The Streets Where I Lived – Part 2

339 (not 334) Bainbridge St., Brooklyn, NY

Departing the site of the former St. Peter’s Hospital in Cobble Hill — edifice of my birth — we headed for East New York. I think we were driving down Fulton St. The massive steel structure of an elevated train (could be the C train) loomed above, dividing the road down the middle — as in the film The French Connection — remember the famous car chase beneath the El ?

Anyway, we made a left on Utica and drove to Bainbridge St.

Turning the corner, we noticed at once that the odd-numbered houses were on the right side of the street — but that the even numbered houses were gone!

Directly across the street — where number 334 should have been — loomed  a vast complex of brick apartment buildings that are generally referred to as “The Projects.”

Therefore, I had to assume that: A) the insurance company must have made a typo when it recorded the address on my dad’s old policy or; B) the houses across the street had been demolished to make room for “The Projects.”

I went ahead and shot a photo of number 339 Bainbridge St. My reasoning was that the number 9 sometimes can be mistaken for the number 4. Case in point, please indulge me as I flashback to grade school:

Scene: Kitchen table in my parents’ home, circa the 1960s. Under the overhead light of our wagon wheel chandelier, a frustrated young student (me) is struggling with her math homework. Her father is hovering beside her in the guise of “helping.”

Father (growing more impatient by the minute): “Is that a nine or a four?”

Daughter: “A four.”

Father: “Then why can’t you make it look like a goddam four!”

(What can I say? Even back then, I was arty. I drew elaborate fours.)

Anyway, here’s proof that we did, in fact, live on Bainbridge St. — me and my mom, home from the hospital, hanging out in the kitchen of the phantom apartment.

Our next stop was 893 Schenck Ave. — “The Projects” in the East New York section of Brooklyn, lying midway between Flatlands Ave. and Linden Blvd. We moved there a couple of years later, either before or right after the birth of my sister, Connie.

When we drove up to the front of the building, J.C. took one look at the old homestead and remarked, with a touch of alarm in his voice, “I didn’t know you grew up in such a poor area.”

Neither did I.  At the time, Apt. 1E had seemed palatial. I must admit, though, that living on a street whose name sounds like “skank” tends to conjure up all kinds of nasty images…

Still, I was so happy there. I had a new little sister, lots of friends and all of them lived in my building. Visiting them was effortless and merely required a push of the elevator button.

I’m on the trike.

Our playground, the scene of one of the most dramatic events of my Brooklyn childhood, was located in the back of the building. On that day, my mom’s friend and her daughter were visiting us. Her daughter and I went out back to play on the monkey bars. Mid-twirl, she suddenly lost her footing and smashed her face against the steel. She literally screamed bloody murder. I helped her up, quickly grabbed her hand and we raced back to my apartment as a crimson river gushed from her mouth.

Her mom freaked out when she saw her daughter, so my mom took over, immediately going into Red Cross mode. She moistened a towel with warm water and began to clean the whimpering girl’s wound, which wasn’t as bad as it had looked once the blood was washed away.

“I’m now going to apply a butterfly bandage,” my mom announced, pausing for effect. “That way, she won’t have a scar.”

Always one step ahead of potential danger, my mom was prepared for anything. She wanted us to be, too. Which, at times, was rather a double-edge sword.

For instance, her all too frequent references to those scary smoke stacks right across the street from our apartment building.

“Never, ever talk to strangers!” my mom would continually warn my sister and me. Then, one day, she added, “If you talk to strangers, they’ll kidnap you and take you away from me and throw you in those smoke stacks.”
“How?” I asked. “They’re too tall.”
“They have very big ladders,” she said.
Aren’t mothers smart?

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