Greenpoint, October, 2015

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Break out the Vodka and Caviar!

Dig that Olivetti!
Well, now that we've solved the BQE repair/replacement crisis, it remains only to name the new bridge. BQE Bypass is a bit utilitarian for such a grand (and grandiose) project. And we've used up Revolutionary War-era Polish Generals with mustards named after them. How about a poet?

The Joseph Brodsky Bridge has a nice ring to it. And it's appropriate. After his forced emigration from the Soviet Union in 1972, Brodsky lived for many years and died (in 1996 at 55) in an apartment in Brooklyn Heights (splitting his time between New York and Mount Holyoke, Mass.). How would the poet, sentenced to five years of hard labor for "social parasitism," feel about a bridge modeled on one in Siberia? Well, Brodsky did his 18 months of hard labor in arctic Archangelsk. More importantly, he had a great Slavic sense of irony, so I think he'd be just fine with it.

Witness, "Admonition," a poem from 1987:

when you shudder at how infinitesimally small you are,
remember: space that appears to need nothing does
crave, as a matter of fact, an outside gaze,
a criterion of emptiness—of its depth and scope.
And it's only you who can do the job.

Yes, I think Brodsky Bridge would suit him well.

It's a shame that A Room and a Half, the brilliant and moving film about Brodsky by Russian director and animator Andrey Khrzhanovsky is not available on DVD in the States. In it, Khrzhanovsky mashes up Brodsky's memoirs of his early life in Saint Petersburg with animations of Brodsky's drawings, many of the beloved family cat. You can at least enjoy a few minutes of the trailer here.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Siberian Solution

Trolls' Paradise
We're agreed then. The solution to the BQE problem in Brooklyn is a new bridge carrying the roadway out over Gowanus Bay. Local traffic can use the existing travel lanes, which will be a lot easier to repair with so much less volume. But what kind of bridge?

Here's our first candidate. The Atlantic Road (right) in Norway, an 8.3 kilometer stretch that connects the island of Averøy with the mainland and Romsdalshalvøya. It hops from island to island with eight separate bridges. Looks like something out of J.R.R. Tolkein. Beautiful, but I don't think it can handle the volume of traffic our new BQE Bypass demands.
Don't try this in Red Hook!
For that, I'd suggest something on the order of the bridge over the Yenesei River in the Krasnoyarsk, Siberia (left). You may have seen it in the gorgeous photo in Friday's New York Times of a member of the amateur winter bathing club of Krasnoyarsk taking a dip in -15 degree temps. It's only 2.3 km long but you can easily image it stretching much farther as the need be. Built in the early part of the last century, it still works. The arches are high enough to allow for the New York Harbor traffic.

Krasnovark - City of Light
The slightly blurry photo from Kelly Paras's blog below gives an idea of what it would like at night. Yes, I think it will suit New York nicely. Now we just need a name. (I don't think "Kommunaly Bridge" will go over too well, even in New York, that hotbed of European Socialism.)


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Outward and Upward!

The BQE is falling apart. The sections that work least well and are the hardest to fix are the ones that cut through Downtown Brooklyn, under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and through Cobble Hill, aka, "the Trench." So, what do you do when you need to replace a major highway that runs through a densely populated urban environment? You can go under it, but that's expensive and messy. You can go over it, but I doubt Brooklynites would welcome a seven- or eight-mile Pulaski Skyway-like elevated highway. That only leaves the Providence Solution: Go Around It!

Back in the 1980s, the Rhode Island DOT was faced with doing something about the section of I-195 that ran through Downtown Providence, Fox Point, and over the Providence River into East Providence. Built in the 1950s, it was designed to carry an estimated 75,000 vehicles a day and was handling more than 160,000. Plus, it had hazardous curves and closely space exits. Sound familiar? The RIDOT considered doing a major overhaul of the existing roadway or replacing it with a new section. They went with the latter, constructing a new stretch of road and bridge over the Providence River beyond the hurricane barrier, which had been built following the devastating 1956 hurricane. In other words, they went around the problem. That map above shows the recently reopened 1-195. The brown patches indicate where the old highway once rocked through downtown Providence and the East Side.

