Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hair of the Poet

At Brian Cassidy Bookseller, the artifacts, ephemera, and "cultural detritus" of the old East Village have washed ashore. There are old newsletters from the Poetry Project, flyers for clubs long defunct, mimeos and zines. It's an impressive collection.

But there's one extra special item that recently caught my eye at Cassidy's booth at the New York Art Book Fair.

The item's card reads: "Sanders, Ed and Allen Ginsberg. [Pubic Hair]." The condition is described as "Generally very good, though lacking all but one of the original public [sic] hairs."

"One of the most infamous and written-about literary artifacts of the 20th century," the original collection of hairs was requested by Sanders and gathered personally by Ginsberg to be sold via mail order through Sanders' Peace Eye Bookstore on Avenue A.

Cassidy has Ginsberg's handwritten list, including descriptions of each hair in the giver's own words, as they were collected at a party for Giuseppe Ungaretti's poetry reading in 1963 or '64. Without looking too much into it, the way each poet described his pubic hair may provide some insight into his personality--competitive, self-deprecating, straightforward.

Frank O'Hara: "Mine are more golden than Frank Lima's, to tell the truth."
Joe Brainard: "Sort of irregular."
Ron Padgett: "Hey, mine's got dandruff."
Edwin Denby: "Beat up grey."
LeRoi Jones: "Black and curly."

Also included in the piece is a note from Ed Sanders, affirming the authenticity of the hairs, and stating that only Kenneth Koch and Barbara Guest refused to give up theirs.

Today, only one hair remains. To which poet it belonged remains a mystery. Each hair originally sold for $15. This whole package can now be yours for $2,750. Contact Brian Cassidy Bookseller if you're interested.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Lemon Ice King

For this week's piece in Metro NY, a long walk to the Lemon Ice King of Corona.

To get to the Lemon Ice King of Corona, especially on a day when the 7 train is running express, you walk from Junction Boulevard in Queens. The walk is half the pleasure.

Under the elevated tracks, you go past the botanicas and tarot card readers, the driving schools and tortillerias, the women at sidewalk stands blending fruit into juice. You walk past the giant, flashing signs for Corona Oral Surgery–the ones that inexplicably advertise OB-GYN! OB-GYN!–and turn right onto 104th Street, through the land of barber shops...

...It’s Indian summer, or more Global Warming. The locust trees along the sidewalk are turning gold. The Mets have just one game left to play. At the Lemon Ice King, the candy apples have appeared, another sign of the changing season. A new crowd arrives, taking vivid colors into their hands—pistachio green, cherry red, blueberry blue. No one buys a candy apple. They’re not quite ready to give up the ice.

Read the whole essay at Metro NY

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Video Gallery


The Video Gallery in Park Slope is closing.

One More Folded Sunset writes, "It had to happen sooner or later. At a time when the video store is practically extinct, the much loved Video Gallery, on Park Slope's Seventh Avenue, will be gone by the end of the month. Last time I returned a DVD there, a couple of weeks ago, the owner, Kathy Smelyansky, waived my late fee, and I guessed the end was in sight."

Recently, I took the above photo, thinking how melancholy is the video store at night, a little lonely. I wondered how long before it was gone. Brokelyn says it's the last video store in the neighborhood.

Says Folded Sunset, "When you go into the store right now, the atmosphere is one of shocked sadness, and appreciation.  We can't believe the place is really closing! There's a sale on in the store & the DVDs are disappearing fast."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

John's Bakery


In the Ficarra family for over 50 years, John's Bakery of Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, closed its doors earlier this month.

photo: Ditmas Park Corner

Ditmas Park Corner first reported on the closure, including the goodbye note, which stated:

"opportunities unexpectedly arose and quick decisions had to be made which necessitated closing the store. Please join us in welcoming your new neighbors who we are sure intend to contribute to the neighborhood’s upswing."

Some commenters worry that this means what's coming next is either an upscale artisanal cafe or a Starbucks. Like most of the city, and more and more of Brooklyn, Ditmas has been rapidly gentrifying.

