Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dusk at Fifth & 9th

Troubling Signs

The poor beleaguered VFW Post at Fourth and 10th hasn't had it easy.  Work on the Culver Viaduct and its two stations - Fourth Avenue and Smith & 9th - has gone on well beyond the projected date of completion and the Post has been hidden under scaffolding for quite some time. For a while it tried to compensate with bright Party Room signs , though I don't know how successful this approach was.  I've never seen even remotely festive activity here, though I've often thought I'd like to rent the place. Actually, I don't think I've even seen anyone entering or leaving the premises in years.
Sadly, a newer, politely phrased sign hints at less than pleasant goings-on at this secluded corner. 

Missing the Trains

As I said yesterday, I had a very mild experience of Sandy, and it would be stupid of me to pretend otherwise.  Sure, some trees came down nearby, and there was some minor structural building damage, but photographing any of this seemed rather piddling given the real problems (roaring tides, fires & long-term loss of power) that many people in the city have been dealing with, and trekking off to snap pictures of misfortune seems cheap. I have, though, been obsessively following news stories about the storm, and I do feel especially dislocated by the loss of the subway system - both in a literal sense (I take the train to work) and in the ineffable way that New York just feels wrong without the trains.  It's like a whole layer of the city is missing, and it makes travelling around the place so much more mundane. I love to walk, I like the bus for when I'm in a part of town I don't know, and I love the subterranean thrill of a train car.  Subway journeys take me right back to first being here, when every inch of a car was covered in graffiti, and the A train seemed to hurtle along the west side way faster than it ever does today.  They make me remember how happy I was to become a small part of the city, and realize that, though I seem to complain a lot, I still can't believe my good fortune to have been here for twenty-eight years.  The trains may be cleaner and conductor's voice grown fainter, and the dreary repetitive commercials & recorded announcements may be quite quite soulless, but the small random dramas of the underground world still draw me in.  Rides still have the dark, otherworldly logic of dreams.
Please come back soon.

"Then he returns
to the pale subways of cement he calls his home. He flits,
he flutters, and cannot get aboard the silent trains
fast enough to suit him. The doors close swiftly.
The Man-Moth always seats himself facing the wrong way
and the train starts at once at its full, terrible speed,
without a shift in gears or a gradation of any sort.
He cannot tell the rate at which he travels backwards."

                                                               from The Man-Moth, by Elizabeth Bishop

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Well, we got off very lightly, mostly because of the lack of rain, and living a couple of blocks from a flood zone.  Just gawking in disbelief at apocalyptic scenes of city streets turned to rivers, and the downtown skyline gone dark. 

Monday, October 29, 2012


Around Fifth, measures are taken to weather the storm.

Neergaard puts up useless but comforting tape on its windows.

Steve's C Town goes for the full window treatment.

An early morning drinker at Smith's surveys the avenue.

A 7-Eleven run from the 78th.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Renaming the Arena

On the B63 yesterday a group of middle-aged women was debating the name of the new arena. A couple of hold-outs maintained it was Bar-Kays, but their claim was laughed away by their companions. Too bad!

Friday, October 26, 2012

On Sixth

A couple of years ago, Ephemeral New York posted a piece about the Milton Apartments, at 489 and 491 Sixth Avenue.  The brick buildings were built in 1890, and according to a commenter, were designed as model apartments for workers at a factory near the Gowanus canal at 11th Street.  These days apartments in 491 are on the market as condos, priced between $950,000 to $1,350,000.  489 looks like a work in progress.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Pete Hamill visits childhood home (Daily News)

