stores, which cater to the recent arrivals in the neighborhood. A video store. A cheese store with fresh mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes. A muffin shop. A comic-book store. Already their awnings have tarnished in the city air, their windows are cluttered in a familiar way. And though not many houses have sold in other neighborhoods since the market crashed two years ago, in Park Slope real estate is still moving, and every third store along Seventh Avenue is an agency displaying slick pictures of renovated brownstones.
If you turn right at the Lucky Pub you'll be on Eighth Street. Walk into its silence. Feel it: the rich solidity of the hundred-year-old bluestone sidewalks, the slope of the hill as it eases up toward Prospect Park, the Norwegian maples, which in summer are so thick the rain doesn't come through. And the houses, a soldierly sameness that can't help but please you, beginning to light now, with tables being set for dinner, mail being read. Every house on the block was built in 1886, by the same builder. On the north side of the street they are three-storied. On the south side, four. Symmetry a hundred times over, and yet, inside, there is no symmetry at all. The O'Neill teenagers are at war in 664. Darlene Kilkenny Sheehan's long-awaited new baby cries out in 621, and Darlene also cries as she rocks him, because her husband, Donald, is getting drunk down at the Lucky. Old Mrs. Reilly watches you from her window in 621. Somehow their lives fit into these narrow houses: seventeen feet wide, clad in brownstone, and each lit window marks a history of birth, love, and death. Row after row of brownstone stoops line up, row after row of wrought-iron gates mark the entrances with fleurs-de-lis. You could easily walk by your own house and not know it. People do every day. Even though they know their own gardens or garbage cans or trees, the sameness of the gates and houses is a lulling, sweet drug.
You can catch glimpses of the interior detail: floral medallions on the ceilings, etched-glass doors. So beautiful for houses that have long been working class, affordable. Read the names on the mailboxes. Names that have been on these mailboxes for decades. Ryan, O'Connor, Kilkenny, O'Shea. Some since 1917, 1911.
And the new names: Hartman, Jarvis, Epstein, DeLee. No Irish ring to these names. No long Brooklyn history here. People whose cars are new, whose jobs are unstable but even in a bad economy pay shockingly well. People who buy and sell in a day, who worry about preschool, install soaking tubs, own Volvos, have tax shelters. People who five years ago wouldn't have been caught dead in Brooklyn.
In 645, while the movers clatter and jostle and hoist around her, Zosia Finney...