What Fort Green Park is good for

I’m updating this on an ongoing basis as of August 1, 2017. The park bursts with breezes, haze and movement!


So what is Fort Green Park good for?

* Well, dogs, obviously, especially during off-leash hours. And not everybody likes it. So courtesy has gone up. The dogs still get to flare their nostrils for the important things: sniffing food and each other. Our Havanese, all 14 lbs. of him,  sniffs other dogs for 2, 3 beats before snarling and chasing them out of his presence. His claim to fame: he once scratched Rosie Prerez’s dog’s nose. She steered clear of us after that.

* Saturday, when the park is so thick with dogs you’d think Babar was creating a dog city for Celeste, his beloved. All the high tails, black noses and 4-leggers signify a mostly civilized citizenry trotting and leaping around.

* The new native gardens. As August has been approaching, the reds have become more intense, the yellows more golden, the lavenders even more generous. Someone brought two monarch butterflies he’d raised at home. One one was there on the wet lavender flowers this morning, flexing wings and flying in circles, lifting off and returning to the lavender.

* Short black and ivory bees up by the museum garden and reddish-yellow bees down by the tennis court gardens.

* Conversation, which you can take or leave as you see fit..

* Belief in magic, or at least sanctity. There’s that set of hexagonal stones circling another hexagonal stone. It’s under the line of trees bordering the allee leading from the monument area to Richard Wright’s bench.


Other noteworthy sites in Fort Green Park:

* The Osage Orange trees, which protect and display their orange colors deep within the grooves of the bark. The big fruits are so green, huge and bumpy they look like Martians’ brains. When they fall and splat open on the asphalt in September, you wonder about everything, including whether the Martians survived.

* The pollen on the shorter pines on the hill near the hospital in early spring.


* The red tail hawks, even if they moved their nest to Lond Island University down DeKalb beyond the hospital. They still come to visit.

* The beautiful deep pink and white spring apple blossoms near DeKalb.

* The little red and green fruits that come after the apple blossoms.

*The park’s maintenance people who have to do a smelly, messy job in heat or cold and say hello to you when you say hello to them.

* The beautiful tennis courts rebuilt by players in theneighborhood — citizens — so they could have beautiful tennis courts.

* The woodpecker, when you can hear it.

* The thick, wide velvety white magnolia petals in early spring.

* The  words written in colored chalk on an almost daily basis by someone with really clear handwriting and a desire for good things. I loved the most recent sentence I saw: “You define you.” NOTE I haven’t seen these writings for a long time and it is August 2017.

* The kids who zoom, riding bikes or skating on supremely confident legs. Also the smaller kids who plod about on wobbly legs.


July 8, 2014

Pale sparrow youngsters are congregating in the grass, rising up as much as their wings will let them. They zoom or coast to the highest branches they can reach, now usually the lower ones.

Pollinators: two big black furry bees, yay, on some tall purple stalk I can’t name now . Some reddish bees, more than the black furry ones, not as many as I would like. These are on any stalky flower, some of the ones that look like they mostly reside in ditches — they look dusty. A few white skipper butterflies and  yellow butteflies with thin black trim, (two of these in the past two weeks).

Three milkweeds! In the garden near DeKalb. They’re young, yet, the flowers are all knobby. Also some cuppy, flower, lavender and white, long thorns on the stems. A rambling, roundish plant.

July is clearly not dandelion season. A few yellows, a few white seedheads, as opposed to May when the park should be renamed Dandelion Fields. Lots of plantains, though, some quite large.

Fireflies are here. I saw one on South Oxford Street last night. My husband saw one on Washington Place.

Aunt Serena’s Legacy

This was originally posted in Book Writing World in 2012.

I’ve always loved history: this is what happened and this is why you are here. And I’ve always loved the 19th century because it was like a great-grandmother, animating the lives of the oldest people I’ve known, the ones who taught my parents. When listening to my grandmother talk about my mother I soon became aware that there were different versions of the same events. It wasn’t long before I knew that the real story was that I was hearing “a story.”

Stories were rare in my family. They have been reticent, reluctant raconteurs, those old ones. No fiddle or harp accompaniments in our house. Last year I found out that my mother’s aunt, who was born before the use of electricity in houses and died after the end of trolleys in Brooklyn, had been one of the first American women to write comics. Ken Quattro, the Comics Detective, had posted something about Aunt Serena on his website.

Happiness drummed me when I found the post. As I gazed at it, I wondered, as I do from time to time, if I am psychic: that night, as I got on the web to look for Aunt Serena after a long hiatus, I just knew that I would find something. Et voila.
Finally, I had more than anecdotal evidence that Aunt Serena was an artist. FinalIy I had reassurance that there was an artist in the family. Finally, someone had published. And not only comics: Ken Quattro said Aunt Serena had illustrated a book that is still in print. It is called, 40 Years of Hardware by Saunders Norvell.

