When you grow up in Brooklyn, you learn the neighborhood boundaries by bus route. I rode the B41 in up and down Flatbush Avenue at my leisure. My other stalwart, the B44, drove almost the entire length of Brooklyn, starting from Sheepshead Bay — an area that separates mainland BK from Coney Island — all the way to not-yet-hip Williamsburg. Anything past Fulton Street in the late ’90s was literally referred to as the jungle in my ‘hood. Mind you, I grew up in East Flatbush, which is not exactly known for peaceful suburban qualities. But Do-or-Die Bed-Stuy, which was just past Fulton and the neighborhood that the late rapper the Notorious B.I.G. repped his entire short career, was the land of savages.
I always tell people that Brooklyn is the most segregated place in America. Every neighborhood is specific: Brighton Beach is Russian, Greenpoint is Polish, Flatbush is West Indian, but it touches Midwood, which is largely Hasidic. Before Brooklyn became a buzzword, it was never hard to tell when someone had missed their stop on the train. I’ll always remember stepping into Bed-Stuy for the first time at around 10 years old. My mother was taking us to a church somewhere much further north from where we lived. I couldn’t believe my eyes: Everything was crumbling, yet the brownstones were beautiful. I felt everyone staring at us. When we went into the train station, I was sure that we were going to be devoured by the same gang of dudes from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” video. I did a rolling montage of every train station murder scene from all the movies I watched on Channel 11 on Saturday afternoons. I was going to die because my mother wanted to pray instead of watch Death Wish. And we still had to make a return trip — if we didn’t die the first time, we were giving them another chance.