Sunday, February 20, 2011

Moving to Albany: Leaving the Country

…So there we are living in Jackson Heights, in the Borough of Queens, the most ethnically diverse county in the country, thinking about leaving New York City (like leaving the Country, to our minds).

You step out the door of our Pre-War red brick apartment building on 35th Avenue under its white stone canopy, walk left to the corner, then down 76th Street two blocks to the Casbah: a two-mile stretch of Roosevelt Avenue, teeming with aliens from every corner of the world, chattering away in 150 different languages as they shop, barter, harangue, laugh, generally enjoying their new lives while the elevated No. 7 train (the El) thunders overhead, making for the Queensboro Bridge (still called the 59th Street Bridge by natives); over and into ‘The City’, as Manhattan is known to the outliers living in the Bedroom Borough of Queens and in that Other World called Brooklyn.

Between Roosevelt and 35th Avenues, along 73rd and 74th Streets is Little India, the streets crowded with turbaned Sikhs, Hindus and Pakistanis flowing in and out of the Jackson Diner (the best Samosas outside the Indian sub-continent), the Pann shops (a psychedelic weed, the Indian equivalent of ‘chawin’ tobacco’), the Sari Emporiums, the Jewelry Exchanges hyping 20-carat gold. Back on Roosevelt Avenue, in a single block, you can sit down to a Mongolian repast, roasted Tibetan yak, savory Philippino rice dishes. The Korean bars on the Avenue all have front windows of impenetrable black—very effective in deterring nosey parkers. Go further east up Roosevelt Avenue and you enter Corona, Hispanic country: Mexicans, Dominicans, Columbians, Peruvians, Ecuadorians, Argentinians---vibrant people, old ladies in shawls selling their pastels from carts, Rice & Bean Palaces suffusing the streets with irresistible aromas. I remember one restaurant in particular advertises “International Cuisine—Bolivian or Argentinian!”. The other sign I won’t soon forget is in flashing neon on a Korean storefront church--“The Korean Church of Eternal Life in New York”. Who would have guessed?

A word about Mexicans, certainly the most populous Hispanic group in Queens and probably in all of New York City. Nobody’s more hard-working and deserving of a break from our hard-hearted government. (True, the Korean families who have replaced the native-born in the vegetable and flower markets and the Middle Easterners who have taken over the small newspaper stores are equally industrious, but seem not to have earned the eternal enmity of the Immigration police.) If they do manage to remove all the illegal Mexicans from their employ, all the restaurants in the City would shut down for lack of dishwashers, busboys and every other type of menial labor. But a word of caution:

Do not let yourself be found after midnight present at a Mexican celebration of a Birth or Confirmation at one of the many ‘Clubs’ (more like the Dance Halls of the Wild West) that occupy the upper reaches of Roosevelt Avenue not far from Shea Stadium. Because, sure as guns kill, someone will take the mike and do a shout-out for the neighborhood’s ‘Malos Ninos’, which invariably is met with gunfire by the members of MS-13.
(To Be Continued)

--Robert Knightly

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