Wednesday, December 31, 2014


In case you don’t know, the Polar Bear Club is a group of men and women who go swimming in the Atlantic Ocean of Coney Island (and other locales throughout the US) in winter.  The Coney Island Polar Bears host a big event on New Year’s Day where several hundred people dash into the really, really cold water.  The club is so popular that they have to hold a lottery for new membership.

I met the core members of the Polar Bear Club at Nathan’s one November morning, including their president at that time, Lou Scarcella, a retired homicide detective.  The five men had just come from the sea and were warming themselves with coffee before heading over to sit in a sauna at a spa at Sea Gate down the road.  The Polar Bear officers go in the water almost every day.  And all winter long you can find people, I assume are from Siberia, swimming in the waters near Brighton Beach.

The Polar Bears invited me to come back and swim with them sometime.  

I’m usually up for an adventure, but I’m also cold natured.  I think 80 degrees is the perfect temperature and the last summer I’d lived in Austin before moving to New York, there had been 100 days of 100-degree weather and I didn’t have air conditioning in my house or car.  I was used to heat.  This was my first winter in New York and I generally wore so many layers, I looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  It took me a month to make the decision to join them. 

On a frigid morning between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I stepped out of the women’s locker room at end of Stillman Avenue wearing a bathing suit.  The Coney Island beach is a couple hundred feet wide and gave me plenty of time to chicken out, but I didn’t.  The long walk was helpful in cooling down my body so that wading into the sea wasn’t such a shock.  Not such a shock, but still a shock.  It was damn cold.  

Swimming was out of the question.  Bobbing and chattering my teeth was the best I could do.  The Polar Bear members kept telling me this was good for my health and I kept trying to figure out how.  I was in the water for about 10 minutes.  I was ready to exit after 30 seconds, but I knew this was going to be my only polar bear experience, so I forced myself to stay as long as I could bear it (no pun intended)  Afterwards, I went to the Sea Gate spa and sat in a hot tub for 30 minutes to thaw.

I did go to the big Polar Bear New Year’s Day gala and watched a few hundred people shouting and screaming as they ran into the ocean.  I enjoyed watching as I stood there in my fur-lined boots and long down coat.  More power to ‘em!

Post by Alana Cash

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Brooklyn is a noisy city.  There are sounds of car engines and music blaring from the open windows of cars (why drivers open their windows to allow for their blasting music to carry into the neighborhood in freezing weather is inexplicable).  There is the racket of trucks bouncing their heavy loads, grinding their gears, and making those beeping sounds when they are backing up.  There is the roar of buses and the sound of trains rattling over the tracks, the screeching of their brakes, the announcements made by the conductors while the doors are open.  There are the sounds of people talking and shouting, dogs barking, cats meowing, children playing.  The sounds geese calling, birds twittering, and helicopters – so many helicopters fly over Brooklyn, you’d think there was some kind of reenactment of the Vietnam War going on.  Sirens.  Constant sirens in the distance or near.  Ambulances, fire engines, police vehicles.  And most annoying is the ridiculous, useless sound of car alarms.

Honking, although illegal in New York City, unless necessary to alert for danger, is constant.  Drivers honk to say hello, to discharge frustration, and just out of habit.  There are areas – near hospitals and a few blocks on some other streets – which are labeled no-honking zones.  No one seems to care.  I lobbied the traffic department to label our 7-block stretch across from the park as a no-honking zone.  The signs were put up on lamp posts and the genius of the department, or perhaps it was a passive aggressive action, was to put them near the top so that no driver who wasn’t driving a convertible with the top down and looking up at the sky would ever see them.  It did no good. Traffic driving into Manhattan at 6 a.m. liked to start their day with incessant honking.

But when it snowed, the City calmed down, especially when it snowed the first time in the season.

The first snowfall I experienced in Brooklyn was absolutely magical. I was on Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope when huge 1” snowflakes began descending in slow motion, like leaves falling gently from a tree.  I stood there catching the snow on my gloves, amazed at the size of the flakes, looking at their patterns.  I raised my face to the clouds and saw the snow coming down so slowly it was like I was inside a snow globe.  

