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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dump This!

Along with all the welcome "clean up the neighborhood" chatter sluicing through the aether lately, - now comes this juicy flyer from Senator Adams' office:

But I'll take it one step farther. I'm definitely against ILLEGAL dumping. But I'm not a fan of DUMPING in general. I prefer a nice bag, doubled up if necessary, neatly placed by the curb. Does that make me less of a man?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Of Doors and Drywall

No, that's not the name of the latest novel from Bob Vila. That's what's happening at 205 Parkside. In a further sign that Parkside Avenue is approaching some sort of seismic reckoning, ACTUAL work began today on the property. I took a peek inside, before being asked for credentials. From the look of the cheap materials and cheap day labor, Moses "Mike" Fried knows how to make a quality crackden.

All kidding aside, it is nice to see SOMETHING happening. The doors being loaded into the building were metal firedoors, so I couldn't get a sense of what type of materials he's going to use. Anyhoo, there you have it. (Oh, and Rudy's gettin' mad busy on the Parkside Ave Improvement Network, which is NOT, I repeat NOT, called P.A.I.N.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Day of Rage, Caledonian Style

The Q had a hard time getting out of the house for the 2:30 meetup with Senator Adams, arranged by local powerhouse Carmen C-B. Little Miss FlatBed took an extra long nap, and I feared to rouse her lest she awaken on the wrong side of the crib. But "Rudy on Winthrop" swung by the castle, and together we marched up Flatbush and caught the good Senator and his minions at the tail end of their meeting with local PLGers. Way to go Carmen! Way to bring out the big guns!

Councilman Eugene was out too, and we took the opportunity to stroll with him down Parkside. We had a chance to tell him about our concerns about the block, many of which I've chronicled herein. I was frankly shocked when he came up with a suggestion that we put in a bid to buy out Moses Fried's flophouse...and turn it into affordable housing or a community center. Hey, man, if you can pull that off, you might earn yourself a lot of votes. But of course, talk is cheap. (Unless said jibber jabber is coming from Sarah Palin. Did you know she earns $100,000 per speaking engagement, and has earned $12 million since July of last year alone? Dang! Who knew losing an election and quitting your job could be so lucrative! Maybe I should try that.)

So the wheels are in motion, folks. Rudy led a fantastic initial meeting of the so far unnamed Parkside Avenue Improvement Network (I'd call it P.A.I.N. but some in our midst are allergic to acronyms). A group of more than a dozen came out to the (aptly acronymmed) ICH (Internet Coffee House) for a lively discussion on ways the area around our hometrain could be beautificized. And Senator Adams, disguised in a Mushmouth stocking cap, made an appearance and encouraged us to meet next time at his office. Thanks Eric!

Ideas abounded. Green roof and new duds for the subway station. Can the Canners. A proper cheese-grater for the Woodruff Q exit. Mural on the side of the godawful Duane Reade building. A proper BID for the area. A one-way bus ticket to NJ for that dude who gets people to buy his baby some $15 formula because he (so he claims) has a case of the AIDS. (That last one, I'll admit, is my idea alone.)

Stay tuned for more as the story unfolds.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Me and Julio Down By the Playground

A couple nights ago a kid named Julio Locarno was killed at the ridiculously portentous corner of Crooke and Parade. If you're someone who loves the neighborhood like I do, this is the kind of heartbreaking and chilling stuff that demands explanation. Read the Times article for background: Homicide in Caledonia.

I was trying to make some sense of the story, and how a noisy but joyous playground by day can become the scene of assassination by night. Then, while researching the murder, I came upon Brenda of "A Year In the Park" and her beautiful elegy of the senseless murder, and I realized I didn't need to write a thing. She did it for me. Thanks, Brenda.
Please read:
A Year in the Park

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This Sunday: 2:30 PM and 6:30 PM Neighborhood Mtgs

Not since the Police's fifth and final studio album has there been so much Synchronicity in the air. Just a couple days after Rudy on Winthrop and I announced a meetup at ICH to discuss the disaster that is Parkside Avenue, Carmen Castillo-Barrett and others whipped up a frenzy around the trash and illegal dumping on Flatbush Ave. And so, earlier in the day this Sunday, State Senator Eric Adams is holding a fact-finding mission at the corner of Hawthorne and Flatbush. See Carmen's note to the Lefferts ListServe below, and my previous post about the 6:30 ICH mtg.

Senator Adams has asked me to help organize a team of community members in addition to his staff (and himself) to walk around the neighborhood talking to people and handing out information regarding illegal dumping and how to file a complaint in order to stop it.

If anyone is around this Sunday at 2:30 pm we will be meeting at the notorious corner of Hawthorne and Flatbush.

