Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for April, 2010

I canceled our New York Times subscription this weekend. Not because we.ve turned away from print media – that we stuck with the Times this long is a testament to our enjoyment of print media and our desire to see it stay alive. No, I canceled it because the Times delivery, in this corner of Bed-Stuy at least, had to be some of the most incompetent service I’ve ever seen.

First they kept forgetting to deliver the Saturday paper. We called, still no delivery. We called again. One weekend of papers, then another weekend of no paper. Another call, another stretch of appalling delivery, this time in the form of on off papers, weekdays and weekends. Then, no Saturday paper, no Sunday paper, then no paper at all. We called again.

You get the picture.

This went on for most of last year. Yet we kept at it. Reading the news on the screen still can’t replicate the pleasure of a real newspaper, the chance disclosure of the unfolded page, the feel of paper beneath the fingers. As we all know, print media is an endangered beast. We like to do our part.

After we’d called for the ninth time, we got a whole month of nearly uninterrupted service. Sometimes, when I woke up early, I’d hear our paper boy. I wouldn’t realize it was him at first – usually there was just a blast of music, sometimes 80’s dance music, sometimes hip-hop, but loud enough to fill out the dawn street. Then he’d appear, tossing the blue-wrapped newspaper out his window. I think he had a helper.

Of course it didn’t last. Hey, I’m sure delivery the newspaper is not a great job. I’ve had to get up at four, five am to go to some shitty job and it sucks. But I delivered the newspaper as a kid and it’s not that freakin’ hard. Especially when someone’s called ten times. When our paper didn’t come three weekends in a row, I was incredulous. Who wants a service that doesn’t come more often than it does? I called the subscription office and a nice woman with a southern accent answered. She didn’t seem surprised that I wanted to cancel. “But if you do decide to renew with us, please call us when you don’t receive your newspaper . . . ”

I don’t know if the Times just doesn’t care about our corner of Bed-Stuy, or if they want to be rid of their print division altogether. If this is common, they’re doing a good job.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Steve CannonSteve Cannon turned 75 the week before last. His birthday party was held at the Tribes gallery, his home since the 70’s, with readings by Karl Watson, Michael Carter, Shalom Naumen, and the ‘Unbearable’s book release party.

I got there late, after both the readings were over. The food trays picked clean, though half a box of wine remained. Steve was sitting on his living room couch in front of the apartment doorway, the same place I’ve found him almost every time I’ve gone to see him over the last 20 years. Drinking wine, smoking, and hanging out with the dozens of people pressed in around him.On the walls were the striking photographs of the GirlEye show curated by the gallery. Everyone was drunk. It was just like old times.

Steve comes from New Orleans originally, but he’s been in New York since the 70;s. He is a poet, playwright, and novelist, and was a long-time professor at CUNY until he retired in the early 90’s. In the 70’s, he had a bestselling novel: “Groove Jive & Bang Around”, which gave him the money to buy the building he lives in now. He is almost fully blind, and has been so for the last dozen years, the end result of glaucoma. He has people read his books and newspapers and emails to him, but still gets out to shows and readings. He has plenty of help around the studio, and many people drop by.  I doubt he’s alone much.

When I first started going down in the early 90’s, the gallery was just starting up and Steve could still see, though he wore dark glasses, even at night. On warm days, he hung out on his stoop, and everyone he knew from in and around the neighborhood would drop by. Some days, you could get a reasonable cross-section of the Lower East Side of the time – young white bohemians like myself, old black poets Photo display from the Girleye Show
and writers who’d known Steve for decades, local Puerto Ricans, drug addicts. Many of the people around him were stalwarts of the 80’s Lower East Side writing music art drug scene. Some, like the poet John Ferris, had hung out in the political and writing scene in 60’s and 70’s Harlem.

I liked Steve and John and the other guys, and liked the connection to black NY history and art. Most of all, I liked to listen to them talk politics. They really knew their stuff, and in the self-referential, curiously parochial New York of the day, it was refreshing to talk with people who knew what was happening in what was left of the Soviet Union, Iraq, or Africa, unfiltered by the lens of the New York Times or CNN.

I had another connection with Steve: we’d both squatted in London, in roughly the same neighborhood, though 20 years apart – me in the late 80’s, Steve in the 60’s. I’d been in Westbourne Park, then virtually abandoned, Steve in Kilburn, the then Irish neighborhood in the north of the city. “We thought we were broke,” Steve said, “but there was a bunch of motherfuckers across the street – they had nothing at all! We were rich compared to them!”

Steve Cannon with Michael BlloombergBy the mid-90’s, the Tribes gallery was becoming something of a local institution. Despite the glaucoma, Steve was involved in the rebirth of the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, in the Living Theatre, and Bullet Space. His stoop, and his gallery became a popular hangout for a lot of kids arriving in town from Europe, Japan, across America. Bit by bit, I stopped going down.

But in a Lower East Side I hardly recognize, it’s good to see Steve, and his piece of history, still providing the conduit to the past.

Read Full Post »

Notes from the G train . . .

