The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Clarkson Hood Love

Angel and Carlito outdid themselves. Over six hours of our block party, they transformed a dismal untended plywood barricade on a wildly overgrown vacant lot into a mural dedicated to the people of our block. Clarkson Hood Love indeed.


More Clarkson Hood Love below:
DJ Milk Money shows a young helper how to scratch, digital style

Melvina always leads the kids of 60 Clarkson in old-school games
Hanging out and playing on a traffic-less street

Strong showing from the karate klub

Janice Thomas (no relation), a force on the block for 30 years
Thanks to her and a collection plate, no one goes hungry
We think we finally figured out who's lived the longest on the block. Til recently it was "that Jewish lady," but now it appears that Irene Gonzales, who moved to 49 Clarkson in 1972 is leading the pack. Her twin sons Randy & Sandy are perhaps the hardest working handymen I've ever seen. They put their heart into every kind of job you can imagine, and always seem to be rushing from one gig to another. Like a few other folks on the block they look tough walking down the street, but turn out to be sweet as pie and always willing to lend a hand or chew the fat.

I may not be a religious guy, but today I'm feeling blessed to be living the Sesame Street of my dreams. I swear I came to NYC for days like these, and I know for a fact my young girls will never forget these fun-filled summer afternoons, surprises aplenty. All the better, my oldest (6) rode her bike by herself today for the very first time. On the street, the closed down street. It took my breath away to see her riding off in front, and away, from me. Now I know why parents bring that moment up when talking about their kids, even long after they're grown. It was the day I knew for sure that one day she would be leaving me.

And that, my friends, is my number one job. To prepare her for that day.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Shooting at Ali's Roti

D. Iudici for Daily News

A passer-by just noted a murder at Ali's, the Hookah bar and roti shoppe. Any word? Glass shattered, tons of cops and dudes in suits.

Here's the Daily News on it. Four wounded, one dead. Ugh.

From Vinnie at the 71st:

Today at approximately 3AM shots were fired inside of 589 Flatbush Ave. Three victims were shot. One male was shot numerous times in his head and body and was pronounced DOA at the scene. A second male was grazed. The other victim was female and was shot in her stomach. Both these victims are in stable condition. Anyone with information please call the 71 Precinct Detective Unit at 718-735-0501.

And further from the Daily News:

A dispute turned deadly when a man opened fire at a Brooklyn bar early Friday, killing his adversary and wounding three partygoers with stray bullets, officials said. The shooter was sitting calmly inside the Buda Hookah Lounge, a bar on Flatbush Ave. in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, before getting into an argument with his 27-year-old victim, cops said.

The killer whipped out a gun and shot the victim, whose name was not immediately released, in the head and midsection about 2:55 a.m., cops said.
The gunman fell to the ground as he fired, leaped back to his feet and fired wildly as he scrambled out of the lounge, packed with some 70 people for “Ladies Thursday.”

“I was standing outside letting people in and I heard one of the shots fly by my head,” said bar security guard James Cruz. “Everyone just started running. They were trying to get out any way they could, running out the front, back, side — however they could get out.” As customers fled, the victim lay dying. “I saw a guy lying between two tables,” said worker Sean Johnson. “His friend was standing over him saying, ‘Please don't die. Hang on. Don't die. Don't die!’”
The victim was rushed to Kings County Hospital, where he died 35 minutes later. He was a regular at the bar, employees said.

"I saw him when they wheeled him out,” Cruz said. “He was wearing all white, a white shirt and pants, but he was covered in blood. His eyes were open and rolled back into his beard. You could hear some breathing, like those very last gasps of air coming out his body.” Three other people hit by stray bullets were taken to Kings County Hospital, police said.

The Old Gray Lady Speaks - 60 Clarkson

pic by Sam Hodgson

The Q is feeling good to day, that the Paper of Record's Vivian Yee has done a big piece on the implications and injustices of 60 Clarkson, my troubled neighbor. On the eve of our annual block party, when dozens of homeless children will hopefully be frolicking up and down the block and eating well for once, maybe grabbing some of the donated books or dancing to DJ Milk Money or a live band, we can only hope that the City can get this issue sorted out. In fact, just last night, I learned from CB9 District Manager Pearl Miles about a new housing subsidy program that can keep folks who have fallen behind on rent from becoming homeless in the first place. It used to be called Advantage, but it disappeared in a flash of legislative ineptitude. Here's to a brighter future, rather than the dog eat tail story inherent in the 60 Clarkson battle.

But if you live in the neighborhood, or anywhere in the fast-changing City, this one is a must-read:


And lest you doubt that Barry Hers is a class A scumbag, his assertion that he could get three times the rent he gets from the City, his chunk of which is $2300 a month? This is what he said when the City tried to cut it from $2300 to $2000 God save his soul:

 “I said, my rent, I’m not getting high rent,” Mr. Hers recalled in the interview. “People in this area are paying two and a half or three times that. If I took a cut, how would I be able to live?”

Shut up. Just shut up, Barry.  Just shut the f$%@ up already.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Soulful Dining On Nostrand

Nicole Thomas, Tyrell Turner and Dina Anderson - at your service

The Q might as well change his name to Nostrandamus. As in, I'm predicting more and more fabulous choices for dining and shopping along The Nose, as I like to call it, starting today.

Tonight I joined some cohorts on the Community Board for dinner at Soulful Bistro, a 4-month old eatery just north of Empire a couple blocks. Like it's name implies, soul food is definitely in the house, but the menus definitely more than you'd expect from a Southern restauranteur, who happens to be a dazzling lady from Tennessee named Dina Anderson. She's added her own family recipes, even thrown in some West Indian fare. The Q sampled catfish, ribs, macaroni and cheese, yams and chicken (it was a buffet for this special occasion, though normally you'd be doing bistro style, so no I didn't go all Orson Welles on the place). Killer iced tea. Nice small dining room, a bar that'll be open soon (byob for now) and the kind of sweet unassuming charm that would make this place the talk of the town if your town was a wee bit smaller than, say, NYC.

