Gone to Flowers, Every One

by

04/12/2020

Neighborhood: Ridgewood

“Okay, so now whatta my gone do? Phone won’t charge. Can’t read another word. Thirteen hours sleep. Chocolate’s gone. Weed guy disappeared. Seen everything on Netflix—twice! Corona’s a stone bitch, is what it is.”

Sound familiar—maybe one or two nouns changed? It’s the plague—Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or Neville Shute’s On The Beach. All of a sudden, we’re flummoxed by events we can’t change, only duck and cover, then hope for the best. Or pray. 

Seriously, what are you going to do now that we‘re a month in, your eyes practically destroyed, thumb tips numb from texting, on the verge of garroting your partner? It’s a totally legitimate question, and, trust me, the answer’s going to dictate a lot about your future—all those years of remembering what you did. Or wish you would’ve done. 

Know right away that I’m certainly no expert on using time productively, but I can share what I see folks doing around here in Ridgewood. First of all, where exactly is that, you’ll ask? Well, Queens: a little south of Elmhurst, one of the first ground zeroes (A seeming contradiction, how can there be more than one? Well, there are with this stuff.); at the end of the southern hook of the M-train; just north of Bushwick—six short blocks east of Wykoff Heights Med Center.

It’s not necessarily an exciting spot, I’ll grant you that—no Williamsburg or Greenpoint by any stretch—but it’s up and coming, they say: the next something-or-other. We’ve got a goodly number of bars, our share of hip-ish restaurants, and, most of all, rents that won’t break the bank (yet). What it really is, though, is an old-time family neighborhood with three-story apartments, a marvelously mixed population (directly tied to various waves of immigration over the last century or so), a whole bunch of kids, and bodegas on every corner.

Best of all (in normal times at least), Ridgewood’s not starved for amusing daytime street action—whether it’s the daily old timers’ backgammon games; soccer, soccer everywhere on the playgrounds; many, many babies in strollers: or retiree-recyclers comparing grocery-cart loads out front. The nights are redolent of alcohol concoctions, music from every direction, and sweet, wafting tokes of whatever. Not a bad place, all in all.

So, the question is, how’s the hood welcoming the lockdown? Well, out my second-story window as I write this, I can see the old man (at age 72, I have a lot of room, labelling people old!!) across the back fence working on his glorious garden, like he does every spring, prepping it for whatever the season brings. He has a perfectly manicured spread from what I can see—trees and border shrubs newly trimmed, ground meticulously turned, ropes and twine already stretched from fence to fence. He’s standing on the porch looking over his kingdom, smoking his morning cigarette (at his age, you’re allowed), dreaming of July’s riotous growth.

A little over the other way, at Peter’s house, kids’ bicycles are lined up on the patio patiently awaiting their annual tune-up (I hope not in vain); a plethora of athletic equipment and house-maintenance gear stands everywhere. His sister once (and only once—no connection, I’m sure) babysat for our grandkids, Milo and Jasper. I can hear Peter’s shouts from just inside the screened-in porch, the same place where we once went to a birthday party and got to eat skewered, barbecued quwi (Ecuadorian for guinea pig), a delicacy that Peter’s relatives shipped in on ice for special occasions. In other words, business seems as usual over that way.

On the other side, the back yard of a recently converted rental stands dismal and distressingly empty, and has been for weeks now—anything but business as usual. Industrious waves of tenants had built rough tables and slap-together chairs from pallets over the past three-or-so years in order to enjoy glorious, packed-house, hip-hop Saturday nights. Now, their plywood is warping from winter’s moisture and the covering tarp fading from red to pale pink. The worst sign of all: Unscooped dog turds dot the moldering Astroturf. 

Right out back in our yard, Claire is busily taking advantage of the “vacation” to repaint all her patio furniture (never one to let proverbial grass grow underfoot). She and Virgil throw patio parties in summer—tents, a DJ (ready-made of sorts: Virgil spins on weekends as a second career); wondrous outdoor cooking; fabulous, beautiful guests; wine beyond belief; rampaging kids galore. Milo and Jasper have recently visited the trampoline, and even while I’m writing this, have retreated inside after a scuffle. I count seven balls from various sports laying around on the spotty grass. 

None of this seems terribly out of the ordinary for a beautiful Sunday afternoon in April. Life goes on, as the cliché goes. So let’s look out front. Well, it’s not quite a desert island, but what stands out here (as all over the City surely) is the silence. No cars or motorcycles roaring by on busy Woodward Avenue, no trucks lumbering up Menahan Street. And no people in sight anywhere. On closer look I can see one or two—masked of course—apparently doing small tasks put off for the winter. Not even any of the inevitable and ubiquitous dog walkers are to be seen.

But, wait, I ask myself, where are all the hardworking folks who usually can’t wait to hit the stoops on a Sunday, families and friends spilling out onto the sidewalks, smoke rising from barbecues wafting those wonderful meaty smells? 

And where are those Saturday-night revelers who on a Sunday are usually slouching against the pigeon-spiked rails, nursing hangovers, and gripping barely camouflaged beers? 

Where the rejoicing children, ecstatic with the joy of their friends’ company, deliriously racing up and down the walks, shouting to stave off the next morning’s inevitable trip to school?

And the oldsters in their lawn chairs, dispensing candy and smiles to the kids. Or just enjoying the sun and dreaming of the sweet, sweet past? Where have they gone?

Long time passing, I fear.

***

Jeff Loeb is a writer who has lived in New York continuously since 2013 (and sporadically before that, dating to 1972). In prior lives, he enjoyed long careers as, in roughly this order, US Marine, bartender, construction worker, waiter, truck driver, furniture mover, college teacher, radio reporter, assistant city manager, photography studio owner, farmer/rancher, and high-school teacher.

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