We can do the same. Imagine driving west (towards Staten Island) on the BQE, reaching Downtown Brooklyn and having the choice of staying on the local road or taking the [to be named] Bridge. If you choose the bridge, you are lifted gently above the new waterside park, over Gowanus Bay, and gradually reconnected with the existing expressway somewhere in Sunset Park. There might even be a buses only exit to Governors Island. Essentially, we'd be following the blue line on this map of BQE replacement/repair options--except what is proposed here is an "outboard tunnel" between Greenpoint and Sunset Park.

What are we groundhogs? We need a bridge not another tunnel. Something that will not only solve a major traffic problem but contribute to the majesty of New York City's built environment. Tomorrow, I'll offer some possible models for such a monumental under(over)taking.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Providence-Krasnoyarsk Connector

Photo by Dave Watts
You may be wondering, with some justification, what this modest 1982 photograph from Providence, Rhode Island, has to do with the BQE. Fair question. But before we get to the answer, we need to define the problem. As a recent article in The New York Times dramatized (with some great quotes, by the way), the BQE is in desperate need of rehabilitation, repair, or replacement. But, given the budget woes in Albany and New York City, the DOT has announced that, for the foreseeable future, it will get only small-scale repairs on an as-needed basis.

I drive on this?
As the Times story details, the BQE was built for much less traffic than it (mis)handles today. The lanes through Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights are just 10 1/2 feet wide rather than the now standard 12 feet. Apparently, our automobiles, like ourselves, were smaller in those days. The State is even canceling a study for the replacement for the section of the expressway that passes under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade on two cantilevered levels (shown during construction at right).

Alright, I understand money is as tight as Mitt Romney's smile. But damn it, I stand with Newt on this. Now is not the time to shy from grandiose (and verb-i-ose) projects, the kind that made this country great. In future posts, we'll travel to Providence and, yes, to Krasnoyarsk, Siberia (where they can see Sarah Palin's megalomania from their houses) to propose a solution to the BQE problem in keeping with the spirit of American Exceptionalism instead of Obama-esqque Acceptdefeatism.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Chulita Te Amo

Woody Woodside
I blathered in this space recently about subway staircase equity on the 7 train drawing the contrast between the 46th Street Station's 6 stairways to the street and 82 Street's 3. But there is at least one way 82nd St. has it all over 46th St. They've got some stained glass windows from 1999 by Yumi Heo. Heo hum... We've got Kate!
"In physical terms, I'm cuter than you..."

If you can't quite make it out on the poster, the commentary in red reads, "Chulita te amo," ("I love you, little sexy one"). And we do. I probably won't see Underworld Awakening but it does make me want to get out my copy of The Last Days of Disco (from 1998!). Here's Kate's character, Charlotte, with Alice (Chloe Sevigny) dancing in the greatest disco the world was ever privileged to see. Oh, Kate, what did we do to deserve you?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Metaphysical Movers

In case the BQE isn't tight enough for you
Everybody's good at something. This moving company specializes in dissembling furniture to get it into tight places. A fine occupation. In Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman, Policeman MacCruiskeen, as a hobby, fashions a series of ornate wooden chests, each new one small enough to fit within the last one. As he goes on, he requires instruments increasingly small (decreasingly large?), until he is working with ones so small they are literally invisible.

These might be just the guys I need to deconstruct that war-surplus Libyan squash court I bought on line and reconstruct it in my basement storage  bin. (Here's a couple minutes of Ramy Ashour and Ryan Cuskelly from a Tournament of Champions match, now on, at Grand Central. NB: One of these players is not your BTB correspondent. And neither is the other.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What Kind of Monster Are You?