At first, the snow melted on the sidewalk.  Then it started to accumulate in small patches.  I stood there enjoying the experience until the sidewalk was covered in a light dusting of snow.  As I walked home, I passed the 7th Avenue subway stop and saw the expressions on people’s faces change as they ascended onto the avenue.  “It’s snowing.”  More than one person said it reverently.  Probably recent transplants like me. (Dean Martin "Let It Snow")

By the time I got home, there was an inch of snow on the sidewalk and I sat in the window near the radiator watching as the benches across the street looked padded with snow. 

The snow acted as sound-proofing for the general noise of the City.  And, there was little traffic.  The snowploughs wouldn’t arrive until much later and people didn’t want to be skidding around.  There were few people out.  Folks generally wouldn’t be wearing their snow boots before that first snow, so their feet get wet and they want to get home.

That night, after I had been asleep for a while, I was awakened by the sounds outside the window.  I looked out and saw a car was doubled parked, the engine running, steamy exhaust rising from the muffler like incense smoke.  The passenger side door was wide open.  On the snow-covered curb, I saw a man chasing around a little boy 2 or 3 years old.  The boy kept falling down and laughing, positively gleeful.     

When they left, I looked at the clock.  It was 2 a.m.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had enjoyed myself so much at that hour of the morning.  

The next morning, I built a snowman.

Post by Alana Cash

Thursday, November 27, 2014


All the images of pioneer Thanksgivings that I remember have a lot of orange in them – leaves on the ground, pumpkins, squash, bread, golden-brown roasted turkeys, and roaring fires.  That’s how I am conditioned to believe Thanksgiving should appear and that’s how it is in Brooklyn.  Sometimes there’s snow on the ground already.  Like this year.

No one I ever met in New York went to the Macy’s parade.  That was for children and tourists.  Ironically, like I had done all my life, I watched it on TV. The huge tree at Rockefeller Center would light up on Thanksgiving as well, but I never saw that event either.  In fact, not once did I ever venture into Manhattan on Thanksgiving Day.  

The people I knew who lived in Manhattan ate out for most of their meals or had meals delivered.  For Thanksgiving, they went to family or friends in Long Island or elsewhere as most restaurants were closed.  One friend had a tradition of ordering Chinese food delivered.  In Brooklyn, however, where a lot people lived in single family houses, cooking was in order.

You had to get your shopping done early in my neighborhood because the grocery stores were tiny like you might expect in some small country town in Texas, maybe 2000 or 3000 square feet.  The aisles were wide enough for only one cart – people backed their carts up all the time – so most people used the hand-held baskets.  At holiday time, these stores carried a limited number of turkeys in a freezer (about twice the size of a top-loading home freezer) and ran out of birds by Tuesday.

There was one supermarket in downtown Brooklyn that might rival a Texas HEB or Safeway in size, but the lines were horrendous.  There was also a huge Trader Joe’s in downtown Brooklyn where the checkout lines reached the back of the store during busy times. [The lines at Trader Joe’s at Union Square in Manhattan reached around three walls of the store pretty much all the time – what fun.]  

The holidays didn’t perk up the staff very much in my neighborhood stores.  I could still get checked out without eye contact, let alone a word of greeting.  Ironically, the checkout clerks had “tip jars.”  I gave one of them a tip once – “if you smile, people will be more inclined to put money in that container.”  She didn’t smile at me.  She took it as an insult apparently, not seeming remotely to understand the concept of customer service nor wanting to.

I had put most of my stuff in storage in Austin when I left for Brooklyn, but I had brought my china, crystal, flatware, and linen tablecloths.  I cooked a full turkey dinner and my son joined me.  We sat in the bay window of the kitchen, warmed by the oven and a radiator, hearing the train go by every once in a while, talking about what the neighborhood might have been like when the Navy Yard was still open and before the manufacturing was sent to the Far East.  

If we were in Austin, we'd probably had gone to a movie after dinner, but my son warned me that audiences in New York were not quiet - something I learned by personal experience later on.  Brooklynites acted like movie theaters were an extension of their own living rooms and kept up ongoing conversations about the movie.  

