Are You Living in Pete Hamill’s Brooklyn, Or Ours?


In this week’s New York magazine, Pete Hamill talks about Brooklyn — the Brooklyn of his codgerrific past, mostly, when people talked about “that son of a bitch Hitler” and “de scaw” of the Dodgers’ game. Blinking in the sunlight of 2008, Hamill mournfully notices that rents have gone way up, no one knows “The White Cliffs of Dover,” and kids don’t play in the street like they used to — “Maybe they’re off on ‘playdates,'” he mutters. “Or, more likely, they are hunched over computers, deep into virtual childhoods.”

But the subhead (“The author returns to find that everything, and nothing, has changed”) suggests there’s a dramatic reversal coming, and so it does: Pete Hamill sees some kids playing stickball! “The ball bounced past a couple of fielders right at me,” he writes. “I knocked it down, then threw it back. The ball was blue, not pink, but it was still a kind of spaldeen…”

After this apparition, you half expect everyone to start singing “Sidewalks of New York,” hoisting Schaefer, and using the bottlecaps to play skelly.

Despite his plus-ca-change protestations, Hamill’s Brooklyn is clearly a different place than today’s — a place where the light is always sepia and LaGuardia is always reading the funnies. Which Brooklyn are you living in? Check yourself with this simple comparison chart:

Hamill’s Brooklyn: The sound of “a squadron of B-17s heading for Europe.”
Modern Brooklyn: The sound of “Paper Planes.”

Hamill’s Brooklyn: “There were block parties on V-E Day and V-J Day, kegs of free beer outside the many saloons…”
Modern Brooklyn: There’s a box store on Beard and Otsego, plates of underpriced Swedish meatballs in the cafeteria…

Hamill’s Brooklyn: “Opposition to the Atlantic Yards project is so bitter” because “Brooklyn is not Frank Gehry. It’s Edward Hopper.”
Modern Brooklyn: Opposition to the Atlantic Yards is so bitter because Brooklyn is not a borough. It’s a corporate fiefdom.

Hamill’s Brooklyn: “You walk for the morning paper, and total strangers say, ‘Beautiful day.’ And you must assent.”
Modern Brooklyn: You go to the Brooklynian message boards and total strangers say, holy shit, I can’t even afford to live here anymore. And you must assent.

Hamill’s Brooklyn: “I am watching the new people walk on my old Seventh Avenue, a steady stream coming home from the subway. All are in their twenties, most of them gym-thin. Shoulder bags hang from their shoulders while other bags form humps on their backs. Their thumbs flick across tiny keyboards… They never make eye contact with anyone, as if adhering to some paranoid manual of New York behavior…”
Modern Brooklyn: No, I don’t see an earpiece. That old dude is definitely talking to himself.