The sign taped to the streetlight in Red Hook did not mince words:
"Warning: Teenage dirtbags are mugging people in this area. Stop fiddling with your cell phone and pay attention."
Oh, great. Here I was, lost in a strange neighborhood at night, no idea of where I was going, and standing outside an empty park that looked like a training ground for apprentice hooligans.
I was supposed to be going to a friend’s house, but I had somehow managed to wander into No Man’s Land.
All of a sudden, the teeming unwashed masses of people who cough, spit, blab into cellphones and constantly get in my way had vanished in some kind of urban Rapture and I was completely alone.
Except for the teenage dirtbags, of course, who were doubtless hiding behind every tree fiddling with their switchblades and paying attention to my every move.
I had started the evening off by nearly getting on the wrong bus at 9th Street, but luckily a very helpful lady kept me from heading off in the opposite direction.
After reaching my stop, I crossed under the BQE and as the neighborhood became more industrial and less populated, I got that sinking feeling that I was going the wrong way and I had no idea which way was the right way.
So I kept going, farther and farther away from civilization. I spotted lights coming from an oil delivery company and I walked in hoping to score some directions.
There were some blue collar types inside, laughing and joking around with each other. One guy with a shaved head and tattoos all over his arms and neck eyed me suspiciously when I asked how to get to Clinton Street.
“Where do you want to go?” he said.
Maybe he thought I was one of the hipsters who have invaded Brooklyn and I wanted to assure him that, no, I’m from Bay Ridge, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, just like you. But that wasn’t necessary.
“Clinton Street is one block over,” one his friends told me.
I thanked them and resumed walking.
I have this fascination with working class types—construction workers, cops, firefighters, and truck drivers. These are the guys who make things happen, erect the buildings, put out the fires, and deliver the goods--literally.
Maybe some part of me wants to be one of them, join that simple, roughneck world, even though I know I would never fit in.
I was still thinking these deep thoughts when I ran into the sign about the mutant teenage ninja dirtbags. Suddenly I wished those oil delivery guys were with me tattoos and all.
I turned from the sign and headed toward distant lights. I was on Clinton Street, so that was good. All I had to do was follow the numbers until I reached my buddy’s house.
I crossed a few streets and came upon a housing project.
I quickly noticed that I looked a little…different…from everybody else in the vicinity—okay, I was the only white guy around, all right?--and the blasting car stereos weren’t making me feel any more comfortable.
But I was still lost, so I crossed the street to a bodega and approached a young Hispanic man who was quite obese and in need of a cane.
I told him where I was going and he explained that Clinton Street gets a little tricky as you cross back under the BQE. And even though it was very difficult for him, he walked with me to a spot by the curb to point out exactly where I had to go.
I thanked him profusely and kept going until I reached my destination.
I don’t know how I managed to get so incredibly lost, but I realized later that I’d be still be wandering around the empty warehouses if it were not for the help of some of those teeming unwashed masses that I so often complain about.
The lady at the bus station, the oil company guys, and that fellow with the cane—all went out of their way to help me out even though I was a total stranger.
Maybe it was good that I got lost. It got me stop to fiddling with my prejudices and pay attention so that I could really find my way.