The Real Brooklynite calls John's "One of the few remaining business in Ditmas Park with real Brooklynite roots and without large-scale corporate ties." They add: "If you’re looking for a bagel and coffee in Ditmas Park now then it’s best to prepare to feel like you’re an extra in a scene from Girls… Why did John’s close? Well, it’s hard to speculate but the pieces can be placed together. A very nice goodbye note on their door said it wasn’t their intention to close. A townie neighbor outside the store told me their rent was doubled."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jack Bistro to TD Bank

Last year, when I reported that Jack Bistro would be closing on University Place, a regular from the neighborhood told me, "The landlord is renting the space to a bank for $50,000 a month. Jack offered $30,000, but the landlord wanted more."


Well, it's a year later and here it is, as promised, yet another brand-new TD Bank. The Village needs this like it needs a hole in the head.

today, via Coney Island doc

Please write the mayor and the City Council and tell them to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, so our small business owners have a chance to negotiate fair lease renewals. It's time to put a stop to the chaining of New York City.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Floating Library

For today's Metro NY, a visit to the Floating Library:

Across the ship, readers lounge on mattresses and chairs, books in hand. All mobile devices must be powered off. The Floating Library is an analog experience. Swaying in the water, bumping against big rubber fenders that keen against the dock, the Lilac smells sweetly of rust and rot, of the saline Hudson and time gone by. Like a library, it is peacefully quiet. The only racket comes from the loud, intrusive music of the mini-golf course across the pier, another dubious amenity of the city’s suburbanization.

Onboard, though roped to the city, you are yet away from it. The 1933 lighthouse tender is a floating artifact, a lovely ruin through which you are free to roam, peering through portholes and poking into musty rooms washed in river light.

Read the whole piece at Metro NY

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fab 208

VANISHING (for now)

The Fab 208 boutique on 7th Street is closing, after 23 years in the East Village. They opened in 1992. A sign on their window says they're going to take the winter off and continue to sell online. They hope to reopen "somewhere" in 2015.

From their website: "FAB 208 is the kind of store that NYC used to boast many of, nowadays it is not so easy for emerging or independent designers to compete with corporate owned chain stores, but FAB prevails..."

Before Fab 208 moved in from across the street, this was the long-time space of Howdy Do. And before that, an egg shop.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

La Taza de Oro

Earlier this week, I was in Chelsea, wondering where the hell to have lunch. There aren't a lot of tolerable places left. Then I thought of La Taza de Oro. Perfect. But when I got there, I found the place shuttered and a sign on the door thanking customers for their patronage.

I panicked--but the sign also said they're not closed for good, just making a bunch of changes to satisfy the Health Department. Presumably, they will reopen and all will be well. But I've been worried about the place.

Its neighbor, Mezza Luna Pizza, recently shuttered. The building to the north of that has been demolished for new development. Two doors down from La Taza de Oro, a building collapsed during Hurricane Sandy and has been boarded up since. And then there's a check-cashing place--which simply isn't going to last in the new Chelsea.

These are signs that make me nervous.

Another thing that makes me nervous is Google's presence across the avenue and all the recent shutterings that have been throttling this stretch of 8th Avenue.

Call me paranoid, but it seems like the Health Department always shows up at times like this.

La Taza de Oro is an old-school survivor. The service is friendly and warm. The food is good and hearty, plentiful and affordable. If New York City had a protection plan for preserving its cultural assets, La Taza de Oro would be on the list.

But we don't have a protection plan. We have nothing. We are defenseless, at the mercy of a new mayor who has done nothing to save the city from being choked in chains and upscale development.

So let's hope La Taza de Oro reopens soon, that the Health Department gets off their back, and that it somehow continues to survive in this increasingly hostile city. Without it, and places like it, where are we going to eat lunch?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Meatpacking Guys: 1977

In the summer of 1977, Richard Ovaduke brought his roommate's 35-millimeter camera to the Gansevoort Meat Market, where he worked as a butcher on 14th Street. He spent a day taking pictures of the guys he worked with. Recently, he scanned over 50 photos and put them up on Facebook.