Wishes, Lies & Dreams

In 1968 and 1969, the New York School poet Kenneth Koch taught poetry to children at PS61, a school on E 12th between Avenues B and C in the East Village.  His account of this experience, Wishes, Lies and Dreams,  and a subsequent work, Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? remain perhaps the most important and accessible books about writing with children.  Koch made the process rich, strange, exciting!  He presented kids with real models to work from (Ashbery, O'Hara, Shakespeare, Rilke), rather than some watered-down childrens' rhyming pap, and made thinking and writing about poetry an act of sheer anarchic bliss.  He took all prissiness and preciousness out of the Art, and showed that children, inspired in the right way, could write with truth and beauty. Koch inspired me to work with children in Brooklyn schools for a few years, and I still have boxes of their poems.  During this time, I discovered that there was a film about Koch's experience at PS 61, and somehow or other managed to get hold of a copy.  It's a real joy to watch. In it, you see an East Village school of the late 60s, and a class of curious, unspoilt kids. It's also very funny. Koch strides into the classroom looking a bit like a poet's version of Austin Powers, and makes writing the most fabulous pursuit in the world.  I wish I'd been a student there.  I wish more teachers were like that. 
Well, happy day!  Today I found the film on Vimeo, so here it is.  Imagine, the kids shown here are in their 50s today.

Wishes, Lies and Dreams from Zeega on Vimeo.
For a Koch bio and bibliography, read here.. Koch also conducted poetry workshops with older writers, at the American Nursing Home at Avenue B and Fifth St. He wrote about the experience in I Never Told Anybody: Teaching Poetry Writing to Old People.

Next Door

Who needs a Haunted House to visit this Halloween, when you have your own version right next door, just waiting to be torn down and replaced by new apartments?  This one has stuck around since 1871, and has seen the block go from one entirely composed of wooden buildings - row houses and freestanding houses - to one by interspersed by brick: a handful of brownstones from the late 1800s and apartments buildings built in the early nineteenth century.  After that, the housing stock stayed about the same for the next century or so.  Until our ugly twenty-first century neighbors came, rising above our rooftops and blocking our sunlight.

I got a chance to go inside our sister-house today.  There were the graceful front doors (that lovely shade of green!) still intact, and there was the stairway thick with dust.  The elderly couple who lived there had become defensive over the years, and barricaded themselves in with boards and bars.  It was dark inside, and most of the furniture was gone, but there were marks of its inhabitants everywhere.  In the bay, some sort of weird supportive/decorative structure, and bunches of plastic flowers.


On a shelf, a sewing kit. A Currier & Ives hostess set.

Over in a corner, there was C's rigged-up shopping cart.  He used it on the day he died, on his last shuffling expedition down to Fifth.

Expendable all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Off to Work with Wonder

By this time of year, I head to work in darkness.  While it's hellish getting up so early, once out of the house, I love walking on the almost empty streets.  Even the most prosaic objects assume luminous powers quite lacking in daytime. The stars & stripes shining out from a window above Sun Bo Bo have a soulful gleam.  Parked under Sleepy's, even a bread truck full of Classic Whites is worth a second glance. 

Ghosts of TV & VCR Repair

Fifth at 13th.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

After the Fire

Almost two years ago, a massive fire at the Associated Supermarket (617 5th) gutted the building & damaged nearby homes and businesses. 

Since then, the building has been shrouded with scaffolding.  This is down now though, and a banner is up advertizing ten rental apartments. The retail space still looks like it needs plenty of work.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Outside Greenwood Cemetery


Pechter's has been around since 1888, but in recent years it's had a variety of partnerships and owners. In earlier times Pechter's was renowned for its superior bakery products. Its Bed-Stuy plant closed down in the mid 90s after Pechter-Field, then the largest commercial bakery in the city, went bankrupt. Today, as a subsidiary of RP Baking, its main base is in Harrison, NJ.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Not for the Squeamish Amongst You

Most weekdays, my route home from work takes me along Eastern Parkway. There's a lot to love about this. The grandeur of the Parkway, and the sweep through the neighborhoods between Bushwick Ave. & Grand Army Plaza. The pigeons wheeling skywards from a Brownsville rooftop at day's end, catching the heart & making you think, every time you see them, of Alfred Kazin, describing pigeons released right there in Brownsville ninety years before:

On the roof just across the street, the older boys now home from work would spring their pigeons from the traps. You could see the feathers glistening faintly in the last light, beating thinly against their sides ... Then, widening and widening their flight each time they came over our roof again, they went round a sycamore and the spire of the church without stopping. 
                                                                                                                    A Walker in the City

There is, however, a business along the way that inspires less than lofty thoughts. I'd often thought of taking a picture, but its message was just too grim. And yet. What if one day I'd pass by and find it gone? I knew I would miss its horrid warning. It was time to take out the camera. Here on the Extension just before St. Johns, across from the Holy House of Prayer (once the Rolland Theater), is the direst sign of all. Right below Holistic Health etc. etc., with illustration thrown in on the side:  Don't Let Your Colon Dig Your Grave.

