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.

Friday, September 30, 2011


Looking for a $1K studio apartment around here and a shot of excitement? Check out this actual and current description from this here ad:

Elevators! Heat/Water Included! In Prospect Park! New Kitchens! Lots of Sunlight! Wood Floors! 1 month fee! Many Studio Apartment on rent! Presently 3 Studios Available! Allow 1 Hours to show apartment area around! Details for private viewing Contact Laila! 718 926 0026! Flatbush Ave at Caton Ave!

Someone asked me just the other day...can you find decent studios in our neighborhood for UNDER $1,000? Anyone?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tribeca Has NOBU...But We Got COBU

I'm thrilled to bring you the story of 162 Woodruff Avenue. For therein lies a secretive clan of communal livers whose devout trust in leader Stewart Traill knows no bounds. For some time, we'd noticed that the residents seemed "out of place" in an already wildly diverse Caledonia. There was never any hanging out in front of 162. People came and went quickly and quietly, rarely making eye contact; many were Caucasian, but without the telltale marks of the Gentrifier. Sometimes they'd carry what looked like artist portfolio thingies, making one think it was some kinda artists cooperative. Then, most befuddling of all, were the frequent appearances of an Olde Good Things truck. That last clue was the one that sent the Q into a days long investigation into the practices of the residents of 162.'s the home of a cult. If I were to be more forgiving, I suppose, I could call it a communal house of worship or some such. 162 is owned by the Church of Bible Understanding, and if you click that link you'll get one of hundreds of references to the group's nefarious nature. I particularly like that list, because it puts COBU on a par with stuff like Scientology, the Moonies, Heaven's Gate and the Manson "Family" (who still has followers by the way). If you're curious as a cat about cults like I am, then you won't want to miss this; a autobio-blog telling the life of one COBU-ist who got out. COBU CULT. He goes into great detail about his life in a brainwashy state, and he's actually a pretty good writer, so it ain't dull.

Here's the basics of Mr. Traill and his COBU: atheist vacuum salesman gets "saved" in the 1960s; starts something called The Forever Family (seems like it was pretty easy to start a cult back then); attracts converts easily, grows his base; figures you need income to be a good cult, so he requires followers to work and tithe basically everything; keeps things cheap by making everyone live communally in low-rent urban buildings in NYC, Philly, Jersey, Scranton; gets into some trouble and changes name to COBU; starts a carpet cleaning business to make better money (lampooned in a Seinfeld episode), getting devotees to provide basically slave labor; divorces his first wife and marries a his young secretary, pissing people off but not enough to be a total cult-killer; embraces his yen for flying by buying some airplanes; runs afoul of the law by taking in and converting orphans; concocts some krazy kolor-koded way to interpret the bible; and in the end, actually has to hang around with the looney tunes he gets to follow him. Can't imagine that's worth the payday, but I guess it's a living.

And during their heyday, COBU bought an apartment house on Woodruff Avenue in Brooklyn. One can only imagine what goes on day after night. Or maybe things have toned down a great deal since the cult's heyday of 3,000 or so followers. Their numbers seem to be down to the high double digits to low 100s.j

In a breathtaking move of business savvy, the group opened super high-end junk store Olde Good Things after plying the trade haphazardly for years. (I think there should be an "e" on the end of Good as well, by the way). The business perfectly timed the country's newfound love of good old things from good old houses, and they now have nationwide sales in the many millions. Not bad for a bunch of ex-hippies. They also started a mission thing in Haiti, which some call a return to their predatory days of youth conversion.

And those "portfolios?" Apparently, COBUs go out in the world and do what are called "art shows." Using large placards, they're able to visually represent the 20-some tenets of their color-coded take on the New Testament. I've only read it described, never actually seen an "art show," though that must be the connection.

I'm telling you. Woodruff got some serious funk in its socks.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...Ocean on the Park: Three Days of the Condo

It's finally arrived. The big marketing push and open houses for Ocean on the Park the CONDO from Prudential Douglas Elliman, located conspicuously adjacent to the actual "Ocean on the Park" historic district that locals worked so hard to achieve, thus preventing more selling of old limestones to developers. While we can certainly understand neighbors longtime distaste for the project and the way it usurped the name, I gotta say it ain't as bad as I had feared. A friend in the "biz" recently noted that it's proportions are generally in keeping with the block, and it doesn't embarrass itself in the ways common to most new construction. There are, for instance, no Fedders air conditioners or curb cuts. Let's hope our new neighbors are sweet, generous, open a new coffee shop, and/or can quickly become part of the great patchwork quilt known as...known as...Prospect Park East?

Know Thy Neighbor: Duane Joseph

There's a lot to like about "Woodruff I"* resident Duane Joseph. A big guy with a warm countenance, Duane came up to Brooklyn when he was in middle school, from his home country of Antigua and Barbuda.
The island nation may be known for its emerald beaches,but guess what? The tiny country of 85,000 permanent residents, mostly living in the urban capital St. John's, has its own version of Rio's "City of God." and so Duane's folks sent him up to Flatbush for a better shot at a decent life. Living with relatives, for awhile over on Rogers, then on Woodruff, Duane got to know the rough and tumble world of Caledonian Flatbush in the 1990's. He considers himself lucky to have gone to MLK High School on the Upper West Side. His daily journey to and from, plus the good atmosphere at MLK, gave him a bit of insulation from the knuckleheads. He jokes that Crooke Avenue really lived up to its name back in the day, and UMMA Park at Woodruff/Ocean was a real lively scene at night before they put in the playground and gates.

Duane's been involved in efforts to improve the quality of life around him. He cites prodding from Andrew "Mac" McConnell who lives around the corner in the awesomely named Prospect Park East building. Mac's been involved with volunteering for years (he was recently helping us push the Councilman and DOT for traffic calming for Flatbush/Ocean - hey Maddie, what's up with that?). Mac, seeing that Duane had a head on his shoulders, suggested he get involved in local improvement efforts. And he's now very involved with Rudy on Winthrop and his Parkside Prize to re-envision Parkside Avenue.

