First Person

Lessons Brooklyn taught me: a transplant’s love letter

Photo by Flickr user carnagenyc.
Right? There is, isn’t there? Photo by Flickr user carnagenyc.

Brooklyn may not be where I was born and raised, but eight years, six jobs, five apartments, three ER visits, and one Brooklyn Bridge tattoo later, it’s where I belong. I’ve been in love and had my heart broken here. I’ve trained for a marathon here. I’ve woken up to water bugs crawling out of the drain, dead rodents, and roommates’ random hookups. I’ve made friends, lost friends and attended funerals. I vote here. My nephew was born here. I’ve dipped my toes in the Gowanus, kissed on the Brooklyn Bridge, and volunteered after Hurricane Sandy. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way. 

Be Ready for Anything

In a borough of 2.6 million people where over 800 languages are spoken, one never knows what to expect. So think about the thing that you never imagined would happen, and it probably will.

Example: This story is also a good argument for not leaving your window open, though it’s not because someone might come along and steal the pie you left cooling on the windowsill. While living on the second floor of an apartment building, I initially saw no danger in leaving the window open, screen and all, on a stuffy, humid summer evening. On this particular night, I was on the sofa with a gentleman, the breeze from the window cooling us down as things otherwise turned hot and heavy. Call it the drinks, call it the hormones, call it the crazy attraction I was sure would unite us for the rest of eternity, but suffice to say that clothing was minimal.

Things were going really well… until my neighbor stuck his head in the window to ask if I’d seen his cat. I found his cat in my bathroom while my date huddled in a corner and my neighbor made small talk from the fire escape. I never expected to find myself in that situation, but was at least correct in my assumption that I’d never hear from my date again.

The author on her first day as a Brooklynite.
The author prepares for her Brooklyn adventure.

Live Here Long Enough and Nothing Will Faze You

Eventually you get used to things like neighbors crawling through windows and weird shit becomes commonplace. I love that I can run to the laundromat or deli in my Muppet pajamas because I am not going to be the most strangely dressed person out there. Just like everyone else around me, I have stopped noticing the absurd. Take the Gowanus rabbits, for instance.

When I moved into my current apartment last June, I found hundreds of rabbits living in a fenced-in lot behind a car repair shop a block away. “Awww, isn’t that nice” I thought, “someone is raising rabbits.” My five year-old nephew would stop to watch them every time he visited. The bunnies were cute, and I never gave them a thought other than “my, how adorable.” Fast-forward several months, and the fact that these rabbits have Syphilis made my neighborhood national news. My rabbit friends are gone now… I kind of miss them.

Beware of Craigslist Roommates

Most Brooklynites will score a random roommate at least once, but I discovered it is not a good idea to live with someone you don’t know, or who has not at least been vouched for by a mutual friend. Though roommates of the Craigslist variety may appear normal, even kind, upon initially meeting them, in reality they are probably not.

Sarah not only expressed her un-elicited judgment on my outfits before I left the apartment, she kept track of how many days in a row I wore a pair of jeans before doing laundry and happily shared this number with me. She wondered aloud why I didn’t just buy 12 (twelve!) pairs of the same jeans, as she did, if I liked them so much. She knew exactly when she had last worn any item of clothing in her closets, and never repeated an outfit within the same six-month period. She treated my friends so rudely that they refused to hang out at my apartment. She talked on her phone until the wee hours of the morning, but once bitched me out because I dared to sweep my bedroom floor with a broom at 11pm (it was too loooouuud). She flipped out when I occasionally forgot to clean my hair from the shower drain, but dyed her hair at least once a month and left thick globs of the dye on the bathroom sink and floor. Eventually I stopped trying to make nice and only returned to the apartment to sleep, while she passive-aggressively wrote snarky things about me on her blog. We don’t keep in touch.

In Brooklyn, we're always going places, but it's anyone's guess where.
In Brooklyn, you’re always going places, but where is anyone’s guess. Photo via Flickr user Peter Theony.

This Town Is Too Damn Small

Brooklyn is a very small world, and not in the sense of charming animatronic dolls who sing a catchy tune.

Example 1: A roommate gushed to me about the great new guy she was dating. I asked his name, and we realized I had dated him the previous year.

Example 2: I once had a discussion with my boyfriend’s roommate Beverly, and the experience she was sharing sounded eerily similar to one of my own. We soon discovered we were talking about the exact same person from our pasts, even though that individual has nothing to do with New York and Beverly and I were not from the same area.

Example 3: I went on a date with an OK Cupid match in December. He was nice; it was a fun evening, but nothing came of it. Last month I was using Timehop and saw him in pictures with me from a friend’s birthday party two years ago. We had been placed on the same scavenger hunt team and spent the day together, but neither of us remembered the other and made the connection before or during our date.

The author (right) meets Mayor Tall on the subway.
The author (right) meets Mayor Tall on the subway.

Brooklynites Like to Stick Together to Get Shit Done

One of my favorite things about Brooklyn is how outspoken and visible its politicians and city councilmembers are. I’ve seen Stephen Levin (District 33) and Brad Lander (District 39) at various rallies, and they listen and act and care about the same issues that are important to their citizens. I once rode the subway with Mayor DeBlasio and he took the time to discuss Vision Zero and bicycle advocacy with me. I love my community and I care what happens here, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of joining forces with neighbors and local politicians alike to make change possible.

