I moved to Brooklyn this past weekend. And now that I’m somewhat recovered from the experience of moving—which is, as most everyone I talked to about it correctly pointed out, “the worst”—I’ve been acclimating myself to my new surroundings. I’ve never lived here before. So far, I’ve been impressed by the extent to which my initial impression jibes with what Guru said back in 1994: Brooklyn really is like a whole different planet.
First of all, it is very, very hot in Brooklyn. I don’t know if it’s because it’s farther to the East, and so therefore closer to the sun when it rises or something, but, man! It is much hotter here than it was in Manhattan, where I used to live. Also, apparently, Brooklyn does not have as good air conditioning as Manhattan, so basically, I’m sitting here sweating as I type. Brooklyn is disgusting.
There are far more trees in Brooklyn than there are in Manhattan. Which is nice, in that trees are nice to look at. But not so nice in that all the trees provide a home for lots of insects. Biting insects. Mosquitoes, mostly. There are far more mosquitoes in Brooklyn than Manhattan. This is perhaps the single worst thing about moving to Brooklyn. My family and I are covered in mosquito bites. And they seem to be nastier mosquito bites than the ones you get in Manhattan; redder, more swollen, itchier, and conducive to more and louder complaining. It’s not just us, either. Yesterday, I was waiting for the bus—yes, the bus— that brings my kid home from camp at the end of the day, and there were two women standing near me, waiting for their own children, I supposed, and I overheard one of the them was telling the other, “I have been getting these huge, red mosquito bites lately!” So, it’s a phenomenon. I’m thinking that the mosquitoes in Brooklyn may have mutated themselves some stronger poison, or are now carrying a worse disease, and that eventually, everyone in the borough will probably die from this new strain of West Nile Fever or malaria or whatever makes the bites swell and itch so much worse.
And Manhattanites, comfortable and secure in their air-conditioned island fortress, protected by the mosquito-repelling wind that blows over the East River, will continue to thrive and make money and not even wave us goodbye.
But there’s another bug that’s been bothering me in Brooklyn, too. I don’t even know what it is. This one’s wingless, about a centimeter long, white, sort of larval-looking, with black and yellow stripes. I first noticed it a few days ago, when I felt a sharp sting on my left ring-finger. It really hurt! I looked down and saw the creature clinging to me with its little hook-like legs. Curious, I inspected it for a moment, but then watched in horror as it raised up its tail-end, which I could see now was the sharp part, and curled it into a position to strike again—like a scorpion! I quickly crushed it with my thumb. It has a soft exoskeleton, this vicious bug. I tried looking at pictures of bugs on the internet but couldn’t find it. So I think it could be an entirely new species.
The sting, though, is even worse than Brooklyn mosquito bites. (If you can possibly imagine that.) More painful than itchy—and besides the swelling, the wound has developed this kind of hard callused plate. As days pass, some of the upper-layer of skin has begun to flake off. Sorry. But, see how disgusting Brooklyn is?
Yesterday, again, I felt something on my hand, looked down and saw another one of these horrible bugs. I don’t know if they drop down from the trees, or swing at you on webs like spiders, or what—because, again, they don’t fly. But, obviously, the borough is infested. (What kind of bug is this?!) Thankfully, I brushed this one away before it could get me. For all I know, though, that first sting was enough. It could be that this thing is related to the Amazonian “kissing bug” that David Grann wrote about in The Lost City of Z that inject protozoa in your lips that kill you from your heart or brain swelling up, twenty years later.
With the heat and the trees and the mosquitoes, I feel like I’m getting a better understanding than I used to have of the derivation of the hip-hop slang term for the borough, “Brooknam.”
I think the term actually refers more to the Vietnam War than Vietnam the country, but still. There’s been some crazy stuff like that, too.
We went out to Red Hook on Sunday, because I’ve heard that’s a thing you do in Brooklyn. We went to the famous Fairway grocery store—my first visit. It is huge, sort of overwhelmingly so. And also very crowded. And a fistfight broke out between two men in the packaged salad section. I was in the next aisle when I heard shouting and commotion. “Hey, stop it! Stop it!” And scuffling feet and stuff being banged around. I looked around the corner to see two guys, all disheveled and red in the face, being separated by supermarket staff. I don’t know if they’d both gone to grab the last tub of wild greens or ramps or what. Maybe they’d crashed their carts into each other? As I said, it was crowded in the Fairway. And stressful. That’s Brooklyn, for you, I guess.
That night, like half an hour before midnight, as we were getting ready to go to sleep, the doorbell rang. I opened the window and look down on to the street, and saw a man looking up at me, holding a small dog on a leash.
“Hi,” he said. “I’m your neighbor. I know this is a little strange, but I’ve locked myself out of my house.”
I told him I’d be right down and went back downstairs.
He and his wife had thrown a dinner party, it turned out. After the guests had left, his wife had taken their kid to bed, while the guy had taken the dog out for a walk. When he got back, he realized he’d forgotten his keys. He’d called his wife with his cell phone, but she hadn’t answered. He imagined she’d fallen asleep. He wondered whether it might be okay if he came in, went through our place to the back garden, to try to climb over the fence into his own. His back door was open, he thought.
He seemed harmless enough, and I like to be neighborly, so I said okay. (The thought occurred to me that he might be a serial killer. But what are you gonna do?) I led him back and held the dog’s leash while he hoisted himself up over the fence.
“Luckily, we drank a fair amount of wine at our party,” he said, after he’d gotten one leg over. (I’d figured.) “So I’m a little more adventurous than I’d usually be. And more limber.”
He landed loudly on the other side. But he didn’t scream out in pain, so I asked if I should throw the dog over for him. He said no, he’d go through his house and come back around front to pick it up, if that was okay. Sure?
A minute later, he was back at the stoop. I handed him the leash, and he handed me a bottle of champagne as thanks. (Veuve Clicquot—the small size, a half-bottle. But still! It’s okay with me if he does this every night.) I learned the next day that he’s the managing editor of a well-known business magazine.
So, yeah. Now I live in Brooklyn, and everything is different.