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Into the Heart of Things

Into the Heart of Things

I’m in Brooklyn this week. It’s my 138th trip to New York in the past 13 years. For the first 135 trips I was in Manhattan, mostly on 9th St. near Sixth Avenue in a brownstone with studio apartments the owner rented per night, a place I first visited with my wife on our honeymoon. I don’t have the budget I once had, so for three weeklong trips this summer I’ve stayed with a college friend in between Clinton Hill and Bed Stuy. The other night we went to a bar in Bed Stuy called One Last Shag. You could get a Session Lager and a Buffalo Trace on the rocks for $8.

Though I grew up in a town of 9,000 on North Carolina’s coast, I’ve felt at home in New York since I was a teenager in the 1980s. My family took a trip there and we stayed on Central Park South. While my parents were looking the other way, I went down to Paragon Sporting Goods at Union Square to get a new pair of baseball cleats.

In 10th grade, my English teacher assigned me Bernard Malamud’s The Natural because he knew I loved baseball. Then he assigned me Malamud’s The Magic Barrel, a collection of stories set in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Thirty years later I consider it one of the best story collections in American literature. My wife gave me a hardback copy of it for my birthday two weeks ago.

When I’m in New York my relationship with WFAN sports radio changes. I can pick up their signal clearly all day, whereas in North Carolina I can receive it only after dark, and sometimes I have to turn the radio sideways and upside down to get it clearly. I prefer the distance, the static, perhaps for the same reason I like vinyl records.

The daytime hosts and callers are irritating chatterers. I prefer the isolated nocturnal moods. I feel like I have access, however slight, to the standing-room-only sections of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds.

Credit: Casey Holford

Sam Stephenson is currently working on a biography of W. Eugene Smith for Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  He is also working on Chaos Manor, a theater installation based on his The Jazz Loft Project (Knopf, 2009). More by Sam Stephenson

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