Saturday, September 9, 2017

LABOR DAY WEST INDIAN DAY PARADE - J'OUVERT


On Labor Day many of the residents of Brooklyn celebrate by marching or watching the West Indian American Day Parade. It's called J'Ouvert (day opening) and it's about expressing Caribbean culture. The marchers dress exotically and the spectators wave flags from their home country in the Caribbean. It's colorful and noisy and well-attended. I never saw it. I only heard it.



The Friday before Labor Day weekend, the police put spotlights at troublesome corners which they turned on every night as a sort of hint that NYPD would be present and watching. The day of the parade, there was a strong police presence at street corners and inside the subway stations. Ocean Avenue was barricaded at Parkside Ave. and at Eastern Bl. and many other streets blocked the same way. You could still enter Prospect Park on foot. I didn't go there either. I went to lunch in Queens with a friend.



The parade used to start at 4 a.m., but in a futile attempt to avoid violence, the parade start was pushed to 6 a.m. this year. There is a pre-parade of revelers with drums and whistles and horns that went down Flatbush about 5 a.m. The noise woke me and it was still dark outside, but I didn't look at the clock. It was distant - past the subway ditch and another block, but still it was enjoyable and short-lived - and I went back to sleep afterward. These revelers pass by and then go somewhere else and back to the beginning of the real parade.



The parade starts at Grand Army Plaza and marches down Flatbush to Empire Bl and turns there to continue marching. Then, I guess, there is partying in Crown Heights because I saw some fabulously feathered men and women late in the afternoon and evening walking down Ocean Avenue, presumably going home. That was a beautiful sight - hours and hours of exotic, tropical birds walking down the street.  No crowds and lots of smiling face. 



The extra security didn't prevent violence. At the beginning of the parade two men were shot (not killed) and another man was shot during the parade. Two other people were stabbed. In areas of Brooklyn not too far from the parade route, two men were shot to death. Fin du jour.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

RIKERS ISLAND CORRECTIONAL FACILITY

It's considered part of the Bronx and is in practically every cop show and movie. People in orange jumpsuits talking to lawyers. They are a bit angry or indifferent and they are making plea bargains, trading information for reduced sentences. Seems sort of harmless, really. Just sitting jail doing nothing.

But the truth is much different. Guards beating inmates (http://tinyurl.com/y7kbct2u - just one example), meatloaf with rat poison in it, indoor temperatures in 100s, and inmates with nothing to do all day. Rikers Island was a landfill. Meaning New York garbage was dumped there. And apparently not a lot of work was done to mask that when the jail was built because in the summer when the ground thaws, the sewer stink arises.

When inmates get into a fight the guards bet on who will win. One guard ran a drug and prostitution ring in the jail. You can read about it in his book CORRUPTION OFFICER. He paid female guards to service male inmates for $40. When you consider that same guard got $200 for smuggling in a Happy Meal for an inmate, that $40 is quite the insult. And guards don't pay female inmates anything for having sex with them.

Many of those incarcerated on Rikers Island are innocent. They just can't afford bail. These are people who don't have the streetsmarts and violent defense-mechanisms of the guilty. They get beaten and raped and robbed. And it can go on for years before their trial comes up and they are found not guilty and released from Rikers. http://tinyurl.com/y7syuz2p

There have been lawsuits, of course, and the federal government has found Rikers Island Correctional Faciltiy to be so heinously violent that they have demanded that New York City close it. Good. But let's hope the new facilities are better - better managed and with better hiring policies. I remember a skit on Saturday Night Live mocking the state of Texas about the death penalty policy. Yeah, New York doesn't execute, but a stay in their jail will make you want to kill yourself.


So, who are the "good guys" and who are the "bad guys." Makes you rethink those TV cop shows.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SING SING PRISON

One Saturday, my friend Loretta invited me to take a drive up the Hudson River so that I could see New York state distinguished from New York City. We stopped in Dobbs Ferry for brunch and then drove to Irvington (part of Tarrytown) to visit Washington Irving's property there - Sunnyside Farm. The house sits on 10 acres and the tour includes the working part of the farm.

Aside being famous for his fiction, Washington Irving and an older brother created a satirical magazine called Salmagundi in which Irving used the term Gotham to refer to New York City. Gotham, an old Anglo-Saxon term, means "goat's town." Irving published a couple of books under the pseudonym Deidrich Knickerbocker and soon the word knickerbocker was applied as a nickname for all New Yorkers. Go Knicks!

