Wednesday, September 30, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

As you get all pumped up for this weekend's blog-tacular New York Lost conference, here's me and Grieve in conversation with its organizer, Bryan Waterman. [P&W]

Chumley's is rising from the dead--looking for liquor license. [Eater]

Uncovering a once-opulent theater inside an Avenue A bodega. [EVG]

Miss Heather tells it: How the Post poaches from blogs. [SJ]

Broke kids gear up to drink beer and watch circus acts at a Fuck the Recession party.

Jane Hotel says it's just a bunch of well-connected rich people who want them out. Yes, and don't forget the people who started the fire. [NYP]

Les Desirs


On 9th Avenue near 24th Street, Les Desirs Patisserie has been a bakery since 1962, when it began as a Cake Masters. It's been owned by a baker named Jean Pauget for the past decade, and every day it is filled with senior citizens from the neighborhood, mostly from the Penn South housing cooperative.

Recently, Mr. Pauget got notice from his Penn South landlords that his lease won't be renewed and he will need to vacate the premises by the end of October. There's a petition on the counter for everyone to sign.

Thanks to a tip from local writer Stacy Torres, I visited Les Desirs and found only one seat available in a packed shop, bustling with talk--and song. A table of women, most in their 80s, were singing "It Had to Be You" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." I sat down with Jeannie and Phil, Hell's Kitchen and Chelsea natives who've been coming to this bakery since the 1960s.

"See how comfortable we all are," said Jeannie, "We can sit, talk, argue. This place is where everybody meets to hear what's happening in the neighborhood. This is where you find out who's sick and who's died."

"It gives you a reason to get out of the house," she continued, "If you don't show up here for a few days--can you believe it?--your phone starts ringing! It's your friends calling up to say: Where are you? Are you okay?"

"This is family."

The Les Desirs chorus

The table of singers consists of neighborhood women: Becky, Emily, Marguerite, Rita, and Betty (who recalled her days of singing at Horn & Hardart's automat). They come to the bakery daily to play Name That Tune and see if they can stump each other. Together we sang a 1935 ukulele tune about a Hawaiian girl, and Becky got up to do a slow, sultry hula dance, conjuring the balmy air of the islands.

"In the winter," said Jeannie, "we look for this place even more. A nice, warm place to be together."

She heard that Les Desirs will be replaced by the Sullivan Street Bakery, a company that supplies artisanal "peasant" bread to places like Jean Georges, The Four Seasons, and Gramercy Tavern. They already have a pizzeria on the same strip as Les Desirs, a business financed, in part, by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

I asked the ladies where they will go, once their bakery is gone.

"McDonald's," Betty said, "That's all we can afford around here now."

"McDonald's," echoed Jeannie sadly, "But the atmosphere will be gone."

That's for sure. At Les Desirs, Mr. Pauget lets the senior citizens sit for hours, drinking their coffees and enjoying their pastries. If they forget their money, he tells them to just bring it tomorrow. At the end of the day, if someone needs it, he gives away his leftovers. And, of course, he lets them fill the place with song.

None of that is going to happen at McDonald's.

You can help save Les Desirs:
  • Stop into the bakery and sign the petition asking for a new lease
  • Call Penn South's management office to complain: 212-675-3200
  • Contact the Sullivan St. Bakery and let them know what is in jeopardy
  • Pass the word!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Blackbook looks at "vendrification," where trendy foodie carts threaten to drive away what they deem "expendable" old-school street vendors. [via Gothamist]

Armando's reopened last night after vanishing last year--sadly, the lobster neon sign is most likely lost forever. Did the portrait of Marilyn return? [BP]

More bad cell phone behavior--if only this Wolverine had claws. [Gothamist]

"It wasn’t so long ago when, thanks to 'Sex and the City,' a quartet of over-accessorized Manhattanites stood metonymically for New York City..." But now, it's all about Brooklyn, so... "Grab your Bugaboo stroller, throw a New Yorker into your WNYC tote bag and let’s take the F." [NYT]

Monday, September 28, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

10/2: The Coney Island Film Festival kicks off. Click here for a full schedule.

