Thursday, July 30, 2015

The NIMBYs of New York

Crain's published an article this month on "the masters of derailing projects in the city." I haven't derailed anything, regrettably, as much as I've tried, but they included me on their list anyway -- along with a number of folks who are getting stuff done.

NIMBYs? "Anti-change activists"? Are these the right terms for people who aim to preserve the character of New York City?



Here's my bit:

The shadow player

Mr. Berman is one of the most visible anti-development activists. Others, like Jeremiah Moss, operate in the shadows. Mr. Moss uses a fake name and refuses to have his picture taken, yet his blog, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, has become the go-to hub for those who lament New York's loss of character.

Mr. Moss uses his online following to stage attention-grabbing theatrics, like hosting a funeral for a beloved 82-year-old shoe-repair shop under threat of closure.

He recently shifted tactics from covering the frequent closure of iconic New York dive bars and restaurants to getting involved in the effort to save those businesses. He doesn't consider himself as influential as Mr. Berman or as effective as Mr. Gruen.

But he hopes his "#SaveNYC" movement, a self-described do-it-yourself anti-gentrification crusade, can persuade the City Council to pass the Small Business Jobs Survival Act to help commercial tenants avoid being priced out.

"I'm good at making noise," Mr. Moss said. "I think of myself as a cage-rattler. Pay attention, pay attention, pay attention."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tony's

Like old barber shops, I love old shoe repair shops. Every time I see one that looks promisingly ancient and unchanged, I go in for a shine. For years, every time I went by Tony's Shoe Repair on West 35th Street, the gate was down. My timing was never right.

And then it was.



Currently run by Guy Pisani, Tony's has been around for 81 years--and then some.

Their Facebook page reads: "Since 1934 Tony's Shoe Repair has been a family run business in the heart of the garment district on 7th Avenue in New York City. For three generations our family has faithfully served the mid-town area through thick and thin."

Mitch Broder explains the lineage: "Tony is the son of Tony, who also isn’t Tony, but who is also the son of Tony, who also wasn’t Tony. The real Tony was the guy who opened the store in 1928 and sold it six years later to another guy, named Gaetano. Gaetano kept Tony’s sign, thus becoming the second Tony and setting the stage for his son Dan and grandson Gaetano, or Guy, to become the third and fourth Tonys."



It's the kind of place where the shine men chat amiably amongst themselves, old friends who have been there forever.

They wear blue smocks. Their hands are stained with polish.

The man who shined my shoes offered not brown polish, but cordovan. "Yeah, that's definitely cordovan." He pronounced the syllables individually, each with equal emphasis: COR-DO-VAN. Just hearing the word was a pleasure. And then he said it again, for good measure.



The interior decor, the signage, all recalls the old New York, unfussy and unfixed up, weathered and real. Perfect. One sign in the window advertises SHOE DYING, a poignant misspelling.

The place hasn't been redecorated since 1966. On a back wall, photos of forgotten boxers peel away, souvenirs from nearby Madison Square Garden. Otherwise, the chairs are red. The walls are paneled.

And the shine is good.

That's all you need to know.




More cobbler shops--mostly lost:
A. Fontana Shoe Repair
Jim's Shoe Repair
Magic Shoe Repair
David's Shoe Repair
Hidden Shoe Repair Shop
Andrade Shoe Repair
Cobblers of Brooklyn
Louis Shoe Rebuilders

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Duke's

Tonight is the last night of the original Duke's "roadhouse" bar in Gramercy.

Ken Pierce shares their goodbye email: “To our loyal Duke’s Customers, After 20 years in the Gramercy Neighborhood, we are closing our doors at the end of the summer. Thank you for all the great times throughout the years. Our Murray Hill location at 860 Third Avenue will remain open and we hope to see you there for more of your favorite food, drinks, staff and good times.”

Are we seeing a mass die-off of the urban faux-roadhouse and honky tonk? First Rodeo Bar was booted by a rent hike, then Hogs & Heifers by a massive rent hike, and now Duke's, for reasons as yet unknown. They were all in their 20s. When will Trailer Park succumb?



Can't say I was ever a big fan of Duke's. It was, for a brief time, an after-work spot when I worked near there. That's about it.

New York describes the place: "The kitschy touches at Duke's begin right at the door, where a large hotel-style neon sign advertises color television and vacancy. You'll find both inside, where the crowd is strictly J. Crew and the nine big-screen TVs, usually tuned to this day in sports." And "The per-capita percentage of curved-bill baseball caps is frat-basement high."

Monday, July 27, 2015

48th and 7th

Across 48th from soon-to-vanish Rudy's Music Stop, more is vanishing from this little old block.

Earlier this spring, the Smiler's deli on the corner of West 48th and 7th Avenue closed. The building was purchased by SL Green for $41.1 million. Wrapped in black netting and scaffolding, it has been demolished.



