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  • Stix

    Good things can become metaphors for a dark side when used excessively – sanitization and Disneyfication come to mind. And what object has more of a negative connotation than a puppet? Perhaps it is particularly offensive to Americans, a country founded on freedom and rebellion against unwanted CONTROL. No one likes to see a government or person accused of being a puppet or perhaps one of the Stepford Wives. Worse yet – the official term for an individual who controls a marionette is a manipulator.

    The soullessness of the human idol has lead to depictions of evil in TV and film, such as the murderous Talky Tina (Living Doll episode of the Twilight Zone) or in a number of films made about ventriloquist dummies, such as Magic or Devil Doll. There is something innately spooky about an inanimate doll or human form taking life, particularly when it wrenches itself free of control by humans. Now we have a soulless living doll or dummy, free to do its evil without a conscience. At one time, many believed that ventriloquists were in league with the devil.

    But all is not evil in the world of marionettes or puppets. In the 1980s, I saw an entire opera performed by Marionettes at Lincoln Center. And twice, I missed the highly acclaimed International Festival of Puppet Theater at the Joseph Papp Public Theater.

    Whether Pinocchio, Howdy Doody, or the soft and benign world of the Muppets, these marionettes/puppets are part of American culture with positive images loved by children, as well as evidence that puppeteers can also bring a heart and soul into lifeless objects and create loving and lovable characters that can charm audiences.

    I recently met Ricky Syers performing in Washington Square Park. Perhaps partially owing to its difficulty, seeing skilled marionetteers perform on the streets of New York City is a rarity. I stopped to watch his show. I liked what I saw, as did his audience. Nothing evil, nothing eerie, just Ricky Syers in control of his creation brought to life as Stix :)

    Related Post: Fleas or Teased, Think Big

  • The Cronut

    In 2008, I wrote Where’s the Special, about my feeling that special things were disappearing from New York, the kind of things that made the city unique and why many traveled or settled here. After all, what’s the point of expending time, energy, and expense to visit a place if its merchants and restaurants are nothing but regional chain stores that one can find as easily where one lives? Sure, there is culture here and unique cultural institutions, but one cannot dismiss the importance of restaurants and shops to the visitor and resident. As these merchants become more commonly found outside New York, there is an erosion of the specialness of the city.

    And so, when something unique in New York City catches fire, it becomes a wildfire. The special takes the world by storm, like the international craze for the cronut, the invention of celebrated chef Dominique Ansel. By now, this is old news to many readers here – the cronut has been featured everywhere on TV and in print. It has been copied worldwide. But the real story, apart from the merit of this delectable pastry, are the lines that form daily for this croissant/donut hybrid.
    The pastries are made at the Dominque Ansel Bakery at 189 Spring Street in SoHo, where the cronut debuted on May 10, 2013. The shop opens at 8AM, lines form as early as 5:30AM. Within a short time, the daily production run of 250 cronuts at $5 a piece is spoken for. The croissant/donut hybrid is not made by simply frying croissant dough. From the Dominique Ansel website:

    The Makings of a Cronut™…
    Taking 2 months and more than 10 recipes, Chef Dominique Ansel’s creation is not to be mistaken as simply croissant dough that has been fried. Made with a laminated dough which has been likened to a croissant (but uses a proprietary recipe), the Cronut™ is first proofed and then fried in grapeseed oil at a specific temperature. Once cooked, each Cronut™ is flavored in three ways: 1. rolled in sugar; 2. filled with cream; and 3. topped with glaze. Cronuts™ are made fresh daily, and completely done in house. The entire process takes up to 3 days.

    There is only one flavor of Cronut™ every month. The inaugural flavor in May was Rose Vanilla, and for June it is Lemon Maple. In July, we introduce the Blackberry Cronut™, and in August it’s Coconut.

    Recently, one of my customers arrived at our shop. She was a flight attendant who had flown to New York City specifically to get cronuts. Our shop was abuzz, and I asked to get photos of her prize acquisitions, which were housed in an elegant, metallic gold box. I did not ask for a sample. I was happy just to see them in person – something special from New York City. The Cronut :)

  • 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.”

  • The Tower

    This September marks 12 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Not surprisingly, the building of the new tower is substantially behind schedule and over budget. I recently made a visit by foot, the first in many years, to catch a glimpse of the work in progress. I cannot speak to the need of such a project – everything about the tower complex is and has been highly controversial. However, I did like the clean, sleek, faceted design.