So, after a little rest from stuffing ourselves, we took a walk in Prospect Park and fed the swans in the lake.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


A couple of weeks into November, leaves were blowing off the trees in en masse and those that remained shivered in the wind.  Skeletal branches looked lonely, especially in the late afternoons as they were outlined against a darkening sky.  Sunset was at 4:30 and getting earlier every day.  The air was cold.  At night the temperature was in the 40s.  The high temperature during the day was maybe 58° degrees.  It was 81° when I had left Austin just a few weeks before.  Ironically, four years later, these Brooklyn temperatures would seem warm to me and I could go outside without a jacket on a 55° day.  But not that first year. 

Parking on the street in front of the house was alternate-side morning and afternoon.  That meant, if I was parked on the side of the street with traffic flowing toward Manhattan, I had to throw a coat over my pajamas and go outside at 7 a.m. and move the car.  I wasn’t alone those mornings, double parked, as I sat in my cold vehicle waiting for someone to move out of a parking space, headed for work.  There were always half a dozen other people waiting along with me to grab up a spot and get back inside our warm homes.  At 4 p.m., I had to move the car again for the traffic returning after the workday, which put a weekday curfew on my excursions away from home. 

Parking issues got old in a hurry, especially since I rarely drove the car, although I did make a couple of visits to Red Hook and drove to Coney Island once or twice – no way would I drive into Manhattan.  On Sunday mornings, the people attending the church up the block  had the right to double park on our side of the street, blocking every car from exiting until noon. 

I decided to park the car in Park Slope where I could leave it for a week at a time, moving it only for street-cleaning.  It now seems so strange to think about parking a mile from home, having to take a train or walk over to move the car, but that’s the City.  Unfortunately, because I had to drive around for a while in Park Slope looking for an open spot on streets crowded bumper to bumper with parked cars, 
I sometimes got confused about the location where I left my car.  When it was time to move it, I had to stroll the streets looking for it.  Once, I completely forgot to move the car for street cleaning and got a ticket – called a “summons” in New York.  This was one of the two summons I would receive during my tenure in Brooklyn.

The last straw for parking was the day of a blizzard in December.  It was 10º and windy.  The locks on my car froze and I couldn’t open the door.  I stood there for about an hour, trying to unlock the car.  Parking Control drove by not offering any help (or a summons either, thankfully).  Finally, a man loaned me a cigarette lighter to warm up my car key.  After about five tries with the heated key, the car door opened and I got inside where it felt like a refrigerator freezer, but not windy.  I moved the car across the street and went home.  Immediately, I put an ad online to sell the car.  I never missed it. 

But in November, something was happening in Brooklyn and the rest of the City in November. There was something in the air. Expectations.  Animation. A slightly more positive attitude.  Because the holidays were coming…

Post by Alana Cash

Monday, November 10, 2014


Soundtrack for this blog post:  

(Diana Krall – The Autumn Leaves)

(Sweet Jazz Trio – Autumn in New York)

I drove to Brooklyn at the end of October. I was leaving Austin, Texas, where the stately trees were found mainly at the University grounds and the neighborhoods nearby.  Generally I was used to seeing live oaks that shed leaves all year long on account of the endless drought, and scrubby cedars.  I hadn’t experienced the way that fall glorified other states and the drive through the avenues of trees in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, the Interstate highways was beautiful.

Reaching Brooklyn, I was really surprised.  I had read Betty Smith’s novel,  A Tree Grow in Brooklyn, and expected a barren landscape, a rusty jungle devoid of nature with maybe a tree hidden away and carefully tended in someone’s backyard or a potted plant on a fire escape.  Wrong.  Brooklyn is abundant with trees. 

There was an apple tree in our back yard and other neighbors had maples and oaks.  On our side of Ocean Avenue, there were little plots of ground breaking up the sidewalk with linden trees planted in them.  There leaves turned color slowly from green to yellow to orange to brown.  It wasn’t unusual to find linden tree leaves on the ground with rings of 3 or 4 different colors. 

Directly across the street in Prospect Park, massive trees were ripe with leaves turning red, gold, yellow, rust, and every shade of brown.  A wall of oaks lined the edge of the park – it seemed like they were 100 feet high – and filled the bay window of my apartment with color.  The park grounds were covered with a paradise of leaves in all sizes, shapes, and colors.  Kicking through them was mandatory.

My favorite tree in Brooklyn was a large tulip tree near the lake in Prospect Park.  Its leaves turned from deep green to lemon yellow.  Standing under that tree was like being under a cool sun. 

Outside of Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery, the old neighborhoods, the ones with the four and five story row houses – Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope, Bedford Stuyvesant – and even Betty Smith’s Williamsburg neighborhood have plenty of stately old trees. 

If a walk through a Brooklyn neighborhood doesn’t satisfy your appetite for foliage, the New York Water Taxi gives tours up the Hudson River to view the trees that line the river.  Once the boat travels past The Bronx, there isn’t a lot of visible architecture and you can imagine historic New York State – the explorers, farmers, and fur trappers.  It’s a nice trip.

Post by Alana Cash

4 Years in Brooklyn
Four Years in Brooklyn

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


I was aware of two houses in Brooklyn that were reportedly haunted.  One of them was a large mansion in Park Slope, a posh area of Brooklyn sloping down from Prospect Park.  The Thomas Adams Jr. House (also known as the Chiclet House because Adams invented Chiclet gum) was at the corner of Carroll Street and Eighth Avenue (115-119 Eighth Avenue).  It’s massive – all the red brick in the picture belongs to the one house which at some point was divided into 10 apartments.

The Adams mansion was the first house in Brooklyn to have an elevator, which the staff were never supposed to enter.  But when the Adams family went on vacation, the staff were tempted to fool around in the elevator and they got stuck inside between floors.  Apparently the trap in the ceiling of elevators hadn’t been invented because they all died in that elevator.  Quite a grim and stinky homecoming for the Adams family.  The original elevator was removed and the shaft is now an alcove in apartments on several floors.  Tenants have complained about hearing moaning noises and cries for help at night.

The other house in Brooklyn that was reportedly haunted was the one I lived in.  I went to visit at that house a month before I moved to Brooklyn.  The first night I was in the house, I walked down the hallway from the kitchen to the front room and as I passed the head of the stairs, something made me turn around.  It wasn’t a sound or any movement, but it was a strong feeling, and I expected to see someone at the head of the stairs.  No one was there. 

I asked if the house was haunted and one person told me that they heard footsteps following them down the stairs from that particular landing.  Hmm.  Could just have been the floor popping.  But as I lived there, I also became aware of sounds behind me on the stairs.  There were three sets of stairs in that house and that particular stairway was the only one that “popped.”  Two other tenants who occupied the same “apartment” in the house (at different times) told me that they sometimes heard heavy breathing coming from somewhere in the room. One guy slept with his door open for a week after he heard it the first time.

The creepiest house in New York City, though, was not in Brooklyn.  It was in Manhattan at 14 W. 10th Street.  In the 150 years since the house was built, 27 people have died mysteriously in that house – many were murdered. Mark Twain and his family lived there about a year which is its more positive claim to fame. 

Post by Alana Cash

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


In Brooklyn, as I’ve written before, I lived in a row of 12 houses flanked by “prewar” buildings.  These buildings were an outdoor museum of the skill of masonry.  Every time I went to the store or the subway, I passed magical designs of brickwork that will never be replicated. 

There was a building, reminding me of the fairytale Rapunzel, that had small, decorative circular castle turrets with bricks extending perpendicular to represent steps.  There were buildings with yellow and brown bricks making X’s.  One building had red, brown, and gray bricks placed randomly for a tweed look. 

There was an amazing art deco building with a design of ceramic tiles that still held their color, and between the sections of tile, the bricks were laid at 45 degree angles.  Bricks were graded at the top of the facade, resembling style of the Chrysler building, and the rooftop was decorated with curved wrought-iron cresting.  At either side of the front entryway, there
were large brick and glass cylinders that lit up at night.


Some of the buildings had corridors of pavement leading to the front door or into courtyards where young children could play.  The corridors allowed tenants time to leave the city behind before they reached the front door.  Buildings that opened directly onto the sidewalk had big lobbies providing the same sense of departure from the clamor.

A few buildings had grand names – The Belvedere, Patrician Court and the like. 

The pre-war buildings were not only beautiful on the outside; the same sense of elegance, although faded, was evident inside.  The interior apartment doors opened into foyers, or in the case of smaller apartments, a hallway.  Again this created space between the outside world and the home.  They had hardwood floors, some with parquet borders.  And big sash windows – although a lot of buildings had replaced these with aluminum slide windows.

Because they were rent-controlled, the landlords generally didn’t take good care of them.  Very often elevators were broken.  Pipes leaked.  Lobbies that used to have elegant furniture were empty.  The linoleum floors were cracked and there were 50 coats of lumpy paint on the doorways and interior.     

But the exteriors remained extraordinary, and I could imagine bricklayers laboring all day on hanging platforms, hauling bricks and mortar up on pulleys.  This was before unions, so their wages may not have been worthy of the job they did.  And yet, they must have been proud when they finished their work and saw a monument to their artistry and meticulous skill.

Post by Alana Cash

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Every Sunday afternoon from spring through fall, people began gathering at the Drum Circle in Prospect Park and started a rhythm – like the heartbeat of the neighborhood - that lasted until dark.  There was all kinds of percussion – shakers, rattles, bells, maracas, wooden boxes, and sometimes steel drums.  The Drum Circle was just down the block from where I lived, and as more percussionists arrived it got louder.  Eventually, about a hundred people showed up for playing, dancing, and watching.  95% of the drummers were male, but there was one fabulous female drummer.  Most of the dancers were female, but men danced as well.  

Youtube video of the Drum Circle:

The Drum Circle is actually a designated area of the Prospect Park and there’s a semi-circle of 18 benches made of oak logs.  It's tough to get a seat because the benches fill up fast, but a lot of people bring folding chairs.  Some bring and blankets and sit in the shade beside the circle.  Some bring their barbecues and sometimes there are vendors selling food and drinks.   It is against the law to have open containers of alcohol anywhere in New York – even in your own yard or on your own porch, so anyone drinking alcohol, disguised it, but it became evident as the day wore on that some people were getting high on something.

I had a small djembe when I moved to Brooklyn and a few times I went over to join in the fun.  The problem for me was that men would interrupt me to “teach” me how to play.  I may not play all that well, but I have rhythm and I like to play my own way.  Sometimes I skipped a beat or simply rubbed the top of the drum as a beat.  As long as I kept the rhythm, I figured what difference did it make.  But I’m pretty sure these men weren’t really wanting to teach me to play. They didn’t have their own drums and wanted an instrument to play.  I didn’t see them offering to teach anyone to dance, and there were some dancers that could have used some loosening up.

When I discovered the salsa dancing on the boardwalk in Coney Island, I stopped going to the drum circle.

Post by Alana Cash

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


On Saturday mornings, during the summer and fall, I used to bike over to Grand Army Plaza.  Five streets intersect there, including the most famous, Flatbush Avenue which runs across Brooklyn from the Manhattan  Bridge to Rockaway in the Atlantic.  There’s a road leading into the main entrance of Prospect Park   This roadway was blocked every weekend for Brooklyn’s farmer’s market 

I’m not sure where the farms are that are selling produce – it would hardly be worth it to travel from upstate or New Jersey – but there were bakery items and hand-made cheese and soap.  The best part of the market to me was the truck that accepted old, stained clothes that some business turned into insulation for houses.  The truck wasn’t there every weekend, and when it wasn’t, I had to take my stuff home, but it was a great idea for any farmer’s market to have donations trucks.

Grand Army Plaza is sort of the Arch de Triomphe of Brooklyn.  There’s a traffic circle, an arch, a fountain, its own little park, and a lot of statues.  It was intended to be a break from the city before entering the park, and it has retained its peacefulness.  It was a beautiful place to walk (or bike ride) – especially in summer when the trees were shady.
The arch was designed by Olmstead and Vaux (who designed Prospect Park and Central Park) to commemorate the triumph of the Union Army in the Civil War.  The arch is called the Soldiers and Sailors Arch.  The statues were added later.  There’s a John F. Kennedy. monument, statues of two Union Army generals, a couple of governors.  

The top statue reminded me of the Brandenberg Gates in Berlin.  At one point “winged victory,” above the arch, fell over in her chariot and remained that way for several years (because New York City goes broke from time to time) until finally repaired by donations from private citizens.

The main public library faces Grand Army Plaza.  The plaza arch faces the main entrance to Prospect Park.  The Brooklyn Museum is less than a block away, and the Botanical Gardens are right behind the library and museum.  It’s really a nice cultural center.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


I couldn’t have cable TV where I lived in Brooklyn.  The cable company would have had to drill a hole through the house wall to run the cable and the landlord just wasn’t having it.  So, if I wanted to watch a movie or full season of a TV series, I had to get it on DVD.

At first, I went to the Brooklyn Central Library seeking DVDs.  The library was walking distance away and housed in one of the most beautiful buildings in Brooklyn, right next to the Brooklyn Museum at Grand Army Plaza.  Right inside the front door, I had to journey through a metal detector  – like airport security – passing a desk with armed guards, which made me believe this was some kind of special library with rare books or something.  I never figured out why they were there. 

The metal detector was in an anteroom that runs the length of the building.  There were offices that open off of it on one side and the other side houses glasses cases displayed old photographs of Brooklyn and antique Brooklyn artifacts.  Straight ahead was a huge opening into a massive room that felt like a rotunda because the ceiling was four stories high.  This was where the checkout counters were as well as the return counter – and I learned I needed to wait until my books were scanned by the librarian and I got a receipt.  Because, otherwise, they went missing and I was welcome to pay for them.

On the other side of the room was a small coffee stand with a few tables in front of it where people sat and read as they ate a donut and drank coffee.  And in the center of the room there were rotating displays – sometimes photographs and art which could be spectacular, other times there were displays of Brooklyn history.

One of the educational displays was about the draft riots in New York City during the Civil War.  The message in the essays accompanying the photographs implied that it was racial bias that made the Irish immigrants create a riot because they were unwilling to go off and fight in the Civil War. Actually, the resistance was both practical and economic.  The Irish didn’t want to live in worse conditions than they were experiencing already in New York before being maimed or killed in the war, while the freed slaves stayed in New York and took their jobs.  Brooklyn Library made no mention that the Irish had been recently deported from Ireland by their landlords who did not wish to pay to feed them and where they were starving in ditches during the Great Irish Famine.  In New York, the Irish were unwelcome and treated like cockroaches.  No Irish Need Apply was typically appended to ads in newspapers and placed on signs at store fronts into the 20th century.  

So, anyway, I did attempt a few times to check out DVDs at the Central Library, only to find every single time, that the DVD was missing.  Meaning stolen.  The library policy was that, even if you owed fines on materials, you would not be stopped from checking out further materials.  There was a limit on the amount of DVDs that a patron could check out at one time, but that was handled by having library cards issued to every member of the family.  I supposed that if you knew you never needed to return them, the DVDs could be sold.  

Sometimes, I was able to find books at the library, although often those were stolen as well.  This, of course, gave irony to the armed guards and metal detector at the entrance.

But, the building really is beautiful and worth visiting.  And they do offer free lectures and classes that are excellent.

For my movie watching, I joined Netflix.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


The Brooklyn Museum is not one of the more famous museums in New York City, but I found it leisurely, being able to view everything without jostling or looking over someone’s shoulder like you have to do at the Met or MOMA in Manhattan.  The Brooklyn Museum is the second largest - 500,000 square feet - and has 1.5 million works of art.  Mind boggling.  And, like every public museum in NYC, there is a suggested donation or “pay what you want.”  I think suggested admission for the Brooklyn Museum is $5 which is far below the museums in Manhattan.

The Brooklyn Museum has one of the best Egyptian collections in the US, including a copy of The Book of the Dead.  There's American Indian art, African artworks, and large collection of Asian art. Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” has a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum.  I saw a Basquait exhibit there (Basquait is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, by the way). Basquait was a graffiti artist and one of his exhibits was a rough painting was a black, vinyl record painted on plywood.  I preferred the graffiti on the buildings in my neighborhood better.

There’s floor in the museum dedicated to decorative arts – replicas of home interiors from 17 C. to 20 C.  There’s also a visible store room – objects in storage are on display in crowded glass booths.  

On the first Saturday night of every month, Target hosts a free open house with live music, storytelling, lectures, and activities for the kids.  It’s really jammed with thousands of people of all ages == like subways at rush hour == and I only went once.  I sat cross-legged on the floor with a few hundred people in a small art display room listening to someone lecturing about the history of some type of art movement or communism or something.  A guard yelled at me for sitting too close to a painting.  I tried to move but the room was too crowded, so I left to listen to the music. The music is danceable and loads of people were dancing.    

It's better to go on a weekday morning, though, if you want to see the art.  And when you’re finished for the day at the museum, you can sit outside on the huge front terrace and drink a cappuccino.  It’s a quiet way to spend a morning if it’s raining because there’s a porch.  If it's not raining, you can visit the "salvage" sculpture garden == architectural elements scavenged from the City.

 The museum is in the heart of some major “sites” in Brooklyn == the original Brooklyn Public Library is down the block, the Botanical Gardens are behind the museum, Prospect Park is a block away, along with Grand Army Plaza, etc

More about the museum here: 

Post by Alana Cash

Monday, September 1, 2014


When I first moved to Brooklyn, my area was considered a “gang hotspot” and I used to see kids on the corners wearing red jackets and baseball caps – the rim flat, like new, not curved. They were always polite to me and not ever once did I feel unsafe around them.   

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t any violent gang activity.  One day I walked into a little discount store at the south end of the block.  I guess I was in the store about 10 minutes when  I heard sirens, but there were always sirens – ambulances, patrol cars, fire trucks – so I didn’t think anything about it.  When I came out of the store, I saw across the street there were some patrol cars, an unmarked car, and an ambulance.  There were a lot of patrol cops and a couple of detectives in suits.  EMTs were putting someone into an ambulance.  I asked a patrolman what happened.  And what happened is that a kid had walked up to another kid and shot him in the face at four o’clock in the afternoon. 

I walked on home, dropped my stuff off, and a bit later I left the house heading to Manhattan.  I walked north on the block to the subway station at Prospect Park.  Along the way, I saw patrolmen entering the apartment buildings, canvassing, and on the corner was a group of boys in red jackets and hats.  I could hear them talking about the shooting as I passed them.  I never found out if the person doing the shooting got caught.

After that shooting, I took a ridealong one evening with the NYPD in my precinct.  I had to wear a bulletproof vest.  In the space of an hour or so, I went with them on three “calls.”  All of them involved a gun.  There was a man in a check cashing place who got robbed after he cashed his paycheck.  The robber had already taken off on a bicycle.  The patrolmen looked at the surveillance tape in the store and saw that in his nervousness, the robber had dropped some of the money and other patrons in the establishment picked it up and quietly slipped in their pockets.  They were already gone as well.  The next call was to visit a school janitor who said some kids had come inside the school while he was cleaning and he ran them off.  He said they had a gun.  Then we went to a gas station where someone threatened a woman at the pump with a gun – I had to stay inside the car so I wasn’t really sure why.  Then, they got a dangerous call and had to drop me off quickly at home.

Except on a police officer, I never saw a gun in Brooklyn.  I saw a butcher knife once, though.  A woman behind me in the post office pulled it out and started tapping it on my shopping cart handle.  This was a post office deep in the neighborhood.  It had an old, badly painted mural on the wall of famous sports figures from Brooklyn, clerks behind bulletproof glass, and a jillion pieces of used gum stuck in black circles on the floor.  The few times I went to this post office, there was a little old lady sitting outside the front door on top of three stacked kindergarten chairs, talking to herself. 

The woman with the knife was a lot bigger than me, but for some reason instead of feeling frightened, I got angry, really angry.  She surely didn’t expect to see me in the post office, so right away I knew that knife was in her big, junky purse because she was afraid in the neighborhood and that big, old Wild Thing was trying to scare me.  Although, she definitely had my attention, I never looked at her nor at the knife after I first saw it.  I pulled the cart away from her to the other side of me as calmly as you please, and she stepped really close to my left arm and tapped the knife on her hand.  I still didn’t look at her, and if I was afraid, I still didn’t feel it.  I just felt the steam coming out of my ears.  I don’t like being bullied.  There were bug-eyed people in line watching her.  I stepped to a window, purchased stamps, and left. 

I went to the police station to report it, and they said it was a federal crime, so they didn’t take a report.  I went home and reported the incident to the post office over the phone.  I never heard from the postal police, but the next time I was in that particular post office, a few months later, it had been completely painted white, the gum had been scraped from the floor, and there were five surveillance cameras in the ceiling.  I never saw the big, old Wild Thing again.  Maybe she got arrested.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Photo by David Reilly
I loved the weather in New York City because, first of all, it’s predictable.  You know what to wear because there are four seasons and they pretty much meet their deadlines.  Summer gets rolling in June and fall hits in September.  Winter can drag on, but spring is long and beautiful.

There are only about four weeks that cause any suffering – two weeks in winter when it's so cold you go outside and feel the liquid in your eyeballs freezing and two weeks in the month of August when it’s hard to breathe because the air is so hot and thick.  New Yorkers call it “muggy” and it is a bit like being mugged by the weather.  I had moved to Brooklyn from Austin where 100 days of 100 degrees was not uncommon, so four weeks of hard weather...pish tosh.

Brooklynites spend a lot of time outside in the neighborhood at night in August.  Neighbors in the apartment buildings along the walk set up card tables and played dominoes after dark.  Girls skipped double rope.  People sat talking on the benches across the street in front of the park or on chairs in front of the apartments.  It was like a quiet block party.

A lot of New Yorkers take vacation in August or crowd the beach.  I shut the windows and turned on the air conditioner because all that humidity trapped the smoky air and I could see it and smell it.  And that’s not all I could smell. 

Garbage is picked up three times a week in Brooklyn and the bags sit overnight in the heat so that by morning, after the street people have opened bags and picked through them, there’s a distinct odor.  I quickly passed the dumpsters too.  I can only imagine what a garbage strike in New York would be like in August. 

Traveling by subway can be a problem in August as well.  Sometimes the air conditioning breaks down in a subway car making the trip, even a short one, feel like you're with the Donner Party.  Or an entire train is delayed because someone got arrested or had a heart attack in the train doorway two stations up. MTA isn't all that efficient about getting you that kind of news so you would know to go to another platform and train.  So there you stay, in the train station that's getting more and more crowded with hundreds people radiating like space heaters.  The stations are not air conditioned.  Dripping sweat and roasting, you might have to go outside for air and take a later train.

August in Brooklyn has the kind of weather you might feel in Austin right before a heavy summer rain.  But there's no rain.  In two or three weeks, the New York weather just breaks.  And it’s fall.  Cool, dry (drier anyway), and spectacular as the leaves begin to change.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


The subway trains I took into Manhattan  - B & Q -   ran underground from Prospect Park (my station) the rest of the way through Brooklyn until they emerged at the Manhattan Bridge.  The designer of this bridge, Leon Moisseiff, wanted to build a bridge faster and cheaper than the Brooklyn Bridge.  He did, and you can tell.  The Brooklyn Bridge is a cathedral. The Manhattan Bridge is an engineering wonder, but not so pretty.  

Still it’s my favorite bridge in New York.


Because when the train emerged from the tunnel onto the Manhattan Bridge, it was breathtaking.  Always.  Night or day, I looked out the window, standing up at the subway door if there was room

First and foremost, to the south, right next to the Manhattan Bridge is the Brooklyn Bridge and visible further in the distance is Lady Liberty.  At night they are both lit up.

And then, there’s the water – acres and acres of water of the New York Harbor.  And water traffic – tankers, the Staten Island Ferry, the Circle Line, the Water Taxi, tugboats, sailboats, cruise ships.  In the air were helicopters and planes.  There were cars and trucks on the bridges and I could see the traffic on FDR Drive running along the East River

Straight ahead and to the north was the skyline of Manhattan.  Turning clockwise, I could see Manhattan, Roosevelt Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Governors Island, Staten Island, Ellis Island, and Liberty Island

As the train reached the other side side of the Manhattan Bridge – entering Chinatown – it passed through a channel of old brick buildings, the kind with fire escapes and wooden sash windows.  The kind of buildings that used to have laundry lines strung between them.  Some now had graffiti on them, others had little billboards advertising electronics, clothing, or public storage.  They all had stories, historic tales of people of all nationalities living there.

On the return from Manhattan, the trains passed through Dumbo (Down Under Manhattan Bridge), a neighborhood of converted warehouses and old freight offices, some on narrow cobble-stone streets.  

People barely making a living used to work here.  Now, millionaires lived here.  Some of the buildings are centuries old – small red brick two-story warehouses with arched doors for horse-drawn wagons.  Others are newer, taller, lighter, maybe only a hundred years old.  Still, full of history and now converted into lofts.

This is the view from Manhattan Bridge.  

At least if you’re looking.

Post by Alana Cash