Couple with two kids. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans – and very fat, not flabby fat like white people from small towns or the burbs, but ghetto fat, people who don’t drive but consume very bad food. Tough-looking, not unkind but dulled.

The kids were maybe five or six and keep acting up. First the mother tried to control them, then the father intervened, growing more exasperated as the boy talked back and finally the father who I guessed was actually just a boyfriend of the woman gets up and grabs the kid’s ear and gives it a twist. Not a hard twist, but just enough for the kid to yell, then cry with no tears, yelling at the boyfriend who sits down and yells back, “don’t you be yelling at me like that in front of people, don’t be making a fool out of me!”

The white people on the train glance over uneasily, wondering if they should intervene as the kid yells some more at the boyfriend and the boyfriend looks more and more angry and exasperated, everyone wondering if he is going to attack the boy, if it is right to twist a little boy’s ear. But even if I grew up with violence in the home, I am not entirely unsympathetic to the boyfriend since the boy is out of control, jumping up on his seat, hitting his sister and making her cry, ignoring his mother. I thought, what could the guy do?

The guy looked around wearily, but the tension had dropped and everyone went back to staring at the ground. Even with the warm weather, white, black, Hispanic, whatever looked tired, drawn – even defeated – I didn’t think I’d ever seen New Yorkers as beat down as this winter and the whole scene, the family, the train, depressed me.

Then, on the upper platform of Bedford-Nostrand, I heard a violinist. I didn’t register him at first. After everyone had walked ahead of me off the train, the station was almost empty and I almost walked by, closed off in that way you get in New York. I noticed the sound, ringing off the station walls, filling the dank space of the station, and one guy standing alone, his head covered with a hood, his violin case half full of bills. I gave him a dollar and leaned against the wall to listen. He was playing something that sounded like Bach, and the sound was as full as a violin playing in a concert hall, so full and loud I could feel it all around me like a vibration or a liquid, feel it trailing down into the platforms, through the metal bars into the halls and up onto the street.

When he’d finished I went up and thanked him. He had an accent and looked like he came from southern Europe. I asked him if he played in the station all the time and he said no, he’d been on the subway and stopped at random then been amazed by the acoustics so he’d stayed.

I didn’t get his name. He said he’d be back but I never saw him again.

interior of bedord nostrand subway

Read Full Post »

motorcycle shop in Tribeca, 1970's.

Photo: Allen Tannenbaum

I’ve been busy with out of town guests and this curious (and lately very rare) thing called paid work so haven’t posted for a week. I’ll be getting back in the swing soon, but in the meantime a blurb courtesy of The Selvedge Yards.

An essay and photo gallery by Allen Tannenbaum:

New York in the 70’s.

Exciting, edgy times, especially if you were young. And had a thick hide.

More anon.

Read Full Post »

Poutine on a plate

We met at T-Poutine, a narrow hole-in-the-wall on Ludlow Street. Forty Canadians, a couple of Americans, there for that curiously popular French-Canadian specialty, poutine. French fries with cheese curds, covered in gravy. T-Poutine is run by an ex-Quebecer, Thierry Pepin, and they serve poutine in all kinds of flavors, from smoked meat to ‘tree-hugger’ (sliced mushrooms). In Montreal you always had poutine plain, so that’s how I had it. And it was the real thing, as close to the Montreal version as you’ll have in New York – or anywhere.

Memories of Montreal Pool Room in the early 90’s at the bottom of St. Laurent, just below rue St. Catherine, the long, long avenue that bisects Montreal east to west, English side to French. An area dominated by strip bars, and tavernes where they played hardcore porn on the overhead TV’s inside and everyone from the bikers (or would be bikers) and their women, to the old men who probably came in every day to the waitresses, totally ignored it. The once-great punk club, Foufounes Electrique, just around the corner, and after hanging out until two or three or four am, you’d drop into the Montreal Pool Room and join the line up of just out of the bar aficianados for poutine, hot dogs, or just the best fries in the city with the best cuisine in North America, hoping it would take off the worst of the hangover the next day. Which of course it didn’t.

Memories too of my first journeys to New York and America in the late 1980’s, riding the night train down the Eastern Seaboard. Drinking in a lounge car full of raucous, mostly blue-collar Americans from Vermont or Massachusetts,  knocking back one dollar cans of bud with shots of Jack Daniels, and some big black dude with an afro playing Jimi Hendrix medleys on a farfisa organ in the corner. Arriving with the Bronx dawn spilling out the train window, those magnificent power station chimneys rising up beside the Hudson. Stumbling out into Penn Station with two hours sleep, still drunk.

