The Q at Parkside
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.
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
In case you don't subscribe to the Haitian Times, the Q thought you might like to know what's up with the vendors who were displaced by the building of the huge affordable housing complex at Caton and Flatbush, once home to the brightly colored airplane hangar full of emerging businesses, like the barber I used many a time before it occurred to me that shaving ones own head was both economical and oddly soothing to the soul.
A great pic of Minnie Stapleton of Minnie's Collection from the article, taking by Sam Bojarski.
The "Caton Flats" building is almost done. How does it stack up to the rendering? Will the vendors really get such nifty looking nooks? Here's hoping.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Tonight. Forum. Sign up for the Zoom meeting. Like, now.
OMG it's City elections season already. And a bevy of potential council people to choose from in the 40th. Please, please don't elect current deadbeat Mathieu Eugene's brother, who oddly didn't make this Forum, but will likely earn a ton of votes on name alone. Time to get busy Flatbush. Nine batters on deck tonight...
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
I feel like I've known Bob Marvin for a long time, but I've never been inside his digs, so this is a real treat. Plus the story of old PLG Lefferts that he and Elaine tell. Look, the Q is super busy these days with kids, live-streaming music at the Bang on a Can and trying to keep up with grocery deliveries to vulnerable elders and families. It's not that I don't love blogging - I do. It just fell down the priority list a bit, including writing a bunch of new songs which ain't half bad.
So here's a pic from the Brownstoner article about Bob and Elaine's house, and a link to the story, which a lot of you house-porn lovers will appreciate. I mean, c'mon they went ALL OUT y'all. Is that a friggin' Victrola?
|photo: Lesley Unruh - lots more here|
But if NEW is more your thing, my block has been under construction for years thanks to lax zoning laws and the proximity to the park that led so many of us to the neighborhood, which now boasts something like 83 coffee joints.
The amenities read like a "Gentrifier Magazine" joke, but what they hey, and I'll go out on a limb and say the one-bed price is not all that out of the local market price. So what if they did structural damage to the building next door? All in the name of progress, right? Hurrrummmphph.
Friday, January 8, 2021
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
Live in a place long enough, you can spot the long trends. The coming and goings of businesses, the changing of the faces, the physical and emotional architecture. As Mrs. Q and I round the corner towards the end of two decades, what once felt like a fast-changing neighborhood has started to seem less so. It's easy to spot the shifts, yes, but so much is the same since (say) 9/11 that I sometimes wonder why all the sturm and drang. Though it has become increasingly unaffordable to rent an apartment here, or buy a house, many of the same shops and demographics remain. That's largely because it's primarily a renter's neighborhood, but also because even as people move in and out, a large percentage remain. Brooklyn neighborhood change can be both slow and fast at the same time; it takes a local's eyes to see the slow.
The racial dimensions of so-called gentrifcation throughout Brooklyn have been dissected and (I would argue) exploited better elsewhere. The Q has always tried to remind readers that he knows he's not the center of the story, but rather a white male observer and cog in a greater Capitalist Machine, a machine that grinds away even as he vainly pushes against it. Grinds downs. Grinds away. Grinds with both precision and haphazard randomness. Misery and comfort coexist in Flatbush Lefferts, and have since its "founding" as a planned community for workers in the early 20th century, built on top of old farmsteads that before that were native lands. The Q's house was but one of ten in a row of faux brownstones considered ugly tract housing of its time and sold for roughly $5,000 in 1912. Built as a single family home, it and many of its sisters were instantly sold to speculators and landlords who chopped them up into apartments and sometimes even SROs. Lefferts Manor, the enclave within the north Flatbush borders of the magically designated Prospect-Lefferts-Garden (I'm going with TWO hyphens, and one S on garden, which makes more sense really, since it stands for Prospect Park, Lefferts Manor and the Botanic Garden) legislated its desire to avoid such a fate with deed covenants and eventually zoning changes. (It is my understanding that it would be hard to enforce the single family code during a housing crisis, but generally the folks of the Manor stick to the code. It is, after all, good for home values.)