Back in November 1994, a young(er) Newt Gingrich was orchestrating "The Contract With (On) America" and leading the Republicans to a massive midterm takeover of Congress. Less than a month later, in a divey bowling alley-cum-music venue in Chicago, Slant 6 were telling our future (in 1 min. 48 secs.):
Your fangs are beginning to show now
I think I've really got to go now
Don't look at me that way
I'm really scared because...
What kind of monster are you?

What kind of monster is Newt? Leave out the personal stuff, and you've still got a racist (and race-baiting), homophobe, huckster, lobbying, lying sack of sugar--beet or cane, your choice. A sort of cross of Melville's Confidence Man, Shakespeare's Iago and Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life. Please, Newt, show us how to become a "thrifty working class"!
(This post requested by My Fair Isle.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bridge and Mustard Crowd

Place of honor (Zum Stammtisch Pork Store)
It's well known that Polish generals Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Casimir Pulaski were both on the side of the upstart colonists in the American Revolution. Not only that, both have bridges spanning the Newtown Creek between Queens and Brooklyn. So where will you find them going head to head? At the World-Wide Mustard Competition at the National Mustard Museum in Middletown, Wisconsin. In the 2011 face-off, Pulaski Polish Style Mustard (from Chicago) took the Gold and Kosciuszko Spicy Brown Mustard took the Silver in the Deli/Brown Mustards category (one of 18 categories). Congratulations to both winners!

Pulaski Bridge (Courtesy Wired New York)
The Kosciuszko Bridge, of course, has gotten a lot of attention on this blog. The Pulaski Bridge less so. Like its high-flying compatriot, it also carries six lanes of traffic over the Newtown Creek, connecting McGuinness Boulevard in Greenpoint with Long Island City on the other side. It was opened in 1954, 16 years after the Kosciuszko, and reconstructed in 1994.

What is it about Poles and bridges and mustard? The French love mustard, too, and even have a Revolutionary War hero or two to boast about, but where's the Lafayette Bridge or Rochambeau Moutarde de Dijon? I guess those French names are just too hard to pronounce.

This post goes out to Chef Pierre, Connoisseur de Moutarde d'Omaha.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tale of Two Boroughs

Blissful commuting
An outbreak of BQE (Brooklyn Queens Envy)? Nope, this one is all about Queens. Two neighborhoods, one train, two subway stations, nine stairwells. Before I get started, I just want to say, I like Sunnyside, I have family in Sunnyside, my local is in Sunnyside (you thought maybe "The Ready Penny" on 73rd St.? Club Romantico's on Roosevelt Ave.?). In fact, this story says infinitely more about the MTA than it does the plain people of Sunnyside.

But let's get started. That photo (left) is an entryway to the 46th St. station in Sunnyside. Nothing to write home about, right? Except this is at 47th St., one of the two extra stairways at the east end of the platform. Good idea.

Now jump on the 7 for a few stops and get off at 82nd St. In vain will you look around for an exit at 83rd or 81st. streets. No problem: What's a minute or two queuing on a busy elevated platform in mid-January? A bit more crowded at the station level. Hmmm. Could it really be that there are only three stairways to the street? Evidently the MTA hasn't felt the need to have a stairway to the southeast corner of 82nd St. and Roosevelt Ave.
"Beam me up, Scotty"
You can see where it would go in the photo at right. Sunnyside gets 6 and we get 3--you do the math. But, hey, who's going to complain in "Pequeña Colombia," the epicenter of the South American community?

Not me. After all, if it wasn't for 46th St. and its straphangers, I couldn't do the subway magic trick Fisher Stevens does for Joe Morton's character in John Sayles' great The Brother from Another Planet (1984). Hint: It's not the card trick; you've got to watch the full (3 min.) clip to the end.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Day Before a Snowy Day

I took this photo very early on Friday morning. A father and his daughter wait on the Flushing-bound 7 train platform on the way to, I'm guessing, a preschool violin lesson. By midnight the platform would be covered in snow and ice, our first snowstorm of 2012. It reminded me of the collages Ezra Jack Keats did for his classic A Snowy Day (1963), which are up for a few more days at the Jewish Museum.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pity the Poor Pierreponts

Future home of the BQE
Christopher Gray did a nice piece in the Times last Sunday about how the construction of the BQE in (or rather under) Brooklyn Heights. Robert Moses' solution to residents' understandable rejection of the original plan to continue the roadway right through the Heights was to build into the embankment that then separated the Heights from the waterfront below. You know the rest: Great park, traffic nightmare. Furman Street, on the old map above, would be replaced by the two-level highway we know and love, topped off with a public esplanade.