The images provide a rare and intimate inside look at a vanished world, populated by the men of the lost Meatpacking District, now an exclusive zone of glitz, supermodels, and multi-millionaires. In grainy black and white, in bloody smocks, the men horse around, sharpen their knives, cut meat--and drink coffee from the Sweet Corner Cafe, where girls danced topless during breakfast (the address also housed infamous gay bar The Toilet and Lee's Mardi Gras shop for crossdressers--it's now the Gaslight Lounge).

Ovaduke told me, "These photos were really just meant to be a personal remembrance for me. I never planned on doing anything with them." But now he has done something, and we can all enjoy them. Here's a handful, along with the photographer's casual captions:

A co-worker, standing on the corner of 14th street and 9th Avenue...looking north. The Apple store is now at this location.

Sweet Corner Cafe...breakfast and lunch...and topless dancers...

you can see the Sweet Corner Cafe on the right....

"Big Jeff" (R.I.P.) he was the..umm..."security"...when shoplifters were caught (and there were many)...he determined what "sentence" they would get....right behind him is where the Apple super-store now stands...

This guy was one of 4 people who hit lotto in '78...he was the "cashier" at Frankies...his take was

"Pocket Protector"...Barretta 950 single-action .25 Jetfire

Abby, Ace, Shorty, Danny, Columbo

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Books to Sneakers

Massey Knakal just announced what will take the place of the recently shuttered, rent-hiked Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore on Broadway: "The space will be occupied by Foot Locker."

Another national chain. Another suburban mall store. Another piece of Anywhere & Nowhere, USA.

And here's what agent Brendan Gotch, who "exclusively represented the landlord in this transaction," had to say about it:

“I remember buying my textbooks at Shakespeare & Co. as an NYU student, and while both the landlord and I are sad to see them go, the realities of today’s market combined with the effect of online retailing made it undesirable for them to continue their business. Foot Locker is an ideal solution for the landlord and provides a product that is hotly in demand in this market, especially by NYU students."

Blame "online retailing" when the landlord nearly doubled the bookstore's rent, according to the Observer, to $50,000 per month. Nothing but a national chain can pay that kind of rent. Period.

Once again, our local, independent businesses need protections. Our city needs to control the rampant spread of national chains. Every day this doesn't happen is another day too late to save the city's soul.

Shakespeare & Co. Closed
Shakespeare & Co. Closing
...and Hipsters & Tourists

Monday, September 15, 2014

Boogers at the Feast

I met Mr. Boogers on a September night in the early 1990s near Avenue A. He was sitting in his van, a rickety contraption with "Mr. Boogers" hand-painted slapdash on the sides and a blow-up sex doll lounging in a chaise strapped to the roof.

Boogermobile, 2nd and 8th, early 1990s

With the van's side door wide open, Mr. Boogers sat on the edge, inserting batteries into light-up roses and filling Weepy the Wee-Wee dolls with water. He invited me to give him a hand. Being young and seeking adventure, I climbed into the van, onto the one chair not covered with cheap souvenirs, most of them of the adult variety--pens in the shape of penises, novelty cigarette lighters from which sprang plastic penises instead of flames.

Boogers instructed me to fill a bag with the "dick lighters" and then put batteries into flashing yo-yos. A homeless man joined us. I think his name was Jim. Boogers told him to fill the "piss dolls." Jim figured out a special method for doing so. He'd fill his mouth with water and then spit it into the doll's base through a plastic straw. A funnel would have helped, but Mr. Boogers didn't have a funnel.

When we had finished prepping, Mr. Boogers invited me to stay with him and Jim, to work the San Gennaro Feast, selling the novelties on the street. He said he would pay me. I agreed--some extra money would come in handy. In the van, Boogers talked about his life selling novelties at race tracks, street fairs, and other such events. Jim talked about his wife and kids in Pennsylvania, and about his alcohol problem that he was trying to get under control.

