he street is loud. It always is. Ambulances and fire trucks zoom by with lights spinning. Taxis honk and buses screech. Hormone-driven teenagers bark out taunts and babies cry in their strollers. The corner sidewalk cafe clamors with locals shouting conversations over the traffic din.
This is my street corner. This is my Brooklyn ‘hood. I’m in the center of all that’s hip and cool and current in America.
When my cousin needed a place to stay in New York for a few days, I was happy to host him. He comes from a small town and the sights and sounds of the city mesmerize him. He likes to sit at the window and read, pausing to watch what’s happening below.
“There’s more cool restaurants on this block than in my entire town!” He wants to try them all.
At bedtime, I toss a pillow and a few blankets on the couch. I recommend closing the windows and turning on the air conditioner.
“The sounds of the city will keep you up all night,” I tell him. “But the windows are soundproof. They might help.”
“I think I’ll be okay,” he replies. “I prefer the night air.”
I think he’ll regret it, especially on a Saturday night. I smile, shrug my shoulders and head to my rear bedroom.
It’s not yet 11 p.m. but I’m tired and slip into the coolness of my sheets. I sleep soundly all night.
I am up before my cousin and I tiptoe to the kitchen to put on coffee. I plug in the electric kettle and it responds with a slow hiss.
Soon, my cousin stirs and he sits up.
“How did you sleep?” I ask. He doesn’t answer immediately. His mind is still in a fog. He reaches for his glasses.
“There was a fight on the street last night, right in front of the building. It was really loud.”
“It was pretty bad. I was waiting for the sound of gun shots.”
By this time the water is boiling and I pour it over the coffee grounds. I take two cups from the cupboard and set them on the table.
Gunshots, I think to myself. Shouldn’t I be alarmed? Shouldn’t I ask for details?
I pour the coffee slowly into the cups. Steam rises in swirls.
“Do you take milk or sugar?”
“Just black,” he says.
I place the coffee on the table in front of him. He says no more about the incident but I understand.
Only two months earlier I woke to the sound of rat-a-tat-tat. It was 3 a.m. and the bursts sounded clearly like gunfire. I stumbled to the window but saw nothing. I heard nothing. The street was strangely quiet. But something had happened.
In the morning, tow trucks were hauling away several cars. They were pocked with bullet holes. I had heard guns, but cars were the only victims.
“How’s the coffee?” I ask him.
“Fine” he says before rising and returning to look out the window.
Did he see the street differently now? Did he worry about taking a walk, about random violence?
He said nothing.
Maybe, like me, he had grown used to the loud streets of urban America, gunshots in the churning mix.