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  • Category Archives Festivals Parades and Events
  • Burning Man NYC

    Burning Man may appear to have little to do with New York City. And for most residents, that is true. However, Burning Man has become something that transcends the time and space of the event itself. There are many regional local events worldwide that are similar to Burning Man, some officially affiliated with the Burning Man organization. Not promoted publicly, there are frequent meetings and performances of burners even in the boroughs of New York City, including Manhattan. I have attended a number of them. From BurningMan.org:

    The impact of the Burning Man experience has been so profound that a culture has formed around it. This culture pushes the limits of Burning Man and has led to people banding together nation-wide, and putting on their own events, in attempt to rekindle that magic feeling that only being part of this community can provide.

    Burning Man, begun in 1986, is a week-long event held in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.  It runs from the last Monday in August to Labor Day. A temporary city, Black Rock City, is created for the event, replete with streets and avenues formed in a semicircular arc. A wooden effigy, The Man, is located at the city’s center, where it is burned on Saturday night. The word city is not used metaphorically – over 50,000 people attend.

    Through my customer base, I know many individuals who have participated in Burning Man over the years. This year, however, is the first time someone working in my company is attending. Natalie was hired one year ago to assist us in product development, retail sales, and social networking in the areas of hooping, flow arts, and fire burning. Apart from online sales, customers come to our retail space daily in SoHo. Those on the juggling side are typically handled by Kyle Petersen, professional juggler and unicyclist, and those in the movement arts are handled by Natalie.

    All the things that I have heard and seen confirm that the bar for creativity is set high at Burning Man and that the event is nothing less than extraordinary.  This could be seen in the thinking, efforts, and advanced preparation by Natalie in my office weeks in advance. She left this morning for the opening of the event on Monday.

    There are villages and theme camps at the event which are substantial creative endeavors. A documentary filmmaker once told me that he has never seen such a display of creative efforts anywhere. Other personal accounts and photography confirm the superlatives.

    For those interested in attending in the future, please know that conditions are harsh. Conditions on the desert playa (a prehistoric lake) are extreme – dust storms, high winds, rain, and temperatures which have exceeded 100 degrees during the day and lows near freezing at night. This explains the perplexing, disparate range of Natalie’s gear – goggles, face masks, water bottles, and a fur coat. There are limited facilities, nothing is sold, and desert camping is the norm. This is a survivalist’s arena, although there are increasing numbers who attend in RVs with the comforts of home.

    Burning Man can be described as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. The organization’s Ten Principles are a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation and Immediacy.

    We all look forward to Natalie’s return and a firsthand account of the event. Until then, the spirit of Burning Man lives here and there in the hidden corners and reaches of New York City :)

    Photo Note: That’s Bex Burton in the lower left, admiring Natalie’s fur coat. Bex was the subject of a previous story, “The Women.”

  • Easter Parade 2013

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    See my complete photo gallery here for the 2013 annual Easter Parade.

    See my other Easter stories and photo galleries:

    Easter Parade 2006
    Easter Parade 2007
    Easter Parade 2008
    Easter Parade 2009
    Easter Parade 2012

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Fleas or Teased

    New York City was home to one of the most astonishing things to those unfamiliar – the real flea circus. Most are familiar with the phrase, however, there are only a handful of flea circuses at the time and fewer yet that employ actual fleas, so it is very unlikely that any given individual has seen one of these performances first hand.

    Yes, real human fleas, pulex irritans, were trained to pull miniature chariots and perform circus acts, rotate ferris wheels, and kick balls. Minuscule harnesses made from thin gold wire were wrapped around the neck of the flea. The harnesses were then attached to a variety of objects. Fleas are renowned for their incredible strength and are able to pull up to 160,000 times their own weight and jump 150 times their own size. Their lifespan, however is typically only months, and so new recruits must be found and trained. And, they must be provided a diet of human blood. Typically, owners of flea circuses just let fleas feed from their arms.

    The flea circus flourished in the Victorian age, however, the harnessing of fleas goes back much further. The first to harness fleas were watch makers who demonstrated their skills in fine metal working skills. Mark Scaliot is 1578 is credited with locking a flea to a chain with “a lock consisting of eleven different pieces of steel, iron, and brass which, together with the key belonging to it, weighed only one grain.”

