The mists rise over

The still pools of Asuka.

Memory does not

Pass away so easily.

– Akahito

I was on a mission in search of Japanese whisky recently (far harder to find than I expected), which led me improbably to my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, to a small store near Brooklyn Brewery named The Whisky Shop. I almost never make it back to this neighborhood, right on the border of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, so my unfiltered and un-updated memories of life there 25 years ago sit stubbornly in my mind, even as I see outwardly a whole new world.

141 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn

Bedford Avenue is a buzzing thoroughfare, crawling with youthful, fashion-friendly denizens who likely take this as just another in a global chain of funky urban docking stations rather than as the stolid, and rooted, working class world of its, and my, past. The L-line Bedford Ave. subway station is bursting, overtaxed by the constant flow of these people into and back from Manhattan. A row of pan-Asian bistros stand where the lone Chinese takeout used to be. You got your order through a small window facing the street, jovially served by the polylingual proprietor who, in addition to his native Chinese tongue, had a remarkable command of the neighborhood languages: English, Spanish and Polish.

The Polish butcher is gone, however. He had no such dexterity with languages other than his own, reducing me to pointing and hand signs when served. The Salvation Army thrift store is closed (for renovations, a sign says), but is amazingly still extant, although there is a rumor Apple has purchased the site. Bars serving craft beer are everywhere, one now residing in the space that housed a go-go bar when I lived here. This was the closest bar to my apartment and more a local hangout than a source of titillating entertainment. Young Polish women with thick ankles would dance on a small square platform in one corner, to tunes selected by patrons on the jukebox. If no-one felt like feeding coins into the jukebox, the music would stop, and the dancer would simply flop down cross-legged on the platform, staring abstractly into space until another song finally came on.

Half a block away, is 141 Bedford Ave., my former home. The façade appears to have been painted recently. My apartment on the top floor was spacious, with old details, but decidedly inelegant. If I kept the windows open on warm nights, each morning a thin layer of fresh soot lay upon the sill. On quiet evenings, you could hear the sounds of production from the 24-hour paint plant located several blocks up Bedford (an upscale apartment dwelling is now being constructed on the site).

The most pleasant, moderately surprising revelation for me was that the gritty dignity of the neighborhood, the uneven streets and brick buildings, really hasn’t changed all that much. On Berry Street sits a beautiful old tavern – for 25 years it has been known as Teddy’s, but is said to have operated for a century prior to that — with its ancient curving glass façade. I notice happily that this old gem still stands, welcoming new generations of patrons. It would be nice to have a drink and soak it all in again after so many years, but I need to get home.