Wednesday, March 30, 2011

At the Montauk

Remember Found in Brooklyn's stunning Thanksgiving photograph?  I went by the Montauk yesterday, and had to take a few pictures myself.  I almost didn't post any though, as FIB's is just about perfect.  Still, that empty canyon of a lot next to the Club is compelling, especially given its spot in prime North Slope territory.  It's the fence, I think, that gives it the feel of a graveyard. The place whispers of money made and lost, land parceled and grabbed, and shifting turns of fortune that might make even a newly minted, well toned, fat walleted brownstone owner shudder for just an instant as he passes.  At least I hope so.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29

The trash grows, but the tree endures.  Nice to get a Presidential appearance.

I was in a hurry when I went by this 4th Ave, storefront last weekend, but I wish I knew what exactly goes on at this green paradise! 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Interesting Stuff

from The Pale Blonde of Sands Street (Who Walk in Brooklyn)

Looking at a 50's Eagle story on Ed Kemp, window-washer at the Williamsburg Bank Building (The Loneliness of the Skyscraper Window-Washer, BPL Brooklynology):

What of our man in the sky, Ed Kemp? Did he harbor a fear of falling? Ever stoic, he replied, "I wouldn't be up here if I was afraid." It seems for him the greater danger was loneliness. Kemp said of his job, "It's a good life. Lonely. But you see people, even if you don't speak to them. They're sociable enough but they kind of look at you like they feel sorry for you."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Here's a little fun - The Sensational Alex Harvey Band's version of Delilah, from 1974.  Well, it's a bit different from the Tom Jones version.  Looking back at this, I think the guy in the mime getup might be scarier than Alex himself.  I still like Next best of all the band's numbers, but this is good.  I remember seeing them for the first time on The Old Grey Whistle Test and being completely blown away.  The clip at the beginning (I recognise  it but can't identify the show) has nothing to do with the song, of course.

You couldn't find a more typical Park Slope event than this.  Yesterday over a hundred people gathered for "Hands Around the Lake', a demonstration against the extermination of Canadian Geese in Prospect Park. Park Slope Patch covered the event and you can read the article here.   Speakers against the goose slaughter included State Senator Eric Adams:

"Many of us have walked through this park after a difficult day, after trying to figure out if we're going to still have our homes, after dealing with crime, after dealing with all the difficulties we endure," shouted Adams.

"We sat in this park, in a serene environment, and sat on those rocks. Some of us courted our first love in our life, merely by sitting here. We couldn't afford a Broadway play. But we had the pleasure of seeing these birds swim."

The event ended with a partial human chain around the lake:

After the speeches the crowd, linked hand-in-hand, did a walk around the lake and chanted, "All we are saying, is give geese a chance."

I'm glad I was nowhere near this dreadful sounding event.  There are just too many geese in the park, making vast amounts of goose crap. I suggest a giant barbecue.

Tale in a Bucket

This stack of buckets can be seen through the window of the recently closed Tower Electronics, at Fifth Avenue and 13th St.  I passed by the store yesterday, and as I am easily pleased by the trivial, I admired  the elegant font on the bucket label, and the name itself: Embassy's Lucky Boy.  It sounded sort of jaunty and upbeat, and made me curious about the company, so I did a little amateurish digging.

It turns out that Embassy, founded by Samuel Wirfel and Samuel J. Fixler, started out on Greenwich Street in 1927, and later moved to Maspeth, Queens. Wirfel and Fixler registered for the draft not only in WW1, as teenagers, but also in the Second World War, when they were 50 and 51.  Between them they had three sons, though it's not known which particular kid was the actual Lucky Boy*. Their business, which produced a huge array of goods, from cleaning products to canned fruits and vegetables, closed down in 1986, but the Embassy Lucky Boy brand is still distributed by Mivilia Foods.  You can find out more detailed information about Embassy, and see a 1986 picture of a street commercial at its original location right here, at Walter Grutchfield's photography/local history website.  The website is mostly dedicated to old commercial ads on city buildings - those ghostly traces of a manufacturing past - and because some of the photographs go back twenty five years, it's a useful resource.

Unfortunately, the sign Grutchfield photographed in '86 is no longer there.  I went over to 405 Greenwich this morning, and found it gone, though paint from the ad remains at the top of the building, and the same patch up job on the brickwork is evident.  There are some extra windows punched in. It's an apartment building now, converted from commercial use early this century, and the two storey factory next door, recently an architect's office, is now to let.

Looking around online, for further information, I did find a label for a Lucky Boy product, on sale for a dollar, at Cerebro, an antique label business.  There's the lucky boy himself, along with some "strictly fancy" golden creamed corn.  Seems like a pretty good deal for a buck.