    One of New York City’s great institutions was Hubert’s Dime Museum, which occupied 228-232 West 42nd Street near Times Square from the mid-1920′s until 1965. The building which housed Hubert’s was a schoolhouse, designed in the 1880′s by McKim, Mead & White. Hubert’s was a phantasmagoria of some of the greatest novelty, freak, sideshow, and variety acts and the home of the last working flea circus in the United States – Heckler’s Flea Circus. Heckler’s occupied a section of the basement and required an additional admission. It was here that the Heckler family plied their trade. The circus was started by native Swiss William Hecker circa 1923 and sons William Jr and Leroy (“Roy”). Roy took over the operation in 1933 and continued to operate the flea circus until he retired in 1957.

    So, when I attended the World Maker Faire on September 29, 2012 and happened upon the Acme Flea Circus very unexpectedly, you can easily understand why I was stopped in my tracks and jubilant that I would at last be able to see a real flea circus. Adding to the serendipitous encounter was that the performer, Adam Gertsacov, already knew me, having been a previous customer of my business. I stood alone at his booth and it was a good 30 minutes to showtime. However, I was very passionate about seeing a flea circus in person and close up, so I stood and chatted with Adam while he prepared for his show. He told me all the details of the flea circus. I was later to learn that Adam was one of the most educated clowns in America – not only was he an alumnus of Barnum and Bailey’s Clown College, but he was also a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania and held a master’s in theater and communications from Rhode Island College.
    Adam assured me that I need not be concerned about having a “front row seat” since his show was designed to insure that all audience members were guaranteed to see all the details of his performers. This perplexed me, since I had learned that flea circuses like Heckler’s typically provided audience members with magnifying glasses. Historical photos showed him surrounded closely by a small number of viewers. How would Adam accomplish this at a distance? Theater.

    Adam’s show involves a lot of theater, history, and clever quips and bits, including a “flea market” where small items are sold to the audience, whom he then proclaims has been adequately fleeced. The act consists of his two fleas, Midge and Madge, who engage in a chariot race and a tight-wire act. Children laughed and squealed, however, credulity was strained when the fleas were shot from a cannon through a hoop of fire to land inside a miniature Airstream trailer.
    I became intrigued and through a little research learned that a number of flea circuses currently working do not use fleas. At least one, Hans Mathes’s flea circus at Oktoberfest (you can see an actual video below), has real fleas. As to Adam Gerstacov and his Acme Flea Circus, in the end, I just decided to suspend and see it as an enjoyable piece of theater, not worry whether I had seen trained Fleas or had just been Teased :)

  • Folk Festival 2012

    What is commonly thought of as folk music does not have the lure or following of other genres of music. Most of the big names have passed their prime or are no longer with us. Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan may come to mind for those who know them and their music. But one is not likely to see legends like these at a local Folk Festival, an event that can easily slip in under the radar. I would not have known about the 2nd Annual Washington Square Park Folk Festival had it not been for a friend who asked if I was aware that Blind Boy Paxton would be playing in the park on Sunday, September 16. I knew not the artist nor the festival.

    My friend assured me that Blind Boy Paxton was the “real deal” and a must-see. However, I was unsure about my liking of the rest of the day’s music, so, without much expectation and camera in hand, I sauntered into the park a little late at 2PM at the start of the 2nd act. The festival was a two-day event (there were six acts Saturday and seven on Sunday, from 1PM – 7PM with a different act hourly).

    On stage when I arrived was Piedmont Bluz. I love blues and realized looking through the program that this festival’s definition of folk was the dictionary one and broad – including blues, bluegrass, country, old time, and actually very little of the stereotypical folk artist – the solo singer/acoustic guitarist.

    The lineup for Sunday was Mamie Minch and Tamar Korn, Piedmont Bluz, Unnamed Hillbilly Orchestra w/ John Cohen, Ginny Hawker and Tracy Schwarz, Blind Boy Paxton, 4 O’Clock Flowers, and Feral Foster. I video-recorded the acts, and you can watch a montage below.
    The acts were all phenomenal – I salute those who produced this event for bringing together such a group of talent for a free festival.