There used to be several Smiler's all-night delis in the city. Now there are only a few. In the 70s, this one was an Orange Julius and The Doll theater--LIVE ACTS ON STAGE SEEING IS BELIEVING!

Constructed in 1927, it was a nice-looking building, too.


photobucket

The little old buildings to the east of this one--down to what was Manny's Music--have all been acquired by the Rockefeller Group.

The Post reported that SL Green will build a three-story building on the corner. Others have speculated that he'll buy out Rockefeller's parcel and put something enormous here.

Winick has the rendering: "over 5,400 SF of brilliant, high-resolution digital LED signage to carry your animated brand messaging in all directions"! And there's a website for the building, which is more billboard than building, with an animation that might give you a seizure.



With the lovely Loews Mayfair building demolished on 47th and 7th to make room for another glass and digital monstrosity, this elderly block--once filled with interesting things--is fading fast.

What is the future for the secret peep theater buried beneath it?






Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Homeless Reappearing (& Vanishing)

There's been all this panicked talk recently about an increased visibility of homeless people. The neoliberal media is worried about a return to the city's "bad old days." Mayor de Blasio just sent a swarm of NYPD to guard Tompkins Square Park from the people who sleep in it. Again, there has been no recent spike in the homeless population--the massive increase happened under Bloomberg's stingy policies. They're just not getting hassled, dragged away, and imprisoned like they were under our previous two mayors. The homeless have always been with us.

Which brings me to a 1960 essay by Jack Kerouac, "The Vanishing American Hobo." Wrote Kerouac, "The American Hobo has a hard time hoboing nowadays due to the increase in police surveillance." Prosperous towns "don’t want old bums any more."

Bums, hobos, homeless--they don't vanish because the city takes care of them, giving them psychiatric care and affordable housing. They "vanish" because they are put in jail or swept to the margins. Bloomberg even hatched a scheme to load them onto old cruise ships and push them out to sea.

Anyway, here's a selection from Kerouac's essay in which he focuses on the old Bowery.


from Lionel Rogosin's The Bowery

The Bowery is the haven for hobos who came to the big city to make the big time by getting pushcarts and collecting cardboard. -- Lots of Bowery bums are Scandinavian, lots of them bleed easily because they drink too much. -- When winter comes bums drink a drink called smoke, it consists of wood alcohol and a drop of iodine and a scab of lemon, this they gulp down and wham! they hibernate all winter so as not to catch cold, because they dont live anywhere, and it gets very cold outside in the city in winter. -- Sometimes hobos sleep arm-in-arm to keep warm, right on the sidewalk. Bowery Mission veterans say that the beer-drinking bums are the most belligerent of the lot.

Fred Bunz is the great Howard Johnson's of the bums -- it is located on 277 Bowery in New York. They write the menu in soap on the windows. -- You see the bums reluctantly paying fifteen cents for pig brains, twenty-five cents for goulash, and shuffling out in thin cotton shirts in the cold November night to go and make the lunar Bowery with a smash of broken bottle in an alley where they stand against a wall like naughty boys. -- Some of them wear adventurous rainy hats picked up by the track in Hugo Colorado or blasted shoes kicked off by Indians in the dumps of Juarez, or coats from the lugubrious salon of the seal and fish. --Bum hotels are white and tiled and seem as though they were upright johns. -- Used to be bums told tourists that they once were successful doctors, now they tell tourists they were once guides for movie stars or directors in Africa and that when TV came into being they lost their safari rights.

...


Fred Bunz, where Whole Foods is today

American hobo Lou Jenkins from Allentown Pennsylvania was interviewed at Fred Bunz's on the Bowery. -- "What you wanta know all this info for, what you want?"

"I understand that you've been a hobo travelin' around the country."

"How about givin' a fella a few bits for some wine before we talk."

"Al, go get the wine."

"Where's this gonna be in, the Daily News?"

"No, in a book."

"What are you young kids doing here, I mean where's the drink?"

"Al's gone to the liquor store -- You wanted Thunderbird, wasn't it?"

"Yair."

Lou Jenkins then grew worse----"How about a few bits for a flop tonight?"

"Okay, we just wanta ask you a few questions like why did you leave Allentown?"

"My wife. -- My wife, -- Never get married. You'll never live it down. You mean to say it's gonna be in a book hey what I'm sayin'?"

"Come on say something about bums or something."

"Well, whattya wanta know about bums? Lot of 'em around, kinda tough these days, no money -- lissen, how about a good meal?"

"See you in the Sagamore." (Respectable bums' cafeteria at Third and Cooper Union.)

"Okay kid, thanks a lot." -- He opens the Thunderbird bottle with one expert flip of the plastic seal. -- Glub, as the moon rises resplendent as a rose he swallows with big ugly lips thirsty to gulp the throat down, Sclup! and down goes the drink and his eyes be-pop themselves and he licks tongue on top lip and says "H-a-h!" And he shouts "Don't forget my name is spelled Jenkins, J-e-n-k-y-n-s. --"

Another character -- "You say that your name is Ephram Freece of Pawling New York?"