I wouldn't have known any of this if I hadn't looked in (T)ower, and seen the buckets.  How arbitrarily we acquire knowledge, and how fleeting the comings and goings of stores, businesses, and plump faced kids on the labels of cans. Tower was a rip-off store, and never did sell very good appliances.  We made a big mistake with a washing machine we got back there in the 80's, and the damn thing shuddered and banged across the floor at every spin cycle.  I almost miss the place though.  I'd take it over a condo development, or the next door 7 Eleven. It'd be better than Doggy Day Care (a recent here-and-then-gone venture across the street) or the nearby Edible Arrangements.  Let's hope we get lucky with the replacement. 

* Update - 11/22/15
It has now been established that the boy on the Lucky Boy label is neither a Wirfel nor a Fixler, but is in fact Seymour "Sy" Unger, who, along with his father, Morris Unger, worked for many years at the Embassy/Lucky Boy company.  I'm honored that both Melissa Unger, daughter of Seymour Unger, and David Elstein, great grandson of Sam Wirfel, wrote in to the blog about this, and conferred to set things straight (see comments below).  Thank you!

Fourth Avenue Station

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I put Ghost Town on here a long time ago, and it's time for another Specials song.  Here's Gangsters.  Not the best quality recording, but it's a good live performance, from 1979.  What a great band.
Celebrating The Vagabond, "Colette's ageless novel of love and loneliness in the Parisian dancehalls" (Guardian).

The Best in Town (Smith Street)

You don't see " best in town" much in ads these days.  Who wouldn't want to take their laundry here?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Almost Barrett Like in Itself

I have hardly ever let the world of work intrude into this blog, and don't plan to change this practice.  Still, here's a sample of the kinds of conversations I have at my job.  This morning, with C., who is considerably larger than I am:

C.  Hi honey. Did you know I'm getting married to a squirrel next week?
Me: Really?  Can I come to the wedding?
C.  No, you're too big.  It's going to be underground.  In a hole under a tree.
Me: Oh. That's too bad.

Another Clothes Related Post?

Arnold Layne came out in '67, so even though I was aware of it in a peripheral way (through older siblings) I can't pretend I paid it much attention until '72 or so.  Probably all that teenage NME reading led me back to it.  It may well have been one particularly intriguing (Charles Shaar Murray?) article on Syd Barrett's whereabouts that did it.  Anyway, it had been a while since I'd heard it, until this morning, when the BBC did a piece on him.  Idea Generation Gallery, in Shoreditch, London, is currently showing Syd Barrett: Art & Letters, and there are a few pictures from the exhibition here. This is the 'unofficial' film for the song.

Some Signs & Buildings: Downtown Brooklyn, Sunday Morning

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tree Update

Hmm.  An update from EV Grieve.  It seems my tree (note possessive attitude) is not the last one standing (well, lying).  Just when I thought I had this thing wrapped up ...

The First Day of Spring in Brooklyn

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing
                                                             from Spring, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Consider the signs of Spring:

A crocus blooming in my back yard

Flowers adorning construction sites on Smith Street

and a Christmas tree on Fourth, tired but undeterred, greeting the season from under a pile of garbage. It made it!  Who knows how long it will last?  Maybe July 4th?  To celebrate, let's have a few more lines of poetry.  Take it away, Mr. O'Hara:

However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of
pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of
perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the
confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes–I can’t
even enjoy a blade of grass unless i know there’s a subway
handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not
totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the
least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and
even they continue to pass. Do they know what they’re missing?
                                                 from Meditations in an Emergency, by Frank O'Hara

Aaron's Long Gone, But Sign Endures

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bill Cunningham New York

Get over to Film Forum for the documentary on street and society photographer Bill Cunningham.  I went to an afternoon showing, and the house was packed.  It's a beautiful tribute to Cunningham, set against the background of a declining garment industry and the eviction of tenants (including Cunningham) from the Carnegie Hall apartments.  In a fashion world not known for modesty, Cunningham comes across as genuinely unpretentious, consumed not by by a love of status or money, but by fashion itself.  Little is told of his personal life, and his reaction to the couple of candid questions posed towards the end of the film will make you squirm.  The film looks back to Cunningham's early career as a milliner, and to his 1980's work for Details magazine.  It covers a trip to a Paris fashion show (he calls Paris a mandatory twice a year re-education ) and his acceptance of the Legion D'honneur.  Much of the footage shows the then 80 year old on wheels, biking through heavy city traffic (scary stuff) in pursuit of street shots, or en route to the next charity dinner.  The film is very funny, especially when it demonstrates his kindly but sharp discrimination about who is or isn't wearing something of significance (watch out Catherine Deneuve!), shows his blithe disregard for space wasters like kitchens or bathrooms, and presents style mavericks like Iris Apfel, Patrick McDonald, and Shail Upadhya.  It's also extremely sad, as we see artists-in-residence like Cunningham, and the fabulous Editta Sherman, about to be displaced.  Late in the film there's a gorgeous clip from an Andy Warhol film, with a younger, full figured Sherman, dancing the Dying Swan en pointe, and it seems like an elegy for a vanished culture.