This is a great opportunity to turn our community outrage into action and show those who are dumping on our neighborhood that we will not tolerate their actions any longer. I look forward to seeing some of you then!


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Know Thy Neighbor: Laura Puemo

There are a purported 50 hair salons from Church to Empire, Ocean to New York, so I finally got up the gumption and went to hang out at one! I found myself in a very cozy den of female beauty tonight - "Laura's African," just off Flatbush on Woodruff. It's small, but the warm vibe makes you feel like you're in a family TV or living room. Laura opened the joint last June, and I pass it nearly every day, so I can see that business is pretty decent. She always has at least two customers getting their hair did. So she draws on lots of her African friends to help out - that's how I met her, through one of her faithful fellow African braiders. I've learned that in Africa, braiding and hair styling is generally a community activity - you braid mine, I'll braid yours. Many girls, therefore, learn the skill from a young age. With the popularity of "weaves" and "perms," even Africans are starting salon businesses over there, since you need more materials and equipment than are found in the typical African home. Laura had a successful business back home, but the real money is here. So she came to the U.S. in 2007, rented a "booth" for a bit, saved up, and opened right here in Caledonian Flatbush. Her rent is modest (barely over a grand a month), so she stands a real good chance of making a nice living for herself.

Laura's from Cameroon, a nation sometimes called Africa's Microcosm, since it's got all the geographical and cultural diversity one associates with the Dark Continent. 20 million people call it home, many of them native French speakers, but with plenty of folk speaking English and (of course) the local Camaroonian. All the Africans I've met speak multiple languages, and what's so impressive is that some of these languages have completely different origins and grammars. I can only imagine what this does to one's dreamlife. Verbs and nouns going every which way!

Anyhow, Laura's good. Really good, according to the two clients I met tonight. She's been doing hair her whole life, and knows all the styles, new and old, traditional and trendy. She charges less than her competitors for her various African braiding styles - box braids and classic or ornate cornrows (or "crows") and extension weaves like the ol' Brazillian Knot. If you're unfamiliar with the black hair industry and its terminology, you should march out and get the Chris Rock documentary Good Hair. It's a great primer for those of us who didn't grow up around this multi-billion dollar industry. (In my case, that place was the largely homogeneously pale population of central Iowa). While talking to the ladies at Laura's, however, I was reminded that Rock's is but one perspective. It might be easy to crack wise about the money African-American women spend on hair enhancements; but worldwide, fashion fells plenty of victims of all races and genders. For some of us it's hair; for others boob jobs and facelifts, for others it's driving the right car or wearing the right shoes or going to the right schools or having the right gadgets. We all get sucked dry in the name of perfection, so who's to fault a lady for trying to look a little more Beyonce? I found it interesting though that by bringing up the Chris Rock movie, the ladies launched into a discussion of whether society thinks black hair is beautiful and whether there's discrimination based on whether a woman wears her hair natty. Bottom line, said Simba Yangala, who was busy helping with a weave: "If you want a proper job, you have to show up with a weave. Black hair freaks a lot of people out. One time I was wearing my 'fro and I couldn't even catch a cab." Food for thought. Seems odd that people would be scared of a woman with an afro. What, they think she's hiding a gun in there??

Me, I just didn't understand what was going on with all these hair salons until relatively recently. I mean, the barber for me has always been a nuisance to endure - all 20 minutes or so. But here in Flatbush, folks take a LONG, LONG time getting their hair weaved or braided or permed. Oh, and by the way, a perm around here is getting your hair "straightened," not curled. When a girl from my high school got their hair permed before the big dance, you knew she was going to smell funny and that she'd probably look a tad like Lil' Orphan Annie. (By the way, just because you're white doesn't mean you can't get in on the action. Heck, Mrs. Q, an attractive white lady herself, got a full-on "crow" happening for a show she was in. It looked real sexy, but taking it out was a disaster. Make sure to get professional help when you unbraid it!)
Around Flatbush, though, a perm means hair straighter than a Chinese rock star. By the way, if you ever wondered what they mean by "Dominican" hair salons vs. more traditional African or African-American, you can read about it in, of all places, the Wall Street Journal.

Back to Laura. She's very cool, very smart, and really proud to own her own business. She works ALL the time, so don't consider this line of work unless you want to LIVE in your salon. She likes our neighborhood a lot, and wouldn't mind living here, closer to work (she's in East New York for the time being). For 10 to 12 hours every day she's our neighbor, and if you need a new do, you know what to do!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Parkside Avenue: New Day Rising?

