Friday, January 27, 2017

A Kinder World

Next time I visit, next time I write, I'll be more composed, but for now, today's visit to Creedmoor Psychiatric Center's Living Museum has set so many words & images dancing in my head I need to jot down a few impressions.

1. The vast space of the museum, with its high ceilings and its labyrinthine rooms circling the main studio.  Step through the doorway into Utopia.

2. The visual overload has me hardly able to concentrate.  I take a quick, gulping set of photographs, all in a rush, and then forget the camera entirely.  None of the pictures I take amount to anything.

3.  In talking to the artists working here, I slow down.  I'm reminded of my old job, where I learned how to fit inside conversations in a gentler way.  I've gotten quite out of the habit since then, but today somehow I swing right back into the old rhythm.  It's good to listen with more focus and attention, ask simpler, honest questions.  It's a deeper dialogue.

4.  The main prerequisite for working here, director Dr Janos Marton says, is kindness.

5.  There is no "we" and "they" in the Living Museum, he says.  We are all the same.

7.  Mannequins and small, pinched clay heads.  Superman's up on the cross, with Batman watching from below.  Altar pieces, an illustrated guide  to the 13th Amendment, a model of the Art Machine (Hot Freaks).  From apparently simple colored geometric patterns, a childish truck at a traffic light, to skillfully rendered, complex visions.  13 (again) Ways of Looking at a Straitjacket - you'll find them re-imagined, positioned about the museum at unexpected turns.  The Artist, no Patient here, strikes back.

7.  Trump is represented, painted with his family and additional fawning blondes.  He's clutching his dick and leering at the viewer.  The artist has him down pat.

8.  A poem of farewell, written on a wall in neat script.  "... No more chicken no more eggs/ No more patients off their hinges/Beg for cups of coffee and drink the dregs/No more chickens no more eggs 'cause /I ain't a-gonna eat Creedmoor/Forensic Food no more."

9.  Orangutang you rang.  One ring a dingy.

10.  Painted on cloth and on board.  BE REALISTIC.  FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH.

11.  Two blue women; on paper in profile, and a pert-faced model in a white sweatshirt and a multicolored scarf. The scarf half-conceals a Black angel with white wings.  Girls Actions.

12.  I hear my name, and there's K. from the Residence!  I can't exactly say I'd hoped to find a former student here, but I'm still elated.  We hug, and he tells me he likes this place. We gossip about kids and teachers, who he's still in touch with, who's ended up in a good spot, and who's in jail. I feel a flood of tenderness for the boys I used to work with - jacked up on too much sugar, veering from sweetness to vitriol in a heartbeat, drowsy, hyper, overweight, patiently writing the stories of their lives, or working their way, word by stubborn word, through a kindergarten primer. With their hands sneaked down their pants under the table, or their fingers worrying a scab, or their heads drop, dropping down when meds engulf them. Boys on Fridays, heady with the prospect of home visits, which may or may not end well, and other boys who only get to watch them go. Impossible, lumbering innocents.

13. Leaving this sanctuary of beauty, urgency and kindness, you're back in reality.  For what it's worth, in January 2017, it doesn't look too hot by comparison.

Many thanks to Dr. Marton, who took the time to sit and talk, take us on a tour, and share a meal. I'm indebted.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


I was thinking about my old afternoon commute back from Queens, and came across this picture from 2012.  Between Sackman & Eastern Parkway.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Mapping the rise and fall of wealth across Europe (CityLab)
After hours: capturing the journey home from New York City's gay nightclubs (Guardian)
Shuffle 200,000 Tracks from European Sound Archives (Hyperallergic)
The Bronx River Greenway: Then and Now - A look at how the 23-mile Bronx River Greenway revitalized the Bronx as NYC’s greenest borough (NYC Parks)
Review: In ‘The Tempest,’ Liberation and Exhilaration (NY Times)
How a Young Donald Trump Forced His Way From Avenue Z to Manhattan - Wayne Barrett (Village Voice)
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's a Great Sex Pistols Memoir (Houston Press)
Bears, deer, and woodland scenes inside the Old Chelsea Post Office (Ephemeral New York)
Philip Roth on Trump (New Yorker):
"...ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”
A new exhibition at the South Street Seaport: The Original Gus Wagner: The Maritime Roots of Modern Tattoo (Waterfront Alliance)
Artist Studios Moving Sale - Friday January 27, 2017, 168 7th Street (Trestle Gallery)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Happy Living?

NY YIMBY reports on plans filed for a new building at 227-231 9th Street.

Brooklyn-based Happy Living Development has filed applications for a seven-story, 24-unit residential project at 229 Ninth Street, in Gowanus. The project will measure 31,423 square feet and rise 80 feet above street level. Its residential units, located across the ground through seventh floors, plus a penthouse level, should average 901 square feet apiece, which means either condominiums or rentals could be in the works. There will also be a 10-car parking garage in the cellar. De-Jan Lu’s Greenwich Village-based firm is the architect of record.

According to plans filed, there are will be no inclusionary housing units. A year ago we noticed a lot of development activity on this block, including Marcus & Millichap's marketing of 227-279 as a development package, at a price of $4,800,000. Now we see that 231, an attached frame rowhouse, is part of the Happy plan.