That crosstown traffic is murder
The map, oh, that's just Hezekiah Pierrepont's property in Brooklyn (c. 1825). You can see the Pierrepont Slip jutting into the East River from whence old Zeke "was accustomed to row himself each day into New York."

At right is a shot (1879) of a later Pierrepont house in the neighborhood. According to the Brooklyn Historical Society blog, it was taken by John Jay Pierrepont, son of Henry Evelyn. It shows the stairway he and his brother used to go to work at the offices of the Pierrepont Stores, the family's shipping and storage business. No doubt he enjoyed a spectacular view as he took in the morning air. I'm guessing his workers' view, not to mention air, was not quite so sweet.

According to, the house was demolished in 1946 as part of the Moses design, not for cars, but for children. In a compromise to preserve the rest of the houses on the block, it was razed to create a playground as part of the esplanade.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Deadly BQE Billboard Video

(Courtesy The Gothamist)
It's time to leave the Isle of Exiles and return our gaze to the BQE. If you've been following the mainstream news, you probably read about the collapse of a 50-ton billboard onto the BQE in Greenpoint during the windstorm on Friday (the 13th). Remarkably, no one was injured. (It was a billboard used by the Lottery; I imagine a lot of people played the number 11312 that day.) The billboard turns out to have been illegally erected within 200 feet of the highway, like scores along the BQE. Investigations seem to indicate faulty bolts in its anchoring. Comforting.

You can see a security cam video that captured the collapse here. This BQE video, Passing Salt, though, comes from Jon Par's (Staten Island filmmaker Jonathan Parisen) series of "minimal videos" (#1422). It recalls Mayor Bloomberg's assault on salt: It'll kill you.
If you survived that, you might enjoy Jon Par's surrealist epic (at 53 seconds), Angry Hot Dog Vendors:
He spent time in exile on Staten Island before being smuggled back into Mexico insideo crate. He spent time in exile on Staten Island before being sm

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Isle of Exiles, Part II

From Skibbereen to Staten Island
Far less grand than the Garibaldi Memorial pictured in yesterday's post, this waist-heigh monument in St. Peter's cemetery marks the spot where Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, the Fenian leader exiled from Ireland in 1871, was buried on July 2, 1915. He didn't stay long. His corpse was disinterred and buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on August 1. Padraig Pearse's speech over O'Donovan Rossa's grave turned out to be a flashpoint in the lead-up to the Easter Rising of 1916. Here is the closing section:
"The Defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and, while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace."

O'Donovan Rossa spent most of his last 40 or so years living on Staten Island and raising money for the armed struggle back home (he wasn't known as "Dynamite O'Donovan" for nothing). Sadly, there are few traces of his life there. The first house he lived in with his wife (one of three) and and at least some of his 18 children was on Shore Road (now Mariner's Terrace) and Van Pelt Avenue. At the time, the New York Times decried his lifestyle in story with the headline: "Alas! Poor O'Donovan (Rossa.) He has Nothing But a Staten Island Mansion to Live In," Mansion or not, it's gone now, though there are some quite nice but hardly luxurious houses from the same period nearby.
Basking in the moment

His last house was at 194 Richmond Terrace, in New Brighton, is gone too. That's friend of the blog Robyn (r) and BTB Senior Research Assistant Lucy (l) in front of where the it stood. Unless that graffiti reads "Here lived Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa," no marker commemorates either home of this important figure in the history of Ireland's struggle for freedom. (Full disclosure: According to family lore, your correspondent is related, in some fog-, or better smoke-, shrouded way to O'Donovan Rossa.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Isle of Exiles, Part I