Along with the outstanding Food Sermon (5 stars on Yelp after 32 reviews!) just down the block on Rogers, there's some serious good eats happening north of Empire. Will East Lefferts keep up? Well, Taste of Brooklyn, also on Rogers but below the Mason Dixon seems to be packin' 'em in. Stick to the Q and he'll do the gorging so you don't have to. Or feel free to alert us to your own favorites that I've yet to mention.

Striking Fear Into the Deathstar

Did you read this? Streetsblog reports that DOT is afraid of Brooklyn Community Boards reactions and tailors bike lane proposals to suit each's temperature. From the below, you'll read my favorite line "have you read any coverage of CB9? They are literally disintegrating over gentrification." 

Look, I'm the incoming CB9 Transportation chair. If you don't like common sense proposals to keep traffic moving AND keep pedestrians and bicyclists safe...well, let's just say that you and I will have to agree to disagree? Come voice your thoughts, third Wednesday of every month at CB9 headquarters. But I don't want to hear any of this crap about how the city's being taken over by the "terrorists at Transportation Alternatives," as was recently shouted in a CB9 meeting. Terrorists? Wow. Hate to think what you're feeling is on ISIS.

Oh, and for a larf, check this out. I got the inside scoop today from an inside source on what happens each time Alicia Boyd gets hauled into the precinct. Smiles and hugs. That's right. She gets all quiet and sweet and tells 'em it's all an act, not to take it personally. Funny, she was never so backpedally with me or any of the other folks she hurled insults at! Not that you and I didn't suspect, but it was nice to get confirmation that her fits are full of merde. Problem is, now that she's started to get violent in order to get some good video, the cops aren't so warm to her tactics. The hugs aren't being returned anymore. 

Back to the article from Streetsblog on DOT:
Community Board 9 has a mixed record on bike lanes — its members pushed DOT to add them to an Empire Boulevard road diet in 2009, yet weren’t able to muster enough votes last year to support a road diet with bike lanes on Franklin Avenue.
On both Kingston and Brooklyn, DOT proposed keeping two motor vehicle lanes on the southernmost blocks near Kings County Hospital and going down to one lane north of Lefferts Avenue. Though there is plenty of room for bike lanes in CB 9, the plan doesn’t include them. Instead, parking lanes on both sides of the street would be enlarged to up to 13 feet wide [PDF].
Why didn’t DOT propose extending the bike lanes south into CB 9? I asked DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo after a press conference this morning. “There’s differences in widths and traffic flow, and those sorts of things,” he said.
Later, he cited rapid neighborhood change as a factor. “Have you read any coverage of CB 9? They are literally disintegrating because of gentrification. Literally disintegrating,” Russo said, referring to rancor over a rezoning study for Empire Boulevard.
Trouble is, ditching the bike lanes didn’t help DOT get CB 9’s support. Although its transportation committee backed the proposal in June [PDF], the full board voted it down later that month, DOT says.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Gamechangers on Nostrand

What, huh? Daily goods from farmers plus coffee and curated edibles? On Nostrand at Hawthorne? For the fresh eggs and chicken alone I'd sell my soul. I love egg salad. I love chicken salad. I wonder which came first?

You've GOT to have heard about it by now, and maybe you're pinching yourself. Killer coffee and tea, Balthazaar pastries, fresh sandwiches, a light and airy cafe, curated specialty thangs, and this is the part that kills me - freshly delivered farm stuff from the owner's family farm Upstate. Say what? This must be Cobble Gardens Greene, no?

Actually, it's the corner of Hawthorne and Nostrand. It's called the Starliner Cafe & Market and I'll be damned, it's even open now for lotsa said stuff and more coming. So what I'm saying is...hustle over and share your thoughts here. Or hustle over and forget the thoughts. Just enjoy. Because this place is going to get found out, and once the world finds out about it, well, you won't be among the first to know anymore now will you? Btw, that's Isaac and Gail Peachin from the left, proud mom and formerly .com son, who apparently survived Jeff Bezos to tell the tale and...start a cool business near YOU dear reader. Right on.

And as if that weren't enough, any day now Desserts by Michael Allen is gonna open up on Nostrand as well, just north of Rutland. From what the Q hears, this guy is some sort of Chairman of Chocolate, and I for one can't wait to sample his stash. IM Pastry too a few doors up? I mean dang, Nostrand. What the HELL is going on?

and of course Tiffany & Jo-Laine at IM:

Landmark or Pockmark? Meeting September 16

Takes lots and lots of work. But if you're in it for the long haul, there's always landmarking. Since South Crown Heights is just north of "the border," words to the wise:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Little Bit About A Lot Of Things

Not much to say about that picture, really. A few years back the big talk was of the house that had been knocked down at the end of the townhouses, and the modern condo building that went up at the north end of this lovely set of parkside limestones. Owners rallied and created a small landmark district to protect this row as a result - "Ocean on the Park" they call it. No one could have foreseen the behemoth coming behind. What's done is done. Can't say this picture makes me very happy, though the six story modern condo building has become part of the landscape and I hardly think on it anymore. Though have you noticed the outside walls are already warped and cracking? Not great construction, but no one expected more.

The new apartment building on Lincoln near the train station is finally coming along. Do you remember the building there before? So easy to forget. I think we'll all be glad to have the sidewalk back again. But it's this view below, from the Flatbush side, that really blows my mind. How the hell did that tree survive? It's hilarious really. And awesome. That tree deserves its own address, or at least a name. I'm calling it Mendous. Great name for a tree.