    The whole thing came as a big surprise to me – the caliber of performer and music was much greater than I expected. Every act was SOLID. All were working professionals, typically with CDs and websites. A few had their own Wikipedia pages. A number of the acts had traveled some distance to make this event. I was only disappointed that I had not gone to the entire festival and that I had missed Saturday. I hope the festival returns. I hope to see you there next year at the 3rd Annual Folk Festival :)

  • Fountains of Success

    I worked for years on a 4,000 year history of juggling, to be published by my company. The original manuscript ran hundreds of pages and was accompanied by thousands of archival photos. The author was German and had written the text in English. The work was understandably very Eurocentric and, understandably, many jugglers were missing or had sketchy bios that needed fleshing out. The text was badly in need of editing. I, along with others whom I recruited for the task, took it upon ourselves to contact every living juggler of merit to ensure that their entries and photos were as accurate and complete as possible. The book was virtually rewritten over the course of 10 years and, sadly, was never completed.

    One of the entries was a man named Fritz Grobe. As was the original author’s style, his entry in the book focused almost exclusively on his juggling talents. However, I was interested in knowing more about the man and his life. I quickly learned that I was not dealing with an ordinary individual at all. Fritz was born into a family of academics – his mother and father were both math professors at Bowdoin College in Maine. Here is what Bill Giduz from the International Jugglers Association wrote in 1993:

    As a high school student at Brunswick High, he had the second highest score in North America on the American High School Math Exam, qualifying him for the American Invitational Math Exam. The national average of the 3,700 students invited to take that test was a 3.6. Fritz scored a 10! That qualified him for the 1986 U.S.A. Mathematics Olympiad, the highest honor for a math student in the country. He finished 14th out of the 93 students invited to that trial, a feat he considered his finest hour in the discipline.

    Fritz was admitted to Yale University and became involved with the school’s juggling club.  With a bout of mononeucleosis, Fritz went back home to Maine.  He took a few math classes at Bowdoin. He never returned to Yale, instead following his passion for juggling. As a former mathematics major myself who had a brief and harrowing experience at NYU’s Courant Institute, I was a bit jealous of someone so gifted mathematically, yet would toss those talents aside to become a juggler. But, such is life and just as one man’s meat is another man’s poison, one person’s dream is often another person’s boredom.

    In 2002, I attended the International Jugglers Convention in Reading, PA. As I crossed the street one evening on the way to the public performance, someone caught my eye who I thought maybe Fritz Grobe. I barked out – “hey, you’re that guy, right?” Absurdly cryptic, but Fritz understood that I was asking if he was the subject of our phone and mail correspondence for the juggling history book. It was he.

    Nearly forgotten, I was shocked to run across Fritz completely by accident 5 years later, nearly at my front door in Washington Square Park. He was there for the YouTube gathering on 7/07/07 – his YouTube videos have gone viral with over 60 million views. I was more stunned to learn that he would not be juggling, but that his genius had been redirected to experimentation and exploitation of the Coke and Mentos effect. Unfortunately, I was not to see his act in 2007 – permit problems prevented him from performing.

    In 2005, his first experiments were done, as well as the creation of the entertainment company, Eepybird, with his partner Stephen Voltz (an attorney and grad from NYU Law). They have developed nothing short of an operatic theater piece using hundreds of bottles of Diet Coke. The act has won four Webby Awards and have been nominated for two Emmys. They had been featured on TV – David Letterman, The Today Show. Only days after EepyBird released their first video, “The Extreme Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments”, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mentos had already received over $10 million worth of publicity. The video generated a 5-10% spike in the sales of 2 litre bottles of Diet Coke and a 20% spike in U.S. Mentos sales, the biggest sales increase in company history. In the first 9 months, 10,000 copycat videos were posted online.