"Well, no, my name is James Russell Hubbard."

"You look pretty respectable for a bum."

"My grandfather was a Kentucky colonel."

"Oh?"

"Yes."

"Whatever made you come here to Third Avenue?"

"I really cant do it, I don't care, I cant be bothered, I feel nothing, I dont care anymore. I'm sorry but --somebody stole my razor blade last night, if you can lay some money on me I'll buy myself a Schick razor."

"Where will you plug it in? Do you have such facilities?"

"A Schick injector."

"Oh."

"And I always carry this book with me -- The Rules of St. Benedict. A dreary book, but well I got another book in my pack. A dreary book too I guess."

"Why do you read it then?"

"Because I found it -- I found it in Bristol last year."

"What are you interested in? You like interested in something?"

"Well, this other book I got there is er, yee, er, a big strange book -- you shouldn't be interviewing me. Talk to that old nigra fella over there with the harmonica -- I'm no good for nothing, all I want is to be left alone."

"I see you smoke a pipe."

"Yeah -- Granger tobacco. Want some?"

"Will you show me the book?"

"No, I aint got it with me, I only got this with me." -- He points to his pipe and tobacco.

"Can you say something?"

"Lightin flash."

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

La Taza

In May, I reported that Chelsea's wonderful La Taza de Oro had been shuttered for a month, due to problems with the neighboring building and Con-Ed's intensified restrictions and regulations enforced after the Second Avenue gas explosion.

Now I've heard some good news.



When recently checking in on the place, I chatted with a man who seemed to know what he was talking about. He told me, "We're opening in November."

Keep your fingers crossed.


Monday, July 20, 2015

M&G to Capsule

Harlem's M&G Diner shuttered back in 2008 when the beloved soul food restaurant went on vacation and never returned. It had been around for maybe 40 years.

Most of the antique signage was removed and the spectacular facade was made miserably dull.

Now reader Christina Wilkinson sends in a shot of the new business in the space. It's called Capsule. They sell men's "streetwear," brands like G-Star, Billionaire Boys Club, Ralph Lauren.


Christina Wilkinson

Photographers James and Karla Murray took before-and-after photos of M&G awhile back.


James and Karla Murray: Click photo to enlarge

In the older shot, the façade is resplendent, its red awning announcing SOUL FOOD in a typeface slightly serifed, while above, neon signs fringed in lights deliriously announce “Southern fried chicken” that promises to be “old fashion’ BUT Good!” (The letter “i” is dotted with a star.) Is the “BUT” meant to mean “nonetheless,” to say that while the chicken is old-fashioned, it yet tastes good? I don’t think so. The “but good” is likely the idiomatic expression, dating back as far as the 1930s, to mean extremely and thoroughly. In which case, “old fashion'” is not something to apologize for, but something to celebrate.

Casting your eyes over the old M&G, there is so much to look at it, to be stimulated by, to feel and to think about. In the after photo, there is nothing. The signs, the typefaces, the awning, the yellow paint, the crooked doors--all gone, replaced by dull sheets of glass. No variation. No unevenness. No life.

Today, you can find an artifact of the old M&G at Marcus Samuelsson's Streetbird restaurant.




Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Market Diner

VANISHING?

Yesterday, the Real Deal reported that a 13-story building is coming to 572 11th Avenue. That address is the current home of the grand old Market Diner.


photo: Sideways NYC

One of Manhattan's very last vintage, chrome, stand-alone diners still in business, the Market has been on this site since 1962. It was a favorite of Frank Sinatra and west-side gangsters.

The place closed in 2006 and reopened in late 2008 with a redesign that stayed true to its glorious mid-century roots.


photo: Greenwich Village Daily Photo

A call to the Market Diner yielded no information about any upcoming closure. The Real Deal reports that the new development will include 163 residential units, ground-floor retail, a second-floor gym, lounge, and a rooftop with private terraces.

The Moondance and Cheyenne were picked up and moved to keep them from being destroyed, but something tells me we're not going to be able to put this one on a flatbed truck and send it off to the farm.


1972 photo by Thorney Lieberman




Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Seaport Stuff

It's not often that I go to the South Street Seaport. It's full of tourists and has become the sort of place--like many in New York--that caters exclusively to the tepid tastes and desires of tourists, with suburban shopping mall stores and an outdoor food court. It's far from Joseph Mitchell's old Seaport, that's for sure. But I went recently and found a few things worth the bother.



One Grand is a temporary pop-up bookshop that just opened in a store called Whisper Editions at 6 Fulton Street. They sell antler sculptures and $135 makeup bags. Bypass those to access the bookshop upstairs.

Opened by Aaron Hicklin, editor-in-chief of Out magazine, One Grand is organized around the question "If you were on a desert island for the rest of your life, what 10 books would you take?"