Duane had some interesting points about the block that I'm following up on (like the extraordinary reality behind the mysterious clan who lives communally at 162 Woodruff...I'm barely containing my excitement to tell you about that one - soon). The street action on Woodruff is pretty wild these days; but Duane's seen a lot in his two decades on the block, so he takes it in stride. One tidbit: apparently the little junk store in the first floor of the building at the NW corner of Ocean/Woodruff? He says it's one of what once were many year-round MAS camp storefronts, where locals spent the entire annum getting ready for Brooklyn's Labor Day J'Ouvert. Steel Drum bands made so much noise back then that Duane led an effort to get them to move off his block. The Trinidadian specialty is delightful to be sure, except at 4AM or when sustained for days on end. I believe Rudy on Winthrop can attest to that fact.

By day, Duane's an executive assistant at a major publishing firm. And he's started his own business providing start-up advice to local businesses. Good luck with everything Duane. I'm looking forward to getting to know you better.

*For those not in the know, folks in PLG often refer to their blocks as the street followed by a number, referring to the distance from Flatbush. So Maple 2, for instance, would mean Maple between Bedford and Rogers. Woodruff I is intended to suggest Woodruff between Flatbush and Ocean...ha ha. Ha ha. Joke. Ha. Me Funny Man!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Paltrow and Ruffalo and the CB9 Meeting tonight

Sparks were already flying at tonight's Community Board 9 meeting, what with DOT and MTA talking about next summer's rehab of the Franklin Avenue Shuttle and the Krazy Kool Select Bus Service coming to the B44 (Nostrand down, Rogers up). Then, this lady comes in and drops this bombshell:

Gwyneth Paltrow and Mark Ruffalo are shooting a movie on Midwood 2 over the next three days. The production trucks are apparently parked overnight on Empire, but I saw cones blocking parking on Midwood at 10PM tonight.

The movie is apparently called "Thanks for Sharing," and has some sordid plot involving sex-addiction and 12-step programs, and dare we guess, some sort of challenge followed by redemption, lessons learned, and perhaps a little music from Paltrow's husband, whom Jon Pareles of the NY Times apparently once remarked: Coldplay "makes me wish I didn't understand English."

In other CB9 news, we approved recommendations for liquor licenses for a couple new business - including 65 Fen's companion business Delroy's. Two renewal booze apps were given thumbs mostly up, including The Buzz the Caribbean nightclub just up on Empire (Funkmaster Flex was there recently, so you know there was a menopausal crowd for that one) and a joint named Cissy's over on Nostrand. One club's applicant didn't bother showing up, so we relied on the cops report, which led to a near-unanimous stable-on-fire group nay.

Seeds in the Middle reported on their adorable little Farmer's Market over on Lefferts at Albany. It happens every Thursday afternoon - I went over the other day and came home with killer corn and apples. It's a bit of a hike, but it's nice to see what's doing over on the other side of the neighborhood. They're adding a second farmer due to high demand. Seeds in the Middle is worth a look for sure. Maybe they'll open one in front of the Q at Parkside?

Pop (Up) Art - at the old Mike's International Restaurant

Remember Michael's International up the 'Bush a piece? It's about to become an art gallery for a spell...

Michael's (Mike's to friends and Bob Marvin) restaurant was a fixture of the block north of Lincoln Road for many years. When it closed, there was hope a new joint would take its place. PLG Arts and a collection of locals has stepped into the void in a delightfully quirky way.

Come check out 552 Flatbush, the "pop up" art gallery. The show of works by local artist Brian Fernandes-Halloran goes up on October 13. Its to be followed by a group show...more on that soon!

Monday, September 26, 2011

The $14 Million Parking Lot

Hey Big Spenders! Want tens of thousands of buildable square feet to play with? Have we got a deal for you!

According to the Brooklyn Eagle, the entire lot stock and barrel at 626 Flatbush, roughly at Fenimore, is now ripe for the picking. For $14 million, you could build your dreamhouse smack dab on the middle of our feisty festive main drag. We'll be keeping an eye on this one...the possibilities are endless! I'm rooting for glow in the dark mini-golf, or a Sizzler Steak House, or at the very least a Guggenheim Flatbush...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weekly Price Tracker...Someone's Gotta Start One!

I was diddlin' around on the internets and came across this fantastic tab on Flatbush Scoop, one of many orthodox Jewish blogs: Price-Tracker

If you can't see the ENORMOUS potential for this idea, then you just don't have what it takes to be an Internet Thousandaire my friends. Think about it...knowing what Associated, NSA, Key Food, Papa & Sons, Pioneer, Suzie Farm AND that groovy new upscale grocery on Church are charging for a half-gallon of Organic Milk and/or Edy's Fruit Bars and/or Nilla Wafers - B4 putting on your clogs and leg-warmers and heading out the door? That awesome idea calls for a totally random barely related photo of a Raffi album cover from 1979:
Come to think of it, maybe that's what those confounded circulars are for? What I'm talking about would be DIGITAL, which it makes it WAY better.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

On today's bike ride...

Two things I noticed today on a bikeride from Pratt to home. One:
Moses Fried's notorious Lefferts Hotel on Classon (some call it his blueprint for work-in-progress 205 Parkside) is 100% condemned, seized by the City, padlocks and all. Don't know how long this has been so, but I didn't read or hear about it from any other source, so maybe not so long?
Then, I ride by notorious 1860 Bedford Ave on Midwood. The door was open and a crew was cleaning up. Some not-too-terribly-official looking guys were standing outside saying the building had been sold and someone was fixing it up. This would be a major development indeed for the neighborhood eyesore. City records show the building changed hands this Spring, so either a new corporate owner is sprucing it up for a sale or we may have a new neighbor.