The neighborhood was initially white, but not WHITE white, as the working class people of the neighborhood were mostly immigrants who hadn't fully "assimilated," a word that essentially implies capitulation to the racial and ethnic pecking order with the hope that somewhere down the road one's family might be given access to the best of the spoils of colonialism. Italians, Jews, Irish, my own Nordic ethnic immigrant ancestors, needed just a couple generations to achieve near-full access. Those related to enslaved Africans have not been so quickly absorbed, as we know all too well. That fight continues to be valiantly waged, and our neighborhood was host to many a powerful protest even during this year of COVID. I, like so many of my neighbors, participated, though I'll admit there were times I wondered whether my presence was welcome or merely tolerated. My heart was in it; my head reeled from questions of whether I've been complicit, ignorant or too much of both in racism's insufferable persistence.
While some neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy trace the beginning of their shift to nearly all-black from the 1930s, along the A train, then accelerating during the block-busting 60's, Flatbush saw an enormous cultural shift not just white to black also to West Indian as scores of immigrants came from the Islands to either escape or capitalize. The cultural oleo that we now associate with our homenabe is one of a particular mix of young and old, Black, white, Asian, Caribbean, LatinX, families to singles - a real mix, though strictly speaking not as "integrated" as one might be tempted to boast. People clearly tend to keep to their own, and try as we might to make new friends, a lot of us (Q included) have found that mixing tends to end at the stoop. It's hard to break through to intimate friendships - often those reflect deeper cultural ties, schools and churches. This is a lament that I hear echoes by others in my still mostly-white network of intimate associates.
But in all honesty, NEW intimate relationships aren't something one pursues in earnest while raising kids. Amiright? Warm acquaintances is all I can manage. Deep friendships are hard to come by. Maybe a lot of integration has ALWAYS been superficial, and not just racial integration. Maybe the whole thing is ephemeral, and maybe we never become as close to one another as we imagine. Maybe...well, at the very least, we need legal and economic equity so that justice has a fighting chance. Equal footing. As if that's every been a reality, anywhere. Has it?
One fascinating curve ball is, of course, inter-racial marriages, which provide one of the most promising and fascinating arrangements in cultural reconciliation and understanding. And endless hilarious familial anecdotes. (Cue musical with catchy title like "You Got Jerk In My Gefilte!" or some such.) Note to self: For another rabbit-hole research trip I might want to look at how suburbia - and racist block-busting - helped usher new ethnicities into whitedom. So many early suburbs attracted once-shunned groups like Italians-Irish-Jews that I wonder if part of the appeal of leaving behind the mixed race City was the promise of Whiteness. Ah hell, somebody probably already got their PhD on that one. Note to self: forget it. You don't read enough to even know if an idea is new or not.
So what about that supposed wholesale change from black to white businesses? So far, I don't see it. Most of my favorite West Indian food places are still around - De Hot Pot, De Bamboo Express, Jamaican Pride, Errols. The predominant shop type along and just off Flatbush is still the hair salon, beauty supply store or nails place, all catering to those of African descent. The whites seemed to usher in a few more sit-down restaurants - but not a ton, and many of those that DO exist are owned or co-owned by people of color. There's even a bar now (Flatbush Zombie House) that could have existed on the Lower East Side in the 90s. There are about 10 coffee houses where a decade ago there were none. But take a peek inside - they tend to be among the most diverse businesses anywhere around the 'Bush. Grocery stores have mixed offerings and mixed clientele. The new buildings have definitely brought higher-earners, but a surprising number of these residents are non-white (not a ton, but more than were foretold). The bad landlords are still plotting to get rid of lower-earning tenants, often black and brown, though I wonder sometimes whether it's more about the money than the race. Rent stabilization has perversely incentivized building owners to make life miserable for stabilized tenants to allow for vacancy increases and the promise of moving out of price controls altogether. I first started wondering just how racist was the practice when I started seeing and hearing of white renters being targeted for misery and gaslighting too. Local good-guys the Crown Heights Tenants Union tried to draw on the strength of this commonality. And with the pandemic, prices have actually come down. Who knows where it's leading. I recall many Q-posts (not Q-drops, mind you) where I wrote "all seems X now but wait til the next 9/11 or Great Recession sized calamity and..." I wasn't foreseeing pandemic, but hey, that's what makes them surprise economic reversals, right?