"Rudy on Winthrop" and I want to invite you to come out this Sunday March 27 to air your thoughts, goodbadugly, about Parkside Avenue. Keep your eyes peeled (yuk!) for fliers alerting non-Q readers as well. Granted, I know theQatParkside has near universal readership in the 'hood, but we thought a ground campaign might help win over a few wayward hearts and minds.

For a broader perspective, here's what Rudy will be sending to the folks in his building:
This Sunday I am co-hosting a neighborhood meeting (along with Tim "on Clarkson" Thomas, who writes the neighborhood blog The Q at Parkside) to talk about what can be done to improve the block of Parkside Avenue between Ocean and Flatbush.

Have you ever nearly been killed, trying to cross the street into the park?  Did it make you sad when the two new trees next to Popeyes died?  Does it frighten you that the derelict building might be turned into a pay-by-the-week flophouse?  Does the sidewalk in front of the subway stop seem like wasted space to you?  Does the subway station itself seem like a terrible example of neglect?  Do you wish that Pioneer would cut down its "Anniversary" decor, now that the flags have all blown away?  Do you wish that the bottle recycling area were less of a war zone?  Then maybe you should come.

It's this Sunday, at 6:30 pm, at the Internet Coffee House on Parkside. 


I have yet to meet anyone who would disagree that the block could use a little love. So just as the Amish might call for an old-fashioned barn raising, I think we Caledonians and PLeGNAns could stand for an old-fashioned street sprucing! Come share your ideas, or at the very least, spend a few dozen minutes with your fellow Parksidians.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Councilman Mathieu Eugene Agrees to Interview


After a couple of tries, I'll be heading to Councilman Eugene's office on March 24 for a tête-à-tête (I'm practicing my French!) with the first-ever Haitian-American to hold a seat on said council.
I'll ask him all manner of things, but I'd love it if you'd send me ideas for questions relevant to our neck of his district. As always, I'm at

To learn more about Eugene and his "accomplishments," please check out this nifty Wiki for council people: Councilpedia.

And in case you hadn't noticed, we had a winner in the name that chicken joint competition! It was in fact KANSAS Fried Chicken that once graced the most awesome location, location, location -- the triangular slab formed by Flatbush and Fulton.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Auld Lang Syne for the Old Aladdin Sign

Couldn't help but notice the more frantic than usual hive-like activity at the northwest corner of Flatbush and Woodruff. Turns out longtime neighborhood fixture Aladdin Deli (or K&A if you prefer) is pulling up the stakes and moving to greener pastures. According to the owner, that means Cortelyou Road. On the one hand, I can't blame him. The deli drew the gnarliest clientele. On more than one occasion I was privy to a full-on screaming match that led to brandished baseball bat. But hey, it didn't help that Aladdin et al kept the place poorly lit, barely stocked, unhygienic, and staffed by unfriendly help. On some level, I'll miss Mr. Macho, as I called the swarthy chain-smoking mustachioed man who worked most nights. From May to October he wore just a sleeveless t-shirt, accentuating his machismo by a factor of three, sometimes four. That eastern half of Woodruff is a tough little patch of Caledonia, with a number of halfway house situations and at least one active drug den. A tipster in "the know" tells me the crackheads are out in force just before the sun comes up, right next to the recently shuttered southside deli. All that to say it's unlikely we'll see a wine and tapas place opening in Aladdin's place. And just to milk the Aladdin thing one more time, I'm going to make three wishes: one, that the owner finds what he's looking for down Ditmas way; two, that whoever replaces him stocks ice cream; three, that the cops from the 70th precinct put just a little bit of effort into cleaning up the area.

The well-meaning people living in social service housing don't need the demoralizing influence of Felonious Punks on their path to recovery. Au revoir, Aladdin.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pupusa in the USA

If you're in the mood for chicken 'n' donuts, there's no better place to sate your hankerin' than Parkside Donuts/Kennedy Fried Chicken. Matter of fact, I ate there just last night!
In classic gossip page fashion I must now ask "with what local highly-regarded author of fiction did the Q dine last night?" or "what El Salvadoran dish did the Q eat while talking to said writer?"

If you answered PUPUSA to both questions, you answered one of them correctly and the other was way, way off the mark (it's like you didn't even understand that I was looking for a person's name). Bottom line, Parkside Donuts 'n' Chicken 'n' Pupusa 'n' Burger 'n' Grits serves the Salvadoran specialty much as you see it here, right down to the cole-slaw like curtido:
How was it? It was certainly the best pupusa this corn-fed midwesterner ever ate. Stop in for one, two, three or more of these tasty fritters, which if I had eaten blindfolded, I would have guessed was some kind of Mexican Fast Food Pancakes, what with its fat tortillas, refried beans, queso and chicharron. It was really satisfying and hearty comfort-food, particularly if your idea of comfort includes the cooking of a warm, nurturing Salvadoran mother-figure. From the Wikster:

Pupusas, also known as Pupisio, were first created centuries ago by the Pipil tribes that dwelt in the territory now known as El Salvador. Cooking implements for their preparation have been excavated in Joya de Cerén, "El Salvador's Pompeii", site of a native village that was buried by ashes from a volcano explosion, and where foodstuffs were preserved as they were being cooked almost two thousand years ago.

