Monday, March 17, 2008

My Town Monday Series Part 2

I forgot to participate in My Town Monday with Travis last week due to sheer and utter forgetfulness brought on by age and stupidity. So this week I wanted to make sure I prepared myself ahead of time. Here are some fun facts I dug out about Brooklyn:
  • Brooklyn was once a separate city. In 1898, it was united with the other four boroughs (Queens, Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island) to form what we now know as the City of Greater New York.
  • Brooklyn's population of nearly 2.5 million people, would make it the fourth largest city in the U.S. today, if it was its own city.
  • Brooklyn is located on the island of Long Island but is not considered part of Long Island.
  • The Brooklyn Children's Museum is the world's first museum for children.
Today I wanted to take you somewhere that I loved. The Brooklyn public library - the Grand Army Plaza library. If you ever saw the movie Matilda and remember the scene of Matilda walking to the library with her red wagon full of books, then you have a sense of what I was like. The closest library to me was a good fifteen blocks away. If I was lucky, my mother would walk me down once a month and let me stack up with as many books as I could that we would wheel away in her little portable shopping cart. Then we would hit the A&P for some groceries on the way home and maybe buy me a Coke. When she wasn't around, I would walk down myself. I was taking public transportation and walking everywhere since I was 8 years old. I was the quintessential latch key kid.

I wasn't allowed to watch alot of tv and my folks were always working so I spent alot of time reading. It was my gameboy, my playstation, my cable channels - it was all my entertainment. Children these days are so spoiled with all the electronic gadgets and toys out there that they have really lost the pleasure of a good book. Something I have rectified in my own house by being the Big Bad Mommy and banning all electronic devices on school nights. Since my kids just received a Wii as a present from their Aunt, this rule has been a huge sore point in the house. But I am evil, I laugh at their whining, I scoff at their pleas for fairness. It's not fair? I growl, you lazy little ingrates have no idea of what unfair really is. Stinky Mommy they call me.

Anyway, my local library was pretty small, but when I was thirteen, I discovered the central library. My father drove me there when I had to do a book report and all the books I needed were not at my local branch. I remember walking in and being awed at this big beautiful library. The huge, high ceilinged reading rooms and the impressive number of reference librarians. Soon after, I would take the bus and transfer twice to get to the library on my own.

The library is located on Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue and as you can see from the above picture, it is huge. It was built in 1941 and its architecture was created to resemble an open book, with the spine on Grand Army Plaza and the building’s two wings opening like pages onto Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue. Above the door, a lovely inscription that says "When men have wit to read and will to know - the door to learning is the open book."

This was the library that opened up my world to a world of books I never imagined. Science fiction, fantasy, historical novels, regency novels, etc. What my little library had in limited supply were now availabe in endless supply. It was heaven. I spent alot of time there shifting from the first floor reading room to the right of the front doors and the second floor reading rooms depending upon the location of various smelly vagrants that would inhabit comfortable areas of the library. Now don't get me wrong, if I were homeless, I would probably spend all my times at the library also, but I have this thing with my nose. I can't breathe if it stinks. So sitting anywhere near a homeless person would irritate the crap out of me. And there was this one very large homeless person that always sat in the first floor reading room right smack in the middle of the room. When he was there, there wasn't a spot far enough in the room to get away from the wretched smell. Plus, he had or pretended to have Tourrets Syndrome and was prone to shouting out random things like "Gonorrhea!" and "Suck my Dick!" Usually the latter would come out when any female walked by so I wondered how real the Tourrets was. And it didn't matter if the girl walking by was a perky young thing or an 85 year old saggy breasted granny, he wasn't very picky. However, no matter how many times he was escorted it out, he would always be back in a week or two. Quiet for the first hour or so before screaming STD terms and requests for a blowjob would finally send him on his way. Luckily the library was big enough that there was always another reading room far enough I could run away to.

When I started at NYU, I finally found a library that I would love more than Grand Army. NYU's Bobst library is an architectural marvel and the best place to hide and study. A place of windows and cubicles and millions and milions of books. Bobst became my new favorite library, but I never forgot learning how great a library was at Grand Army. Or how annoying a stinky horny homeless man could be.


Aerin said...

So...I've only been to NYC once; I was 18, and it was with my family. We went to MOMA and the Statue of Liberty. And Bloomingdale's.

Needless to say, the whole borough thing intimidates me. I've never understood it. So I was happy to get some info on Brooklyn. (Have you seen the movie "Newsies"? "Never fear, Brooklyn is here!")

And I love the library story, too. Thanks for sharing!

Sustenance Scout said...

