Right. Maybe Scarlett O’Hara’s dad thought he was in control of Tara’s perimeter, but down here on the street we know better. We know that vacant lot next door that has been letting in the breeze and sun for twenty years could be sold tomorrow, turning your view into a sheer wall.
If I were in any danger of forgetting this Big City koan, Marty Markowitz was there to remind me. “All this talk about ‘the neighborhood,’ ” Markowitz postured. “These people moved into brownstones on Dean Street because it was cheap. They thought they found paradise because they got out of Manhattan. What they’d really moved to was a business district, a place that had always been a business district, except they didn’t know with that hole in the ground at Atlantic Yards. But a business district is for business, and now, thank God, it is doing business. If these people wanted to move to a bedroom community, they should have gone to Mill Basin. Marine Park. Bay Ridge. Those are bedroom communities. Brooklyn has many wonderful bedroom communities! But the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenue is not one of them.”
Since first announcing the plan, Forest City Ratner has managed to finish exactly one of seventeen planned structures (Joe Johnson better do better than that, at $22 million per) at Atlantic Yards. Not that Bruce Ratner was allowing this fact to sully the hoopla surrounding the Barclays Center opening. The usually reticent 67-year-old developer has been crowing lately, including in this magazine, about how proud he was to have had a hand, however modest, in the creation of the arena that would finally remove the curse leveled on the borough by the demon O’Malley, he of many chins, third-worst human in history after only Hitler and Stalin.
When Walter O’Malley moved the baseball team once known as the Brooklyn Bridegrooms to Los Angeles after the 1957 season, the Brooklyn sector of the Seventh Seal was peeled away, letting loose a half-century of pestilence. The once-thriving manufacturing base went down, the waterfront lay fallow. The hell dogs of crime and political corruption ran wild in the streets. It was a terrible thing this O’Malley did. But now, at long last, a savior had arisen. It mattered not that the application of this tikkun olam would come in the form of a second-division basketball team, a club whose legacy included selling Julius Erving, the sublime Doctor J, for cash. The advent of the Nets—the Brooklyn Nets!—so long in the wilderness, back home again for the first time, was nothing less than a miracle, a redemption, a keeping of faith with “Brooklyn pride,” Bruce Ratner said.
Let me present a B’klyn bona fide or two.
On May 12, 1956, which happened to be my 8th birthday, my grandfather and I walked the six short blocks from 320 Eastern Parkway to Ebbets Field, where, just for me, the curveballing Dodger right-hander Carl Erskine pitched a no-hitter against the Giants. You could look it up. Fifty-six years later, I continue to live in thrall to that afternoon. But I’ll tell you, never once—not while driving past the Bengali groceries and the Russian baths on Coney Island Avenue, not when buying a roast duck from the cleaver-wielding Chinese butcher on Eighth Avenue or listening to a bloodshot-eyed Rasta explain the rationale for the divinity of Haile Selassie on Beverly Road—have I ever fallen to my knees in grief that Carl Furillo was no longer gunning down runners with that Reading-rifle arm of his.
Dodger longing made sense in the sixties or the seventies. A polis should be given ample time to mourn. But when the monolithic Ebbets Field Apartments have occupied the shores of Bedford Avenue longer than the ballpark ever did: Enough already. For Ratner and his municipal cheerleaders to play this rancid, long-expired nostalgia card now took a lot of balls, I thought.
But the developer had his narrative, and he was sticking to it when I talked to him the other day. Over the next few months, Barclays Center, in addition to Nets games, will host concerts by any number of surefire geezer performers, from Barbra Streisand to Bob Dylan. Certainly he expected to turn a profit putting on these shows, Ratner said, but Barclays Center was about a lot more than making money.
“Its about Brooklyn.” It was always about Brooklyn, the developer said. “I grew up in Cleveland, always did well in school. By the time I went to Harvard, I thought I was pretty smart. I thought I knew math. But when I met these guys from Brooklyn, that’s when I realized I didn’t know math, I knew arithmetic. These people, from this strange place, with these accents, were thinking on a whole other level. A mystic, spiritual level. I wondered what kind of place could produce such geniuses. That’s when I began to fall in love with Brooklyn.