The Hole, I had been told, is the Wild West of the Brooklyn-Queens border. It’s a no-man’s-land. There are cowboys on horseback, boarded-up houses, brand-new condos, pond-size puddles, no public sewers, buried mobsters, vacant lots.
As I found out, the Hole is all of these things (well, I’ll keep quiet about the corpses). It’s a five-block wedge of land, straddling East New York, Brooklyn, and Ozone Park, Queens, but claimed by none. It earned its moniker because it’s thirty feet below grade—in other words, the land is too sunken to be connected to the city sewer system. The neighborhood around the Hole isn’t bad: brick houses with lawns, a Rite-Aid, a diner. You might pass right by the Hole on a drive to JFK—unless you happen to pause at a YIELD sign and notice the miniature Conestoga wagon, horse trailers, and Western-wear shop just off the shoulder of South Conduit Avenue. The Federation of Black Cowboys stables its horses at the edge of the Hole, where they teach Western-style equestrian skills to inner-city children.
But if, rather than proceed to the airport, you hang a sharp right, and a sharp right again, you’ll find yourself in the Hole, and there will be no doubt that you are there. Stop signs, sidewalks, and stoplights abruptly disappear. Boarded-up houses with smashed windows abut brick condos with perky FOR SALE signs, lampposts, and lion statuary. Sewer- and drain-cleaning companies have found their niche market in local phone-pole signs. Deeper in, I spotted a cornfield in one resident’s backyard and a motorboat in the driveway (apparently, boats are handy for evacuation in the likely event of a flood). One blue home has a neat paint job and bright, flowering shrubs. A busted-in car wallows in a deep puddle that takes over most of a block, shaded by a magnificent weeping willow tree. Houses are gap-toothed, more window-and-door than house. Streets (named “Ruby,” “Emerald,” “Amber,” “Dumont”) are edged in trash bags and upturned appliances. Outside Hosanah Christian Daycare, plastic tricycles blister in the sun. Men hunker under car hoods. Construction workers trundle wheelbarrows of fresh cement. Like the houses, everyone has hooded eyes. In between the puddles and the fresh mailboxes lie vast tracts of cornflowered reeds tall enough to hide just about anything.