The people who answered include Tilda Swinton, Justin Vivian Bond, Edmund White, Michael Cunningham, and Penny Arcade.



This is "curated" bookselling for sure, but if you can get over that, you might enjoy the way each shelf appears as its own desert island of the person's favorites. Most made interesting choices.



Fashion designer Tom Ford picked a bunch of Ayn Rand titles, which seems unsurprising.




The South Street Seaport Museum, in its also temporary, post-Sandy location, has a free exhibit. It features vintage photographs of the Fulton Fish Market in operation, along with artifacts from the old Seaport.

You will also find a few remnants of Carmine's Italian restaurant, which was shuttered after 107 years by a massive rent hike in 2010. For some reason, this is not mentioned on the information card.




Part of the Seaport Museum, Bowne Print Shop and Stationers is also well worth checking out. Established in 1775, they're still printing and the print shop itself has some lovely antique letter presses to admire.



They also have a bunch of printed matter for sale, like cards of quotes by E.B. White and Frank O'Hara, including my favorite:

“I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.”

(Really, if you can't say that, what are you doing in the city anyway?)



Next door, the stationery store sells some unusual and appealing postcards of old New York. They also, oddly, sell tassels. Many tassels. The proprietor explained that a business was forced to downsize in the Garment District and donated all their tassels to the museum. So now you know where to buy tassels, in bulk or otherwise.



Oddly, there aren't many tourists in these few places. They're too busy stuffing their faces at the food court or lining up to get their names printed on personalized cans of Coca-Cola. (I'm not kidding.) It's dreadful and it makes me think of how, lately, the world's global cities are all complaining that tourists are ruining things. Because they have no interest in the local culture or history. They only want to shop for the same junk they can find at home.

And that makes me think about a Paul Bowles quote, which might look good on a printed card from Bowne's:

An “important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking.”





Monday, July 13, 2015

Bad Old Days

There's a panic spreading across a certain sector of the city. Pre-Giuliani New York is coming back!

For mega-realtor Robert Knakal at the Commercial Observer, crime is "increasing like wildfire." And along with all the "shootings and murders" comes "an alarming degradation in quality of life issues, which mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg worked so hard to improve." The terror? Squeegee guys and homeless people.

All of this, Knakal argues, is bad for tourism and the high price of commercial real estate.


"Fuck You Pay Me" guy, with anarchy tattoo, Times Square

The New York Post is having a field day with this idea that New York is experiencing an increase in its homeless population.

John Podhoretz is worried about the degradation of the urban streetscape. He wrote about high-rent blight, all those shuttered businesses sitting dead due to insane rent hikes, then argued about an apparent increase in aggressive "panhandlers from the neighborhood’s bad old days."

Tom Wilson is worried about homeless people pissing in the streets and sleeping outside Victoria's Secret, where they drive away the customers. “It reminds me of the pre-Giuliani era,” said one Penn Station commuter. “The police aren’t chasing them away anymore.”

A whole team of Post writers are worried about Tompkins Square Park filling up with "herds" of vagrants. “I really don’t enjoy the beauty of the park anymore because I’m too scared to walk through it,” said one NYU student.

(When will the Post pick up on the purse and iPhone snatchings in the East Village?)

In sum, the increased presence of homeless people means: 1. High rents will come down, 2. Customers won't shop at suburban chain stores anymore, 3. The tourists will finally go home, and 4. NYU students will be afraid of the East Village.

How is any of this a bad thing?

The panic has even gone national. "Beggars everywhere," says right-wing scaremonger Bill O'Reilly, who believes that homelessness "exploded" under Bill de Blasio. "And that is a totally different change from the Bloomberg administration. They're wiping your windows, they're following you down the street."

It's "anarchy" says O'Reilly. Anarchy!


"Cash" outside Chase Bank, E. Village

We saw this same panic back in 2008, after Wall Street's crash. Everyone was wringing their hands about the "bad old days." They did not return and they're unlikely to do so today.

Also, let's get it right. The increase in homelessness was a Bloomberg problem.

The homeless population exploded during the billionaire mayor's reign, with numbers unmatched since the Great Depression. Bloomberg increased homelessness in the city by withholding affordable housing. For decades, people who applied through the city’s shelter system were given priority for federal housing programs like Section 8. Bloomberg cut them off. In a paranoid fantasy, he believed in a “perverse incentive” for homelessness, that New Yorkers were making themselves homeless just to get cheap housing from the government. He replaced the Section 8 priority with a short-term subsidy that soon became a revolving door, forcing the homeless out of their new homes and back on the street.

Bloomberg complained that too many people who didn’t need help were taking advantage of the city’s shelter system. On WOR radio he said, “You can arrive in your private jet at Kennedy Airport, take a private limousine and go straight to the shelter system and walk in the door and we’ve got to give you shelter.”