On Mulberry Street, Mr. Boogers divided the merchandise. Jim got a handful of light-up roses and the bag of dick lighters. I got the yo-yos. Mr. Boogers took the piss dolls. In the sea of feast-goers, we each found a corner and got to work. I yo-yo'd clumsily, the little disks wobbling and flashing neon colors through the lights and fried-food smell of the feast. I probably called out something like "Yo-yo's here, getcha yo-yo's here." Somehow, I managed to sell quite a few. I felt proud of my yo-yo selling skills. It was all going so well.

Then Mr. Boogers came over, panicked and angry. He said, "Where the hell is Jim?"

I looked for the tall man and his bouquet of glowing red roses, but couldn't see them anywhere.

"Find the bastard," Mr. Boogers said. "He's got all my dick lighters!"

We searched the feast endlessly. I followed Mr. Boogers as he plunged through the crowds, keeping my eye out for glowing roses. After too long of this, I was tired, frustrated, and ready to go home. So was Boogers. We never found Jim. He'd taken off with the merch--a dozen or more plastic roses and a bag full of joke penises.

Mr. Boogers by Bob Arihood

Boogers and I climbed back into the van. I gave him the yo-yo's and the money I had earned. He raved angrily about how he should never trust a drunk, about the money he had lost. I felt implicated somehow, and chastised, as if I'd been the thief. I couldn't bring myself to ask him for any pay and I knew I wasn't going to get it anyway. Still, I wanted something for my trouble. So I stole from him, too.

On the seat I found a keychain featuring a copulating couple, the kind where you pull a lever and their pelvises smash together. I closed my hand around it and slipped it into my pocket just before Boogers dropped me back on Avenue A where he'd found me.

That was the last I ever saw of Mr. Boogers. I don't know what happened to the keychain. I kept it for years, and then it vanished, too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

La Bamba

Back in February I did a post about Slugger Ann's, a long-lost bar owned by a fascinating woman. In the comments, a number of readers mentioned La Bamba, the bar that Slugger Ann's became after Slugger passed away in 1980.

Recently, a rare image of La Bamba surfaced at the Facebook group "Manhattan Before 1990." The poster, Ruben Iglesias, credits the photo--and the street drawing--to David Wojnarowicz in 1982.

In Cynthia Carr's biography of Wojnarowicz, Fire in the Belly, she recalls how the artist would spray-paint "friendly cows" on the intersection of E. 12th St. and 2nd Ave., so photographer Peter Hujar could see them from his apartment window above the Village East Cinema. (I wonder if Hujar might have taken the photo, clearly shot from the cinema.)

Wojnarowicz wrote about this television-dreaming cow in a short piece called "For Sophie," in which he talks about cruising Stuyvesant Park, and then walking down the avenue to: "the telly cow head seven feet tall and some boy outside La Bamba screaming at me to grow up and get some crayons...and don't fuck up the street...I walked at him like I was gonna spray-paint a cow on his forehead and he split."

In the comments on the Slugger Ann post, reader Poep Sa Frank Jude wrote:

"Yeah, it was La Bamba, a drag-queen and punk spot where I worked for about two years or so. VERY colorful. The stories I could tell! Even wrote a song about the place, begins:

Paris and Laverne, were sitting at the bar
when Donna walked in, she called Paris a whore.
It was 4 AM, closing time for a fight.
I should have known 'cause it happened most every night.
There was no time to think; I jumped across the bar;
Put myself between 'em, took a left hook to my jaw.
My head was reeling; my ass, it hit the floor.
Just a lesson they taught me, one of many more.

These women were men, and I was just a boy..."

Read more about the history of that corner bar here

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

NYC 1973 - 1974

Recently, I came across the photography of Mike Frey, a group of shots all taken in New York City between September 1973 and June 1974, his freshman year in the NYU film program.