Tonight: The city vanishes at Dixon Place. [CR]

"And so goes the Battle of Jane Street--a skirmish that pits the beautiful, the rich and the chronically drunk against ordinary fools." --Andrea Peyser [via Curbed]

With a seltzerman off his feet, Brooklynites suffer through a seltzer drought. Bonus: Video inside Gomberg Seltzer Works. [NYT]

Punk Kmart. [FP]

Bowery and 1st, before and after. [EVG]

Slogan of a Mott Street boutique:

Melanie visits the Clayton Patterson show on Rivington--you should too. [EVC]

Jim Carroll, at the end of his life. [NYT]

Cindy Adams on fashion in the LES. [BB]

Coney's Cyclone Man is a hall-of-famer. [ATZ]

Friday, September 25, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

See "the last of the wild, free, outlaw, utopian, visionary spirit of the Lower East Side" at an exhibit of Clayton Patterson's photography. [NYT]

Celebrate the Bowery Mission's anniversary with free Bowery-related events every Thursday in October. Click for full schedule.

The High Line is accused of using wood from endangered Amazonian rainforests. [Gothamist]

The new Poets House opens today--visit tomorrow for a big poets bash from 3-5 pm. [NYT]

Is another Bowery hotel dead in the water? [BB]

Enjoy "An exhaustive rumination" about New York City's changing decades and "megatoilet nostalgia." [FP]

On Bloomberg's dieting issues: "The mayor is essentially turning his own self-loathing on the rest of the city. He's asking us to pay for his gustatory transgressions." [HP]

Enjoy a meal at Sammy's Roumanian. [Eater]

Gentrify, Gentrify

The newest issue of N+1 has an article about super-gentrification called "Gentrify, Gentrify." I don't know who wrote it, because it doesn't say who wrote it. It's short, and I wish there was more to it, but it's worth checking out. Here are a few stand-out quotes for your consideration:

"In place of [Jane] Jacobs's supersubtle network of human contacts, we would get demographically homogenized cities that celebrated absolute simplicity as hominess. (Witness the proliferation of restaurants with single, 'folksy' names: Egg, Can, The Farm, Home, Spoon, and--of course--Simple.)"

"...not even the metropolis dreamed of by the most Panglossian of gentrifiers could consist exclusively of bike-riding, cupcake-eating financial analysts. Gentrification had no jobs to offer--only Jane Jacobs-style 'neighborhoods.' The new IKEA-hoods that the corporations and their celebrity architects proposed were dystopias, to be sure..."

photo by Lori Nix

"Sex & the City, the greatest paean to credit card debt ever produced, gave us four professional, 'third-wave' women who consumed men and products with equal abandon... Now, in 2009, the city of Sex & the City is gone. Darkly silhouetted condominium towers--nobody home--haunt the skylines. The designer shoe stores are shuttered. Rents have plummeted. Gentrification, seemingly inexorable, has suffered an enormous setback."

But has it really? And how much of a setback is needed to save the remains of the city?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

With old-school Guss' Pickles leaving Manhattan, where can we go for that walk-along, sidewalk pickle-barrel experience? At 6th Ave and Carmine, from Wed-Fri, you can find Horman's Best Pickles. It's not old-school, but it is pickles, and they smell good:

Arihood debates quitting Neither More Nor Less. Send Bob some love! [Scoopy]

Young artist on the Bowery pokes fun at old punks who've been kicked off the Bowery. Or something. [EVG]

Get ready for Open House NY. [Gothamist]

Enjoy a Forgotten Tour of Ridgewood, 10/3. [FNY]

In Williamsburg, don't step on the crack or... [NYS]

Chelsea Flea


On a recent walk past the corner of 17th Street and 6th Avenue, I discovered a new-looking fence around the parking lot that held the Chelsea Antique & Collectible Flea Market.