I bought it from Amazon. With so much absence of real talk in my family, I was grateful to have it. Saunders Norvell was an elderly contemporary of Serena and my grandparents and my great-uncle, the people who shaped my mother’s family as I knew it. He would know the social and political climate of the times. Surely, I would d get more information for my memoir upon reading it. I was wondering, though, how interesting could hardware be?

I started to read. I found myself participating in sentences that described (and this is a partial list) St. Louis when it was a sleepy town with rampant alcoholism, Mr. Norvell’s sacrifice of his dream of a painter’s life in Paris so that his parents and siblings would not starve, the changing fashions in men’s beards and pants, a dinner and private conversation with Mark Twain, selling hardware from a horse-drawn cart in Colorado, the modernizing of the hardware business, his musing on whether there were not some (unnamed) things more important than work, how he came to sell American hardware in Cuba after the Spanish-American War and, inevitably, the changing of the guard at the end of his hardware career.

It was good reading, full of many events, some of them known to my great-grandparents. And the book contains the drawings by Aunt Serena, and it brought her closer to me. But I kept wanting more of her. I wanted to talk to her. I wanted her to tell me her story. Not telling it, she probably has.

Still, her book is in my bedroom. And it didn’t used to be.

Jete: Angelina Ballerina

This was originally posted on Book Writing World in 2011.

From the time I was small, I always thought I ought to be writing, but for much of my life, I tried to be realistic and deny any fancy thoughts of myself. So, when it came to reading Angelina Ballerina to my daughter, with all that pink glitter of the sticker books and the cute mouse you could distinguish from the others by her clothes, the best friend mouse who wore a different style of clothing, the bicycles and the country lanes, I shook my head in what I thought was disgust.

The happy family, the understanding teachers. A life organized around everyone’s happiness. This was Angelina Ballerina’s world and while I was never a fan of realistic fiction for seven-year-olds, I wondered who could relate to this stuff. My daughter liked her very much, so even though she wasn’t head over heels in love with Angelina Ballerina, we had a few books about her lying around.

I was so fearful of Angelina I’d even suppress a shudder when I opened one of the books to read aloud. Until the day I read out how, once she embraced ballet, her best passion, she got organized and made her life effective. She got things done, and not only in ballet.

Her parents no longer had reason to complain that Angelina didn’t put things away, didn’t come down on time, didn’t do her school work. Angelina Ballerina had organized herself from the inside out. In another book, Angelina even found an effective way to mobilize neighbors to help a retired, lonely, old mail delivery man. She became a good neighbor, a hero of sorts.

Who, I asked my sour self, could complain about that? No one, I answered.

So now I look up to glittery, young, wise Angelina Ballerina. Partly because of her, I’ve found that my instincts were right all along, that writing is the best thing I could do for myself. These days, as long as I write every day (before everyone gets up), I can almost do a jeté into the other things that life brings to me. I have Angelina Ballerina’s story to thank for that.


This was originally posted in Book Writing World in August of 2012.


Now I know I wanted to get caught.

One evening in my forties, I stared at the man writing, as usual, at the fourth table from the door by the window. My husband and I were in Hunan Pan, long since gone from Hudson Street, at our usual table two over from his, in the corner. My heart was thumping like a mountain. The man was scribbling away, erect and calm. His skin was pale white, his hair a short, tight wave of blondish red curls and his glasses were big black square frames. Eventually he looked up and saw me. Immediately, he looked away a second, his pen hand moved to cover his notebook just slightly. So I stopped staring, a silent burning mountain of demands to let this man seep into me despite my embarrassment. He was a writer. He was what I wanted to be. I thought I needed permission.

Which brings me to chicken soup in Bickford’s.

Grandma took me to Bickford’s whenever she had to go to the Williamsburg Savings Bank, for a long time the tallest building in Brooklyn. It had — still has —  clocks on all four of its sides at the top below a green copper dome. It also had the fanciest ladies’ room for middle class women I’ve ever seen: real leather banquettes you could stretch out on in case your errands proved to be too much for you. Women in the midst of shopping and working nearby were always arriving from who knows where to do their banking in this building and then they would leave for places I couldn’t see. Bickford’s was down the street on Flatbush.

You had to cross where the curving old metal trolley tracks were still embedded in new road surface. Wheels had been rumbling over them for a number of years now. Grandma had taken the trolley with my mother and uncle when they were small. I was forever aware of the words almost sticking in her throat when Grandma said yes, she’d really taken the trolley. She always wore a big black overcoat. She marched and I followed alongside. When we’d get to Bickford’s, we’d leave the bright window behind us and sit at the off-white counter on the brown-orange stools you could spin.

