A Sunday in Coffey 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.
Red Hook’s Coffey Park is bounded by Verona Street to the north, King Street to the south, Dwight Street to the east and Richards Street to the west. The park, once known as Red Hook Park, came to be called Coffey Park after the alderman Michael Coffey who helped get the funding to push the park through in the late 1800s.
In 1915, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle took a stroll through Coffey Park and noted the ways that “Red Hook Point” was changing. “Away down in old Red Hook Point — the place as it used to be known fifty or sixty years ago when there were stretches of sandbars, canal boats and squatter huts — different now, with its big docks, warehouses, shipyards and factories,” the Eagle wrote at the time.
More than a century later, Red Hook is still changing — at least according to the locals spending a Sunday in Coffey Park.
Enrique Nieto came to the park Sunday to get his finances in order. “I’m getting ready to do my budget. I have to make sure my money lasts me through the month. I’m down to my last four, five, six dollars between now and Tuesday,” he said.
Nieto, a retiree who used to work in the shirt finishing business, is from Brooklyn, but lived in New Jersey for 42 years and just recently moved back to the city to go to acting school. He got a partial scholarship to the New York Film Academy at the age of 65.
“Denzel is at the top. DiCaprio is there too. Robert Downey Jr. is excellent now that he’s sober.”
“Charlize Theron is great. So is Sigourney Weaver. Susan Sarandon. Thelma and Louise is really, really funny.”
“You work with ICE?” Pedro Morales asked me Sunday when I approached him in Coffey Park.
No, Pedro. I don’t.
“It’s very sad. Very sad. Very emotional,” he said of the raids on undocumented immigrants in Brooklyn this weekend, though no one was detained.
Morales has been in Red Hook his entire life, since he was two years old. “I’ve been here all my life. I guess my favorite thing is the water. I’m surrounded by water,” he said.
“Red Hook is changing. It’s a little better,” he said, though he noted things are getting too expensive. “When I came here, it was all white. We’re talking 76 years ago. I came from Puerto Rico. I was born in Puerto Rico. I used to go back every year.”
Morales lost his legs three years ago due to his diabetes. Now he uses this scooter to get around. He said losing his legs is the hardest thing that ever happened to him.
“I spent 13 months in different hospitals. I just came out in April. It’s great to be out. I feel like I did 10 years in jail.”
Enily said Sunday that she thinks of moving to Florida or Puerto Rico, where she has family, but memories of her son, who died four years ago in a car accident, tie her to Red Hook.
“I think about my son every single day. He used to walk these streets. That’s what keeps me in Red Hook now — because there’s a lot of memories about him. He was 28. I do his party in that corner there,” she said, pointing to the northwest corner of Coffey Park, where she hosts a celebratory annual party in honor of her son. She says hundreds come out for it.
“A lot of things have changed,” Enily said of the neighborhood where she has lived all her life. “Back then, there weren’t too many houses. A lot of empty lots. There are a lot of changes but they’re not for the old people that have been here all their lives. The changes are for the new people coming in.”
Enily has changes she would like to see for residents of Red Hook. “Fix the projects. Make it more secure. More community service for the young people. Jobs, programs. Help them get housing, schooling, training.”
Jade came to New York City to become a writer. Now she works in finance to pay the bills. She just moved in with her girlfriend in Red Hook and smoked a cigar alone in Coffey Park Sunday afternoon.
“It’s really relaxing,” she said of the cigar. She said being a woman who smokes cigars often confuses people. “If I got into a cigar shop people stare at me. They usually think I’m buying one for my boyfriend.”
Jade has a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of North Carolina. She specialized in poetry and gets up around 4:30 or 5 a.m. to write for a few hours before heading in to work. She’s been in Brooklyn for five years, but doesn’t plan on staying.
“It’s not a forever place,” she said.
Korach was in the army for 20 years, deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. He got back to New York seven years ago. “I’d rather take my black ass back inside the military,” Karoch said. “I did better than the cops do here. We didn’t run around scared with weapons. We didn’t escalate. We brought things down.”
He says New York cops stereotype him. “Size, mannerism. They always look at the outside shell and not the inside.”
As for Coffey Park, he said not to stay past 6:00 p.m.
“This place is chaos,” he said. “Come back at night and you’ll find out.”
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