The fence has no gate, and the sign rather aggressively states "Private Property." I made a phone call to the number on the vanished flea market sign and was told that the flea closed this month and won't be returning "any time soon."

old sign, photo: Javier at Yelp

According to the blog Here Be Old Things, the parking lot is owned by a Catholic institution, the New York Foundling Hospital, located across the street. Two years ago, when Chelsea's Antiques Garage was rumored to close, a dealer at the little 17th Street market told the blogger, "If the Archdiocese kicked us out, I'd march right down and talk to the Cardinal about it."

Recent news in Chelsea Now tells us the Garage is staying put. But what happened to its smaller neighbor down the street? Was it shut down by the Foundling Hospital--and what does the Cardinal have to say about it?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Orchard Street is organizing to Stop the Noise. [BB]

Don't forget to check out the latest Vanishing City event 9/28. [CR]

Tomorrow 9/24 at 8 PM: Join Union Square Not for Sale in a "Funky Protest Cheese Party to interrupt Union Square Partnership’s Harvest in the Square, an annual private self-congratulatory dinner for Those Who Would Privatize the Pavilion."

What does it mean when the EV is invaded by the pink shirts? [EVG]

See Robert Frank's The Americans at the Met.

One of my favorite dives--the distinguished Wakamba Lounge. [GVDP]

Scout introduces "New York, You've Changed," as seen through the movies. [SNY]

Times Square 90s

I finally found a packet of photographs I'd long feared lost--a handful of black-and-white images of a vanished Times Square that I took one day in the early 1990s.

I used to love walking up and down 42nd Street between Broadway and 8th. The sidewalks were unclogged by tourists and there were no peddlers begging to sketch your caricature or write your name on a grain of rice. The only barkers barking called out, "Girls, girls, girls, one dolla, one dolla, one dolla."

Ancient marquees provided shade with their canopies of busted bulbs. Lunch was best at the Grand Luncheonette. I've written about it all here before.

The buildings back then were low and made of brick. They were human-sized, manageable. They contained hot-sheet hotels ("Couples Welcome"), cheap eateries ("Flame Steaks"), tobacco shops, arcades, adult bookstores, peepshows, and the like.

I took these photos with a chunky 1970 Nikon F that had spent some time, before my time, in the Vietnam War. It was a big, conspicuous camera with its long lens. On 8th Avenue, as I was taking this photo of The Eros gay porn theater (closed around 1996, today the Playwright Tavern), I noticed I was being shadowed by a shadowy figure with eyes for my camera.

I dodged him, but he kept following. I could not shake him. Before he could make a grab, I hopped on a bus to escape, camera still safely around my neck.

With that outing cut short, I only got about a dozen photos of the Deuce that day. Black-and-white film was expensive, so I didn't shoot much or often, and these are all I have. Now that they've been scanned into electronic format, you can see them all here on my flickr page.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

In Fort Greene, the Greenlight Bookstore is coming along:

Robert Frank's elevator girl finds herself years later. [NPR]

Bitchcakes visits the deep secrets of Grand Central Terminal. [BCC]

Stirring up my own real-estate envy, two townhouses on 10th. [EVG]

Orchard to get even more attitude--as if that's needed. [BB]

Fight over Jane Hotel steps it up from the days of a few lone protesters. [Curbed]

Barneys sells homeless chic. [Racked]

Mr. Softie hits hard against Van Leeuwen artisanal ice-cream. [Grub]

Tosca in Times Square

Last night, Times Square lay blanketed beneath an eerie hush, its crowd corralled into chairs on a red carpet, while the sounds of Puccini's "Tosca" echoed off the glassy towers. On the NASDAQ screen, on the Jumbotron, and MTV's big TV, the Metropolitan Opera broadcast their opening-night gala performance.

With no cars on Broadway, Times Square felt like a weird auditorium, oddly hollow, day-lit at night by countless TV screens flashing epileptically. Among the grinning M&Ms, the stretched-out supermodels in designer jeans, and guzzlers of Coca-Cola, there was soprano Karita Mattila and her heaving bosom, singing the aria "Vissi d'arte."

Over the Military Recruitment Station, where their own giant TV showed the bomb blasts of war as glorious temptations, Tosca begged for her lover's life to be spared, singing, "I lived for art, I lived for love, I never did harm to a living soul!"

On the sidewalks and in the streets, leaning against mailboxes and lampposts, sitting in those controversial chairs, people stayed still, gazing upwards in silence, hypnotized by the singer's voice. And her red dress.

Meanwhile, as the CNN ticker reminded us, more and more troops were being called to war.

Monday, September 21, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Locals fight Soho Hollister store with stink bombs. [NYP]

Brownstone Brooklyn embraces "the chain that is distinctly, even aggressively, local." [NYT]

Visiting the flophouse above JG Melon's. [NYT]

9/22: A panel discussion of Storefront with Jim and Karla Murray. [Clic]

A journalist digs in to the Post's plundering of the blogosphere. [SJ]

A snapshot of life in the Oro Condos in Downtown Brooklyn--a couple ignoring each other, a mother on her cell phone, a baby gazing blankly behind her, into the emptiness of the floor-to-ceiling window. As a portrait of domestic alienation, it's a modern Edward Hopper:

Why is NYC filled with the beautiful people? [TGW]

The Mary Help of Christians "Spay and Neuter" Your Pet mural has been whitewashed. [EVG]

Another good vintage sign vanishes from the LES. [BB]

One other detail from the minutes: "There has been a large increase in residential burglaries...75% of incidents occurred thru open windows/unlocked windows and doors." Who is leaving their windows open and doors unlocked in the city?

Left Bank Books

With the coming takeover of the nearby Biography Bookshop space by Marc Jacobs and the closure of neighbor Lee's Laundry, my more or less consistent, low-grade concern about Left Bank Books has been goosed.

Remarkably, though it looks like it's been there since the young Bob Dylan strolled 4th Street, the shop was opened in 1992 by Arthur Farrier, who called it Bookleaves.

Wrote the Times in 2003, "Stocked with out-of-print books, it is a browser's nirvana. People bring in dusty boxes, and the owner, Arthur Farrier, sorts them. 'I have the smallest inventory in the Western world,' said Mr. Farrier, who spent 20 years driving a cab before he got tired of complaining about disappearing bookshops and opened one of his own. 'The odds against finding a book here are tremendous.' Mr. Farrier is in danger of becoming a Village character. He affects a beret over a mane of white hair--he calls it a poor man's toupee--and he is a mine of Greenwich Village lore."

Farrier sold the shop in 2005, but not much changed. The name became Left Bank, but the new owner, Kim Herzinger, didn't rush to change the sign. The shop is still packed with books. The window display is tantalizing, filled with rare books and signed books. They keep up an online list of their new arrivals.

The West Village used to be filled with bookshops, but in the past, deadly decade, they've been dwindling fast. The Examiner took a look at what's left, but we keep losing them. Oscar Wilde shuttered. Biography is staying on Bleecker, but moving much farther east. It's a mass extinction.

I have found many a hard-to-find book at this shop. It is a bright spot on an increasingly bleak block, where characters like Farrier are now deemed "obsolete" in what has become the luxury doldrums.

scene across the street from Left Bank

Friday, September 18, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

The battle of the food fetishists vs. the leather fetishists continues--as wholesome "family" entertainment claims Meatpacking. [Villager]

Literature dies at a book party for "twitter wit." [NYP]

Hashing: Where jerks run around the Lower East Side in a "never-ending quest for beer, food, good times and beer." [EVG]

...After all that, if you're still not convinced the city is in the shitter, save the date on 9/28: Don't miss the third installment of Vanishing City at Dixon Place, complete with Bowery visuals and live cabaret. [DP]

Galaxy Diner


To my chagrin, I only just noticed that the Galaxy Diner in Chelsea has closed. The windows are newspapered with papers dating from June.

In a neighborhood where an affordable meal is hard to find, the Galaxy was a standout. It was a real diner, with cheap lunch specials, including a meatloaf sandwich I looked forward to on a cool, almost-autumn day.

Inside, it was wonderfully and weirdly decorated with scenes of outerspace--rocket ships and planets on the walls, and the tables dusted with moons and stars. It was a place where you could go and quietly read a book among the galactic splendors.

photo by Danmeth

Wondering why it closed, I found the following comment at Destination Chelsea: "As far as I know the owners of restaurant Nisos next door owned the Galaxy Diner. Being that Nisos is now serving the breakfast that the diner used to offer, I can only guess that Nisos will expand."

Nisos also took over the spot once occupied by the beloved Sam Chinita's Cuban-Chinese diner.

photo by TheMachineStops

Above, you can see what was lost. Below, the neon-blue and stoneface replacement. Above Nisos, you can see the planet-painted wall of the Galaxy. Another down-to-earth coffee shop vanished.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Comedy at the Holiday? JVNY reader Frances sent in this pic to my Facebook page, saying, "Stefan has not been gone six months and now there is this amIfunny night at the shrine for serious alchoholics?" First the Jager girls and now...

Oct 2-3: Attend the Lost NY Conference, starring many of your favorite nostalgists, including Alex NYC, David Freeland, and Bowery Boogie. [P&W]

At the newest Bowery tower, banging conga drums are no doubt already giving the neighbors something to fret about. [Curbed]

Matt Harvey looks at the murder of Eric "Taz" Pagan and gun violence in Alphabet City. [NYP]

As more bullets fly in the East Village, some things don't change: "Still, I see too many seemingly clueless people bopping around by themselves wearing Bose soundproof headphones and texting at 2 a.m. They're making it a little too easy." [EVG]

Kevin Walsh traces the evolution of Extra Place, the lost alley off Bowery. [HP]

Dickchicken possesses the voicebox of Ernie Anastos: "Keep fucking that chicken." [Gothamist]

Marc Jacobs Books?

On a recent trip to the quickly vanishing Biography Bookshop of Bleecker Street, architects for the new Marc Jacobs store were already taking measurements--of the door, the walls, the nooks, the crannies. The body's not even cold. People were shopping for books around this tape measure that kept stretching across portions of the space. You could feel the shift in the air, the snappy, plasticky smell of designer eyewear and motorcycle jackets in Crayola colors. More fashion is coming, books are vanishing.

Or are they?

While browsing novels, I listened to the twitters in the air and the talk was surprising. Call it rumor, call it unsubstantiated flimflam, but what I heard was: Marc Jacobs is putting his own bookshop in this location.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

In Park Slope, says psychologist Peter Loffredo, "needy, greedy narcissists arrived back from their summering to ruin what was evolving into a peaceful haven for grown-ups." Wait, shouldn't that apply to the whole city? [OTBKB] via Grub

Why did Tavern on the Green fail? [NYT]

Anyone up for "a poetic travelogue performed on a bus touring the South Bronx"? Here's your chance with the Provenance of Beauty, by Claudia Rankine. [LM]

The East Village is experiencing a 90% surge in burglaries. Sort of. [EVG]

More Toynbee tiles on the LES. [BB]

Go inside the Cooper Union Hive. [Curbed]

More graffiti art. [Gothamist]

D*Face Paints

London-based street artist D*Face is painting a mural in the Meatpacking District.

He's in town for his debut U.S. solo show "All Your Dreams Belong To Us / Ludovico Aversion Therapy" at the Jonathan Levine Gallery.

The show is, in part, about New York's "Shuttered Storefronts"--a topic of interest for many artists these days. For example, No Longer Empty and Nicholas Fraser's memory collecting of empty storefronts.

In an interview in Fecal Face, D*Face talks about what happens when your work goes from the street to the gallery, and the next thing you know, it's coming out in the form of vinyl toys.

About his work, he said, "It was [originally] more escaping the everyday and to get people to question their environment and culture. Question the advertising that is around them. It is a little different now, the more aware the public becomes of street art the less applicable it seems to be. Because it was like 'oh that's D*Face' or 'Shepard' or whoever, instead of what is the meaning behind that."

As even the roughest edges of our city are smoothed splinterless, as the denigrated outsider becomes the high-end insider (Colt 45 at luxe Bowery parties, models dressing up as homeless people, Varvatos selling $700 Ramones t-shirts in the former CBGB's), we are forced to face a number of questions.

When it comes to street art, like D*Face's mural, I like seeing it. I enjoy having it around.

Still, I can't help wondering: How do we think about graffiti when it's officially permitted by the city? How do we think of it when it goes up alongside the new High Line, where unpermitted graffiti is being painted over to create a placid, eye-pleasing environment for property investors?

Is graffiti still graffiti when it's not defacing public property?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

As the Cheyenne Diner makes its move to Alabama, its impending arrival was celebrated at the annual Butterbean Festival. You won't be able to eat at the diner anymore, but Dune Buggy the Clown, aka "The Ambassador of Peanuts," will. [AL]

After public nudity, people are now pissing off the roof of the Standard. [Gothamist]

Green condo not really very green at all. [EVG]

Another new Toynbee Tile spotted on Grand Street, along with Delancey and the one for Jim Power on 2nd Ave. They all seem to be anti-media. [BB]

Nanny Bloomberg is trying to stop you from smoking in the great urban outdoors. [ND]

What if Carrie took to the crack pipe in the next film installment of Sex & the City? [NYCR]

Mars Invasion

This frontline report comes in from photographer, JVNY reader, and Mars Bar habitue, Goggla.

A gaggle of girls came in to Mars Bar. One ordered a watermelon-flavored vodka with soda. By some chance, the watermelon was in stock, but had probably been sitting there for years.

She was horrified to find fruit flies in her drink and sent it back. The bartender held the glass to the light and just said, "Huh."

Another patron recommended the girl get a beer since that comes in sealed bottles. She insisted on a fresh drink from the same vodka. There were flies in the bottle.

We cheered and said that was lucky, but she walked out, leaving her jaw on the floor behind her.

Monday, September 14, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

Checking in with the Breslin holdovers: they're not allowed to enter through their own front door and they're only permitted to use the service elevator. [CN]

Poet of the LES, Jim Carroll has died of a heart attack. [NYT]

Ask an expert about the gentrification of Chinatown. [CR]

Michael Perlman writes in to say the Cheyenne Diner will finally "begin its long-awaited move to Alabama" tonight. So go by and say goodbye:

Gathering memories of the city's shuttered businesses. [EVG]

The outlook on Bleecker--is bleak. [FNY]

Looking at the once grand Hotel St. George. [GVDP]

Friday, September 11, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

It's been a slow, post-holiday here's a little week in review:

All jokes (and fears) about the EV turning into one big frat house have come true. [Blah]

The frat-housers' Facebook page declares that nothing will match the insanity of the beer-pong partying on 12th St. [EVG]

Meanwhile, the Feast of San Gennaro gears up to confound the newly landed gentry in "Nolita." [BB]

A few ass shots from the Howl fest. [NMNL]

The new Sex & the City? Park Slope mommies--as SJP and HBO eye Sohn's new novel. [NYT]

Still, the cupcake crash is coming. [Slate]

A look at architectural life in Cooper Square. [FNY]

A historic bell tolls at Coney. [flickr]

Finally, Greenpoint has crusties! [NYS]

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Spoonbill Kitties

I generally avoid going to Williamsburg, and when I do go there, I definitely avoid Bedford Avenue. However, someone recently told me to check out the Bedford bookshop Spoonbill & Sugartown, so I braved it. And glad I did--for this encounter with two bookstore cats.

It was a hot, muggy day. The cats were sleepy. The black cat was totally unconscious and immobile. Forget about trying to get a copy of whatever he's sleeping on.

The three-legged tabby was sitting at the back of the store, meowing loudly at a man trying to browse the fiction. He wasn't interested. I gave the tabby some attention and he flopped over and quickly lost consciousness.

One of the joys of New York City is its bookstore cats.
When the bookstores are gone, of course, there will be no bookstore cats. Enjoy them while you can.

For more on these cats, check out their profile at Racked.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Hudson Cats

There's a sign in the window at Myers of Keswick on Hudson Street announcing the Facebook fan page of Molly the cat. You might remember her as the cat who got stuck in the wall and captivated the city for two weeks in 2006.

During that ordeal, she even got a free therapy session from renowned cat shrink Carole Wilbourn, who played "the music of humpback whales and ocean sounds" to soothe Molly in her imprisonment.

Three years after her rescue, Molly seems to be doing fine. But all the attention may have gone to her head. I walked by recently to find her waiting on the shop's doorstep. She looked up, fully expecting me, a passing stranger, to open the door for her. Of course, I obliged. She entered and didn't even bother to say thank you.

Her next-door neighbor, an unnamed bodega cat, is not so famous. No celebu-cat, he's not a "Baby Jessica." He didn't get trapped in any walls or wells. He doesn't have a single Facebook fan and he never got featured in the New York Times. Does he care? Does he feel overshadowed to this day by his more celebrated neighbor?

We may never know.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cells, cells, cells

As summer ends and the cooler weather is around the corner, we will gradually see our streets loosen from the strangle-hold of bad cell-phone behaviors.

from my flickr

Until then, we still have senior citizens to protect us. They have no qualms whatsoever about telling people off. Walking on 9th Ave around 14th Street, there's a typical MePa dude on his cell phone, greased hair flopping into his sunglasses (cloudy day), letting his big dog take a huge steaming dump against a planted tree.

The old lady, elegantly dressed and taking no shit, says, "Could you do that in the curb please?"

Cell-phone guy says, "Sure," and does nothing.

The lady and I exchange a mutually exasperated look. I say, "He's too busy on his cell phone."

"Oh, right," she says, "too busy trying to decide between whole milk and skim milk. We have to hear the most inane conversations! Whole milk or skim milk, I heard him say. So stupid. Once, I saw a girl on her cell phone and tears were just streaming down her face. And I thought, Oh dear, she's been dumped on a cell phone!"

The lady laughed uproariously at the thought and said, "They do everything on these phones! Hello? Your father has died. Can you imagine?"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cafe Thou Art

Over this summer, one night a week, you could find Jeffrey Packard's Cafe Thou Art in the small park at St. Mark's Church. It might still be there.

Packard sits with friends and passersby on folding chairs, by a neon sign, a pink flamingo, and a miniature mini-golf course (there's only one hole). If you stop and look curiously at it for a moment, he'll invite you to take a swing. It's not an easy shot.

On the Cafe Thou Art homepage, Packard writes, "The idea of the café is to create a place where people can meet. In its simplest form, the café consists of 2 chairs, a table, the lit neon sign: 'Café Thou Art' and refreshments and of course, mini-golf. The installations are sculptures that assemble time, space, and people. They are constructed in the Public domain to express the openness and expansiveness of hope in humanity."

It's a rare experience to sit and talk to strangers in a city where cafes are filled with laptops and cell phones--but even this installation has a live stream.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

David Freeland introduces "You Are Here," a way to discover the past through current technology, like texting (which you should not do while walking and bumping into people--heads up!). [GLF]

A lost bell from Coney's Dreamland is discovered underwater. [CR]

Where once was hardware, there shall be sushi. And on it goes. [BB]

Check out a new book about Governors Island--Governors Island: The Jewel of New York Harbor by Ann L. Buttenwieser. The author will be speaking at the Skyscraper Museum 9/22.

Another sports bar for the EV. [EVG]

Mysterious Toynbee Tile demands "Justice for NYC Mosaic Man Jim Power" in the middle of 2nd Ave at 8th St.:

Fedora Returns

In July, the Fedora restaurant on West 4th closed briefly so that its proprietress, Fedora Dorato, could have back surgery. These events always unnerve me--when an old-schooler takes a health-related hiatus--because you just never know if that's the end and the place will next become the latest Beatrice Inn. So I was glad to get the chance to dine once again at the reopened 60-year-old Village haunt.