Talk about details! You're too funny, Ello. I grew up in a small town with a tiny library. Fine for a younger kid, awful for a teenager. So I'd ride my bike 10 miles to the next town over, where the library was also next to a lake. Not a bad deal. I've always loved big downtown libraries and need to bring my girls to the main library in Denver. They're such avid readers their little eyes will probably bug out of their heads. Thanks for the much-needed Monday-morning laughs, Ello! K.

jason evans said...

Tourrets in the library...I shouldn't laugh...but.

Larramie said...

What an adorable mental image of you pulling a little wagon of library books home!

Merry Monteleone said...

Why does this remind me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?

I think it's awesome that as a kid you learned to travel near and far for a better venue of books - I also think you should be proud of the term 'stinky mommy'. My kids are dying for a Wii, but after watching the commercial all I can say is, if you want to play ball, go outside and play it!!!! You don't need simulated games for that, you've got siblings and neighbors!

The Anti-Wife said...

The library in the town where I grew up had 12,000 books. It wasn't big enough to hold many more, but it seemed huge to me. I loved libraries as a kid.

Charles Gramlich said...

I love libraries. And I applaud your banning electronic gadgets on school nights. I tried to limit my son on such things myself but my ex would give them to him or let him play them whenever my back was turned. I remember coming home one day and she'd put a TV in his room.

Lana Gramlich said...

Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos & wonderful stories (as well as the informational tidbits.) Is there still a law down there that no new buildings on LI can be over 4 stories tall, do you know?

Ello said...

Gosh Lana that sounds so familiar - but I have no idea if that is still law. But it doesn't apply in Brooklyn, that's for sure!

Mary Witzl said...

My father's father's side were Dutch, and almost all of them lived in Brooklyn, Harlem, Flatbush, etc, way back when.

I love the fact that you and Merry don't go along with the flow and let your kids have every stupid computer game there is! We said NO to all of this too, and for all that our kids can be obnoxious, they are certainly readers. Few of their computer-game- playing classmates are.

My sister is a librarian, and she has sense of smell issues too. She feels mean, but she often reluctantly checks out books to people she is sure will never bring them back. When the books are ones she particularly loves, she feels like digging her heels in and refusing to let them out of the library.

I love that movie Matilda, by the way -- the one with Danny DiVito. It is one of my all-time favorites.

Patti said...

i love a library and will go out of my way to roam around one. loved this...and i will join next monday...

Lisa said...

Another great post! You reminded me about how when I was the same age (eight), me and my friends would take the "T" into Boston and go all over the place by ourselves. It's incredible how much autonomy we had then. You made me so nostalgic about libraries that when I first read this last night I was online looking at pictures of the libraries I hung out in all summer long when I was a kid.

Terrie Farley Moran said...


As a life long New Yorker, I love anything about New York and this is a great piece.

Thanks so much.


SzélsőFa said...

I liked this decription of libraries, Brooklyn and homeless persons. I have that thing with my nose, too.

J. L. Krueger said...


When I was a cadet at West Point, NYC was where we went for "thrills", though later I went out further on Long Island (that's where my girlfriend lived).

I never knew I had any "Brooklyn connections" until the mid-90's. My paternal 2d great grandfather was born in Brooklyn in 1876 (his parents came from Saxony about 1872). It was there that he met my 2d great grandmother, who was born in Brooklyn in 1879 (her parents came from Ireland in 1870).

Great story!

debra said...

I am also a MM (mean mommy). When #1 daughter (now 20) won a Sega Genesis game at a grocery store, I wouldn't let it out of the box. I didn't think a 6 year old needed electronic toys.
She sold it and bought an American Girl doll with the money she made, and embarked on a journey through history. We still don't have video games. When kids come here they have to go outside or interact with each other.
#2 daughter is now a college student in NYC and l-o-v-e-s the libraries.

Angela Williams Duea said...

My little town library was a magical place for me. I still get a thrill when I go into a library and there's all these BOOKS!! And I can take whatever I want!

Cakespy said...

I went to Pratt and this totally made me miss the neighborhood so, so much. I used to walk the long stretch of Washington Street from the Pratt Campus to the Brooklyn Museum and can't agree more--Grandy Army plaza is magical.

Demon Hunter said...

"Stinky, horny, homeless man"

Haha! :*) I love large libraries. I would spend a lot of time there I could. Thanks for sharing this.

Chris Eldin said...

This is a great post! I love the photos, and also didn't know Brooklyn had the first children's museum. If I get a chance to visit NY this summer (hauling kids up in the mini-van), I hope you'll give some more tips!!!

Debbielou said...

Great post! Love the film Matilda too
You described it so well - I'm there !

Travis Erwin said...

Thanks for carrying on with My Town Monday in my absence this week.

I too have fond memories of my local library.

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