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A Bronx Tale

Once upon a time lived a young girl too young to understand draft dodging or LSD. She grew up on a lone street in The Bronx, away from the agreeable communities of Pelham Parkway and Parkchester. She came of age in Co-op City née Freedomland, an erstwhile swamp laid over with five sections of 36 replicated buildings and a sprinkling of townhouses.

The girl resided with brother and parents in said townhouse, though she would have much preferred an elevated building. The mother had always dreamed of a house by the ocean, but her husband had convinced her that a connected duplex with a view of a sandy playground surrounded by Astroturf and three Frankensteinian high rises was a close second.

Said girl's father was extremely happy in this simulated community, which represented the triumph of his ideals. There were no true city blocks, but "places" named for great thinkers, with each section assigned a letter. Section one was all D: Defoe, Dekruif; section two C: Casals, Carver; section three A: Alcott, Aldrich; etc. It was "self-sufficient," in that each section had a community center comprised of a supermarket and sundry other businesses.

The father loved the community center, where he fulfilled his ambition as an orchestra leader. Their home was also a mere short drive from his other love, a shop where he labored after teaching hours to invent electronic musical gizmos.

The girl was happy here at first, since the place was flooded with pubescents and teenagers like herself. Snubbing “healthy” activities like sports and social clubs, she and her friends mainly hung out at a bench behind "Building 17." Daily she traversed a long tar path that divided her home from her hangout. In its heyday, clusters of androgynous teens could be found all over Co-op City, hulking in the great shadows of the high rises, smoking pot and dreaming of sex.

But having nothing to do eventually lost its charm, and the crowds went their own ways to different high schools where they met other friends and lovers.

It was this artificial existence that informed the girl, made her wonder how the rest of the world lived: people who grew up with heroes, who knew the comfort of a neighborhood or the joy of nature.

This was The Bronx of the 1960s and '70s, a far cry from the sparkling jewel that immigrant families fled to in the '20s and '30s—when the Grand Concourse was truly grand and green open spaces proved The Bronx's superiority to Manhattan. It was a time of simple racial definition: one was Jewish, Italian, Irish, Chinese, Puerto Rican, or Black. Fears and aggressions were upfront and uninformed; political correctness had not been born.

Now thanks to gentrification and the overselling of Manhattan, "Duh Bronx," home of hip-hop, Ralph Lauren, and the Yankees, seems once again the cool place to be.

About the author

Born in Bronx, New York, Marilyn started writing poetry at age 6. As a young adult she moved to Manhattan and supported herself as a typesetter and proofreader while continuing to write poetry, fiction, essays and drama. She participated in the East Village performance scene during the '80s and '90s and wrote for local arts publications. In 1996 she published her poetry book entitled She Must Have Been a Giant. More mature now but still rebellious, Marilyn is working on several New York-related projects.

Marilyn Recht is a contributing writer for NYCfoto.com

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