Since this was a truly Brownstonery post, I should note that the photos above came from same.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Crime Update...I know, I know I'm tired of it too...

If you're looking for fluff pieces about coffee shops and boutiques, you can scroll right on down past this one...I'd like to write honestly about rising crime, and I'll try not to insult your intelligence or talk around the tough questions.

Felony Assault and Rape are up nearly 10% city-wide. So, that sense of backslide is not your imagination. Closer to home, Felony Assault is up 30% in the 71st Precinct. Felony Assault is up even more in the 67th, at a whopping 45% (the 67th is south of Clarkson, East of Bedford - most folk call it East Flatbush). Interestingly, it's down 7% in the 70th Precinct (Flatbush, south of Clarkson/Parkside and east of Coney Island Avenue - precinct map here. [By the way, these borders are bizarre for those of us living on the edge of dividing lines. A crime committed just down the street from me doesn't show up in my precinct's numbers, and I suppose if I was serious about getting to know law enforcement folks I'd be calling the 70th as well as the 71st. Actually, I just did after I wrote that.]

I didn't go to Councilman Mathieu Eugene's crime forum on Monday (community board meetings instead), nor did I go to Saturday's crime forum hosted by the District Attorney (we were setting up for the block party). I've gotten reports from a few folks, and it looks like *we the people* were treated to more posturing, a few good but familiar ideas, and a lot of random yelps from the peanut gallery. AAMOF, that's always my favorite part, because I love hearing what's really rankling my neighbors. And you get to see people at their finest - shouting, angry, consumed, or maybe just sneakily promoting some personal agenda. It's hard to get that kinda honesty out of people when you're just standing next to them on the subway platform.

But at the risk of stating the obvious: things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse in the violence department. Forget about the murder numbers for a minute. I'm sure I'll hear arguments on this statement, but I think murder stats are way overemphasized - the overall number in any given precinct is too small to be statistically reliable for comparison. Plus, it's the intent or attempt to murder that counts, don't you think? If there's an axe murderer around, I'm interested in how many people he tried to chop into pieces, when and where - not how many he successfully chopped up. "Oh yes, Mr. Axe did a very nice job on that one, I must say."

Kings County Hospital has apparently gotten much better at saving gunshot and stabbing victims over the years, but you don't see that fact show up in the historical stats. Rapes are up too, but again the overall totals are relatively low, and one perp can cause a big uptick. (Don't get me wrong; the increase in rapes is very troubling Citywide. Park Slope is up in arms about it, in fact.) Felony Assaults - including shootings, stabbings, beatings and the like - that's where the gangs, the drugs, the domestic abuse, the number of weapons on the streets - the real gritty is going to show up. In my opinion, of course. (IMO means "in my opinion" and is the preferred shorthand of the kids and Bob Marvin.)

I'm not writing this to scare anyone...but let's not pretend anymore that the decades-long decrease year-over-year is gonna continue forever. Like house prices and stock values, there's a point after which you're living in a bubble. You can't decrease the number of cops and say things like Bloomberg said...that we're smarter now and we'll keep the criminals at bay. Crime is often associated with "opportunity." And fewer cops means better opportunities. Equal opportunity in fact, for all sorts of villains. Even in white collar crime, fewer enforcers means more graft.

I'm also not a fan of looking at the much cited "overall" crime numbers. Some crimes, like burglaries, happen way more frequently than others, but get counted the same in the totals - one for each crime of any sort. So Grand Theft Auto is what? Sorry car owners, but that's not as important to me as shootings and rapes, and should be given different weight.

My solution? I don't know. More money, more cops. Smarter cops - cops that can gain the trust of the community they serve, not just intimidate. More and better community organizing. Show up at the Precinct Community Council meetings. Talk to the kids on your block; get to know them a bit. Aid efforts and orgs that aim give young people better opportunities for after-school and job training. Take one piece of the puzzle and make it your own. Please don't think I'm lecturing...I don't know any better than anyone else, and I fall way short. But we're supposedly living a great experiment here called New York City. Let's not fail it now, at it's moment of need, when money is tight and solutions seems few.

Have you signed up for a committee of your Community Board? PLGNA? Here's the form for CB9 below, and here's the website to find out more about what each committee does. Send Pearl Miles, District Manager, an email if you have questions - She's still got some fight in her, and I really think the CB is an underused resource for the WHOLE neighborhood, while at the same time block associations and PLGNA target smaller subsets.

Or send Martin Ruiz, president of PLGNA (Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association) a note to say hi and tell him about yourself and how you'd like to be involved. Not everyone's a joiner, I know. But if that's your scene, we'd love to see your face and count you among the committed to making Lefferts CrownBush Pigtown a better place to live.

Same ol' Same ol' For This Blogger

My folks just sold the house I grew up in. Bittersweet, of course. They're thrilled to be moving permanently to Tucson, AZ. I don't know that I'll ever have a reason to go back to Ames, IA. There. I said it. I don't know that I'll ever go back "home" before I kick the bucket. Ah. That feels better to have let it all hang out there.

While clearing out the house, mom found the below two page newsletter called "News Around the Neighborhood" that I wrote when I was in fourth grade. This was basically the prototype for theQatParkside, with about 35 years before the next blog post:

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Voodoo That You Do and Various and Sundry Blah Blahs

In the Wall Street Journal of all places comes a goofy article on Voodoo, mentioning Belleville Manor, a joint out Foster way on the 'Bush. Spooking of the Voodoo, I saw a really cool looking ritual going on at the park - lots of drumming (not the circle) dancing and chanting. This stuff fascinates me. Gotta read more...

Wall Street Journal

Don't forget the shuttles are back for the Q this weekend. It's the not-so-calm before the not-so-storm of the B disappearing from my beloved Q at Parkside in a couple weeks. But at least me blog name will be back to being more accurater.

