by Tim Gilmore, 7/8/2017
Fat Round is neither. Once he was both. This fine-boned little man is still one of the nexus points in what’s left of Brooklyn. His real name is Roosevelt Wilson.
Roosevelt ran Fat Round’s, a pool hall on the southwest corner of Chelsea and Dora Streets, and Round’s Place down on Edison Avenue. He was 16 years old when he opened the pool hall, and he operated the joint for more than 30 years.
Now he’s 56 and in bad health. “Can’t walk,” he says, “cain’t hardly breathe.” His voice is so raspy, his breath so short, it’s hard to tell what he’s saying.
Fat Round’s as indigenous Brooklyn as this disappearing historically black neighborhood gets. “My granddaddy was a porter at the train terminal,” he says, pointing toward the old terminal that opened in 1919, now the Prime Osborne Convention Center, just the other side of the bridge across McCoys Creek. The creek’s a convenient boundary between Brooklyn and LaVilla. “He used to talk about workin’ in them tunnels.”
“What tunnels?” I ask. A few bank tunnels crawl beneath Forsyth and West Adams Streets downtown, just northeast, and rumors of others persist, but I’ve never heard of tunnels over here.
“Tunnels run from the train terminal all the way to City Hall. Underground.” He insists they’re still there. “Underneath downtown.” Not many people know about them anymore, he says, and he doesn’t know if they’re still in use. He never saw them, but his granddaddy described him.
These days, Fat lives in an 800 square foot townhouse on Spruce Street. Built in 1972, this little row of townhouses was one of the last developments in old Brooklyn for 40 years until the large apartment and condo complexes of the last few years’ gentrification.
Fat wears a long-sleeved cotton shirt and shorts, sandals with socks, and one foot in a cast. His place has no air-conditioning. The temperature today, early July, hits 95, but the heat index climbs to 106.
When I ask Fat if I can take his picture, he says, “I don’t care, but listen, I ain’t done nothin’ wrong.” I assure him I know that. “Now listen,” he says, “I tell people all the time, you don’t do nothin’ wrong, don’t worry. But you live in the ghetto, all you do is worry.”
There’s not much in his tiny living-room but a tv, a chair, and a sagging couch. Fat’s official places of business have closed, but Brooklyn still comes to Fat Round for its convenience store needs and desires. Joseph Jack and I talk to Fat, who sits in a plastic chair in his front yard, for 30 or 40 minutes, and seven people come by, on bike or on foot, to buy sodas and candy bars.
An old man with gray dreadlocks, wearing a camouflage jacket, walks up from the empty field where houses, chock-a-block, once stood across the street, and hands Fat a dollar and some change. Fat waves his skinny veiny hand over his shoulder, says, “Go on in the house. Get what you want.” The man aims the fingertips of one hand softly toward Fat, raises his eyebrows, and asks, “You cool, baby?”
“I’m cool,” Fat says, “I’m cool.”