Greenpoint, October, 2015

Friday, January 31, 2014


The backs of houses suspended above Victory Boulevard. The houses front Rosewood Place.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Just before the Verrazano toll plaza, a sign informs you how long it takes to travel from 92 St. (Bay Ridge exit) to HCT (Hugh Carey Tunnel, formerly the Brooklyn Battery). 9 mins. means traffic is moving well. 14 minutes that you'll creep across the Gowanus Canal viaduct until the split. Last night, it read 44 mins. At 8:30? I decided it had to be a mistake. (Perhaps some kind of psychological traffic study, like the one Calvin Trillin describes here?) In the event, there was almost no traffic; it took about six.

Emergency repairs just before the LIE backed up traffic all the way to downtown Brooklyn. The delay cost me about 40 minutes.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Jackson Heights, Jan. 27, 2014
Snow angels lying
on top of each other?
Snow graffito?
Lopsided snow star or
snow torch?

I think it's a snow comet.

West Shore, East Shadows

West Shore Expressway East (Rte. 440). January 24, 2014. 4:15 P.M.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Kings of the Road

The Budweiser legend is just visible on the red billboard in the distance. Nothing faded about Kings Material, founded in 1935, ready to supply all your brick and masonry needs, as well as full-service ready mix and concrete pumping operations.

Friday, January 24, 2014


Speaking of Cubans, baseball, and TV. El Tiante!

I could watch this all day (16 secs.).

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Green on Red

One of the coldest nights of the year. Day after the big snowstorm. White turning to gray with every footstep. Get home, just get home, the five passengers on the Q32 silently pray as the bus creeps along. Red light at Roosevelt and 69th, El Sitio Restaurant on the right. What's that on the TV screen above the counter? Can you make it out? Green and brown bands below a blue wall. Goddamn, it's a baseball game. Who knows where it's coming from. Cuba? The D.R.? Still almost two weeks until the Superbowl, a reminder that this too will pass. Baseball, like some migratory bird (oriole? blue jay? cardinal?) will make its way north again.

(Sadly, El Sitio, has replaced its great old marquee, below, though not its tiny TVs. It's still Cochina Criolla 100%.)


Monday, January 20, 2014

High Wire Acts

Harry Callahan's photographs of telephone wires. You can see some at the Pace/MacGill Gallery (and a few online here).
1945-76 (Pace/MacGill)
Wires in the countryside are never still :
between each pole they rise, dreaming upward
till each pole breaks their dream
and snaps them rudely back again to earth.
                Rise and fall.
                Rise, snap down and rise dreaming
against the early sky   patterns of wires
change their spatial relationships
parallel shifting lines streaming
crossing down the sky contract and open

"Song of the Wires," Paul Blackburn (1956)

Add 1945 (MoMA)
Yes. Christ. I am suffering a summer Christmas; and I cannot walk under the wires. The sparrows scatter like handfuls of gravel. Really, wires are voices in thin strips.

In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, William Gass (1968)

1945-76 (Pace/MacGill)

He let it ring. No signal or wire could convey what he had to tell her.

Death of the Black-Haired Girl, Robert Stone (2013)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Serious Ladies of Staten Island - Part VI

Hard to believe, but only in the sixth entry do we come to a serious lady actually born on Staten Island. Lois A. H. Mosley was born in 1926, and lived for her first thirty years in Sandy Ground, the community established by free blacks in the mid-nineteenth century, chronicled by Joseph Mitchell and Minna Cheves Wilkins (Serious Lady #5).

Lois A.H. Mosley in 2008
(Staten Island Advance)
"Even after moving to New Jersey in 1975," Mosley writes, "I still come back to attend church every Sunday, and take part in other community activities during the week. Three generations of my family are buried in the A.M.E. Zion Church graveyard. In my mind Sandy Ground will always remain my true home. I hope you will enjoy reading about the remarkable people who once lived there."

It is due, in great measure, to Mosley's contributions to Sandy Ground Memories, published by the Staten Island Historical Society in 2003, that we know about these remarkable people, as well as the places they lived, worked, and played. Mosley graduated from Tottenville High School and became a dietician, working for most of her career at the notorious Willowbrook School (now site of the College of Staten Island). She moved from Sandy Ground to the Mariners Harbor Houses in 1957, then to New Jersey in 1975, and passed away in 2008.

Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church (Jan. 2014)
While most of the houses and buildings that made up the Sandy Ground community have disappeared, either to fire or redevelopment, a few remain. The incorporation of the original Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church in 1850 is the historical marker for the beginning of the community and remained its centerpiece. The first church was replaced in 1897 with a new one (above), which still operates.

