When we discovered our Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, brownstone back in 2005, we walked the street at night and found the block a little bit isolated. So we welcomed the constant lights of the all-night bodega next door, and the comings-and-goings that made the corner feel more populous.
We moved in during the spring, and as the weather started to warm, we began to meet the people we refer to as our Neighbor Friends--not really our friends, sort of our neighbors, generally genial….the oft-loitering guys from the neighborhood, many on loan from the housing project kitty-corner to the bodega.
These guys would buy a beer or cigarettes from the bodega, and park themselves outside to drink, smoke, and talk with other Neighbor Friends--oudly.
“Why must men speak so loudly?” my lesbian partner and I wondered every summer night as dusk rolled in and the decibels cranked up.
We brought one baby into our lives, and then a second a couple of years later. As sleep become less dependable and more necessary, it became my nightly ritual to walk outside in pajamas and ask, “Please, for the love of God, lower your voices? Some people like to sleep at night!” Usually the crowd was amenable, and promised to quiet down, but many nights, I'd have to repeat my visits--and my pleas for a bit of solace. (And once in awhile, I'd get, "But lady, it's Friday night!" in a way that, well, I sort of could identify with.)
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Our corner soundtrack also includes the local homeless man, Sonny, whose regular perch is in front of the bodega and whose regular hosanna is “Good luck to the people on the planet!” That’s what he says in the mornings and afternoons, anyway. At night, when drinking, he chants, “Fuck you! Go back to Africa!”
(I’ve called an ambulance numerous times for Sonny after witnessing him passed out. Once I had to tell him that seeing his exposed penis during a public urination at 9 a.m. was not a way I wanted to start my day.)
Putting up with noise pollution is one consequence of living near a neighborhood bodega. Actual pollution is another: In the mornings, the patrons tend to produce a lot of loose trash--snack wrappers, coffee cups, lottery tickets, cigarette stubs--that all seem to end up on our stoop somehow, particularly on windy days.
On the positive side, the bodega and its satellite populace have contributed to a sense of community. Our Neighbor Friends look out for us. They help carry the double-stroller up the steps. When I get home from Costco by myself at times, Neighbor Friends always help me bring in my oversized parcels. Our nearly-4-year-old daughter has taken to wishing Sonny, “Good luck to the people on the planet!”
And then, of course, there’s the convenience of the bodega being a convenience store. Having two toddlers, we go though a lot of milk, and that’s a quick fix. And on occasion I, too, partake in the individual beers for sale, though usually I bring them back to my house to consume. But I can certainly empathize with the need to get out of the house.
If we had it to do over, we wouldn't buy the house next to a bodega. Our neighbors even just a few doors down don't suffer the same amount of noise or trash or neighborly "interaction." We fantasize about buying out the building and renovating/expanding it, so we'd have a corner lot where the bodega is.
For now, we'll have to make do with earplugs, blackout shades, and a little patience. And, recently, on the corner at the other end of our block, a charming coffee shop shut down last year after a fire and other traumas. After a few months of vacancy, a new tenant has finally moved in. As if the infrastructure-identity of Brooklyn is asserting its dominance over its mere denizens, the new tenant is a bodega.