They show a city half-collapsed on itself, filled with dilapidated diners, cluttered fruit stands, and dusty Chinese restaurants, their cracked windows fixed with masking tape.

Everything in the photos looks dirty. I like the city looking dirty. It's hard to say why, exactly, but I do.

Trouble is, some moron is always coming around to say you can't like the dirty old city without also being a fan of rape and murder, which strikes me as an especially moronic thing to say. You can like the look of a time and place without celebrating its worst aspects.

Look at those garbage cans on St. Mark's Place, so quintessentially garbage can-like. They're not made of plastic, but metal and rust. They look like tired workmen, vaguely heroic as they perform a thankless job in the inevitable grip of entropy.

You don't see garbage cans like that anymore--and you don't see the word "transients" much either, except on very old signs that have yet to be ripped down. It's a good word. Transient: 1(a): "passing especially quickly into and out of existence," (b) "passing through or by a place with only a brief stay or sojourn," and 2: "affecting something or producing results beyond itself."

Look at this Staten Island boy. He styled his hair and put on those insanely tall shoes for a trip into the city. He wants them to be as shiny as they can be. He's got things on his mind beyond Staten Island. Did he ever find what he was looking for?

And there's the old High Line, the final stretch where it curves around Hudson Yards. It's being fussed over as we speak, glossed and readied for its reopening later this month. But back then, when Mike Frey was walking around with his camera, it was an old, imperfect thing, flanked by other old, imperfect things.

I liked it that way. I think of the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi (loneliness, withered), a pleasure in the beauty of decay:

"If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi." "Wabi and sabi both suggest sentiments of desolation and solitude." (Wiki)

We don't get much of that anymore, either.

View the rest of Mike Frey's photo collection on Flickr.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Bird Garden

From my piece in today's Metro NY:

On a Saturday morning at the Hua Mei Bird Garden in Sara D. Roosevelt Park, where the Lower East Side rubs up against Chinatown, the trees are full of birdcages. Half shrouded in white cloths, they look like Halloween ghosts, bouncing a little in the branches. Up close, you find that each one is carved from bamboo and contains a single songbird...

...It’s the end of summer. The air has shifted. Already, the leaves of the London Plane trees are brown and falling. One drops into my lap, like a living thing, and I think of a line from a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti:

“Outside the leaves were falling
and they cried
Too soon! too soon!”

Please read the whole essay here.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Shakespeare & Co.

This is the final hour for Shakespeare & Co. Book Sellers on Broadway. Literally. They close one hour from now, at 6:30, forever.

Everything is 50% off. The store is filled with just-returned NYU students, walking around in a daze, muttering "This sucks." No one told them.

A sign in the window reads, "It is with heavy hearts we leave 716 Broadway." The rent was too damn high, of course, in a city explicitly for "hipsters and tourists."

Half the store has already been dismantled. It's painful to see a bookstore with its shelves ripped out.

Tables and shelves are selling to whoever wants them. One woman bought the neon Shakespeare sign from the window for $500. What will she do with it? "I don't know," said the saleswoman. "Maybe open a bookstore? She might end up disappointed."

Shakespeare & Co. Closing
...and Hipsters & Tourists

Battle of Brooklyn

For my piece in this week's Metro, a visit to the Battle of Brooklyn celebration.

On a beautifully temperate Sunday afternoon, I went to Green-Wood Cemetery to watch a group of Revolutionary War reenactors celebrate the Battle of Brooklyn. Dressed in their eighteenth-century best, they stuffed a cannon with balls of tinfoil and shot them towards the distant harbor. “Cover your ears,” warned a man in a tricorn hat before the boom and the ring of floating smoke. The monk parrots nesting in the nearby trees were not pleased.

Benjamin Franklin walked around with his kite, ostensibly waiting for lightning to strike, but the sky was stormless, a clear summer blue. Another man held up a leafy twig, explaining, “This is from a tree planted during the American Revolution. It grows in Woodside, Queens. I think it’s called a beech tree, but I’m really not sure.”