    So, I was surprised but not perplexed to find Eepybird as a featured act at the 2012 World Maker Faire in New York City. I spoke with Fritz briefly while he was setting up for the show. When I returned, I was joined by a massive shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. Fritz and Voltz appear dressed as scientists in lab coats, explain the chemistry of Coke and Mentos, describe the bottle cap technology they developed for optimal geysers, and then the show begins – a well-choreographed and syncopated shower of geysers set to music. I took video and still images overhead in Hail Mary style.*

    Eepybird’s act is a roaring success and brings out the child in everyone. They perform the act worldwide, full-time, doing an average of 12 shows per year. But these are not childhood antics nor cheap tricks – a lot of creative thinking has gone into this act. Never underestimate Fritz Grobe. His geysers are merely metaphors for genius gushing forth and fountains of success :)

    *A Hail Mary is a photo taken blind, without using the viewfinder, typically overhead in a crowded situation. The term “Hail Mary” is used owing to the idea a prayer is needed to get a good photo.

  • World Maker Faire New York 2012

    A long-time customer dropped into my office recently to chat. The conversation was dominated by making products – old and new. He inquired if I was attending the Maker Faire, to which I responded, “What’s the Maker Faire?”
    He was shocked that a small manufacturer, based in New York City, would not be aware of an event that was the pinnacle of the DIY (Do It Yourself) movement. As I investigated the Maker Faire, I learned that it was created by Make Magazine, a quarterly magazine now owned and published by O’Reilly Media. It appeared that it was a big deal. So, I purchased a ticket and on Saturday, September 29, I spent 7.5 hours perusing this fair, without sitting.

    The two-day event was held at the New York Hall of Science, occupying one of the few remaining structures of the 1964 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow-Corona Park in Queens. There were over 650 makers exhibiting. The inaugural Maker Faire was held in San Mateo, Calif., in 2006. The 3rd Annual World Maker Faire New York occupied the Hall of Science, Rocket Park, and the neighboring outdoor grounds. Tents housed many exhibitors, and some were dedicated to entire areas of interest, such as the 3D pavilion and Arduino (open source electronic circuit).

    The biggest buzz and draw appeared to be 3D printing – a technology that has been around in various forms for some time but now has entered the mainstream owing to its affordability and DIY for those who are so inclined, such as the Replicator by MakerBot, a Brooklyn-based company. For those unfamiliar with the technology, it really does look like magic. Computer design files are used to layer plastic and create virtually any 3D part imaginable. The parts are created for modeling, prototyping, or even limited run production.

    Much of the fair was oriented towards younger people, but there was something for everyone and anyone interested in DIY and science. There was a working Theremin on display, robots galore, a Steampunk area, Arduino, 3D printing demonstrations with samples, a quadcopters flyzone at the Brooklyn Aerodrome, Life Size mousetrap, Toothpick Village, Wearable Tech, Bio Art, Kinetic Sculptures, the Madagascar Institute, Lockpick Village, Hackerspaces, Farm Hack, Power Racing, and the Acme Flea Circus. There were speakers throughout both days at the NYSCI auditorium and performances at various stages – my personal favorite, Eepy Bird, is the subject of a future story. If any of this sounds of interest, plan to meet me in 2013 at the next World Maker Faire New York :)

    See my complete photo gallery here.

  • Mobility and Just Tricks for All

    New Yorkers enjoy the same passions as suburban and country folk – many activities, however, due to space and cost considerations, require resourcefulness, ingenuity, and hard work in order to find space, acquire permits and other bureaucratic hurdles. But the New Yorker is tough and tenacious and typically prevails.
    Here, to many’s surprise, you will find juggling, fire spinning, flying radio controlled jets (on a decommissioned airfield), surfing, rock climbing, birding, kayaking, trapeze classes, chess clubs, motorcycle clubs, skiing, tennis, land sailing, kite surfing, ice skating, horse racing, sailing, fishing, horseback riding, petanque – all within the confines of the city’s five boroughs.

    Finding venues and shoehorning activities in city spaces is not only a challenge, but often gives rise to a unique twist, brand, or flavor of the activity – New York Style.  Often, leveraging relationships and connections is necessary to obtaining space, as did the students of Pratt Institute to utilize their sports complex for a local juggling club.