"Cash" in cuffs, Ludlow Street

What gives some people anxiety is the increased visibility of the homeless. Well, this happens every summer. Homeless people are outside because it's warm.

It's also possible that cops are doing less hassling of the homeless, not hauling them off to Rikers simply for existing. And that's not a bad thing, either.

But keep up that scaremongering, fellas. You're doing a big favor for those of us who want our city back, who want an affordable, more interesting New York that isn't controlled by billionaires, tourists, and NYU students. By the way, have you heard of this handy little pamphlet called "Fear City"?






Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Anti-Gentrification Tantrum

Last week, performance artist and activist Guillermo Gómez-Peña posted an "anti-gentrification philosophical tantrum" entitled "Notes From Technotopia: On The Cruelty Of Indifference," via his Facebook page. It's about life in San Francisco, but it could be about life in New York--or London, or Berlin, or Paris... Not only is the same sort of hyper-gentrification happening across the country and the globe, it also attracts the same sort of people. Where do they all come from? 

I reproduce the tantrum here in its entirety, with Guillermo's permission. (Boldface mine.) You can also find it on Google docs.


Gomez-Peña as El Warrior, Gringostroika


Notes From Technotopia: On The Cruelty Of Indifference


Dear Ex-local artist, writer, activist, bohemian, street eccentric, and/or protector of difference...

Imagine a city, your city and your former “hip” neighborhood, being handed over by greedy politicians and re/developers to the crème de la crème of the tech industry. This includes the 7 most powerful tech companies in the world. I don’t need to list them: their names have become verbs in lingua franca; their sandbox is the city you used to call your own.

Their Faustian iDeal involves radically transforming your city within a few years into an unprecedented “creative city,” a bohemian theme park for the young techies and “hipsters” who constitute their Darwinian work force. It comes with dormitories, food courts with catchy theme bars and entertainment centers. Sounds like science fiction, que no?

Imagine that during the reconstruction process, the rent - your rent - increases by two or three hundred percent overnight. The artists and the working class at large can no longer pay it. You are being forced to leave, at best to a nearby city, at worst back to your original hometown. The more intimate history you have with the old city, the more painful it is to accept this displacement. You have no choice.

While you hang on by a thread waiting for the eviction notice, every day you continue to lose old friends and colleagues you might never see again. They were less lucky than you and got evicted earlier. Heartbroken and exhausted, you spend a large part of your civic time attending anti-gentrification demonstrations and collaborating with other artists and activists in anti-eviction actions and techno-artivist projects, but still it only gets worse by the day. The number of dramatic eviction cases increases constantly and both the diminished politicized citizenry and the progressive media begin to experience compassion fatigue.

As your community rapidly shrinks, so does your sense of belonging to a city that no longer seems to like you. You begin to feel like a foreigner and internal exile: freaky Alice in techno-Wonderlandia; the Alien Caterpillar who inhaled. Unless you own your home and studio, as a renter, your hours “here” are numbered and you carry this feeling of imminent orphanhood like a very tight and stylish noose around your neck. After all, you perceive yourself as a dandy.


Art by John Criscitello, Seattle

Imagine that all the classic and familiar places in your hood including funky, decades-old Latino restaurants and immigrant bars full of memories and ghosts, barber & specialty shops, bohemian sex clubs, experimental art galleries, indie theaters and bookstores –yes, shops where bound books are sold, -- the emotional spaces which have been your main source of inspiration, creativity and community -- are also forced to close because the pinche greedy landlord tripled the rent overnight or some millionaire bought the building or the entire block to rent out micro-units to airbnb. And all the new laws and acts protect him. Your imagination becomes a painful exercise in forced tolerance and providential acceptance.

In a few months, these wonderful places that for decades provided the city with a strong cultural identity are destroyed and reopened as (get ready) homogeneous “live/work/play” spaces, “micro-condominium” buildings and tech plazas in the works. Coño! The new city begins to look like a generic global metropolis imagined by Italo Calvino. To make the lives of the transient work force somewhat pleasant, hundreds of similar smart cafes, trendoid restaurants, overpriced “eateries” and “celebrity bars” open up in each neighborhood. Even the last standing old-school dive bars are being “discovered” (a euphemism for taken over) by the transplants via their Yelp or Foursquare mobile app.

But you, no matter how long you lived here or how much you have paid in rent – even if it is enough to own your hipster remodeled Victorian upper unit - You are not welcome.

You hit the streets again: What you used to call an average priced dinner is way above your price range now. Your sacred $4 night cocktail, now served by an aloof “celebrity bartender,” costs $15 and your daily jugos and licuados, now called “cold pressed gluten-free organic cleansing juices,” go for $12 in a “recyclable sustainable” bottle. But don’t worry: Remember that this is just a perverse exercise of radical imagination, or rather, a psychomagic challenge to deliver your daily dose of survival humor.

