This column originally appeared in Brooklyn Paper on June 2, 2007:
An endearing quality of living in Brooklyn Heights is the fact that despite all of the 21st-century means of communication we have at our disposal, one way of “getting the word out” is still the old fashioned sign, posted on trees, windshields, doors and storefronts.
So how do Heights folks use the medium of Martin Luther, the Five Man Electrical Band and New York Mets’ superfan, the “Sign Guy”?
For years the city threw down a challenge to tourists and locals: go ahead try to find the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge footpath. While we’ll never know the emotional toll borne by many foreign tourists in their futile attempts to find their way over the Great Bridge, we do know that one Heights resident rode to their rescue — with signs.
As revealed by The Brooklyn Paper in January, Roslyn Beck began posting her homemade placards to be “helpful.” And her signs were the cleanest, clearest way of directing pedestrians to the bridge entrance.
That Beck made the effort to post her signs is proof that there might just be a little Mayberry in all of us. Beck’s act of kindness is about as small town America as cooling an apple pie on your windowsill or asking your neighbor for a cup of sugar.
It’s just that type of spirit that prompted new neighbor Rob Halpin to post signs in April around Cranberry and Willow Streets to ask for leads about his lost cat, Tippy. His note was written in a very cordial style, ending with “Thank you very much.” While Tippy has not been found, Halpin said at the time he was overwhelmed by the response from the neighborhood and the readers of Brooklyn Heights Blog, where the note had been published.
Sometimes signs don’t hit a responsive chord. Last week, locals were perplexed by a cryptic warning posted on a well-kept tree on Pierrepont Street between Henry and Hicks streets. The warning reads: “DO NOT put bread in here. The rats are developing gluten allergies! DO NOT put your dog in here. The rats are not allergic to dogs.”
The author, who identifies herself as “Bonzoni,” says she was attempting to be funny — while at the same time scolding folks for feeding bread to birds because the bread only ends up attracting rats. She added the “kicker” about dogs as a call out to a gentlemen who picks up his small dog, places it into the flower box and allows it to drop the deuce there. He doesn’t clean up afterwards, she says.
Well intentioned as she may be, Bonzoni is no Carrot Top. As any Borscht Belt vet will tell you, when most people see the word “rats,” their ability to process humor, much less sarcasm, goes out the window. (Note to self: “mouse” funny, “rat” not so much.)
And would a story about Brooklyn Heights be complete with a little parking drama? The now infamous “Throwdown on Cranberry” in early May pitted “Angry Person” versus “Inconsiderate Driver.” “AP” tacked a typewritten note to his garage door saying: “Dear Inconsiderate Driver, The next time you park here and block my garage, I will have you towed.”
“ID” attempted his own brand of Heights détente by scrawling on the note: “Dear Angry Person: It was an accident. No need to be rude. We have the same landlord.”
While the rationale of “ID” may seem a stretch, it bears the hallmark of all Heights signs: the desire to connect with our neighbors in quaint, provincial manner. Well, with a Brooklyn twist at least — is a Heights version of the Hatfields and McCoy’s brewing? Doesn’t get any more small town America than that, eh?