    On Saturday and Sunday, I attended the 4th Annual NYC Unicycle Festival, a 3-day event which opened August 31 with the Brooklyn Unicycle Day, featuring a 13-mile unicycle ride across Brooklyn. The festival‘s main events took place on Governors Island on Saturday and Sunday. Activities included races, competitions, exhibitions, instruction, and a variety of unicycle sports including unicycle basketball and hockey. World-famous riders displayed their skills. The festival was produced by Bindlestiff Family Variety Arts, Inc., headed by Keith Nelson. I participated as a vendor of unicycles and juggling equipment.

    There is a beauty and simplicity in the unicycle. The one-wheel design is the ultimate in simplicity, and the fixed gear gives the ultimate control. Unicyclists can travel forwards, backwards, idle, spin, jump, climb stairs – virtually anything an individual can do on two legs. They are used by hobbyists, commuters, off road enthusiasts, and performers.

    Welcome to the universe of the unicyclist, where unity is the key – one wheel, one people. If they had their own creed, perhaps it would read something like this: I pledge allegiance to the Unicyclist’s Place in America, and to the Vehicle on which we stand, one Wheel under Body, indivisible, with Mobility and Just Tricks for All. :)

    See my complete photo gallery here.

  • Wild Blue Yonder, Part 2

    (see Part 1 here)

    A flyover of F-16 fighter jets is not a long thing – seconds. So, after my journey to the west side of Manhattan for what turned out to be a momentary event at 1PM, I and a friend were left dressed and equipped with camera equipment for an outing and little to show for the effort. However, the Air Force Week schedule of events for New York City indicated that at 2:45 PM there would be a helicopter rescue demonstration in the Hudson River near Pier 86, the location of the Intrepid. This seemed to promise good photo opportunities, so we remained, chatting to a TV crew member and other photographers to pass the 1.5 hours left until demonstration time.

    The preparations for the demonstration began with a FDNY fireboat, jetting huge plumes of water – an impressive sight. Next, a Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter appeared in the skies, and the rescue mission began. Along with today’s photos (see gallery here), I took video of the entire mock rescue, which can be found below…


  • Wild Blue Yonder

    Part 1 – The Thunderbirds

    We were loading CASES of ammunition into the trunk of a friend’s car on 8th Street when the insanity of it all suddenly came over me. “Is this legal?” I asked. A resounding “Absolutely!” he responded, as he reminded me of our constitutional rights to bear arms. Nonetheless, it seemed inconceivable that in modern society one could store such weaponry in their apartment in Manhattan – ammunition, handguns, and rifles, including a semi-automatic machine gun, the AR-15. Some of his guns had required registration and a safe for proper keeping.

    I had been invited to experience first hand a day of recreational shooting on a third friend’s family property with an old hotel that had fallen into disrepair and lay fallow. The day’s shooting included all manner of handguns and rifles. Anything inanimate was fair game – an old automobile, old dinner plates, coins tossed into the air, etc. This was my first and, to date, only experience with shooting guns. If nothing else, I learned they are much louder and more powerful than one would expect from watching TV and film.

    My friend who had invited me was a Village neighborhood resident. He had never hunted game, nor was he violent or particularly aggressive in any way. He was actually quite mild-mannered and gentle. When I expressed my puzzlement about his interest in weapons and a subscription to Military Technology magazine, he explained that as a small manufacturer, he admired the precision and beauty of the craftsmanship and operation of guns and military weapons, aircraft, etc. And therein lies the conflict for many about weapons and military technology – an appreciation and pride for such sophisticated technology, yet the undeniable truth about all of it – that apart from their role in deterrence, most such devices are designed for one function – the killing of others. At best, a necessary evil, for as one veteran once bluntly and poignantly said at the conclusion of a film documentary, there is no glory in war.

