I Saw A Fight Between OGs and Gentrifiers at the Park Today
Photo: Sabri Tuzcu / Unsplash

I Saw A Fight Between OGs and Gentrifiers at the Park Today

How do I fit into both groups?

Basketball is my steadiest habit other than writing. If you’ve been to my blog, you know that. If you haven’t, welcome. I play a lot of basketball. This is my 39th year on the Earth, and I’m better at basketball now than when I was 25 or 30.

The reason for that improvement is because each morning I go out and execute the same routine. I load up my earphones with an Audible title called The War of Art, by Stephen Pressfield. I'll make the same motions around the basket after starting to book on the following quote:

  • Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

Today was no different than most New York summer days. It was about 86 degrees and muggy when I stepped onto the court. The asphalt heats the air another six or seven degrees, which makes for an extra challenge to my body. I feel warm, but can’t give in to the seduction of baking muscles. They tire quicker, and dehydration preys quickly on a hot day.

After taking the court, the glare from the sun ruined my opening shot, a jumper from the short corner of the arc. I couldn’t see the target too well, so I had to make the shot from memory more than visual confirmation. Once I made it, and started to sink other baskets, I could ignore the activity I saw in the park.

The dog park was barely occupied save for a few sunbathers on that lawn. The kiddie playground was also empty because it was just too hot to be outside. The opposite court was depleted, and the other end of the court I was on only had one guy shooting around. But there were the walkers of dogs and a few other locals hanging around on benches. The Asian elder who walks laps in the park masked was looping around me, too.

Around 30 minutes into my routine, a young man who I’d seen and played against before ambled across the court to take a seat on a shady bench. He’d asked for a game a couple weeks back, beating me with his eight points to my six. I won’t forget that score because I thought it was a winnable game that I lost by pressing too much about how I needed to get around him. I am not someone who thrives when I play to an opponent’s style, but then, I don’t think anyone is.

He took his seat and was quiet. I went about my regimen. Then, a couple–a woman with colorful extensions in her hair and her mate, a stocky man–walked by with two toy dogs. They were both off the leash. That seemed to upset my friend on the bench.

It bothers me that I have to choose between history and modernity, block party and block association, Blackness and Whiteness, when I enter.

He shouted to them about what he perceived to be inconsiderate leashing, and they started going back and forth. I don’t know what came over him, but he soon stood up and was saying, “I don’t give a fuck what the sign say! Keep your dog on the fucking leash! I bring my kids here!” He kept raising his voice.

The couple wasn’t backing down either. One of their dogs, sensing the tension, started barking at the feet of the man confronting them. The other dog cowered. The walkers held their stance, but they didn’t advance. The man kept stepping forward. I watch body language in 1-on-1 games, and I can tell when someone is aggressive by how much their feet point forward to the basket. I know I have someone beat when they turn their toes sideways to every point besides the goal. His toes were pointed at the couple and their dogs. He was barking, too.

As the conflict escalated, the woman chirped at him. Like her partner, she wouldn’t move forward, but she wasn’t going to back down either. I watched, and I saw other walkers stopping to observe, too. At first, I wanted to intervene because I felt like this dude was my comrade. He was a neighborhood figure, and I knew he was worked up. I also had no business checking his anger. Maybe he needed to be angry. The couple was wrong anyway. It’s rude to walk your dogs without leashes. There are others who might fear dogs, and very few people control their animals when off the leash. I could understand his frustration, if not the level to which he showed it.

Then, he said, “I got something for you. Hold on. Pussy!” He jogged toward the bordering Brooklyn block, from the Park Place entrance. I turned around to see where he was going. He opened the trunk of a car. A movie scene started playing in my head, one from the '90s, in which a villain pulls out his Glock at the basketball game.

I stood emotionless.

They continued their walk with the two roaming dogs. He closed the trunk and started shuffling back toward their path.

I saw his hand in his shorts and started to pray. I’m not religious. I turned around to take a shot, hoping that a return to routine would zap this timeline and transport me back to reality.

When he got back to the couple, he was still reaching for his waistband. It wasn’t clear if anything was down there, but he had the attention of the entire park by now. The interracial couples. The conference callers with their Apple AirPods. Everyone was frozen in place seeing him bark and crane his head to stay taller than his enemies.

Nothing happened. In the next frame, I saw him and his friend coming back into the park. They hit the pull-up bars inside the playground and did some sets. He was still explaining the situation and himself. The friend might’ve seen what it looked like from the outside and saved some lives.

I examined a new dilemma in my head. Was I more like him? More like them? I understood his anger. Brower Park has become the default dog park for the neighborhood’s mostly White, mostly bourgeois residents. It wasn’t always like that, and with the transformation comes displacement. For every yoga circle, there’s a lost soccer game. For every off-leash dog, there’s a scared kid who won’t explore the park grounds. I hate that.

But I’ve also seen a 60-something Black man yell profanities at a lesbian couple just for walking around nearby. I’ve also noticed how much cleaner the city keeps the park now that it’s associated with that middle-class set.

It bothers me that I have to choose between history and modernity, block party and block association, Blackness and Whiteness, when I enter. I’ll be there tomorrow, for sure. I won’t ask whether he wants to run a quick game, though.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is republished with author's permission. Read more of Andrew Rickett's work on Medium.