 In my extra-humble opinion, this building is just about the limit to how high you should be able to go, if you're going to add apartments to the area during a housing shortage. I'd prefer six stories, but who am I but that annoying guy on the Community Board who begs for sanity. And as we've already seen, a-partments a-plenty are being added anyhow and anyway all over the place - more than 30 projects and counting. I just wish we could force developers to build at least 25% affordable units. The chance may never come again. It seemed such a no-brainer, and then...let it go Q. Make like Elsa and Let It Go.

Right up there next to the train station I see that the Garden Deli has closed. Which despite its proximity to the Botanic Garden, the name was hardly what one has come to expect from a business with the name "garden" in it. There were usually a couple bananas and some onions. The most gardeny thing in there was probably the watermelon Jolly Ranchers, which I'll admit to having "picked" a time or too. "Pick Your Own" Watermelons. You know this spot is going to be a wine store, yes? I wrote about that ages ago and I'm too lazy to link to it. Wine store. Yep. Wine Store.

And lastly...

This week is the Clarkson from Flat to Bed Block Party. It's total chaos as usual, and I love it. Will there be bouncies? Maybe. There's gonna be a band, or not. I think so. DJ Milk Money is in the house, or rather, On the Street. Popcorn. Lots of grilling. Maybe some new and/or old goods sold. Kids everywhere. All my neighbors are excited. You just say the word block party and eyes light up. We've been trying to identify the longest living resident of the block. People keep telling me "it's that Jewish lady I forget her name" but apparently she died like over a decade ago and it didn't bother to tell anyone. Seemed she'd been in 60 Clarkson since it'd been built like 100 years ago. 60 Clarkson was "where the rich folks lived" according to Randy and Sandy, twin sons of Irene Gonzales, who, it turns out, is the ACTUAL longest living resident, going back to 1967. Or something like that. Hard figures are hard to come by. But it's all good.

Saturday. August 29. Come by and say hey.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Cut Lola Cut

The Q's got two young daughters. Little Miss Clarkson Flatbed Jr. is 6; Little Miss Clarkson Flatbed, III is 3. They need haircuts fairly regularly, and they have to be nice. And not too expensive please. So for longer than not, we went to Lulu's over on Fifth Ave. It's kinda the Shake Shack for kids haircuts - seems like a great idea going in but you always feel unspeakably humiliated walking out. Especially when you're held hostage for a toy. Or ice cream. Or both. Because Lulu's and Shake Shack are within waddling distance of each other.

So on the advice of a friend, we tried Lola. Not Lola who has the Roller Skating parties at Lakeside. Lola the hair stylist, who just opened her first brick & mortar on Nostrand. Ironically, Style Lola actually does Roller Lola's hair. LOL, Lolas!
No, No. Not this Lola.

THIS is the right Lola, circa 2012. Is that a styling, or brain surgery? Looks serious.
So the Q takes the Little Misses over to 1092 Nostrand and settles in. Lola Lorraine is super welcoming, and I can see we'll be in good hands. The kids take a shine to her immediately. It's a real salon, and unlike the 15-minute hatchet-job assembly line of Lulu's, you can see that Lola means to take her time. I take a deep breath, and try to relax. This is most assuredly NOT a Barbershop, like Nelson's or Dr. Cuts where I get my the lox snipped off my bagel for $15 plus tip. And there's trip hop happening on the hi-fi. Instrumental, maybe even Boards of Canada. It sounds nice in here, with the air conditioning and mirrors and my two darling sweetlings entranced by the actor getting her hair did a strong red.

Lola's cool, she's fun, she's talented, she looks a bit like Frances McDormand, and she's covered in body art. She's still crushed out on the band Ministry and Madonna and had a Goth phase, and she can reminisce fondly on the '90s. She might, in fact, be your sister or ex-girlfriend, were you born to a certain X Generation somewhere in regular-old America. Jersey maybe. Or Massachusetts. Or Arizona. Or Portland, all places she lived. She's a colorist. She styles all kinds of hair, and even gave my daughter some gold extensions. Sold me on them, actually. My daughter's eyes suggested those little bands of hair might as well have been REAL gold. It was like she had been living Plato's Cave until now, and suddenly the world revealed to her its glorious possibilities in all their multi-colored tressal glory. This will be, if I may foretell, a lifelong hair affair. I'm not being sexist; guys get it too, though not so often, especially for hetro dudes. I had hair down to my ass when my band would play the Satyricon in Portland (maybe I spilled a beer on Lola at some point?) and I was proud of my curls and sweaty faux-fro. But it was all to fit the suit, and I never really liked taking care of it, nor did I enjoy wheeling around to catch myself in a Motel 6 mirror. I was relieved when I went legit and cut it all off. Not relieved about the legit part, that sucked. The hair was, for me, the best part about getting a real job.

Lola's lovely sidekick is Aisha Carter. You can call her just Carter; that seems to be her nom de plumage. She too was attractive and confident, and had Lola not been there that particular day I think we'd have done just fine. (For the uninitiated, as I was til just recently, Aisha was the name of one of Mohamed's wives, and a particularly young one at that. I shall reserve judgment out of deference to the Messenger, lest a fatwa and its reward be placed upon my head. Actually, I believe Alicia Boyd has already taken one out, so what's another fatwa between neighbors? You can read about the wives yourself, but be discreet! I didn't say a word. Did you know that Fatwa is an acronym? It stands for Fat White American. Don't ask me how I know.) 

So here we were, and what we got in terms of a French Bob and a chic trim with a couple streaks was downright lovely. Not over the top expensive either. My girls had a ball. We were there over an hour (guys, it's not gonna be Shake Shack In-and-Out). But the conversation was fun, the music pleasant, and all in all I was glad to have gone and will be happy to return. She does men's hair too, but she seemed pretty bent on recommending a gentleman named Massive who cuts at a shop right next to hers. I imagine me going for a fade at Massive's while the Little Misses submit to Lola's magic scissors then we'd meet up after for an IM Pastry. FYI Lola's a big fan of Culpeppers chicken, which if you haven't tried, you must before Labor Day or we'll have to beat you like the steel pans that you are. Seriously good food. I like the fish too.

