East Flatbush Journal: Tale of A Jolly Green Stomper


There’s this guy who wanders up and down our block. I’ve known him my whole life. One of those ‘steal diapers for the baby, is your mama okay’ kind of guys that seem to be leftover from the 80s. His shoulders are bent more, eyes yellower, and dark brown skin a little ashier than when I was younger. He’s got these giant bifocal glasses now that sit on his nose and take up most of his face.

Yet, he’s still the same, living in the house his dad left to him. Assumedly, he’s taking care of his elderly mom since I see her wander to the corner from time to time. I don’t know why but it still surprises me that they look so much alike.

Their house is a spitting image of ours. It’s likely that the inside is exactly the same floor plan too. Decor never updated. Dark basement that’s cool like a cave and smothering at times, like a grave.

There are times when I’m going to work or the grocery store that I know he’ll be out there, wanting a hug or something. Those days I duck behind a car, or pull up my mask and pretend to be a stranger. Some days interacting with my neighbors is unavoidable, even the ones I grew up with and still call me neighborhood names. Those days I smile wide. I answer the questions. I update him on the family tree because I know his memory is going and most of his conversation is repeating phrases he learned decades ago. 

Wingate Park in East Flatbush. Photo by Ariama C. Long

Once he went on a tangent about drugs. Or he fawned over an auntie or my mom who was clearly married with kids now. One time he surprised me by speaking German, said he had been a soldier and lived a life. He gave a little salute in jest, but I saw it. The bones snapping ever so briefly back into place. Heels clacked, shoulders back. He held it for a second before he laughed and it all glimmered away. 

Pops told me the story of when he was little and this guy was the neighborhood thug, and when he was a teenager they fought in the street and he left him alone after that. Jolly Green Stomper, he called him.

I see him on the porch all the time waving or wobbling down the steps to chase people down and talk to them. I think he’s lonely. I think there’s a whole generation like him just as lonely that our community forgets to embrace because it’s a reminder of what we were.

I think if love is helping someone take their shoes off after they get home from work because they’re wearing too many layers to do it themselves; if love is patient and wholesome and healing; if love is holding onto someone snugly in the dead of night; if love is everything inside and outside of yourself, then why can’t love for your community start with the most inconvenient part and the most inconvenient person on your block. 

One day I’ll look at that porch and that old man, who has run gangs, sold crack, gone to war, been homeless, lost himself, and finally came home, that old man won’t be there. Would that somehow make his story less important?