    One World Trade Center (also 1 World Trade Center or 1 WTC, formerly known as the Freedom Tower) is the primary building of the new World Trade Center complex in New York City’s Lower Manhattan. The 104-story supertall skyscraper stands on the northwest corner of the 16-acre World Trade Center site, occupying the former location of the original 6 World Trade Center. The building is bordered to the west by West Street, to the north by Vesey Street, to the south by Fulton Street, and to the east by Washington Street. Construction on below-ground utility relocations, footings, and foundations for the building began on April 27, 2006.[11] On March 30, 2009, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey confirmed that the building would be known by its legal name, One World Trade Center, rather than the colloquial name, Freedom Tower.

    The tower’s steel structure topped out on August 30, 2012. On May 10, 2013, the final component of the skyscraper’s spire was installed, making One World Trade Center the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the third-tallest building in the world by pinnacle height. Its spire reaches a symbolic height of 1,776 feet in reference to the year of the United States Declaration of Independence. It has been the tallest building in New York City since April 30, 2012, when it surpassed the height of the Empire State Building. The new World Trade Center complex will also feature three other high-rise office buildings, located along Greenwich Street, and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, located just south of One World Trade Center, where the Twin Towers once stood. The construction is part of an effort to memorialize and rebuild following the destruction of the original World Trade Center complex during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

    One World Trade Center’s top floor will be designated as 105. The building will have 86 usable above-ground floors, of which 78 will be assigned as office space (approximately 2,600,000 square feet. The base will occupy floors 1–19, including a 65-ft-high public lobby. The office stories will begin at floor 20, and run through floor 63. There will be a sky lobby on floor 64, and then office floors will resume between floors 65–90. Meanwhile, floors 91–99 and 103–105 will be designated as mechanical space. The design also includes a three-story observation deck located on floors 100–102, as well as broadcast and antenna facilities, all supported by both above- and below-ground mechanical infrastructure for the building and its adjacent public spaces. Below-ground tenant parking and storage, shopping, and access to the PATH and subway trains and the World Financial Center are also provided. There will be approximately 55,000 square feet of below-ground retail space. A plan to build a restaurant near the top of the tower, similar to the original World Trade Center’s Windows on the World, was abandoned as logistically impractical. The window-washing tracks are located on a 16-square-foot area which will be denoted as floor 110, in a symbolic reference to the 110 stories of the original Twin Towers.

    The design was originally awarded to Daniel Liebskind in 2002. Most of Libeskind’s ideas were discarded and David Childs, one of the center’s developer Silverstein’s favorite architects, revised the original plans and became the project architect.

    From the 20th floor upwards, the square edges of the tower’s cubic base are chamfered back, transforming the building’s shape into eight tall isosceles triangles, or an elongated square antiprism. Near its middle, the tower forms a perfect octagon in-plan, and then culminates in a glass parapet whose shape is a square oriented 45 degrees from the base. A 408-foot sculpted mast containing the broadcasting antenna is secured by a system of cables, and rises from a circular support ring which will contain additional broadcasting and maintenance equipment. At night, an intense beam of light will be projected above the spire, being visible over 1,000 feet into the air above The Tower.

    Related Posts: Dead Man Gawking, Hope Springs Eternal, Vows of Remembrance, It Behooves One, Post-9/11 World, Ground Zero, 911

  • Butt Ugly

    Police Riot Concert 2013

    I still make an effort to attend the annual Police Riot Concert, even if just briefly. My photographer friend Bill Shatto and I do it for the photo ops. The crowd of attendees as well as the performers afford some of the best photo subjects in New York City. If you’re looking for a rainbow coalition literally, then come to this event. Here, people are truly many hued – whether hair, clothing, or skin art.

    There are weekend warriors whose idea of punk rock is primarily costume and theater. But there are aging punk rock people, too. There are crusties galore with their signature tag-along dogs. Piercings and body art are de rigueur. Many were drunk and/or drugged and not in full control of their motor functions. The bar was set low for fun – standing or walking was an achievement for some. There was a little bit of slam dancing and stage diving.

    At one point, I spotted one shirtless participant who was sporting an enormous beer belly, covered with tattoos, as was the rest of his body. Another, more modest attendee who was shirted, caught the former’s eye, and, with a bit of body language along with hand and eye gestures, they gave each other nods of approval. They approached each other. They compared bellies. There were high fives and even a warm embrace. It was now a beer belly festival.

    Seeing he had an audience of onlookers, the shirtless one decided to bend over and moon the audience. I did not savor seeing that pimply display, and I believe he knew quite well that neither his rear end nor his tattooed belly were objects of desire. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, however, in this case, the only phrase that came to mind was Butt Ugly :)

    Related Posts: The Real Peel, Misfits, False Assumptions

  • Castle Made of Sand

    Some years ago, I was busy chasing sand castle competitions. My planning was always an afterthought, and I managed to miss every one. Throughout the country, at various times and places, there are sand castle competitions. Some of these are extraordinary events with participants that take their work quite seriously. Even the AIA sponsors a yearly event in Galveston, Texas, where teams of architects, designers, and engineers craft castles from sand.

    Every child has taken his or her hand to the ubiquitous and ultimate sculpting material – ordinary sand, whether on the beach or in the playground. Sand castles are a good instructor for children in many ways, acquainting them with the transitory of most things and Mother Nature’s power to provide and just as easily destroy – a bit of ocean and an afternoon’s work is washed out to sea. We are drawn to and enjoy these childhood activities as adults, whether vicariously through children or those adults who take the work and play of children seriously, taking it to the next level, like the building of sandcastles.

    There have even been a number of sand castle competitions in New York City. I’ve missed them all, including this year’s second annual Creative Time’s sand castle competition on Rockaway Beach. However, recently, I did get to see Matt Long’s extravaganza in lower Manhattan. From the New York Daily News:

    Sand sculptor Matt Long unveiled a stunning 17-foot-high castle this week, bringing a bit of the beach to a stretch of lower Manhattan flooded out last year by Hurricane Sandy. The Staten Islander used 55 tons of sand to create the highly detailed high-rise, with towers, walls, arches, stairs – and even its own waterfall. It took three weeks for Long, 58, to convert his grainy vision into reality outside One New York Plaza. It’s his largest solo work ever.

    The installation is perfectly located in Lower Manhattan at One New York Plaza – edifices of glass, steel, and stone, juxtaposed against a Castle Made of Sand…

  • Gypsy Dent Repair, Part 3 of 3

    (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

    It was time for a professional opinion. After a $2000 initial quote, I was not going back to Richardson Auto Body. An extensive search on Yelp yielded a number of very highly rated auto body repair shops. I looked particularly for reviews that spoke of honest work and appraisals of work needed. A number of calls, and I narrowed my search to a family-owned company in Brooklyn.

    When I arrived, the owner’s son took an immediate look around my vehicle. I told him exactly what had happened. Better wait for his father, the boss, to take a look. A few minutes later, the owner made a personal tour of my vehicle. I made no excuses and confessed my stupidity and embarrassment. He told me he saw this type of thing all the time. In one case, a repair had been done with CEMENT and fell out completely, shortly after the repair.

    The owner referred to my auto body as basically RUINED. That’s the word he used. He said they had sanded too far into the metal to rework the repair. Completely new body parts would need to be found – a new hood and one new fender. I told him that he seemed angrier than I was – he said that this type of thing made him furious. He ran a professional shop and paid good money for overhead: rent, taxes, employees, supplies, and machinery. His equipment included a $100,000 computerized painting station. And these gypsy repair scam artists were running around fleecing people, making money with no overhead and ruining vehicles on top of it. The owner would quote me in the next few days after locating the right body panels for my 23-year-old car. I had hoped a small, family-run shop would offer a reasonable price, however, after learning that I would need new body parts, I was not so optimistic.

    A few days later, I received a call. Total cost with parts and painting: $2340. I told him that I would get back to him with a decision, knowing full well that I would not be doing the repair – it was just not worth it to spend that kind of money on such an old car.
    I was down about the whole affair. I had apparently allowed two charlatans to ruin my vehicle. As I told the story to friends, nearly all said the same thing: Why not just let the repairs remain as done? It was not a terrible idea. However, it did mean traveling around in a vehicle that looked like an American Paint Horse, for all to see.

    There would be a final resolution. I was headed to Connecticut to visit family for a party. I would be staying with my sister and my brother-in-law, Alan. He, along with his best friends Jay and Dan, were the most impressive and formidable group of mechanical geniuses I have ever met. Conversations with any pairing of them would inevitably veer towards hours long discussions of mechanical problems and solutions. They savored these kinds of problems. I also had an air conditioning problem in my car. After questioning me in detail and an in-depth conversation between Jay and Alan, a conclusion was reached, without ever seeing the vehicle.

    On Sunday morning, Alan came outside to his driveway to look at my mess of a car. His reaction was not particularly negative, nor was he startled or shocked. Perhaps owing to his extensive repair and restoration of motorcycles and autos, seeing areas of mismatched body paint colors was only indicative of work in progress, not necessarily ruination. His analysis was that it appeared as if the vehicle had been repaired along standard lines with Bondo (a standard putty for auto body repair) or a material like it. We worked together initially, cleaning the repaired areas with razor blades. Then Alan began working with rubbing compounds – a fine abrasive used to repair scratches and restore finishes. His compounds were old and dried out – he suggested that I purchase fresh containers.

    Recently, I purchased two cans of Turtle Wax rubbing compound (coarse and fine) and two microfiber cloths. Total cost – $11.50. Next will be an online purchase of spray paint, custom matched to my auto’s original color. Another small investment and a little bit of elbow grease should complete the restoration.

    So far, the body repair appears to be durable. Perhaps those two boys actually believed that they were doing a proper repair. Was it a scam or only a poor quality repair? A scam typically has a mal intent as a necessary component. Alan, whom I consider an expert, did not agree with the auto body repair shop I had visited. Time will tell if this was or was not a classic Gypsy Dent Repair

  • Gypsy Dent Repair, Part 2 of 3

    (see Part 1 here)

    On July 7, I was looking for parking in the Lowe’s parking lot in Brooklyn. Two young guys approached me in their van, having apparently spotted my dentmobile. The fast talker of the two immediately approached me and through his driver’s window made his pitch. They would repair all the dents now for $250. I would not pay until the entire job was completed to my satisfaction. To sweeten the deal further, they would repair one dent for free.

    And I was permitted, even encouraged, to watch their entire procedure. I would neither have to leave the vehicle with them nor give them my keys. When they discussed refinishing paint, I became more concerned. I asked how they could possibly match paint color. They replied – they could formulate the color from the VIN number on my registration sticker in my window. Slick. If the work was of engine or electrical, etc., I would have declined, but this was only dent removal, not a complex auto repair. I would see the work being done. Where was the risk? So I agreed. They told me there was an ATM machine in the Pathmark next door.

    Their van was astonishing – an auto repair shop on wheels. They had every manner of tool, paints, grinders, and sanders. Work began. These two boys could work. Fast. In the hot sun of a blistering July day. Brazen and undaunted, doing auto body repair in the parking lot of a Lowe’s. We chatted as they worked. They critiqued the previous work done by the garage by using Bondo. Later there was talk of using Bondo. One of the two told me they were brothers. I was told that an older man who was circulating in another vehicle asking how his boys were doing for me, was their father. However, the other boy later told me that they were cousins and that the older man was their uncle.
    I asked where they were from. Rumania, they answered. Was that good or bad, I wondered? My girlfriend had an instinct that something was awry from the beginning. But I had shooed her away into Lowe’s, so as not go get bored watching an auto repair while baking in the hot sun.

    They ran a portable grinder from my car battery. Slick. They removed the dent in the hood with a small crowbar through an opening underneath. Slick. These guys looked quite experienced and very resourceful. They were fast, taking charge, and working with confidence. I became concerned, however, at how much grinding was being done and how much paint finish was being removed. Too late now. Soon the job was done.
    Substantial wax buildup was left around edge repair. The color seemed noticeably off. I was instructed to follow their instructions carefully – in 48 hours, I must have the car washed and hot waxed. This, and only this, would remove all traces of wax and compound and restore my car to its former finish and color. They followed me to the ATM, and I withdrew $250 and paid them. They repeated the washing instructions.

    I told them of my blog and asked if I could take their photos. They heartily agreed, even posing. I was surprised and felt somewhat reassured – what crooks would pose for a photo? As they left, without thinking why, I photographed their license plate.

    As we drove away, I had that sinking feeling. The mere idea of allowing strangers to do a repair and all cash transaction in a parking lot was not sitting right with me. Conflicting things had been said by them. The car wash thing sounded dubious. And one was not supposed to think, admit, or speak this, but they were from Rumania.

    Before going home, we made one of our favorite rituals – a visit to Trader Joe’s before closing, when the crowds are less. As I stepped out of my car, a man pulling a small suitcase on wheels approached me. He took one look at the work on my car and told me it was HORRIBLE. He asked where the work was done. I told him. He asked if they told me to wash the car within 48 hours and have it waxed – it was asked like it was a standard ploy. Now my heart really sank. I had been duped for sure. Who knows what those boys had really done and how good this repair would be. This was astonishing – in 44 years living in New York City, I had never been approached by auto repair hucksters, but now, twice in one day? He offered to repair the work for $150 and began removing a can of spray paint from his suitcase. I declined and stopped him. Was he serious? Did he actually think I would agree to another cash repair job on the streets of New York City and add insult to injury?

    My journey home included a number of “I told you so’s” from my girlfriend. I tried to defend my decision, but ultimately, the whole thing was humiliating. What had I been thinking? Wasn’t I the seasoned, street smart New Yorker? What would happen to my credibility and any reputation for being savvy?

    The next morning my girlfriend reported on some late night reading. Apparently what I experienced was a nationwide phenomenon – Gypsy dent repair. It was formulaic. Textbook. Everything they had done and said was routine for this type of scam, including the 48-hour period before the mandatory car wash. Now I was really down. I had been scammed. It was embarrassing. I had learned the hard way. The infamous school of hard knocks – perhaps the dark side of New York City’s Sidewalk University. But this class, Gyspy Dent Repair, was not yet completed, as we will see in Part 3

  • Gypsy Dent Repair, Part 1 of 3

    In April of 2012, I arrived at my garage to pickup my car. What I found was a serious dent and a loose door guard. I alerted the attendants to their obvious mishap. They, of course, feigned innocence. After driving, I found that my driver side window was not working, nor was my side view mirror. Now I had a more serious repair ahead of me. The garage had to be held accountable. When I returned, they were reluctant to own up to the damage. Finally, the only human in the bunch who had any compassion, came out with an accident repair form – implicit admission of their guilt.

    It was a number of phone calls and some time later, but the owner management of Icon Parking finally repaired the vehicle at their cost at the auto body shop that does work for their company. When the work was finally completed and I came to fetch the vehicle, I was very pleasantly surprised. The door window and mirror worked as before, and the auto body repair work looked perfectly done. Or so I thought.

    Some time later, perhaps as result of a car wash, the fender and door body became misaligned, and the paint repair popped off. The door/fender alignment began to worsen, and by June of 2013, I could barely open the driver’s door, having to slink into a narrow crack to enter the car. I had acquired a number of other dents over the years while street parking in NYC – someone had placed something heavy on my car and severely creased a small area of a fender, a truck or other tall vehicle had crushed an area in the front of my hood, and a bus had brushed against my car leaving scrape marks. It was time to find an auto body repair shop.

    My buddies over at Salerno Service Station recommended Richardson Auto Body as being one of the best, so one morning, I drove to Brooklyn to make a visit. It was a small shop lined with cars. The owner, who was Hispanic and spoke limited English, was cordial but short – a few seconds around the car and he told me that a repair would be $2000. He was very particular about his work and said that he would not be able to repair spots and match colors – his quote, which was shockingly high to me, included a complete repainting of the auto. He assured me the result would be perfect. I did not doubt him, however, I had no interest in spending $2000 to do dent removal for a 23-year-old car. But I found a cheaper and much easier way to do it, right on the streets of New York City. You will learn how in Part 2 of Gypsy Dent Repair :)

    Related Posts: No Pane at All, I’ll Take Care of You, Wreck on the Highway, In the Allagash, The Point of Impact, Pull Ahead, A Different Dictionary, Urban Coral Atoll, No Radio

  • Angelic Protection

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    In 2008, the New York Times announced that New York City had officially joined the recession that plagued the nation. They also reported that: “The real estate market, especially in Manhattan, has softened substantially in the last several weeks…”

    Sure. If so, it must have been the world’s shortest recession, perhaps coming and going at night when most of us were asleep. A recent assessment by the online publication Curbed jives more with reality. “What Recession? Here Are NYC’s 10 Most Expensive Listings,” with listings of apartments for sale from $50 million to $100 million. Articles in 2004 from NPR and The New York Daily News on dog walking report that some dog walkers are making between $50,000 and $100,000 per year.

    But perhaps, you say, these are the isolated facts taken from the top of the market, and the haves always have at the top anywhere you go. Point well taken. So, perhaps like the statistician, you ask to see a larger sample size, something more statistically significant.

    Take a property in the Village like One Fifth Avenue, a prestigious prewar Art Deco landmark co-op, built in 1927 by Harvey Wiley Corbett. It has 184 units. Yet, currently, there are only 3 apartments available for sale in the entire building: one at $11 million, one at $4.6 million, and one at $2.35 million. A modest one-bedroom apartment in the building, when available, sells for one and a half million dollars. On the rental side, Manhattan has a vacancy rate of about 1.6 percent, with a median rent of $3200, up 3.5% in the last year.

    Today’s photo, caught during the magic hour, gives perhaps the answer to the durability and stability of the Manhattan real estate market – Angelic Protection :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Opposites

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    On the 26th of July, I often reflect back to 2009. It was utterly remarkable – I don’t recall another day in my life where so many little things went wrong. Incredibly, to add insult to injury, the 26th is also my birthday. I often retell the story to others – and I repost it here. I enjoy reading it again myself and hope you do too.

    Things start well enough on Sunday – my mother calls to wish me Happy Birthday, and from my window, I see a partly sunny day. I suggest to my girlfriend that we go to the Bronx Zoo, something which I had not done in years.

    We opt for public transportation – the subway has a zoo stop. A few moments on the street, however, and it is clear that this is going to be a hot and very humid day. But I remain optimistic – trains are air-conditioned, and the zoo is shaded and also has indoor exhibits.

    This trip requires two trains, a local to the express. When we get to Astor Place, however, the local train is not running at all. Out to the street for a six-block walk to Union Square for the express train. Signs indicate that the number 5 train is also not running for the weekend. We jump in the first express train which arrives quickly – things are starting to look up.

    But once we arrive in the Bronx, I notice the subway stops don’t look quite right. That’s because only the number 5 runs to the zoo, not the 4 which we had taken. A brief conversation with a passenger confirms my mistake and that I will have to take a bus across Fordham Road. We exit the train, armed with our Metro Cards, expecting a free transfer.

    However, the bus driver indicates that we need to go back to the machine on the street and purchase reduced price tickets at $1.10 each for this BX12 bus. Off the bus. Buy tickets. Back on the bus. The ride across Fordham Road is quite depressing.

    Our stop is Southern Boulevard, and the driver tells me I have a choice of two entrances. I forget the East Fordham Road entrance is the main one, which is quite beautiful. Instead, we traipse nearly twice as far down Southern Boulevard for what feels like an interminable distance in the heat to finally arrive at the side entrance. We see “The Complete Experience” listed for $27 per person, with no posting of general admission prices. This already smells of a zoo sadly doing badly. Being late in the day, we opt for general admission at $15 each.

    The day’s humidity is almost unbearable, even in the shaded areas of the zoo. We quickly learn that many of the best exhibits are part of The Complete Experience and can be purchased ala carte. $6 more gets us into the Congo Gorilla Forest – can’t miss that. We watch a movie, and the screen lifts to a panorama of live gorillas behind glass.

    Outside, I overhear a disappointed father of a family asking his wife who is reading a map – “No elephants?” (there are only two left which can only be seen from the Bengali Express monorail). We decide to purchase a drink after building up a thirst – $2.75 buys a small bottle of water.

    A zoo employee tells me that the zoo closes at 5:30 PM, so I pace myself for that. However, an announcement at 5PM tells us the zoo is now closed, so we barely get to the gardens and exhibits at the main entrance, which I was saving until last.

    We exit and make our way back to the Fordham Road bus stop. We purchase those silly tickets for the crosstown BX12 and wait at the bus stop, confident that we have the system mastered. The bus arrives quickly, but it stops inexplicably some distance before the stop and we miss it. Not to be fooled, we move, and the next bus stops behind us. A quick jog in the heat with camera equipment in tow, and we just make the bus.

    The train ride itself is uneventful. However, at our stop at Astor Place, I notice a man with a VERY wet umbrella. In the station, there are SHEETS of water, the likes of which I have never seen before.  Outside, there is a torrential downpour. This provides a most amazing photo opportunity, at the expense of course, a wet journey home. The streets are littered with downed tree branches.

    We decide to go Indian for a birthday dinner. The place I frequent is typically nearly empty, but tonight the place is packed, and there are a couple of huge parties. We are seated at one of the few remaining tables. We wait for some time, but I have a bad feeling that this will be a painfully slow process, so we leave as gracefully as possible.

    My spirits pick up as we opt for Trattoria Spaghetto just a few short blocks away. They are also unusually crowded, and the only remaining table is sandwiched between the kitchen and the service exit to the street used by the waiters. Not daunted by eating on a super highway, we sit and get our menus. I do not need to even open mine, because I am ready to order my favorite dish here: Fusilli Puttanesca. However, our waiter informs me that he is sorry, because tonight there is No Fusilli :(

    For those who believe in such things, it is the ultimate tale of Opposites :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Mona Lisa

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I recognized this woman from a previous encounter which I photographed and wrote about on March 25, 2011 in Front Window. Her entire wardrobe and suitcase had been painted. I had misjudged the situation, not realizing she was a painter. In one comment on that original story, a reader, Matt, said:

    I work in Penn Station and this lady lives in the station, she carries around a little can of white paint and a stick everywhere she goes.

    Recently, I ran into her again. She had staked out a small cove on 6th Avenue in the Village which she had converted to her own temporary art studio. I liked the feel of this small shrine to her brand of impressionism/pointilism. I complemented her efforts, however, she said she was in meditation. She was not very forthcoming about who she was or the nature of her art. She only gave a name of Mona Lisa. She asked for money – I gave her a couple of dollars, but she asked for more. Another brief encounter with one of New York City’s many enigmatic characters, this time Mona Lisa

    Other artists and characters: Fudge Time, Walter Mitty, King of Accordion, Mike Fontana (Part 1 and Part 2), Supercute!, Creative Expert, Criminal Suspect, Walid Soroor, Reverend Billy, Hoopmobile

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

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Di Hut Doig

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Oscar Meyer Wienermobile


    Despite growing up on them, I hated homemade baked beans. My family loved them; relatives and friends did, too. My mother was a good cook, and it took hours on Saturday for her to make this occasional special meal. However, no amount of time nor secret ingredients nor expertise was to change my palate. In time, seeing that I would not be persuaded, she would make a separate meal for me – hot dogs. Because she knew I LOVED hot dogs. Later in life, when we could afford it, my mother would spring for Hebrew National hot dogs, a big step up from the regular hot dog and an exciting moment for me.

    I could eat a lot of hot dogs, or so I thought. Certainly not enough to challenge the contestants of the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, of which I knew nothing. And as I was to learn, I could not even eat enough to compete with one of the Morin girls.
    The Morins lived a few houses away from us in my childhood hometown of Bristol, CT. They were French Canadian, and like my parents spoke Franglais*. They would often Frenchify words and phrases they did not know the proper French for or English words best left in English, such as hot dog. Their interpretation came out sounding something like “di hut doig,” which even to my family was an uproarious bastardization and became a private joke. But, funny as it may be, the achievements of one of the Morin girls regarding di hut doig was no laughing matter.

    One day, my mother announced that one of the Morin girls could eat SEVEN hot dogs. Astonishing, since she was not overweight at all. This clearly trumped anything I could hope for. At a cookout, I could eat three, perhaps even four, but nothing like my neighborhood nemesis.

    After moving to New York City, my hot dog consumption waned considerably. Within just a few years I became a vegetarian, so di hot doig was off the menu. My interest was renewed with the popularizing of the soy hot dog and its numerous brands: Tofu Pups, Not Dogs, and Smart Dogs. For me, hot dogs were much about being a vehicle for condiments and toppings – sautéed onions, peppers, mustard, relish, and occasionally cheese. Once adequately smothered and buried in a good quality, well-prepared bun, a soy hot dog is not bad at all.

    Recently, while crossing Broadway at Spring Street, I had my first sighting of the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. It was Friday afternoon, and traffic was snarled and slow-moving, as it typically is during rush hour, so I was afforded a few moments time to reach for my camera and record the rare event. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Wienermobile was making a week-long tour of New York City with special events planned. It was quite a spectacle to see the bright yellow vehicle cruising New York City streets, often surrounded by a sea of yellow taxis. It was stunning to see such a large, immaculate virtual shrine to one of the favorite foods of my youth and the Morin girl – Di Hut Doig :)

    *Franglais means a mangled combination of English and French, produced either by poor knowledge of one or the other language or for humorous effect. Franglais usually consists of either filling in gaps in one’s knowledge of French with English words, using false friends with their incorrect meaning or speaking French in such a manner that (although ostensibly “French”) would be incomprehensible to a French-speaker who does not also have a knowledge of English (for example, by using a literal translation of English idiomatic phrases).

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Relax

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    This is typically neither a city of positive affirmations nor a place where one comes to relax. Although there have always been small communities with a bend towards New Ageism, Veganism, and other countercultural extremisms, in time, the harsh realities of New York City will grind down most optimists and idealists. Many, like Dwanna, will leave, finding the city just too hard and simply not worth it.

    Idealism is usually a transitory condition of youth, lost as the hard knocks of life put things in perspective. Some remain idealistic, often those who have a privileged lifestyle which acts as a buffer between their world and the world most people know. There are those for whom a hard day is a hard day shopping.

    I recall seeing a segment on TV where John Lennon and Yoko Ono were promoting an idea to create love and peace by making a random phone call to a stranger somewhere in the world and telling them “I love you,” asking that person to do the same, essentially creating a chain of goodwill around the world. Watching it today, I do find it embarrassingly naive. I imagine it’s much easier to entertain such ideas when you are living a gilded palatial life in the Dakotas.

    Strolling in SoHo on Crosby Street, I came across a doorway with a hand written message, appearing cryptic at first owing to the concatenation of words. A second look revealed that someone had made an effort (much less ambitious than Lennon’s) to inject a small dose of peace and tranquility to stressed New Yorkers on the move by suggesting: HOLD FIVE TO THIRTY SECONDS BREATHING NORMAL AS YOU BEG N TO RELAX

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Guanabana

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I aspired to be a fruitarian and was obsessed with fruit. I had fantasies of finding my own Shangri-La. And I had at last a vacation booked to visit my first tropical island – Puerto Rico, where I hoped at least to find some taste of tropical paradise.

    My girlfriend at the time was Hispanic, and she had few relatives who hailed from Puerto Rico. Knowing my passion for all things fruit, her cousin asked if I had ever tasted guanabana. When I responded in the negative, his response was, “Ohhhhhh, guanabana.” When I asked others about this mystery fruit, I got the same response. It became a private joke among us and a comedic refrain, much like Comin’ Up Comin’ Up. I could see that my trip to Puerto Rico was to become a mission to find guanabana. I did finally have guanabana, known as soursop in the United States, which can be found in markets here, particularly those catering to West Indians. It has a quite unique flavor and texture, perhaps an acquired taste.

    At the time, I believed that natural sugar was better than refined. I learned that West Indians prepared sugar cane juice. I reasoned that this certainly must be the nectar of the gods, and I lusted for a taste. However, I had never seen sugarcane juice in New York City but I learned that it could be had in Spanish Harlem. I remember the excitement when I saw my first large stalks of sugar cane at a street side vendor. The cane was run through a press and juice came running out below. I purchased a small cup. It was ghastly sweet – virtually undrinkable, even between a number of people. What had I been thinking? It was literally pure sugar and water. Better to stay with fruit.

    Recently, on a trip to Jamaica Bay, a wrong turn in East New York, Brooklyn, brought me to a fruit stand. It was tidy and pristine-looking, and my companion and I had eaten little. Stopping was de rigueur.  The fruit looked phenomenal. Everything appeared to be at optimal ripeness. There was watermelon, papaya, mango, pineapple, cantaloupe, avocado, banana, coconut, and bags of peeled oranges.

    The owner, Ulysses, was so congenial and sensed my love of all things fruit. He welcomed my photography and as I explored his roadside domain, I learned that the entire group socializing behind the stand was his family – father, mother, brother, and uncle. His father, Victor, was busy preparing fresh coconut, something rarely found for some inexplicable reason. A small container for $2 was an extraordinary bargain. Papaya, typically a pricey fruit, was selling for much less than typically found in Manhattan. I purchased a large specimen for $6.00.

    We spoke of guanabana and the world of fruit. As I surveyed his fruit stand, leaning against a truck were stalks of sugarcane, and as chance would have it, they had a press and were making juice. When I told them that my companion had never had sugarcane juice, they offered a sample with abundant ice, which did some to chill and dilute the sugary drink. But to me, fruit is a virtual metaphor for good, with or without Guanabana :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

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