565 & 569 Bloomindale Rd. (Jan. 2014)
More remarkably, one of Mosley's (nee Henry) childhood homes, 569 Bloomingdale Road (on the left), still stands, one of two houses proposed for designation as landmarks in 2011. The Henrys' landlord was Mr. Hunter, the subject of Joseph Mitchell's acclaimed New Yorker article, "Mr. Hunter's Grave." Mosley tells a story of life on Bloomingdale Road (a main thoroughfare of Sandy Ground) before they could afford a "real telephone":
We invented a telephone system of our very own. Between the McDonalds (at 509), the Moores (at 565), and the Henrys (at 569 rear), we had a "Knock, knock" system that was unique. When we had running water installed in the three houses they were all on the same meter. We could turn the faucet off sharply and it knocked. To call a neighbor we each had a code. The number of knocks let you know who should stick their head out the door for a message.

In many ways, Mosley's memoir is like many reminiscences of childhood in bygone days. Other stories, however, bring a sharp reminder (though never bitter in her telling) of the prejudice that Sandy Grounders experienced deep into the twentieth century. Here she describes goings on at Reinhardt's, "a combination ice cream, candy store and saloon," located on the southwest corner of Bloomingddale Road and Sharrott's Road:
It was an amusement park for white folks and it provided much fun for us Sandy Ground kids.... The bold kids, mostly the boys, would go down to Reinhardt's and entertain the picnic folks. They would show off and dance and the people would give them nickels. Sometimes the bolder kids would steal the little red reflectors from the license plates of the patrons' cars. At these picnics and clambakes, the picnickers ate and drank all day long. When evening came we kids became beggars. We would run home and the people would give us the leftover food and clam chowder to take home. We were usually a quiet neighborhood but I do remember the fight that erupted in 1935 between a few Sandy Ground men and some of the [white] patrons at Reinhardt's. A paddy wagon took John Cooper, Lester Moody ("Leaky") and others to jail. 

From Sandy Ground Memories
Reinhardt's, renamed the Sleepy Hollow Inn, was purchased in 1967 by Margaret Sklenar. A member of the Reinhardt family continued to operate the business. Only after he died in 1971 were blacks employed and allowed to eat at a restaurant in the heart of their own community. The building was demolished in 1989. As with much of Sandy Ground, townhouses occupy the site.

Site of Reinhardt's/Sleepy Hollow Inn (Jan. 2014)
To think, within a square mile or so of this quiet end of Staten Island, Jane BowlesDorothy Day, and Lois A.H. Mosley all spent parts of their lives.... Three serious ladies, for sure.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Crosstown Bus

Providence 1967, Harry Callahan
I caught the Harry Callahan show at Pace/MacGill Gallery on 57 Street, then I caught the crosstown bus. I got on at Madison and took a seat on the lower level. At Fifth Avenue, a few people descended from the raised gallery at the back to exit the bus, including an elegantly dressed woman with a shopping bag from a fancy store. I moved up. As I was sitting down, I noticed something wedged between my seat and its neighbor: a pair of women's gloves. Black, long, leather. Expensive, by the look of them. The door below was just closing. Too late to say or do anything. The woman across the aisle from me, not so elegantly dressed, met my eyes. "She left them," she said. We rode across from each other for two blocks in silence. Then, just before my stop, she took a step into the aisle and grabbed the gloves. "Let's see," she said quietly, sitting back down. She held up one glove to her rather small hand, then tossed them both into the bag at her feet.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Research Boulevard (or Don't Go Back to Rockville)

Google Directions showed the restaurant as a 1.3 mi., 26 min. walk from the hotel. It was warm, and not too late. So I walked. 
Waiting for the light and crossing the six lanes of Shady Grove Road just outside the hotel took about six minutes.
On my walk, I saw a lot of traffic garages. Most mostly empty.
A sign for the Shady Grove Road exit on Rte. 270 seemed closer than it was.
The white van reminded me of being in Fairfax County, waiting for a taxi outside a Metro station, when the Virginia sniper was at large. (There were false reports that the sniper used a white van.)
I saw two Dalmatians. One outside an animal hospital.
And one inside the window of a clothing store once I reached the brightly lit recreation of a downtown street where the restaurant was located. (It's called Rio though it's constructed around a manmade lake.)
Shadows on the sidewalk.
On my way down I passed two joggers, one dog walker, and a guy sitting on this bench with a backpack beside him. On the way, back he was gone. I passed a man carrying a golf bag headed into an indoor golf center. Then nobody until I got back to Shady Grove Road. A young couple (I suppose) was waiting for a bus. She was wearing a big winter coat. He was wearing a hoodie, plastic flip-flops and socks. Stranger than paradise.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Serious Ladies of Staten Island - Part V

If you are familiar with Sandy Ground, the historic community of free blacks on Staten Island, chances are you've read "Mr. Hunter's Grave," Joseph Mitchell's lovely story that appeared in The New Yorker in 1956 (and was subsequently anthologized in The Bottom of the Harbor and Up in the Old Hotel). But Sandy Ground had an earlier and less likely chronicler in the person of Minna Cheves Wilkins.