Imagine that your own building, a legendary (ex) artist building is now just another revolving airb&b miniunit for zombie techies who make well over $200 grand a year, but behave not unlike obnoxious teenage frat boys. If you are the only one of 3 Mexican tenants left, when you open the front door for a new neighbor, they either perceive you as the building's janitor or report you to the manager as a “suspicious character.” And yes, in Technotopia: your new identity is that of “suspicious character.”

The nightmare unfolds: Full of Maseratis, Ferraris, Porsches and Mercedes Benzes, the private parking lot is now protected with barbed wire fences and a digital display keypad encoded by microchips; and so are the “vintage bike” racks and trash containers. Video surveillance cameras are omnipresent. The new management wishes to keep the homeless, the day laborers and the “scary” young “people of color” at a distance…that is, before the cops get them. They are unpleasant memories of the old city of sin and compassion; kids from former distasteful and economically disadvantaged, at-risk neighborhoods.

The newly empowered cops drive around the hood looking for (criminal) “difference.” The homeless and the “gang bangers” aren’t the only ones being removed from the streets to make them safe for the new dot.com cadre. With them go the poets, the performance artists, the experimental musicians, the frail transvestites, the politicized sex workers, the gallant mariachis, the cool low-riders, the urban primitives, the angry punks, the defiant radical feminists and the very activists who used to protect us all from the greedy landlords and politicians who conceived of this macabre project.

It’s the latest American version of ethnic and cultural cleansing. It’s invisible to the newcomers, and highly visible to those of us who knew the old city. The press labels it “the post-gentrification era.”

“Prehistory is only 7 years old and nostalgia is pure style, a bad selfie of a fictional memory.”—Anonymous tweet.


London, England

There are suspicious fires happening constantly, in apartment buildings and homes inhabited by mostly Latino and black working class families. And you cannot help but to wonder if landlords and redevelopers are setting these fires? “Is there a secret garden of violence in the heart of techno-bohemian paradise?”-Anonymous tweet.

You also begin to wonder, who are these random people and newly evasive neighbors taking over your neighborhood? Metaphysically speaking, where did they really come from? And how long will they stay? Are they merely browsing in the mythological backyard of Technotopia? Will they return to the suburbs when the Chicano intifada begins?

Day after day, allured by the new digital bonanza, hundreds, thousands of new people arrive, unfamiliar people, without manners or style, social or historical consciousness; mostly middle and upper class white people from the suburbs and small cities from throughout the country, along with some wealthy foreign entrepreneurs and programmers from similarly upwardly mobile techno cultures. Undistinguishable from tourists, so many of them look like they were just dropped here by a UFO straight out of a Minneapolis or a Houston suburb, complete with their yoga mat, mobile gym and tech gear bearing the logo of the company they work for; their designer dogwear and strollers, all glued to their smartphones to the point where they can’t even acknowledge your presence as you pass them on the street.

Soon, these normative looking humans will destroy their very object of bohemian desire; the multicultural fetishes which attracted them “here” in the first place. And they will one day wake up to an ocean of unbearable sameness. The good thing is, they don’t know it yet, and they probably wouldn’t notice anyway. And if a few of them know it, let’s face it, they don’t give a shit. They’re all “comfortable” and exalted. The whole city is catering to their desires. Besides, they’ve got 25 posts per day on their digital agenda and hundreds of superficial tweets to write.

What these cyber-adventurers have in common is that they are in a hurry, determined to make lots of money…mañana! Their neo-colonial dreams must be attained instantly. It’s the latest San Francisco Gold Rush, the 2nd digital bonanza, a true new Wild West. It’s definitely the last chapter in savage capitalism, and they wish to be cast in the biggest, hippest reality show ever!

…But dear reader/audience member, don’t take it personally, you are always an exception to the rule. You are somewhat different. –Tweet.

Upon their arrival they are willing to take any job on their way to a better one, displacing the working class, which made the city function for decades. They are even willing to be waiters, gardeners (as long as they are referred to as ‘landscape designers’), house cleaners (or rather ‘facilities personnel’) and even nannies & dog walkers to the rich and famous. The difference between then and now is they charge 3 times as much, and have no sense of labor ethics or a culture of service. After all, it’s just a temporary job on their way to Utopia 5.0.

Their dream begins to come true as they ascend in the instant socio-economic pyramid of the new city. They hit the jackpot. They get their official membership card to the bohemian theme park on an app and they begin to share in a post human culture.

“In this imaginary city, we no longer have citizens: we have self-involved ‘consumers’ with the latest gadgets in hand.” --Tweet.

It’s a virtual mob, not an informed citizenry, and they are slowly taking over every square inch of space and oxygen. Their navigation and communication devices are installed in their iPhone or iPad. And so are their identities, hollow dreams, “real” experiences; their nuvo-families, and all of their fictional memories.