I have to admit that this picture is of very poor quality. It shows some of the maladies treated, but others are too blurry to see. Honestly, this whole post makes me queasy. Thank God it's done.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Midtown Thursday

The opening of Diana Horowitz's new exhibition, From 7 World Trade, at Hirschl & Adler

"When 7 World Trade Center was erected in 2006, developer Larry Silverstein invited Horowitz to use its 48th floor as a unique studio space. However, it was not the first time Horowitz had painted from the World Trade Center. She first began painting from the 107th Floor of Tower 2 in the mid-1980s and spent nearly fifteen years creating her panoramic city views of lower Manhattan from its soaring heights."

Drinks at the Subway Inn.  Despite some unholy alliance with Atomic Wings (at least their ads aren't plastered all over the front of the building any more)  the old place is looking unspoiled, inside & out.  The last empty booth was secured - green-shaded light, grubby table & all - & with it, for that moment at least, a sense of profound satisfaction.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Proposals to Redraw School Lines Cause Alarm (NY Times)

"Kiersten Feil, who bought a condominium on Fourth Avenue last year, said she was worried her daughter, Siri, now 3, would not be able to attend P.S. 321.
“We were looking for 321 — and it’s priced into the real estate around here,” she said. Her first reaction to the proposal was concern, she added, “for my property value and for where my daughter will go to school. But property value is the biggest risk.”

Autumn Sun on Fourth

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Pacheco dry cleaning & tailoring store on Fifth just closed, & the premises are to let. The pair above make me think of the days when Classico Man & Capri Fashions were big around here.

Update:  Goggla's excellent link in her comment below inspired me to bring back the fashion show at 9th & Fifth, from 1979.   That corner never fails to entertain.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Way to Walk

More poems from 2001, by Brooklyn elementary school students. Calvin's wish is mine too.

My senses react to my everyday life
I love to walk
My senses have different reactions
to everything I see
My hands react by touching
almost every curious thing
I see tree bark and leaves of pretty colors
My nose reacts by smelling
almost every beauty of a flower
My ears react by hearing
almost every song the songbirds sing
My eyes react by seeing
almost every person I know
rushing to go somewhere that
I do not know of
My mouth reacts by tasting
the fresh spring air
My senses react to my everyday life
and I love to walk.

A walk is like
a stroll in the park
A walk is like a summer
breeze with some cool
AC.  Walks are fun in the
summertime and you always
wish to walk with amazement.

Cafe Closures?

The Kahawa Cafe, at Fifth and 15th, opened in mid-August. It's now shuttered.  Temporary or permanent closure?  I only went there once, during its first week in business.  The counter staff  had already mastered the art of sullen indifference.
A far more serious situation down at Fifth and 53rd.  When I passed by on the bus, I noticed that Munchy Coffee Shop had the brown-paper treatment.  From a fleeting glance, it looked like a gut job inside.  This is a shame.  A decent, no-fuss, affordable diner, run by Miguel Hernandez since 1982.  A good people-watching spot, and a fine place to sit & brood over life's mysteries. I'd like to believe Munchy's is just undergoing renovation, but if this place is really gone it's very sad indeed.

Munchy Coffee Shop in 2011

Monday, October 8, 2012

Viking & Upsala

This book might be on my Christmas list (always good to be well prepared), or I might break down and get it sooner. Like tomorrow?