An odd use of census data showed up in a kinda non-story in the Daily News about how previously all-white neighborhoods like Mill Basin and Bergen Beach have seen dramatic jumps in African and Caribbean Americans. I've taken a peak at the interactive census map myself. If you're a map and statistics geek like me, you can get lost for hours and hours at that site now that the NYC numbers are in. But I gotta say something that's kinda troubling about the way these numbers break down and get counted. (yes, I know I've been down this road before, but it still gets my goat curry)

You got your population, your age, your housing status. But the biggeest emphasis you see in the media and even on the site itself is...drumroll...RACE. And ethnicity. There are so many things that define and describe us, but this seems to be the most significant thing the government wants to know about us. Don't get me wrong, I understand how this info can be useful. But given the huge numbers of people who describe themselves as "other" races or multiple races, I'm left to conclude that we are WAY, WAY, WAY over-obsessed with the issue, the superficial part, the one that is truly skin-deep. Cultural differences are much more significant than race, WITHIN races and between. I'm sure we've all remarked to ourselves from time to time on how much more we have in common with folks of different skin tone, and how utterly confused we are by some of our racial kin. A lot of dem born again tea party Texans seem like aliens to me. Not to knock, but really, sometimes I'm at a loss to connect, man. And I'm a lily-white corn-fed midwesterner.

Take my slice of Brooklyn. Some white friends have joked that I live in an all-black neighborhood. That's absurd. The census confirms that there's at least 20% white and 10 - 15% Asian and Hispanic, plus a bunch of mixed-race folks, living in my census tract. Plus, what do they mean by "black" anyway? With light to dark-hued folks from the South, Chicago, Michigan, Haiti, Trinidad, Guyana, Africa...are these folks really all just "black?" According to the Census, you'd think so. If you live here and pay any attention to your neighbors, you know that THIS - Flatbush, East Flatbush, PLG, one truly diverse neighborhood. Parts of Queens maybe have more East Asians and Middle Easterners thrown into the mix, but we're holding our own in flags. And these people who call this neighborhood "all-black?" They're coming from some of the whitest places in NYC, nay, the country! Park Slope? Windsor Terrace? Williamsburg? Just check out the map and tell me who's living in the ghetto and who ain't.

Paraphrased from Merriam Webster:

A ghetto is a section of a city occupied by a group who live there especially because of social, economic, or legal pressure. The term ghetto was originally used in Venice to describe the area where Jews were compelled to live. A ghetto is now described as an overcrowded urban area often associated with a specific ethnic or racial population.

Ye Olde Street Faire

The Clarkson FlatBed Block Party. Gotta love it. No kiddie rides this year. Just good old fashioned pavement-hugging fun.

I brought out the faux vintage popcorn popper and it was a big hit with the little ones. The stoop scene at 11:45 AM: The fact is this was only my second year as an organizer, and I didn't have Miss Janice helping me this time. Her skills as a block party drill sargeant were sorely missed. But you know what? We did it. We filed the permits, scheduled a couple meetings, key people in each building chipped in money and time...and an awful lot of kids had one hell of a day. I'm not going to kidney coat it...this is a very, very satisfying way to spend an afternoon. Seeing so many people laughing, smiling, dancing and eating -- enjoying each other and life itself -- this is good. Very good.
Trying to keep cars off the street, on the other hand, was a bit nerve wracking. I thought the cops would bring barricades, but they rely entirely on we the people (at least here in the 'hood) to block the street at both ends and make sure all cars were off the road and STAYED off the road. And at one point, a cop car ignored our obvious "closed to traffic" deal, jumped the sidewalk, and sped down the street to answer a call. Not cool guys. Sorry...I don't give a rat's knees, you could've killed someone - we had kids EVERYWHERE, and the parents were letting their guard down and enjoying themselves. This crap don't happen in fancier neighborhoods, I'm as sure of that as I'm sure I'm a middle-aged white guy with a bad haircut. I NEED a friggin' haircut.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dork Klub - Painted Pink and Ready For Its Flatbush Closeup

I took a peek in the nearly finished boutique Dork Klub at 664 Flatbush.
There were a few racks of T-Shirts on display, but I couldn't really make them out. Alexis kindly pointed me to the Dork Klub website, but it hardly explains the whole business scheme. Looks like original tees are part of the equation; maybe not much more. But I gotta say that the name, the colors, the font...all add up to a welcome addition to Flatbush Avenue, or Flavenue as I've been known to call it. (Once, then I was quickly shut down.)

Good luck, dorks!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Bye Bye B Train

Oh MTA, thou art a cruel mistress.

We all knew it was going to happen, though some of us were praying for a Brighton Line miracle. As of the first Monday in October, the B officially stops pulling into our station, leaving many of us sad, bewildered, and late for work. I for one have grown so accustomed to the frequency of trains at Parkside that I'm sure it will add misery to the chill, come winter, to see the B race by, the faces of our former train-mates blurred by speed and condescension. Or on rainy days, condensation.

But cheer up! Moses Fried's 205 Parkside is actually taking shape. Windows, real honest to goodness windows, cheap though they may be, have been hung in many of the soon-to-be long-stay-hotel's former slum sockets:

Is this all because the Internet Coffee House (ICH) started serving La Bagel Delight Bagels? Or so says the sign out front? Is this new, or are my eyes just adjusting to the post K-Dog light?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New "Meetings for Guns" Program Launched

In a new initiative, launched tonight at three separate community meetings, members of 17 different community groups have launched a Meetings for Guns program. Through this revolutionary approach to youth on youth shootings, five separate task forces of seven distinct civic councils created complimentary programs that together send a crystal clear message:

