Thursday, January 29, 2009

What the Public Hearing Taught Me

On Wednesday night, J and I attended one in a series of eight public hearings on the MTA's proposed fare hikes and service reductions. Here's a snapshot of what you missed, and here are other random things yout too could have learned in the crowded and windowless splendor of the Mariott Hotel ballroom:
1. Gratitude for your work, upon seeing the jobs of "Public Hearing Staff" charged with looking helplessly on as protesters chanted and matching the names of people called up to speak with people in the audience armed with hard-to-see yellow slips of paper.
2. Vitamins can perhaps set off metal detectors.
3. David Yassky is a great straight-man to Simcha Felder's stand-up. Example: Yassky begins a dry, to-the-point speech. Felder, quite audibly: "Hey, that's what I said. Yassky is stealing my lines!"
4. Simcha Felder is wise and hilarious. Example of advice given to J and me by the man himself: "At the end of the day, you can't say the same thing over and over. You want to have one thing that they focus on. The cameras are what's important." Example of more hilarity: At 6:00 p.m. on the dot he swapped his yarmulka for a ball cap, stood up, and started clapping and chanting, "6:00 meeting! 6:00 meeting!"
5. Marty Markowitz is also hilarious. Example: "I hear they're cutting service to the G train. [Pause.] I didn't know that was possible."
6. People with disabilities should absolutely not bear the brunt of city transportation costs, by a proposed doubling of Access-A-Ride fares (potentially up to $10 for a round-trip public transportation ride). Proportionally, more people with disabilities turned out to this hearing than any other population. As one citizen speaker said, "If you were increasing fares and cutting services this much for any other minority in the city, there would be riots." Unlike other proposed budget-saving measures, thanks to Mayor Dinkins, Mayor Bloomberg must give written permission before Access-A-Ride hikes can be implemented. As one advocate, carrying a cardboard cutout of the Mayor, asked, "Where's Mike?"
7. George Patton really IS in Brooklyn! One citizen speaker invoked the General, saying, "When times were tough during the war, Patton gassed up the trucks and said, 'Let's go.' He shortened the war by six months, maybe more." While the shout-out was welcome, the parallel is murky. I think what he's trying to say is that creative solutions are never an impossibility.
7. Queens cares! John Liu spoke just after (perhaps future Brooklyn Borough President) Bill DiBlasio. While Liu represents Flushing, it makes sense that he showed up, as Chair of the Council's Transportation Committee. Or perhaps his train was out of service.
8. The MTA Board (and around 10 of them showed up, four of them saying they had ridden public transportation) probably aren't a horrible lot. Even though they did sit very, very far away from the crowd.
9. The elusive Mr. X and the Hasidic powerhouse Isaac Abraham (one of the many people running to fill the 33rd District's Council seat had Yassky been term-limited)...have exactly nothing to say to each other. (Said J, "Their small-talk was painful.")
10. The Williamsburg Courier, represented on Wednesday by Aaron C., absolutely knows that it needs to be online!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Stand Clear of the Closing Doors

When cramming myself onto the L tomorrow morning, as it makes its painstaking progress toward Manhattan, stopping under the river, pausing in the tunnels, inching its way across good old Manhattan, I'll console myself with the knowledge that, with a special computer program, some investment banking background, a good pair of running shoes, and a lot of free time, you can still make the MTA work for you.

We can't all be world record breakers. But we can all turn out to the next MTA public hearing, at the Marriot under the Brooklyn Bridge (not as cool, of course, as Le Jolie Under the BQE). The hearing is this Wednesday, 1/28, at 6 p.m. For a great rundown of the first of these eight public hearings, see Roving Storm's latest dispatches (which include a great mini-history of the MTA, a smart recap of the ongoing CB1/Yassky/Markowitz/Abate/Toro showdown regarding the Kent Avenue bike lanes, which reduce community parking (let's blame the DOT!), and a nice spotlighting of everyone's favorite New Yorker.

Meanwhile, the one and only Williamsburg Courier recently covered the public funeral for the Z train, complete with BBP Markowitz's own Bard-inspired eulogy: "Friends, New Yorkers, straphangers - I come to praise the Z train, not to bury it [sic]. Though the Z begins in Queens and ends in Manhattan, it is, like the J, Brooklyn to the core."