Berenice Abbott (1937)
Staten Island has more than its fair share of houses that you might call over the top, but this one took the term literally. It is, or rather was, the Garibaldi Memorial. If you look beneath that neo-classical superstructure you can see a rather modest wood-frame house. That was home to Antonio Meucci, an immigrant from Florence, Italy, who is remembered for two things. First, he invented the telephone. That's right: he did it in that house in 1860, sixteen years before Alexander Graham Bell. But for his filing for and receiving the cheaper short-term patent, we might have grown up with Ma Meucci instead of Ma Bell. Not only that, it would have been called the "teletrofono."Bellissimo!

Where the magic was made
The second thing Meucci is honored for is providing refuge to the Italian unifier, then in exile, Giuseppe Garibaldi. Garibaldi lived here from 1850-54, when he returned to Italy and to glory. Meucci died in 1884, and the house was eventually given to the Order of the Sons of Italy to be used as a monument to the great liberator. Thus the fancy stuff. It was moved to its present location in Rosebank in 1907, when the pantheon was constructed. That's gone now, and the house is open as a museum honoring both the great inventor and great unifier. The museum is located at 420 Tompkins Ave. and its number is 718-442-1608--give them a call on your cellofrono.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Meet the Metropolitans

"Wicket cool."
That's friend of the blog and President of the Winfield Heights Alliance for Preservation (W.H.A.P.) Dan Allen in Walker Park on Staten Island. Readers of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland will recognize it as the home of the Staten Island Cricket Club. Founded in 1872 (at then Livingston Park), it is the oldest continuously operating cricket club in the United States. The club's site has links to some great old New York Times "Cricket Notes" pieces, including this one from 1875 about the SICC taking on the Manhattans of Brooklyn. Huh?

(Courtesy Univ. of California, San Diego)
For two season, 1886 and 87, the park was home to the New York Metropolitans, a baseball club founded in 1880. The club was bought out by the Brooklyn Dodgers after the 1887 season "to gain territorial protection" and get hold of the contracts of several of the Metropolitan's star players. Given the latter-day Mets' recent records and Madoff-initiated sell-off of talent, maybe they should consider taking up cricket instead.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Let Them Eat Mormon Cake

"Mormon Cake" (contributed by Mrs. Linda Brown)
Roll 1 box Vanilla Wafers--put half of the crumbs in a 9x12 cake pan (do not grease). Cream 2 sticks oleo and 1 lb. Confectioner's sugar together. Beat in 3 eggs. Spread carefully on the crumbs. Drain No. 2 can Pineapple or frozen Strawberries--spread in pan. Whip 1 pint of cream and spread on top. spread remaining crumbs on top. Put in refrigerator overnight or longer. Cut into small squares and serve.

What does this delicacy have to do with Staten Island architecture (or Mormons for that matter)? Reader, I'm glad you asked me that. I found this gem on a FaceBook site dedicated to memories of Vality Department Store in Gales Ferry, Conn. In the 1970s, Vality's ran a weekly feature in the New London Day (I think), called "Who's Who" profiling a customer and sharing one of her (rarely his) favorite recipes. The profilee received a $5 gift certificate and we got, well, Mormon Cake.

The Church at Vality
Now, adjacent to the Vality's parking lot on Rte. 12 was a church built at more or less the same time (late 60s) in more or less the same style as the Vality store. In fact, we called it "The Church at Vality." It was my introduction to that particular post-Vatican II church architecture that embraced open spaces, light wood pews, dinner-theater style seating in the round. My favorite Staten Island example is Our Lady of Good Counsel* (above) on Victory Boulevard. Check out the bell tower! But there are many others.

The churches are still with us but, sadly, Vality, like Apex in Pawtucket and so many one of kind department department stores, is long gone. An Ocean State Job Lot occupies the space now.