"If you shoot a gun in this neighborhood, we will hit you with every kind of meeting in the book," said Dr. Pete Peters of the 71st CB9 Committee Against Gun Violence in PLG, also known as 71C-CAGVIP. "These meetings are meant to go head to head with every bullet fired. And if you fire multiple rounds from, say, an automatic weapon, we're prepared to meet every night of the week, after work, and even on Saturday mornings, sometimes three and four subcommittee meetings at a time, until we've thrown the book at you - and not just any book either. Robert's Rules of Order with a copy of Alice Sturgis' "Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure" thrown in for good measure."
Local leaders agree that until guns are taken off the street - one meeting at a time - angry bored kids will continue to menace our communities. Since two shootings took place earlier this week, there will be the following two meetings in the coming days:

Date and Time: Saturday, September 17, 2011 at 11:00 a.m.
Location: 284 New York Avenue (entrance on Lincoln Place)Brooklyn, New York
Featured Guest Speaker: Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes.
Will be discussing new initiatives his office will be implementing to organize block associations to address increased muggings, rapes and fatal gun shootings in our community.
Also, District Attorney Hynes will discuss his programs which are tailored to keep young black men employed, out of prison and how he is dramatically decreasing the amount men returning to prison.Invited Guest Speakers: New York State Assemblyman Karim Camara, NYC Council Member Letitia James. AGENDA: Organizing Block Associations to combat the increase in muggings, burglaries and our women being raped. How do we protect our families and create a safe environment for our children.RSVP 718-778-8924 Light refreshments will be served. Hope to see you there.

And on Monday, don't miss:

PLEASE CALL (212) 788-7352 OR (718) 287-8762 FOR MORE INFORMATION

Note that Councilman Eugene has long been a proponent of the CAPSLOCK for GUNS program, and will likely hold forth on his efforts to Keep Our Caps Locked At All Times (K.O.C.L.A.A.T)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Parkside Prize - And They're Off!!!

No need to begrudge Brownstoner its big "scoop" (wink-wink). Here's their spiffy story on the race to beautify Parkside Avenue between Ocean and Flatbush. Stoner Scoop.

Rudy on Winthrop and I sat down for popusa nigh on six months ago. That was when, sensing he'd found an ally in the Q, Rudy divulged his wild plan to call on every Tom, Dick and I.M. Pei to rethink the Avenue, the very block upon which we were eating said popusas (actually, as I recall, I was the only one eating popusa - Rudy had the grilled cheese). I thought he was nuts (still do) but I admire his wit, his pluck and his footwear, not to mention the tenacity with which he raised the money, built a network of committed neighbors, created a nifty website, and starting tomorrow plans to alert the entire English-speaking world to the existence of a $1,000 prize to the best remaking of our own commercial corner of the Park. More to come, but for now, hats off to a man, a plan, a canal - The Parkside Prize.

(For those of you to lazy to click this link, here's some of the killer copy from the website)

About Parkside Avenue

Parkside Avenue could be one of the great streets of Brooklyn.

It begins at Park Circle, and for half a mile it runs beneath the trees south of Prospect Park, with the Parade Grounds to one side and Prospect Park Lake to the other. It ends at the foot of mighty Kings County Hospital, which stands guard over all of Prospect Lefferts Gardens.

In between, there is one block that needs some attention, some affection: the block between Ocean and Flatbush. For example:

Ocean Avenue divides the neighborhoods of Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Flatbush from Prospect Park. Thousands of pedestrians cross Ocean every day, on their way to and from the park. But Parkside Avenue serves as a major conduit for traffic heading north and south through the borough. Thousands of cars speed through the intersection of Ocean and Parkside every hour. What can be done to pacify this hazard?

The subway station at Parkside Avenue is a treasure of the old BMT system, but it is in ruin. Ailanthus trees grow from its roofs, its ceilings are collapsing, its paint is peeling, its exits smell like a sewer. Is this the best imaginable entrance to Prospect Park? Shouldn’t this be the boldest, greenest subway stop in all New York?

The sidewalks along Parkside Avenue, and the plaza in front of the park itself, are derelict and underused. Shopping carts sit in every corner, trash is piled in every nook, and refuse blows over the open concrete. What is the highest and best use for all this wasted public space? A fountain, a farmers’ market, a plinth in honor of Frederick Law Olmsted?

The most prominent building on the block, 205 Parkside, is a shambles. What could this building be? A community center, a school, workspace for avant garde artists and robot enthusiasts, a pan yard for the steel drum scene?

Parkside Avenue is not a blank slate. But we invite you to imagine that it is.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Go To the Precinct Council Meeting on Thursday...and consider this

Thursday. Be there at 7:30, the 71st Precinct Council Meeting. It's held every month, and the SWFlatbush/PLG/Lefferts/Parkside turnout is typically too low. This is a chance to see why it's so important to engage with cops.

I spent some time yesterday with Officer Vincent Martinos of Community Affairs. He's approachable, though very busy. Call him at (718) 735-0527, but I suggest meeting him first at the CC meeting so he can put name to voice. He'll be there on Thursday. He's coming up on 20 years in the cops; he's a union leader and knows what's up with the rank and file. You may not agree with him on everything, but I feel comfortable that he's honest, hard-working and genuinely interested in the safety of our neighborhood. But one thing stands out to me from all the clutter: we're down to nearly half the cops from the height of the buildup in the late '90s. So if you're feeling a lighter presence, it's not just a mirage. And privately, some officers are saying its only a matter of time before that massive cutback shows up in the "numbers."

Task forces, TBOC (Take Back Your Community), Public Safety committee of the CB, PLGNA...all ways to engage issues of violence, drugs, crime; it's always important to act as one against the knuckleheads. I mean, we outnumber them like 99 to 1! But lest you get discouraged about that "1," consider what one group has done over in the 77th, the NE part of Crown Heights. Save Our Streets is an amazing organization that doesn't just talk about ending gun violence. Modeled on a program in Chicago, these gals and guys get deep into the issues causing the problem, and they're not afraid to put people right in the middle of brewing conflicts. Because it's rare that a shooting happens on a whim; disputes and despair usually come first, but sadly no one goes to the cops til after the trigger gets pulled. Please check out the SOS Crown Heights website and spend some time there. You may run across this drawing there, and if it doesn't touch you somewhere deep, well, I just don't know what to say.* Peace, literally.