What else is Brooklyn to the core (or to all three corners)? The Broadway Triangle, 50 acres of East Williambsurg industrial land up for rezoning, and the topic of a town hall meeting tomorrow night, 1/27, at 7 p.m., in the P.S. 250 auditorium (108 Montrose, between Manhattan and Leonard).

And now, in honor of the Z...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Patton in Brooklyn Part II

"No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair." - George Patton

So come on out tonight and join the conversation, at a committee meeting to preserve community character in Williamsburg/Greenpoint; we'll be developing the North Brooklyn Story Project. The dialogue is brought to you by Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, and will be happenin' in their (swivel chair-free?) offices across from East River State Park* (101 Kent Avenue), at 7:00 p.m.

*The Park is seasonally closed, for a savings of $444.44 per day...a decision no doubt made from a comfy Albany swivel deluxe.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

To Consecrate and Begin

I was on 37th Street and 8th Avenue in the greatest city in the world when Barack Obama became President of the United States. The blessing preceding his swearing in (despite the fact that it was delivered by Rick Warren, who concluded in a decidedly non-ecumenical way) included the preamble of the Sh'ma, stirring up thoughts of my own patchwork childhood, and the words Obama graced us with, he who is restoring us to the power of language, made me proud to be a part of these small and great communities. Out last night, it occurred to G and I that our entire time in NYC - almost eight years - has been defined by the Bush Administration. I feel like I've moved without moving...

"So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

'Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].'

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Winter Three More Ways



Radio War
by Iron & Wine

Did the wine make her dream
Of the far distant spring
Or a bed full of hens
Or the ghost of a friend

All the while that she wept
She had a gun by her bed
And a letter he wrote
From a dry, foundered boat

And the train track will take
All the wounded ones home
And I’ll be alone
Fare thee well Sara Jones

Now we lie on the floor
While the radio war
Finds its way through the air
Of the dead market square

And the beast never seen
Licks its red talons clean
Sara curses the cold
"No more snow, no more snow, no more snow"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

This is Limbo

Spend some time here.

The artist is the same as Know Hope, who, thanks to Williamsburg is Dead, we know is showing at Ad Hoc Art (take the L to Morgan). Here's a photo of a Know Hope piece on the Bethlehem Barrier:

Know Hope is the same as Adam Yekutieli, a 19-year-old based in Tel Aviv.

Sometimes he puts up worked pieces of cardboard that can be easily removed by the viewer. On the wall behind the cardboard, he writes things.

“I let you borrow my heart for a while, let others borrow it as well.”

"Please (pretty please) help these stutters become an echo."

"Take this scar and help me mend it into the biggest map the world's ever seen."

Out to Pilgrimage

It's true, America.

I've got half an eye on The Real Housewives of Orange County (free admission to a zoo of stupidity that scarily informs more American values than we perhaps care to note), and most of my attention on an Esquire article by the wonderful Tom Junod, who has another great piece in the current edition ("As soon as America was attacked, Americans were told that what was really attacked was their freedom; in retrospect, however, it seems clear that the terrorists were aiming at the target that was most vulnerable and exposed - our economy. Our freedom, after all, was not in their power to destroy: it was in ours.")

Earlier today, first running at the gym and then studying Hebrew at a café, I joined with surrounding strangers to catch coverage of Obama's train ride to Washington. (He echoed Lincoln's 12-day journey from Illinois to Washington in 1861. History is the greatest, saddest poem: Lincoln returned to Illinois by train in 1865.)

Advertisements at this moment are invoking the Old West to sell the New West, selling pregnancy tests, selling diets, and selling re-runs of the Golden Globes. Meanwhile, there's a tenuous ceasefire in Gaza; American banks look after number one (that is, not Americans: "We’re not going to change our business model or our credit policies to accommodate the needs of the public."); and seas continue rising (on this day in history: "The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.")

It's true, America, and sometimes I can only think of Ginsberg and what he would say and what he said:

"Toward what city
will I travel? What wild houses
do I go to occupy?
What vagrant rooms and streets
and lights in the long night
urge my expectation? What genius
of sensation in ancient
halls? what jazz beyond jazz
in future blue saloons?
what love in the cafés of God?