I hung out on the Lower East Side in those days, drank just up the street. The Lower East Side was still mostly Puerto Rican, the dealers lined Rivington, the bars that cover the area just starting to make inroads on upper Ludlow. I had a friend down on Clinton and I’d stay at his loft space overlooking the Williamsburg Bridge. The doorbell didn’t work so you had to shout up and hope he heard you over the traffic noise from Delancey so he could open the window and throw down the key four stories down to the street, the key insulated with a felt glove so it wouldn’t fall on anyone and maim them. I don’t recall the LES being heavy exactly, but when you stepped outside, you were aware of being somewhere not quite America, with the Spanish on the streets, the stores with the religious icons, the music, the food. And the energy – so much energy and tension in those narrow streets. Going back to Montreal always felt like odd, like a deflation, and it would take me days to find myself again.Front of T-Poutine, Lower East Side, New York

After the poutine, we drank vodka supplied by the good folks at the restaurant, then stepped onto a Ludlow I hardly recognized. Some of the old bars still there, Katz’s Deli still there, but I never imagined that the Lower East Side, like (to a much lesser degree), the neighborhood I hung out in up in Montreal, would become a hangout for the affluent. In this case, the very affluent. The same crappy streets, same wine-dark tenement buildings with the iron fire escapes – and a whole lot of bars, restaurants and very fancy cafes, the kind I would never have imagined down here even ten years ago. Even five years ago.

And on a day when the rest of New York was deserted with the holidays and the heat, the LES was packed. It had this strange gloss, like the gloss of a movie set, and I kept thinking of They Live!, John Carpenter’s godawful yet increasingly prescient portrayal of a world run by alien yuppies, because watching these folks, you’d never know there was a recession on, and I had to wonder, as I often do when I’m certain part of Manhattan or Brooklyn: who the fuck are these people?

Read Full Post »

Now that summer’s here (in early April), what is there to do but dream of Coney . . .

As one commentator wrote ‘the eerie trippiness IS Coney Island’. With thanks to Amusing the Zillion who posted it first. By Sherwin Akbarzadeh. Keeping with the theme, some more memories of the dreamland wonder that was Coney Island . . .

Ain’t youtube amazing!

Read Full Post »

Budding Trees in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

The blossoms are out on the tree outside my front door, almost obscuring one of the last empty houses on the street (five years ago there were at least a half-dozen). The slightly menacing and very monotonous tingle of the ice cream truck echoes up and down and all around the street . . .

Saturday morning, the block association on my street came out to clean up the planters, getting ready to put out the flowers in a week or two. People are out on the stoop, kids are on the pavement, and the first of the killer motorcycles has come roaring down the street. A few more fire trucks than usual were out today, but so far, no major repeat of the craziness that came with the warm weather a couple of weeks ago.

The dogs are out as well, barking in the back yards for any reason at all, their barking magnified by the canyon formed by the backs of the three and four story brownstones . . .

Half-finished condo building in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

Down Greene Ave. one condo is almost finished, another sits three-quarters finished and almost wholly abandoned, the guard post unmanned most of the time, windows smashed out on the upper levels, a the two by fours and netting of a personnel barrier hanging off an unfinished balcony. The ten story tower, the tallest building in the area, looks over the neighborhood like an unmanned lighthouse. The almost finished condo, however, advertises the usual luxury flats and, from the polished condition of the flats inside the windows, the owners seem confident they’ll sell. The sister condo – almost identical in size and style – is going up just as fast.

On The Street that Gentrification Forgot, new housing built a year or two ago has made it seem almost like a normal street. Almost. An auto body shop has been converted into a woodworking studio where, amongst other things, the owners make violins. A yoga studio, sure sign that the neighborhood is reaching the gentrification critical mass, is rumored to be opening in a converted warehouse loft. Yet just around the corner is another condo, thin as a razor, also three-quarters complete and seemingly abandoned. The lower levels are open, guarded by a wooden fence that is so flimsy the whole thing fell right into the street during the storm a couple of weeks ago – where it remained for three days until someone finally came to put it right. I keep  waiting for squatters to move in and inhabit the spaces with the floor to ceiling windows and, I’m sure, fine views of the neighborhood.

Abandoned condo building on Bedford Ave.

Up on Classon and Greene, in the old liquor store building, a mural has been painted on the side facing Greene, obscuring some of the old historic logs of companies that don’t exist anymore. Two young guys, one black, one white, were hard at work a couple of weeks ago, and I thought they might be producing some sort of community mural. Instead, it is an ad disguised as a community mural. It reads:

“This art wall installation  was designed by (two real estate agents who shall remain un-named) and was inspired by the Ford Fiesta Movement project, Mission#1. The mural highlights (said real estate agents)’ top 10 favorite locations in Brooklyn. They are one of 20 teams of agents throughout the country who are challenged with showcasing the vibrancy and creativity of their home town.”

Like Jeremiah wrote in a post last week, street art is being/has been colonized by the corporate world so “sometimes . . .  it’s hard to tell if you’re looking at gallery art, graffiti, or advertising.. .”What’s curious about this mural is its sheer dippiness, and its location on the border of Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy (and across from another finished, but empty condo building). This makes no mistake that it is advertising, according to the video on the website it is part of a nationwide team of real estate agents “working with the best local talent to reimagine the way Fiesta gets advertised”. Whatever the case, I sincerely hope the mural it is tagged and defaced (in the grand NY tradition) very soon.

Corporate Mural on the corner of Greene and Classon



Read Full Post »

Older Posts »