Choices Café is nestled in the heart of Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn across the street from the pioneer supermarket. Lafayette Gardens is the formal name of the brown-bricked project complex that looms in the distance. Despite a wooden sign that gives the place its name, folks in the ghetto still call the public housing units ‘Lafayette Projects’. It’s a strange name for the area—there are no gardens there.
The Pioneer Supermarket has the best seafood this side of Brownsville. Prior to the opening of the Bravo Supermarket on my block, I made the trip to Pioneer almost every night, long before there was a Paris-like café in the hood. There must be thousands who live in those buildings. Some put Christmas lights in their windows near the top floor in December. I have always found the festive twinkles inspirational during my walks in an area that is notorious for crimes, murders and rapes.
The ten block walk was most frightening on Fall and Winter evenings after daylight savings time had ended. These days, I only head down to that section of the hood whenever I have a craving for fresh seafood. The café startled me when I noticed it for the first time, just the other day. White people with dogs on leashes and fancy baby carriages sit right on the street across from the projects now. I decided to head inside the tiny little shop to investigate what was causing such a long line of white folks in my part of Brooklyn. Pear tarts with a shimmering glaze are only $12. The desserts are not much larger than my hands. Freshly baked cookies are decorated with frosting and resemble baseballs. In addition to salads made from lettuce of odd shapes, patterns and colors, there are pastas sold by the pound—the kind that people with food stamps cannot afford.
Guests standing in line are granted an open view of the kitchen. Mexicans make the pies from scratch, although I didn’t notice any fresh pastry being rolled. A woman with plastic gloves was pressing a brown sugar based crumb crust into three glass pie plates. What appeared to be an owner or manager paced nervously around the kitchen. It was obvious he wanted to rush his workers along and make them work faster—the line was out the door—but what could they have possibly done to end that line? The woman at the pies just looked out a window of the kitchen towards the projects and continued to press the pastry. She was working in slow motion, it appeared. I wondered if my eyes looked bloodshot still. Funny how I never worry about bloodshot eyes in the hood until white people moved in. They were the cause of my paranoia I realized while waiting to order my steamed cup of coffee and milk. They sit around inside and outside the café, buzzing from freshly frothed lattes and read newspapers pretending to be in the West Village. I missed the days when the hood was the hood, when the only pies one could find were in the Pioneer Supermarket, sold under the brand name of Entenmann’s.
Wow, that was some good coffee. It brought me back to life. I wondered what people in the projects think of the new café across the street as I walked slowly back down Lafayette Avenue. That’s when I saw him—those eyes. Yes, I remembered his eyes. They are green on a black face. Wow, after all those years– there he was, noticing me too.
He asked for a cigarette. “So what are you into today?”
“Not much,” I said, wondering if he remembered the night he made love with Shawn and me, almost six years ago. He must have remembered, but what was I to say or suggest to him?
“I’ll see you around,” I said.
He’s not the type to meet at a café, but I still go to Choices because he lives along the way and I still have them.