*unless this was drawn by a 30-something graphic designer working out of DUMBO. In which case, I want your address and phone number because I'm going to crank deliver you bad Thai Food for the next three weeks. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Block Party Weekend

Growing up in Ames, IA, Block Party Weekend meant three cuts in a row from the likes of Led Zep and Genesis. The tag line for the local classic rock radio station was: "KGGO...rockin' de Galaxy. From Des Moines, to de Moon." Brooklyn Block Parties are another thing entirely. They've been happening all summer long throughout our neighborhood, so I'm late in posting. I'll focus on Saturday's events in the ol' PLG, but as I rode my bike through the borough yesterday there were plenty more happening throughout. By the way, if your block doesn't have one, you can always be the guy/gal who gets it rolling for next year. Just go to the Street Activity Permit Office website and follow directions. You'll need probably six months to prepare.

Hawthorne Street always runs a classy affair. Yesterday, at its intersection with Flatbush, Carrie and Monk's Trunk had set up a bazaar benefiting the Playground Committee of the Prospect Park Alliance. The other big highlight was the trademark Hawthorne I puppet show - courtesy of ABC Arts. If you have trouble picturing the scene, I have this little thingy to help you visualize:

Over on Maple 2 (see, people in the Manor prefer to refer to themselves thus, the numeral referring to distance from Flatbush) a markedly more mature block party took place, in the sense that it seems older and more refined (good thing in a block party?), and they pulled off the mean feat of both Dog Beauty Contest AND Classic Rock Cover Band - the latter being provided by local Dad-band Bangstrum, the former by kids and their equally adorable mutts. It looked kinda like this:

Next week, we over on Clarkson of the bus route and two precincts and massive rowdy apartment buildings, hold a block party too. Who knows what will happen - we're miserably ill-prepared. But between the stoop sales, talent show, DJ, grills and popcorn machines, there are enough ingredients that a marvelous urban souflee might emerge. So why not stop by next Saturday?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Know Thy Neighbor's Business: Expression in Ceramics

You know, in my 45 years on the planet I can think of no instances where I expressed myself in ceramics. There may have been a thrown pot or two back in my youth, but I'm pretty sure it was just to get an art teacher off my back. You could argue I was expressing something in ceramics then...resignation or annoyance perhaps. Bottom line, I best stick with English, though I have been known to emote on my trusty six-string a time or two.

I'm setting the stage so you can imagine my disorientation this afternoon, sitting in Lindiwe Kamau's wonderful shop on Nostrand at at Rutland, marveling at the expressive clay figurines and shapes made by kids throughout Brooklyn, each groovy piece perched neatly on the shop's shelves. "Expressions in Ceramics" is Kamau's place of business, and you really must visit or at the very least check out her website: EiC.

She works with kids and adults, and its fair to say that this is just the sort of neighborhood shoppe that makes this a very special place to live indeed. Her workshops are fancied by schools and summer camps, and it's clear from her telling that Ms. Kamau is a passionate practicer of the potting arts. But there's more to Lindiwe, as I shall herein relate...

Here's Lindiwe Kamau in her other role, that as community leader as head of the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association, with her Assemblyman and mine, Karim Camara: I met her this morning at yet another meetup at Eric's Klubhouse, the State Senators' joint on Flatbush. This was the first time I got full-on excited about the prospect of the neighborhood coming together to make positive quality of life changes, since there was TRUE diversity in the crowd, and I was duly impressed with the seriousness of pretty much everyone in the room. Could a movement be brewing? Senator Adams wants us to take on a project called "Take Back Our Community" to empower just such a mobilization effort. More on that later; but one of the folks at the meeting was Lindiwe, and here's what I learned from my talk with her at her shoppe later on this afternoon.

If you walk down Nostrand, a similarly hectic commercial thoroughfare to Flatbush, you get a very different vibe. It ain't Champs de Elysee, but the wide sidewalks give you room to breathe, and the lack of trash is seriously refreshing. Ma and Pa businesses have at least a modicum of shop-pride about their appearance. I believe you can attribute this is large part to the existence of a healthy Merchants Association, and Lindiwe has helped organize them to near-BID levels (you need 60% participation of shops and landlords for that). She even described a special initiative to create a Rapid Transit bus lane, in from the curb so as not to disturb customer parking. If you're not familiar with the concept of Rapid Transit, or Select Bus Service (there's some in the City, like along 2nd Avenue), it's an innovative way to speed up buses, with amenities like off-site fare payments and Bus Bulbs, which you really must know something about for proper cocktail party conversations at Gatsby-esque gatherings in the Manor, say. Read all about the Nostrand project here: SBS Bus on Nostrand.

So stop in to Expression in Ceramics. Say hi to Lindiwe. Check out her wares. And keep your eyes on Nostrand. As Nostrandamus once famously warned: Don't Cut off Your Nostrand To Spite Your Flatbush.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Charter Schools & Space - The Empire Strikes Back

News trickled down to the Q that yet another Charter School (Explore) is getting a cold shoulder from their newly designated home. Parkside Preparatory on Parkside near Nostrantd is where I vote. That's how I first heard of it, and it's apparently a middle school with an ambitious agenda, trying to raise test scores in a generally lackluster district (ours). Explore Charter School was given a home within Parkside Prep, and some parents and teachers were outraged at the infringement on their space. An article here explains it a bit. I'm particularly taken by this clever picture attached to the Daily News piece:

At first I thought this was a lazy picture, til I realized it was meant to symbolize someone calling dibs on a seat in a crowded classroom. Nice conceptual pic, D.N.!

