101 Brooklyn, NY: Olga, Eunice, and Shirley

At the museum shop counter, three older women displayed the borough's notorious brashness. One who was plump and spoke with a European accent I imagined as named Olga. Another was small and dumpy, waddling on one bad leg; I called her Eunice. The third was tiny and well-coiffed, wearing big glasses and lots of jewelry. Her I dubbed Shirley.

When I asked if people here were isolated, they answered en masse as a Greek chorus. "Yep. Yep. Always. Too many people in the city. People are leaving New York, leaving like rats from a sinking ship. Really."

"I love living in Brooklyn," said dumpy Eunice. "I used to want to be only in Manhattan. And then I came here and see that it is very nice. You feel like you are in family."

Coiffed Shirley said, "I met my husband in Brooklyn, many many years ago. He was going to college at the time, then he went away to war. I've lived in Brooklyn for all my married life."

"We originally came from Massachusetts," said Eunice, "and settled in downtown Brooklyn for years. My husband had a parking lot down there. But then it started to go down, and he sold out."

"The neighborhood's changed," groused Olga, and all three rolled their eyes, followed by lots of clucking, head-nodding and frowning.

"Yeah, mm hmm," they all reinforced Olga, so she added, "It's unsafe a lot of areas."

"The city even has changed," said Shirley. "I remember at fifteen, I used to get on the subway, go in with a bunch of girls. I'd go in with my fur coat and dressed up to see a show with my husband--on the subway! Now? Forget it! I make sure that nothing on is good. But I remember as a kid even going in the city. My mother let me do that with a bunch of girls. Now if I had a fifteen-year-old girl I wouldn't let her go on the subway to the city, come home ten or eleven at night. It's safer, but it's still hard. Now? At night? No. I wouldn't go."

Eunice hit her coiffed friend on the arm, "Now it's turning around. Coming up again."

"Yeah," agreed Shirley. "There's lots of change. Buy a house and it's gone back and forth again."

"Downgrade and then turn around and upgrade," Olga ruminated.

"They're buying like sundaes now in some areas," Shirley exclaimed. "But a while back it was just scary. Way way back, it was considered 'the place.' I mean if you could afford to live there. Better that than the other direction. Now it's going back. Now it's very residential. Mixed: everything and everyone. You ought to see what was going on there. Never saw a neighborhood like that. Isolated? If anything, what would be the opposite?"

"Inundated," Olga piled on.

"Oh yes. Lots of people," Shirley assented.

"There used to be a downtown [here in Brooklyn]," jeered dumpy Eunice. "I wouldn't go back there any more now. You'd be shocked! But this is a big city. There's always a different group coming in. They wanted to change the language to Spanish. How could you do that? Every group that comes in had to learn English. I remember my husband's folks came here from another country: Poland. They were proud to be here. She went to school at night just to learn English. Because that's what they wanted in those days. But nowadays the people coming in they want you to change. They may say I'm prejudice, but I don't think it's right. Now you have Russians coming in. I went to San Francisco and everything's in Japanese, and I thought, 'What country am I in?' But that's where the money is. All the Japanese; they are dying for their money."

"Where do you live now?" I asked.

"Sheepshead Bay."

"Oh. It's nice there," said Olga.

"Yeah," sneered Eunice. "Nicer than downtown Brooklyn."

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