Monthly Archives: February 2012

Image Source: Bridge and Tunnel Club

The first summer-feeling weekend of the year had arrived, and seemingly all of Brooklyn was out soaking it in. The lawns of Prospect Park were filled with picnickers, flying Frisbees and sun worshipers, and the paths of the Botanical Gardens were mobbed with promenaders spilling out to the farmers market on Grand Army Plaza. It was a glorious weekend to be alive in any corner of the borough.

On that Sunday, as always, the line outside Tom’s Restaurant snaked around the corner. The owner, as always, walked the line, handing out cookies and greeting his customers-to-be.

“My friends!” he said to Ray and Clem. “Thank you so much for coming on this beeuteeful day!” He handed them both cookies, clasped their hands and forearms and moved along the line. Ray gnawed off a cookie in one bite, adjusted his shades against the blinding sun and pointed up to the sign above the window.

“This isn’t it,” Ray said. “You know that, right?” He stood back a little, lit an American Spirit and waited for Clem to ask what he meant.

“What do you mean?” Clem asked.

“This isn’t the Tom’s Diner from the Suzanne Vega song,” Ray said. “Most people think it is, but nope. I know a guy knows someone that used to do publicity for her, and he got the real story. Her Tom’s Diner is the one on Broadway in Morningside Heights, by Columbia.”

Ray actually read that in an article somewhere, but close enough. Finally seated, he ordered a Chocolate Egg Cream and Clem ordered a Cherry Lime Rickey, both of which were the best in the world.

“Oh yeah, I know that one!” Clem said. “They used the exterior for the café on Seinfeld!

Ray was slightly taken aback at having his command of the conversation breached, but he handled it deftly by changing the subject.

“Oh, have you seen the ‘Hipster Trap’ poster?” he said. “It was on Laughing Squid, I think. Hilarious. It’s a bear trap, with a PBR, a pair of Ray-Bans and a pack of American Spirits. Friggin’ riot.”

“That’s a scream,” Clem said. “Tools of the trade for tools, right?”

“Damn straight,” Ray said. “Buncha wankers. ‘Oh, look at me! I’m ever so hip and ironic!’”

“’Yeah, look at my seventy-five-dollar Pabst tee!’” Clem said. “It looks original!”

“Damn, that reminds me: we’re out of beer!” Ray said. “Let’s pick up some Brooklyn. And some PBRs, in case we score!”

They sippedd their drinks, ordered BLTs, got beer and smokes at the bodega and headed back out into a beautiful Sunday.

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Image Source: SI

It took forever, or so it felt. It always seemed like hours on the 7 from Grand Central, even though it was only eighteen stops. You were on an endless journey to a place called Flushing, and by the time you stepped off the train at Willet’s Point, you were already thinking of humping your way back.

Willet’s Point, Flushing, Queens. The Valley of the Ashes immortalized by Fitzgerald in Gatsby. Used to be the city dump, and when they built Shea Stadium, the rubbish of the city was still smoldering underground.

And the stadium was a crumbling, decaying dump on top of the dump. Flaking paint, nasty bathrooms, exposed pipes and exposed ramps that dropped off hundreds of feet to death by concrete. If you were sitting in the upper deck, you were going to be holding on to your sun-scorched arm rest for dear life, as the pitch down to the field was enough to make you feel like you were about to tumble and roll off the face of the earth.

But it was OUR dump and OUR Amazin’ Mets.

It was a kids game played by grown men seemingly cast from an episode of Fraggle Rock: Davey and Mex and The Straw, Nails and The Kid and, fachrissakes, Mookie. And there was joy in their game, and the unspoken swagger that says you will NOT beat us today.

You showed up early for batting practice. You sat in the blazing sun and gladly felt like passing out from the heat trapped in the not-fully-enclosed Shea stadium. Your seat was only a few hundred feet below the flight path of LaGuardia, close enough to be able to read the numbers on the wing. Pilots approaching the runway used to gun their engines so they could hear themselves on the radio play-by-play. And you loved the noise and the atmosphere because it was New York and it was Shea and the Mets and it was where you wanted to be.

It was 1986, and it was THE year. 108-54, smoked Philly by 21 1/2, beat Houston in 16 unforgetable playoff innings, Game 6, Buckner. The greatest team having the greatest season playing in the greatest dump in the greatest city in the world.

It was worth the longest subway ride ever, and so much more.