Here's a bit of colorist poetry that Lola penned on a website I came across. She clearly takes her art quite seriously:

Luminosity is what makes Color the most beautiful compliment to hair.
When hair shines, reflecting a light-show of rich, subtly shifting
hues, it is the most beautiful natural fiber in existence. More
stunning than fine silks. Like butterfly wings or peacock feathers, it
literally glows. Picture a stunning blonde on a grey winter sidewalk
in NYC. Everyone is dressed in black and other drab tones; heavy wools
and tweeds, gloves and hats…  She is a luminous pearl in a frozen,
dark sea and people are literally startled when they see her, like
deer caught in headlights… Captivated! Amidst the bleak cityscape, she
is her own light source.  I have seen men look up and involuntarily
gasp, caught in a moment of surprise, when women like this walk by.
And don’t think it’s NOT the hair! Trust me, if the same woman walked
by in a cap, nobody would have the same response.

Hair color has the ability to irridesce, because both the pigments and
the hair itself have a transluscent quality. Pigments can be layered,
and warm and cool tones even juxtaposed. The fact that the artistic
medium is so versatile and unique is what I love most about Hair
Color. What’s better than a gorgeous, natural light-show with
enhancements? Our cosmopolitan world is all about enhancements. The
limitless possibilities of expression and change. Everyone who wears
Color and Fashion is a unique muse with special desires.

Single process doesn’t always have to be ALL one color. What makes a
flame flicker and leap alive to the eye of the beholder? What makes a
fiery redhead so incredibly HOT? It’s the variation of shimmering
tones, blending multi-facets. Sectioning techniques can be used to
apply multiple, complimentary formulas, giving hair an iridescent
quality as the style moves. Varying shades shift.  Autumn’s pallet
allures with gold, copper, red-copper, crimson and red-violet shades.
Even the cool power of pewter, platinum and cobalt may find  fierce,
glamorous muses this coming winter!
 I leave you with the logo and the website.

Good Vibes for Parkside Playground - This Thursday

Come out on Thursday for the Back to School Barbecue hosted by the 71st Precinct Explorers. This is the sort of stuff that can make a big difference in Cop/Community relations, and I'll be there to meet some young'uns and eat some flesh. The Parkside Playground is ground zero for tapping positive energy, if we make it so. Just bring out the kids to play and make a show of support! Or bring your ball, if you got game. And if you don't, then the Q'll play you for money.

I know the graphics leave something to be desired, but don't let the incredibly hard to read fonts dissuade you. If you live in spittin' distance, please come.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Quality Over Quantity -

Got an email from a longtime reader complaining about the dearth of info on the nabe since I took this monthish sabbatical in cooler climes. Say what? You don't know about the Prospect-Lefferts Gardens Neighbors Facebook page? If you're the sort who needs to know everything going on the minute it goes on, this closed group is the jam. Just opt in. Near constant updates from people who are your actual neighbors. Occasionally a true internet-style war of words erupts, leading to some real barn-burning lickety-split comebacks that can elucidate how folks really feel when they're provoked on an issue. Is this fun? Some think so. In fact, nearly 2,000 have signed up. That starts to be the kind of numbers that could spell real opportunity for neighborhood cohesion, discourse and even political muscle. Five or so years ago when I started the Q, I couldn't have dreamed there'd be such interest in neighborhood news. Now there's a strong Lefferts Listserv on Yahoo, Brooklynian rocks Lefferts from time to time, DNAInfo's Rachel Holliday-Smith kicks butt in the real journalism department. PLGNA is active again, PLG Arts is going strong as ever, the Parkside Committee brought you a plaza and farmer's market and programming, LMA keeps churning out quality "Echo" newsletters. And I thought it was all over when Carrie and Charles stopped posting as Hawthorne Street. Remember Planet PLG? Across the Park? (Alex, we're still waiting for you to update that page!)


Apparently lots of folks don't know about the best blog in the 'hood. Flatbushed is head and shoulders above any other neighborhood blogs I've stumbled upon, and it's all about our neck of the 'Bush. I have no idea who the guy/gal is, do you? I wish s/he'd email me (hint). None of the personality bullshit to get in the way, though now and again I'd argue that s/he DOES throw in a bit of sarcasm and snark, contrary to his/her claim of keeping it straight. But no matter, it's not at all the kind of rock-em-sock-em soul-searching you may have come to expect from the Q. And god love it who needs more of that. Believe me I get sick of listening to the bickering between my ears as well. I'm constantly writing comments to my own thoughts, and some of them are fierce and cutting.

Read the two dozen posts on and get back to me. If you're not completely satisfied, I'll refund your price of admission to his/her blog. Make it double Bookmark it now before you forget. The writing is superb (c-r-a-z-y vocab on this guy/gal) the subjects fascinating, the tone considered and considerate. Basically it's everything I ain't.

Back in the day, I had the time and inclination to focus more on the people, not the politics. I was writing profiles on individuals, and having conversations I'd never thought I'd have. I was finally able to write down, in real time, what was happening to and around me. But then I started to feel responsible for disseminating information, which I'd have happily done and tried to do, though time became tighter and I felt I couldn't keep up. Now with so many other outlets for news and insight, I don't feel the pressure, which (of course) was entirely of my own making anyway. You're all grown-ups. You have the Google.

Don't get me wrong, I ain't going anywhere. You can continue to count on the Q to be the Q. But I can't be everyone's go-to source. I've always only had a half-hour or so a day to write - longer when I can't get to sleep.