I thought, five years ago
sitting in my apartment,
my eyes were opened for an hour
seeing in dreadful ecstasy
the motionless buildings
of New York rotting
under the tides of Heaven.

There is a god
dying in America
already created
in the imagination of men
made palpable
for adoration:
there is an inner
anterior image
of divinity
beckoning me out
to pilgrimage.

O future, unimaginable God."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Winter Three Ways

It was cold last night, and D and I supped at Lodge, which was warm and friendly as a mug of cocoa with friend-shaped marshmallows. (The spot, on Grand and Havemeyer, shares owners with Urban Rustic.) The daily printed vegetarian card had several nice options, including house-made seitan, which only suffered from a bit too much oil in the accompanying greens. D's supper (viva la France!) was a classic salmon with spinach and lentils. The waiter was rad (a California boy lost in the faux Adirondaks?) and D did his Paula Dean impersonation toward the end of the evening, which was, with laughter, better than dessert.


Down Low
by A.R. Ammons

Snowstorms high-traveling,
furry clouds blur over
our zero air:
wind steams (or
smokes) fine snow
off the eaves, settled ghosts
trailing up and away:
the pheasant, too cold to
peck, stands on one foot
like a stiff weed.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Patton in Brooklyn Part 1

"If you are going to win any battle, you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do - the body is never tired if the mind is not tired."

Someday I'll write an essay about everything General George Patton has meant to me since I was a kid carrying around a wooden rubber-band gun in lieu of an ivory-handled revolver. Suffice it to say now that it has something to do with his belief in history and poetry and G-d, and a lot to do with his determination to meet his destiny each day and transform himself into what the world needed him to be. His life is a constant inspiration.

This new series will include thoughts on the man, whose thoughts on the BQE one can only imagine (travesty of design, marvel of will?), pieces of his talks and writings, and general courage in the face of war or, in today's case, January.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Moviehouse at 3rd Ward

Three bands are sharing their professional music videos, then performing live tonight at 3rd Ward, which, while it sounds like a bar, is in fact a collective space where artists can make art, anyone can take classes, and the public is invited from time to time for events like Moviehouse. I like to think of it as the essence of hipsterdom, without the bitter aftertaste.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Poem Interlude


I hope you are in the city
for then the snow is falling
and space is the feeling
of your warm hand in my mind.

If you are here, then
I don’t need to tell you
it’s collecting on bricks,
catching the headlights
of cabs, and giving
momentary proof
to our passing.

If you are here, brightness
lingers and blue shadows
hold the world close.

Spores Galore

New at the McCarren Park farmers' market: mushrooms!

Madura Farms just began offering at least seven types of mushroom at the market, costing around $6-$8 for 1/2-lb. The mushrooms are grown in "mushroom houses" (heh) near Goshen, about 66 miles from North Brooklyn. Madura Farms also sells produce at the Union Square and Tompkins Square markets. I chatted with two proprietors today, who explained that the mushrooms are grown organically but not certified organic, and yet they're cleaner and better than nearly any other mushroom because conditions must be pristine in order to successfully cultivate mushrooms indoors. Also, these mushrooms are super-fresh, just harvested this morning. I'm going to make oyster and cremini soup.

Also, if you want your apartment to smell like a forest, they're chippering trees near the market, and there's a heap of spicy tree bits by the track.

The Winter Greens

A much better alternative to the winter blues are the winter greens, in the form of a share of the Garden of Eve's cold-weather produce. Heading over to the park now to pick up more than 20 lbs. of vegetables, eggs, apples, yogurt, and grain. Vegetables will include carrots, leeks, kale, cabbage, daikon, beets, squash, kohrabi, potatoes, and sweet potatoes (okay, so it's really the winter greens and browns and purples and oranges). Makes me wish I had a root cellar. I do have a freezer full of compost scraps, though, so the next step is to head in to the Union Square Greenmarket drop-off location. It's nice to think about how, in these cold months, peels and parings are creating heat and food for spring.

