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Archive for July, 2008

Talked to the foreman of the new building (pictured above) yesterday. He said the building would be ready in a month or two, that eventually they’d buy up all the warehouses on the street, tear them down and put up new condos or apartments “like they’re doing all the way from Fort Greene to Wiliamsburg.”

As I watched the Latin guys crawling in and out of the empty windowframes, on this building which had taken over the vacant lot where, years ago, Gavin found a dozen or more pit bulls all running wild inside the hoarding, I wondered what the street would look like in a year, two year’s time.

And what would happen to Black.

I’d seen Black just a couple of days before, hanging around, as he has been hanging around the street since I first came here five years. Despite the high 80’s heat, he was wearing a blue and green ski jacket, his white shift tails dirty and hanging out of his pants.

“Yo Tim – you got a dollar? I gotta get something to drink.”

Just the night before, I’d run into him one street up. He said he was walking home, or at least home to his girlfriend’s, somewhere up near Liberty Park. The same white shirt, but clean, tails tucked into his belted jeans, carrying a bag and looking about ten years younger than i’ve ever seen him.
“Hey man, you’re looking good!” I said as we touched fists.
“Well, man, I’m tryin’. I’m tryin’.”

I usually see Black hanging around the bodega on the corner. Sometimes, he asks for a dollar, sometimes he just waves and says hello. He is a short guy and, as his name would imply, very black, his eyes set deep in his compact fleshy face. He wears his beard close-cropped, and despite his very thin limbs, he has a wiry strength which I’m sure has stood him well in his years on the street.

When Gavin still lived here, he used to give Black a few bucks every week to ‘clean up’. Sometimes, Black would push a broom around, sometimes he wouldn’t. When I was house-sitting, he left me a bowl of dollar bills to give Black a few bucks whenever I saw him – and Gavin was one of residents and shopkeepers up and down the street who supported Black in one way or another – I’d always see Black washing someone’s car or coming out of one of the warehouses or factories with someone who worked inside.

I never found out anything about him – whether he grew up in the area, or how he ended up on the street. Charlotte said he’s good with the ladies, and always has one around. For a time, he seemed to be involved with one of the women in the Chapter V house across the way except when he and his woman got in a fight, he’d sleep on the street, either in one of the cars the auto body shop parked outside their building, or in one of the vacant lots. When I was house-sitting on the street, I’d hear him and his woman yelling back and forth, sometimes in the evening, more often at dawn after they’d been up all night. Once, stepping outside, I saw him sitting on some sort of cinder block a few doors down.

Hunched over, head in his arms. Looking up as I locked the door and at first I didn’t even recognize him and thought he was just some ghetto crackhead. Then I saw the familiar gentleness in his eyes, behind the crackhead sheen.
“Hey Tim. I’m dying.”
i stood over him, wondering what I should do. Wondering if there was anything I could do.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
He kept his head down, barely moving.
“No, no.”

I didn’t see him for a couple of weeks and I wondered if he’d finally reached his end or gone to jail. But then one night I saw him at the old Sweetpea grocery, hanging around outside with someone. “Hey Tim,” he came over, looking as spry as ever. “Good to see you, man.”

Who knows where he’ll go when the shops change hands, when this end of Bed-Stuy becomes more and more like Clinton Hill or even Fort Greene.
The street – daytime.

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Can you imagine any rock band being this unpackaged, this unconcerned about their image in an interview now? A time when even debauchery had an innocence . . .

KISS with Tom Snyder

Iggy Pop with Canada\'s Peter Gzowski

Tom Snyder was a NY talkshow host. He interviewed all the big acts of the 60’s and 70’s, including a lot of punk acts. Ultra-mild-mannered Peter Gzowski was the ‘Voice Of Canada’ through the 70’s and 80’s.

“No, actually, I”m a plumber!”

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Two blogs dedicated to charting the Lost City of New York as it falls under the juggernaut of gentrification. Glad I’m not the only one who cares about this stuff:

Jeremiah\'s Vanishing New York

Lost City

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At this early writing – one pm – the bbq’s are already out in front of bodega’s, in people’s front yards, even on the stoops. People are stocking up in the supermarket – bags of kale, flats of chicken, cases of Coors LIght. The stereos and big speakers are out, competing for who can boom out what music the loudest. It is hot, muggy, the air sticking to the skin. Last night, coming home at one am, people were still out, drinking beer on their stoops, the kids letting off fireworks on the street. 

   Black America, or at least this corner of it, is ready to celebrate America’s birthday in full force.

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Obama III

Signs of Obama support increasing in Bed-Stuy. More Obama posters in windows, more Obama bumper stickers on cars, trucks, SUV’s. And one very visible difference: Young people wearing Obama t-shirts – so far mostly adolescent men and young girls. 

   I read somewhere that Obama’s candidacy was already starting to change black student’s study habits, as in, if he can do it, why can’t we? I can’t find the article so this statement is completely unsubstantiated – but why not?

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Walking up through the park last week noticed these huge loudspeakers, popping up all along the green like big black signal towers – the kind of speakers you might see at say Glastonbury – then the rows of metal gates leading to the bandstand. Somebody walking by said the Metropolitan Opera was playing that night but not being an opera fan I didn’t think much of it at first. 

Then I saw the orchestra was rehearsing and I went to check it out. You could get right up to the edge of the stage and, besides some photographers and stage people, only a couple dozen spectators were standing around, mostly with their kids. A woman was on stage, rehearsing with the orchestra. I guess she’d be a soprano. She and the orchestra kept starting and stopping and at first I wasn’t too interested but then they launched into that famous tune – was it Verdi? – and I moved right to the front of the stage.

   The woman was handsome in a very feminine European way, tall with long black hair falling about her shoulders and as she sang, her long tall body swayed a little with the music. But what fascinated me most of all was that she wore mirrored aviator shades and jeans, and she sung first with her hands in her pockets then with her arms folded across her chest, as if holding herself in. Yet when she hit the climax, her voice was so overpowering and beautiful I almost broke out in tears at the intensity of it and for the first time ever I understood the power of operatic singing, at the fullness of which the human voice is capable – and  I thought man o man would I love to meet a woman like that. 

I found out later, she was Angela Georghiu, one half of the husband and wife duo performing that night, and one of the biggest names in the business. This isn’t the piece I saw, but if you’re an opera fan, you can see her performing here

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