So for the next week that I'm barely checking in, please read Flatbushed. It's terrific, and I hope he/she follows through with many more character studies and short essays. And from what I've seen so far, the dude/ette has tremendous taste in music as well. Best of all, he/she used the word obstreperous to describe lower Lefferts Flatbush (like Parkside to Winthrop, which I whispered but he shouted, will soon have a new bar to accompany the chaos.) Obstreperous. This writer is no joke, y'all. I'd been in need of that word for that stretch for years! (And if Flatbushed, you prefer to be gender non-specific, I'm sorry for referring to you as a s/he. Old habits die hard.)

Carry on my wayward son...


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Holy Toledo. 250 More Units From Hudson on Clarkson

Dang. Hudson's betting BIG on the Nostrand Ave corridor. They're bringing an entire village to the SE corner of Lefferts by adding this to the big complex at the corner of Nostrand and Clarkson. More on the story from your smirking development-friendly capitalist density-obsessed blowhards at YIMBY.

And since someone, probably a writer for NY Yimby, wrote below that they felt I'm being hard them for calling them density-obsessed blowhards, perhaps a bit more info is in order. Here's a NY Times profile on YIMBY founder Nikolai Fendak, with his picture below. Blowhard? Hmm. Thinking on that. I suppose you might call me one too, and I'll bet you will. In YOUR blog. Here though I'm inclined to call a webzine that trumpets the press releases from NY's biggest developers a bit callow and star-struck. The development industry needs no touters. It does quite nicely. But if truth be told, I appreciate its unfettered appreciation for urban planning. The guy Nikolai (the commenter perhaps?) seems genuinely excited about the New City, though clearly could care less what happens to your grandma in the process. As noted in the article, he thinks your grandmother should get outa Dodge if she doesn't like it.

Here's what I'll say to you sir. The New City you champion will be great for you and your heirs. For the rest of the not-so-euro-coiffed world, including the creative and scrappy folks who made NYC the most exciting City on earth, the jury is out on whether shiny and new and big is the way to move forward with justice and dignity. When the crash comes, and it will, there will likely be much collateral damage even in your fave industry. Oh why am I bothering. You're much too young for me to take you seriously. But yes, we'll probably all be working for you one day!

pic by Ozier Muhammad for NY Times

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Reading Ta-Nahesi Coates in the Land of Cheese and Maple Syrup

First, an apology. I'm going to attempt a hamfisted post about race from the whitest place I think I've ever been. And it's not the first time I've been. I love Vermont, and I've been coming here for five years straight, to the same little “corner house” down by a stream. I don't come here beCAUSE it's so white. I come here because it's pastoral and quiet and olde tyme. Though in America, and particularly in the America as painted by the favorite son Norman Rockwell, they're one and the same. I like to joke that Vermont is America's historic district, cuz it is y'all. There are laws preventing all kinds of stuff that would change it's basic homespun nature. In the Green Mountains there are no billboards, no clear-cut areas on tree covered hills, relatively few roads, no tall buildings. Everything's quaint, eerily so, and it's perfectly suited to some sort of New Brooklyn transporter back-and-forth, yet there are precious few NYC folks here. It's far enough away to be far enough away. We ride down to the Town Hall to get internet. That's where I'm sitting right now, in a rented car, bugs hissing all around me.

It's gotta be over 95% white as bone here. Though coming from Flatbush, the bones seem few and far apart. I'm pretty sure the cemetery up on the hill has more headstones than there are people living in this valley. By two-to-one I reckon.

So yes, I read the book. The whole book. It's short, and almost hypnotic to read. I promise to not generate some sort of David Brooksy patronizing book review “response” to the brilliant consciousness-raising letter to his son by the Atlantic Magazine correspondent Ta-Nahesi Coates called “Between the World and Me.” I just finished the book, then went to the Dairy Barn for one of the Clam Boats they serve at these ma 'n' pa feed-troughs that pass for eateries. [They look so tempting and charming from the road, til you realize everyone around you is 75 or more pounds overweight. I mean, they call it the Dairy “Barn” after all. Those clams are frozen by the way. Just cause you're vaguely (4 hrs) near the Cod (as I like to refer to the Cape) doesn't mean you're getting fresh clams and fish. Actually it was only tonight, when my daughter asked what they were, that I realized a “corn dogs” are named that because they're a hot dog wrapped in corn bread. I don't know what I thought before. Maybe that it was like a hot dog shaped like an ear of corn? Actually it's more like a banana than corn. Banana Dog. But sometimes you do eat corn on a stick. Anyhow I'm not ashamed to admit when I don't know something as obvious as that. Like Vermont. It was just last year that I realized it meant “Green Mountain.” You know, like in the French class where we learned the colors? But then you get kicked out because you're joking with Steve McCall all period every period and as you skip out the door before dismissal the French teacher, who all she ever said was “Dominique, tais tois!” since that was your French name, yells down the hall “No More French For YOU young man!” and you yell back “is that a promise or a threat?” If only I'd known how to say that in French! How parfait would that have been?] French. France. Ah yes, the book. At one point Coates goes to Paris. Actually, that was my least favorite part, for all sorts of reasons, but it's a decent segue back to the post at hand.

Again, to my apology. I want to apologize, not for being white, or for slavery, or the steroid-pounding police state and aggressively racist ideology of our country, the country that Ta-Nahesi and Trayvon and Barack and Cornell and Naz and I share, and anyway I don't pretend I could do justice to such an apology and it's not really mine to make. Or any one individual. It takes, as Chuck D says, a Nation of Millions to hold black folks back. Only a nation of millions could push things forward. But again and again and again you have to admit that the will isn't there. It's never been there, not during Reconstruction, not during the era of MLK. Only begrudgingly have we ever given one-drop-of-black-blood a chance to flow unhindered. In contemporary Flatbush, and Brooklyn and now-desirable urban America, the cover story is the inevitable victory of capital, which means as it always has, the victory of White, because whites hold the capital and they're not handing it over. Are you, white reader, prepared to hand over YOUR white privilege and cultural advantage? And inherited cash? Sure, the nation needs to get its act together, but in the meantime who's to fault you for taking every available opportunity to prosper?