(*Interesting choice of name for a place with long-rumored Mafia associations.)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Moondog Modernist

Delirious doctors
Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Roche, Eero Saarinen, Philip Johnson, Charlie Azzue, Robert A.M. Stern... Hang on a sec. Charlie Azzue? Charlie?! Of course, I am talking about Charlie Azzue, Staten Island's great modernist architect and sculptor.

Charlie designed more than 50 buildings and houses on the island in the 1970s and 80s, including the magnificent Physicians and Surgeons Building (above) across from Clove Lakes Park. Those are some of Charlie's sculptures on the lawn. He also did the Legal Arts Building below. You're probably thinking Charlie was working tabula rasa, but no, the LAB was actually a redesign of an existing building seen below below. What a dump!
Dig that right justified text!
Love the bug!
In recent years, Charlie has focused on his sculpture, which is cool. And Charlie himself is definitely cool. On his web site, he recalls hanging out with Janis Joplin and the Band. Close your eyes and try to imagine Philip Johnson getting high with Rick Danko and Janis (seen below in Festival Express). Savor that image.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Squat Racquet

My favorite building on Staten Island is this one-story mystery at 259 Victory Boulevard on the hill coming into St. George. It's zoned for commercial use but it's pretty obvious it hasn't been open for business in a while. If you Google the address, you get a reference to the "Green House," but nothing more. A real estate site informs us that it was built in 1900 and sits on an "irregularly shaped lot." Current property value: $60K.

Court 1?
Can't we find a use for this uniquely squat building?Then it hit me. What is Staten Island missing? (Don't answer that.) But would it be big enough? I took a walk around the corner, and just as I hoped: a half basement and narrow back yard a full story below the entrance on Victory Boulevard. Plenty of room for an international standard court, plus changing room, club room, and library.

Reader, you are looking at the future home of the Tompkinsville-St. George Squash Club. Sure, it might take a bit of retrofitting, blowing out walls, and what-not. But if you're a squash player from Staten Island, South Brooklyn, Bayonne, Perth Amboy, or Elizabeth, and you've got a couple thousand dollars to spend, here's your chance to play in a building that is one year older, yes older, than the original Yale Club (now the Penn Club) in midtown. True, you may have a hard time finding a place that mixes your post-match martini the way you like it or serves a crisp Goose Island IPA, but you try ordering sambar vada at the Yale Club.

The competition
(This post dedicated to the founding, and only, members of the BQSBC: the Brooklyn-Queens Squash Book Club.)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Brutal Truth?

Stairway to heaven?
You look like a bookish sort. Probably spent many happy hours (and lonely dollars) in the Strand. Maybe even remember Pageant in the East Village and Gotham Bookmart on 47th Street? Know your Barnes & Noble from Block & Tackle? Think you know your way around the City's remaining bookstores? Well, I'm betting you haven't been to this one.

That's the Alba House Bookstore on Victory Boulevard operated by the Society of St. Paul. And with its wacky brutalist superstructure, I inaugurate a new series for the blog, From Brauhaus to Our House, focusing on Richmond or "The Rock," i.e., Staten Island. In particular, I'll be looking at some of the weird and wonderful buildings on the Enchanted Isle. This one dates from the early 1960s, and sits just across Ingram Avenue from another favorite of mine, the more modest but equally imaginative Eye Institute. So next time you need to have your eyes checked, make sure you drop in at the Alba. Just remember, as George Smiley points out (in the BBC version of) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, "Barabbas was bookseller."
Geometry has a field day

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


A "Chucker"
Take away the driver and route indicators, and what makes one NYC bus different from another? Okay, besides the subtle differences in smell. Give up? It's the depot marker, that decal behind the front wheelwell that tells you which division and which depot your bus gets its axles greased in. That's a Charlestown Depot bus from the Staten Island Division at right. The two other Staten Island depots are the Castleton and Yukon (for Yukon Avenue).