You have seen these strangers: they seem to belong to micro-communities of 2 to 5 people. When they are not at work, they go to smart cafes…to work more. They rarely make eye contact with anyone. They walk staring at their mobile communication devices in search for an anxious, “spontaneous” human connection by following a GPS map to their next appointment. They also stare at the screen while having dinner with colleagues because they’re “checking in”, messaging someone on Facebook, or taking a selfie with a famous person they will never see again. They even do this while listening to live music at a club. When driving, they have no etiquette. They get easily irritated by the unbearable traffic they themselves created and behave like the bad drivers they imagine reside in the Third World.



They rarely attend artistic activities. They’d rather go to exciting themed events and parties sponsored by companies. And they go to network, not to make friends, flirt, or find a lover. With the exception of sporadic online speed dating on Tindr or Ok Cupid, their sexual life is “frugal” for the lack of a meaner word… On their wildest nights, nothing ever happens out of the ordinary. Their most exciting days are Pride, Dia de los Muertos and Burning Man, where they get to be extreme tourists.

”But dear reader/audience member, don’t take it personally, you are always an exception to the rule.” – Tweet

For the poetic record: They are mostly “white,” (meaning gender or race illiterate). 70% are male and have absolutely no sense of the history of the streets they are beginning to walk on. In the way they behave, they make you wonder if they know, geographically and culturally speaking, where they are located and if they are even aware of the profound impact of their presence in the lives of the older inhabitants? Last night at a bar one of them felt compelled to confess to me he was angered by a “racist poster” he saw outside: The photo of a handsome mariachi with a gun: “Gringas si; gringos no.” I felt sorry for his lack of humor.

“In the way these vatos behave you begin to wonder if they exist in the same city you are or in a parallel quantum reality you are making up?”-Tweet

In fact, they are easily annoyed by “difference” and have no problem letting you know or confessing it online. Verbigratia: “Don’t believe the hype: This neighborhood is not a safe place! There’s still way too many Mexicans, hookers, lesbians & street freaks. Don’t come to live here!” In the “creative city”, racism, sexism, homophobia and classism are passé…

I continue citing my poetic field notes: “These techno-vatos have no sense of philanthropy. Their savings are to be spent in gourmet food, gadgets, clubbing, fancy apartments and very expensive puppies, like French bull dogs, Italian Greyhounds, and Pomeranians … It’s a solipsistic frontier economy. And if you are mildly politicized you cannot help but to wonder, If each one of them prosperous locos would donate 5 % of their income to a social cause, we could improve housing, social services and schools for the poor, and the yearly art budget for the Arts Commission…but in this Darwinian age, that would be considered old-school communism, not venture capitalism…”Here”, the future will come in a few days and the money they make must be spent in the immediate process of getting there. But ‘there’ is actually nowhere”—Tweet.

Besides, the mandate of the city fathers, in cahoots with the developers and new entrepreneurs is to create by any means necessary a city for the white rich. Our ex-major Willie Brown, paradoxically a black “progressive democrat” put it succinctly once: “we want to create the Monaco of the U.S., and if you can’t afford it, you can leave!” Thanks, Brother Willie!

Well, it already happened…and yes we, the holders and perpetrators of cultural difference, “can’t afford it” but here’s the thing: We are doing everything possible to stay and remain a nuisance to the new urbanites and the greedy landlords and politicians who invited them.


Los Angeles

By now, I am clearly experiencing philosophical vertigo and political despair. The symptoms are devastating questions in my diary:

Are we the artists and activists left, merely stubborn? Are we delusional and engaged in a losing battle? Are we waiting for the San Andreas Fault to open up or for the Mission shamans to conjure up the collapse of the new economy? But what if all the Mission shamans have already been evicted? Will the city get so unbearably expensive that the leaders of the tech industry themselves will decide to relocate to another place? If only we stick around a little longer… Is it too late to talk about this? Is someone somewhere online reading my words?... Hello?

(…)

3 pages later my questions continue: “Should I attend tomorrow’s anti-gentrification march or is it time to finally pack up and go back to Mexico City? I wonder what is worse, overt organized crime or the gentler forms of organized crime in Technotopia? What is more violent: the menacing gaze of a homeboy or the absolute indifference of a techie? Dangerous difference or dangerous sameness?”

During the revision of the final draft, I become fully aware of my poetic subjectivity. I know that my words are somewhat careless, partially unfair and devastating but I can’t help them. I am not a journalist. I am a performance artist and a poet, and my city has been taken away from me. It really hurts to walk the new streets of my refurbished ex-bohemian city. What can I say? I am deeply affected by the cruelty of indifference of its new population and I get sad when I stare at this unbearable ocean of cultural sameness and boring techno-normativity. I miss the grit, the funk, the unexpected, my dozens of close friends who have left for good. Am I repeating myself? Do I need to add a dictionary?

