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

Brooklyn Summit

Today is the "Brooklyn Real Estate Summit." In case you thought there was still such a thing as gentrification, that quaint little old process in which middle-class folks buy empty townhouses to fix up and inhabit, well, here's a bit of what hyper-gentrification looks like:

"This year’s event focuses on the theme of how Brooklyn’s developments will shape the borough into a place to live, work and play. For example, how will the new tech companies shape new development and what is the domino effect of the large projects such as Brooklyn Heights, Industry City, Domino Sugar Factory and the ‘Brooklyn Riviera’ in Gowanus."

Gowanus--the Brooklyn Riviera?

There is nothing accidental or organic about what's happening in Brooklyn. It has been schemed and strategized, sponsored by corporations and city government. It's a plan. It even has a summit meeting. And there's Alicia Glen, the city's deputy mayor for housing and economic development--formerly an executive at Goldman Sachs. I wonder what her plans are for Brooklyn.

Here are a few notes from the official summit agenda:

Get Brooklynized!

Have Your Cake & Brooklyn Too!
  • Coping with harsh rent regulation constraints & administration costs to add value and get returns.

Crown Heights could be the next stop for Brooklyn developers with a sizable population, an under utilized mixed-use legacy and potential rezoning on the way. Trailblazing owners and developers will discuss the future of these neighborhoods. Talking points include:
  • Is this South Brooklyn’s time to shine with Sheepshead bay, Brighton Beach and Coney Island?
  • Bed-stuy – How development went from grime to gold?
  • Crown Heights – Is it the new jewel in the crown for Brooklyn?

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.