I did not know that El Salvador had its own "Pompeii," but somehow I doubt I'll forget it.

There's much more to say...about the food at Parkside Donut, about the terrible murder that took place there a couple years ago, about the history of Kennedy Chicken, the non-franchise that's ubiquitous in NYC's low-rent neighborhoods. Actually, does any neighborhood in NY qualify as low-rent anymore? And did you know that Kennedy Chicken was started by Afghans forty years ago, and that it's really more a concept and a loosely followed recipe than a brand? Read this illuminating article for more info: Chicken Wars.

If you've been in NYC for more than a few years, answer this bonus round question: what was the name of the highly-visible chicken joint at the corner of Flatbush and Fulton?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Does Section 8 Have a Future in Caledonia?

Is this an early sign of upscaling near the Q at Parkside?

Buried in the world-news rubble of earthquakes and revolutions was a little press release from Senator Chuck Schumer. In it, he addressed a development at 148 Parkside, (right across from the park near the old Caledonian hospital}. In case you're allergic to reading multi-paragraph press releases, I'll gistify it for you. Mr. Landlord wants to stop renting to poor people, cause he can make more money renting to gentrifiers. Hardly a new story in Brooklyn, but perhaps significant for Lefferts etc.. Here's the whole shebang:


With Over 127 Subsidized Units, Parkview Apartments is a Haven of Affordability In Increasingly Expensive Flatbush. Parkview Owner Is Threatening To Opt Out Of Section 8 Housing; Move Would Put Units On Private Market And Force Most Residents Out. Schumer: We Must Preserve Affordable Housing To Ensure Hard Working Families and Seniors Have A Safe and Decent Place to Live

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the owner of Parkview Apartments in Flatbush, Brooklyn, to renew his Section 8 project based housing contract with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or sell this property to a preservation buyer committed to maintaining the building’s affordability. His call came in light of recent reports that the owner does not plan to renew his Section 8 contract, meaning that these units would go on the private market and no longer be affordable for local residents. Schumer, in a letter to the owner, Mr. Neamonitakis, urged him to keep the building affordable in light of rising cost of living in the area, so that local residents can remain in their homes and continue to live in the neighborhood.

“With Flatbush residents facing rising rents and an ever-increasing cost of living, we must make sure that affordable housing, like the Parkview apartments, remains affordable for families and seniors and others,” said Schumer. “For the sake of the hard-working local residents that would have to leave Parkview, I strongly urge the owner of the property to renew his Section 8 contract or sell the property to a buyer committed to keeping the building affordable.”

Parkview Apartments’ Section 8 contract includes several buildings that total 127 subsidized units in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Though there were delays because of improper notices by the owner, he has now sent a new 1-year notice to the tenants and to HUD that he plans to opt-out of the Section 8 program. The tenants at this property have been part of an active tenant association since 2004 and are once again organizing to ensure that these buildings remain affordable by either convincing the owner to renew the contract or sell to a preservation purchaser who would keep the building subsidized. Today, Senator Schumer joins the tenants’ effort to preserve affordability.

Many apartment buildings in the neighborhood area are happy to rent to families with SECTION 8 Housing Vouchers. It's generally a good deal for landlords, particularly in neighborhoods where it's hard to find "market rate" tenants. It's a bizarre system, born of the Great Depression and tinkered with ever since. The more I read about it, the more extraordinary is its existence in 21st century America. In case you were wondering if YOU qualify, you might. A family of four must make less than $40,000 - an individual less than $26,000. But the rolls are closed to new applicants. In some ways, the system seems to be barely chugging along, resigned to be put out to pasture once the budget-bullies bring it to Tea Party Nation's attention. In a lot of ways, the mere fact that you CAN'T get INTO the pool of Section 8 (except in severe cases of disability or domestic abuse) makes it a likely target. It's hard to make the case that a system is "fair" if it's not open to all who qualify. (Left and Right leaning folk - aren't I right on that point?)

For all intents and purposes (intensive purposes!), subsidized housing is in a strange state of limbo. The old housing projects are being privatized (look at the tragedy that is FLATBUSH GARDENS). And rather than build new low-income housing, the City's housing authority created a patchwork of programs designed to let developers and landlord's suckle on the public teet. Our own local legend Moses Fried owns two buildings on Woodruff that bring him reliable profits by leasing to City-financed "Samaritan" programs.

