Tag Archives: Brooklyn

Knish me on the Cyclone


After reliving a few childhood memories on the monkey bars of Grady Playground, and looking rather ridiculous in the process, I thought, Hey. Let’s go home. Yes, I sometimes, in my head, refer to myself as the collective we. What’s good enough for the Queen of England is good enough for us, after all.

But, as so often happens on my walks, I got hungry and so headed down to Brighton Beach Boulevard for a knish and seltzer.  When in Rome, you know.  Paper bag in hand, I found a spot on the beach to picnic. Well not really on the beach, but on a bench on a cement platform that overlooked the beach. What a view!

Lovely

As I was enjoying my delicious pocket of potato and pillowy dough, a city employee asked me how my day was going while sweeping up cigarette butts from the sand. “Pretty good,” I said, and feeling in a sharing mood, “but I wanted to go to that amusement park,” and pointed  yonder towards the rides.  “Oh Lunatic Park?” he asked. Now, it’s actually called Luna Park, but obviously, his being the far superior name for it, I didn’t interject. “Yeah,” opens tomorrow,” he continued, “but the Cyclone’s going.”

“Wha?!” I stuffed the rest of the knish in my mouth and wished him good-bye.

Proof of intelligent life on Earth

Hastily walking down the board walk, I soon heard the rumble of climbing roller coaster cars, then, the scream. That could have been me already!   Expecting a long line of preteens with cotton candy ahead, I almost broke into a jog. Yet, to my surprise, there was no one. I waltzed right in.

It’d been years since I’d been on a roller coaster, and perched above the drop I thought, “oh yeah, this is why,” then I screamed for awhile. The whole time really.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

I look good in that one. Right?

Next time: Petanque:  the game even Napoleon outlawed.

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Grady Playground Proves Modernism is Fun!

Playgrounds these days are way too focused on safety and learning. What’s with those number blocks? Who wants a twisty heat-resistant plastic slide you can’t get any real speed on? In my day it was cement and steel. And might I say, it prepared me for the real world, people. I remember in kindergarten we had a ten foot tall slide you could fry an egg on come summer time. Skinned knees are a right of passage, not a reason to put down rubber mats! So, it was much to my relief when I came upon Grady Playground, an homage, if you will, to the way things used to be. Only cooler.

Why so amazing? you might be asking. Whoever designed this little wonderland had a rather urban sensibility. Uber-urban really. The whole place looks like a miniature city.

Visions of Gotham

Doesn't this look like DUMBO?

Calluses Abound

As I was getting trigger happy with my camera, the person in charge of keeping Grady Playground litter free (he does a good job), questioned my motives. “It’s for a blog,” I said and he nodded to indicate approval. We chatted a little, though he didn’t stop working while doing so, a man committed to his task.

Larry, who works much harder than me.

As it turns out, not only does Larry keep the park clean, but he keeps the kids out of trouble, and off the top of the monkey bars – he told several girls to get down while I was there. He also informed me that later this month the architectural wonder that is Grady Playground, will be razed. “They’re re-doing the whole thing,” he said.  “But it’s so cool!”  I cried out in protest.

Why NYC Planning Commission? Why?

The metal slide, an endangered species.

Unbeatable

Sadly, the powers that be weren’t around to hear my well articulated case for keeping Grady Playground the way it is. Even if the were, the soft allure of plastic swings and rainbow shaped fountains would probably cloud their judgment. Alas! Again the old must make way for the new, and I slinked off with only my photos as conciliation. Melodramatic! Who’s being melodramatic?

But, as if the gods were listening to my sorrow:

That’s right. The Cyclone, that 80 year-old wooden roller coaster of possible death and definite back ache open for business, baby. Just what I needed. Next time.

