Sunday, December 05, 2004

Only the Dead Know Brooklyn

There is no such thing as coincidence. That's what Smartmom thinks. Coincidence is just another word for fate. And as fate would have it, Smartmom, on her way to running in the park this Sunday morning, found a book lying out on the street in front of an apartment building on Third Street. It was: "Short Stories from The New Yorker: A Collection of 68 Stories That Appeared in the Magazine During its First Fifteen Years of Publication 1925 - 1940."

Needless to say, she swooped it up faster than you can say, Is it a first edition? and while briskly walking to the park, she perused the copyright (first paperback printing, 1965) and the table-of- contents.

And that's where fate comes in. A short story called, "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn," was included in the collection.

"Only the Dead Know Brooklyn" by Thomas Wolfe. It was meant to be.

Smartmom read the first few pages of the story with the title that inspired the name of her blog. Smartmom had never read the story and only found out recently that the phrase was penned by Thomas Wolfe. But the phrase was something she'd heard all her life. So Smartmom was pleased as punch to find this book just a few steps from her home.

It is a tradition in Park Slope to put books out on the street when you're ready to part with them, as well as other stuff: clothing, pots and pans, cans of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup. There are lots of book people in this neighborhood -- writers, editors, critics, proof readers, copy editors, even readers. Sometimes you see galleys and reviewer's copies laying out on a stoop -- you can often find great things. But this morning's detritus was an oddball assortment: Kahil Gibran some cookbooks, a law book. But that New Yorker short story collection, that was a true find, a keeper, one for the bookcase, alright.

Call it what you will -- it seemed like fate to Smartmom. It was meant to be.

When Smartmom got to the park she had to find a place to put the book while she ran. She hid it under a pile of dead leaves next to a tree and hoped it would be there when she came back.

Fate. It was there when Smartmom was done. And now, dear reader, here are some excerpts from Wolfe's masterful story, written in thick Brooklynese:

Dere's no guy livin' dat knows Brooklyn t'roo an t'roo, because it'd take a guy a lifetime just to find his way aroun' duh goddam town.

So like I say, I'm waitin' for my train t' come when I sees dis big guy standin' deh -- dis is the foist I eveh see of him. Well, he's lookin' wild, y'know, an' I can see dat he's had plenty, but still he's holdin' it; he talks good an' is walkin' straight enough. So den, dis big guy steps up to a little guy dat's standin' deh, an' says, "How d'yuh get t' Eighteent' Avenoo an Sixty-sevent' Street?" he says..."


"How long you been livin' heah," I says.

All my life," he says. " I was bawn in Williamsboig," he says. "An I can tell you t'ings about dis town you neveh hoid of," he says.

"Yeah," I says

"Yeah," he says.

"Well, den you can tell me t'ings about dis town dat nobody else has eveh hoid of, either. Maybe you make it all up yoehself at night," I says, "befoe you go to sleep -- lie cuttin' out papeh dolls, or somp'in"

"Oh yeah," he says. "You're pretty wise, ain't yuh?"

"Duh boids ain't using my head for Lincoln's statue yet," I says. "But I'm wise enough to know a phoney when I see one..."


"Jesus! What a nut he was! I wondeh what evah happened to 'm, anyway. I wondeh if someone knocked him on duh head, or if he's till wanderin' aroun' in duh subway in duh middle of duh night with his little map! Duh poor guy. Say, I've got to laugh, at dat, when I t'ink about him! Maybe he's found out by now dat he'll never live long enought to know duh whole of Brooklyn. It'd take a guy a lifetime to Brooklyn t'roo an' t'roo. An even den, yuh wouldn't know it all."

So if you were wondering where Smartmom got the phrase, Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, now you know. She took it from Thomas Woolfe, the author of the story she found on the street on her way to Prospect Park.


At 9:29 AM, Blogger Little Light said...

And I just finished a Dorothy Parker bio that I purchased in Park Slope. You know I'm digging the coincidence/fate thing. Very cool story. I'm glad the book was still there when you came back.

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Udge said...

Lucky Smartmom, what a prize. Would that be the elder Thomas Wolfe, author of "Look homeward, angel" among other things?

At 5:06 AM, Blogger Third Street said...

Same Thomas Wolfe. Never read Look Homeward Angel but it's going on the wish list along with that Sun House CD.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Billychic said...

I'm having so much difficulty finding a copy of this...Seems they would have had a reprinting...

At 5:00 PM, Blogger momma13 said...

momma13 said: I read this story in a book of short stories - a text in my sophomore English class in high school. I remembered the wonderful title and content but couldn't remember the author. Finally, today I googled it. Voila! Yeah. Happy to know about "Look Homeward Angel"

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Taylor said...

The story is reprinted in "50 Great Short Stories"


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