Dictionary (in progress):
Creative: A euphemism for successful
Here: Nothingness
Hipster: No one really knows. You just think you know. If you think you know, you most definitely are not one.
Local: Someone who used to live “here” when here was a place
Eviction: A euphemism for the eradication of difference
Google bus: A travelling gas-guzzling half-full office with chairs and no cubicles
Networking: A safe alternative to making actual conversation
Radical: An adjective for a franchise
Technotopia: San Francisco sans difference//A-critical techno-utopia
Underground: Another franchise
Vintage: 2nd hand object or a previously worn item of clothing sold for over $100
White: A bizarre state of mind that makes you attribute race to others with darker skin

(I wish to thank Balitronica, Emma Tramposch and Anastasia Herold for helping me to prepare the first version of this manuscript)

-- Guillermo Gómez-Peña, 2015

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Rudy's Music Stop

VANISHING

For decades, West 48th Street off Times Square was known as Music Row, a block filled with shops specializing in musical instruments. In the 2000s, we watched the block dwindle, like every other authentic place in this city, until there were two.

Rudy's Music Stop and Alex Music are the last two music shops left on the entire block. And, after years of rumors, soon there will be just one.



Rudy Pensa's original shop, opened in 1978, will be closing in August, employees confirmed.

Over the phone, Rob at the shop told me, "No one buys guitars anymore. This is just one big place for tourists to buy souvenirs."



Rudy's is in a little old building next to another little old building. Every time I see them huddled together, I wonder when they'll be destroyed. The fact that they remain standing feels like a miracle.

I talked to Alex Carozza of Alex Music next door. He will soon be the last of his kind. He told me he has no plans to close. "So far, nobody tells me to get outta here." The rent, however, is "tremendous," and he's not sure how long he'll last.

Alex's building and the empty lot next to it was bought last year for $19 million by Jack Cohen of Comjem Associates, according to The Real Deal. Comjem also acquired the big building on the corner--723 (or 721) 7th Avenue--one of those stalwart old Times Square numbers the color of wet coffee grounds, the kind of building that long held distributors of cowboy movies, film labs, publicists, booking agents, and music studios ("My Boyfriend's Back" and "Hang on Sloopy" were recorded here, and Quad Studios remains).

Comjem also apparently owns Rudy's building, from what I can tell. Alex Carozza expects them to build "something very big," using up all the lots, which total 173,446 square feet.



Back in 2007, Rudy Pensa talked about 48th Street to the Daily News, saying:

"This is a beautiful street, and it should be preserved as it is, a landmark of the city. It has so much history, and it has been like this since the '20s. Somebody should rather pay attention to it before someone comes, buys everything and buries all this beauty to start building glass towers."

Too late. Too late.




Read more:
Music Row
Jon Baltimore
Manny's Music

Monday, July 6, 2015

Washington Heights Gentrification Sale

When the 25-year-old Jesse's Deli got the boot from its landlord in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, local customers Doug Cameron and Tommy Noonan protested with a colorful collection of "artisanal landlord price hike" posters. They created a sensation.


all photos courtesy Doug Cameron

Now they've turned their talents to a block of mom and pops in Washington Heights. The businesses, many of which have been on Broadway and West 162nd for decades, have been evicted by the building's new owners, again with an impossible rent hike. (Read about their story in the Village Voice.)





Doug Cameron explained to Vanishing New York:

"This time an entire block in Washington Heights is throwing a ‘Gentrification In Progress’ Sale. The Punta Cana is officially rebranded as the Casa de Campo, which is the name of an extremely wealthy gated community and resort in the Dominican Republic. Posters in its windows now offer 'small plates for twice the price,' such as a single Hand-Cut Seasonal Summer French Fry for $8.99. The awning displays the new Casa de Campo name, along with the logo of a large wealthy man with a monocle eating a tiny portion plate of food."





"The only other business that has not yet moved in the past couple weeks is the Frutera El Buen Camino. The landlord can’t re-rent the space because of a structural problem. Now, next to the Frutera is a new awning: The Nueva Frutera El Buen Hipster, a yuppie juice bar offering Fresh-Mowed Wheatgrass Shots for $7.99, and Locally-Skimmed Pond Scum Smoothies for $14.99."



Doug and Tommy have included a call to action as well: "Tell Bill De Blasio to support the Bill De Bodega," a.k.a. the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (SBJSA). They've also created a site for the Bill de Bodega.


For more on what you can do to save small businesses in the city, visit #SaveNYC and join the group on Facebook.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

John's of 12th St.

John's of 12th Street is one of my favorite places. In the East Village since 1908, it's become even more precious today when we are losing all of our authentic red-sauce joints.



Vanessa McDonnell made a documentary about John's, and it is now available for renting and buying online.

Watch the trailer, read Grieve's Q&A with the filmmaker from last year, and go eat at John's. They almost sold the place recently, and you just never know when your last meal will be your last. (Seriously, go soon.)



JOHN'S OF 12TH STREET - Trailer from Grand Motel on Vimeo.