There's a "Washington Irving House," complete with plaque on the corner of Irving Place and 17th Street in Manhattan that has been preserved as a historical landmark. However, that designation is from a rumor started by an interior decorator who lived there and wanted to gain some publicity for herself. Mr. Irving never lived in that house at all, but Irving Place that runs from 14th Street to Gramercy Park is named for him. [Lady Mendl's Tea Room, which I recommend, is sort of catty-corner to the Washington Irving house that Washington Irving never lived in]

At any rate, Loretta and I stopped at Irving's farm in Westchester County and looked around his barn and house. It sits against the bank of the Hudson River and has a beautiful view. The house has a Dutch appearance with the stepped decoration at the roof and a fairy-tale, unreal cottage feeling on account of the shape of the roof of the addition (which he called Spanish castle). Irving died in his bed, which remains in his bedroom. That's something to consider.

After we left Sunnyside Farm, we drove north through Sleepy Hollow. Irving wrote down one of the legends of ghosts and hauntings of this place and made it famous. We didn't stop there. Instead, we drove on to Ossining, home of Sing Sing Prison. Ossining is ranked #2 in the best places to live in Westchester County. This is based on such things as housing cost, proximity to NYC, safety, and nightlife. We were there during the day and I have no way to judge nightlife, but for me, the town gave off a feeling like old, crusty food. The downtown streets were basically empty and the few stores that were open were selling t-shirts with sayings about Sing Sing. It felt anything, but lively, and the fact that it was dominated by a maximum security prison may have weighed it down.

The Quakers invented the penitentiary and solitary confinement. They felt that if prisoners were given time alone to be penitent, they would change their mentality and become productive citizens. What the Quakers found was that solitary confinement led to insanity - and that has not changed. The supermax prisons where inmates are in their cells 24 hours a day (like John Gotti, for example) inevitably go insane withing 3 months. What's worse is that solitary confinement might be preferable to what could happen in general population.

Sing Sing Prison was built before indoor plumbing, so one presumes that the inmates had chamber pots in their cells.  In this picture, there is a trough running along the floor.  This may have been in the event that rain came in through the windows or it could have been where the prisoners emptied their chamber pots in the morning.  At any rate, imagine the smell before indoor plumbing with all those people housed overnight.
We drove by Sing Sing prison because it's famous. It was surrounded by a solid wall that seemed 50 feet high. We couldn't see over it even after we parked and stood on a big boulder. We did see the guard towers - creepy - and saw people going in the front gate who looked like visitors. I suppose we could have asked if we could visit, but we were not that curious.
by acroterion
I hear there is going to be a Sing Sing museum created from one of the earliest cell blocks. I think it would attract a lot of people. 



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

THE GREAT GATSBY - F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

Original Dust Jacket Cover

I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it—overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands(Jordan - The Great Gatsby)

That's a great sentence, and I love New York on summer afternoons, but that was a long while ago because nowadays on summer afternoons, New York is full of tourists. Ironically, the place where you might feel that lethargy would be where the Fitzgerald's were living - at Great Neck on the North Shore of Long Island - when Scott Fitzgerald started writing The Great Gatsby. To economize, the Fitzgerald's rented a house at 6 Gateway Drive for $300 a month (they had been paying $200 a week to live at the Plaza).

Fitzgerald Home 1922-1924

Fitzgerald wrote the first 3 chapters of Gatsby at Great Neck (the house is still there) and finished the manuscript when they moved to the French Riviera - which was a cheaper place to live than Great Neck. At that time.

Unlike Hemingway and Wolfe, Fitzgerald didn't swear. The worst he might call someone was a "colossal egg." So, his attitude about the neighborhood was evident in calling it West Egg. When he and Zelda lived there, 1922-1924, the neighbors were a mixture of old and new money - Groucho Marx and Samuel Goldwyn had houses in that part of Long Island along with Jock Whitney, William K. Vanderbilt (now Eagle's Nest Museum) and Otto Kahn (now Oheka Castle Hotel. Kahn's Manhattan house/castle is now a private school right across the street from the Carnegie Museum).

There's a Great Gatsby boat tour: http://greatgatsbyboattour.org/ so you can see the houses along the Gold Coast. Some of the houses from the book have been torn down - most notably Lands End which could have been the Buchanan's or Gatsby's house.  And although many people guess which houses on the Gold Coast were used in the movie, there weren't any, because the movie was filmed in Australia.
Lands End Estate
For me, the most memorable scenes in The Great Gatsby are not at the houses, but are the ones involving the creepy sign with the eyes.

The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. (The Great Gatsby)


I imagined a pair of eyes and round spectacles swinging from a pole extended from a building. And I thought the sign was in Red Hook, believing that the drive Gatsby and the Buchanans took from Long Island to the City was through Brooklyn because I thought East Egg was East Hampton.


But the book was really so clear about them driving through Queens.


The city seen from Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world…. ‘Anything can happen now that we’ve slid across this bridge,’ I thought. ‘Anything at all. (Nick - The Great Gatsby)

The place where the creepy sign was supposedly located is now the site of Shea Stadium.


.

[NOTE: The Great Gatsby is not my favorite Fitzgerald book. My favorite is a book of short stories set on a studio lot in Los Angeles - The Pat Hobby Stories. They are hilarious.]


Thursday, June 8, 2017

RED HOOK - From Shipping Center to Shopping Center

In my opinion, Red Hook, is the best name of any of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn and had a romantic and daring history. Red Hook was known for being the center of the shipping industry in New York and for crime, violent crime, murderous crime. The Gallo family lived here. Lately, it was where you could visit to buy drugs easily on a street corner. So, to distract from that legacy, there's a new name. The realtors have taken to calling parts of Red Hook the "Columbia Street Waterfront District." Doesn't have quite the same ring to it and takes much longer to say. But Red Hook is so up-and-coming that Tesla, the motor car company, has a showroom there.

Red Hook was a working class and low-income area at a Southwest point of Brooklyn. The mouth of the Gowanus Canal is at the edge of Red Hook. It's surrounded by water on three sides, and when I first visited Red Hook, it felt like more like the sea than anywhere in Brooklyn - like sailors and people who understood how to build and repair ships and sails and net. It used to be a site of shipping commerce, but the people of commerce lived in Brooklyn Heights. The people who moved commerce lived in Red Hook.

Near the waterfront, there were two-story wooden houses paint fading from blues and greens, some had portholes in the front doors, some had life preservers hanging the front walls. They are being torn down for the sake of development. Farther into the neighborhood were 2-story red brick houses and some made of limestone.

Red Hook still has the oldest warehouse in Brooklyn (called "stores" when they were built) now turned into an arts complex, Brooklyn Waterfront Artists. Nearby, there's another warehouse turned into Fairway Market - a very nice supermarket right at water's edge with a place where you can eat the sandwiches you buy inside. And next to that is the Waterfront Barge Museum - not much to see, but fun to be inside an old barge.

Just down the street, there was for a while an old abandoned Revere Sugar Refinery. I saw it was decaying, but historic and worth restoring. The refinery was last owned by a Philippine investor and once there was a drug bust netting 307 pounds of cocaine - which I guess they were exporting or importing as powdered sugar. Anyway, the sugar mill is gone and currently, there are plans to build a hi-tech complex on that site that will "bring jobs" into the area (and will also bring the people to work those jobs who will drive out the current residents).



Home Depot and Ikea are already in Red Hook, and right in between those two megastore lies a large public housing unit - Red Hook East and Red Hook West. In getting permission from the City to build the Ikea and Home Depot, the claim was that they would create jobs for people living in the nearby public housing. So I ask, how many people have you ever found to help you at Ikea? Or at Home Depot? Can you imagine the musical chairs that went on in applying for those 15 or 20 jobs?

Not sure if it is still there, but one of the Red Hook schools used an old playground to build planters for a raised garden and taught children how to grow vegetables and learn about nutrition.

There's also a 3-acre community garden near the public housing project in Red Hook where local residents grow and sell produce.  How long before realtors discover this "waste" of land?

Since Brooklyn is now an uber-expensive place to live, I suggest you visit Red Hook before everything historic and local is wiped away.



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

BROOKLYN TERMINAL MARKET

Brooklyn Terminal Market, Carnarsie
April showers brought May flowers. And that meant a trip to Brooklyn Terminal Market. It's in Carnasie, but now that Brooklyn has surpassed Manhattan as the most expensive place to live in the US, who knows how long it will be there before moving to the Bronx - maybe next door to the Fulton Fish Market. I haven't traveled to the Bronx to see the "New" Fulton Fish Market, as it is called, but I did visit it when it was on the Lower East Side of Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge. It opened in 1822 and was exiled in 2005 when real estate developers pushed it out.

But, in the meantime, you can still visit the Brooklyn Terminal Market, which is a bit newer. It was opened during World War II (1942) by Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia (for whom the airport is named in case you haven't figured that out.) Food rationing started in 1940, but rationingn didn't apply to produce (only meat and dairy). There were still farms on Long Island so New Yorkers had a source of fresh food during the war. Currently, there are 33 vendors open every day 4 a.m. to 6 p.m.selling produce and plants. I have no idea where they come from. Could be some from upstate, maybe Pennsylvania. Where do we still have produce grown in the US? ***

Hard to believe this is the middle of Brooklyn
I went to the Terminal Market a couple of times on a Sunday morning with my landlord. You can get there by bus or taxi (subway isn't nearby), but we rode bikes. There isn't much traffic on Sunday morning in Brooklyn, so we rode down Flatbush Avenue to Clarendon Road and headed east. At the corner of Clarendon and Ralph Avenue, he pointed out the Wyckoff House Museum, telling me that was the oldest house in the United States. He got that wrong. It is the second-oldest house in the US and was built in 1650, amazingly. The oldest house is in Plymouth, Mass. [the oldest building is in Taos, New Mexico - 1000 years old]. The Wyckoff House is a one-room house that sits back from the street on 1-1/2 acres of land.

Anyway, our purpose in going to Terminal Market was that my landlord wanted to buy garden plants. I never bought any plants because he wouldn't let anyone touch his garden let alone plant in it. However, without asking, he didn't mind jumping the back fences and planting in a neighbor's backyard or pruning their trees. [Not kidding.] There were also little square plots of garden in front of our row of houses, then a little wall, then the 10-foot wide sidewalk. My landlord planted flowers in other people's front plots as well as his own. That way, he could still buy plants when his garden was completely full, which it pretty much was at all times.

The plants at Terminal Market were in rows and rows mainly in the sun, like you find at Home Depot, but somehow different. Partly, it's the choices - the chain stores have to buy the same plants, whereas the vendors at Terminal Market get to make choices. And partly it's the people - Terminal Market is made up of 33 different small stores, some wholesale and some retail, and they are more vested in their work and more knowledgeable than the hourly workers at the chain nurseries.

Some plants were in stores inside the building, alongside aside the produce vendors who sold by the pound and in bulk. You could get a 50-pound bag of potatoes. I didn't. I don't recall buying anything, actually, but it was really nice walking around all the flowers and plants and the mounds and mounds of fresh fruit and vegetables. Vendors also had flower-shop supplies - vases, florist wire, green tape, that sort of thing - and holiday decorations (all holidays).

Brooklyn Terminal Market, a bit of Old Brooklyn. Visit it. Before it's gone.


*** [The area around Redlands, California where my aunt lived used to be a heaven of scent in April because it was covered in orange trees in bloom. Now it's covered in houses and cement]

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

GRAND CENTRAL STATION

There are several entrances to Grand Central Station. If you enter on the east, you can pass through a market filled with fresh loaves of bread, cheese that can be sliced to your order, jams, jellies, caviar, fruit, vegetables arrayed like they are ready for their close-up. If you enter from Vanderbilt Avenue on the west side across the street from the Yale Club, you'll find restaurants and shops. The north entrance seems the least interesting, but has some fine restaurants.

Photo by R_Murphy

But, really, the best way to enter the station is from 42nd Street, especially if you can walk north a few blocks toward it and see the old Pan Am building behind the station like a backdrop. Above the entrance is the Tiffany clock surrounded by Roman gods - Mercury, Minerva, and Hercules. You begin to expect something grand from this viewpoint.
You'll pass through heavy oak and glass doors into a room that houses the photography and art exhibitions whenever they are held. Then you pass into the main terminal with it's vaulted, and exalted, ceiling painted with the constellations of the zodiac. The old ticket windows are still there along the wall, and the four-faced clock is the above the information booth. Across the way are the numbered entrances for the tracks for the trains heading out to Westchester County or Connecticut. And there are people many people, crisscrossing the room, going somewhere, coming from somewhere.

...the million tongues of the unceasing, the fabulous, the million-footed city...(Thomas Wolfe)  

This is New York.

Most of the station's 49 acres is underground. Beside the Metro North trains, you can get subway trains 4, 5 to the Bronx or Brooklyn, the 6 train north to the Bronx, the 7 train to Queens, or S train to Times Square. There's also a special underground line - no longer used nor available for public view - from Grand Central to the Waldorf Astoria. This was so that Franklin D. Roosevelt would not be seen by the public as traveled to and from the hotel and was helped in and out of the train due to his physical disabilities.

T
The Oyster Bar, which opened in 1913 along with the Station, is also underground.  You can still sit at the bar, or a table if you prefer, under the vaulted ceilings and think about all the people who have eaten here before you.  Since almost a million people a day pass through the station on a daily basis, that would be a lot.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MRS. LESLIE TAKES A VACAy

The Talent Agent

This is an 11-minute film I made in Brooklyn.  It started with getting a new camera and wanting to play around with it - so I asked Cameron Cash to just make up a monologue and start talking (he plays "Chaz Grant" in the movie.  I then built the rest of the movie around that.

https://youtu.be/oqmCVcKGTlE 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

THE EASTER DAY HAT PARADE


The Easter Day Parade of fashion started in the 1880s. Easter, being the holiest day of Christianity, required even the least devout to attend services and look their best. Everyone got a new set of clothes, and of course, wanted to show them off.

The Easter Parade started as an after-church event that allowed Catholics and Protestants to compete in style and be seen fashionably. Although the current parade is limited - at least by police barriers - to 49th Street, the original parade probably extended down to 29th Street, the location of the Marble Collegiate Church (Dutch Reform).


The church parishioners involved in the early parades were from, of course, St. Patrick's Cathedral (50th-51st Streets), St. Thomas's Episcopal (53rd St.), Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church (55th St.), and most likely the "off-Fifth Avenue" churches, like St. Bartholomew's Episcopal on Park Avenue and 50th. 

At the time the Easter Parade began, these churches were surrounded by the mansions of the New York elite and robber barrons. St. Thomas Episcopal was the church of the Astors and Vanderbilts. Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church was Carnegie's church.

The modern-day parade has parameters running from 49th Street to 57th Street during the hours 10a - 4p. Fifth Avenue is blocked off so although it is crowded it isn't impassable. Everyone is encouraged to "dress up" (meaning, at least wear some kind of gaudy hat). There are a lot of really inventive hats, even on pets.

I took part in the Easter Parade once with a friend. I didn't make much of an effort - I wore my dad's golf hat - because I really just wanted to watch. My friend, who worked in fashion, didn't wear a hat at all. We spent about an hour on the sidewalk near St. Patrick's Cathedral and then went to lunch.

The parade had ended by the time we finished eating and crowds of people were headed for the subway. The sidewalk was jammed and I was ambling with my friend as fast as the foot traffic in front of us would allow me. A large man behind me thought I was walking too slowly and said so a few times before he came around me huffily and accidentally knocking me about a little. My friend, who was (and continues to be) over 6 feet tall, made a rather impolite suggestion to the man. Instead of confronting my friend, the man turned around and confronted me - telling me to go back to Ohio.

"But I live in Brooklyn," I said.

More perplexed than ever, he rushed away.

At any rate, at least once in a lifetime, everyone should make a hat and attend the Easter Parade in New York or somewhere.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

CREATIVE NEW YORK

The other day I did a virtual tightrope walk across from one of the Twin Towers in New York toward the other. I was 100 stories above New York and it was really fun to step off the tightrope and walk on air, looking down. This was my view.


I was not in New York when Philippe Petit made that unbelievable walk - try to imagine it - but it is the sort of extraordinary event that happens in New York regularly. Of course, it takes bravery to express your art form anywhere, and Petit was arrested for his feat, but these sorts of things renew the heart. The bravery, the skill, the expression and not for money.

It's wasn't as exciting as the tightrope walk, but in a grimy, loud, coarse city like New York, there's an element of magic in seeing Christo's series of door frames built from 2x4s with orange half curtains set up in Central Park. On a dreary day, it was a bit of cheer as well, and visceral because you could touch them.



There are art openings, music events, live artistic expressions of all sorts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and I presume, the other boroughs, but one event that stays riveted in my memory is Gregory Colbert's "container museum" that was docked on the west side of Manhattan for an extended stay. It was a structure made from old metal shipping containers. Long and wide, it was 45,000 square feet and the exhibition in it was called "Ashes and Snow."



Enlarged photographs were hung from the ceiling on two sides, creating an aisle with plenty of room to walk behind artwork. The photographs were still frames from a movie that was showing at the far end of the museum. The photographs were stunning, but the film was the most beautiful I have ever seen. You can see some of it here: https://gregorycolbert.com/ And on that website you can find out where you can now see Colbert's extraordinary work - it's gone from New York a long time now.