Like Julius Caesar's ancient Gaul, East New York, Brooklyn was divided into three parts and like ancient Gaul was conquered by Italians.
They ran it, owned the cops, and controlled the streets.
The Italians, Jews, blacks and Puerto Ricans who'd moved to East New York were tired men. They'd just fought and won World War II, and what they wanted most in life was to be left alone, especially by the authorities most of the other people in New york admired.
Along the northern border of East New York stood the tenements and the overhead train that rumbled for miles along Fulton Avenue. Between Fulton Avenue and Atlantic Avenue were row after row of small attached homes, right up to Highland Park, where the successful Italian and Irish politicians lived.
South of the tenements and Atlantic Avenue were semi-attached brick and wooden homes and apartment buildings, spread out between tangles of vacant lots, and both lush and scrawny vegetation. Most of the houses had garages in the back. Owners of tiny candy stores and pizza parlors struggled to make a living along streets like Sutter, Pitkin, Belmont and Blake Avenues wile pool halls and bars lined Livonia and New Lots Avenues. The pushcarts on Blake Avenue added an early twentieth century atmosphere to the neighoborhood.
The final section, just a few blocks east of Pennsylvania Avenue to where South Conduit Avenue and Linden Boulevard converged, was a surrealistic no-man's land of sanitation dumps and solitary wooden individual homes that fanned out until they reached an expanse of weeds, small canals, and swamps, the vast burial places of most of New York's murdered hoodlums. This is where my family and best friends lived, on Shepherd Avenue.
Our section of East New York was a place which, because of the waste that continually spewed out of the nearby sanitation dump on Fountain and Cozine Avenues, seldom received true sunlight. Sometimes, for days on end, chemicals that were visible to the naked eye would rain down on the neighborhood. Only some of the blocks had sewers, so giant puddles would form on Hegeman, Montauk, and Atkins Avenues.