Arrival Pt. VI
A Theater to Love, a Borough, and a Burglary
Brooklyn continued to astound me. It was a place devoid of the usual references and connections some cities enjoy. It hadn’t been an independent city since January of 1898 when Greater New York was born, when Brooklyn became a “borough”. Brooklyn is the only one of New York’s five boroughs that was ever a city. Manhattan was an island, after all, containing New York. Queens and the Bronx had comprised farms, villages and towns of various names, and Richmond became the superimposed borough over the mostly bedroom Staten Island. That left Brooklyn as a giant entity now to be contained within the city of New York but still distinctive enough to be referred to as itself, which it continues to be. On a highway journey passing by New York, one never sees Brooklyn. It has lived in its own time.
During my first weeks and months in New York I had gone to a traditional Manhattan jazz club called Eddie Condon’s. Condon himself had been a well-known figure in Chicago jazz in the early 20th Century. A traditional jazz club had been named for him in New York since the 1940s when my father arrived in New York. He liked to go there. I wanted to say I had gone there at least once. Sitting alone along a wall at a small table I can’t claim to remember one thing about the music, assuming there was any, but I do remember the likeness of Fats Waller printed on the wallpaper and felt at home.
Still not fully employed, I had to be careful with expenses. My first credit card was a few years away. I needed to write a check, which was an option. At the register, upon writing my Brooklyn address at the top of the check, someone at the counter noted that they weren’t always sweet on accepting checks from “the outer boroughs” but that they would in my case. I had never heard the term, sounding a little derogatory. I was already experiencing a loss of The Manhattan Life (see Pt. 1) and was now being insulted as a Brooklyner.
Back in the great outer borough I was generally enjoying life. I had a few friends in the neighborhood, the parks nearby were brilliant, and I can remember playing a baseball game at Prospect. In Manhattan there was a lightly paid day job and in the evening a theater group where I assisted in renovating a theater in the round in Hell’s Kitchen. An enormous amount of black paint had to be applied to the floor, and bleachers had to be fixed up. My friend Jordan (a union stagehand) had passed the job onto me. He was guiding me along a path that I was soon about to take over.
At the theater the director paid us in “carfare” (Subway tokens). There was a piano in the theater on which I had been playing standards and rags. Neil, the director, suggested that I might play piano for the audience as it entered and later for intermission. I enjoyed this – basically a first gig – and it garnered a kind mention in a Back Stage Magazine review which stating that I was “a nice bonus”.
It was a happy memory – pianistically striding through Manhattan as that welcome gust of air conditioning cooled the evening’s fare. I loved everything else about this project – the now familiar one-act plays, the actors, the friends made there – some of them treating me after the show to a cheeseburger deluxe at the corner Galaxy Café (where celebrities like Robin Williams, Susan Dey, and Mark Leonard shared the same wall with their signed 8x10 framed glossies). There was the general sense of being plugged into a matrix of New York creation and imagination. I couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else. One evening there was even a dark checker cab ride home with lovely Kathryn (one of the actresses) which took us over the Brooklyn Bridge. She was the first stop and kissed me on the cheek before alighting.