Saturday, July 05, 2008

A true-crime tale in "Atlantic Yards"? Not quite

The crime fiction collection Brooklyn Noir was the first in Akashic Books' highly-successful "Noir" series, which now extends to dozens of anthologies. Now Brooklyn Noir 3: Nothing but the Truth has been published, the first true-crime collection in the series.

The Table of Contents lists not just the chapters but the neighborhoods they're set in, so I was intrigued to see that the collection includes a memoir titled "The Ghetto Never Sleeps, Mister Policeman," by Robert Leuci and set in a neighborhood designated as Atlantic Yards.

Is Atlantic Yards a place? Nope; it's a project. (If you want an AY crime story, check the statistics.)

The essay by Leuci, a former New York Police Department detective who retired in 1981 to become the subject of the book/movie Prince of the City, and an acclaimed novelist/memoirist, is set decades before the term "Atlantic Yards" emerged in 2003.

The Ghetto Never Sleeps

Leuci's essay is an interesting miscellany, set in no particular neighborhood--hence, perhaps, the catchall neologism. He writes about visting Brownsville as a kid, then returning as a cop. In East New York, the undercover cop passes as a high school student to buy dope. He encounters a pimp-informer in arraignment court (no neighborhood mentioned) and gets him sprung on the spot.

In an Italian cafe on Court Street, he falls into conversation with a law professor, one Mario Cuomo. He recalls an excellent cop named Robert Volpe, the father of Justin Volpe, the rogue cop who sodomized Abner Louima in 1997. (Leuci suspects steroids.)

Finally, 14 pages into a 16-page piece, we get to a fabled intersection (though Leuci doesn't use the term "Atlantic Yards," though it appears on the book's map; click to enlarge):
The intersections of Fourth Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, and Flatbush Avenue constituted a drug marketplace that never shut down. An island stood at the heard of where those avenues came together, and on that island was a brightly lit stand where you could buy coffee, sodas, pizza, and soft-serve ice cream. There was an outsized Bickford's cafeteria across the street, and a block south on Fourth was a doughnut shop. The stand, the cafeteria, and the doughnut stop were gathering places for junkies that went strong twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

A short walk from the Bickford's was the Long Island Rail Road terminal, with tracks running under the streets of Brooklyn. Commuters--the good guys heading home to Mamma and the tykes in Massapequa and Hicksville--could stop for the lurid thrill of a quick ten-dollar blowjob, or else a ten-minute stand-up fuck from one of the dozens of hookers roaming those gathering spots.


Leuci was buying undercover, and he soon concluded that "this war-on-drugs business was bullshit." Then again, he was proud to say, "those Brooklyn streets were a glorious show."

It's a little different today.

Good yarn? Yes--as is the whole collection.

Atlantic Yards? No.

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