Must Love Brooklyn

by

11/01/2005

4000 30th Ave, Astoria, NY

Neighborhood: Astoria, Queens

Before I met my husband my one true love was Brooklyn. I’d been living in Carroll Gardens for almost ten years and had watched it turn from a neighborhood I didn’t want to live in (un-cool) to a neighborhood I adored (pretty cool) to a neighborhood I sort of didn’t want to live in (so cool it was at risk of being un-cool). One thing was certain, though. I was planning on staying, simply couldn’t imagine myself living any other place. I would outlast the influx of A-listers and restaurateurs and hipsters that the previous few years had brought and wait for the swing back to “pretty cool.”

After four years in Boston and one in Dublin, I was lured to Carroll Gardens by two high school friends. We grew up on Staten Island and I was resistant to returning to New York as an outer-borough girl. They only convinced me to sign the lease by pointing out that I could take a cab home from Manhattan every night and still not spend as much money as I would for a Manhattan apartment. We took a three bedroom for $1100—$367 each!—and I managed okay.

There was no “restaurant row” in Carroll Gardens back then—it was 1994; you avoided Smith Street if you valued the contents of your wallet. There were no funky shops, and there was only one bar in the area worth going to. For years, my roommates and I would walk twenty minutes in all seasons to the Brooklyn Inn just to mingle with other young, creative types and stock the jukebox with songs by the Beatles, the Jayhawks, and the Replacements. I discovered “my” Brooklyn there and I loved it.

Years passed, and then slowly, surely, came signs. My brother—a fierce Manhattanite—suggested we do brunch in Brooklyn for a change. My college friends started moving across the bridge. Patois opened on Smith Street, “718” t-shirts appeared, and you could suddenly buy handmade handbags and vintage furniture on Smith Street. Carroll Gardens had arrived!

Mr. Right, alas, had not, and I started Internet dating. I was looking for someone funny and kind, of course, but my ad might as well have also said, “Must love Brooklyn.” Seriously. Phineas was fun and all . . . but he lived in the East Village. Don was a great kisser, but who could stand the commute to the Upper West Side?

And then I met Nick the old-fashioned way. And he lived in Astoria.

Queens!

Only the worst possible place to live maybe ever!

And he loved it! He’d been living in Astoria and Long Island City for the ten years I’d been living in Brooklyn. He’d never even been to Carroll Gardens! And yet it was obvious. He was the one.

We favored Brooklyn during the early days. We went to Coney Island on our first date; went back to Carroll Gardens and ate pizza on the roof of my building, overlooking the Manhattan skyline. We went out for expensive meals on Smith St., made foolish declarations about the future while smoking outside The Bar. I was having my Brooklyn romance at last!

We were also spending time in Queens—it was only fair, I knew—and I mostly hated it. It just wasn’t as cute! There weren’t as many “cool” places. I liked the Beer Garden, sure. I loved the now defunct Tupelo–no doubt one of the coolest bars there ever was. I adored the food: Indian, Istrian, Egyptian, otherwordly tacos from the back counter of the St. James Deli. My taste buds came alive. But I also got on the wrong train a few times, ended up in parts of Queens I’d rather not see on foot again. I hated the dollar and discount stores, the bars with bad jukeboxes and too many TVs, the cafes that seem to require their customers have EU passports.

Nick had been looking to buy a place before I met him. Now he widened his search to include Carroll Gardens, which he’d come to know and love, and also to include me. A quick look at the Times Real Estate section was enough to confirm that he (we) couldn’t buy in Carroll Gardens; we simply couldn’t justify spending so much money on so little space. We weren’t that kind of people. At least, Nick wasn’t. Me, I wasn’t so sure about. I had recently sold a novel and was fantasizing about movie deals and brownstones. In reality, though, I could not argue with the numbers. Prices had skyrocketed since I moved into that first apartment and all I could do was berate myself for not having had the foresight to beg, borrow, or steal to buy something back in ‘94.

So I tagged along when Nick looked at houses in Astoria. One was pink stucco with an above-ground pool. Another looked like it was about to collapse in on itself. And then we found it. The one. A two-story row-house on a quiet block, a short walk from subway. I seriously must have been in a fugue state when I said, “You should make an offer,” because I don’t really remember saying it or why I would have, except that maybe a part of me knew it was time for me to move on.

The offer was accepted, and then Nick made another kind of offer that I accepted. He had the good sense to pop the question in Brooklyn—on Coney’s Wonder Wheel—and we toasted our engagement in the shadow of the Great Bridge at the River Café. Only then did I realize fully what was happening: I was engaged to be married; I would be moving to Queens. I did what anyone would have done in the situation. I cried. I insisted we have the wedding in Brooklyn. I made him promise me we’d go out in Carroll Gardens twice a month every month so long as we both shall live.

And then I moved in. And we had our first barbecue. And we started scraping the wallpaper off the walls. And we ripped up the Astroturf out back and planted flowers. And somehow we weren’t going down to Carroll Gardens very much at all. And somehow I didn’t miss it. It had been good to me, sure, but I felt somehow liberated in my new hood. Almost immediately I began to chide myself for never having explored Astoria before, for having spent ten years living and playing mostly in a pocket of Brooklyn that was populated pretty much entirely by people like me. How boring.

My neighbors now are Bangladeshi and Greek and Russian and Japanese, and there are way more elderly Irish, Italians, and Jews than hipsters for sure. Helene a few doors down complains about the boom-boom music she hears every night; she signs for packages for me if I’m not home and sometimes even if I am. Eleanor next door dumps cold water on the lily of the valleys out front when she’s waiting for the kitchen tap to heat up. Meanwhile, my husband and I park in our driveway and marvel about the times when he used to try to come down to Carroll Gardens to see me but couldn’t find a parking spot. Each time, I’d have to pack a bag and hop in the car with him and spend the night at his place. I hated Brooklyn on those nights, almost as much as I hated Queens. But mostly, I guess, I hated change. I loved that I knew so many people in my neighborhood and that they knew me. I loved that I knew the neighborhood’s every shop and restaurant and bar and barfly. I loved that I’d been among the first of my kind to move there, to “discover” it. Brooklyn had become a huge part of my identity and I wasn’t sure who I’d be without it.

Now I know. I’m the same person I always was. Only now I have a subway station that’s above ground, and hydrangeas, and a dishwasher, and a skylight, and trick or treaters, and a lot more square footage than we could have afforded in Carroll Gardens, and, well, my husband. There’s a reason he stayed in Queens all those years. It’s down to earth. It lacks pretension. It’s just like him. And he’s the reason I’ve come to love our home, our borough. I don’t even dream of owning a brownstone in Brooklyn anymore; when we talk about movie deals now, we talk about a converted warehouse in Long Island City and a yacht docked in nearby Gantry State Park.

We got married, in the end, at a church here in Astoria, and had the reception on the waterfront in Long Island City. That bridge behind me in our favorite wedding photo isn’t Roebling’s, it’s the Queensboro. And still, I’m glowing. I don’t run into my old crew around the hood anymore, but when Nick’s longtime Queens pals, Pete and Jen, ride by on their scooter, I wave from my front stoop and think things haven’t changed much at all. When Diane and Michael from around the corner poke their head in when Nick and I are puttering in the garage, Astoria just feels like home.

Sometimes, when I’m watering the yard, or collecting the plastic-bagged circulars that appear on our porch each morning like maggots, I wonder, “How the heck did this happen?” But that’s the thing about love. It opens you up, challenges you, shakes you up before you even know what hit you. I was living happily in Brooklyn, sure, but in Queens, I’m living happily ever after.

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