Nearly always, I  got a cup of chicken noodle soup. Bickford’s served Campbells, in the red and white can, like we did. The waitress would smile and set the soup down: the steamy, savory, golden broth suspending the long white, looping square-edged noodles and small squares of pink chicken. Occasionally I’d see a slice of carrot or celery. When I put my spoon into the  broth, I mingled with the steam. My spoon’s journey to my tongue and palate would end in a combustion of noodles, broth and chicken suffused with salt and a rising that took me over the plates and the glass coffee pots across the aisle from the counter to the snowy grey Himalayas to the sun. All this, in silence.

I loved  that other people were there enjoying their food, too. I wondered what pictures their enjoyment made for them. This Bickford’s was never crowded. I could tell we all were relieved to be there. We had a camaraderie. Coats hung down over the stools from underneath everyone’s backsides. Sometimes men read newspapers over their egg salad sandwiches and hats. Women’s sipped coffee while their purses stayed put in laps and shopping bags stayed put on the floor. Every so often a waitress and a male customer would banter about something. This was no Edward Hopper midnight moment of staring silently into the coffee. It was a pausing and pulsing midday.

When Grandma and I went back out the glass door, I hoped I was going upward toward the Himalayas as we went down the subway steps for the train back to her apartment. I was fortified by chicken soup and I was ready for the world. The silence was okay even as the other side of me wondered about using words to set out the world as I saw it. I did not know it could be done. You didn’t ask Grandma about things like that.

As we both got older, Grandma fed me many bowls of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, mostly when we were alone together in her Miami Beach apartment with the corner windows facing the beach. This was long before this section of Miami Beach became glitzy South Beach. The silence of old people was always outside. We’d have bowls of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup alongside cream cheese and chives on top of Ritz crackers while we watched the noon soap operas. This was the only culinary feat my grandmother accomplished with eagerness. We indulged in this ritual nearly every day of my two-week visits.

I’ve been working on a memoir for over two years now. It is finally beginning to feel like it could be a book and the question keeps coming up: why am I finally writing it now, after so many years of thinking I couldn’t?

This is what I’ve finally found out: Grandma, hawkish as she was, gave me a lot of chicken soup, a factor of love. And love, with or without permission, wants to and will be caught.

Green and Growing

Everything is growing big in Fort Green Park right now. Most of the coneflowers’ petals have  already become pink tutus.The copper beach tree has spread a huge reddish brown tent of leaves. There were masses of dingy white clover blossoms and the occasional blue chicory flower until the mowers came last week. Strings of grass arch and wave in the places the mower has not reached.

This is what I see these summer mornings.

And then there’s the sauntering of legs and arms, the paddling and loping of paws, the seeking out of shade on the hill. Every few minutes there’s a bark and a chorus of barks, dogs running, dogs lying down and panting, dogs begging for treats. Some people have treats, most don’t. Those people say, “Sorry,” while the dogs are still looking up at them.

A black butterfly flips from branch to branch of the rugosa roses by the tennis courts.


When the sun lifts  itself above DeKalb Avenue plunging the low brick buildings and glass storefronts into a a long, deep grey shadow, it floods the park trees and grounds with new, golden, ancient light. I breathe as deeply as I can. I look around more than I did a moment ago. I am thrilled to be in the light

One morning a few days after the March equinox, an impulse told me to climb the steep side of the hill opposite the tennis courts. It’s a small hill and  the slope hides the top. I huffed and puffed, stumbling over the loose, crumbling dirt, keeping my hands warm in my pockets, feeling the blood throb in my ears. Sebastian was sniffling his way along the wire garden fence.When I finally pulled myself up, I discovered a flock of thirty or more robin redbreasts spread out all over the long, grassy top, alongside the trees they’d roosted in the night before.

Each robin surveyed their common domain without a cheep or a flicker of a feather. Their darting eyes, the microscopic tilts of their round black heads, their elegant slanting backs, their  angled, spindly legs —  all these gave their silence a huge and immeasurable shape.  Their red breasts kept glowing as the sun rose higher. The sun had not yet warmed or tuned them up enough.

Sebastian brushed my leg as he moved on. I grabbed him around the middle to keep him from charging, leashed him and then led him around so I could watch the robins from the other side. They were still silent. Two finally ran to different spots like road runners. A couple of others executed minute hops to get out of their way. No one else budged.


It was time to leave.  I let Sebastian off the leash for one final run home and we left the robins to guard their futures. The shadows along DeKalb Avenue are lightening up, little by little.


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