Perhaps the least fair aspect of all is the seeming inability to kick people off the rolls when they abuse the system or create unsafe and unsanitary conditions in otherwise decent buidlings, while still drawing healthy subsidies. It's not as common as some might believe, but yes some people game the system by "renting" extra space in their apartments to "undesirables" or lying about their real income situation, or trashing their apartments and making life miserable for those around them. In such buildings, landlord's have little incentive to keep up their properties, and the downward spiral becomes systemic.

This is all meant as observation. My block is full of decent folk on Section 8 and EBT Food Stamps, disability and unemployment and all manner of public programs. Heck, most of us are a few lost paychecks away from the public trust. The question at hand is...are we the sort of neighborhood that fights for the rights of rent stabilization and housing subsidies? Or are we the sort that secretly yearns for influx of market-raters?

The full letter from Schumer below:

Dear Mr. Neamonitakis:

I write to you out of concern for the residents living at Parkview Apartments in Brooklyn, New York and urge you to either renew your Section 8 project based housing contract with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or sell this property to a preservation buyer committed to maintaining the building’s affordability.

I understand that the Parkview Apartments contract includes several buildings that total 127 subsidized units located in a neighborhood that has become increasingly expensive to live in. As a result, there is valid concern among tenants and community leaders that the permanent affordability of these units will also be lost if you do not renew your Section 8 contract.

New York City has a scarce supply of affordable housing units and it is vital that we work together to preserve this supply to ensure that hard working residents, including seniors and families, have a safe and decent place to live. Please consider working with the residents at Parkview Apartments to maintain the affordability of these buildings.

Thank you for consideration of this request. If you have any additional questions feel free to contact Megan Richardson or Jonah Crane of my staff at (202) 224-6542.


Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

Saturday, March 12, 2011

It's 7PM: Do you know where your PARROT is?

Well, looks like roosters aren't the only ones coming home to roost in Lefferts Gardens. Reader CeeLeeDee found a domesticated parrot waiting for her last night by her front door. Here's the scoop:

There are more than roosters strutting Ocean Avenue in our hood. Came home last night and found the most wonderful, domesticated parrot at my doorstep! There's a lot more to this story but I dare not bore you further with the details. Suffice to say that, given that a cat rules my house, I could not allow the parrot to stay with me. So, I palmed her/him off to a neighbor. Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder if I've done all I can to reunite this lovely parrot with his/her rightful owner. If you are the person, or know someone who is frantically looking for their bird, please leave your info with Mr. Clarkson Flatbed. Thanks!


IF YOU'VE LOST A PARROT or if you know someone who's lost a parrot contact me here at the Q.
You'll need to identify the lost bird of course - we know there are a lot of Parrot Poachers out there who'd just turn around and sell it's beak for mere birdseed.

In case you can't recall what one looks like, here is the platonic ideal of a green parrot to jog your memory:

If the bird is not claimed, don't sweat. We know of a good home. But we fear there is a heartsick bird-fancier out there tonight.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Know Thy Neighbor: Sue Pike

Wherein I do my best to describe your neighbor Sue, a totally sweet, smart and sane person who does something for a living that many uninitiated folk would disregard as flim-flam. And that's just the "makeup artist" part of her resume! (buh-dum-ching) Seriously now, I'm not making that up. She really is a makeup artist. But how many makeup artists can also talk to spirit guides and commune with animals?

I'm not being facetious, and I'm not poking fun. Sue's a Reiki Master and she's an animal communicator, and by all accounts, a damn good one. Check out the Reiki Sue page on the myspace for more specific info on what she does and how she does it. If you want to talk reiki, you should probably know at least as much as the bare minimum, which is about what I know. Which is that reiki is a nearly 100 year old practice, started by a way mystical Japanese dude, that involves life force energy known as (the great scrabble word) Qi (spelled also ki or chi). Sue tells me that even some in the medical "establishment" have shown interest in its effectiveness. You may fall into the skeptical camp, but believe me, it's not worth arguing this stuff. Sue's satisfied customers won't be swayed by your tough talk! Let's just say she's not interested in converting the masses; she says either you're open to these ideas or you aren't.