Webster Place

Back to the Garden

Work at the SE corner of Fourth and 12th is still stalled, with all permits for construction long expired.  What has happened to the promise of sheltered housing for young adults?  It really was good news.

The site is steadily becoming more derelict.  The sagging fences are covered in graffiti, with the corner reserved for a slew of anti-Citi Bike/Lander invective.  Inside the lot, garbage accumulates, and (at least more creative) graffiti creeps in. The sweet community garden signs are still visible, but there's not much tender loving care here.  Looking back, the trees and the thick summer crop of flowering weeds in earlier years seem almost Edenic.







More (with links back) here.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Lot

Whitman (of course)

Beyond the independence of a little sum laid aside for burial-money, and of a few clapboards around and shingles overhead on a lot of American soil owned, and the easy dollars that supply the year's plain clothing and meals, the melancholy prudence of the abandonment of such a great being as a man is to the toss and pallor of years of moneymaking with all their scorching days and icy nights and all their stifling deceits and underhanded dodgings, or infinitessimals of parlors, or shameless stuffing while others starve . . and all the loss of the bloom and odor of the earth and of the flowers and atmosphere and of the sea and of the true taste of the women and men you pass or have to do with in youth or middle age, and the issuing sickness and desperate revolt at the close of a life without elevation or naivete, and the ghastly chatter of a death without serenity or majesty, is the great fraud upon modern civilization and forethought, blotching the surface and system which civilization undeniably drafts, and moistening with tears the immense features it spreads and spreads with such velocity before the reached kisses of the soul . . .

                                                                                                          Leaves of Grass (1855)


Saturday, January 21, 2017

From "Questions of Travel"

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world? 
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?
                                            Elizabeth Bishop

Friday, January 20, 2017

Neighbors (The El Chapo Mystery)

I've been down on Third quite a bit recently and passing the Metropolitan Detention Center on Wednesday, I did have a fleeting thought of El Chapo, as I'd heard he was likely to be tried in Brooklyn if extradited. And lo, it is so.  Looks like he could be the next high profile inmate on the avenue.

Update; 8:55 pm.  Rumors about where El Chapo is being detained have been circulating all day. Though it's clear that he spent last night at Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Center, many of today's news reports have focused on the likelihood of him ending up at the Sunset Park MDC. I was so taken in by all this that I assumed he'd at least be heading for Third Avenue shortly, but apparently this is not a done deal. By late this afternoon, there was word of officials describing El Chapo as being held at an "unknown location," while other news sources stated that he had been returned to the MCC after arraignment today in Brooklyn's Federal District Court.  An evening story in the NY Times confirms that El Chapo is back at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, but who really knows?  We're in such troubling times that it's hard to be sure about anything.

Totemic (21st)

"The fragments make the mosaic we know as city ..."
                                                                Rebecca Solnit - Nonstop Metropolis

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Work Halted at Fourth & 19th

These Stop Work Orders are really getting the better of me.  Last time I looked at 635 Fourth (19th) in October, construction seemed to be moving along, but when I walked by today I saw that an SWO went into effect just a week later.  I fear I'm slacking.


Three months later, no action on site.

Nearby residents will remember 633-635 as the second Fourth Avenue home of the Seafarers International Union.  The Union sold the headquarters in 2013, and plans were filed for a new building, to include 6 - 12 units of affordable housing.

I recently found a picture of 633 and 635 as they looked in 1939,

P.L.Sperr, NYPL 

And here's a later do-over of the same buildings:

For old time's sake, here are a few links to posts on the original Seafarers Union, just down Fourth: tales of the Union bar, The Port Of Call, a Kubrick documentary (which shows the bar itself), and a search for the location of a wedding reception.

The Port Of Call
Back at the Port Of Call
The Mermaid Lives!
Back to 635
The Union Hall

Sunday, January 15, 2017


In Praise of Nat Hentoff ( Paul Berman, Tablet)
It is always said in praise of Nat Hentoff that he radiated integrity, and the unpredictable nature of his opinions added up to a living display of prickly individualism, and it did not really matter if you agreed with him on any given point. You noted his opinion, and you noted the predictable quality of your own opinions, and you felt inspired to stand up a little straighter. Sometimes he was convincing, too. To read him was therefore always beneficial. He improved your opinions, or, if not, he improved your character.

Imelda Marcos's Artwork Stuck in Red Hook (Bloomberg)

A Park Many Hands Have Built: Understanding Freshkills As Maintenance Art (Freshkills)

Michael Pintchik's "artisanal" vision (Commercial Observer)

Commercial Property Taxes in New York City Skyrocket (Wall Street Journal)

'I'm a rabbit girl': the woman accused of hoarding bunnies in Brooklyn (Guardian)

The Library as Reality and Metaphor: Saturday, January 28th (The Helix Center)

No BackSpace: IDNYC Fiasco Shows Undocumented Immigrants Can’t Trust the City 
(City Limits)

Beyond Patience and Fortitude: A Series for Celebration and Political Action (City Reliquary)

Re-Run: A 2015 interview with Taylor Mac, with a version of Ted Nugent's Snakeskin Cowboys (WNYC)

The Vivid Violence and Divine Healing of Ex-Voto Paintings (Hyperallergic)

Los Angeles, lovers and light: David Hockney at 80 (Guardian)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Florists et al.