The film gave me a great post-screening buzz, and out on Sixth Avenue I found myself nervously elated, dartingly appraising the fashion sense of those I passed. Much of what I saw was pretty tame.  Coming home on the train, my carriage was half empty: a swath of vacant seats surrounded a small, elderly lady and her collection of garbage bags.  I sat a little closer than most, and noticed her bright fuschia skirt, zebra patterned blanket shawl, and the thin fuschia ribbons tied around her long, grey braids.  As the train lumbered along, she drew out a pair of pink gloves, and, shifting the bags slightly, revealed long white knee socks and bright pink slippers. She had far more style than anyone else in sight, and I wanted to take a photograph then and there, but I was too shy and it seemed intrusive.  Still, when she got off at Atlantic, so did I, and I took a quick shot from behind.  Here it is.

Freddy's: The Transmigration of a Brooklyn Saloon (NYT)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I need a tech geek!

Tender Buttons

Tender Buttons has been in business at 62nd and Lex since 1965.  Founded by Diana Epstein, an editor at Funk and Wagnall's Encyclopedia, and Millicent Safro, an antique restorer, the store came into being when Epstein bought a closed button store on East 77th a year earlier. At first the store operated as a kind of salon, with Jasper Johns and other artists dropping in, but soon it turned into a bona fide button store and moved to its current location.  It's a button museum really. There are workaday buttons for a couple of bucks, fancier ones from France or Italy, and show stoppers hand painted on ivory or silk, for hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  In 1991 Safro and the late Epstein wrote a book about their collection (called, of course, Buttons), and Epstein looked back to the days when button collecting was a common hobby:

"Where are those collectors, named Prudence, Velma or Wanda who sewed buttons onto paper pie plates in the 1930s and 1940s?" she asks. "They are gone, dying out like the Shakers."

Tender Buttons is just a couple of blocks away from the Subway Inn, so you could go for an unlikely combination and do a beer and button run.  Don't try photographing the buttons though.  Not allowed! If you're wondering about the name, Tender Buttons was a collection of poetry by Gertrude Stein, published in 1914.

"Left over to be a lamp light, left over in victory, left over in saving, all this and negligence and bent wood and more even much more is not so exact as a pen and a turtle and even, certainly, and even a piece of the same experience as more. "

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Still Here!

Jeremiah's Vanishing New York discusses and links to Closing Time, Veronica Diaferia's 2006 documentary about the closure of E. Rossi & Co., at Grand and Mulberry since 1910.

Hoping Gowanus Canal Cleanup Turns Up Old Treasures (NY Times)

Technically Challenged

The last few days have seen a lot of technical problems on this blog.  First I had to change its design (still not happy with that), then the stats froze (no, it wasn't just the complete absence of readers), and finally several people made comments that never reached me.  The Blogger stats are quite fickle, so I haven't solved that issue, but I believe the comment issue has been sorted out.  So if you had something to say, please try again.
"Eighteenth century pop artist" - Watteau at the Royal Academy (Guardian)

Monday, March 14, 2011

 Here's a great performance from 1965, at the NME Poll Winners Concert.
(Brownstoner) reports that Two Toms is closed for health violations. Hopefully they'll be back.  Here's a mixed-worlds-of-Gowanus comment on the post:
We tried to go there Saturday night and found it closed. We ended up eating at the bar at the top of Hotel Le Bleu and it was surprisingly good.

Lawsuit:Pre-School Ruined 4-Year Old's Ivy League Chances  (News via Gothamist) The day is full of entertaining comments.  Here's a quote from the four-year old's parents' attorney:
"Lucia Imprescia, for the record, will get into an Ivy League school, York Avenue Preschool notwithstanding," said Paulose, of Koehler & Isaacs.

More private school nonsense.  At a recent  Berkeley Carroll fundraising auction, the winning bid for a special dinner at Babbo was a paltry $62,500! (Gothamist)

And in a much more appealing vein:

Visiting Bleecker Bob's (Marty After Dark)

Rob Warren Books (Skyline Books as was), in the Flower District (Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Not sure what the former Gerry's, on Fifth, is turning into.  It was only after taking this photograph that I noticed the disturbing mannequin lurking in an upper window. What's that all about?
Perhaps, after watching Michael Powell's Peeping Tom yesterday, I'm a little over-sensitive.

