There was an ad in the local weekly paper calling for the recollections of Brooklynites who have moved to Brattleboro. I responded:
I was born on the Upper W. Side, but spent more time living in Brooklyn than anywhere else. If I had stayed I would’ve wanted to move to Red Hook, but I wasn’t doing well in NY, and I had always dreamed of full moons and granola in Vermont. My given name is Walter C. Stearns III, but I am always known as Wat, unless more serious deprecation is called for. Then you may look for a melancholy clown named Barclay, who was born after my arrival here in Brattleboro.
Most of my time in NY revolved around drinking in a divebar called Sophie’s in the East Village, before the real estate lobbies decided everything down there would be more marketable if it were all called the Lower East Side. I was always amazed I didn’t get mugged when I fell asleep on the F train and woke up past my stop in Windsor Terrace or Bay Ridge. Those rides back to 15th St. at 3 or 5 a.m. were filled with anxious anticipation of the fatigue and marginal performance I was doomed to produce the next day at work.
Attached are a couple of previously written pieces that are more about my life in the E. Village than in Brooklyn per se, as well as a poem or two written way back in the 90s when my life was a mystery that shone with a beckoning light that is much fainter today. I lived on the edge of Windsor Terrace and Park Slope, across the street from where a Palestinian gentleman named Ezzat, and his sons who loved bling and salacious t-shirts, ran the bodega at Prospect & 8th Aves. That’s where I first learned the World Trade Towers had come down on the afternoon of Sept. 11.
I had gotten pretty wickedly shitfaced at Sophie’s the night before, and when my doorbuzzer rang frantically at 9am I cursed all truants and managed to get back to sleep. At about 2pm I had rejoined the waking population and headed over to the bodega, where I suggested Ezzat Jr.’s recent trip back to the homeland had stripped him of the neurological skills necessary to operate a television. That’s when I learned I truly was a stupid fuck and didn’t I know that the Trade Center had been bombed and that’s why there was only a snow pattern on both of their TVs. I guess they had brought an extra one out and put it in the shopping area for the customers when the catastrophe began at 8:45.
Prospect Avenue between 7th and 8th Avenues is the top of the slope called Park Slope. It feeds straight down into the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and over the Gowanus Canal, and I could see New York Harbor directly from my stoop. I went outside and back across Prospect from the bodega to try to understand what I was seeing, but there were only vague columns of smoke remaining in the Towers’ place in the skyline. The wind off the harbor was arriving with the first faint wafts of the odd pungent stench of burnt rubber, plastic, and human hair that would permeate the City for the next 10 days or so.
Sophie’s, which has suffered a devolution from divebar to Grey Goose vodka dispensary caused by Disne-fication and gentrification, at that time served as a homeward stopoff for bike messengers. I bought several of the temp photo IDs that the messengers had had to use in the World Trade Center for $5 each as memorabilia. I lost them with a lot of other stuff as my storage space was auctioned off when I became homeless in 2009. My favorite item from that time was the butane rocketflame lighter with the Trade Center in miniature printed on the sides that I got in Chinatown. When you ignited the flame, a red light would flash behind the airplane that appeared ready to collide with the tower. To me, this was the quintessence of low-level exploitation culture in New York, and I sincerely applauded the New York yan Chinese for their merciless balls and grit. I had little sympathy for most of anyone who would be offended by such a crass item, since I myself felt bitterly exploited by the lawyers who paid me $20 per hour out of the $1000 or more they charged, and no one I knew was very interested in my little square of the mire that enmeshed us all in one way or another. Trapped in my own devolution of disintegrating health and dispersant dreams, the Trade Center lighters, of which I bought and resold dozens, filled me with an inchoate mixture of delight and disgust that perfectly encapsulated the mood of that time in my life.
That’s the New York I was in, and that I badly needed to leave behind several years before I finally did. Strangely enough, a large fire again had a profound impact on my life when at last I moved to Brattleboro in 2011. Due to the destruction of the Brooks Building, the only housing I could find was an “efficiency” at 68 Main St., which contains about 50 low-income apartments and the Sam’s Outdoor Outfitter store. Little did I realize, until I had moved all my belongings there, that it is a concentration camp-style operation run by a group of menacing retreads from one segment or another of the security industries. It’s not unlikely to find a human tooth on the stairs there while you trudge upward in the oftentimes when the elevator is broken. So much for full moons and granola. New York City really is the universe; you can find it anywhere.