    This is Air Force Week in New York City. Part of the opening ceremony was a flyover by the Thunderbirds, an air demonstration squadron of F-16 fighter jets of the United States Air Force. I went with photographer friend Bill Shatto* who was much better armed than I with the proper equipment to capture such a fleeting event. The event was a surprise and disappointment for everyone I spoke to as we learned that there was not to be a demonstration or show of any sort but strictly one flyover. The speed and unexpectedness left most with a blurry image or no photo at all, save those who were well prepared with proper cameras, high speed continuous capture, telephoto lenses, and fast reflexes. Seconds after they appeared, strafing the Hudson River shoreline, they were gone.

    I had expected the type of show I had seen years ago over the beach at Coney Island by the Navy’s Blue Angels – an impressive demonstration of incredibly precise, well-choreographed, and dangerous set of maneuvers at frightening speeds. All was not lost, however. There was to be an Air Force helicopter water rescue demonstration later in the day. In my next posting, I will show photos and a video of the entire demonstration by the men and aircraft that live in The Wild Blue Yonder

    *Today’s photo is courtesy of Bill Shatto – my own was unusable.

    More on the military: You Can’t Quit, Fort Schuyler, Respect, Fleet Week 2009, Post-9/11 World, Kearsarge, Men in Uniform, Hollyhock, Fleet Week

  • Mermaid Parade 2012, Part 2

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Pièce de Résistance (see Part 1 here)

    The costuming efforts of marchers in the annual Mermaid Parade run the gamut, from the simple but effective to the outlandish where no detail is left to chance. This year, as always, there were all the requisite sea creatures, maritime themed costumes, and, of course, plenty of mermaids. But in all the years I have attended, I have never seen the attention to detail as that in the costuming of Darrell Thorne and his partner.

    I strolled the boardwalk after the parade’s completion – a better time and opportunity to mingle and see closeup the various paraders and their costumes. I became aware of a huge throng. As I approached and worked my way into the crowd, I found what was essentially a feeding frenzy of photographers, elbowing and jockeying for position. I found the subjects of everyone’s fancy and awe – two individuals posing with the deliberate movements of experienced showmen and models, enjoying every bit of the attention, as they rightfully deserved for their extraordinary efforts.

    I spoke to one of the pair, who gave me his card which stated: Darrell Thorne –  Costume Makeup Performance. I subsequently learned that this was not Darrell’s first parade, nor was he a novice at his craft. As his card implied, this was the work of a professional, and in New York City, one expects the bar to be raised quite high in the world of fashion, costuming, and makeup.* For the 2012 Mermaid Parade, I had reached the summit with this Pièce de Résistance

    *I communicated with Darrell by email, and, typical of the many challenges to preconceived ideas one may have about New Yorkers, here is what I learned, in his own words:

    I was born the youngest of five boys in Branson, Missouri in 1976. When I was eight months old my father decided it was time to follow his dream of living off the land. He and my mother packed up their five children (the oldest being five years old) and moved to a tiny village called Red Devil, 300 miles north of Anchorage, in the Alaskan “bush”.

    The first five years of my life were spent living like the Swiss Family Robinson, but set in the pristine wilderness of Alaska, without running water, electricity, telephones, or many people to speak of, for that matter. One of my earliest memories is my father being away (on a hunting trip, I believe) and my mother at the window of our log cabin with a shotgun, all of us kids huddled around her as a black bear prowled in our front yard. The rest of my childhood was spent in tiny country towns in Missouri and Arkansas.

    I’m highly uneducated with no degrees beyond my high school diploma.  I studied dance seriously for several years and attended the Art Institute of Chicago for 1 (until I realized I didn’t actually have any money to do that).

    I’ve been in NY for 10 years – living in Bushwick for the past 3 (which I love).  After high school I spent time in Colorado, three years in Chicago, three in LA, and then to NY.

    I currently work as a hospital administrator by day at Beth Israel.  My hope and desire is to transition to a more creative career within the next few years.

    I have four older brothers and no sisters.  My parents are fundamental christians – my mother a retired school teacher and my father a jack of all trades.  My brothers are spread far and wide – one in LA, one in Denver, one in Portland and one in Helsinki.

