A Sunday in Herbert Von King Park
Brooklyn’s parks are the closest most neighborhoods get to a town square, a refuge for all across class and culture. Coming to you not from the fields of Prospect Park, but the smaller spots across the borough, “A Sunday in…” spotlights residents who turn to the commons — and asks what’s on their mind.
“The people in this delightful locality naturally deserve a pleasure ground.”
That’s what the Brooklyn Daily Eagle wrote about Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Tompkins Park in July of 1880. Renamed for community activist Herbert Von King — known as the mayor of Bed-Stuy — over a century later, the park extends from Marcy Avenue to Tompkins Avenue from west to east, and Greene Avenue to Lafayette Avenue south to north.
It is a pleasure ground on a weekend afternoon. In one corner of the park, kids played little league baseball and dogs ran around a small dog park. In another corner, sunbathers laid out on the grass. Some barbecued while others played basketball.
From star-crossed lovers who met on Grindr to longtime Bed-Stuy residents to a Brooklyn newcomer trying to find people apartments, there was plenty going on in Herbert Von King Park on Sunday.
Paul has lived in a Greene Avenue apartment across the street from Herbert Von King Park for 30 years, since he moved to Brooklyn from Georgia. “They used to call this ‘Hangman’s Park,’ because they used to hang people here: the gangs and the drug dealers,” Paul said.
The park used to be full of “crackheads,” he added, but that never stopped him from coming out to the park during the day. “You could always come and sit. That wasn’t the problem. Nighttime was the problem,” he said.
Paul likes to smoke cigarettes and “that plant they call cannabis” to keep himself sane.
Turns out June was born in June — Sunday was her 69th birthday. A time to reflect on aging.
“I’m more experienced now. Some days it’s better to be old, and some days it’s better to be young,” she said.
“The point is to enjoy every day, whether you are 29, 49 or 69,” said June, who spent her birthday barbecuing with her two daughters and husband in Herbert Von King Park. June lives in East New York, where she’s been for 39 years since she came to the USA from Guyana.
“The only difference is the weather; we don’t have snow there,” she said.
Dave has a lot of ideas about Herbert Von King Park. He thinks the bathrooms have been under construction too long and that they should turn an underused field into another basketball court. It’s these ideas and his seven days a week in the park that earned him the moniker “park ranger” from his friends.
“I’ve lived here from 1984 until now. That’s how many years?” he asked. “I come here at least seven days a week. There’s nothing like a park.”
“I love Brooklyn. Everything is in Brooklyn. I wouldn’t move nowhere for nothing else. It’s what Biggie said: ‘Bed-Stuy till I die,'” Dave said.
Alton was busy Sunday setting up the annual Caribbean Cultural Showcase.
“The park donated the instruments to us. Since then we’ve been coming here to do our thing,” he said. While Alton lives in Queens, he prefers Brooklyn and loves Herbert Von King Park. “I love this park. It’s quiet. It has a stage. It has a performing area. Not all parks have that.”
Jose and Claude
Jose and Claude met on Grindr in Miami of course. They came to the park to smoke weed and meditate. Jose, who lives in Los Angeles, is just visiting New York.
“I’ve lived in Los Angeles for three years and I prefer fucking LA,” Jose said. “New York was the first place I fell in love with, but it’s so zany I don’t have the spontaneity to keep up. I like things to be chill.”
Jim, a real estate agent for Nooklyn, was reading “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” while waiting for a client to show an apartment to Sunday. Jim says he tries to place one or two people in apartments each week. “It takes a lot of time. It’s a long process. I love it. It’s awesome and rewarding when you find somebody what they want. You’re providing a service and that’s always nice. And then sometimes it doesn’t work out. And that sucks.”
Jim moved to New York from Mississippi a year ago. He recently saw a naked woman run through the sprinklers at this park.
Charles and Olivia
Olivia and Charles are in a long-distance relationship. She lives in Brooklyn; he lives in Staten Island.
They met in college in Delaware and then transferred together to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
“Staten Island doesn’t even feel like New York,” Charles said. “We have one train that goes in two directions, and that’s how you get anywhere.”
Charles likes Staten Island better than Brooklyn, but admits that it’s pure nostalgia from his childhood.
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