Minna C. Wilkins
(Portrait by Elsa Wells)
Ms. Wilkins was born in 1885 on Refuge Plantation in Hampton County, South Carolina. Her father had served in the Confederate Navy, and her grandfather had been a successful civil engineer and rice planter--and the owner of 289 slaves. She graduated from Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Virginia in 1905, taught for awhile in Virginia, then in 1912 moved to New York City to study at Columbia University. Wilkins gained her PhD in psychology in 1926, and worked as a consulting psychologist and for the Salvation Army Family Service Bureau.

In 1950, she moved from Greenwich Ave. to Staten Island. Much like Dawn Powell or Dorothy Day, she had fallen in love with the Island after taking the ferry to St. George to explore its beaches and countryside. Wilkins had already begun to volunteer with the Staten Island Historical Society, focusing mostly on genealogy. And, eventually, on the history of the Sandy Ground community. Much of her research was conducted through interviews with members of the community in their homes.

Her article, "Sandy Ground: A Tiny Racial Island," was published in the October-December 1943 issue of the Staten Island Historian. The writing is detailed and informative, and, as you might expect, tinged with sentiment. Here Wilkins describes the Sandy Ground oyster industry, the main reason free blacks settled in this then desolate part of the Island (the painting below depicts Sandy Grounders at work, c. 1890):

Alex Matthew (SI Historical Socitey)
As long as the oyster industry flourished on the Island, these people flourished. Many owned their own oyster sloops and oyster beds. At four in the morning they walked down the hill to Princes Bay on the east or Rossville on the west, there to begin their labors on the sea. Some of them had wonderful singing voices and many as song rose from the groups of men striding along the road before day. In the evenings after the day's work, friends and neighbors gathered around telling the tales of what had gone on that day aboard the Fannie Ferne or the Pacific. There are wild tales of the wrangling of the white oystermen over the boundaries of the oyster beds, but the Negroes seem to have held their own.

A great deal of the article is given over to recounting individual family histories: the Henry's, the Cooley's, the Harris's and others. Some of the earliest Sandy Grounders were free blacks from Maryland's Eastern Shore. Wilkins asks,
Why then, was our group minded to leave the Eastern Shore where they are probably property owners engage in in the chief industry of Snow Hill [oysters], among people some of who were filled with the spirit of brotherhood? The reasons were many and various but all might be comprised in the statement that the white community did not want the Free Negroes among them and kept making it more and more difficult for them to make a living.

241 Ascot Ave. (Jan. 2014)
I wanted to see Ms. Wilkins's Staten Island home at 241 Ascot Avenue. It's about two miles from Sandy Ground headed east (inland) along Arthur Kill Road, at the foot of Lighthouse Hill, very close to the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art. At first I thought I had the address wrong since Ascot Avenue seemed to dead end at 241 St. George Rd. But a few steps further revealed a small white bungalow fronted by a little dell--running down to what can only be described as a babbling brook. Even more surprising, between the house and brook, a cabin--such as Ms. Wilkins might have known from her youth in South Carolina, though not to live in.

She moved from the house in 1960 and passed away while residing in the Mariner's Family Home in Stapleton, the far side of her adopted Island from Sandy Ground.

(The Research Bureau is indebted to the editors of the Staten Island Historian, and especially to Ms. Elsa Wells, for biographical information about MCW. The cell-phone photograph of a black-and-white reproduction of her oil painting of MCW provides the only image I could find of MCW.)

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Mugging, Jersey Style

I finally got to the National Academy Museum yesterday to see the show See It Loud: Seven Post-War American Painters. I'd never heard of any of them, liked most of them. One large canvas called me back several times (even requiring a second trip up the ornate circular stairway), Paul Georges's noir fairy tale, "Mugging of the Muse."