Like any other discussion of matters spiritual, a certain level of respect is due the experiences of others. If, for instance, you were to tell me that God loves you, I'm inclined to agree and leave it at that. If you're certain your earthly body will cease to be, but your soul will live on, I have no skin in the game and needn't argue the point. And if you are inclined to trust in the powers of reiki and spiritual guides from the other, or another, side - both human and non-human - I wholeheartedly endorse a consultation with Sue. Here's the NY Times piece on her, and it does a fair job of 'splaining:

Since the "spirit" belongs by definition outside the realm of the more humdrum senses, I can't empirically tell you ANYTHING about it, since there's nothing to measure but the smile on your face or the furrow of your brow. That's really important for me to remember, especially when my skeptic bone gets a workout, and grows sore like a case of the rheumatiz.

But I've got to admit I'm super intrigued. I've read more than I care to mention on modern religious and spiritual movements. It's a hobby of mine to learn how people relate to the biggest of issues - namely death, grief, meaning and questions of the universe's creation. I have no formal feelings on the matter, just the occasional "man life is weeeeeeird" brain zap. But here's what I've learned, and it's help me make sense of the world in which we currently reside:

The Age of Enlightenment led to many great human advances. And it put knowledge and art in the hands of regular ol' people. The Industrial Revolution, however wealth-creating, led to specialization. And this specialization meant that regular ol' people no longer felt in control of their destiny. They, or rather we, do our little useful jobs, but we're reliant on the greater society and other people's specialized jobs to provide our sustenance, in exchange for money. Ever seen or read Little House on the Prairie? Now THERE'S a straight forward existence. Either get that house built by winter, or you'll freeze yer cheeks off. I for one would last about a month alone in the woods. And how does one fashion contact lenses from tree bark? Used to be humans could manage nearly all the tasks required for survival. That was good for our self-esteem, and I think it was good for our spiritual lives as well. God took care of the big stuff, we took care of keeping ourselves alive. In return for all our hard work staying above ground, he'd let us live out eternity after our tickers gave out.

Humans reacted to the loss of spiritual certainty by adopting any manner of new reactive religions and strategies. Concurrent with the industrial epoch came yer Hasidic Jews, the Charismatic or Pentecostal Christians, the Mormons, the height of the Quaker and Shaker movements, the growth spurt of older Anabaptist traditions like the Amish and Mennonites, Christian Science, and eventually Islamic fundamental revivals. One could argue that Socialism, while officially Godless, was a religion of the same sort - a reaction against the new orthodoxy of capitalism and a return to Eden's ideals.

I'm talking out one side of my ass of course. But I'm getting at a point about how even even those disinclined to seek organized religion made the journey back to the mystic, which is not just a place for Van Morrison to go into, it's a popular destination all around. Mystical isn't just for the whirling dervishes anymore.

Forty or fifty Million Americans now practice or utilize elements of mystical or non-Western spiritual practices in their daily lives, from yoga to crystals to acupuncture to herbs to meditation to reiki isn't this also part of the worldwide "return" to the mystic? To a simpler, more ordered universe? To a more ethical, less insatiably greedy lifestyle and outlook?

I'm sure a left-leaning New-Ager would take umbrage at being lumped in with the evangelical fundamentalists. But maybe the same instinct is at play?

Anyhow, don't count on the Q for answers. Right now, he's too busy eating Girl Scout Thin Mints, straight out of the freezer where they belong.

Breaking Story: Rooster on Ocean

Neighbor Maddie sent this from in front of her building on Ocean 'tween Parkside and Woodruff:

WTF, y'all?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I Remember When That Post Was Just a Comment...

I'll start with a repost of Rudy of Winthrop's comment, the kind of big idea we could use 'round here:

Dear Q,

I have a proposal!

(1) We announce a contest, with a cash prize, for the best proposal to redesign the streetscape on Parkside between Ocean and Flatbush. Contestants would be invited to submit proposals without limit to scope: Traffic abatement at the two intersections; uses for the sidewalk in front of the Q at Parkside; tree plantings along the blocks, improvements to the business district; a new facade for Pioneer Foods; the redesign of the MTA station ... anything that suits their fancy.

(2) We should pass the hat around the neighborhood, and see if we can put together $500 or so. I'm good for $20. Surely Bob Marvin is good for $20? And I bet J.J.'s Jamaican Restaurant will toss in $20, too. Hell, maybe even the bottle recyclers will toss in $20.

(3) We see if Senator Adams, or Councilman Eugene, or anyone else of such ilk, is interested in being a co-sponsor. (DeGucc? Moses Fried?)

(4) We announce the contest to the students at Parsons, Pratt, Cooper Union, etc.

(5) We give the winner $500, and we publish the winning designs online. (Maybe we have two prizes: best design, and best design that can be implemented for less that $1MM.)

Well, there it is. My proposal.

