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  • Category Archives Tourist Attractions
  • I see lines, gentlemen.

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I was astonished. Amazed. It was the first time since 1968 that I saw a restaurant surface being cleaned that needed no additional cleaning. I was at Nathan’s in Coney Island, and the stainless steel counter was already gleaming, yet it was being cleaned anyway. I was more astonished to find out that, according to Kiera, she and I shared a common corporate policy.

    I say astonished, because the policy I had in common was that of McDonald’s, where I worked while in high school in the late 1960s. The work atmosphere at the time was BRUTAL and our manager was relentless. He stood cross-armed behind the customers and regardless of the sales volume, he had a number of mandates, some impossible to meet. He wanted NO LINES, no matter how many people entered the store, even during mealtime rushes. He would terrify us by barking, I see lines, gentlemen. We would ramp up the speed of our serving as much as humanly possible. I recall a collision of two counter people who were literally RUNNING. The crash resulted in the contents of a triple thick shake forming a geyser. In order to further expedite our orders, we calculated order totals in our heads as we scurried about, picking up items in the very particular order prescribed by the McDonald’s corporation in our training.

    Another policy was that we were always to be in motion DOING SOMETHING. If nothing needed to be done, we were to clean. If all was clean, were were to clean more. The prospect of being fired for noncompliance was quite real in this zero-tolerance environment. I told Kiera and her coworker the story of my McDonald’s experience. I asked if they had a similar policy. She and her coworker affirmed, explaining her constant cleaning of the already clean counter.

    I remember the stress of working at McDonald’s to this day, and my thoughts go back to those harsh conditions whenever I see lackadaisical customer service, so common nowadays. Here, however, at Nathan’s in Brooklyn, I felt at home. Service was good, Kiera and the staff were polite, and there was lots of buffing of stainless steel counters with cleaning rags. It was a slow afternoon with storm warnings, so there was no waiting. No need for a manager barking behind us, I see lines, gentlemen :)

    More Coney Island/Nathan’s: Coney Island at Sunset, Hot Dogs and Fries

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Fudge Time

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    It was some years ago when an employee came into my office with very bad news. Our shop vac appeared seriously damaged and was no longer working. When I asked about the nature of the damage, I was told that there appeared to be a problem with the wire connection near the plug. This was laughable, and I responded that I would just pick up a new plug for a couple dollars and rewire it. To which my employee was so impressed, he commented, “Wow, I have to see that.” I asked where he had grown up – the suburbs of Miami. I joked how he was a sad man, that he would be stupefied with such a simple repair. He watched, fascinated, as I replaced the plug in just a few minutes’ time.

    The whole affair was indicative of how many Americans are estranged from even the most basic repairs. With such a strong emphasis on white-collar work and getting a college education (both laudable goals) and such a lack of dignity for blue-collar work, fewer and fewer people use their hands. My high school was very well equipped in the industrial arts, but, being tracked for college, I never set foot in the school’s tech wing. A disappointment to me now – I would have enjoyed a few classes in machining.

    The situation in New York City is much worse. Without space for storage of tools and workspace to use them, most urbanites have limited ability to do their own repairs. Most handiwork in apartment buildings is done by superintendents who wear many hats and do repairs in a variety of trades, none of which they are qualified to do. Most of the work ranges from mediocre to horrific. This is sad to me for so many reasons. There is a real shortage of labor doing quality work and great difficulty in finding someone to do small jobs. On the flip side, there are pluses to the do-it-yourself approach – a cost savings and satisfaction of working with your own hands.

    At one time, I ran into a number of fudge shops in shopping malls that made fudge on the premises. The process of pouring, cooling, cutting, and serving was such a big attraction to shoppers that the shops turned the making into theater. Just before pouring, employees would run through the mall ringing a bell and announcing, “Fudge time!” Shoppers would run and flock, much like sheep, to witness the remarkable event – someone pouring hot fudge into a tray. They remained entranced, as if witnessing the height of artisanship.

    Certainly there is value in seeing quality demonstrations of skilled craft, and there seems to be no dearth of fascination with the watching of things made. However, the audiences are often undiscriminating, watching virtually anything, regardless of how unskilled or inane. People will stand fixated as if watching the miraculous.