Mugging of the Muse, Paul Georges (1974)
The label told the story of a libel suit against Georges by two other painters, Anthony Siani and Jacob Silberman, for using their faces as the muggers' masks. Georges admitted that he had done so but that the painting was meant as an allegory for the the contemporary art world. (They won, but it was overturned.)

It struck me as an allegory with a different object: the so-called Bridge-gate (traffic-study) scandal roiling in New Jersey. It's not hard to see Christie as one of the muggers hiding behind a mask of ignorance. Who is his masked partner in crime? David Wildstein or somebody higher up at the Port Authority (Bill Baroni, David Samson)? Is that Kevin O'Dowd, Christie's Chief of Staff and nominee for Attorney General, looking on but not holding a knife?

And who are the children? Innocent people of Fort Lee? Or is the boy the "little Serbian" (Mayor Sokolich)? And the girl Bridget Anne Kelly about to become the fall guy for the whole sordid mess?

However you read it, there's blood in the water. (And no parking, 7 AM - 7 PM, Mon. thru Fri.)

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Zipfer Merge

The "zipper merge" is a technique for easing traffic congestion, for instance, around construction sites. Drivers continue to use both lanes until they reach the merge point, at which they are encouraged by use of signs and cones to alternate turns in merging to one lane--like the teeth of a zipper coming together. It's not fast, but it works. That is, when you are merging from two lanes to one. Not much works, though, when you are merging from three lanes to one.

Courtesy Minnesota DOT
And yet that is exactly what happened at the George Washington Bridge in September. In Fort Lee, NJ. In emails released today, it became clear that, in August, David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to the Port Authority, asked Peter Zipf, the Authority's Chief Engineer, for scenarios to create congestion on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. When Zipf's more extreme scenario, three lanes merging to two lanes entering the toll booths, wasn't harsh enough for Wildstein, Zipf came back with another: three lanes to one. From the Business Insider timeline:

  • August 28: Port Authority Chief Engineer Peter Zipf emailed Wildstein: "As requested," he attached a plan for reducing the rush hour toll lane allotment for Fort Lee from three lanes to two. "One additional scenario could be a merge down to one lane, if needed," he added.
  • August 29: Zipf provided a modified plan for Wildstein, including an option taking Fort Lee down to a single toll lane, "as discussed."

  • Peter Zipf has worked at the Port Authority for 29 years, eventually becoming its Chief Engineer. As his alma mater, Manhattan College's profile of him puts it: "Anyone who has ever flown into New York City, driven from Manhattan to New Jersey or taken the PATH train has benefited from the work of Peter Zipf '79..." What about those trying to drive from New Jersey to New York City?

    David Wildstein, a high school crony of Christie, was appointed by Christie i n 2010 to a $150K/year "oversight" position at the Port Authority. To be Christie's "eyes and ears" there.

    What pressures was he under? What motivated him to comply? This part of the story has yet to be told.

    Hacks will be hacks. What happens when professionals stop being professionals?

    Thursday, January 9, 2014

    A Soul as Big as the George Washington Bridge

    Dave Frieder (2008)
    In his answer to one question at his news conference today on the George Washington Bridge "traffic-study" scandal, Governor Chris Christie claimed he had been doing some "soul-searching." Not once, but four times (once as a verb):

    Christie: Well, listen, obviously -- I said earlier, John [King, reporter who asked question], I'm heartbroken about it, and I'm incredibly disappointed. I don't think I've gotten to the angry stage yet, but I'm sure I'll get there. But I'm just stunned. 

    And what does it make me ask about me? It makes me ask about me what did I do wrong to have these folks think it was OK to lie to me? And there's a lot of soul-searching that goes around with this. You know, when you're a leader of an organization -- and I've had this happen to me before, where I've had folks not tell me the truth about something -- not since I've been governor but in previous leadership positions -- you always wonder about what you could do differently. And believe me, John, I haven't had a lot of sleep the last two nights, and I've been doing a lot of soul-searching. I'm sick over this. I've worked for the last 12 years in public life developing a reputation for honesty and directness and blunt talk, one that I think is well-deserved. But, you know, when something like this happens, it's appropriate for you to question yourself, and certainly I am. And I am soul-searching on this.

    But what I also want the people of New Jersey to know is that this is the exception, not the rule. And they've seen that over the last four years with the way I've worked and what I've done. So I don't want to fall into the trap of saying, well, this one incident happened, therefore the one incident defines the whole -- it does not, just like one employee who's lied doesn't determine the character of all the other employees around you. And so I don't want to overreact to that in that way either, John. But if you're asking me over the last 48 hours or last 36 hours I've done some soul-searching, you bet I have.

    The funny thing is, the question John King asked was not, "Governor, have you done some soul-searching over this?" (You bet he has) or "What does this make me ask myself?" (Why me?!) or "How does he feel about this?" (Not angry yet, but he'll get there). No, here is the question (inaudible at the end):

    Reporter: So, I'm just asking, what do you ask yourself about -- they either thought this is what the boss wanted, or they -- as a group, they were willing to go rogue and do this and then try to cover it up...

    If you're curious about the progress of the soul-searching....

    Reporter: Governor, you said you had been doing some soul-searching. I'm wondering if you're soul-searching about the kind of people you hire, or the kind of people who run your campaigns, or the kind of people you want to run the Republican Party who are willing to apparently engage in political retribution and also call the mayor reportedly a racially insensitive man.

    Christie: Yeah.

    Reporter: Soul-searching on the hiring practice isn't how you judge people?

    Christie: Sure, it was a mistake. I mean, the soul-searching is complete on that part of it. It was a mistake.

    The soul-searching is complete! Hallelujah! (Full transcript here.)

    Wednesday, January 8, 2014

    Brooklyn, Thinking about Bayonne

    Dave Frieder (1979)
    The overhead signs on the BQE yesterday alerted drivers to nighttime closure of the Bayonne Bridge. At least it's a change from "Delays to the Kosciuszko Bridge." Today the Port Authority is beginning a two-year project to raise the elevation (I first wrote "evaluation," which I like) of the roadway, which will give larger cargo ships access to Newark and Elizabeth ports. I've always enjoyed the Bayonne's narrowness, in contrast to the wide platforms of its sisters, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the George Washington, and the Whitestone. It's rare to feel that high for so long with nothing on either side.

    John A. Noble, Reproduction of historical drawing (1981)
    The Noble Maritime Collection at Snug Harbor has a small online exhibit of artists' renderings of the bridge, including Dave "The Bridge Man" Frieder's shot through the trusses and a drawing from the Bridge's construction in 1930 (above).

    Monday, January 6, 2014

    The LIE Like White Elephants

    The LIE crosses the Newtown Creek. Seen from a 7-train leaving Queensboro Plaza.

    Sunday, January 5, 2014

    Hard Sledding

    I heard a report on the radio this morning that the Parks Department is putting hay bales around trees in Riverside Park to prevent children from sledding into them. Well, I suppose it's a more efficient method than making Ethan Frome mandatory reading (maybe it still is?).
    Avery Cemetery (Photo: Jan Franco)
    When I was growing up in southeastern Connecticut, we were lucky to have a sledding run in Avery Cemetery, just at the edge of our neighborhood. The center alley led straight downhill to Avery (what else?) Pond. Did anyone worry about us running headfirst into a gravestone? Or whether the ice on the pond was thick enough? I suppose they did, but it came with the territory of childhood, at least as it was mapped out in those days. (Come to think of it, nobody questioned the propriety of sledding in a cemetery either, and a historic one at that.)

    Schlitten, Joseph Beuys (1969)
    The sleds my brothers and sisters used were not particularly fast but they were very cool. Brought back by my parents from Germany, they were more like wooden platforms above the snow. Like the one in the Joseph Beuys's piece above, but without the blanket, flashlight, and hunk of fat (though the piece does make me think our sleds were designed for work not speed).

    Schlitten fahren, kinder, while the schlitten fahren is gut!

    Saturday, January 4, 2014

    Alternate Side Suspended

    More time to admire the Merc across the street.

    Marred only by a New York Yankees sticker on the rear windshield (upper left).

    Friday, January 3, 2014

    Thursday, January 2, 2014

    A Deuce and a Quarter

    This Electra 225 has been sitting on service station/used car lot on Victory Boulevard for a couple months. Having lunch at Schaffer's Tavern, across the street, I heard a couple of the regulars gush over her beauty. The Harley sticker on the rear windshield is a nice touch.

    It put me in mind of a favorite Ry Cooder song, "The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)" from Bob till You Drop (1979). For some reason, I'd always assumed this was Ry Cooder. Turns out the writer is Sidney W. Bailey, a Memphis cab driver and songwriter Jim Dickinson brought to Cooder's attention.

    Well, I put you behind the wheel of a deuce and quarter, yes I did.
    Had you livin' like a rich man's daughter, yes I did.
    While you were livin' high on the hog
    You had me down here scuffling like a dog.
    Well, the very thing that made you rich made me poor.
    Very thing that made you rich made me poor.

    Here's a nice version from Les Blank's 1987 film about Ry Cooder. I've posted another song from this great and still unavailable film: