More Overheard in Brooklyn

I’ve been listening as I walk around Brooklyn. I’ve been listening in the elevator of my office building. I’ve been listening in C’s occupational and physical therapy waiting rooms. People talk. They talk to each other. They talk to themselves. People talk to train cars full of people. People talk to whoever will listen. I listen. Here’s what I’ve taken particular note of.

In the elevator of my office building.

A twenty-something skinny kid with a pale face, sharp nose, red hair, red beard. His red tie pops against his untucked blue shirt. He’s talking to a co-worker, a woman about the same age. I surmise that they’re career counselors working at the job placement center. They step into the elevator at their floor, the elevator going down.

Red Beard
My clients ask me that, when I ask if they know any languages. They say “does Ebonics count?” I tell them “you find a job where that counts, and I’ll count it.”

They both have a good chuckle about that. I notice that there are no black people in the elevator.

On the platform at my home subway stop.

Skinny, petulant woman, looks to be in her 50’s, has seen better days. She looks like a chain smoker, even though smoking isn’t allowed on the platform. She looks like someone who would have worn L.A. Gears sneakers back when they were on the discount rack.

A homeless type seeming man is sprawled on a nearby bench. A sanitation worker wearing an orange vest is emptying the giant waste bins into a large, black, garbage bag.

I’m on the opposite platform, but she’s loud, and the altercation is all that’s going on.

He tried to hit me.

Blank stare from the man in an orange vest, emptying in the trash.

Aren’t you gonna do something? He tried to hit me.

You have to talk to them upstairs.

But you work for them.

No I don’t, I work for a private company.

So no one’s gonna do anything about the fucking homeless man who tried to hit me?
(to all of us)
Well that’s fucking great. Fucking asshole tried to hit me and nobody fucking cares.

Sitting in the waiting room at the occupational therapy office.

The children are restless, waiting for their appointments. The adults are tired. There’s a bookcase in the corner with kids magazines and early reader books.

A four year old boy in a stroller is wheeled in by a woman who appears to be his grandmother. The boy spots the books.

Read to me?

No mija, the books are broken, they have to get new ones.

She smiles at me. I smile back, suppress a chuckle.

Read to me!

I told you, those books are no good, we can’t read them.

My son
Those books aren’t broken.

She shoots my son a look. He doesn’t notice.

Walking down Wythe Ave in Williamsburg

A woman talking to her friend about an errant boyfriend type.

And I was like: I’m literally here until 10 every night I can’t do any talking.

Sitting in the waiting room at the occupational therapy office.

A very large woman sitting in a chair, talking to her much larger mother, in a wheelchair.

What kind of woman won’t wipe her own mother’s ass?

What the fuck is wrong with her?

When the fuck is this appointment? We’ve been waiting 10 fucking minutes.


In the street outside my apartment.

Sunday morning in my kitchen. Some men walk under our window on the sidewalk outside. A guy talks to his pal.

Like any other job, sometimes it’s good sometimes it sucks. I remember asking the doctor if he liked his job, he said sometimes it’s good, sometimes I hate it.

A job’s a job.

Outside an adult day care center near my apartment.

A bus pulls up, and some mentally retarded adults disembark to the waiting aide. A middle-aged woman gets off, a little hunched, leaning on the aide’s hand. She’s very excited. The aide smiles and is attentive. She’s got corn rows, the long braids going half way down her back. She’s tall and slender.

I’m going on camera today with my sister!


Yup, with my sister, and I’m gonna speak for the Guild.

Very nice!

In the hallway outside the children’s law office.

A lawyer in a too-small gray suit rushes off down the hall, leaving a woman standing there with her son. She keeps a hand on his shoulder, to keep track of him, to keep him close, to maintain control over a situation that does not seem within her control.

(hurrying toward the men’s room)
Send him to school.

They told me to bring him to court, not to send him to school.

Send him to school.

Sound  of the men’s room door closing.

At the subway station.

Outside the turnstiles. Two little kids are hanging off the turnstiles, playing. Their parents are nearby, leaning against the wall. The little kids know how to get out of the way of riders, how to keep on eye on the parents and intuit their movements. The dad is yelling at the mom. His face is close to hers as he bends toward her. He points off, somewhere behind him.

You go back to the judge and tell him this fucking shit, I am tired of this shit, I am tired of it.

The Mom rubs her the side of her face with her hand. She’s got a stressed-out look on her face.

I don’t wanna hear this shit no more, you tell them.

Talking across the aisle.

A woman on the subway. It looks like she’s not talking to anyone, then I realize she’s talking across the aisle to another woman. I can’t tell if they’re traveling together or just started interacting.

I wanna go to college so I can get a good job, I don’t like to depend on the system too much. I don’t like welfare. It’s hard right now, you need a good job in life. That’s why I I wanna go to law school and all that, I already know the deal, y’know? Dropped outa school like a dumb ass, they make me feel shitty. Now I gotta think about my daughter now. My other two is dumb, but she take after me, she don’t take after her father. Now I gotta tell my daughter to get on your feet, stop us crying.

Lunch break.

Two women who work at Planned Parenthood walking out of the lobby onto the sidewalk. One woman is wearing her work ID on a string around her neck, carrying a Planned Parenthood tote bag. The coworker sees the badge, and stops them.

Take that thing off before you get shot. And gimme that bag, too.

They laugh. She takes off the ID, and flips the tote bag around.

Walking home.

A man walks ahead of me. He’s on the phone as he approaches his pal, waiting for him outside an apartment building.

The man is talking sharply into the phone.

(as he gets off the phone, annoyed)
That was my wife

(calling him out)
Why you talk to her like that?


It’s the end of the day and I’m on the elevator, heading out. The elevator stops on the job placement services floor, and a tall young man gets on. He’s really angry, almost seems defeated by what he’s experiences. As he gets on the elevator he presses ‘door closed’ multiple times. He doesn’t seem to see me there.

Young Man
It’s a fuckin slave ship. Fuck that, y’know, fuck that. They made the system this way for a reason, I gotta get out of it. I don’t need that system, I don’t want it. I’m fuckin pissed yo, I’m pissed… It’s a slave ship and I ain’t gettin on board.

He looks around and sees me there. I think I should smile at him, but don’t want to seem to be mocking whatever horrible experience he’s just had, so I make no expression. Our eyes meet. Then he looks away, rests his head against the elevator doors, tenses his shoulders, and lets it go. When the elevator stops he holds the doors for me and lets me off first.

Thank you.

on our pumpkin patch field trip with school
on our pumpkin patch field trip with school
waiting for our turn to visit the sheep
waiting for our turn to visit the sheep
he started out annoyed that I wanted to take his picture, then couldn't stop laughing while I chased him around the pumpkin patch
he started out annoyed that I wanted to take his picture, then couldn’t stop laughing while I chased him around the pumpkin patch
commuting while listening
commuting while listening

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