I would add only that this sort of radical rethinking of a neighborhood's common area has been done before throughout the City, so we probably have precedents to look at. Plus, we're not talking about having residents pay for the change itself. What we want to do is bring our desire for change to people with power - from the D.O.T. to M.T.A. to NYPD to ASPCA (well, maybe not the ASPCA. Still, they're pretty awesome). The best way to get this stuff happening is to make it the pet project of a politician, who will see the usefulness of shepherding the project to win over votes.

Well done Rudy!

Now about that other idea you and I had for a sitcom, I was thinking we start with a wacky stage mom who's obsessed with getting her kids on TV. The older daughter is overweight and shy, so it makes no sense. But she's really smart, and has a secret science lab in the basement. The son is also really smart, but a Michael J. Fox style republican whereas the rest of the family are NPR liberals. The dad also has a secret...he's a closeted florist - not gay, just really into floral design. The wacky hi-jinx never stop. For gay, you've got the neighbor who's outrageous and always making hysterical side comments and faces...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Squatters Lights

205 Parkside may one day be a glorious hotel per Moses Fried, but in the meantime, it's doing quite nicely for at least a half dozen residents. I've counted that many different people coming and going, and from this photo you can see that they're fully electrified. The heat must be working too. On a cold day I saw one of the windows cracked cuz it was too hot, I guess. Hell if they're getting water and electric in there, dollars to donuts they're paying rent as well. I mean, the residents have proper keys for Chrisakes.
Let me be super-duper clear - I don't hold the squatters in any ill regard. They're doing what they gotta do to get by. But as we can all see Moses "Mike" is taking his own sweet time building out his Waldorf-Hysteria. Meanwhile, Parkside Avenue between Ocean and Flatbush remains one of the most defiantly gentrification-proof blocks in all of Brooklyn! Even as the Pioneer slowly stocks more organic and upscale's really quite a hoot.

Maybe it's the McDonalds? Either is as it is.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Know Thy Neighbors: Robert Kopecky and Sue Pike

There's magic in the waters of Caledonia.

While neighbor Celeste is right to point out that very few Scots remain in Caledonia (whose porous borders are Parkside, Ocean, Caton and the Parade Grounds), there remains a sense of myth and Gaelic-esque wonder. There's also a couple of really big buildings with reasonable rents. Hardly Loch Ness, but intriguing just the same.

I met Caledonians Robert Kopecky and Sue Pike awhile ago, but I had no idea how unusual were their day jobs. I'll get to that in a second. They clearly fall into the camp of relatively recent emgires to the neighborhood, in their case all the way from the Heights of Prospect, beyond the Nethermead and through the Veil of Cashmere. (actual place names, to those unfamiliar with the Park's faerie nomenclature. And who might I ask was Rick of Rick's Place? Must have been from the land of Sodom, considering the proclivities of the good men who casually stroll among its foliage).

An attractive couple in their prime years but married just a few dozen moons, they're super warm and hospitable, shown here in the living room of their gorgeous upper-floor 2 bedroom apartment at 160 Parkside Avenue:

I'm not a real estate agent and this is not, but I will tell you that they pay a really reasonable rate for a rent-stabilized place right on the second-greatest urban park in the world. (Listen, I've actually only been to a couple dozen urban parks and can't say for sure who's #1. The Park called Central is definitely not #1, and I'll wrestle you over it). If you're looking to rent around here I'd keep your eye out for places available in this building. Robert and Sue have no complaints, and Robert joined the tenant's association board. In fact, one of the things I find so refreshing about their take on our neighborhood is that they don't qualify their affection. They like the people who live here and don't spend a lot of time complaining about what could be nicer. It's just not their style to bemoan "what is." And while all the good folk of the neighborhood recognize how the neighborhood could improve, the improvements needn't come at the expense of what's already working. And let me tell you what's REALLY WORKING for me! This amazing view, looking south, from their apartment:

Now let me tell you the juicy stuff. Robert's a brilliant illustrator, and has worked in the field for decades. Around the turn of (this) century, he started working as an animation designer, which means if someone comes up with an idea for a show like PBS Kids' Word World, Robert's the one who conjures it to life. Which is exactly what happened. If you don't know the show, check out an episode here. Or if you're linkphobic, here's some nifty pics to get an idea of what WW's all about.

As you can imagine, that's just the latest in a long career of brilliant design and comix making. His website is full of ideas, stories and comics and he's not miserly about sharing them. You could spend a whole day or two with this stuff: RobertKopeckyDesign. But you'd only be scratching the surface of his imagination. For a real trip into Kopecky-ism, check out his massively infotaining blog Art, Faith, and The Koko Lion, wherein our neighbor makes this here QatParkside seem downright trite and visually retarded. As you talk to Kopecky, the conversation is likely to take many unexpected turns, and his Southern Californian drawl (he's from St. Diego) will lull you into thinking he's just a regular dude, which he is, and he way isn't.