In my due depot diligence, I came across this amazing site: BusDepot! It's a site devoted to bus photos, mostly from New York but also from New Jersey, Toronto, and Shanghai. One place on the site you won't find bus depot photos from is Iran. This beautiful shot was taken of the bus depot in Qom by Gilles Peress for Magnum Photos in 1979.
Waitin' on the 78
By the way, Staten Island boasts the two longest local bus routes in NYC, the S74 and the S78, which travels 16.5 miles from the ferry terminal in St. George to Main Street in Tottenville. Get more fun facts on MTA buses here.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bundled Joy

Flat on flat
Sometimes they just write themselves. I passed this flatbed on the Gowanus Expressway yesterday morning. Bulging at the seams, literally, with cardboard for recycling (I hope). Nothing special right, unless perhaps Mitt Romney's convictions are hiding in there somewhere? Take a closer look at those "9's" and "0's" in the numbers spraypainted on the outside of the bales. The work of a latent cartoonist? Just a happy spirit? Either way, the message is: Cheer up--even if it is only cardboard courage!
There goes nothing

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Before the Big Dig

Youth. A tough act to follow.
You might have heard that Van Halen gave a show for music insiders and celebrities--if John McEnroe is really a celebrity--at Cafe Wha? in the Village last week. Well, good for them. The big excitement for survivors of the 80s like me is that the Del Fuegos are back together--at least for a 12-city tour. 12! And yes, Brooklyn is one of them (March 3 at the Bell House in Gowanus).

The Del Fuegos, in case you need a refresher, were a band formed in 1981 by Dan Zanes and Tom Lloyd. They developed a good rockin' reputation in the then vibrant Boston music scene and scored big with a record contract from Slash Records in 1984. Slash even bought them a 12-seater van for their first tour, which Warren Zanes promptly totaled--a story told well here by Warren himself. (I went to a fundraiser for the band at my college disco, the same college Dan and Tom had  attended briefly, dropping out of to form the band.)

The Del Fuegos achieved rock infamy by making a TV commercial for Miller Beer. At the time, it seemed like artistic heresy. Now, with a Pogues song used to hawk minivans, it seems kind of a quaint and "folky." Check it out below. Dan Zanes went on to make clever songs for clever children and Warren is the VP for Education of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I guess we're all growed up now.
Sadly, we can't bring back the Dogmatics. Younger and funnier than their Kenmore Square Rat-mates, the Del Fuegos, the Dogmatics lived and played at a loft on Thayer Street in the (then unfashionable) South End, in the shadow of the old Southeast Expressway, aka, Boston's answer to the BQE.  Bassist and lead singer Paul O'Halloran died in a motorcycle accident in 1986. A couple of weeks earlier, I'd seen them at Maxwells opening for the Reducers. Here's a very low-tech video of the Dogmatics doing "Thayer Street":

A High Tech, Yet Lovable Creature

No, I'm not talking about Cardvark (or "The Cardvaark"), the MTA's aborted (ouch) effort to create a mascot for the then new MetroCard system. I'm talking about Robotman, the creation of cartoonist Jim Meddick who, along with his nebbish human sidekick, Monty, charmed comic strip readers from 1985 until 200. At that point, in an intergalactic battle, Robotman took on Captain James T. Kirk for the honor of his android sweetheart, Roba. In the end, according to Robotman scholar Paul Frawley, because "Roba is powered by radiation unique to the far off solar system and can't come to earth with Robotman [he] tearily decides to stay with Roba." After which, the strip was retitled Monty and focused on Monty's decidedly terrestrial, not to say trivial, adventures.

Actually, those late-period Robotman strips were not my favorites. I had been hooked on the unlikely idea of a chatty little robot, inexplicably hanging out with a nerdy everyman and his ex-frat friend Moondog. The one below, from 1988, is a good example--featuring R-Man and Monty's "cool" friend Gary. You can get lots more info at the online Robotman Memorial Library site. So, when I get my Brooklyn waterfront condo duplex (w/ BQE vw, of course), you can be sure that Robotman will have a place of honor.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

High Art?

Up from "the Ditch" on the BQE
Can you make it out, just peeking up from the roof of this Brooklyn condo building? The unmistakeable antics of a Keith Haring figure. It seems highly unlikely that the artist painted a mural for a building that was probably thrown up after his death in 1990. Thanks to, a real estate site, we have our answer.