But here's the thing. At first, the Covid shuttered everything. We wondered whether we'd ever be the same again, whether society itself would break down, whether we'd ever eat Peppa's again. But by the end of the summer, nearly every business was back up and some were thriving. Anyplace that can do takeout saw a surge in volume, though restaurants that count on sitting customer/imbibers was and is screwed. For now. Hold out folks. It's nearly Christmas, and the Flabenue is as lively and festive as ever. The masks are near universal. There's even been a slight uptick in violent crime! (back to 2012 vibe, not 1992). The infection rate is almost bearable. Is it possible to feel upbeat about the neighborhood's chances for survival? A vaccine even! Because that's the vibe I'm soaking up - a turning corner, and hope. Then again, maybe it's the antibodies talking. Apparently the family Q got the C-19 in April and thankfully got through without major illness. And now for a few poorly shot pictures of life in the 'hood.
|Last count we're up to 10 coffee places, including this odd entry on Bedford tween Clarkson and Parkside - Cups and Books.|
|Bonafini and Errols keeping the faith|
|The nabe's bookstore, Greenlight, popular as ever. |
And that restaurant? I dunno. Never been. Seems adequately bourgie and sometimes busy.
|Brand spanking new - not the only biz to open in the pandemic|
|Great cup of coffee. Buff black man owned (BBMO). Great vibe.|
|Warm raw fish and rice in a cup never felt so right|
|Not the best bagels. OUR bagels.|
|How bout more coffee?|
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
This guy was the quintessential Brooklyn kook, in the best sort of way. Endlessly optimistic about the potential for greater relations between races and religions, Bob was a neighborhood leader, avid cyclist and occasional gadfly who cared deeply for your (our) neighborhood. He will be missed. Godspeed.
My most recent post about Bob was on his 90th.
|Pic by Gregory Mango|
Been a few years now, but this very spot was the scene of another tragic shooting of a young rollerblader named Brian Scott. Live in a neighborhood long enough, you remember things like that.
Opaquely biased story here. As a note to those unfamiliar with the NY Post's rightward political lurch over the years, every mention of crime needs to be accompanied by some sort of mention of how violent crime is on the increase. It's true, there have been more dispute-shootings of late. I say "dispute" because the phrase "gang violence" has come out of favor, and was never very accurate to begin with. The difference in my mind, and maybe yours, is that men get pissed off and resentful and resort to deadly violence, and the existence or not of a "gang" is not predictive. Violent confrontations aren't that different anywhere in the world, soccer hooligans come to mind, save the access to firearms. Pretty much anywhere there is disparity, poverty and fuel like drugs and booze, dudes get frisky. Think West Side Story, but replace knives and dancing with guns and cars. That's America.
So who's the guy the Post goes to to explain it all? I know who this gentleman is - you've probably seen him too. On this particular day, he provided just the quote that Murdoch's rag was looking for:
Joaquin Peña, 64, was redeeming plastic bottles and cans he collected when he heard gunfire.
“I heard the shots. Maybe ten. When I heard the first shot, I ducked to the ground. And I heard a car take off very fast. This year, so many people are getting shot around here,” Peña said.
And there you are! Subtext: because liberals protest the police, crime is up.
As if the cops were ever any good at de-escalating disputes. Gimme an effin' break. They show up and put up tape, strut around, commiserate about what a shithole the neighborhood is, ask some questions that no one wants to answer, write it up, go home to Staten Island or Breezy Point.
Think I'm cynical? You better believe it. Like Ice Cube said, before, you know...
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Anyone who knows me or artist Dave Eppley will know how dear the Flatbush Trees are to our hearts. They stand sentinel to an ever-evolving streetscape, kitty-korner from the BBG. We did our best to give them an update. But we always knew their days were numbered, since not only are they not landmarked - they actually DON'T EXIST to the City's Art Commission. The paperwork was never properly filed. You can search the Q for its history. I'm too obsessed with the electoral map right now to be bothered.
Saturday, October 17, 2020
History takes the long view. The present, of course, is merely experience. But humans are notoriously unable to comprehend short-term past and future. Analysis is for the birds, typically inaccurate, full of contradictions, but profitable for consultants and pundits and insider traders. That is to say, most of what the Q has to say should be taken with a pillar of salt. Cuz I'm not even a PROFESSIONAL consultant or pundit. I get paid in late-night refrigerator raids.