Next up, and deserving of her own post, Sue Pike, and her most extraordinary ability to communicate with the other side. By which, I don't mean Windsor Terrace. Try Time-Space Continuum.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Where's Flatbush?

I love it. Love it! Just when you get comfortable knowing what to call the terra firma beneath your boots, someone bursts your bubble with an authoritative take on Brooklyn neighborhood boundaries. (if you're a longtime reader, you might want to skip this one. I'm rehashing some old terrain. Then again...who remembers their trigonometry? Come along for the ride!)

We all know that neighborhoods grow and contract with the times, and real estate folk demarcate with increasing creativity. As has been discussed ad nauseum, we have a particular set of problems in our 'hood. Let's start with what we know.

Lefferts Manor has defined boudaries due to the covenant laid out by its developer, Master Lefferts. Prospect Lefferts-Gardens Historic District is the moniker used by the Landmarks regime for pretty much the same thing, with a few houses thrown in to spice things up a bit. So they're basically the same chunk, give or take. Those names are legal in nature, referring to one set of rules or the other. And those rules are set in stone. You can't "apply to get in." or get invited, and real estate agent can't suddenly decide to expand its reach. Here's a map of PLGHD.
, a/k/a "the Manor." It's gorgeous, it's exclusive, and it's generally pricier. The people are lovely, though, so don't think I'm calling them (you?) snobs! If you want a good well-rounded portrait of snobbery, just check out the disgustingly overprivileged windbags profiled in today's Times - the so-called Native Society of the Haughty East Side.
Apparently, douchebags never go out of style.

So for quite some time the Manor/PLG-HD has been a small enclave in the greater Flatbush neighborhood, the word being born of the old Dutch town of the same name, sister town to places like Bedford and Midwout. And boy does Flatbush got game. Heck, The Brooklyn Dodgers were Brooklyn's team, but they belonged to no 'hood more than Flatbush. Heck, Duke Snider was the "King of Flatbush," not the King of Flatlands or the Sultan of Sunset Park. Before the Fonz was the Fonz, he was a Lord of Flatbush. The list of Erasmus alums is staggering. And let the record show that Flatbush's borders are pretty distinct - south of Empire, nee Malbone; most folks agree that New York Avenue is the eastern border, with folks calling anything past that East Flatbush. To the west one exits Flatbush at Coney Island Avenue, and nearly no one disputes the LIRR tracks as the southern boundary. All good!!

Within Flatbush we have juicy micronabes like Caton Park, Ditmas Park, DP West, Prospect Park South, Pigtown or Wingate (depending I guess on whether you keep Kosher). They all have histories and reason for their names, often dating back to their current housing stocks' creation. We really did have "subdivision" type growth here, just not the type that happened later in the suburbs. Generally, new developments went up over razed houses, shacks and farms, and a lot of it happened more than 100 years ago - ancient history for most Americans. My house celebrates its 100th next year. What does one do when one's home hits a century? Do you throw it a party? It's quite likely that people of the 19teens derided our house and its brethren as gaudy cheap intruders or worse. And the people that bought them? Heathens! Apparently some of the tradesmen of the time actually worked on the houses they eventually moved into. That must have been an enormous joy for immigrants accustomed to renting from slumlords. Sounds familiar! (can one be an immigrant if he comes from the Midwest?)

Prospect Lefferts Gardens Maximus, or "Lefferts" as I like to call it, has evolved over the years, mostly stemming from the creation of the PL(e)GNA neighborhood empowerment group way back in the soulful Sixties. People were fighting the good fight back then, and we owe a lot of our neighborhood's sense of cohesion to the brave soldiers of those housing wars. If you haven't heard, PLeGNA is staging a comeback of sorts. Reach out to them at PLGNA.

Somehow, in the '70s and '80s, and without unanimity, Lefferts became the catch-all for everything south of Empire, east of the Park, North of Clarkson and West of New York. Part of it might be the Police Precinct boundaries (map here). Partly it's the Community Board
boundaries (right). And partly it's...well, it just is. So the SW pivot point is somewhere around McDonald's or Duane Reade. Or Closeout Heaven. Or Umma Park. Or...then, just when your head is spinning, you go to the neighboring Community Board's website (CB14) and you get this:


As much as I, the Q, on the north side of Clarkson, want to believe Bob Marvin et al when they say I'm part of PLG, this map just makes more sense to me. You know, the park, and the aptly named Parkside Avenue, just seem like natural dividers to me.

Just sayin'

Next up, a profile of some REAL Caledonians!