The painting belongs to the patio of a condo apartment on Mcgraw Street. Recently listed at $1,299,000, the entire condo is decorated, if that's the word, in homage to Keith Haring's work. Check out the photos from the listing below).

Dig the padded walls!
Is it just me, or is there something a bit off about the street-art vibe of Haring's work used to doll up a $1.3M penthouse?  I feel like I'm the little yellow guy in Haring's Pop Shop III from 1989 (below).

Tomorrow, my choice for the 80's artist to decorate my dream condo.
"The horror..."

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jiggle the Handle

Busy as buttermilk
That's Buttermilk Channel, painted by Charles A. Platt sometime around the turn of the last century. with Red Hook visible on the right and lower Manhattan straight ahead. Buttermilk Channel is the narrow tidal strait that separates Governors Island from Brooklyn. It got its name, according to one story, because so much milk was lost in transport from the dairies of Brooklyn across the strait to Manhattan that the water churned buttermilk. Charming. But Buttermilk Channel gives something back to Brooklyn besides cream (or whatever buttermilk is). It's the source of freshwater used to flush the Gowanus Canal. Or was, anyway.
(Courtesy New York Times)

Shortly after the canal was built in the 1880s, it started to stink, for obvious reasons. So, in 1911, the City built a tunnel to bring fresh(er) water from Buttermilk Channel into the canal and, well, flush it out into the bay. The tunnel follows the route of Degraw Street, more or less, between Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, to the head of the canal. It stopped functioning around 1961, and the canal returned to its familiar fetid state. Thankfully, the tunnel is now in the midst of a four-year big-budget renovation. The New York Times did a great piece on this last year.

There you have it: the Gowanus Flushing Tunnel--the fourth, well, third-and-a-half anyway--waterway the BQE passes over. And on that semi-triumphant note, your correspondent concludes this series. We've traveled from Rapelye Street to the Maspeth Kills, from Bushwick Creek to Buttermilk Channel. Hope you enjoyed it, parts anyway. There's not much left to say, except, "Catch ya further down the trail."

86 Kicks

Where's the Indian?
Let's take a break from all those 17th century Huguenots, Walloons, and Moravians and fast forward to the latish 20th century. 1986, to be precise: six years before Cardvark would introduced (and 11 before the entire subway system MetroCard friendly); 8 years before the first Starbucks would open in NYC, and 18 before the Red Sox would appear in another World Series. Can it really be 25 years since the "double suicides" of Donald Manes, the Howard Beach beating, and Rudy Giuliani and Alfonse D'Amato* going undercover as the Village people to make a $20 crack buy in Washington Heights?

If you were a subway rider in NYC back then, this film (remember film?) from 1986 is likely to bring back those sweet and desperate days. Read more about the making of it here. Who can recall the K train now? Or the notorious "CC Rider"?

(*The third man is Benjamin Baer, Chair of the U.S. Parole Commission.)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Up the Creek Without a Shovel

How many significant waterways does the BQE cross? Two, right? The Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal. I thought so too. But then I began to wonder why there was a Bushwick Inlet on Wallabout Bay west of the BQE and the Bushwick neighborhood all the way east of the BQE. Time for some research!

Bushwick Creek original path
Fortunately, I stumbled right away onto a short film by Brian Walsh called Bushwick Creek: The Movie. In it, he traces the history of Bushwick Creek from an active waterway, one that reached much farther inland than it does today, to the present-day Bushwick Inlet, now slated to become a public park. It's a filthy, filthy story, from the draining in of the marshes and filling in of the creek by the Dutch settlers, to make more arable (and sellable) land, to the centuries of contamination with oil and lots of toxic gunk. Suffice to say, you'll think twice before putting down roots in Greenpoint.

You will can lots more of the story and watch the entire film (about 20 minutes) here or watch the first section on Youtube below. Good work Brian! You're a latter-day Jed Clampett.