Here's an extract on Sunset Park:

"The Sunset Park Neighborhood, south of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-sixth Street, is inhabited by a large number of Scandinavians and Finns. Local enterprises including small businesses of every type are bound together in the nationally known Finnish Co-operative Association. The apartment house at 816 Forty-third Street, opened in 1916, is supposedly the first co-operative dwelling established in New York City. Within the locality are several Finnish steam baths; the restaurants feature Finnish dishes: keittokirja (cabbage soup), liha pullia (meat balls), silli perunat (herring and potatoes); the homeland's culture is kept alive by Finnish societies; and folk dances are held occasionally at which the women wear the gay peasant costumes of their native land. The bluff of Sunset Park, Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street, affords a thrilling view of the harbor."
I'm well aware of the Finnish co-ops, but have never eaten any Finnish food in the neighborhood, nor do I know whether any steam-baths still exist.  On the Army Terminal website Neighborhood Overview, written some seventy years later, there's a briefer, less colorful mention of food & baths.
Visitors can still enjoy Finnish steam baths and a number of restaurants that serve traditional Finnish dishes ...
But where? Scandinavian culture seems to have hung on for longer in this part of Brooklyn, especially in Bay Ridge, which still holds an annual Norwegian Parade, but traditions are fading here too.  Even the Bay Ridge Leif Erickson bar closed not long ago.  I've heard of several businesses in the southern (Little Norway) section of Sunset Park, so will try and see if any are still there.  Maybe this research necessitates return visits to the Soccer Tavern, where, I've been told, you may still run into an elderly Norseman or two. To track down Finnish businesses seems harder.  The Sunset Park-based Finnish New York Uutised newspaper ceased publication in 1996, and the Imatra Social Club on 40th Street closed in the 60s. I think I'll be off to the Finnish Cultural Center in Manhattan to look for help.
In the meantime, putting Finnish mysteries aside, here's are two small Scandinavian buildings on 56th Street, between Second & Third.  Who wouldn't want to live in Viking House?

Sunday, October 7, 2012


1950's Runaways (Brooklynology)

"In the spring of 1954 Robert Lidell took off from his home at 1080 St. Johns Place and created the ultimate "boy cave" under the intersection of Ocean and Flatbush Avenues. For 12 days Lidell lived under a Transit Authority manhole, furnished with wire chair, automobile seat used for a bed, a can of Sterno and two pictures for decoration which hung from cables."

Open House at the Brooklyn Army Terminal

First Avenue & 58th Street

"The Brooklyn Army Terminal was commissioned by the federal government in March of 1918 to serve as a military depot and supply base. The massive five million square-foot complex was completed in September of 1919, built in just 17 months. ...

(The terminal) ... was most heavily trafficked during WWII, during which 56,000 military and civilian personnel were employed there. Over three million troops and 37 million tons of military supplies passed through the facility. Arguably the most famous soldier to deploy from the Terminal was Elvis Presley. He greeted fans and a dozens of photojournalists in September of 1958 when he shipped off from Brooklyn to Germany."
Brooklyn Army - History

Check out photographs of the terminal in military operation at the link above. The city purchased the complex from the federal government in 1981, and it is now run by the NYC Economic Development Corporation. Three million of the terminal's five million square feet have been restored for business use. There are all kinds of things going on here, from Guggenheim storage space, fashion production, and studio space for artists, to kidney dialysis centers, and medical research facilities.

Though the terminal is normally closed to casual visitors, I was told by an inside source that you can get a pass at the checkpoint to eat at Pete's Place cafe, in Building B, and this will give you the chance to take in the grandeur of the building's atrium. This might be one of the best canteen lunch locations in the city.

Along the platforms of the atrium space, under the glassless girders of the roof, you can read the sad faded poetry of destination points.  Balkans. Azores & Portugal. Africa Odd Countries.

Unaccountably, a more modern sign.

The atmosphere in Building A was less stirring.

Outside, on a fine autumn morning

America was still being moved ahead,

and several men and one woman were fishing.

The Open House New York activities continue today.

Update:  Oh look!  Elvis at the Terminal.