Here's my take on this constant struggle to allow charter schools to operate in already operating public schools. First, charter schools are public schools, financed with our tax dollars, and have every right to open in tax-dollar-financed buildings. Two, overcrowding should of course be avoided, but there must be a definition of overcrowding that all parties accept - the DOE obviously felt there was room. Overcrowding is a serious issue, but it shouldn't be invoked if it's only a matter of perception. Third, these buildings are OURS. All of ours. They don't belong to any particular school; principals can and should be fired or reassigned as appropriate. Teachers can (if their transgressions meet a very high threshold) be fired, and whole schools can be reorganized if the District sees fit.

What I'm saying is this: conceptually, there should be no problem with relocating a charter in an existing building. Last year, I attended at meeting at PS92, also on Parkside, where teachers and parents were outraged that the Lefferts Gardens Charter School would be located at their underutilized building. They came up with all kinds of reasons; to me, none of them were persuasive, and some were downright offensive. The LGCS has been up and running without incident for a year now, and I hope the knee-jerk reaction against Charters begins to wane. Each one needs to be judged by its merits in my book. They're no panacea, but some choice sure as hell beats no choice. And hey, LGCS has a new website, which bodes better than the old one for a school championing environmental science. I'm pretty sure the internet gets used quite a bit these days in the world of science, though I'll have to Google that.

I'm glad to hear your comments on this issue; I waver on questions of public ed all the time. The lottery at LGCS seemed to have produced a representative mix of students from the district. The bigger issue, to me, is how to get that kind of diversity at ALL public schools. With so many parents opting out - either to private schools, or special schools out-of-zone, or pulling strings, or out-and-out lying about where they live - it's hard to imagine that equal representation happening without zoned family's staying put. And that's another subject entirely, one I'm not sure I can adequately address least for now. I started a blog to express opinions and spark discussion, so I can't very well shy away from the big topics.

Like what's with Dork Klub anyway? The suspense is killing me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Don't Count on the Q This Weekend

That is to say, you can ALWAYS count on me, but not necessarily the train itself. I thought I'd be true to my namesake and actually say something about the Q train, rather than start another inflammatory discussion about ye olde coffee shoppe. This from the awesomely on the ball Mary at The Flatbush Blog...

Trains will not be running between Prospect Park and Stillwell Avenue from 8pm Friday, September 9 through 5am Monday, September 12. Here are the alternatives for this weekend, from the MTA:

* B68 and free shuttle buses provide express and local service between Prospect Park and Stillwell Av.

* Express shuttle buses run between Brighton Beach and Prospect Park, stopping at Sheepshead Bay, Neck Rd, Avenue U, Kings Hwy, the Flatbush Av 2 Station and Prospect Park.

If you're not familiar with Mary's blog, please bookmark it! She's way more professional and on the ball than I could hope to be. It would appear she's getting paid something, given the adverts, and she smartly runs the Flatbush in tandem with the Ditmas Park Blog, identifying items of interest that are particular or in common to both neighborhoods. Very organized. Very thorough. Thanks Mary!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Apartment Variance

I'm only slightly interested myself, but I thought it might be interesting to note how this works...

An org called Community Options wants to turn an apartment on Woodruff, tween Flat and Ocean, into a home for two developmentally disabled people. They can't just do it without a hearing, so the Community Board (14 in this case) sets one up so that people can come and comment.

Personally I see no reason why a single apartment can't be used for such a noble purpose and granting some dignity and self-sufficiency to a couple of challenged adults. It's interesting, however, that Woodruff has quite a number of buildings dedicated to social services. I know that there was an effort to thwart their proliferation on the block many years back, but the effort fell short, and there's been a bit of wary tension ever since. Two of the bigger buildings are owned by Moses Fried, he of the disaster taking shape at 225 Parkside. It would seem logical that his strategy at 225 is to also lease to a social service agency, since his idea of a long-stay hotel is not likely to be a viable "legal" option, and we'll certainly do our best to keep him honest.

Here's the posting from CB14:


Community Options, Inc. and the New York State Office For People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) have submitted an application a for a potential Community Residence to be located at 161-65 Woodruff Avenue, Apt. 2D, between East 21st Street and Clarkson/Flatbush Avenues within Community District 14 in compliance with Section 41.34(e)(2) of the New York State Mental Hygiene Law. The proposed apartment a.k.a. Individualized Residential Alternative (IRA) for up to two individuals with developmental disabilities will be adjacent to one of three IRAs already existing at this address. The agency will provide recreational activities and programs planned for evenings and weekends. Each person living in the residence will attend day work program weekdays. There will be supervisory and residential staff on duty at all times when consumers are at home.

8:00 PM – 161-65 Woodruff Avenue, Apt. 2D, between East 21st Street and Clarkson/Flatbush Avenues

Residence Sponsor: Josephine E. Calder, Executive Director, Community Options, Inc., 718-940-8600

Community Board 14 District Office
(between Avenue H and the Railroad Dead End)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

J'Ouvert - Blood, Bath and Beyond

Any post on the ridiculous weekend violence is bound to understate just how horrific was the carnage. A stabbing at Bedford and Rutland provided the exclamation point. This Daily News piece does a nice job of summarizing a very '80's weekend:

Daily News Piece

And please don't miss Hawthorne Street's update on K-Dog's closing. There's some nuance here, and the plea for emails in support of the beloved coffee shop begs your attendtion:

Hawthorne Street on K-Dog

The fact that rumors abound of a La Bagel Delight opening in its stead shouldn't upstage what is clearly a difficult and sad time for an intrepid entrepreneur on the once forsaken Lincoln Road. I would think there would be plenty of open retail space for everyone, including longtime employee Billy, provided landlords see the longterm use in renting to community-minded business people. There's always been something strange and illogical about the retail around here, and I suspect, as with many of the problems on Flatbush, the root of the issue rests with the property owners - many of whom couldn't care less about the people who live and work here.

