BQE Sunrise



Skillman Ave. & Lorimer St., Brooklyn, NY 11211

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Williamsburg

It was 4 am. Maybe 4:30. The sun was just coming out, shading the city gorgeous cool oranges and blues and pinks and yellows. It was late spring, early summer. We had been up all night listening to Johnny Cash, smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey. We were on Skillman Avenue, Brooklyn, in my canted railroad apartment that had big picture windows in the bedroom. Big picture windows that showed me the Empire State building every morning, like this one, with the haze from truck exhausts and car horns on the BQE overpass coloring each day’s sky a new hue, a new color palette for New York.

It was too gorgeous not to be a part of it. It was too gorgeous to stay inside the smoky apartment so slanted that everything on the one side of the rooms had to be propped with cardboard from the moving boxes. Sure, I could have sawed the legs on all the furniture to balance, but I knew I wasn’t staying long. This stay on Skillman was just a stop. I was going somewhere. Soon.

I had finished one of the Harry Potter books by 2 am, shutting it with a satisfying thud. We had watched all of the first season of The Kingdom, Lars von Trier’s original, that we had gotten from Kim’s Mondo Video on St. Marks. We had played cards until I had the suits dancing through my head. We had finished 2 bottles of Maker’s Mark. We had smoked far too many cigarettes. We were out. We needed more. And we wanted fried clams.

Up Union, right by the L train Lorimer stop, is Kellogg’s 24 hour diner. Gorgeous pink neon sign. Dirty walls. ATM in the vestibule. Powdered donuts in boxes near the counter. Terrible coffee. Sour waitresses with paper hats. I’d never eaten there, but I’d heard. I’d always wanted to eat there, but I was still too timid, still too new to New York, to venture by myself. Years later I would walk past Kellogg’s and think ‘no thank you’ but not out of timidity. Out of taste. Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

We were headed to Kellogg’s. They, we were certain, would have fried clams. And they sold cigarettes by the boatload from the register.

We shot out of the apartment building onto the sidewalk, still cool from the night. 24 Skillman. Pockmarked by air-conditioners built into the apartments. Air conditioners that would blow the revamped fuses and outlets of the apartments should they be plugged in. They’re still there. You can see the building from the BQE. Drive by. It’s the vinyl-sided one, the khaki colored one. Look towards the city. Enjoy the view. Make sure it’s early morning and watch the sun drops scism off the buildings. It’s what you dream of when you don’t live here.

It’s never quiet there, at the oddly triangular intersection of Meeker, Skillman and Union. But it was that morning. It was early. The day was new. And sound hadn’t started yet. We hushed our smoke-strained, whiskey-soaked voices to melt into the surroundings. Nobody was out. The streets were empty. It was spooky. It was surreal. I expected mist to circle us, for haunting music to rain softly from the clouds. Our footsteps seemed too loud.

Kellogg’s seemed like a trailer that morning. Like an air-stream trailer parked on a corner 30 years ago that just never got back onto the open road. The windows glowed and warmed us in the chilled air. I was wearing flip flops and my brother’s jeans that dragged ragged around my feet. I could almost taste the tartar sauce, the breading, the chewy clams. I wanted a coke. I was half drunk on whiskey, half drunk on lack of sleep. We salivated at the donuts through the windows.

They were mopping the floors when we entered. Two busboys grimacing at the floor while they swirled bleach around with dirty mops. Everything inside seemed grey. We were told that they were closed. That they were closed from 3 am to 5 am every night. That’s not 24 hours, we said. We protested, your sign says open 24 hours. The fat greasy man behind the counter shook his head. We need to clean, he said. We need to take inventory. He said, we’re closed every night for 2 hours. That’s not 24 hours, we said as we trudged down the stairs. No, we couldn’t wait another 45 minutes. No, we’d go.

The only place still open was a closet-sized bodega down Metropolitan near Graham that smelled like cat pee and stale beer. We bought more cigarettes, milk that we prayed was still good, a box of powdered donuts that seemed almost as good as the ones at Kellogg’s. We barely spoke as we turned down Lorimer to head back to an apartment that was canted severely, smelled of smoke, and was not as pretty as any of the buildings on the street.

But it was New York. The sun was lighting the sky, the cars, the water, the BQE, the Empire State Building. Our footsteps brought in the noise – the cars, the garbage trucks, the early alarm clocks, the crying babies, the boats, the people, the city breathing and pulsing. We lived here. We smoke and drank and ate and didn’t sleep here.

I ate my share of the donuts sitting on the bed, watching the sun light the city, straining to see around the trucks stuck in the morning traffic jams on the overpass. Sometimes you can only appreciate where you live when you see it from afar. No donut has ever been as good. No view has ever tasted as sweet.

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