Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Signs of Summer - Brooklyn Style

"Sure. It's, like, theory!"

Last night friends and I were at dinner, commiserating at the lack of summer this June - endless bouts of rain with rarely a sunny day in between.

This was one of those "greatest hits" conversations that New Yorkers replay every year. Summer in New York City has never been demonstrated by the weather. The signs have always been more subversive. How can you measure a season by its temperature in a city that has the odd 90 degree day in January(!), between blizzards?

Manhattanites used to declare summer by the first sighting of a Mister Softee truck. A few years ago, though, the soft server ice creamery on wheels stopped hibernating, hanging out on the streets Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall.

I live in Brooklyn now at the corner of South Williamsburg, Clinton Hill, and Bed Stuy. Our apartment building sits just one block into the wrong side of the Whole Foods delivery radius. It's been almost four years since I made the migration from the East Village.

Summertime in Brooklyn starts with watermelons. A bunch of withered black men set up a folding table selling them on the corner of Nostrand and Myrtle. The watermelons have numbers written on them in black marker - 9, 10, or 11, denoting the price. They all look the same to me so what makes a melon a nine versus a ten remains a mystery to me still.

"Where do these come from?" I asked the first time I bought one.


They're trucked up from Georgia and dropped at street corners of the ghettos of Brooklyn.

This year a new sign of summer revealed itself to me. As I rode my bike up Bedford Avenue to work on May 28th - a particularly cold and dark day - I made my way up through the Hassidic neighborhood that runs between Myrtle Avenue and the Williamsburg Bridge.

The Hassids are a peculiar and completely foreign culture. To live surrounded by them is to observe but never understand. They're a very introvert group, speaking their own language (Yiddish?), wearing a narrow range of garb, and milling around at all hours of the day and night in random zig zagging patterns, on-and-off sidewalks.

That gray Thursday was typical, bewigged mothers were leading their many children through intersections, pad-pad-padding along like ducklings. For all of their differentness and chaotic movements, however, nothing is rarely ever different in their behavior, so that when something changes - no matter how subtle - it's shocking.

As I peddled up Bedford Ave, I saw stations of folding tables with bunches of flowers and little potted plants. Small groups of Hassidic women stood by them as the vendors, which is also so odd that I nearly forgot to stop for the next traffic signal.

It was Shavuot. It's one of the many Jewish holidays that some Jews observe, and fewer pass without notice. Most goyim have never even heard of it. It marks the end of Spring and the beginning of Summer, in addition to its Biblical function.

That day, as I huffed and puffed my way up and over the Williamsburg Bridge I looked up for a moment to see a sign I'd managed to miss every other time I made this trip:

"Now leaving Brooklyn. Oy vey!

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