    On the streets of New York City, you will from time to time find individuals spray painting works using objects as stencils and tools. I have waited some years to photograph one for this website. On Easter Sunday, returning from the parade, I had the good fortune to run across the spray paint artist in today’s photo. He was surrounded by a flock of tourists, admiring his command of schlock art. Watching, I could almost hear a bell and the cry of “Fudge Time” :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • 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

  • Beast

    I was standing in my brother-in-law Alan’s shop in front of his mechanical beast – a drag racing motorcycle capable of over 200 miles per hour speed. Alan was telling me about the details of drag racing – races that only last seconds, engines powered by rocket fuel – nitromethane – and that needed to be rebuilt after every run. I was particularly fascinated when he told me that the roar of engines was so loud that race goers can see their shirts flutter when hammered by shockwaves. All the numbers he was citing were extraordinary and off the charts – horsepower per cylinder, decibel levels, speed, G-force from acceleration,  and races won or lost by hundredths of a second. It sounded like an experience worth having at least once, however, I have yet to attend a drag race in person.
    When I commented that much of his life seemed defined by speed, he corrected me adding “and power.” In a world where we often feel powerless against Mother Nature and in our feeble efforts to combat her, the quest for power is understandable. I immediately reflected back on my high school acquaintance who had told me that upon graduation he was going to trade school to major in power (as I wrote about in Pork and Power).

    Do vehicles sporting tremendous power and speed seem to be a world apart from New York City? Perhaps not. Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, the company that operates the well-known boat tours around the city, also runs New York’s only jet powered thrill-ride speedboat attraction – The Beast. For $27 you can experience a roller coaster ride atop a neon green, shark-toothed, 70-foot, 140-passenger monster machine traveling at 45 miles per hour to blasting music. The 30-minute ride, replete with 180-degree hairpin turns is guaranteed to get you wet while seeing the sites of New York City from the Hudson River.

    For a tamer tour via the city’s waterways, there is kayaking, sailing, or the classic Circle Line tour which circumnavigates the entire isle of Manhattan. There are many ways to see the city as there are modes and methods of transport. For some, it’s a stroll in the park, a walk down Fifth Avenue, a ferry ride to Staten Island, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge by bike, a Water Taxi, flying down the Cyclone, or atop the Wonder Wheel of Coney Island. For others, Power and Speed are necessary components, and whether atop a nitro-powered drag racer or perhaps aboard a jet-powered tour boat, no vehicle will do it short of a mechanical Beast :)

  • Happy New Year – 2013

    The Empire State Building all aglow with its new laser light show on New Year’s Eve.

  • Looking Back – Christmas in New York City

    Looking back at Christmas in New York City. Classic, iconic, enduring, timeless – Macy’s, the tree at Rockefeller Center, Tiffany’s, Saks, Cartier, Santa at Macy’s, Bergdorf (not shown, from 2008), Dyker Heights (not shown). Images from 2006. Click on the photos for links to stories, galleries, and videos.

  • Coney Island at Sunset

    Things look better or worse at different times of day or night, season or weather conditions, particularly New York City with its very uneven landscape. It is especially unattractive on hot, humid summer days when the dirt, litter, and grime become foreground and little beauty remains. When blizzards blanket the city, it can be seen with a rare pristine quality – everything unsightly is hidden from view, leaving a fresh, new, white wonderland where everything is enhanced. In the spring, we share the feeling of renewal with our country brethren. In the autumn, cool weather and clear skies provide a welcome respite from a hot summer in the city.

    Recently, friends from Kansas were visiting the city. As is typically the case, their prior visits were dominated by the attractions in Manhattan. I volunteered my services and suggested a personal tour of Brooklyn. One member of the family had a long time interest in seeing Coney Island. Perfect – it was a beautiful summer evening, and I would time it for sunset. On the trip back, I would make certain to travel via the Belt Parkway, with vistas of the Verrazano Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and spectacular views of Manhattan from the promenade in Brooklyn Heights. We also toured Dumbo and returned via the Brooklyn Bridge. Such an itinerary is guaranteed to elate any visitor and affords prime photo opportunities.

