Saturday, October 12, 2013

It's Panama Day! (and it was back in 2008, too)


Panama Day is near and dear to my heart. Back in 2008, before I'd even started blogging, I discovered Franklin's annual celebration of its Panamanian heritage in a foolish and hilarious way. Since this was one of my early nitwit-in-Brooklyn posts (there were lots of those in the first two years as I stumbled around the borough with equal parts cluelessness and enthusiasm), I've reproduced part of it below.

As for the day itself, I posted this two years ago, and everything about it is still true. It's Panama Day, so swing by Kelso Restaurant or one of the several Panamanian-owned bars on the Avenue and celebrate the long, strong, history of Panamanian folks in Crown Heights. The Panamanian community on Franklin (the nation's largest, once upon a time) has worked hard in the last several years to commemorate those who came before, with varying degrees of success. Kelso Restaurant, which will surely be the center of today's festivities, has been open since 1969. It seemed lost a few months ago, but is now back, looking sharp and ready to compete in the rapidly-changing scene along Franklin. Whatever the fate of these individual places, Franklin will always have a Panamanian heritage, and if you don't know much about it (like ILFA), be sure to get out and learn something tomorrow. 

ILFA's introduction to Panama Day on Franklin:

Panama Day "marked the rather inauspicious one-year anniversary that I share with my two pre-owned bookshelves pictured above, and offers the chance to re-tell one of my stock "I was a little bit green when I first moved to Crown Heights" stories. The lady and I had been in our apartment for all of a month when she headed off to work one Saturday morning after observing that my books, CDs, and other effluvia were piled on the floor (or as she put it "you have too much crap."). Inspired by her admonishment, I hopped up, scrolled through Craigslist, and found, to my great delight, a pair of shelves on sale for $10 apiece. I called the lister, who told me that they were all mine but that I had to pick them up by 1pm because she was moving out that very day. And she lived a mile off the D Train. In Bensonhurst.

So faded the brilliance of my brilliant plan to do something productive with my Saturday and appease my partner in cohabitation. I didn't have a car, I didn't know anyone who did, and I didn't have any way to rent one. Undeterred, I set out walking to the Atlantic Center, stopping to wonder what the fuss at Pacific and Franklin was all about (I guessed it was an armory-related protest), convinced that the shelves couldn't be that heavy. Like a lot of people I know, my wallet is thin and my time (and effort) are cheap, so I didn't want to pass up $10 bookshelves, even if it meant carrying them home from Bensonhurst.

I hopped aboard a Coney Island-bound D train and pressed my face up against the window like a kindergartner on a school bus as it rose out of the tunnel and trench to the elevated tracks above Borough Park. It was a beautiful day, and I took great goofy joy in every sun-soaked spire and storefront as we rolled through my adopted borough, trying to figure out how far I was from home by using the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and generally drawing far too much attention to myself. At Bay Parkway, I sauntered off, strolled down to what was almost the water, and handed over a crinkled $20 in exchange for the two bookshelves. As I carried one down the stairs, the woman I'd just bought them from hollered after me "I hope they fit in your car."

They might have (I like to picture myself in an El Camino), but I'll never know. I tossed one shelf on one shoulder, one on the other, and waddled off, sweat pouring down my back (did I call it a beautiful day? It was an unseasonably warm day.). The shelves were only half-height, about three and a half feet tall, but they were plenty heavy, and it took me about half an hour to get back to the train. I staggered up the stairs (ahh, the charms of the El), pulled my cargo through the service door, and thunked it down on the platform, where an older lady next to me was kind enough to say "wow, you carried those up here?"

The ride was fine--the train wasn't crowded, and I could sit and play cinematographer again with the vistas. I was a thorough nuisance in the Atlantic-Pacific station, but I made it onto a 3 train and sighed with relief. I was almost home, and it was a downhill 8 blocks from the Franklin Avenue station.

I disembarked, made it up the stairs without fainting, and walked straight into a brigade of drummers. The avenue was stuffed to the gills with a parade and spectators, all moving south at a stately pace, the sidewalk packed five deep and choked with vendors. And there I was in a silly t-shirt, sweatsoaked and unshaven, swimming upstream with my furniture like a lost mover. I thought briefly about taking a parallel route, but decided I'd never make it and set out slowly, stopping every five yards and enduring a steady stream of ridicule from parade-goers. To ice the cake, the shelves fell out of one unit as I stumbled over a pair of children chasing each other with red and blue pinwheels, clattering to the ground and bringing me to my hands and knees to gather up the hardware.

Forty-five minutes later, I made it home, and promptly passed out on the couch. Was it worth it? I got bookshelves for twenty bucks!"


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