It can be lonely writing a newspaper column. You think long and hard about a topic — this can be combined with watching “House” — do some “research” and then electronically dash off as many as five or six hundred words to your editor.
Then you wait for a reaction. Positive, negative; it doesn’t matter. It’s just nice to get something back.
Sometimes you never do get a reaction, not even from your editor, who is pretty busy and does not open e-mails right away unless the subject line says something like: $$$$ URGENT: HELP ME GET OIL MILLIONS OUT OF NIGERIA.
But then again, sometimes you do. This column is for all the beautiful people who took the time to write and tell me what they thought of Beside the Point.
My very first letter came from Laura Hofman, who was upset that I minimized the allegedly widespread racism in Greenpoint in the 1970s and 1980s in my column on the McCarren Park pool fiasco.
In her view, white racists in the neighborhood were responsible for the fact that the pool has been closed for two decades. Hofman says that they are still around, citing as evidence that she had her “butt kicked many times for walking down to Franklin Street to visit my Puerto Rican friends.”
As I have never walked in Hofman’s shoes or had my butt kicked on the way to Franklin Street, I guess we will have to disagree about our perceptions of Greenpoint. All I can say is that I did not deny the existence of racism; I only said that it has never been the main issue about the pool.
In response to my column on Williamsburg as the birthplace of professional baseball, P.J. Jimenez wrote: “Don’t forget Red lived on Lynch Street before he was king of basketball.” I am kind of a one-sport guy, so I am not sure who “Red” is, but it sounds like he had little or no involvement with baseball.
My favorite letters came in response to a column on the hysteria about the Greenpoint oil spill and the conspicuous lack of evidence that it has had any bad health effects. Michael Heimbinder pointed out that while I said that the Department of Environmental Conservation found no evidence of either oil or dangerous vapors seeping up into people’s homes, they did in fact find hazardous vapors in eight out of the 52 homes tested.
He is perfectly correct. It is just that the hazardous vapors they found appear to be unrelated to the oil spill, which is what my column was about. In the 19th century, this area was infamous for industries that practiced the “five black arts” — printing, pottery making, petroleum refining, glass making and ironwork. Does anyone think that you could test the air or soil anywhere in Greenpoint or Williamsburg and not find something unpleasant?
“Galway” wrote: “What about the effects of breathing the horrible stench from the treatment plant? Is that smell bad for our lungs? Is it affecting my 7-month-old son?”
I really do not know, but if I thought it was, I would not be writing columns for The Brooklyn Paper — I would be moving.
Lastly, “NY Voter” wrote: “Mr. Gilbert’s story has restored my faith in the free press. Facts trumping hype, finally. The only additional information that I wish the article would have touched on is the horrendous lies being spread about Greenpoint by elected officials. Greed and corruption are nothing new in politics, but when it reveals itself, it should be exposed. Here’s to you, Senator Chuck Schumer, Congresswoman [Nydia] Velazquez, Congressman Anthony Weiner and Councilman David Yassky, for how you lied about the findings in the EPA report to smear this fantastic neighborhood. Your horrific and corrupt behavior needs now to be revealed to the wider public so everyone will know that you are unfit for public service.”
Tom Gilbert is a writer and historian who lives in Greenpoint.
Top scorers on our recent North Brooklyn pop quiz included “Mayor of North Henry Street” Robert Petrullo (23 out of 25) and our favorite firefighter Joe Triolo, who scored 19 correct. Honorable Mention to former Greenpointer and current Bangkok, Thailand resident John Padorr, who got 17 right. …Â Most realistic Halloween display goes to the folks at Roebling and North 11th Street. You almost believe that the pool of oil is actually bubbling up from underground! …
The good news is that Armor for Sleep’s new album, “Smile for Them,” is in stores this week. The bad news is that the Jersey-based band’s big new video off the LP is called “Williamsburg.” The video is set in what appears to be class for hipsters. We like the idea, but the song definitely does not hold a candle to Life in a Blender’s “What Happened to Smith,” which remains the seminal anthem to neighborhood decay/improvement.