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Brighton Beach, on Accident

Anyone who pays attention knew that Luna Park, the amusement park at Coney Island, didn’t open until May 29th. Generally excluded from the category of “attention payers,” I  arrived  ready to ride the rides and itching for a little artificial adrenaline, and was sorely disappointed to find on May 28th, there would be no teacups for me. Nevertheless,  I tried to ferret my way into the private party they were having for local dignitaries and their children (I’m from Walking New York, I said. Press pass? asked the security guard) without success. An F train of my despair rattled above.

But wait! This is New York City after all. There had to be something interesting within ten blocks or less.  So I headed onwards and north up the boardwalk towards Brighton Beach.

A quick note about this sleepy little beach community, first of all, it’s not sleepy, second of all it’s known for its Russian population, and third, they have a weird way of naming their streets. Just look at this conundrum:

Ahhh, where am I again?

Brighton Lane 2 and Brighton Path 2? And not only that. There’s also Brighton Walk 2 and Brighton Street 2 and AND Brighton Court 2! How am I supposed to find my way around this place? Not that there was much hope of that in the first place. When in Rome, I decided and walked down one of the Walks.

A Walk to somewhere

The thing about Brighton’s Walks is that all in all, they’re really just alleyways and alleyways are something the rest of New York generally lacks. There’s not enough room between buildings most of the time to allow for these little pedestrian only ways, which is a shame since you can get into a lot of good and bad trouble on these little paths. I mean, who hasn’t stolen a kiss from a forbidden love in an alley? Okay, me. But I saw it in a movie. So there.

The other wonderful, if overly-voyeuristic, aspect of Brighton’s byways is they allow for a closer glimpse into the lives of those who live along them.

Hello! I like your house.

thanks for the heads up....

Nice Porch

No problem

While surreptitiously snapping photos of other people’s backyards, I notice a special affinity among the residents of Brighton Beach for rose bushes and chain link fences. At least half the houses have one or the other and about a third have both.

Muy romantico

Si. Gusto.

Rose bush in cement, chain link sold seperately

As the sun rose higher and the busy bees of summer starting swarming to these lovely blooms, I thought it’d be a good time to head back to  Brighton Beach Boulevard where the only hum is that of the cars and elevated train, just the way I like it.  Of course, I meandered a little ways getting there and ran into the coolest playground ever at Brighton 3 Street and 4 Road in Brighton Beach,. Stay tuned for pictures and the shakedown in a few days.

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And now for a New York Moment

This morning, as most mornings, I stopped at my usual coffee shop on my way to work. While my favorite surly barista was not in attendance, I persevered. Coffee. Large. And went outside to enjoy a moment of sunshine before heading into the office.

Over the winter, a bakery had opened next store, staffed entirely by women ages 25-45 who all look like they belong in a really good movie about women who started a successful bakery. One of them, in a white apron and green bandanna covering her hair, was eating pancakes off a square red plate on the stoop.

“I’m jealous,” I said. “That looks delicious.”

“Want one?” she asked.

I refused, she insisted and a moment later, I too was enjoying these most amazing pancakes. The secret ingredient? Walnuts. To die for.

Thanks New York.

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The 99¢ Store

Have you noticed there’s no “cents” sign on the keyboard anymore? You have to insert a symbol and even there it’s hard to find.  In the April issue of Harper’s, there’s an article by Joachim Kalka about the slow but eminent disappearance of coinage, and with it, the extinction of the rituals surrounding these metallic objects. Heads or tails? Flicking pennies at elementary school crushes. The pleasure of having exact change at the counter of your local bodega. So, it was with profound enjoyment that I visited the last and greatest defense of the coin: the 99¢ store.

Of course, as any soured skeptic will immediately point out, not everything in a 99¢ store costs 99¢. But, that, my dear nay-sayer, is not the point. The point is that some things, indeed many things, in a 99¢ store cost 99¢. If you hand the cashier a dollar, he will hand you a penny. If you give them your credit card, he will charge you tax and then it’s not 99¢ anymore. Take for instance this bag of rubber bands. 99¢! And it will last you a life time.

It is entirely possible to find your every need, if not desire, in the crammed aisles of Bushwick 99¢ stores.