RIP, Kid

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Image Source: Tracey Capone

Ann was starting to get pissed as she stood in front of the AC unit trying to get it off of the ARCTIC BLAST setting. She and Melissa didn’t get much sleep, between the cold and rattling of the air conditioner and anticipation of the homestretch of their trip.

The morning, grey and muted, flicked across the carpet in thin shafts of light as Ann bumped into the heavy motel curtains. She rolled the immense 1970s climate control dial, pressed buttons, punched the panel. Eventually she gave up and went back to the bed. Melissa had pushed the comforter to the floor, and was lying with the sheets pulled up to her chin.

“I would get starkers for you, but it’s too fucking cold in here!” she said. She made a show of her shivering and chattering teeth.

Ann held up her arm, which was a relief map of goose bumps.

“I’ll forgive you,” she said. “This time. We need warming coffee! Wanna stop at the coffee shop for some Route 66 Americana, or would you rather fuel up when we fuel up?”

“Hmmm…” Melissa said. “When will we ever be here again? Let’s linger for a few minutes.”

“Let’s!” Ann said. “And if I happen to see a sombrero or some other form of dumb-ass local ware in the gift shop, and if it happens to end up in the car, weeellll….”

“Yeah, don’t make me change my mind before we even get home!” Melissa said.

300 miles to go. Ann and Melissa were starting the day in a frigid, run down New Mexico motel room, and they would end it at the beginning of their new life together. They lingered at the door before returning the key, knowing that this was a moment they would both remember for a long time. The last miles before home. Then they got in the car, turned up the heat and hit the gas.

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Image Source: Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao

It was a dime a dream and a dozen to be had on those young nights, when we didn’t have anything to worry about and holding hands on the coaster was enough for the rest of our lives. Stifling F Train to Stillwell Ave and to Surf Ave and magical salt-breeze relief, and days that would stretch out with no end, until the night came and the lights danced and hearts soared.

Riding the wheel, Cyclone spins, scalding sand of the boardwalk too much to take. We shared ice cream cones and Cokes and hot dogs and laughs and dime store dreams, and the day and the city and the beach and the world was ours.

At the top of the tracks we gasped, the Verrazano and the Manhattan towers close enough to grab and keep and the force of gravity about to take away our breath. Back on solid ground we hugged for stability and for love, the kind that only the young can know.

We dipped our toes in the protean sea, crystalline blue far ashore, churning green at our feet, and dove in, and hosed off and sweat suntan lotion. We rolled in the sand and nuzzled and whispered vows of love and meant them and the next day and the next year and the next decade didn’t exist.

We had everything and gave away nothing. We were young and in love at the seashore.

It was all we knew and all we needed and all I want…

Image Source: Brian Ulrich

The autopsy reports never made it into the paper, so nobody knew exactly how a 5 ½ ft. tall, insanely heavy bucket of KFC came to rest on a weed-strewn sidewalk far from its sign pole. But since there weren’t any jobs in or under the bucket, nobody cared much, either. It was a curiosity for a while; something to speculate about while walking quickly to somewhere else. After a while it became a non-sequitur part of the landscape: Pop-art without the art, or the pop.

For Judd and Sonia, it was a place to make out on their way to or from drinking until her parents got home from work. And on the Valentine’s Day of their junior year, it became the spot where they officially became a couple.

Judd was a nervous wreck all day as he held the promise ring he swiped from Spencer’s in his sweaty palm. He knew everything would go well, but he just wanted to get the romance out of the way so they could get back to messing around, as a for-real couple. He practiced his lines internally all day during class. Finally school let out.

Judd and Sonia met up and started along the path to her house. When they got to the bucket, he pulled them over.

“Um…uh, Sonia?” Judd said. “Uh…there’s something I’ve wa..wanted to ask you.”

Sonia gasped, feeling the air rush out of her stomach. Judd got down on his right knee and pulled out the ring.

“I was wondering if…if you’d….y’know…go out with m-me?” Judd said, sliding the ring on with his shaking, boiling hand.

“Of course!” Sonia said. She pulled Judd up off the sidewalk, shoved him against the old rotating chicken bucket and planted a kiss on her new man that shook rust flakes off the lid. After she let Judd surface for air, Sonia gave Judd her class ring, which he put on his necklace. He then pulled out a slightly melted Hershey’s Kiss and gave it to his new girl. Formalities out of the way, they continued to her house, stopping off at Durgin’s Market first to swipe a few 40s.

