Everyone’s always talked about how magical Brooklyn is in the fall. I never understood why until I lived here. It’s a fresh season—rooftops are abandoned, littered with reminisces of carefree summer hangouts as artists return to their drawing boards. Muted guitar riffs and drum beats echo through the walls as musicians return to their studios from festival tours. New retail shops and restaurants open their doors for business, just in time for the holiday season. There’s a sense of urgency that you can taste in a bitter shot of an espresso pulled in a rush. You can hear it in the tempo of heels walking briskly to catch the train. The lingering warmth of the summer sun takes its last dance on bare shoulders as sweaters are taken from sale racks at vintage stores.
I remember so vividly my introduction to this magic. All I knew of Brooklyn before I moved here were the stereotypes depicted in indie films, music blogs, and (embarrassingly enough) Gossip Girl. I was pleasantly surprised to learn those stereotypes were, for the most part, very accurate. My roommate and I, jobless and friendless, stopped for a drink at a bar near our neighborhood during happy hour. We watched as a lanky 20-something boy with dark, matted curls and a camel tucked behind his ear skipped in the door, pounded fists with everyone seated at the bar and slid into a stool. He hadn’t stopped talking since the second he swung the door open. Intrigued, Camille and I moved to two open bar stools.
Eager for anyone interested in his prattle, he immediately started chatting with the two of us up. Within minutes he had figured out we just moved to the neighborhood, didn’t know anybody around, didn’t have plans for the night, and insisted we join him and his friends at their new loft down the street. His enthusiasm was a little overwhelming, but we said what the hell, pounded down a shot of Jameson and followed him out the door.
He continued talking the whole walk there, but I was tuning him out and observing the neighborhood. I had gotten used to the grittiness of my own block already, but the unfamiliar parts still made me a little uncomfortable. Sirens became white noise; you could hear people fighting in every direction. Often both sides of the fight were in different languages—they weren’t fighting to argue or make a clear point, they just wanted to yell. The streets were freckled with cigarette butts and garbage cans overflowed into the gutters as frail old women draped in incongruous fabric picked out the recyclable pieces.
“This is it,” the boy said, stopping in front of a building that I would have assumed was abandoned otherwise. As he struggled with a janky lock on a big steel door I heard a deep scream from inside. I looked at Camille. Her eyes were wide too, looking back at me. Then another scream echoed, only this one was a woman. The boy glanced our way without directly acknowledging the screams, chuckled awkwardly, and said “Ladies first” as he directed us inside.
Another scream, and then a crash, as we headed up the stairs. I wanted to run back down. I didn’t trust this boy, I didn’t trust this neighborhood, and I definitely didn’t want to know why these people were screaming. I nudged Camille and we spoke with our eyes.
I looked at her with an: “I’m scared.”
She looked back at me with a: “Me too. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
But for some reason we still walked up the stairs, herded like sheep between this boy and what sounded like a torture chamber.
The door swung open at the top of the second flight of stairs to reveal their loft. An oversized canvas splattered with paint dressed a brick wall. Tall weathered windows released a golden autumny glow as a young girl who matched the canvas screamed and threw a crystal glass half full of wine at the brick wall. Behind her a group of people, also covered in wine and paint plucked at guitar strings and slammed on piano keys. One of them yelled. Another echoed.
“Oh man, these acoustics are incredible!” I followed a trail of paint on the worn hardwood floors to a boy in a backwards engineer hat, holding a camera. “Smash something else!”
I looked at him, back at the screaming girl, at Camille, and then at the boy from the bar. He shrugged, “Ha! Welcome to Brooklyn” and patted us on the back as he slid in from the door frame.