    Coney Island has been in decline since the 1950s. Recent efforts at revitalization has improved the area, however a seedy pall still hangs over the area, and depending on time and one’s mood, the amusement park can still be depressing. The boardwalk, abutting the Atlantic Ocean, is a constant positive, as are some of the historic rides, such as the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone. We took a ride on the Wonder Wheel – always a joy with spectacular vistas of the ocean, boardwalk, the Manhattan skyline, and, of course, the amusement park itself.

    This particular outing was my first in the evening, and we were blessed with a extremely spectacular sunset. The dimming light was just perfect to obscure the area’s blemishes while the bright lights of Nathan’s and the various attractions turned the entire environment into a menagerie of lights, all bathed in a red aura with deep blue sky and pink/orange highlights and clouds. We were all taken by Coney Island at Sunset :)

    See my complete photo gallery here.

  • Busy Busy

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    You’ve met the type – the answer to “How are you doing?” is invariably a serious “Busy busy,” always said with a very serious sense of self-importance, akin to the demanding schedule of the CEO of a multinational corporation. Often, these types of individuals find idleness to be frightful and sinful. Constant motion and activity provides great comfort and obviates the need to feel, play, or further explain one’s life. I grew up like that.

    In Devil’s Playground, I wrote: “And then there is the busy busy ethic, a defining characteristic of our culture and particularly a place like New York, an ethic that basically says any and all busyness is good and is sufficient to justify one’s existence.”

    For those who hold this ethic dear and need validation that others share their compulsion, a trip to Times Square will satisfy nicely. Here, day or night, 24/7/365, we will find all manner of activity and industry. A place where everyone is Busy Busy :)

    More on Times Square: Eye Candy, Branding Gone Wild, Work and Play, National Drama Queen, Devil Ups the Ante, Let’s Have a Parade, Wake Up Call , Full Circle, Times Square Ball Drop, Density and Intensity, The Naked Cowboy

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • 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

  • You Can’t Quit

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I was of conscription age during the Vietnam War. At the time, I was enrolled at NYU, a hotbed of political activism, radicalism, and antiwar protest. Everyone was terrified at the prospect of serving in a war that seemed to be a machine for taking boys, training them as soldiers, and returning them in body bags. The war and military defined the day and was first and foremost in everyone’s mind. A gruesome, disturbing poster hung on my dormitory room wall – the iconic color photograph of the My Lai massacre. At the top of the poster, the the question was posed:  Q. And babies?  At the bottom, the answer: A. And babies.

    Many would say that it was a time of unparalleled cowardice. Perhaps it was. Certainly such an unpopular war gave the best ammunition in defense of draft avoidance and draft evasion. By the war’s end, few defended it. Sadly, even returning soldiers were shown disrespect. I recall the glee when it was heard that the on-campus military organization, ROTC, was removed and their office destroyed.

    I had received a college deferment – common at the time for full-time students. However, in 1971, college deferments were terminated, and I was informed that I was now eligible for the draft. A lottery system had been instituted – numbers were assigned at random and then chosen for induction. The days of the year were represented by the numbers from 1 to 366. Numbers were then called in order – the higher the number, the more unlikely one was to be called. I, however, received number 37 – a virtual guarantee that I would be called. I was.

    I recall the week before my Monday appointment for a pre-induction physical. I was on pins and needles, and through some miracle of divine intervention, on Friday, one business day before the appointment, I received a letter notifying me that the appointment was cancelled – the military draft had been ended, in lieu of a new all-volunteer system.

    Given that history with Vietnam, the concept of volunteering for the military was inconceivable to me and my peers. Here, at the Times Square Armed Forces Recruitment center, we marveled at the audacity of such a presence, the choice of location, those willing to consider such an option, and the courage to enter its doors. I still am perplexed at who would choose to enter the center while at Times Square. Apparently, quite a few – historically, it has been the most active recruiting station in the United States. But it’s another time, and for many, the military is one of many career options, offering a paid education, employment, and benefits.

    The U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Station has been a fixture in Times Square since 1946. In 1950, it was replaced with a new structure. In 1998, it was upgraded for a look that was more apropos for the neon glitz of Times Square.  The four branches of the military are represented, each with their own desk. The 520-square-foot building is situated in the traffic island bounded by 42nd Street, Broadway, and 7th Avenue, the busiest intersection in the United States.
    There are many opportunities in New York City. If you want to enlist in the Armed Forces, for your convenience, you can join right amidst the theater district and neon extravaganza of Times Square. Just remember, do it while you’re sober and after careful consideration, because You Can’t Quit :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Sieve of Darwin

    Have you ever seen a film about New York City that really plays up the artistic world of old? Where it seems that everyone is a writer, dancer, musician, or painter? Perhaps the sound of typewriter comes wafting out onto the street as an actor strolls down some charming Village lane. Or frenetic singers bump into each other in a hallway somewhere in the theater district on the way to an audition. And someone is banging on their ceiling with a broom because a neighbor is hammering away at their piano at some god awful hour.

    Romantic folly and Hollywood nonsense? Not completely. Because as I was reading for this story last night after 10 PM, I could actually hear Colin Huggins in my apartment through my open window (see here and here), playing his piano in Washington Square Park.

    I can’t imagine anywhere else where I could enjoy this privilege – my hair stood on end. Some days the city really feels like the promised land – everything I had hoped for when I moved here. A place where I could find a man like Colin Huggins, dragging one of his many pianos onto the street using dollies.

    Colin is a classically trained pianist, has worked as a dance accompanist, and is music director for the Joffrey Ballet. He keeps his pianos at various storage facilities in Manhattan near his performance spots. I have seen him in Washington Square Park and Father Demo Square. He also can be found in the subway system. Huggins believes he is the only person to bring a piano to the subterranean depths – no small accomplishment (he uses a subway elevator – there are a handful of them in the city). In 2007, feeling he was getting a bit too much into a work grind, Huggins tried bringing a real piano into Washington Square Park. From Colin’s website:

    I’ve been a dance accompanist for five years in New York now. And even though I enjoy it, it started to make me feel like the old man behind the piano. When I began to lose sleep every night and found myself irritable everyday, I knew without a doubt, it was time to figure out how to feel like a rock star instead.

    So last summer (2007), for fun, I tried bringing a real piano into Washington Square Park, and honestly, I’d never felt so good about an activity in my entire life. I made money, played songs that I really enjoyed, and made a lot of other people happy too. No matter what age or cultural background the listeners were, I could figure out something to play that would make them smile. It’s a challenge I’m really excited about. So although it may seem like I’m going down on the totem pole of career choices and stability, I feel so much better about myself and so much more connected to the community here and the arts in general.

    When I asked Huggins for his contact information, he handed me his card, which said:
    Colin Huggins / Pianist Rock Star / World’s Happiest Man / www.thecrazypianoguy.com

    You will still find thousands of working artists in New York City. Although I do fear for their survival, as many are squeezed into the most inhospitable neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, I am hopeful that those with resourcefulness and tenacity (and perhaps day jobs) will survive the sieve of Darwin :)

    An inspiring note: As I write this, I am listening to the Chopin Nocturnes and Waltzes played by Artur Rubinstein, considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. I am absolutely astonished reading about Rubenstein. A prodigy at age 4, Artur was fluent in 8 languages, had perfect pitch and a photographic memory, keeping most of his repertoire in his head. From Time Magazine:

    In 1903 he caused a sensation in Warsaw by performing Paderewski’s Sonata in E Flat Minor the day after it was published; he learned Cesar Franck’s complex Symphonic Variations on the train en route to a concert hall in Madrid. He can commit a sonata to memory in one hour, and he can play as many as 250 lieder. His friends used to play a kind of “Stump Artur” game in which they would call out titles—excerpts from symphonies, operas, Cole Porter scores—to see if he could play them. “Stumped Friends” would have been a better name for it. “Rubinstein,” says Conductor Edouard van Remoortel, “is the only pianist you could wake up at midnight and ask to play any of the 38 major piano concertos.”

    “When I play, I turn the pages in my mind,” he explains, “and I know that in the bottom right-hand corner of this page is a little coffee stain, and on that page I have written molto vivace.”

    But Rubenstein was not just a brilliant technician. He was the consummate artist:

    On stage, I will take a chance. There has to be an element of daring in great music-making. These younger ones, they are too cautious. They take the music out of their pockets instead of their hearts.

  • Water Taxi

    I love the island and aquatic nature of New York City. The waterways of New York are a great way to experience the city with unobstructed unique vistas. They offer a nice respite from city traffic and crowds and give a real feeling for New York City’s historical importance as a strategically located harbor.

    Ferries were, at one time, one of the most important methods of getting around New York City, particularly from borough to borough. From the New York Times:

    Before the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 and the opening of the first trans-Hudson railroad tunnels in the early 1900′s, ferries were a huge business, crowding the rivers like cars on rush-hour highways. By 1904, according to Brian J. Cudahy, the author of ”Over and Back: The History of Ferryboats in New York Harbor,” there were 147 ferryboats carrying 200 million passengers a year.

    When Anthony Trollope visited the city in the 1860′s, for example, he noted that ferries left from Brooklyn as briskly as every three or four minutes, like the subways that were to replace them in a generation.

    But by 1955, with countless trains and the automobile in its ascendancy, the number of ferries had dwindled to 57. By 1975 there were only 9 left, most of them part of the city’s aging Staten Island fleet.

    Although the idea of ferry travel may be romantic, recent attempts at resurrecting ferry service in New York City have been plagued with problems. Reading through past articles about New York Water Taxi, you will find one story after another about service suspensions, inadequate ridership, funding problems, and an aborted start in 1997.

    One difficulty with water taxis is that stops are at water’s edge, and thus, for many travelers, particularly in midtown Manhattan, this means either a long walk or a second method of transportation to get to their destination. In other cases, such as the free ferry to Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and to Wall Street, Dumbo, the Chelsea Piers, or South Street Seaport, the ferry stop is right at the doorstep of the destination.
    I do hope that New York Water Taxi survives and that the water taxi services flourish :)

    Photo Note: This is the storage area for New York Water Taxi’s fleet in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The boats sport the classic yellow checker cab motif. The company, started by Tom Fox and Douglas Durst, offers sightseeing and commuter service. For a map of their service, see here.
    During the summer they offer a Hop-on/Hop-off service on weekends, with unlimited travel for a flat daily fee. Private charters are also available. In 2008, the company purchased Circle Line Downtown.

  • Mulberry Street

    I so looked forward to my visit to Aix en Provence in the South of France. Everything I had read spoke of it as the quintessential cafe society experience. In New York City, there is a limited amount of quality street side cafe or restaurant seating. In most cases one must suffer the slings and arrows of anything and everything that passes by. Often, tables are placed on sidewalks much too narrow for adequate separation; the sense is that you really are eating on the street. Diners are often accosted by panhandlers and the like.
    So for a New Yorker, Aix was paradisaical – wide sidewalks and a clean environment. However, this is Mulberry Street in the heart of Little Italy. Beginning in 1996, three blocks from Broome to Canal Streets are closed to vehicles during the summer months, turning the street into a pedestrian mall. In September, the street is closed for the annual Feast of San Gennaro festival.

    Outdoor seating for restaurants and cafes line Mulberry Street. Restaurant barkers solicit business from passersby. Add heat to the equation, and it will take a certain je ne sais quoi to enjoy eating in this zoo-like atmosphere.

    A visitor to the area will also find the surrounding area dominated by Chinese merchants. Neighboring streets (such as Mott Street, one block east of Mulberry) have seen the encroachment of Chinatown. Little Italy has become essentially a small pocket of nostalgia, a virtual postcard snapshot of this historic neighborhood.

    I cannot heartily recommend any particular restaurants here (or eating on the street). If you choose to try something on the street, I recommend eating guides such as the Zagat Survey or Yelp. Many residents pan the eating establishments here, but there are endorsers – in 2004, Mayor Rudy Giuliani cited Da Nico as his top pick for Italian in Little Italy. And yes, there has been Mafia mob presence on the street, as well as scandals.

    If you have not been down Mulberry Street during the times it is closed to traffic, I do recommend a summer evening stroll where you can walk among the teeming masses. For an online virtual walking tour of Mulberry Street, go here to New York Songlines…

    Photo Note: There is a very enjoyable book, New York Then and Now, which shows specific New York City locales using two photos, one earlier in time and one taken at the time of the book’s publishing. In this spirit, today I have added a second archival photo showing a stretch of Mulberry Street, circa 1900.

  • Double Your Pleasure

    In America, we love numbers, bargains, more, and doubling. Two is such a convenient multiple for the real world – double your pleasure, double your fun, double your money, double your results, double down, double trouble.

    Washington, D.C. was the first big city I visited, and the Washington Monument was the first tall structure I ever saw. My obsession with it knew no bounds. I had many facts memorized, such as that it was 555 feet tall and 55 feet across the base.
    One of the beautiful things about the Washington Monument is positioning near the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. I love gazing in it and seeing the monument’s reflection, getting a visual bargain: two images for the price of one.

    When I moved to New York City, Greenwich Village was my first home, and the Washington Square Arch became the natural and perfect object for transference of my monument fixation. It was not as tall, but it was white, stone, also named after our first president, and had a lot of its own history and character. It also became a symbol for the neighborhood, with its bohemian and iconoclastic history, of which I believed myself a member.

    In the previous design of Washington Square Park, prior to its recent renovation, when the fountain was turned off, the water would drain completely within minutes. However, the new fountain’s system recirculates the water, and after being turned off (at approximately 10:30 PM), a shallow pool several inches deep remains. If the wind is light, the water stills and in a short time becomes a wavy mirror, reflecting the arch, any individuals sitting on the perimeter of the fountain and, if you are positioned correctly, the added bonus of the Empire State Building framed inside the arch itself.

    If you’re in Greenwich Village at night, take a stroll by the fountain, and the odds are very good that you may double your pleasure :)

  • Tic-Tac-Toe Playing Chickens

    Spoiler: This story has a happy ending.

    The sign in this photo at the Chinatown Fair at 8 Mott Street, is missing a very critical word: Chickens. The sign used to read “World Famous Dancing & Tic-Tac-Toe Chickens.” Since the 1960s, a number of dancing and tic-tac-toe playing chickens have been home here. Chinatown Fair was originally a museum. In Manhattan’s Chinatown (2008) by Daniel Ostrow, there is a 1958 photo showing Chinatown Fair located at 7-9 Mott Street with an amusement arcade. Reference is made to Clarabelle, a scientifically trained chicken. According to the book, she was trained to play tic-tac-toe when Chinatown Fair relocated across the street to 8 Mott Street. The shop evolved to a gaming shop; today it is a popular video gaming arcade.

    According to a story in the New Yorker from 1999, chickens were trained in Hot Springs Arkansas, by Animal Behavior Enterprises, started by Keller and Marian Breland, both psychologists. After Keller’s death, Marian married animal trainer Bob Brailey. Dr. Marian Bailey was one of B. F. Skinner’s earliest graduate students.

    Animal Behavior Enterprises trained chickens to walk tightrope and trained dolphins for Marineland. In the 1970s, the Bailey’s produced a couple hundred “Bird Brain” chickens who, with the assistance of a primitive version of a computer, could play tic-tac-toe without losing. One was installed in Chinatown Fair in 1974.
    There was also a Dancing Chicken, which was a sadder situation – claims have been made that it danced because of electrical shocks to a metal plate on which the chicken stood.

    But the real attraction was the tic-tac-toe playing chicken. For fifty cents, you could match your wits against the chicken. The chicken was housed in a glass cage which taunted, “Can you Beat This Bird?” Backlit letters indicated “Your Turn” or “Bird’s Turn.” If you won, you got a bag of fortune cookies.

    The New York Times ran a story in 1993 about a chicken named Willy when he died in a heat wave after two years of service, replacing a previous chicken that lived to be eight. The owner was uncertain about replacing the bird, but a tic-tac-toe playing hen named Lily did eventually appear.

    In 1998, there was an article in the Poultry Press which tells the story of the release of Lily, the last tic-tac-toe playing chicken. The rescuer, in a plea to owner Mr. Samuel, was able to win Lily’s release on January 29, 1998. After a few days in the rescuer’s apartment, Lily was moved to Massachusetts to live with other rescued animals. Read the story here.

    Chinatown Fair no longer has any dancing or tic-tac-toe playing chickens :)

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