Romantic? Not really. But romance is what you make of it, and the KFC bucket proved to be just romantic enough. It was not in the city plan, and it wasn’t around long enough to be a permanent installment. But for a few weeks one winter, a fallen piece of fast food advertising became a landmark along the path to young love.

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Image Source: Vivian Maier

“Ah Christ, there’s that bum again,” Harry said. “I see him here all’a time, passed out on the beach. What a drunken loser.”

He and Melinda were walking the beach in the morning, having cut class for an end-of-semester R&R day. The sun was up and already hard at work, and the man on the sand was starting to turn pink on the exposed right side of his face.

“Oh, don’t be so quick to judge, Harry,” Melinda said. “He’s sick. We should be helping him.”

Harry stopped in his tracks. “Sick?!? What, does he have the sniffles? How, exactly, is that no-good drunken bum sick?”

“From everything I’ve read in class, I can say that addiction is an illness,” Melinda said. “Just like schizophrenia or any other sickness. And I’ve talked to many recovering addicts, and I’ll guarantee you that none of them would have chosen to be addicted.”

“Sick, my foot!” Harry said. “If he didn’t want to be ‘sick’ all the time, he shouldn’t have started drinking. And now he should stop!”

“Yes, but how?” Melinda said. “How do you just stop? It’s not just as easy as that.”

“How do you stop?” Harry said. “Permit me to demonstrate!” He took a long pull from his Budweiser and threw the bottle deep into the water. “There! I stopped!”

“There are other factors, Harry!” Melinda said. “Biology, and family and environment and…mental components that we don’t even understand! Why would anybody choose to pass out on a beach? But why couldn’t he stop himself from doing so?”

I was out drinking until 2:00 this morning!” Harry said. “Do you see me passed out on a beach like a bum?”

“Well!” Melinda said. “I’m glad your internal wiring is so perfect! And that you’re perfect enough to judge others. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get the lifeguard!”

Harry walked away in disgust while Melinda flagged down help. She went over to the man, turned him on his back, and gently woke him. He could only mumble, and all he could say was “thank you, young lady” and “I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry.” Over and over, “thank you, young lady” and “I didn’t mean it, I’m sorry,” with tears streaming down his scorched, sand-encrusted cheeks. Melinda watched as the man was wheeled into an ambulance and taken off, and for both of them, the morning continued…

Dedicated to those that know the sickness. Strength to those that are fighting it, and peace to those that didn’t make it.

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Image Source: The Name Inspector

“Damn! What am I going to do with myself on Sunday?” It was the Friday after the Super Bowl and Mick and Hannah were escaping their apartment office for an espresso at the Victrola on 15th.

“I think you’ll be okay, Tiger,” Hannah said.

“I know I’ll be okay,” Mick said. “But…but…’s no more football! No more ritual! No more reading the Times sports section first! No more Mike Tanier and his hilarious game day analysis! No more appropriately selected rounds of snacks! No more lounging wear with rotating home and road jersey! No more!”

“Yeah, there’s Zoloft for that,” Hannah said.

“Hey! You know my OCD!” Mick said.

“You down with OCD?!?” Hannah sang, while raising the roof.

Mick rolled his eyes and gave her a swat with a rolled up copy of The Stranger. “That will be fine,” he said. “Jeeesus, I can’t take you anywhere.”

“Rituals are made for adjustment,” Hannah said. “You adjusted from a 1:00 PM east coast kickoff to a 10:00 AM west coast kickoff, right? And 60 Minutes seen at its regularly scheduled time, rather than being delayed by overtime. And so you shall again.”

“And I also adjusted from my game-day ritual of drinking insane quantities of American macro-swill!” Mick said.

“See?!?” Hannah said. “There you go. So what do you want to do on this, the first Sunday without football until September?”

Mick thought about it for a few seconds.

“Hmm…you know what we haven’t done in a while? We haven’t walked Green Lake. Good exercise and a good time killer. Whatcha think?”

“Sounds like a plan, Stanley!” Hannah said. “Maybe after I’ll jump your bones and buy you an ice cream cone!”

“Hah!” Mick said. “Maybe I’ll let you! Unless my OCD kicks in and I start counting my steps around the lake.”

“You down with OCD?!?” Hannah sang again.

“Shiiiit,” Mick said. “One of these days I’m going to trade you in for two twenties! Come on…”

They got up, bussed their mugs and headed back out into the Seattle afternoon. On the way back to their apartment office they took a walk around Capitol Hill, picked up a few groceries at QFC and made a stop at the bedroom. Then they knocked off work early for the weekend.


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