Words by Rachel Jones Photograph by Rachel Jones & Adam Patrick Jones
A couple gets to know the neighbors on a Brooklyn stoop, which has become their makeshift outdoor community living room.
Before I moved to New York, I didn’t know what a stoop was. My introduction came recently, when my boyfriend moved into a renovated pre-war brownstone in Brooklyn. I walked up the steps, surveyed the meager shreds of green still alive within a jumble of pots, and hurriedly closed the door behind me.
Several weeks later, his roommate organized a stoop party on the steps. We joined in, cautiously. Somehow, the idea of getting to know the rest of the building’s residents seemed foreign. Up until that moment, I’d lived in the same apartment for two years without ever crossing paths with my upstairs neighbor.
The party, small affair that it was, marked a clear before and after. Here’s why. When you live in a place where space is viewed as a commodity, a luxury even, you become greedy about it. You clutch it close, and maybe only invite in those dearest. Stoop life challenges that notion. You are living in the open. Without a hedge to block out inquisitive eyes. Without a wall to buffer the whine of the ice-cream truck. In the simplest of ways, you are forced to relearn the art of sharing.
Over time, the stoop has become our outdoor living room. Those stains, scuff marks, and odds and ends that created the backstory of the building now feed into my story. The Italian espresso can, a makeshift cigarette holder, that has prompted many a smoke break and an excuse for a beer on the steps. The assortment of gardening tools jumbled in the entryway corner that heralds the beautification process of the stoop’s plant life. The spatter of dark spots on the third step, left over from a particularly delicious slice of Neapolitan-style pizza. The small plastic water bowl, hidden behind a planter, that signals that this stoop has been adopted by a neighborhood Siamese, still unnamed.
The trail of crumbs, both figurative and real, has become clues about the comings and goings of the residents at 371A. They are frequent patrons of the local taqueria. A green thumb in the building is sorely needed. As is a broom. But mostly, they are happy and easygoing. They are lucky to have each other as neighbors.
I don’t even live in the building, but I see how the stoop has brought them together. Somehow, it changes things. Just like it did for the cat.