There were about 7 of us in the place, mostly older men with gray hair or no hair, sitting quietly alone over dishes of lasagna and veal parm. Occasionally, one of the men talked out loud to himself, then looked up surprised, as if he hadn't expected the words in his head to exit from his mouth.

The waiter brought my dish and asked what book I was reading. I showed him the cover. "The Culture of Narcissism," he read aloud, "Hmpf. Well, isn't that New York?"

On one wall of the restaurant are framed Playbills, pages of sheet music, and photos of handsome young men who autographed their head shots long ago to Fedora "with love." One called Fernando posed in leathers, shirtless, on a motorcycle. Most of them are octogenarians by now, if not gone, and I wondered if some of the men sitting alone at the tables were also on the wall.

They drank their espressos delicately, with pinkies raised, but belched like bears.

I thought: This could be me one day, alone but not alone, enjoying my usual table and usual meal. The peacefulness of the place was soothing and easy. Maybe it's the murky pink lighting, what painter Jon Hammer calls a "special kind of undersea gloom."

When Fedora walked in the front door, fit as a fiddle, the patrons applauded. The old woman, stooped yet elegant, warmly smiling, greeted everyone--many by name. "And how are you tonight, Jane," she asked, "And how are you, my dear friend Charlie?" Her patrons have been applauding her entrance for years. In 1992, she told the Times, "I love it when they applaud for me. Sometimes I go out just so I can come back in and hear them do it again."

She went behind the bar and poured a martini for one of her dear friends, knowing what he wanted without his having to ask.

When I walked out to the sidewalk, a young couple passed by. The guy tried reading the menu, but his girl pulled him along, saying, "Forget it, that place is empty."

Depends on your definition of "empty," I guess.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

*Everyday Chatter

For those who just can't resist leaving their $1,000+ laptops unattended while they smoke or pee (who does this?), there's now a handy camouflage to fool thieves. [LH]

"French language bookstore Librairie de France--a Rockefeller Center destination for 74 years--is closing shop after its rent threatened to triple to an astonishing $1 million a year." [NYDN]

Discovering a last remnant of the old Ziegfeld theater. [HP]

A Beaux-Arts landmark is getting topped with a glassy sliver of a tumor. [EVG]

Without Internet service underground, people still read on the subway. City Room asks for your MTA reading list. [CR]

Mike Albo visits old-school, cost-conscious Syms and finds "my regard for the suit was re-attuned. Instead of a symbol of status, I began to see it as ordinary masculine work wear." [NYT]

A shoplifter gets exposed Luddite style--on paper, taped to a signpost. [Curbed]

Man with a Horn

Yesterday, I posted about the dearth of street theater at Astor Place. Last night, I stood happily corrected.

Crossing the glassy blue glow of the Chase bank, I heard the sound of a trumpet blasting, bleating, echoing like it was banging around inside a tin can. I didn't see any trumpeter until I looked into the darkened windows of the city bus parked in the shadows of the old Cooper Union building.

Between his shifts, the lone bus driver in silhouette paced up and down the aisle, trumpet in hand, brass catching streetlight.

No passengers troubled him in the empty bus.

No traffic shoved him.

No stop lights stopped him.

Whether he was practicing or just blowing off steam, I don't know. I don't know his name or anything more about him. He played only for himself. But his playing attracted a group of passersby who stopped to listen, and snap his picture, too--also pleasantly surprised, I assumed, to find New York suddenly New York again.

We felt--I felt--strangely redeemed.

And when the time came for his shift to begin, the driver turned on the engine and the lights, then took one last stroll--down and back once more, transforming a city bus into his own Carnegie Hall, blasting John Williams' theme from Superman.

On the advertisement beneath him, the headline read, "You never know who's going to save your life."