Monday, April 30, 2012

To Shannon's & Back

Yesterday I went to buy flowers at Shannon's, a garden center on the far side of Green-Wood Cemetery.  On the way there, I skirted around the edge of Green-Wood, and for half the journey a chatty woman in her sixties took to walking along with me, telling me all about her son (well not her actual son, she said, that son had died) in Washington - the kind of guy who leaves money under a pillow after a visit ("Isn't that the kind of kid you want?) - and his daughter, training civilians in Afghanistan.  After I'd been to Shannon's, and got my tray of plants, I was going to get the bus home, or walk back the same way I'd come, but I figured it quicker to cut through the cemetery and come out by Eighth or Fifth.  I thought there might be plenty of people around, it being a sunny day, Sunday and all, and with Green-Wood back on the map as a tourist site, but when I got through the entrance gates it was quiet - just me, the security staff, and the tombs.  Further along, there was someone else on foot, though: a middle aged man with thick glasses, who was snapping dead twigs off trees in a random, yet mildly compulsive manner. He was listening to a right-wing talk show on a little radio, and as I approached I had a sinking feeling he'd have something to tell me.  I was right.  I guess he assumed I was going to be planting my flowers at a gravesite.  He warned me earnestly that the peonies wouldn't take.  It would be too dry, he said, and the sun too fierce. I thanked him for his observations, and moved briskly away. I suppose I did look like some sort of devout relative, come to tend the ground where a loved one rested.  That was off-putting.  The rest of the people I saw in the cemetery were all driving cars, including a chubby, shifty-eyed man in a dark sedan, who backed up to offer me a lift.  No thank you very much, my shifty-eyed friend.  Perhaps you really were a kindly man, moved by the sight of the flowers I bore, but I trusted you not. Leaving Green-Wood behind, I walked along Ninth for a bit, and right outside McFadden's American Legion a man copping a smoke wished me good luck with the plants.  I asked him if many of the Timboos crowd had found a home there, as I'd heard they might, but he said no, they had to be some place else.  I turned down 17th Street, and was pleasantly reminded how nice this block was, with its modest, homey, comfortable frames.  A couple of jarring apartment developments marred the streetscape though, and a modern rethinking of a rowhouse stuck out too, with its teak-slabbed facade and large windows, and its artfully placed group of pebbles by the front door.  Right next door to it was an older-looking place, with a green door the color of oxidized copper, its paint peeling in a thousand places.  It was a beautiful door. The man sitting on the stoop below it looked very old too.  He wore a snug fitting woollen cap and multi-layered baggy clothes of no particular shade.  He had the thin, sharp gaze of an elderly bird.  He was the kind of man that used to inhabit stoops and corners all over the place when I first lived here.  He was the kind of man I missed seeing around. He liked the plants, and wanted to know where I was going to put them.  We talked about this and that for a while, and as I left he muttered something I couldn't quite hear.  First I thought it was, "Take the plants", but as I was taking them, that didn't seem to make any sense.  Then I thought it might be, "Pull up your pants", but that seemed unlikely, though I did yank my jeans up nervously.  Just in case.  Then I realized it was "Take the pants" & he gestured to a pair of khaki dress pants hanging on the fence of the neighboring house (no, not the artful modern place, but one on the other side).  They were on the big side, and I couldn't imagine them fitting or suiting anyone at home, but I almost took them anyway.  It seemed rude not to. I had my hands full with the tray though, & I was glad this was a good enough reason to leave the pants behind.  I said goodbye. I stopped to talk to no-one after this. I got the plants home, and put them out in the back. They were a pretty bunch: climbing Black-Eyed Susans, nasturtiums, some bright green potato vines, and a few frillier annuals.  But it was noisy in the yard.  In the new building overlooking it a party was going on.   I  felt suddenly tired after all that walking, and the loud chatter was distracting, so instead of planting the flowers, I went inside for a drink. I'd come back out again before it got dark, and give them some water then.  I'd put them in dirt the next day.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Save the Date!

The Van Brunt Post Office is 50 years old this year, & you're invited to celebrate!  Well, it's not until September, but there's nothing wrong with an early notice, even though a large part of the sign is curiously blank.  Customers who have to use this place with any regularity will find its design a typically "Van Brunt" form of communication, & will get a good laugh at the "50 Years of Community Service" claim.  Though I've actually found a couple of the clerks at the windows efficient and helpful, they're an aberration here. Van Brunt may be the most reviled P.O. in the city, a place that inspires rage and desperation, and from which a limitless supply of packages and letters either evaporate, or sally forth to the wrong address.  I do wonder how they're going to celebrate though (Line Dancing?  Pass (and lose) the Parcel?) and I'm always up for free refreshments. This knees-up may be too good to miss.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Milanes Spanish Restaurant, West 25th

This Dominican restaurant, tucked away off Seventh, is a fine Spanish holdout, with a lunch counter, several small side tables, and a large back room.  You can get traditional shakes & juices (guanabana, mamey, parcha) & the portions of food are hefty.  I went for bacalao, & sides of red beans, rice & plantains.  When I first came to the city, there were plenty of restaurants like this in Chelsea, but these days they're a dying breed.  This one is a comfort: reasonable prices, sweet, solicitous waitresses, and the smell of home cooking send you back twenty years or more.  Milanes opens at 6:00 a.m., so will definitely qualify as a break-up-the-tedious-commute-to-work breakfast stop, on those days when I'm out of the house early enough.  It's a gem.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Meanwhile, on Sixth & 12th ...

Almost three years after his indictment on 47 counts of grand larceny, forgery and conspiracy, Thomas Prusik-Parkin is now on trial.  The case, in which Prusik-Parkin was accused of dressing as his dead mother for six years in order to collect social security and rent subsidies, made for a lively city story back in 2009, and even made the international press. The building where he lived, at the corner of Sixth & 12th, now houses the restaurant Sweet Wolf.  Here's a  description from the website.  It's:

A beautiful corner space with a patio enclosed in iron gates. forty seats of interior space with a focus on community seating. a place with soul that encourages interactions amongst friends, new or old. a wood fired brick oven provides an atmosphere of warmth and visual appeal with an open kitchen to allow customers to view every level of our production. our chef might pour you one of our craft beers on draught while your steak finishes its time in the wood oven. copper ceilings, brick walls and the feeling of being at a cozy dinner party with friends, all in the neighborhood.

Saturday, P.M.

Clearly I've developed a bit of a thing about rides.  Here are two more, customized for art & commerce.

Fifth & 12th

Fourth & 26th

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Beating the Housing Squeeze

The New York Times has a piece today on the live-in caretakers of the city's historic homes.  Online, there's a nice video about Roy Fox, caretaker of the Rufus King Manor I visited last week on a Forgotten New York tour.

Any Combination

I was in Midtown for a concert, & did a little walking around beforehand.  This church on 57th (Ninth & Tenth) has an impressive range of services:

and makes the offerings across the street seem positively skimpy.

Towards Tenth, this truncated sign seemed to offer other kinds of get-togethers.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Catherine & Madison

This kind of nothing-fancy city corner makes my heart glad.  I wish it would stay this way forever.  The sober beauty of the buildings strung with fire escapes, the domed rooftopped parochial school, the serviceable stores that might sport an ugly awning or too, but cater to our nothing-fancy needs.  And even a little horse.

Monday, April 16, 2012

After visiting the Chapel of the Sisters at the Prospect Cemetery, which is now also the Illinois Jacquet Performance Space, I thought I'd add this, from 1969:

Jamaica: Prospect Cemetery & Rufus King Manor

Back in cemetery mode. My weekday subway ride takes me to Sutphin Boulevard, & every so often I spend my lunch break down around Jamaica Ave.  I don't know Jamaica well though, so when I saw that Kevin Walsh had a Forgotten New York walk there scheduled for April, I signed up.  This one, number 51 in the series, was to the Prospect Cemetery, and to Rufus King Manor.  The cemetery, which dates back to the 1600s and is home to a number of Revolutionary War soldiers, fell victim over the years to neglect & vandalism, but is now undergoing restoration.  Cate Ludlam, president of the cemetery association, and the woman who pioneered its rescue, was on hand to give us a tour.  Rufus King, a Founding Father & an early abolitionist, moved to Jamaica in 1805, and descendants of the King family lived at the house for almost a hundred years.  It became a museum in 1900, and its current caretaker, the ebullient Roy Fox, helped by an educator docent, showed us around.  Kevin's tour was co-led by the Greater Astoria Historical Society's Rich Melnick.  They did a great job.  I also have to put in a big thank you for the invitation I got after the tour, to join a group of local historians at O Lavrador, a Portugese restaurant over on 101st Ave.  What a great dinner - octopus, cod cakes & flamed pork sausage - and great Queens company.  I also learned of a blog I have to check out: Be the BQE.  Thanks, guys!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

They're busy at work at Fifth & 11th, as the former Timboo's bar re-emerges as Skylark.  A few days ago, I ran into my  neighbor Keith, from up the next block, and he told me he thought it looked nice.  Still, as he said, it didn't matter much to him; he hadn't had a drink (or a joint) since 1981.  We stood outside the new Key Food & marveled at how quickly this block of Fifth has changed.
The Timboo's sign itself stayed up until quite recently, even as work progressed behind the papered windows. 

By the other day though, the "Timboo's" lettering was gone, & only the two BAR signs, and the bubbling glasses remained.  I thought maybe they were thinking of keeping them & putting the new name up there in the middle, but by yesterday even the bubbles had vanished.  Well not quite.  If you looked closely you could see the ghostly traces of the whole thing.  Then, if you kept looking, you could see faint lines of other letters too, especially at the right-hand side.  Was it a REST for restaurant? It seemed unlikely, but I couldn't come up with anything else.  Maybe it was part of a pre-Timboo's (Steve's/Loftus's) era sign?  Whatever it was, it would disappear shortly.  I pored over these cryptic runes for a while longer, and then gave up.   Skylark, it's all yours.

Jamaica Hunting & Fishing Club

A hurried photograph (off to the E train).  This place is very intriguing.  It's not far from my work, so I'll be back.  This was taken at the very end of a great afternoon in Jamaica.  More to follow.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Too Much Coffee Man

I got too much coffee today.  I got this stupid idea to visit two bakeries on Fifth in one afternoon, and then the two turned to three.  They're all on the same side of the avenue, within ten blocks of each other. You can choose which one you like best.

The first one I went to was Sweet Treasures, which is replacing The Three Star Bakery.  It's been open a few days.  I thought it was going to be called La Dolce Vita.  I was wrong.  There's been a bakery at this site (just north of Prospect Ave.) for over a hundred years, and Sweet Treasures, a classic Italian shop, will continue the tradition very well.  In addition to my dollar coffee, I tried free samples of doughnuts & lard bread.  The girl behind the counter said the lard bread was their specialty, & she's right.  It's excellent.  She told me her dad had been baking for 33 years, & that the Guzzo family used to run Princess Bake Shop in Sunset Park.  There's a couple of tables by the window and it's a great spot to watch people go by. Good luck to the new business.

Baked in Brooklyn, at 26th & Fifth, is also newly opened.  It's on the site of Aladdin Bakery, which has been making bread since 1972, & the owner, Joseph Ayoub, has done nicely for himself.   The best thing about the cafe space here are its huge glass windows that let you see the bakers in action.  I love that kind of thing.  I got more free samples: spoonfuls of cheesecake, & some sort of cherry danish.  The bread looked good, & I got a big bag of bread rolls for a buck, which seemed like a good deal.  Along with the pastries, they also sell sandwiches & bagels here, though the bagels I saw looked like a mutant breed I'd stay away from. Coffee was pricier here than Sweet Treasures, and the wanderers-in were a mix of older locals & newer folks.  One hipster twenty-something flirted drearily with the girl behind the counter & boasted that he never left Brooklyn for Manhattan.  There was no need. The girl herself had only been in New York four months, & told me that her boyfriend sold gourmet chocolate on Pearl Street.  I almost asked her if she'd been to Pearl Diner, but decided against it.

This place is hard to figure out  Its sleek looks & its bouncy Brooklyn moniker* seems aimed at newer Greenwood types.   It's a bit of a freak in this quiet industrial, cemetery stretch, but the bakery side of the business should keep the cafe afloat. The food looks pretty good, and is not insanely priced & if the bread's decent, I'll come back.  It's not really a comfortable place to linger, though there is a window counter. This allows you to sip your drink and gaze at the cemetery across the street, which might or might not be a draw, depending on your humor.  I might actually enjoy it, being a bit of a melancholy sod, though even I couldn't stand it for too long. And standing there looking out made me remember those newish condos over on McDonald whose selling point was their Greenwood views.  Who'd go for that?  Even I couldn't take a daily dose of tombstones. I'm happy visiting the place, but I think I'd go crazy if it was my morning and my evening vision.  It also made me think about the funeral home/bagel theme of yesterday's post, and why I seemed to be right back in the same weird area of thought.  I needed to get out of this loop.

*  I think the name might be a problem.  There's already a Baked In Brooklyn pottery studio in Williamsburg, so there may be some conflict down the line. 

I'd eaten enough by the time I got to Girasol, which is right on the corner of 25th. But I had to go in. A traditional Mexican bakery, it looks to the outsider like it might just be a cake shop, as the windows are full of frilly, multi-tiered confections, but inside you can also get a full menu of tacos, tortas & the like.  It's the same thing with a lot of the grocery stores around here. There's more than meets the eye. This makes me realise (yet again) that a) I think I'm observant but half the time I'm walking blind and b) that these hidden worlds, casually out of reach to outsiders, are actually a good thing, and keep the unnecessary visitor (me) out.   But I want to know them anyway.
Girasol has a nice L-shaped counter, and a big display case of pastries.  The menu on the wall has no prices.  There was a TV show that featured a lot of sobbing women, and a couple of guys sat silently watching. 

A pair of dust-coated workmen came in to order & paced around the store while the food was prepared, talking of strip clubs and what flavor soda to order.  They each ordered two slender bottles of strawberry & pineapple.  I was on to my third coffee now & didn't even really want it.   So I ordered without thinking & it came out sugary the way I'd expected, & didn't like.  It cost 75c and I sat at the counter and took photographs of cakes.  The coffee was good and sweet. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Pulp (Radio City)

Pulp kicked off a North American tour at Radio City last night, & I'm horribly jealous of certain people who got to see them (grrr...).  Well I did get a nice link sent my way (to hang the dj), with footage of the show .  Here's Mis-Shapes, & it has to be said, Jarvis, that at 48 you've still got it.

And for something a bit less fuzzy, watch the band on Jimmy Fallon (from Monday night).

The Monro (Fifth & 12th)

A sign goes up for the new bar replacing the jazz bar Puppets.

Pearl Diner

A good counter sandwich, with two kinds of pickles & no hurrying along.  You'll get well looked after here. Dwarved by the high-rise buildings around it, the place looks smaller than it really is, though its restrooms are matchbox size, and you should be ready to be flexible   It's been around since the 50s, & walking winding Pearl Street, where old city & modern city meet, you catch your breath when you first see it.   It is a pearl.  I wish the name above the Diner sign lit up, but even without it that neon sign is a thing of beauty from all angles. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Brooklyn's prayers for specialty mayonnaise store finally answered (Grub Street)!

"Empire will initially feature around 40 flavors, with Mason devising a new one each week; coffee, smoked paprika, foie gras, and mushroom are already on the menu. "

Covert Video Surveillance ("A Safe Measure in a Unsafe World")

Monday, April 9, 2012

Seymour Hionas, Real Estate

These model houses look like they've been here on Fifth & 60th a good while.  They whisper a realtor's lure of suburban escape, complete with in-ground pool & waiting school bus.  Maybe a move to Nassau, or Jersey?  Maybe across to Staten Island before the Verrazano?  They could just be symbols for a rowhouse, I suppose, but seem to suggest another way of life.  Certainly they're like nothing in the neighborhood.  Nor is that 60s ceramic family, all beaming & ready to re-locate. 
The office interior is pretty much the same vintage.  The elderly couple working inside look as if they've run the show for 50 years or more.