The renovation and conversion of the landmarked Weir Greenhouse property, at Fifth and 25th, is certainly taking its time.  Plans for a Green-Wood Cemetery visitor center submitted in 2015 were not approved by LPC, and now Green-Wood is changing the center's design.  The footprint of the building will be bigger, and will include the all of the adjacent Brooklyn Monument Co. property on 25th.

Green-Wood was going to sell the vacant headquarters building to a nearby business, Baked in Brooklyn, as the Eagle previously reported.
Now, “Green-Wood has … decided to keep ownership of the property which houses the Brooklyn Monument Co.,” Green-Wood President Richard J. Moylan told the Eagle through a spokesperson.
“This will give us the opportunity to demolish the building, and design a different new construction visitors' center adjacent to the greenhouse,” he said.
Cemetery officials have decided to increase the size of the footprint of a new building that will be constructed on the property, the Brooklyn Eagle has learned. The new building will stand alongside the landmarked Weir Greenhouse, which will serve as the nucleus of the visitors' center.

The greenhouse itself will still serve as "the nucleus" of the center.

Farther down the block, the house that once belonged to florist James Weir's son and grandson is still standing.  The other day, at dusk, its decorations were still up, though the bust lurking behind them (a deviant Einstein type?) made for a rather sinister effect, like Halloween & Christmas all rolled into one.

I love this place.  Here it is with a St. Patrick's leprechaun in 2010.

From several earlier Green-Wood-related posts:

Monuments and Flowers

To Shannon's and Back

Friday, January 13, 2017


Spring in January.  I took the N down to 8th Avenue, and wandered around a bit.  I'd ridden past some auto shop signs I liked a while back, and today I headed to 66th to get a closer look.  There they were, right across from the park.  In another life, perhaps, I could have been a sign painter.

I couldn't quite make out what "AUTO" was covering up here, but the general effect still pleased, especially the lettering at the bottom, and the hand holding keys and a remote.

I once taught a composition class for trainee electricians, and my favorite student was a cute Bay Ridge drag racer named Jesus.  I half hoped I might run into him at Farks, but it was not to be, and Farks looked liked it wouldn't be around much longer.

It was so freakishly warm that a visit to the park was inevitable. Until recently I'd only known the thin string of parks along 66th/67th between Fort Hamilton & Ridge Boulevard as Leif Ericson Park, but the five original blocks of it are formerly designated as Valhalla Courts, after Asgard's hall of the dead.  A grand name! Approval for a park here was given in 1925, and a crowd of 15,000 was present at its dedication.   While the Scandinavian population of the area has almost disappeared today, you can find traces of its presence round here, in the park, in the still surviving football clubs, the Finnish-founded co-ops (now soaring in price), and in names carved in the lintels of brick rowhouses.

You'll still see Nordic flags hanging from windows, and every year there's a Viking Fest at Owl's Head Park.

Valhalla here at 66th appears domestic rather than epic.  By the look of it, the Courts seem to hew to the original 30's design:

Parks landscaped and equipped the new facility in 1934-35. Each of the five blocks featured different amenities, including separate playgrounds for girls, boys, and small children; a planted park for passive enjoyment; and ten tennis courts. In 1939 Crown Prince Olav of Norway dedicated a monument to Leif Ericson at the Fourth Avenue entrance to the park. The two bronze relief tablets mounted on granite in the shape of a rune stone were created by artist August Werner. During World War II (1939-1945) the U.S. Army occupied the property; and Parks rehabilitated the site after it was evacuated in May 1945.
The park design features a Norse theme in honor of Leif Ericson and the local Scandinavian-American community. Among the many Norse motifs are a statue of a troll holding a “bearing dial” (compass), columns decorated like turrets of the Borgund Church, and medallions depicting snowflakes and Norwegian animals. Two attractive signs welcome visitors to the park: a new steel panel portraying a scene of rural Norway and a recently restored cast-iron sign shaped like a Viking ship.

The columns, at this end of the courts at least, are still intact, and those tree & flower motifs have a pleasingly retro look.

Today the park-goers are mostly Asian. The action's at the playground equipment and the ball courts, and at the tables and benches where crowds of men and women gather round the xiangqi players. It's a nice scene.

I walked up and down between Seventh and Eighth for a few blocks, and considered dropping in at the Soccer Tavern. No, I'd wait for another time..  A couple of years back I'd played the game of walking every block in Sunset Park from the water through to Borough Park, & coming back to blocks I don't visit regularly I always notice the roaring pace of new construction.  But there are lots of familiar sightings too.

I kept to Seventh & headed north.  Before heading down to Fifth & home, I stopped for a while in Sunset Park itself to take in the views.

Coffee shops for newer residents are creeping in, on Seventh, and Fifth, and Fourth, the vanguard for a host of newer business models.  When I'm looking down from the park, I always check for La Gloria Novelties.  It's still right there.