Life Isn’t Elsewhere: On Finding Franklin Park

Franklin Park

When I moved across the country to Brooklyn, I first subletted my friend Ami’s apartment while she was traveling for three months in South America. Because of the timing, we didn’t see each other before she left. She’d mailed me the keys, and I’d promised to PayPal her the rent each month. I’d never seen pictures of the apartment and I knew nothing about Crown Heights. I figured, at worst, it was only three months.

I stepped off a transatlantic flight at 8pm, and arrived at Ami’s apartment an hour later. She’d left two notes for me: One was a short list of things to know about the apartment, like what to do if the landlord showed up (stop, drop, and roll); the other was a more thorough list of Ami’s favorite bars.

I went to Franklin Park because it was at the top of her list and only three blocks away. It was late on a weekday, so the bar was mostly empty. I ordered a beer and a burger and settled in. If I had been skittish about moving across the country to an unknown neighborhood, I was markedly less so now.

The following Friday, with nothing to do and no friends to see, I dropped by Franklin Park again, hoping to have a quiet drink and eat a basket of fries by myself. What I found was the quiet bar I’d stumbled into my first night had transformed into a club. There was a DJ playing a mix of Top 40 and throwbacks. I left immediately and wandered to another bar, to a place that wouldn’t make me feel so lonely.

***

Here’s a story I half-believe, told to me by a friend who heard the story on a Tinder date:

The person who used to run Franklin Park’s trivia (trivia master? trivia lord?) was well liked by patrons. People came back every Wednesday because he did such a good job. He also happened to be into one trivia regular.

Nervous and sort of anxious (he runs trivia after all), trivia dude one day approaches his crush. They make small talk. He’s saying that he recognizes her; she’s complimenting his trivia hosting abilities. Then, from behind, a man—I assume a friend—playfully taps the trivia boss on the nuts. (I spent a lot of time googling this: apparently it’s what bros call a “ball tap” and is supposed to be funny and not at all horrifying.)

Trivia maestro is obviously embarrassed that he’s just had his balls touched in front of a girl he likes. It’s unclear why what happens next occurs. Is he angry? Is it just a reflex? But the trivia guy takes a swing at his friend—except he has forgotten that he is holding a beer in his hand. The glass shatters in the man’s face and he is blinded in both eyes. There is probably a lot of blood.

That person doesn’t run trivia at Franklin Park anymore. I assume trivia guy and his crush never went on a date. (I also heard that sight returned later to at least one of the victim’s eyes.) Like I said, I only half-believe that story, and I probably remembered the details incorrectly.

I did trivia at Franklin Park once and got second place. Nobody was blinded.

***

I’d moved to New York to be closer to publishing, which I suppose is the story of many poor, earnest people who live in Crown Heights. It is perhaps why Franklin Park hosts one of New York’s best reading series. The Monday nights, once a month, when Penina Roth emcees an evening featuring local writers are just as crowded as a Friday or Saturday night. There’s standing-room only for an assortment of authors—some known, most unknown at the time.

Despite the crowds, I have gone to many of these readings since I moved here over three years ago. I used to go by myself. Over time, I found friends to go with. Now I can drop by and already know at least a few friends in attendance, sometimes even some of the readers. The Franklin Park Reading Series has turned into a strange way to chart my time in Brooklyn.

One more story: One of the first dates I went on in New York was at Franklin Park. (I picked it because I knew very few other bars.) It was a girl I’d met at a book event a few weeks prior. The date went fine, but we just ended up becoming friends.

A year and a half later, we started going on dates again. I am not sure what changed—if it was me or if it was her or if it was even anything—but we started seeing each other. Eventually we’d move in together, just two blocks away from Franklin Park.

Milan Kundera said New York’s beauty was “unintentional,” which seems accurate if not an understatement. Some nights a bar is quiet, other nights it’s loud; sometimes there are readings, other times people are getting bottles smashed across their face at trivia. Someone is a friend one day, and a year later they’ve become much more than that. I didn’t really know what I wanted when I moved to Brooklyn, but the realm of all possibilities existed at Franklin Park, depending on the night.

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