Finally, for the sake of randomness and love, and on the heels of a killer conversation about earnestness in Williamsburg and singer-songwriters, here's a little video homage that (aside from the weird gold light at the end) does in 2:28 what I've been attempting for nine months:

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Bohemia Calling

I'm sitting in hand-chopped fingerless gloves in my freezing apartment, thinking that there's never enough time for poetry, and when there is, there's never enough good poetry (Wilde said, "All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling," and I can't help but hope sometimes to stop feeling long enough to write some things down).

Are there still bohemians out there? There's a lot of posturing, but I don't think the two options have to be adulthood or fake bohemianism (read: Urban Outfitters). What did the beats, niks, merry pranksters, dandies, goths, hipsters, hippies, indies, punks, diggers, and others have in common? Well...maybe nothing. But I think it has to start with some passion (passion before fashion, yo), a dash of social commitment, and one or two or more people willing to live their slight little lives in a slightly different way.

Actually, as I think about it, it's all relative: to be a Left Bank bohemian in the early 20th century meant working your ass off to live somewhere in the thick of it, making art or songs or dance or plays. Today, one just has to make a little more to do the same thing. The link is the tension...finding time in the midst of insanity to make things.

But snapping out of my reverie, here are some thoughts from the estimable Driggs on the Williamsburg art scene these days:

And here's a way to let your feet do the talking, tomorrow:

Unless you just want to hunker down and channel Warhol, which could also be good: “I had a lot of dates but I decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Untitled (Day 11)

Inside Jack the Pelican Presents, on Driggs and North 10th.

Leonard Cohen in Spain.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Poem Interlude

The Vow

“I’ll swing on my rings,
setting it all to notes,
setting it all to flame.
I’ll juggle it all, as if
the planets weren’t
suspended of their own
accord, as if the stars
were cool enough to hold.
(And if I need more hands,
will you lend me yours?)
Once aloft, I swear to
stay put, my elliptical
orbit like a pulse, like a
promise – to hold sky and
sound above all else.”

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Voice that Rises at the End of a Question

Dying continues in Israel and Gaza.

"Hamas called on Palestinians in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem to mark Friday as a 'day of wrath' by holding marches after noon prayers."

“'There is no humanitarian crisis' in Gaza, [Tzipi Livni, Israel's Foreign Minister,] said, 'and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce.'

"Israeli human rights groups have issued an urgent appeal to Ehud Barak, the Defense Minister, demanding that Israel restore fuel supplies to Gaza to ensure the proper functioning of hospitals, water wells and other vital humanitarian institutions."

How does one stir up wrath after praying? How is it not a humanitarian crisis when rockets and bombs launched by people are killing hundreds of people? (Livni, to be fair, has long advocated for peace and was a key figure in the movement to have the pullout from Gaza ratified by the Knesset.) How do we reconcile the fact that bombings to weaken Hamas are in fact weakening the Palestinian Authority and moderates who might be the best forgers of peace? There aren't clear answers, but there's a sadness in the air, to which perhaps the best humanitarian response is a poem:

Look: Thoughts and Dreams
by Yehuda Amichai

Look: thoughts and dreams are weaving over us
their warp and woof, their wide camouglage-net,
and the reconnaissance planes and God
will never know
what we really want
and where we are going.

Only the voice that rises at the end of a question
still rises above the world and hangs there,
even it it was made by
mortar shells, like a ripped flag,
like a mutilated cloud.

Look, we too are going
in the reverse-flower-way:
to begin with a calyx exulting toward the light,
to descend with the stem growing more and more solemn,
to arrive at the closed earth and to wait there for awhile,
and to end as a root, in the darkness, in the deep womb.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happiness and Koi

A gang of us began New Year's here at 37 (sushi and thumbrint cookies kinda do go together!), then moved on to Joseph's friends' tiki loft to end all tiki lofts, up the road in Greenpoint (hurrah for the G dance). With a koi pond, DJs galore, plants creeping ceiling-ward, a lovely and hazardous wall of candles, and dance dance dancing, the once industrial space offered up everything one could want for a holiday that cruelly lures people to do better while ensuring that they wake up feeling ill.

(Photo not mine.)