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, February 14, 2018

What's Cooking At the Spice Factory

So, what to do at 960 Franklin Avenue, a/k/a the Spice Factory? Well, here's the latest proposed plan by the new owners, who bought from longtime owners Morris Golombeck.
A rendering of the new project, handed out at last night's meeting to show proposed heights
in exchange for hundreds of new affordable housing units (dark coloring are the potential rezoned additions)

We all knew it was just a matter of time. Large site, near the Park and Garden, right next to the Q, B and Shuttle trains. Into town in 20 minutes, easy.

The Q advocated, hard, for a neighborhood planning study and rezoning that would have likely allowed for higher buildings along transit hubs in exchange for protections and downzonings for historic inner blocks. That effort failed, in large part (gotta hand it to her; she won) Alicia Boyd and MTOPP, which is basically her and a couple acolytes. Since then, her efforts to prevent any and ALL rezonings in southern Crown Heights and Lefferts Gardens have brought about the firing of the old district manager, preventing the hiring of the new district manager, the resignations of many Board members, and the resignations of not one, not two, but three Board chairs. Incidentally, that's a position that's often held for years if not decades. Turmoil is Boyd's middle name, and even as she loses her lawsuits, the drag on the process takes its toll. Again, hats off. A worthy foe indeed.

Since then, the Crown Heights Tenants Union and now even the East Harlem's anti-rezoning activists have joined the fight, as the City's activist networks take on the developers and City Planners to stop building high in order to subsidize "affordable housing," which, as they argue, is not really affordable to the actually poor and homeless. I suppose they're right in this regard. Even $1000, or $1500, or $2000, despite the fact that they're being built to stay stabilized, is too much money for a lot of people. Though I must say that any tenant still paying less than $1,000 for an apartment is under extreme pressure, both legal and illegal, to leave their homes, as landlords recognize the potential profits from these older stabilized apartments. That fact remains, regardless of any new buildings.

In a certain sense, this is a battle of the Left vs. the Super Left, in that many of the Mayor's "Mandatory Inclusionary Housing" plans have been lauded as a step in the right direction towards creating more long-term, stabilized below-market-rate housing. You can't fight a housing crisis without building, and in NYC, that means building tall, so goes the argument.

What's a good liberal to do?

Last night, one thing became perfectly clear. The Community, as represented by the subset of that community who are on the ULURP Committee and Community Board, want nothing to do with rezonings, no matter the trade-off offered by developers or City. They don't trust that folks in the neighborhood will benefit. They believe that any and all tall buildings will lead to greater displacement than is offset by the new units of affordable housing. (And frankly, I would argue that's not even the point. The point of all this new building is for the future of the City, not just for those currently facing eviction.)

Professor Tom Angotti of Hunter College has become the intellectual of choice for the anti crowd. His book Zoned Out is their bible. CHTU leads the reasonable wing of the movement, in that they represent real tenants, real rent battles, and are co-led by the endlessly impressive and intelligent Esteban Giron, who often holds court at meetings because, frankly, he's the most knowledgeable and coherent anti-displacement advocate you'll find. He lives on Franklin near Carroll, and he and husband are under pressure to move out too. He'll tell you heartbreaking stories and win you over with reasoned arguments and a warmth that I find lacking from most of the hard-left activists. I have the utmost respect for Esteban, and in many ways, my own views have been shaped by my following his analysis.

Tom Angotti, on the other hand, seems to me a bit too smug and sure of himself as an ex-City Planner for me to drink his Kool-Aid. When his book is mentioned he smiles like a gloating David having slingshot his rock at Goliath. Like last night, he often tells tales that are patently false - like how Windsor Terrace fought back gentrification by fighting rezoning, and that Park Slope has therefore gentrified much faster as a result of their own rezonings on 4th Avenue. Say what, now? That doesn't jibe with my own experiences and even with the facts of rental and home increases. The neighborhood is, and long has been, all white, and has become terribly unaffordable to longtime residents there, many of them of Italian and Irish heritage (ever been to Farrell's?) One of my best pals is being forced out of his $2200 one-bedroom right now in WT. Angotti claimed prices have jumped 10 times in Park Slope while just 2 1/2 in the Terrace. Say what? Clearly he doesn't read the Zillow much.

The final analysis of the Committee might be a head-scratcher to those not familiar with the lines of argument. NO, says CB9. No rezoning. Make the developer stick with what he gets under current rules - supposedly up to 7 stories, ALL market rate, which around there is probably closing in on $3,000 if not more. Bring it on, says the ULURP committee. But you don't get an inch of extra height, and you can take your supposedly affordable units and shove 'em, we don't need 'em, because your longterm goal Mr. D (developer, devil?) is to get all the poor and POC's out to make way for your dream of a less colorful (in more ways than one) neighborhood.

Where do you stand?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Jaw Dropping New Brooklyn

Even the cynical ol' Q wasn't ready for the below rendering. Most of these buildings are already in place, but this puts the new 70+ story 80 Flatbush project in perspective (currently it's the soon-to-be-demolished building with all that amazing chalkboard-looking mural on it.)

For those of you who've lived in Brooklyn a long time (and yes, the Q is one of them - 30 years now), this picture will blow your effin' mind. That's the tiny little Williamsburg Bank clocktower (twas my bank many moons ago, and home to my dentist!), once the borough's tallest building.

Tonight, your local Community Board 9 meets its ULURP committee, and if the flying emails are any indication, it's going to be a doozy. Come on down and check out hyper-local quasi government in action.

On the agenda? The future of the mysterious yet beloved Spice Factory on Franklin.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Most Crucial Piece of Recovery - People

Hi, my name is Clarkson FlatBed, and I'm an alcoholic.

12-step programs by design don't "fight back" against inaccurate attacks. It's written into the AA code of "attraction, not promotion," and never engaging in controversy. That's part of the official "traditions" that are roughly adhered to by the few million people who avail themselves of AA meetings, literature, online groups, Narcotics Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Al Anon, the Debtors, Sugar, Gambling and Sex programs and many others. There are no membership dues. Anyone can go to a meeting anytime they like, and can call themselves a member whenever they like, go or not go, get seriously into it or hang on the edges. No one is forced to do anything, or believe anything, though most meetings and sober AAs express some form of spirituality as part of their journey back to physical and mental health. At some meetings there are as many belief systems represented as there are people. I love meetings; I'd go to more if I could. I really can't imagine having gone so long without a drink without the help of literally hundreds of people, people from all walks of life - races, creeds, orientations and economic circumstance. It's been not just a tool for sobriety; it's been a remarkable eye-opening life affirming experience. And no, I don't believe in god, but I do believe in the power of community and service.

Clearly, people are getting something out of it. If you are truly an alcoholic, and I'll discuss that word "truly" in a minute, and you stop drinking, life will undoubtedly get better, or at the very least "easier." That's because no one goes to AA when life is bliss. It's generally the last house on the block. Most AAs tried myriad ways to get sober, from shrinks to drugs to yoga to switching jobs or locales, or switched from wine to beer or whiskey to vodka, tried counting drinks, tried hanging out with different people, tried drinking only on weekends, meditation, moderation, medicines, drying out, the list goes on. Granted some people get mandated to AA, but that rarely works. It's the seriously desperate alcoholic that's AAs best customer. And there are many satisfied customers indeed, who haven't paid a dime beyond the cost of a bad cup of coffee and an oreo cookie or hundred.

Why dump on AA then? Gabrielle Glaser likes to, and she makes tons of good points, though none of them seem to understand AA in the least. I just heard her on this week's On the Media podcast. Her "Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous" is one of the most read articles in the history of that magazine. Hmmm. I wonder why? Could it be that people desperate to mitigate the negative effects of drinking are looking for anything, ANYthing other than sitting in a church basement with a bunch of (god forbid) OTHER people one or more times a week? I sit in a circle and gab with strangers and friends a couple times a week, listening to the most outrageous and heartbreaking stories of depravity, abuse and redemption - better than any you'd read in books (actually a lot of them ARE in books - recovery lit is quite the popular genre). People cry, they laugh (a lot) and after a meeting I tend to feel lighter, more ready to face a world that seems cold, closed and spiteful.

If you struggle with addiction, by all means, avail yourself to the medical and scientific treatments available. If they don't work, there's still a way out, and that's the promise of AA, not some sort of guarantee or probability of outcome. Words like willingness and honesty and hope and identification don't grace the bottle of any prescription medication I know of. But AA also doesn't forbid the use of science and medicing as part of recovery. Where does this nonsense come from? Often from alcoholics themselves who have good reason not to want to get sober, or for whom the deadly malady hasn't fully overtaken them.

Alcoholism is a lonely disease. Not all full-blown alcoholics are physically isolated. But the booze, and one's unnatural relationship to it, can make one feel utterly alone, even among others, others who may in fact love the drunk dearly. Such isolation is deadly for the problem drinker, since it feeds the narrative of worthlessness and shame that leads to ever-more drinking, even suicide. I'm not making this shit up, by the way. I've been to a few thousand meetings myself, and to a number, ex-drunkards speak to this isolation as the most debilitating and deadly aspect of the disease . The booze or drugs, which are often personified as friend or foe by the addict, WANTS you alone. And no worry if you don't want to call it disease if that terms bugs you. I use the term broadly - it's a condition if you will, or a physical and mental problem if you must. It's a killer, that's for sure, and maybe (probably) you know someone who succumbed to this "not-a-disease," if not via alcohol then through opiates or some other addiction, or suicide resulting from the hopelessness of the depression and isolation the sickness causes. The current opioid crisis kills far fewer than alcohol, by the way, though it's a better media story I guess, and certainly has grown too fast to ignore. To me it's all the same - seeking relief, one becomes dependent. Same for binge eating, gambling, unhealthy sex, overwork, under-employment, over-spending, even smoking, porn and gaming.

What Glaser gets so wrong by pointing to the myriad other ways to get sober or manage one's drinking is that drunks KNOW ABOUT THIS STUFF ALREADY. What self-diagnosed problem drinker hasn't tried one or dozens of the other available treatments? I would agree with her that State sponsored treatment facilities should not rely on AA, nor should judges and jailors. I recently went to Rikers Island to bring a meeting, and of the three dozen inmates in one ward who were there for drug and booze-related offences, only three showed up for our informal twelve-step meeting. And I can guarantee you, there weren't a lot of other options for entertainment that hour! Even just for shits and giggles you'd think a few more would join the circle, but hey, they're mostly young, and haven't been beaten down enough yet. AA is definitely for those who've reached the very end of their rope.

So three final points. One, Glaser and others say that abstinence is not the only result worth shooting for, and abstinence lays out unrealistic expectations of the drunk. Yes!! Couldn't agree more. In fact, AA agrees too. And yet (here's the kicker) the true drunk doesn't WANT a two beer buzz! That's not the point, neither is the taste. It's the effect we're after, so moderation is like Drinker Blue Balls (sorry for the vulgar analogy). It's actually easier not to drink at all than to become one of the "glass of wine at dinner" folks, the ones who often least understand why the drunk keeps refilling that glass beyond the point of reason.

Two, Glaser cherry-picked her problems with the not-perfect AA literature. She looks for the mistakes and contradictions. But what about the part in the book that practically BEGS the unconvinced alcoholic to try some controlled drinking, or drink like a gentlemen, and if you succeed AA says "our hats are off to you!" Such a person who can still learn to moderate is not the hopeless alcoholic then, or hasn't become one yet. Even though the Big Book of AA was written 80 years ago, today's alcoholic or drug addict is suredly aware of other options for treatment. In fact, the way I learn about them is from AA meetings! No better place to hear the honest stories of people struggling. AA has never been the treatment of choice for the not-yet alcoholic. If we could drink normally, we would! In fact, if I could drink normally, I'd drink normally every hour of the day 24-7!!

I guess Glaser is on a crusade, and I admire that. She wants more people to find a solution not fewer, and AA wants the same thing. She's trying to provoke AA to respond here, which of course, it won't do, as a matter of rule and tactic. Why fight with the haters when even AA itself doesn't run "studies" or compile useful statistics? For good reason, AA will remain (mostly) under the radar thank you very much. Except for the occasional pseudonymous blogger who's hoping he's not running too far afoul of the tradition of anonymity. Clarkson. That's my name. Clarkson.

But the big, big problem with the Glaser perspective is that it misses the single most important aspect of 12-step groups, more important than talk of higher powers and one-day-at-a-time, the twelve helpful steps, and all that jazz.

Community. Friendship with others who live and work nearby and help with problems small and big. Pulling for one another. Stories and listening. Camaraderie. Traveling to far off lands and meeting fellow "travellers" on the sober train. In short, it's the very opposite of isolation, which as I said is the major defining fact of the alcoholic's existence, beyond the drunkenness and hangovers of course. Are we really so scientific-minded that we can't acknowledge one of humans' most basic forms of therapy - companionship and encouragement?

So. If you've tried every one of those other methods that Glaser suggests are better than 12-step recovery (she claims that 37 forms of treatment work better!) then I will tell you what Craig Ferguson once said in this most astounding of monologues. Go to a meeting. See if it's for you. If you're feeling desperate, stick around for a bit. Then decide to move on to other 37 MORE effective treatments, many of which you will likely have tried already. And then come back if they don't work. All misery gladly refunded if you leave.

FYI, there's a great meeting right here in the neighborhood on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm at the Jan Hus Church on Ocean btw Parkside and Lincoln right near that traffic light. Which is a great metaphor for green - keep drinking; yellow - moderate your drinking or; red - stop drinking. For the true drunk, red is often WAY easier than yellow. Only you can judge for yourself. Good luck, friend. Or feel free to forward this post to a friend in need of the one thing hardest to come by in the depths of addiction. Hope.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Shhhh... don't scream for ice cream

Hard to keep a secret these days, what with the old interweb and the F-book and Tweet Stick. So here's one for ya - that empty shoppe at the corner of Westbury Ct and Flatbush? That used to be Play Kids and before that (ironically) a place called Shelley Linens?

Ice Cream. That's right - ice cream. Owned and operated by the folks who do Parkside, the bar/bistro/pizza/pub across the way, this new joint is going to feature ice cream, parlour style.

Is that really a secret? Is there a way to whisper such a thing on the internet? As I learned when I spilled the beans that Ta Nehesi Coates had bought a place in the neighborhood, not only did it make its way around the world, I actually got a call from the venerated author himself! It wasn't to congratulate me on my excellent writing, as I had hoped. Rather he was pissed that I had let the cat out the bag, putting his privacy and well-being at risk. He has since sold another gazillion copies of his books and made many more millions, so frankly he probably became TOO famous for Leffertsanyhow. Still, the sharing of public information on a public forum - even if it's already public information - can get you in hot water. And yet, the way we get information these days is largely by that exact process. And were people not leaking to the press, we'd never find out about half the sick shit going down in the supposedly very public government. I for one am glad the internet and information are free. I know, I know, there's some growing pains right now. But those who would argue we're stuck with Trump because of TOO MUCH internet freedom are missing an important point. After 8 years of a strong, dignified black man in office, Trump would've happened ANYway. That's right. I'm sorry to break it to you. Americans sometimes (often) vote for douche-wads, and they tend to vote for them in the opposite party from the last leader. Internet or no internet, Trump populism started in earnest in 2010...all it needed was a take-no-prisoner candidate. If Tricky T hadn't come along they'd have had to invent him. (Cruz and Rubio would've done just fine for them.)

And here's where I share something truly surprising. A whole sub-culture has evolved around whispering, and small sounds that tingle the ears. The Q just attended something called "The Whisper Opera" this weekend, and while searching for the details I came across this whole ASMR community, which if you hadn't heard about it I'm going to quietly open your ears and blow your mind. Here 'tis: