Wednesday, December 28, 2016

THE PEOPLE YOU MEET - Bad (Very Bad) New Year's Eve Date

When I moved to New York, I knew a few people from Texas who had moved up there as well as a few New Yorkers that I met through business, but I thought it might be nice to have a date for New Year's Eve with a native New Yorker who knew some quiet place where we might have dinner.  

Since I worked at home with little opportunity to meet anyone, I looked at the ads online and picked out a fellow with multiple degrees who worked as a psychotherapist. I will call him Drake, which may actually be his name because I've blocked it. I contacted Drake. We emailed a couple of times which led to chatting on the phone. During that call he learned that I was living in Brooklyn, and I guess he assumed that I would prefer to live in Manhattan because he told me that his roommate was moving out and he had a 1500 square-foot, 2-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side that I could share. This wasn't such a ridiculous invitation as it would be in another town or city that isn't quite so rental-scarce. And he did explain that he was only in the City a couple of days a week and spent the rest of the time at his house in Connecticut. But still, it was a bit forward so I told him I was eager to explore Brooklyn and turned him down.

He then suggested that we meet in Manhattan at the northeast corner of Gramercy Park at 6 pm on New Year's Eve and go for dinner. His thinking was that we'd enjoy a meal more if we were in a restaurant that wasn't crowded. I happened to agree which is why I like to have lunch in restaurants at 3 pm.

Anyway, I got to the corner at 6 pm and he joined me a few minutes later. He was over six feet tall and wore a long, tan, wool coat and a felt fedora. Before going to dinner, he asked if I would like to see the apartment he had just purchased in a building nearby. Sure.

The apartment was in an old brick building down East 21st Street. He explained, as we entered, that he also had his psychology business in that building. I realized that from the window of his office, he could see the northeast corner of Gramercy Park and he had scoped me out before joining me there.  I guess I passed his test for appearance.

We traveled up the elevator to the fourth floor of the building where he opened the door to a 300 square-foot apartment, explaining that the last tenant had lived there 30 years and the place had just been cleared out. There were squares and rectangles on the wall clearly contrasted against the dirty and toned paint where artwork or photos had been removed. The baseboards were cracked and coming loose from the wall.  One of them had what looked like a rat hole in it. Could have been a mouse hole. The paint on the wooden window frames was peeling in the most severe way and the windows were filthy. The linoleum in the kitchen had a couple of worn spots so that the four layers of linoleum beneath were visible. The stove was so old I thought maybe it used firewood. Not exactly House & Garden.

Drake suggested that if I wanted to rent the apartment and fix it up myself, he would only charge me $1500 a month in rent. And, he explained, I would have a key to Gramercy Park. This is the only private park in Manhattan - two acres of loveliness that the rest of us could only see through the iron fence. And, even though I was well-aware even that that early stage of living in New York that this was a steal, I politely turned him down. I was beginning to wonder if he was a licensed realtor on the side. Turned out he was.
Rolf's Restaurant
After that real estate rejection, Drake walked me over to Rolf's Restaurant. He said he had not made reservations and we might not get a table, but I should see it. Rolf's is well worth seeing, as I've stated in a previous post, and we did not get a table. I'm pretty sure Drake didn't make reservations because Rolf's is expensive. I know that because two days later I went there for lunch with a friend.

At any rate, we walked up Third Avenue to a restaurant where Drake was sure we'd get a table, and we did. As we read our menus he explained that the portions at this restaurant were pretty big and he wasn't that hungry. "We should split an entree," he suggested. Well, who am I to argue with a psychotherapist/realtor. And, he was right. There was ample food for both of us.  No doggy bag needed.

During dinner, I asked what happened to his roommate. It was just conversation, but he explained that she had moved to his house in Connecticut because she was pregnant. With his baby, I might add. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. The hilarity didn't stop there, though, because he wound the conversation around to his psychology practice. He told me that he had begun offering sex therapy to his female patients and was having success. He offered me his services. At this point I was pinching myself to keep from laughing.

So, I am invited to have sex with a stranger who had become immensely unnatractive and pay for it too. Who could turn down such an offer? Me. I did. I said, no thanks. He did not appear to be crestfallen. He must have been putting his mind onto some other way that he could get money from me.

Oh yes, we split the bill. That, I think made his New Year's Eve complete. I said goodnight and never saw him again. The end.

Monday, December 12, 2016


New York knows how to celebrate Christmas and how to decorate for it. There are ceremonious unveilings of department store windows that are marvels of ingenuity. I was at the Bloomindale's reveal one Christmas when they had hired a famous musician and his band to play for the event. They were on a bandstand in front of the store and people were crowded around to listen, which ironically kept most people from seeing the windows.

I don't know if New York sleeps or not, but it certainly goes home after nine. When everyone has had dinner, the street start to empty. It's the best time to see the holiday windows. You can take your time looking, studying, seeing the artistry and the story behind the glass. And you need to do that, especially at places like Lord & Taylor where the windows are small and the exhibits are minature. At that hour, you can step close and stare. They even put up a divider on the sidewalk to keep the viewers from being trampled by the regular pedestrians.

I've devised a little Christmas-window stroll here, beginning dinner at Rolf's German restaurant. The restaurant creates a fantasyland of Christmas decor every year that is worth stopping in to see. Dinners are on the pricey side, but you can split one because they are large portioned and New York restaurants have no qualms about setting down that extra plate.

Start here: Rolf's 281 - 3rd Street (at 23rd Street)

Then walk over to Fifth Avenue and hear north:

1.Lord & Taylor 424 - 5th Ave. at 39th Street

2. Saks Fifth Avenue 611 - 5th Ave. between 50th and 49th

3. Tiffany's 727 - 5th Ave just south of 57th St.

4. Bergdorf-Goodman at 5th Ave and 57th St. [It was built on the site of the demolished Vanderbilt mansion].

After your walk, go north to Central Park and take a carriage ride to top off the evening.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


When I was just a visitor to New York, I explored the streets and saw people doing their jobs or shopping. I noticed the delivery trucks, little grocery stores, and street vendors. Tons of activity. Everything was moving - the traffic, people, buses, trains. Keeping things moving explained what appeared to be indifference, as people passed by without a glance or a smile. At that time, I marveled at what surely must be a huge amount of cooperation among New Yorkers to manage the lives, livelihoods, transportation, entertainment, housing, and feeding all those people.

After I moved to New York, I had a different perspective. I wondered, with all the resistance, bickering, complaining, and dare I say it, laziness, how in the world did this city get the needs of its people met. The only response was that you learned to push. Push. Push. The traffic pushes the pedestrians. The riders push against other riders getting on the subway and in the subway. The lines push behind you with whispers of "c'mon, c'mon." The food servers push by putting your check on the table with your food.

The City absorbs all that pushing and moves.

Nowhere is the push and resistance more evident than in construction - public or private. One excellent example of this was in the building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  It's an elegant suspension bridge Staten Island and Brooklyn. This is the bridge that Tony Manero talked about in Saturday Night Fever. The bridge that he and his gang of friends jumped around on after clubbing. It's the bridge that one of them jumped from. It happens still.

For the creation of that bridge, 800 buildings were torn down in Bay Ridge and 7000 people pushed out of their homes. To understand how difficult this was, you have to understand that New York neighborhoods are like little towns within the City. People get used to their coffee shops, dry cleaners, bodegas, pizzarias, their bars, neighbors and their noise.

Trying to prevent the building of the bridge, there were ineffective protests at government meetings and ultimately a few displaced (i.e. evicted) people held out until the rest of their blocks was smashed down. But everyone finally moved and the bridge was built. This is like the people on the subway that don't want to move to the interior of the car, but they finally do because they're pushed. It's like maneuvering on the sidewalk in Manhattan - you walk straight until you have to take a curve around stacks of delivery boxes, spilled trash, or people (usually tourists).

Unlike Brooklyn where the bridge was protested, the Staten Island folks wanted the bridge. Something good for some people feels like the end of the world to others. That's New York. There is a lot to deal with and you just deal with it or you leave.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is more than a tale of how New Yorkers get past resistance and link together though. The building of that bridge in itself is a story and Gay Talese wrote a series of essays  about it that were published in a book. [THE BRIDGE by Gay Talese - highly recommended]  It's about the bridge-worker fraternity - their skills, their tragic losses, and how they had come from generations of construction workers in New York. Their grandfathers worked on the Chrysler Building or the Flat-Iron Building.

So, if you visit New York, it may seem that New Yorkers are indifferent as they rush past.  They are just keeping the City moving.  But try asking for directions from a New Yorker.  You'll get a verbal map better than any GPS.  Or ask someone local to recommend a restaurant and you'll get several restaurant reviews.  And, if you can find a bar that caters to construction workers, step up to the bar and ask about the history of building in New York.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


I was standing on the subway platform in Atlantic Terminal on a cold evening, about 8 o'clock or so, in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. A mother dragged her crying 3-year-old son down the stairs to a bench and ordered him to sit. He climbed onto the bench and she stood in front of him as he cried and called out to her, reaching for her. She smacked his hand away and said, "If you touch me again, I'll break your arm."

I stood there staring at her, wondering what to do. If I said something, would it make it worse for the little boy at home. I was aware that if this were my mother and I was that child, that any stranger making critical comments about her mothering ability would enhance her shame and later, I would have to deal with that. This young mother needed help, that was clear. And also clear was that this was her relationship with her son. I don't mean the relationship was none of my business. I mean that she had already established authority with this little boy - most likely through violence or the threat of violence - because he wasn't moving off that bench.

She saw me watching her. I'm quite sure my confusion and disapproval were registered on my face, but that didn't change anything. Wherever, however, she lived, this behavior was acceptable. And I understood that, because my mother used to speak to me that way. She didn't threaten to break my arm. She threatened to brain me and when I asked at four years old what that meant, she told me "I'll take a brick and bash your brains out."

We lived in a neighborhood where one mother wore a leather belt strung around her neck so it was at hand to beat her kids. Our next door neighbor used to lock her daughter in a closet. I know that because one day I was playing in their house and I got locked in the closet with her. I wasn't frightened really, because Maggie told me her mother always let her out.

These are the parents who only feel powerful when they are angry. They live on the edge of breaking down and back away from the edge by lashing out. Their words are worse than their physical actions and far more permanent. They can put a fine face on to the public - so friendly, so charming - but their damage at home is continuous and unseen especially when someone has stirred up their deeper shame. 

There's a way of living that isn't in the Christmas commercials for Sears or Target or Wal-Mart where everyone is so jolly and families are so supportive. There's a way of living that is filled with stress and overwhelm. There are people who see the ads on TV and billboards - happy families, buying power, holiday cheer - and they wonder where it is. Anger, frustration, sorrow, those are their ghosts of Christmas past-present-future.

So, I tread carefully that night. 

But, when I see a homeless person, I can think for a moment what they might have experienced. Think of the sense of worthlessness they may have lived with that's brought them to beg at the freeway off-ramp right next to my car window.  I can hand a disposable poncho to a man in the rain, a few dollars to an old toothless woman (who blessed me and when I blessed her back, thanked me for it).  I can give the last few dollars in my wallet to someone struggling to eat.  

I encourage you to think about giving a smile, encouragement, tutoring, mentoring, coaching. Think of the children, the elderly, the vulnerable who have need of a kind word if not a dollar or two. 
Don't be lazy. Don't be afraid. You have something to give away.  Forget about the tax write-off and hand a bag of clothing to someone at the corner begging.  For a day, stop posting your provocative messages and angry opinions on social media and turn to do something good, something kind and peaceful, something that could have far-reaching consequences that you may never know about.

Think of that little boy on the train platform in Brooklyn. He's in all of us to one degree or another.  

Monday, October 10, 2016


"Bay Ridge ain't the worst part of Brooklyn. I mean, you know, it ain't like a hellhole or nothing."
                                               Tony Manero - Saturday Night Fever

No, Bay Ridge is not a hellhole - not even close. It's a sort of insulated middle-class community at the bottom left hand side of Brooklyn. Bay Ridge is a quiet place to live, in part because it's transportation challenged. The only subway for Bay Ridge is the R-train. There are also buses - an express bus to Manhattan - and cabs. Lack of transportation keeps it from being a favorite place to live in Brooklyn and therefore less crowded and cleaner.

If you were listening, Bay Ridge had a moment in the spotlight in the movie Saturday Night Fever. Most people who don't live in Brooklyn aren't really aware of the neighborhoods until they attempt to move there. I wasn't living in Brooklyn when I saw the movie and the reference flew right over my head.
by CoutZ

The movie was based on a story in New York magazine published in 1976. The article reads like a movie treatment -- same characters, same names, sames action.

The New York magazine article is here:

A lot of what was written in the article has been retracted, but still, it's interesting to read because it is a vignette of a time long gone. For example, they still named the dances in the movie - The Walk, the Hustle, the Bus Stop - all that is gone along with the 2001 Odyssey Club. The house at 221 - 79th St. where Tony Manero lived in the movie is still there, although remodeled. At the opening of the movie, Tony buys a slice from Lenny's Pizza (1969 - 86th Street) and that pizzeria is still thriving. The bridge they fooled around on - and the suicide jump - was the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge connecting Brooklyn and Staten Island.

You can see more about Saturday Night Fever here:

Commissioner Reagan's house in Blue Bloods is on Harbor View Road between 80th and 82nd Street. I guess they might shoot exterior scenes in Bay Ridge, but from what I've seen they stick closer to the Old Navy Yard.

The Italian domination of the neighborhood is gone. Bay Ridge has a large Middle Eastern population now as well as immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asia. The restaurants along 86th Street are now more diverse making Bay Ridge an interesting place to eat out.

A friend of mine moved from the West Village in Manhattan to Bay Ridge. She sold her two-room (three, I guess, counting the bathroom) basement apartment with half-windows covered in bars that gave her a view of people's feet and calves. She bought a three bedroom condo in Bay Ridge with a break-your-heart view of the New York Harbor and the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge and had money left over. One night we were sitting in her living room and a cruise ship passed by, filling the enormous front window. It was amazing.

Photo by Jim Henderson

Post by Alana Cash

Thursday, September 29, 2016


I moved to Brooklyn from Austin, Texas, where there are at least 150 live music venues not even including small coffee shops, cafe brunches, and live-music dancing at grocery stores on weekends. A lot of it is free with the meal (or the grocery shopping). I never saw anyone playing on the street. It just wasn't necessary.

New York isn't really a city with available music. There are famous clubs - Birdland, Cafe Wha?, Blue Note, Smoke - but they aren't cheap, not remotely. You have to buy your tickets in advance and
the shows are an hour long usually and then you are expected to leave to make room for the audience at the second show. There are a couple of accessible places in Brooklyn, but this blog is about subway music, which I consider the best New York City music venue.

I just finished reading Underground by Matthew Nichols about the five years he spent as a subway busker. Taken from diaries he kept, the book is a raw, passionate view of the life of an artist and an interior view of the mind of a musician. Anyone who's experienced the struggle of trying to make a living as a musician, painter, dancer, actor, writer, potter, can relate to Nichols' story. There's the passion for his art form which is what keeps him going amidst the frustrations of dealing with and competing with other musicians, the mood swings from elation to despair, the money shortage, and the hassles from the police (You aren't supposed to use an amp in the subway stations, but how else will anyone hear above the din of the trains and people?).

It's an amazing book because not only do you get a sense of Nichols' life, you get to see what the subway is like for the commuters, which is far different from the tourists who are only around for a week or so and miss a lot of the drama. Be prepared for strong emotion - particularly toward commuters who listen for a long time and don't put money in the hat - and strong language, which you're used to if you ride the trains, but might not be so common in other towns. And the book is not politically correct either.

The stations I most frequented in Manhattan were Canal Street and Union Square. There was an Asian man who used to play the ehru really well on the 4-5-6 platform (upstairs from the Q and N platform where I caught the train). Nichols lets you know he hates the sound of the ehru, but I like it for a couple of reasons. First, my acupuncturist used to play ehru music while I was zoning out, and second, a study of music and it's effects showed that ehru music is the most relaxing to the human body. Classical music is next - that's what Nichols plays on his guitar.

Union Square had a lot more variety. There's the main "stage" on the first level. Musicians have to be approved to play there and can use amps. I listened to Peruvian flutists there for an hour once. I also danced salsa in that station last Christmas to the music of some Spanish musicians. They clapped for us. I've heard country western, jazz and, somebody please explain why, a woman playing the saw. Perhaps if there was some accompaniment, some rhythm or even someone playing the kazoo. But a saw? It's like a weird smell.

Other musicians are on the lower (train) levels. They don't have to be approved, but they aren't allowed to amplify the music. There were people playing drums sometimes. They used overturned plastic tubs and if you tip them up a little they amplify quite a lot. These drummers were always great. There were folk guitarist/singers, steel drum player, and occasionally, doowop singers. I also found sax players at the Broadway-Lafayette Station on the B-train track in Manhattan and at the Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn.

Nichols writes about the musicians who played on the trains. This is against the law. You can't even play a radio on the trains. But it happens and as Nichols writes, some of the players knew one song and played that song badly. It was pathetic and annoying. Sometimes on the weekends, you'd get a 3-piece mariachi band on the train - usually good. And sometimes there were male pole dancers with  boomboxes. Crank up the music and they were tumbling down the aisles and swinging around the poles. Obviously, this was not at rush hour.

I was once invited to a private concert that would be performed by a very A-List musician. There was a sort of gathering before the concert and when I entered that, I recognized the room was filled with musicians. I can't say how I could tell, but it's something there in the body language, the appearance, something. These were the working studio musicians, the influencers in their field. The musicians who were invited to play, not begging to play. No more hat in hand for them. How they made it and not someone else is the book waiting to be written. Was that body language and appearance there before or after they became successful?

Matthew Nichols website here:

You can find Underground online, and Nichols has a YouTube video interview here:

Thursday, August 25, 2016


It was on Craigslist under the free section where I was looking for bubblewrap. The title of the ad read: Free Ticket to Yankees Game Tonight. I thought it might be a trick or some kind of spam to collect email addresses, because it's hard to understand why someone would give away a Yankee's ticket to a stranger. I took a chance and sent off an email. I got a quick reply with a name, Sol, and a phone number to call which happened to be a business in Brooklyn. We talked for a short while until I became comfortable that this wasn't a scam and he told me I could pick up the ticket at Yankee Stadium "will call." 

 It's not hard to get to Yankee stadium on the B-train, but it's a long trip. I had to leave right away.

I'd never been to a Yankees game, and to be candid, I figured the stadium was pretty much all I'd see. I'd sat in the high mezzanine section at a couple of Mets games and I could see so little.  It was like watching the game from the window of an airplane - that is, when I could see anything of the ball field since people were constantly getting up for snacks or whatever and blocking the view. [Again I will tout the Coney Island Cyclones games where every seat has a perfect view and the stadium is on the beach].

Anyway, this is how it worked out. I got the ticket and followed the number system around the stadium to find the gate number that was printed on my ticket. I walked down a ramp and I was stopped by an usher who looked at the ticket and showed me to the seat. I was six rows from the field, right behind the dugout. The players were right there. I had a very expensive field seat. And all around were loads of empty ones. A waitress came by and asked if I wanted to order anything - my hotdog was delivered to me. It was amazing.

I sat next to Sol, the man who gave me the ticket, and he explained that his usual baseball buddies were away, but they'd be coming back and he just thought it would be fun to give away such great tickets (he had 4 and only used his own). The other two seats were taken by teenagers that he knew.

The game wasn't terribly exciting - no stealing home, grand slams or fights - I don't remember much about it. I was too amazed at sitting close enough to hear the players talking and watch them warm up in the batter's circle. And it was nice to look around The Cathedral of Baseball. Although, I'm not sure why they had to build a new stadium - it has less seats than the old one and was designed to look the same. And it cost the New York taxpayers about a $1,000,000,000. 

Old Yankee Stadium
New Yankee Stadium
Seems to me the Yankees make enough money from the sales of their tickets and gear - besides the stadium shops and online, they've got five stores in Manhattan - to pay for their own stadium. But in New York, sports teams can make the front page of The Post or the Daily News and the Yankees have the best PR of any sports team in the country so maybe it was about tourism.

Anyway, that's the only Yankee's game I ever attended, and I don't see how I could top it. Field seats are not for sale generally. They are purchased year after year by the same people or businesses. I went back to watching baseball on TV which I prefer since you get to see the best plays in slow-motion instant-replay a few times.

But the evening ended on an up-note. Since he lived in Brooklyn, Sol gave me a ride home.

Tearing down Old Yankee Stadium

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Photo by Jim Henderson

You’d think given all the huge potholes and lumps in the streets of New York and the mad driving habits, especially the vans for the handicapped who didn’t hesitate to pull quickly in front of me and slam on their brakes, that I’d have had a bike accident in the street.  But no, I never did. I did meet a fellow who rode 20 miles to work and back and 60 miles on weekends who said he was hit by a car at least once a year.  Probably made some extra income that way.  I have only been hit by a car once on the bike and that was in Los Angeles. 

My first, and worst ever bike accident happened one weekend when my landlord and I took the bikes out to Rockaway Beach on the A-train. Rockaway is a long, skinny peninsula that juts out from Queens down toward Brighton Beach.  There’s a lot of carrying the bike up and down stairs for the subway and you’re supposed to have a license of some kind.  I didn’t know how to get one and I figure that might be the least of the worries of a Transit Cop on a Sunday morning. 

The train doesn’t go very far onto Rockaway, so you have to ride the bike down Rockaway Beach Blvd. and then choose one of the numbered Beach Streets to get to the shore.  The beach at that part of Rockaway is undeveloped – lots of dunes and beach grass – and has a low population of swimmers and sunbathers, but it’s the only place in New York for surfing. 

After wandering the beach looking for shells and sea treasure for an hour or so, I was ready to move on and I convinced my landlord it was time to go.  We rode down to the Gil Hodges Bridge (aka Marine Parkway Bridge) which connects Rockaway with Brooklyn near Floyd Bennett Field.  I got on the pedestrian/bicycle section of the bridge and that’s when things started to go wrong.

I got caught behind a group of lollygagging people.  My landlord zoomed over to Brooklyn and was long out of sight when I finally got past the group.  The pedestrian/bike bridge has horizontal steel bars on the side and while I was pedaling hard to catch up to my landlord, I must have veered a little and the handlebars of the bike entered between two of those bars slamming the bike to a stop, and I flew off.  But not totally.  My right hand caught between the handlebars and the brake and when I went off the bike my hand carried the bike around so that it slammed into me as lay sitting against the bars.  The crash of the bike caused a few hotspots down my right leg that would show up later as 5” bruises.  And, along with that, I felt a massive sprain from my wrist to the shoulder.  Yeah.  That was a painful twisting fall.  .

Okay, so I’m out in the middle of the bridge and I had to get up and get home.  I suppose someone might have called an ambulance and gotten me carted off for x-rays and drugs, but I had to find my landlord.  Some folks helped me up and I got on my way, my right arm dangling because moving it made me want to scream

My landlord was not waiting at the end of the bridge, so I followed a pathway at the side of Flatbush Avenue (that’s where it ends, or maybe where it begins) until it came close to the beach.  And that’s where my landlord was parked.  I told him about the bike accident, but he didn’t take it seriously maybe because his mind was elsewhere. 

I followed his line of sight and saw that he was watching two people having sex about fifteen feet away.  They weren’t nude, but all the strings of their bathing wear were untied and they were … never mind… it was all very clear.  The beach wasn’t jammed but it was definitely populated with kids and adults.  The couple looked to be in their 30s.  They surely had other choices of locale for their activities, but I assumed this was a stimulus, a bit of rebellion, some exhibitionism for a relationship that had gone stale. 

At any rate, my arm was draining me and I said I was heading home.  I carried my bike in my left arm up the subway stairs one at a time and was more than happy when I finally got home and got some ice on my wounds. 

It was a week before I could take stairs in a regular manner or use my right hand to type.  And I never went out to Rockaway again.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Photo by Cancre
My landlord in Brooklyn was from Poland.  When he was a child, his father was arrested as a political  prisoner and murdered at Auschwitz. When I moved into the house on Ocean Avenue, my landlord was employed as an architect which was interesting for me because I love buildings and the stories that buildings tell about a place. 

He liked me because I had been to Warsaw while I was making the Marie Curie documentary (she was born and raised in Warsaw).  I talked to him about that trip.  To get there, I drove with my son from Berlin in a rental car.  The highway to Warsaw cut through a forest so thick you could only see about fifteen or twenty feet into it.  It made me think about fairy tales and stories of woodsmen.  The highway was only two lanes - one in each direction -  and cars passed in the center between them willy-nilly which was very scary.  Also got pulled over by the police for something, which was also scary.  I didn’t know what I had done wrong because I didn’t speak a word of Polish and they didn’t speak any English.  I just held out a wad of German marks, they took whatever they wanted, gave me something that looked like stamps, and I drove away.  We stopped for lunch at a MacDonald’s in Poznan because I knew what to expect on the menu even if I couldn’t read it..  I noted that every person in the restaurant, except us, had blond hair and blue eyes.  In Warsaw we went to a buffet in the hotel and they served cow’s lung soup at a buffet.  Of course I tried it.  It had a texture like boiled chicken liver and made me think that Communist countries didn’t waste anything and had a low carbon footprint.  Anyway, I’m too far from Brooklyn and so I’ll return.

My landlord loved a bargain and me too.  So when he invited me to bike over to a little Polish neighborhood in South Park Slope to grocery shop, I readily agreed.  It was just a few shops really – a couple of produce stores, a few deli-bakeries that also sold packaged goods and a butcher on one side.  Across the street, was a small Polish supermarket and some Indian stores selling shawls, spices and Indian foods. The ethnic stores in Brooklyn had their signs in their own language, in this case Polish and Hindi, as well as English. 

I will digress, again, to point out, again, that I have never found cheaper produce anywhere than in New York City.  Not in California where they grow a plethora of fruits and vegetables.  Not in Texas where they grow lettuce, greens, and citrus fruits.  Nowhere else.  At Christmastime in New York, I was able to buy a pint of blueberries for 50 cents. 
Okay, so my landlord and I went into this little deli-bakery.  My landlord ordered his sliced meats and bakery goods and then stood chatting in Polish with a blond blue-eyed woman.  I finished ordering ham and some rolls and I wandered around (a few steps at most because it was a tiny place) and found myself looking at a 4-layerl shelving unit – 12” x 12” – with cosmetic products.  And one of the items was a man’s cologne and the name of it …..BRUTAL.

I picked it up and asked one of the clerks if she knew what the word brutal meant.  She did.  I asked if this might be a mistranslation (because I’d seen some odd translations in New York.  For example a Chinese product claimed to be more cardigan.  And I figured they confused sweeter with sweater and came up with more cardigan to mean more sweeter.  And I once saw a package of black sesame seeds in Chinatown labeled as Black Sesame Sperm.  Although I suppose that isn’t really a mistranslation, just not a very appetizing one.

At any rate, the Polish clerk told me, “No.  That’s the correct translation.”

So.  Brutal cologne.  A Polish specialty.  What does it smell like?  Sweat and iron filings?  And who wears it?  Don’t think about that too much.  Think about this – who would be attracted to a man wearing that scent?

I never found out.

My landlord and I finished our shopping at the little supermarket across the street and went home. 

Post by Alana Cash

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Never give in.  Never give in.  Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. 
                                                                                   -Winston Churchill

She stands magnificent on her own island in the middle of New York Harbor.  And she is awe-inspiring.  I could see her from the windows of the train as I crossed over the Manhattan Bridge going to and from Brooklyn and Manhattan.  And for the first year I lived in New York, I stood and walked to the door, if there was room, to get a better view of her.

There are a lot of places in the City where you can view the Statue of Liberty – from buildings in the Wall Street District, from Battery Park in South Manhattan, from the Promenade or a hill in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, from Staten Island shore, from the top of Rockefeller Center, from the bridges –  Verrazon-Narrows Bridge, Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge – from a hot air balloon.  You can take a boat and tour Liberty Island, crawl up inside the statue and look out through her crown.  I never wanted to do that, because she was more real to me, more alive, from the audience than backstage.  And my favorite view was traveling past her on the Staten Island Ferry.

Who is she?  305 feet tall, made of iron, steel, and copper that oxidizes green, she gets struck by lightening several times a year,   The official rhetoric is that the Statue of Liberty was a friendship gift from the French government to the United States government, but that is not really the truth and the truth is so much more meaningful.

The Statue of Liberty was created by French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi who originally offered her to Egypt to stand as a lighthouse at the Suez Canal.  Bartholdi designed her as a Nubian slave girl of ancient Egypt (I appointed slaves as watchmen in thy harbour…Ramses III donation to the Temple of Re) and dressed her like a Bedouin wearing sandals.  When the Egyptian government declined his offer, Bartholdi then turned to the U.S.  It took fifteen years – imagine his passion – for him to raise the funds through donations from the French and the American people to manufacture his statue, our statue, our Nubian slave Statue of Liberty.  There is some irony here.

She represents something enormous, and I suppose each person has to decide what that is.  Liberty?  It seems a lot of us are captive to social pressure or criticism or the need to work at an unfulfilling job.  Or we are shackled with worry about finances or health issues or the meteor that is supposedly going to fracture the earth into pieces.   

For me, she represents dignity and strength in the face of all that.  Boldly holding that torch, look here, don’t give in to your fear or to the fear of others!  Don’t give in to fear and hatred.  Never give in except to honor and good sense. And find that honor and good sense inside yourself.  And PS:  It’s not always easy.

Post by Alana Cash

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


This is a true story that happened on a Saturday afternoon when I was taking the Q-train from Chinatown into Brooklyn  The seats on this particular train were 2-seaters at a 90-degree angle to the wall, then a 3-seat bench against the wall, another 2-seater, etc. 

I entered the car and took a seat at the end of a 3-seat bench and there were two white women in their 50s in the two-seater next to me.  For the sake of clarity, I name them Tara and Colleen   They look annoyed, especially Colleen.  Behind them in the same 2-seater were two black girls about 5 and 6 years old.  I name them Lily and Jasmine.  On the bench-seat next to those little girls was a very large black woman. I name her Sherry.

As I sat down, Sherry was making loud moaning sounds, “Ooooh.  Oooooh.  Ooooh.”

I’d lived in New York a while by this time and seen people dancing on the subway, groping themselves on the subway, sleeping (a lot) on the subway and puking on the subway.  I once approached an MTA worker in uniform who was standing in the train car, and told him I thought the man I’d been sitting next to might be dead.  He said, “I can’t get involved in that.  I’ll be late to work.”  I had been threatened with being punched by a man who wanted to read his newspaper, and therefore I should not take the only seat next to him.  I had literally been pushed off a seat by a deranged man talking to himself through his fingers who wanted to sit alone.  We all let him do that.  I’d sat next to a large man wearing a yarmulke and reading a Hebrew text who tried to push me off the seat with his hips and I almost fell, but I am not to be bullied and turned to sit with my back against him.  I’d been on trains that smelled massively of body odor.  I was used to being ignored by the people in the booths at train stations while they chatted with each other.  The subway has its own drama and you get used to it.

And so at first I paid no particular attention, but as I listened to Sherry moaning, I saw that Lily and Jasmine were looking confused and a little frightened.  I heard Colleen throw a remark over her shoulder, “You should teach them to behave,” which set Sherry to moaning even louder and rocking on the seat

Sherry said, “It’s not a racial thing.  It’s not about race.”  She looked at a man across the aisle and said, “It’s not about race is it?”  He shakes his head, no.  What else can he do?

I asked Colleen quietly, “What’s going on?”

Colleen told me that she and Tara were already in their seats when the little girls got on the train with their mother and took the seat behind Tara and Colleen.  The girls kneeled on the seat facing toward Tara and Colleen.  As the train was lurching at the next stop the girls’ arms banged over the seat into Colleen and Tara.  Colleen turned and told them to sit down and that got Sherry involved defending them.

Colleen had not been speaking quietly, because I’m pretty sure she wanted to continue to make her point to Sherry and everyone else that she had the right to a peaceful ride on the subway without being knocked, however gently, by another person’s children. 

Colleen said loudly, “I don’t suffer from white guilt and I’m not going to put up with rudeness.”

I understood now, why Sherry has been declaring that it’s not a race thing.

Sherry has heard Colleen talking to me, and she spoke up to say plaintively, “I’m just taking my nieces to Coney Island.”  Then, “Oooh, oooh.  It’s not a black white thing.”

My stop was next and I got up and went to the door.

Colleen said in a loud voice over her shoulder to Sherry, “See she is leaving because you are making a scene.”

Aw man. 

I looked at Sherry, a severely overweight woman who was just wrung out.  She was making a special trip with her nieces to the beach to show them a nice time and it’s gotten messed up.  This wasn’t just for today though.  This was at the end of a long line of Sherry trying to find out what the right thing is and doing it.  And now she’s failed again.  And will someone please tell her how to get it right.  Live right, do right so everybody around her is happy.  She was not even angry.  She was really sad.  And she just wanted this day to go well.  Just something to go right.  Some way to express the love and tenderness she felt for her nieces behind all her fears and stress.  . 

I looked at Colleen also overweight, but not so much.  Her intention wasn’t to trigger all this pain.  She has her own.  Just like Sherry, she’s wanted things that she didn’t know how to accomplish and now she’s lost her value in this culture – her youth.  Whatever little power she ever had in this world is slipping away and she is becoming invisible.  No one marches for her.  No one protests for her.  No one declares in the news that she is important and that her life matters.  She just wanted to ride the subway in peace and not have all her needs and sense of loss stirred up.

I said to Colleen, “Do not speak for me.”  And I left the train.

That’s the end of the scenario.  But still I think, that if they really looked at each other they would either have started laughing or crying and all that tension would dissipate.  They’d be right there on the subway in a little community of humanity until one of them had to get off at a stop. 

Be kind.  And don’t take someone else’s projection onto you so seriously.  Be kind.  Be helpful.  Be generous with your spirit.  Laugh and cry.