There he came, my five-and-a-half-year-old grandson Joseph, number eight, crossing home plate on the condensed diamond of one of Prospect Park’s giant meadows. The first iPhone snapshot of the day. This takes place under robin’s egg blue skies that turn to gray clouds, then showers and blue skies again. This as the cheers of my son-in-law, Jonathan, my daughter, Stephanie, my wife and I spur Joseph on. The kid is a natural. Swings a fast bat into the ball, drops the bat and runs to first, rounds it to second, third then home.
And before you know it, we have a sun shower, first a few drops, then more, then a steady rain—at least for fifteen or twenty minutes—then relenting to the blue sky, cumulus clouds, the fat sun and resumption of the game. Some smaller kids cry because their wet and cold as mommies hug them and dads pat them on the back. Nearby, a bunch of Indian kids throw a football around. They have a huge family, the women in colorful saris and the men discussing life in front of a cache of large plastic water bottles stacked above each other.
This, I realize, after years of absence from it, is the new Prospect Park. We have yuppies, bicyclists, stocky dads who look like ex-soldiers. We have black, tan, Asian and Haitian people, a polyglot of languages: the New Brooklyn.
After the game, the players go off to the playground, purportedly to rest. But the playground is a swarming hive of life, children buzzing everywhere, with parents, grandparents and friends. I close my eyes for a minute and realize I’m at the very center of being, a gift from eternity. I’m submerged in the timeless flow of life that will go on and on with or without me—as it should. I open my eyes to a Hispanic woman vendor selling water squirting toys.
Some would call the job menial, but it’s monumental. She’s earning her way up in this deadly economy. She’s making her way, definitely not giving up. Looking up at the sky, I see a huge hawk rising from the trees looking for a lunch of small birds. And suddenly I realize how lucky I am, with my family, son-in-law, daughter, grandson, wife, somewhere my son, Michael, driving his older brother, Peter, to a recording studio in Yonkers and back to record a solo album he’s producing. I’m proud of my family, but now I realize it’s glorious.
Jon and Steph are about to celebrate a ten-year wedding anniversary and a week later Steph’s birthday. But first we’re headed for a celebratory lunch.
The trip to “Joes at Avenue U”
“Joes” is under the MacDonald Avenue elevated subway on Avenue U. We’ve gone here because Jon and Steph have said the Italian food is absolutely delicious. There’s one waitress who stops in her tracks always to give Joey a big hug. There’s a huge display of dishes cooked in Sicilian and Neapolitan styles. They are a sampling behind glass of the formidable menu; everything from swordfish to stuffed artichokes and mushrooms, to eggplant parmigiana, all kinds of pastas from penne to home-made with dishes of broccoli rabe, calamari (fried or in a salad), and every Italian delicacy you can think of—as a first course for sharing, a main course or hero. These are tastes I haven’t experienced for years, from my boyhood, fried rice balls, eggplant rollatini, everything you can think of that’s delicious. We eat till we’re stuffed.
When the check comes, Jon and Steph insist on paying it, claiming that he and Steph and Joey have eaten so often at our house it’s only fair. I can’t wear him down, even waving my American Express card in his face. This is the first course of their tenth-year marriage celebration. We ask for the leftover food to be packed. It’ll feed us for a week. We bid the owner goodbye and walk down half a block to find an Italian bakery that has the full monty of pastries but doesn’t take credit cards, which doesn’t stop us. My wife pays in cash.
Back in Jon’s Toyota SUV, we sample the small canolis being passed about. I’m in Brooklyn again, this time riding down Ocean Parkway north towards the sun. It’s all coming back to me, the neighborhoods, the street names from under the MacDonald Avenue El, down which we drive and where the amazing chase scenes for the French Connection were shot. I think of Gene Hackman as Popeyem the undercover cop in a drug bust, cars slamming around the black steel posts of the elevated subway. More and more Brooklyn is drawing me back to the past.
It is also Israel Day in New York, especially on Ocean Parkway, a secure bastion for Orthodox and Hassidic Jews, who walk along the wide, tree-lined sidewalks. The men and boys wear black slouch hats and dark suits. Some wear beards, and probably have been in the temple all day, davening. “Daven” comes from “the Hebrew word dovaiv, meaning “to move the lips. Ergo Davening is when Jews move their lips. They don’t pray silently. They pray verbally, vocalizing their prayers.” They look peaceful walking in the dusk this day. Could there be a peace like this in Israel, an awakening for everyone in Palestine. I know this problem can’t be solved with a parade or in a day. The hurt goes deep.
It seems too soon that the parkway leads us back to their apartment on Henry Street near Clark and to the subway. I kiss Joey goodbye and tell him “I love him.” He says, “I love you Popop.” And that’s my eternity, our eternity. My wife and I hop into the subway and onto the 2 train back home to the upper West Side. After these few hours of pleasure together, I think of a line from Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Over all the Obscene Boundaries” from his book “European Poems and Transitions.” Amen and power to love and life everywhere.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.