We, dear frenemies and enemends, are living through a year that will be studied for centuries - if there is anyone left to study such things. The problems of American society have become open sores. Was a day one could sweep it all under the petroleum-based Astroturf, were you so inclined and even modestly well-off. Before I describe what I'm seeing in our beloved 'Bush itself, let me just restate the case that the whole course of modern America took a perilous turn in fall of 2000. Most young'uns can't remember the anxiety of that moment, not knowing whether a climate-woke genteel southern upper crust white man compromiser with a stiff professor-manner or a congenial dumb-ass white man with faux Texan bonafides would win the White House. At the time everyone I knew said it didn't make a difference, they were all the same. Many voted for Ralph Nader, who was really the Bernie Sanders of his moment. And we've since learned, twice this century, a leader's choices have enormous influence on the day-to-day mental well-being of the Citizenry. Bush and Trump. Who could have known that those weeks of hanging-chad tug-o-war would have such consequential consequences? I mean...(looking back, can there REALLY be any doubt that a hanging chad is a vote?)
A Gore presidency would have been an easy Democrat transition, with many of the same players in positions of power, and there likely would have been a smooth and steady stream of reliable analysis. It's hard to imagine 9/11 unfolding in the same incompetent vacuum as the neophyte Bush & Co. But even if it had, the response would have been entirely different. A new international consensus on terrorism would likely have emerged. Torture wouldn't have reentered the American lexicon. And endless wars would not have begun. Let's face it; 9/11 fucked us up in the head. But the legacy of that day - its Islamaphobia and conspiracy theories - ignited the modern political schism.
So there's that. Then there's the Internet. A development in communication so utterly overwhelming as to make both Black Lives Matter and White Supremacy movements, Occupy Wall Street and fascist memes, into powerful new weapons against the Liberal Democratic Orthodoxy. So much promise and good; so much hate and misinformation. Do they cancel each other out? Creating a dialectic not unlike those of decades and even centuries past? Maybe. That's for the historians. Right now it just feels like war - a real information war, not so much of government against the people, but rather People against People, aided and abetted by an insecure government and a profiteering propoganda-class. But here's one thing I'd note - the glorified vioence of internet trolls rarely (I said rarely) makes it into real life - people feel comfortable spewing hate online. But they tend to think twice about real felonious mischief. (Remember I said "tend." It's a big country, and sometimes the sociopaths forget it's all "in good fun." There's a very real and dangerous anti-social white supremacy movement out there. But it's not synonymous with Trumpism. They just use each other, and I don't actually think we're headed for civil war. Just more randos killing people. You know, the American usual.)
In a couple weeks we'll know which direction we're headed. Unlike many of the black friends and pundits I've listened to (yes, listened) I don't think there will be much true citizen-on-citizen unrest. The "State," both Deep and Shallow, is too ingrained to allow for full-on war, or even battles. The Far Right will go back where they belong - grumbling and underground. The Far Left will be silenced by voices of moderation and consensus. The Middle will once again prevail, but maybe it'll finally be time for some serious tinkering with health care and income inequality. That's it. That's what I predict. Boring, right?
As for the Cops...I've always disliked them. I've feared them, truth be told. But never mortally so. And I'm a big white guy who LOOKS like he could be a closet Trumper. And I've felt entitled to talk back to them on occasion. But mostly their whole purpose, far as I can tell, is to create a background noise of fear to the underclasses. Don't mess with our stuff. Don't come in our neighborhoods. Don't get too Uppity. Sorry bluefellas. That's how it is, and in your souls you know it. You got into this game to keep certain people down. You're not heroes. You're barely "civil" servants. Fuck you, and anyone who thinks the Cops is a decent way to make a living. YOU made it a dangerous profession. It never had to be.
We need to start all over with police; detectives, okay. A certain number of socially aware protectors of the peace? Maybe. Mostly we need interrupters and specialists in disputes, because isn't that really what the cops are for? Only experienced cops with proven restraint should ever carry weapons - and what's with modern tech not creating safer tasers or some such? You put a computer on the moon but you can't safely incapacitate a man with a gun (or candy bar)? And get rid of the unions in the cops. Sorry, but this is one place that unions don't belong. Maybe some sort of bargaining panel, but not something that can protect police from scrutiny and punishment. No one should have a badge who has even the hint of sociopathic rage. The badge should be given as a medal for decency, not a license to kill.
There essay done for now. Back to the neighborhood...oh, and vote will ya?