Red Lights, and Most Traffic Laws Really, are Just A Suggestion

This applies to cars and bikes alike. Just because the light has turned red does not mean the vehicle in question is going to stop. In fact, more than likely it won’t. It is always a good idea to look both ways (even on a one-way street because, hey, you never know) before crossing. This may seem like common sense, but when that walking person of ambiguous gender lights up on the “Walk” sign, it’s easy to forget that pedestrians are not important, but are super easy to plow down.

Bikes are More Dangerous than Cabs

As an urban biker, I hate to say this, but it’s true. I have never been hit by a cab, but I have been hit by three bikes while walking (and properly obeying laws). Granted, my friend who has been hit by a cab that was running a red light may disagree (he’s OK), but he’s only one person I know who has been hit by a car in New York. Almost everyone I know has been hit/nearly hit by a biker riding the wrong way on a one-way street, outside of the bike lane, or simply not paying attention. There are plenty of more exciting and adventurous ways to get injured in Brooklyn; don’t be the casualty of a ride-by biking.

That's why I didn't kill her. Photo by Flickr user Paul Frankenstein
Is Brooklyn a she? Sometimes. Photo by Flickr user Paul Frankenstein.


Someone Will Break Up with You in Your Favorite Bar

Because we take people we like to establishments we like, this is inevitable. When this happened to me, I moped back to my apartment and sat on the stoop crying, mostly because I didn’t want to associate my favorite margarita bar with heartbreak. A friend called, said she was in the neighborhood, and when I told her what had happened, she walked me back to the bar. She made the bartender blast “Single Ladies” and we danced around drinking margaritas all night. Be prepared: at some point, you will be dumped in your favorite bar, but don’t go home and wallow. Stay and dance and re-associate it with good times and fun memories.

You Will Cry on the Subway

This, too, is unavoidable. We are humans, and most of us therefore have emotions. And since the average New Yorker spends 700-1,000 hours a year on the subway (numbers I just came up with but seem reasonable), it is likely that the two will combine at some point in a dark force of tears and transit. Whether it’s due to a broken heart, the tearjerker you’re reading on your commute, or the smell emanating from the armpit your nose has been pushed into, don’t fret; you are not alone. Just slip on some sunglasses, or let it out and embrace its benefits: no one wants to sit next to the crazy crying person, so you’re almost guaranteed some extra space.

Photo via Flickr user Pear Wyse.
Beware of this species. Photo via Flickr user Pear Wyse.

Kiss Your Five-Year Plan Goodbye

If you’re doing exactly what you thought you’d be doing when you moved here, congratulations. You are in the minority. I moved here when I was 23 and like most transplants, had grand aspirations including, but not limited to, seeing my name in lights. My Five-Year Plan was to score an enviable job with an impressive production company, thereby getting my foot in the door of the film industry and subsequently guaranteeing me an Oscar. Oh, and of course, I would find the man of my dreams and we would be planning our wedding by the time my late twenties rolled around. Instead, I spent a lot of time working minimum wage retail and unpaid film gigs to boost my resume. I did actually meet the man of my dreams, a few times, but the key is to trick him into returning the sentiment. Now my Five-Year Plan is simply to finish my screenplay… that I started five years ago.

But this is a good thing, friends! I love my life right now so much more than I ever thought possible. I have a job that is a million times better than any of the thankless, soul-crushing production jobs of the past, and life never ceases to surprise me. Plans are nice, but sometimes the way things really happen is even better.

A really beautiful photo of Gowanus intended to illustrate some point or another about beauty and grit co-existing. Photo via Flickr user Steven Pisano.
A beautiful photo of Gowanus intended to illustrate some point or another about beauty and grit co-existing. Photo via Flickr user Steven Pisano.

Resiliency Is Key

Sometimes life sucks, but you must be able to bounce back. Brooklyn itself learned this lesson after Washington’s army suffered a major defeat to the British in the Battle of Brooklyn. You may lose the battle, but you can still win the war. Brooklyn has too much awesome to offer for us to spend time feeling defeated. Get off your ass and make something of it. Go to a park. Try a new restaurant. Take a class. So when someone throws pee at you, climbs in your open window, or when your roommate is being a bitch, or you run into your ex on the subway, when you get dumped in your favorite bar, etc… get up and look for the next adventure. You live in Brooklyn! You must be as versatile as Gowanus, which smells like freshly baked pie from Four & Twenty Blackbirds every morning, then returns to the stench from the polluted and diseased Superfund canal within hours.

Brooklyn and I been together for eight years, and I’m looking forward to our future. We talk about living in a brownstone along the Promenade some day, which may be just a dream, but this is the city where you can dream as big and as bold as you please. There have been a lot of struggles and I know there are more on the way, but my city has made me strong and resilient. Brooklyn, I love you.

Like cats in a snowy Brooklyn alley, Margaret learned resilience here.
Like cats in a snowy Brooklyn alley, Margaret learned resilience here. Photo by Flickr user cgc76.

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