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Archive for the ‘Notes from around the 'hood.’ Category

Neighborhood gathered on the stoop for NY Times Group Photo

At eleven am last week my neighbors and I gathered for a group shot on a stoop in the sun to pose for the New York Times’ wonderful ‘Monent In Time’ series, photographs captured at exactly 15:00 U.T.C.

Though of course the photographs are heavily weighted to the West, pretty much every region of the world is represented.

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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.

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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

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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



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This morning at my morning cafe . . .

Two guys chased another guy down the street  – waving hammers. I didn’t see it but the cafe owner, a long-time Bed-Stuy resident, did.

“He ran into the welfare office. Guess he’ll be alright there. But just read the news after the first real hot day of the year. You gonna see people gettin’ shot, people gettin’ beaten up. You gonna see all kinds of things come out when people see each other again. All the stuff goin’ on now, all the unemployment . . .”

It’s true. Just last week all kinds of resentments and suppressed tensions came out with the warm weather. A woman at the rooming house across the street, out at seven in the morning shouting someone’s name over and over and over, then a half-dozen people out on the steps and the woman walking down the street yelling at one of the men while two women sat on the steps yelling into their cellphones then one of the women forgetting about her cellphone to yell at another man on the steps, jumping from the street to the steps as she’s yelling, making great theatrical gestures, then the other woman yelling at her and into her phone at the same time . . .

The night before a woman out on the street rapping out: ‘B-I-T-C-H – that spells BITCH!’ over and over and over while another guy stumbled up and down the street yelling out what sounded like some kind of spiritual, sung dreadfully out of tune, but which turned out to be the Beatles ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ . .. .

When we were riding in the back of a gypsy cab going out for dinner, we passed a street in Clinton Hill blocked off by yellow police tape and cordon of police cars and ambulances. Cops stood on the street, bystanders looking shocked, angry, wary. And on the ground, just visible through the legs of some ambulance workers, the body of a man, a dark pool spreading out slowly beneath him. We didn’t find out if he was dead, or what had happened. Our driver clucked once, and our cab moved on  (as it turns out two men were shot in a drive-by shooting, believed to be drug related. The bullet was intended for the 30 year old. The 70 year old was innocent bystander. Thankfully, neither man was seriously hurt).

Then a couple days later, it all calmed down again . . .we’ll see what happens when it gets warm for real . . . sometimes I wonder what the hard times are stirring up below the surface . . .

Sunset off Brooklyn rooftop

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Saturday afternoon snapshots, Bed-stuy area:

Graffiti - everyone laughing at 'I Work'

Graffiti - Lumberjack sawing through pay telephone

Graffiti - the keyboard infantry will be defeated

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From the creative kids of Bed-Stuy (okay, one was in Clinton Hill but close enough):

Snowman using fruit and veg . . .

Snowman Monk. Or musician:

Monk Snowman in Clinton Hill

And finally, something, I’ve never seen before – a snowman PacMan game:

Pac Man Snowman in Bed-Stuy

Pac Man Snowman in Bed-Stuy

Pac Man Snowman in Bed-Stuy

Pac Man Snowman in Bed-Stuy

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