The nation, actually any rich nation, was built on the blood and guts and shoulders of slaves, either slaves by name or deed. So no, Paris doesn't get a pass, even if our particularly heinous version of white bondage of Africans escapes direct comparison. The Irish were slaves and peasants, whole ethnic groups throughout Europe slaughtered and/or enslaved. Hell, my Norwegian grandparents fled starvation at the hands of tyrants. Egyptians, Romans, Macedonians, Vikings, Vandals, Brits, Russians, Germans, and yes Africans of all stripes - have all brutalized their subjects. You don't have to look hard to find examples of abduction, torture, rape and forced labor. Even mass extermination on unthinkable scales - even between rival African tribes - with machetes, for god's sake. In the 1990's! Historically, globally, the struggle for Black liberation and dignity is not unique. Hardly, it's emblematic of humankind and economic development. But for a few things, a thousand years from now it may be a blip in the a textbook. Because right here right now (Jesus Jones!) the richest nation on earth, with a nearly free press, has a Constitution, and a claim to a moral compass. Whether from God or from philosophers and poets and Ronald Reagan, we've noted on more than a million occasions our exceptionalism and our unparalleled strength. A Judeo-Christian theology pervades our legal precepts, our own Shariah Law, and most important of all there is a critical difference between what is past and what is present. For better or worse, moving towards a “more perfect Union” is ingrained in our code. Not code as in DNA. Far from, the DNA is working against us. We're still tribal and base and beastly and cruel. Our code is found in our laws, and our laws have for the most part kept us heading in the right direction. But we fight against them, warp them, turn them in our own citizens, because the Law often runs counter to our more immediate concerns. Me. My family. My station. My job. My legacy. My...tribe. The law, at least as I've come to see it, is actually on the side of progress, despite what Scalia might write in his increasingly 19th century diatribes.

Sometimes it's useful to remember that there continues to be an enormous white underclass that believes itself a part of the wealthier Tribe of Whites simply by not being black. Maybe that's what prevents revolution? It's the most stunning con ever conceived. Despite your poverty and ignorance, you actually get to be BETTER than a huge swath of America. Put the oppressed whites, blacks, latinos etc. together and NOW we're talking numbers capable of revolt! No wonder the Republigarchs work so hard to pander and gerrymander and lobby their asses off and keep us divided and weary. Just like in the Jim Crow South, you gotta work hard hard hard to keep the people down when you're in the minority, especially when an MLK wins them the vote! Think Johnson did that? He was terrified of King, enough to turn the South over to the Republicans. To think Martin Luther King held that kind of power. Had he not been killed we'd have seen a black president 30 years earlier. But I digress. It's my natural state. But it's my blog, dammit.

So as I was saying I apologize not for anything else but for allowing myself to be tricked. I was conscious once. In college, at liberal arts school, and for a few years after. They taught me to deconstruct the narrative, to look behind the curtain, to recognize the Dream for being dream, like the dream-drenched cars in the front of the train in that awesome allegorical movie about the train that perpetually circles the earth after it froze over? What's it called? Ice Train? Steam Train? The Train That Never Stops and Has All the Poor People In the Back and James Caan Is the Evil Overlord? Polar Express? No, that's a kids movie. Snowpiercer! That's it, stream it! The Dream allows us middle-classers to imagine ourselves special enough to deserve a tranquil, safe life of plenty. And get this! The Dream, in a wild twist of absurdity, allows the middle class to be (feel?) free enough and entitled enough to get pissed at the other white Oligarchs for having even more than plenty! The audacity of these half and full billionaires for hoarding SO MUCH when we have only plenty! Even it out, we say. Actually, isn't taxing the rich a form of reparations, not for blacks of course whose great greats never got paid for their misery and labor and might actually be entitled, but reparations for the middle and upper middle whiners who want a bigger piece of the pie? Oh, and if you're against the idea of reparations because it would be paying people for doing nothing, you gotta ask yourself...are you also against the idea of passing along wealth to children and grandchildren? Because THAT would be consistent. Think about it. Know anyone who has money they didn't earn? Did it, maybe, come from the labor of someone from a previous generation? Hmm. Reparations isn't just an idea whose time has come. It's actually completely consistent with our laws and practices.

So yes, there is a nation within a nation, not the Aryan Nation, that's just a highly marketable subset whose numbers probably quadrupled on Obama's inauguration day. But rather there is the Nation of Whiteness, a whiteness that defines blackness and without blackness can't even BE whiteness. White privilege, white values, white culture can't exist without black. Black is the necessary grease for the White machine. We made it. Africans weren't black, we made them black. We imported blackness, enslaved it, beat and raped it, subjugated it, tossed it bones, ghettoized it and imprisoned it in staggering numbers, all so we could hold tightly to whiteness, truly the only thing that makes us special, because I'm sorry but we're WAY too varied to have any other single quality that makes us special and capable of ruling effectively, what with our ever decreasing majority. And blacks are WAY too varied for us to have any logical reason to insist on knowing how many there are on our census, for which sometimes I feel the sole reason to conduct the damn thing is to find out how many of us are white. And other than a few great works of art in various media, there's not a whole hell of a lot to be proud of, white culture. We exist. We celebrate birthdays. We dance poorly. We pillage the earth. What's not to love?