R & A Discount

In 2004, the NY Times ran a piece on Albert Cabbad, 78, owner of the R & A Discount Center on Fifth Avenue.  In the spring of that year, Cabbad had broken his leg, and during his stay in hospital, most of the store's inventory had been removed by his family. Undeterred, Mr. Cabbad, who couldn't tolerate retirement, had gone back to the store anyway, and, amidst the dusty remains of his merchandise, continued to work the till, selling only one thing.  Lotto tickets.  According to the Times back then, he was set to retire in '04, as a son had plans to put in new businesses and condos, but that didn't happen.  At 85,  a sharp-witted and talkative Mr. Cabbad is still there.

I stopped by for a quick hello yesterday and stayed for almost an hour.  I recommend that you pay a visit too, because Albert has a lot to say. He'll tell you about the ups and downs of Fifth, the family empire, the three building department store he opened in '67, and the family owned bike center across the street. He'll talk about Libya, the sub-prime loan mess, and the Armenian Massacre.  He'll talk about the photographs and clippings up on his walls - everyone from Churchill to Obama - and tell you about his meetings with Arafat and Sharpton.  Occasionally, the conversation will be broken by someone coming into the store.  It might be a son, coming in to check on him, perhaps, or an old Yemeni friend, hanging out for a bit, and just every so often, and rather beside the point, it might be someone actually looking for a ticket. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

And I Thought This Was Over

I thought the tree I spotted last week would be my last find.  It was shifted down to Fifth, but stayed around until March 10th.  I was worn out by this gruelling challenge and resolved to give up.  I figured that I had a fair chance of victory if the ICTTS judges deemed an artificial tree to be acceptable, but would expend no more effort to look for a real tree.  However, today I found this one, and really, it's too good to leave out of the running.  This street punk is on Fourth Avenue, at Sackett, and has been duly verified with today's paper.  Only eight days until Spring.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Flatbush Avenue, 5 p.m.

While we're in the neighborhood, here's the News on accused State Senator Carl Kruger's Atlantic Yards connection (via Gothamist).
Oh, and while we're still hanging around Flatbush, today I came across this new store, Versailles.  Brownstoner reported on its imminent opening last week, and heard that it was a boutique specializing in "diva fashion".  Here it is revealed in all its glory. Diva, hooker, who can tell?  Makes Rainbow or Mandee stores look pretty damn classy.

Bits and Pieces

If Son of Sam Were on the Loose Today (City Room)
You Could Be the Next Goethals (City Room)
First Ever Brooklyn Baby Expo  (A Child Grows in Brooklyn) For those of you who need to hire a nanny, or want to try out baby yoga, tummy time (?), and stroller fitness ...

Stalled, Debris on the Tracks

This was taken yesterday, while MTA workers were searching for something or other under the train. Initially we were told that the train was out of service, and I was kind of hoping we'd have to get out and walk along the Viaduct, but all was restored to normal and the train moved on.

I'm not much of a fan of The Kinks after 1970 or so, but everything they did before then was golden. Mr. Pleasant was originally recorded in 1967, and in this clip, Dave Davies looks completely out of his mind!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I'm awaiting updates from the ICTT judging panel, so while I'm twiddling my thumbs I'll let you know how my own entries are faring.  As I mentioned earlier, I was pretty excited by the discovery of a new (old) tree on Sunday, and I duly passed on the news to EV Grieve.  I had high hopes that this particular tree would hang in there for a while, but by the next day it was GONE.  Damn those condo dwelling trees.  By now I had almost given up, and I was exhausted by my obsessive scanning of sidewalks.  It was all becoming too stressful.
Well, yesterday morning, on my way to work, what did I see at the (former) OTB corner (5th and 12th) but another entrant?  Wouldn't you know that that spot, the scene of so many punters' desperate dreams, would provide me with another chance?  It was poetic, really.  This was a very small tree, with lights attached, lying in the gutter. A modest, but perfectly formed number. There was only one slight problem. The tree was - and I write this nervously - artificial.  I'm betting that those snooty ICTT judges are going to turn their noses up at this, and cite some blah blah rules about natural foliage, and ecological awareness, but I say, "Let the artificial tree compete!"  Just look at those headlines on the newspapers that accompany the tree.  Isn't there a message there for even the hardest of hearts?

March 8 - The Girl Who Would Be Queen

March 9 - I'm Back!

Is there no hope?
Pet Spa. Putting Green for New 4th Avenue Rental! (Brownstoner)
From the project spiel: "The Arias offers the ideal balance of everything you desire."
Hope for Notorious Slope Building? (Brownstoner) Oh yes ...