    Growing up incredibly repressed in an extreme fundamental christian environment had a tremendous impact.  We never had a television, weren’t allowed to listed to pop music, and were largely isolated (psychologically) from our peers growing up. My parents belong to a small Calvinist religion called Independent Missionary Baptists, an extremely fundamentalist group who believe in Predestination and a 100% literal interpretation of the bible. Growing up there was no question that God was a stern and judgmental figure who would not hesitate to strike down and condemn to hell any and everyone who did not follow his commandments.

    WOW, Darrell, thanks for your candid revelations. Another lesson that in New York City, regardless of one’s instincts or insightfulness, it is best to Abandon All Preconceived Notions, Ye Who Enter Here.

    Previous Mermaid Parade posts: Mermaid Parade 2006 P1, Mermaid Parade 2006 P2, Mermaid Parade 2007 Part 1, Mermaid Parade 2007 Part 2, Mermaid Parade 2009, Mermaid Parade 2010, Mermaid Parade 2011 Part 1, Mermaid Parade 2011 Part 2

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Mermaid Parade 2012, Part 1

    Posted on by Brian Dubé


    This is the 6th year I have attended and photographed the annual Mermaid Parade on the boardwalk by the ocean at Coney Island. Every year it is becoming larger and a little more difficult to negotiate through. I spent my time at the exit area for paraders, as you can see in my attached video. An entire city block is closed off, and with paraders milling about, it is much easier to mingle with and photograph parade participants. My favorite parade – highly recommended.

    The weather was beautiful and there was lots of creativity as usual, but in Part 2, I will reveal this year’s Pièce de Résistance

    See my complete Flickr gallery of parade photos here.

    Previous Mermaid Parade posts: Mermaid Parade 2006 P1, Mermaid Parade 2006 P2, Mermaid Parade 2007 Part 1, Mermaid Parade 2007 Part 2, Mermaid Parade 2009, Mermaid Parade 2010, Mermaid Parade 2011 Part 1, Mermaid Parade 2011 Part 2

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Walter Mitty

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    In New Yorkers Gone Wild, I wrote of my high school English teacher, an extremely iconoclastic, outspoken, and controversial figure. He was, in many ways, our version of Dead Poets Society’s John Keating. He made a number of observations and recommended readings, all of which I took to heart, some more poignant and relevant in my life than others. Upon reading the Secret Life of Walter Mitty by James Thurber, he pointed out the value of becoming familiar with the character, telling us that we would encounter references to Walter Mitty later in life.

    This turned out to be one of the things of lesser value in my life – I never recall anyone referencing Walter Mitty. I have, however, met many New Yorkers who do have a secret life, an alternate persona, or a cover that does not reflect the book’s contents. These individuals were the inspiration for a series of stories I have written entitled Abandon All Preconceived Notions Ye Who Enter here.

    I have attended the annual HOWL! festival for a number of years. You can read more about it in my 2007 posting on the festival. Invariably I find something of interest, whether a band playing live music, a performance, a work of art, or an interesting character.

    It was at this year’s festival that I encountered a Mittyesque character exhibiting his work at the festival’s Art Around the Park. Exhibiting is the appropriate word to describe Rolando Vega, an attendee of the festival since its inception. Rolando’s getup was certainly flamboyant, reminiscent of André Johnson, aka André J., a man I wrote about in Out There and Fashion Forward.
    Rolando, however, is not in the fashion business, nor does he live an “artsy” lifestyle. He holds a high-level position in the corporate world and is a family man with two children. Rolando told me that he has worked since he was 14 and is a native New Yorker, having grown up in the projects of Red Hook, Brooklyn. Here, in today’s photos, you can see him as his alter ego, Chickinman, aka Walter Mitty :)

    Abandon All Preconceived Notions stories: Mark Birnbaum (Part 1 and Part 2), Gaby Lampkey (Part 1 and Part 2), Jenn Kabacinski (Part 1 and Part 2), Driss Aqil

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Another Time

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Every year, I miss or almost miss my favorite street fair. It is located arguably in the most bucolic setting in Manhattan – in the West Village, occupying Commerce, Barrow, and Bedford Streets between 7th Avenue South and Hudson Street. There are hundreds of street fairs annually in New York City. However, most of these are run by corporate entities. In 2007, I wrote about these fairs:

    This is the typical NYC street fair. To the uninitiated, it looks like fun. However, after doing a few of them, they are very boring. The problem is that you see the same vendors at virtually every fair, most of them of little interest – socks, gyros, small tools, bedding, Peruvian sweaters, imported crafts, CDs, smoothies, T-shirts, etc. The residents I know mostly ignore them, perhaps getting an occasional snack. A recent research group put it perfectly: “The fairs had lost all sense of novelty, catered too heavily to out-of-town vendors and failed to showcase the work of entrepreneurs and artists based in the five boroughs…The worst part is that they are uniformly bland.”

    Nothing much has changed. I typically avoid these fairs, yearning for something of quality.

    On Saturday, May 19th, I attended the 19th Annual BBC Village Crafts Fair and the 38th “Ye Olde Village Fair” – it was just the antidote to the street fair blues.
    The fair is sponsored by the Bedford Barrow Commerce Block Association (BBC), the oldest and largest block association in Manhattan. It has over 300 members and is easily one of the most active community organizations in New York City. Their efforts include tree plantings, historic building plaques, and the Annual Hudson River Boat Ride.

    One of the keys to the quality of merchandise sold at the fair is that participants are juried, something that New York City fairs could use more of. Left unchecked, street fairs end up pandering to the lowest common denominator – fast and easy money selling schlock.

    In past years, tables were set up for dining. Wine was served – a rare and extraordinary thing in New York, particularly to manage and prevent drunken revelry ala Duval Street in Key West, Florida. There is live music, fresh lemonade, and homemade ice cream. Vendors of quality crafts line the tree-shaded streets. This year’s festival was also blessed with absolutely perfect weather. I was transported to Another Time :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Speaking in Tongues

    People have different styles – I have always been a fan of openness and transparency. Privacy is not something which I embrace. In my writings, I have laid bare many stories involving my family members, my upbringing, my place of birth, my occupation, contact information, etc. So, it should come as no surprise that I am not a big fan of people who deliberately shroud themselves in mystery or speak of their work in concepts, vagaries, and generalities. The less specific, the more one can make assertions and personal claims which are difficult to challenge. This is the world of the self-proclaimed Creative Expert, of which I have previously written.

    On Saturday, I met a couple promoting their wedding. When I asked their names, they identified themselves as Social Acceptance and Self Love. They heartily encouraged photos as they distributed postcard-sized invitations which said:

    A New Era Has Begun…The Project J.U. Founder and Director cordially invite you to a wedding celebration for Social Acceptance and Self Love.

    The location was listed as Bamboo 52 at 344 West 52nd Street, a sushi bar and lounge. I have no idea how many people this will accommodate or why our bride and groom would aggressively promote their wedding celebration to everyone on the streets of New York City.

    I have no idea if Project J.U. exists in mind, cyberspace only, or whether there are real people and initiatives involved. According to the website:

    Project J.U. is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help individuals recognize the great potential they possess because of their uniqueness and personal values. Project J.U. is dedicated to all people with no regards to gender, weight, physical attributes, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. Project J.U. has a goal of providing empowerment, education and life skills to the community with a special dedication to at-risk students and adults. Project J.U. host an array of activities including workshops, forums, and special events. These events will utilize social networks and print media while advocating the organizational motif, “Just Unique.”

    With a little digging, I learned that the groom is Julius Jones and that he has a BA in English and Mass Communications from North Carolina Central University and is currently working on an MBA at the Keller Graduate School of Business. He lists his skill sets as: motivational speaking, public speaking, product advocacy and branding, customer service, and corporate communication.

    If you are going to market, brand, spin, or promote, there’s no better place to sell yourself and/or your ideas than New York City, particularly when Speaking in Tongues :)

    Related Posts: One-Trick Pony, King of Accordion, Swaggertist in Blue, Shows Me Here, Sir Shadow, Joe Ades – Gentleman Peeler

  • Easter Parade 2012, Part 2

    The Movie (see Part 1 here)

    See my other Easter stories and photo galleries:
    Easter Parade 2006
    Easter Parade 2007
    Easter Parade 2008
    Easter Parade 2009

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