On a brighter note...ah heck, there aren't any bright notes today. Time to roll up our sleeves I guess...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Kickin' Kids Carnival And An Old Man's Ears

Threw the toddler on the back of my bike (in a proper carrier, installed using directions, sort of) and pumped the pedals up to Franklin Avenue to catch the Kids Carnival - the warm-up to Monday's main event, featuring youngsters from 1 on up in full regalia, or as the Dancehall folks might say, Reggaelia. My STRONG advice is to hit this smaller Saturday parade every year and skip the Eastern Parkway mess. Years ago I was a fan, but the Labor Day thing is too dang crowded and the waits between floats (or Mas Bands, short for Masquerade, meaning a group of people getting together and making a loud motored spectacle for the parade) are interminable. The smaller and way more entertaining kiddie Carnival is more manageable, and therefore enjoyable, in my humble blogpinion.

But here's the thing - both parades are RIDICULOUSLY loud, and yes that's the point...or is it? I mean I'm a rock 'n' roll guitarist since I was 14. I've played in loud rock bands my whole life. I've rehearsed in tiny basements with the amps on 13 and the drums in my face, and I've been front row center at probably hundreds of shows with crappy acoustics and soundsystems pushed beyond reason. But nothing comes close to the wretched pain induced by the Soca DJ's with their gas powered generators and ginormous speaker racks. And lest you think I'm being culturally insensitive, I want you to know that it's not the bass that my bourgeoisieness finds so hideously dangerous (though massive low tones have been known to cause physical damage). It's the high-end stuff that's a Menace 2 Society. And these are kids, for god's sake, dancing in this parade. Little kids don't know any better. I'm sure one in two suffers temporary hearing damage, if not permanent, every time this gig goes down.

But of course it's a blast, and you gotta go, especially if you live around here. If you do go on Monday though, take Mama Q's advice: do yourself a favor and invest in some earplugs, or you will seriously be courting tinnitus, a chronic condition that will make you unable to enjoy silence ever again.

And about that child carrier that I now have on the back of my bike that I swore I would never do because it's so obviously too dangerous? Ah screw it. It's fantastic fun! Though I gotta say it feels exactly like when I walk across Flatbush with my at any minute a Gypsy Van will plow into us, and I gotta just put my faith in statistics that it's not going to happen. Yes, it's like that. Except instead of 30 seconds of street-crossing it can be a half-hour ride. Am I nuts to think this is okay?

Yeah, man. I'm old, I know it. And while you're laughing at my uptightness, just remember...don't smoke or do drugs!!! Stay in School!! And don't have unprotected...anything!!!

Life Zouks, and then a Panini Grows in Lefferts etc

Here it is once again. Our neighborhood is right now the center of the Carnivalian Universe. Flags are everywhere. The basses be booming. Curry-Q's fill the air. It's Labor Day in the 'Bush, and whether you go to the fabled parade along Eastern Parkway or seal yourself in your boudoir for the weekend, you really can't miss it.

Just gotta note that the Q's loving the pop-up store Chocolate City at Flatbush near Hawthorne! The tan mannequins show off glittery lingerie in the window of what used to be Lily's Millenium, which for years ruled as by far the most Vegas-y salon on the avenue.
There are some seriously clever people working this "collective;" the guy in charge tonight told me that CC, or Chocolate 4 Life, is a float for the Parade, a band, a bunch of designers, and of course a ton of revelers.
The pop-up store is perfect for this kind of thing. They moved in a couple months ago and have been preparing ever since, while making some dough selling costumes and making videos and doing photo-shoots and the like. Can't wait to see the yacht-sized Chocolate City float on Monday.

Up the street on Fenimore, the folks that brought you 65 Fen have opened up a soup/sandwich joint next door that they're calling Delroys. Michael and Michael haven't exactly gone overboard with the decor, but if the wine store is any indication of their skill, the joint will build slowly and develop a steady clientele.
For now, you can BYOB from the "packy" next door. Not a bad biz model indeed, since the only decent vino you're going to get around here comes from 65 Fen. Wishing you luck guys; you were already out of panini when I got there, so I guess I'll be back.

Last but not least, the Q noticed a beehive of activity at the new Torres Tattoo parlor, also of the 'bush. I'm a fan of tattoos -- on other people. Frankly, I'm just glad that a joint opened up that ISN'T a cell phone store. Those places are like cancer, and not the GOOD kind of cancer. Which is a phrase you hear sometimes, and it never sounds quite right. If sailors on Fleet Week ever come stumbling down our main drag, at least they'll have somewhere to scar their tissue before heading back to sea.

And with that I'll leave you to the cacophony of tuneage, most likely Soca or Calypso, but listen close and you'll hear some variation to the dominant styles. There's something like a dozen different genres currently popular in the Caribbean, and you're likely to hear them all, at ear splitting volumes, all day and all night, through Tuesday early morn. It don't get much better than this, in my skewed sense of reality anyway.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dr. Mathieu Eugene Consecrates New Playground On Winthrop

Councilman Eugene took pains to take credit for what I can honestly say is an awesome development in the neighborhood. If you've never been, let me hep you to the scene over at PS 92 (home also of the Lefferts Garden Charter School, which I'm hearing good things about). Basically the playground was a dump. Members of the community had even made rumblings about "adopting" it to make it nicer. While it's still just a worksite, the new playground should be a vast improvement. Walk by sometime to check out the progress. It's on the southside of Winthrop between Bedford and Rogers. You can also enter through an alley on the north side of Parkside. It's actually a gigantic school and a gigantic playground, and despite the fact that it could get sketchy around dusk, I took my daughter there all the time, and I've enjoyed the company of the mostly hardscrabble moms, dads and grandfolks and their fun kids. Make no mistake, playgrounds are part of what make the City a special place to raise children. So yeah, I'm pretty happy about this one.

Way to go Councilman. I know you didn't initiate this project, but you followed through and saw that it was approved in the City's capital budget. We appreciate it. Here's the press release: