Only the Dead Know Brooklyn
by
Thomas C. Wolfe
(excerpt)

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“You come wit me,” I says. So when we gets onto duh train I says to him, “Where yuh goin’ out in Bensonhoist?” I says. “What numbeh are yuh lookin’ for?” I says. You know – I t’ought if he told me duh address I might be able to help him out.

“Oh,” he says, “I’m not lookin’ for no one. I don’t know no one out deh.”

“Then whatcha goin’ out deh for?” I says.

“Oh,” duh guy says, “I’m just goin’ out to see duh place,” he says. “I like duh sound of duh name – Bensonhoist, y’know – so I t’ought I’d go out an’ have a look at it.”

“Whatcha tryin’ t’hand me?” I says. “Whatcha tryin’ t’do – kid me?” You know, I t’ought duh guy was bein’ wise wit me.

“No,” he says. “I’m tellin’ yuh duh troot. I like to go out an’ take a look at places wit nice names like dat. I like to go out an’ look at all kinds of places,” he says.

“How’d yuh know deh was such a place,” I says, “if yuh neveh been deh befoeh?”

“Oh,” he says, “I got a map.”

“A map?” I says.

“Sure,” he says, “I got a map dat tells me about all dese places. I take it wit me every time I come out heah,” he says.

And Jesus! Wit dat, he pulls it out of his pocket, an’ so help me, but he’s got it – he’s tellin’ duh troot – a big map of duh whole goddam place with all duh different pahts mahked out. You know – Canarsie an’ East Noo Yawk an’ Flatbush, Bensonhoist, Sout’ Brooklyn, duh Heights, Bay Ridge, Greenpernt – duh whole goddam layout, he’s got it right deh on duh map.

“You been to any of dose places?” I says.

“Sure,” he says. “I been to most of ‘em. I was down in Red Hook just last night,” he says.

“Jesus! Red Hook!” I says. “Whatcha do down deh?”

“Oh,” he says, “nuttin’ much. I just walked aroun’. I went into a coupla places an’ had a drink,” he says, “but most of the time I just walked aroun’.”

“Just walked aroun’?” I says.

“Sure,” he says, “just lookin’ at t’ings, y’know.”

“Where’d yuh go?” I asts him.

“Oh,” he says, “I don’t know duh name of duh place, but I could find it on my map,” he says. “One time I was walkin’ across some big fields where deh ain’t no houses,” he says, “but I could see ships oveh deh all lighted up. Dey was loadin’. So I walks across duh fields,” he says, “to where duh ships are.”

“Sure,” I says, “I know where you was. You was down to duh Erie Basin.”

“Yeah,” he says. “I guess dat was it. Dey had some of dose big elevators an’ cranes an’ dey was loadin’ ships, an’ I could see some ships in drydock all lighted up, so I walks across duh fields to where dey are,” he says.

“Den what did yuh do?” I says.

“Oh,” he says, “nuttin’ much. I came on back across duh fields after a while an’ went into a coupla places an’ had a drink.”

“Didn’t nuttin’ happen while yuh was in dere?” I says.

“No,” he says. “Nuttin’ much. A coupla guys was drunk in one of duh places an’ started a fight, but dey bounced ‘em out,” he says, “an’ den one of duh guys stahted to come back again, but duh bartender gets his baseball bat out from under duh counteh, so duh guy goes on.”

“Jesus!” I said. “Red Hook!”

“Sure,” he says. “Dat’s where it was, all right.”

“Well, you keep outa deh,” I says. “You stay away from deh.”

“Why?” he says. “What’s wrong wit it?”

“Oh,” I says, “it’s a good place to stay away from, dat’s all. It’s a good place to keep out of.”

“Why?” he says. “Why is it?”

Jesus! Whatcha gonna do wit a guy as dumb as that! I saw it wasn’t no use to try to tell him nuttin’, he wouldn’t know what I was talkin’ about, so I just says to him, “Oh, nuttin’. Yuh might get lost down deh, dat’s all.”

“Lost?” he says. “No, I wouldn’t get lost. I got a map,” he says.

A map! Red Hook! Jesus!

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davidson_brooklyn gangNew York City. 1959. Brooklyn Gang
photo by Bruce Davidson

[Short story originally published in The New Yorker,June 15, 1935…read it all over at the Southern Cross Review…]

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