From food to toys, from brooms to toilet seat covers (who doesn’t need one of those – especially in lovely pastel), they’ve got it all and cheap.

But choice! you say. I want selection. Have no fear! The name and description might be in a language other than English, and you might not know exactly what you’re buying, but your options are nearly unlimited. Just like going out to dinner in Paris. Heading off to the laundromat? Just try to choose from this epic shelf.

You’ll be lingering for hours.

What’s that? You wanted tape? Well.

With an average of 2 per block on the main drag, Knickerbocker Avenue is the absolute Mecca of 99¢ stores. For those on a budget, or just in the market for authentic kitsch, it’s well worth the subway trip. So come-on. Roll up your pennies and enjoy it while you can.

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Beautiful Bushwick

Morgan Lofts

Okay, full disclosure. I used to live in the neighborhood known as Bushwick (arguably between the Morgan and Dekalb stops on the L) on the very unfortunate corner of Knickerbocker and Suydam where nightly, stereos turned up to 11 would set off all the car alarms in the vicinity. But! It’s got some great graffiti – especially off the Morgan L stop – home to the Morgan Lofts.

For those unfamiliar with this particular complex of converted warehouses, they are a veritable hive of artistic activity (and, of course, all night bonanzas of bargain beer and designer drugs). Huge, cheap, and in what was not too long ago a no man’s land, the Lofts now form one of New York’s most vibrant artistic communities. That’s the upside. The downside, as always, that scourge: Gentrification. But, beyond politics, there’s something interesting going on in Bushwick, mostly on the sides of buildings.

After another long, long ride on the rickety but lovable, G train, then a transfer to the not so lovable L, I emerged from the underground into the thick of it, and this sweet face:

Awesome

With miles of empty and unpoliced streets at their disposal, Bushwick artists have created a better public art program than anything the government has done since circa 1934. Thanks budget cuts.

This is 10 feet tall

They’re not the only ones, however. Traditional graffiti artists, employing text as their principal subject,  have long reigned over these gritty corridors, rivaling their fine art competitors with nothing more than a cache of spray paint cans.

It always befuddles me how it is they do what they do without a brush. Notice, for example, the belly button in this one:

Yes, but she's wearing a hard hat too...

Where it gets really fascinating is the point of intersection between these two styles. While say, wheatpasted sad boy:is clearly of the Morgan Lofts variety and this giant tag of illegible (to me) letters:

obviously falls into the traditional category, there are examples aplenty where distinctions cannot be so clearly drawn. Take this tag – curvy letters, crowded canvas, sure.

But pastel? That’s an odd color pallet for a tagger.

Or what about this flying pig?Pop art imagery – but attached to flashy orange letters.

My favorite is the block long mural which seems to be a perfect collaboration between these two modes, comprised of both uber-script and incredible pop-art figures.

From the same mural

Also, I would mention, there is nothing behind this wall. It’s just a wall.

Zig-zagging between Morgan and Jefferson for the better part of the morning brought on a wave a nostalgia for my good ol’ days of hard Brooklyn living. Falling asleep to fist fights, waking up to roosters, and parties full of aspiring artists of every ilk. Park Slope (where I live now) certainly has its attraction, but you’re not  in the thick of the counter culture’s vanguard, nor do you have a living museum outside your front door. Let’s be honest. A trip to Bushwick is a trip back to 21. You wouldn’t want to stay. But my God, is it nice to visit.

At about noon the many, many churches burst forth their Easter parishioners like a great tidal wave of pastel and lace. At this point I thought it best to explore my other favorite Bushwick phenomenon – 99₡ stores. More on that later this week. For about a thousand pictures of graffiti, click over to Artifacts. I went kind of nuts with the camera.

They’re not the only ones, however. Traditional graffiti artists employing text as their principal subject  have long reigned over these gritty corridors, rivaling their fine art competitors with their cache of spray paint cans.

It always befuddles me how it is they do what they do without a brush. Notice, for example, the belly button in this one:

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