This is the BIG picture. It should be noted that I love each and every one of you dearly, please never doubt it, white, black or zebra. Love the sinner hate the sin! But within the big picture there are a trillion stories that keep us from seeing the Big Picture, from really FEELING the Big Picture, because if we did, if we truly felt the immensity of what we've done and continued to do in the name of our Free and Decent nation, we'd stop doing anything banal or take meaningless and unrelaxing and therefore futile vacations and we'd do everything in our power to right the wrongs. We wouldn't rest til we made things just, atoned, made reparations, reached into the void. And we wouldn't stop there either. We'd make amends to the earth itself and to the billions of people who suffer so that we can live what Coates calls “the Dream.” We know it to be serious, we occasionally acknowledge it, but we rarely ever act as if we have something to be ashamed of. We're dreamers. Maybe there's a new dream that would be even better! Frankly, we dreamers may feel compelled to dream, because to wake up is to sink into a deep and intractable depression. Maybe you've been there. Maybe you ARE there. Maybe you're part of the struggle. But more likely, we're dreaming, unnerved by true protest and concerned only for our own families and legacies. So much easier, and besides, it's not without personal struggle. This always being comfortable is hard work. Always so much to do to stay comfortable. And the definition keeps changing. One can ask it a million different ways. Am I happy? Am I at peace? Am I enough? The other option, of course, is to look outward and pitch in. My generation. My poor, miserable, lazy fucking generation, is now up to bat. Expect no miracles. I've seen them at indie-rock shows. Not a lot of...pizazz.

So I apologize for unconsciously, or worse consciously, forgetting what I know. For taking the easy road. For letting life in all its ridiculous mechanics stop me from being, feeling and acting awake. And it wasn't just me. I had friends! We were there. We saw the avarice and injustice. Some of my generation, classmates even, ARE the levers of power. And the damnedist thing, some of them are black! The president is black for cryin' out loud. There are black bigoted policemen even. Capos? Too harsh a word. But like the seemingly endless supply of Morgan Freeman characters in Hollywood movies, there's a pernicious offer out there for any person of color willing to fully endorse and encode the Dream. You get to dream it too! Not with all its dreamy dreaminess, but damn near. But, um, don't forget this one thing. You're still black!!! So don't get TOO dreamy. Or as Chris Rock put it, you can be a black dentist and join the Show. But you'll have to be a dentist who...invented teeth. The bar, it would appear, is quite high. Clarence Thomas high. Barack and Condoleeza and Colin high. Even entertainers get a pass only because they're so essential to the Dream. Without them, the Dream gets really, really dull, if not a little bit profitable.

What I always like to say is “we're the adults now.” It's our turn. We're blowing it, big time. As philosopher-queen Katy Perry puts it, by standing for nothing we fell for everything. And by quoting Katy Perry, I'm proving my case. We earnestly wrote and sang and smashed our guitars but we didn't do the one thing that our white privilege really had the power to do. Change the whole bloody system. Because...we were still, after all the education and awareness and cynicism, too afraid and too selfish to act. We were, and are, the System, the ideology, with a persistent desire to listen to music by bands that sing out of tune with rhythm sections that provide only the bare minimum of syncopation. Neutral Milk Hotel? Sheesh. That's the sound of Miles Davis rolling in his grave. The National? Why so glum, chum? Cha-ching.

Word to the wise, if you want a taste of the Dream and you don't ooze Whiteness, we will ask that you hand over your cultural passport upon leaving your house each morning, at work and at the obligatory socializing events. You must fully assimilate. We reward assimilation, in doses, and to those at the front of the line. The Irish? Took a couple generations, but White eventually relented. (That whole Irish Policeman racket didn't hurt). Italians? Jews? Next up Hispanics, Asians? Guess who's still at the back of the pack? What the FUCK is wrong with us? The majority of us were displaced light-skinners just a couple generations ago. Guess what my grandparents were doing in their young-age? Risking life and leaving family, getting on creaky boats with nothing but a trunk of clothes and heirlooms and money for a train ticket to Minnesota and Illinois. How quickly we forget. How little time it takes, if you assimilate properly and look white enough to pass for White.

If in fact, an integrated and egalitarian society is what we're after, we haven't (to quote Stevie Wonder) done nothing. It's still the '60s, the '50s, the '90s. When Stop & Frisk became front page news, did you too say to yourself “well, you can never be too careful, and some of those guys really ARE the bad guys” or “it's a small price to pay” to be safer. Let me ask you though to consider the scenario closely the interaction of a perfectly law abiding black man being stopped by a cop who is merely “doing his job,” all part of the tactic which stems from the system. He's not going rogue. He's the good cop, doing a good job. We can see that image, we might even be able to accept it as part of the gig. Tough, but necessary.

BUT. What if instead of an NYPD cop it were a fat white Southern Sheriff with a drawl thicker than peanut butter saying “Boy, what you doin' over t'here? Show me some ID, boy, and don't give me no lip.” Wouldn't you surely be outraged? Is it any different? How brainwashed are we to think it's even remotely acceptable? Never, EVER, let 'em forget who's in charge. When Alabama denied the rights of blacks to vote for decades, did it even occur to the Governor to simply imprison so many that their votes could neverbe counted? Get 'em on a Felony, drugs are best, and take away their vote FOREVER. All you need is a conviction, and how hard is that? Hell most of 'em will cop a plea and admit to the felony anyway. Do hard time. Like fishing in an aquarium! More felons, less votes. Voter restrictions. Racist policing to mirror racist system. The perfect crime, and the Republigarchs get the House. It's 1964 all over again, except the House part. Cue the marches and assassinations and riots. I blame Reagan. War on Drugs. The Dream. The destruction of the labor movement, the glorification of Wall Street, the backlash against progressive ideology. He really was effective, that RR. Damn effective. And the greatest irony? He was Irish! His father was as good as black in his day. It's a crazy, crazy world. Only humans could make this shit up and tear a whole in the sky at the same time.