I walked to the top of Battle Hill to look at the statue of Minerva. In her helmet and armored breastplate, she waves down to the Statue of Liberty, who seems not to notice or care. They’re like a couple of estranged sisters, these two, one ignoring the other’s overture...

Please read the rest of the essay at Metro

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

If a Tree Falls...

A tree has fallen in Greenwich Village, thanks to vibrations from nearby construction. One resident has written and posted an obituary--and a bit of gentrification satire--on flyers around the neighborhood:

Locust Tree, a raggedy yet comforting fixture of Greenwich Village over the last several decades, died on Tuesday, August 12, keeling over in his home, a tree pit in front of a tenement building. He was believed to have been in his late forties.

Tree left his native southeast some time in the late 1960s, borne aloft upon the era’s winds of change. “I was a sissy little seed that didn’t fit in in my goddam pod, let alone Marietta, Georgia,” he was fond of telling local residents. A gleefully uninhibited presence, he found welcoming soil on West 11th Street, where he germinated, grew tall, and agreeably steadied tottering drag queens in the midnight hour, shaded infants on hot summer days, and tolerated being urinated upon by neighborhood dogs.

The Village was a welcoming place for a spindly, misfit plant of the pea family Fabaceae in those days. Yet it was rougher-edged, too, and the sapling Tree narrowly missed being obliterated by the 1970 explosion that leveled a townhouse on Tree’s block, the result of a botched bomb-building operation by members of the radical Weather Underground Organization. Still, Tree reveled in his proximity to such cauldrons of artistic ferment as the art-house Quad Cinema and the Mercer Arts Center, home to avant-garde theater productions and such proto-punk bands as the New York Dolls. Tree was regularly brushed up against by colorful passersby including Johnny Thunders, Patti Smith, Alan Vega, William S. Burroughs, Rip Torn, and Viveca Lindfors.

As the Village gentrified, Tree took deeper root as an emblem of a wilder, hairier, more libertine era. But in recent weeks, he was having trouble staying upright, his system weakened by the steady vibrations and unceasing clang of municipal and private “improvement” works on the street.

The future plans for the tree pit where Tree lived remain unclear, though one developer, Watervliet Partners LLC, has proposed “an innovative multi-tier shrubbery concept informed by the Village’s history and prestige.” Under this proposal, the new plant’s shade would be reserved largely for a dues-paying private membership, though a small section, closer to the curb, would be made available to the public.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Dive Bars

In Newsweek this week, Alexander Nazaryan discusses the death of the dive bar in his article "Yuppies Are Killing the Dive Bar."

"All across the land," he writes, "laments have been going up for dive bars in recent years, as beloved establishments pull their last pint, replaced by corporate outposts that are far more morbid than what they’ve replaced. This isn’t a trend; it’s an epidemic."

He lists a few of New York's recent losses, visits the Subway Inn, brings in Joseph Mitchell, and includes a couple quotes from me (“The new New Yorkers skeeve everything that reminds them of aging and death. They want a constantly re-lifted face-lift”).

Nazaryan also speculates on the reason for the dive bar's death:

"The reasons for the disappearance of dive bars can be found in Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. No, seriously. The way we drink, where we drink, largely reflects how educated we are, how much money we have, whether we even have the leisure time for unhurried bibulous consumption. The death of the dive suggests that we don’t drink together anymore, as a single nation yearning for a quick post-work respite or Saturday-afternoon escape. The rich can pay several hundred dollars for a single coveted shot of Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve; the poor, meanwhile, drink Cobra out of paper bags and Miller Lite in busted lawn chairs. The dive bar used to be for those in the middle, those who had a little money and a little time, not to mention a little curiosity about the human race: the mid-level bank manager, the cop, the teacher, the hopeful writer, the waitress. They dove together into the sloppy democracy of cheap beer."

Check out the whole article here--it's a good read.