There will be a reckoning. There's always a reckoning. This is not a media-made state of events, by the way. It's what's been happening all along, it just became to painful not to notice. Are we waking up? Well, the alarm is going off, and there's no snooze button. I'd like to think I can be part of the solution, but my, but our, past performance isn't making me hopeful. There will be begrudging this, and token that. There will be no reparations, no Affirmative anything, no easy-access to guaranteed low-rate mortgages, no G.I. Bill for young black students, no real reform of anything. The only hope I see, really, is the schools. And maybe it's because it's where I'm at, where my kids are at, that I see enormous potential. The progressives saw it in the '70s when they implemented capital B Busing. Like most social engineering it backfired of course, creating whole new school districts for white families to move to. The flight from the Cities only continued, to the point of Gary and Flint and Detroit. (But Detroit's coming back, the college kids and artists are moving there! Don't know it'll do the black folks living there much good, but you'll finally be able to buy a decent cup of $4 coffee!) I do believe that integrated schools, where the parents actually work and break bread together, could matter a lot, if it happens on a scale big enough to tip the balance. It could happen in NYC even, if the parents of privilege considered it a real priority. I'm watching a school go through the painful integration process up close, and it's not always pretty. In fact, I'm watching as white parents show their cultural ignorance, even as they bemoan the ignorance of others. I'm being that parent, trying desperately not to be either. I suppose you could say I'm trying to be a credit to my race!. But I say the wrong things sometimes. I miss the cues. I think I know what's best when what's best is to keep my mouth shut. As a white person in Brooklyn in 2015 trust must be earned by actions. You can't just fly your Liberal Arts flag and expect the world to beg you for your wisdom and leadership. This is HARD. This is uncomfortable. But it's deathly important. Physically, yes, and spiritually. (And while Ta-Nahesi may be a devout atheist, he's a deeply spiritual dude. Someone I'd love to meet and rap with, and maybe go see a high-charged documentary. It's not out of the question, and I hope he takes me up on it. Yes, Mr. Coates, that's an invitation. We'll go Dutch.)

I recently met with the new principal of my zoned elementary school, Jackie Robinson. She was quick to set a meeting, but understandably wary of me and my motives. I decided to lay it out all on the table, everything I'd learned over a dozen years in the neighborhood, the things people say about her school, the reasons gentrifiers give OTHER than race for why they don't attend. Though sadly, I've come to believe that race is 90% of the issue, because as I've seen in other schools and districts, the principal can either be persuaded to meet parents halfway on issues affecting the school, or more often than you'd guess, they can get the boot from an organized parent body. The only truly good reason for a well-meaning liberal white parent not to attempt to integrate their local school good reason at all. Parents make the school, and if you want it to be more one way or another you go and engage. At the age of 4 or 5, kids are kids. They don't yet need PhD mentors - they need warm, nurturing teachers, and the vast majority of early education teachers I've encountered are just that. The bad ones? Lobby to have them removed. You really DO have the power. Get to know your district peers, the higher-ups. Tell them what's going on. They WANT to know. As a School Leadership Team guy I'm amazed at what parents can do, and when they don't get satisfaction, they get the principal canned. Ask the families at PS282, the last majority-minority school in Park Slope. And Jackie Robinson? I can't even tell you the whole story of why their longtime principal got the boot, cuz I barely believe it myself. And Buffie Simmons, the District Superintendent? Let's just say a few people read the Q.

What kids need, in my wholly unexpert opinion, is a solid foundation in the realities of cultural difference, getting along, collaborating, and maybe most important watching their parents reach out to people outside of their comfort zone for friendship, advice, learning and playdates. Kids don't necessarily do what we say, but they will do what we do. If we don't show them that we want to live harmoniously and respectively with others, what chance do we have to expect anything different from them? The one thing I'm sure of with this education's not just the children who are “going to school.” The parents are going to, with their fears and ambitions stuffed in their kids' bookbags.

As to the System, the police, the harassment and humiliation, I think it's time to start listening. The answers aren't going to come from the white liberal establishment. Because try as they, we, might, we're just one end of the political spectrum of that very system. We help nurture it by being the intellectual “cover.” I'd love to see a black candidate, one versed in “the struggle,” come forward during this election. Because admire as I do Barack Obama, he hasn't flexed much muscle in the area of race relations. Perhaps wisely, in order to get things done that he sees as crucial to the nation's survival. But Obama is ultimately the perfect cover for the System, and that's what people may be waking up to. He's the exception the hides the rule. As to the police, well...they're just following orders. The orders need to change, and it needs to come from on high. Last I checked, the Mayor runs this town. And hell, his wife and kids fit the profile for profiling. Again, a little flexing please?

In our neighborhood, LPG, Lefferts Prospect Gardens, I'll continue to follow the state of housing and schools as barometers and weather vanes, pointing to deep freeze, or Spring's thaw, or more likely - long, hot, sleepless summers, where Dreaming becomes harder to indulge and sustain. Cold bucket of water? Read Ta-Nahesi Coates.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Gone Fishin'

No accounting for taste. And when it comes to ice cream, I don't know, maybe catfish flavored? Salmon? I just don't get how "gone fishin'" works with ice cream. Even if you do "go fishin" it's unlikely you'd take ice cream with you in the cooler. It wouldn't last an hour, even with frozen bait. Maybe you eat the ice cream before you've "gone fishin?" Most people "go fishin'" about 5am, meaning ice cream would be your very first meal of the day, pre-breakfast even. Maybe you could eat ice cream after you're finished with your fishin' at the end of the day, but it's not "gone fishin'" at all. It's "done fishin'." (Just a wild guess with that punctuation at the end there.)

Bottom line, fish and ice cream got no business in the same ad. But more to the point than the bottom line, meaning that that last bottom line was actually the penultimate line, and "more to the point" is actually below that, being less than the bottom line, maybe even a crucial p.s., is the fact that the Q is in Vermont, once again, renting a tiny old farmhouse for $475 a week and all the local characters know us now and we swim down at the covered bridge over the Battenkill River. And yeah, I've got squatters, so don't think you can swing by my place and rip off my juicer that I use only once a year during my cleanse, which always leaves me feeling amazing and wondering why I don't eat that way all year long. I'll mull that over while chewing a chocolate croissant, and meanwhile, what I meant to say was...

Gone Fishin.' Be back in a couple of weeks.