Filed under: Brooklyn
by Pablo Neruda
There was something wrong
with the animals:
their tails were too long, and they had
Then they started coming together,
little by little
fitting together to make a landscape,
developing birthmarks, grace, pep.
But the cat,
only the cat
turned out finished, and proud:
born in a state of total completion,
it sticks to itself and knows exactly what it wants.
Men would like to be fish or fowl,
snakes would rather have wings,
and dogs are would-be lions.
Engineers want to be poets,
flies emulate swallows,
and poets try hard to act like flies.
But the cat
wants nothing more than to be a cat,
and every cat is pure cat
from its whiskers to its tail,
from sixth sense to squirming rat,
from nighttime to its golden eyes.
Nothing hangs together
quite like a cat.
December 4, 2012
I felt the need to write a note to NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Christie over in NJ. These guys have done a great job so far.
Be safe, keep dry and help each other where you can . . .
November 1, 2012
Hoping today will be an example of patience, vigor and generosity, throughout Brooklyn, NYC, Jamaica and all others in the wake of Hurricane Sandy . . .
My thoughts are with my family, friends and sanga members.
October 30, 2012
Oooh! The heat is threatenin’ our very lives today. . .
If I don’t get some AC, I’m-a-gonna melt away . . .
Woo Hoo, 104º in Manhattan today, the RealFeel® temperature is 115º. I’m sitting in relative comfort in a Starbucks at 51st & Broadway watching people stumble by. If there is a good day to be in the tourist-choked Theater District, 116º day is the day.
It’s funny to me how the media is freaking out about a little heat. Hey guys! It’s summer! But they report it as if it has never happened before when actually it happened about, I don’t know, eleven to thirteen months ago. Do we really need the Daily News to have sweaty people plastered on the front page? At least The Times put the story below the fold.
In a few months we will be all bitching about the cold. I’m heading back in the pool!
July 22, 2011
Just before Thanksgiving I got an email from my sales manager, “Hey Vince, Are you up for an install in the Caribbean around Christmas?” I responded simply, “Sure, I’m game. What’s up?”
Over the next month or so the project began to take shape, but the date was pushed forward with almost every contact with the client. Finally in mid-January we nailed down a February 2nd start date, I wasn’t too confident that the place would be ready in time, but the guy said to be there, and if they weren’t ready it was on him. Who am I to argue? Okay, I argue with clients all the time, but I have a rule to never argue with clients that send me to The Caribbean in February.
January in New York City was the snowiest ever. Really, ever! Though I was hoping for a crippling snowstorm the day of my return, I was getting worried that a snow storm would keep me from leaving on time. In the days before my trip, an ice storm brewing in the mid-west was set to hit on the day I was scheduled to leave. Waking up on Tuesday the 1st, I was happy to see wet rather than snowy sidewalks as climbed into my taxi.
I got to the airport on time, through security, and into the waiting area with over an hour to spare. Waiting to board, my fellow passengers and I were glued to CNN in the gate area as they breathlessly covered the huge storm coming at us from the west. Once on the plane it was obvious that the rain had turned icy.
“Attention Passengers, This is your Captain speaking. We are delayed on take-off due to the weather…” The voice boomed through the American Airlines Boeing 757. Okay here is comes I thought. He didn’t give us much info, and said we’d know more in “a few minutes.” The next thing we heard was that the 9AM take-off was delayed because we needed to get in line for de-icing, which was fairly terrifying, and that our scheduled departure time was now 10:30AM. Upon hearing that and seeing the ice pellets bouncing off the wing outside my window, I feared that plane was not getting off the ground.
As it happened, a de-icing truck actually came out to us, and moved us way up in the conga line. After watching the de-icing procedure, we were informed that our take-off would be at 9:20. Cheers erupted from the hundred or so souls praying to get to the islands, and out of the Big Apple deep freeze.
The flight was uneventful and even with the delay we arrived at Cyrus King Airport in St. Thomas about twenty minutes ahead of schedule.
It was a bit of a process getting from the airport on St Thomas, over to St. John. I would have enjoyed it more if I was on vacation and not traveling for work, but I was very focused on seeing what shape my work site was in. The airport was tiny and my bag took only about a beer to show up on the carousel, in minutes I was in a taxi driven by K9 Joe, a retired police officer who was very proud of his service, and who regaled me with his stories even going as far as handing me a portfolio of photos and press clippings.
We went around a corner and up a hill and boom there was harbor. The view was stunning, no less than six magnificent cruise ships docked about bay, they looked less like a collection of ships than like a city in a future where they build skyscrapers on their sides. There were hundreds of smaller craft filing the spaces between, some massive in their own right, but dwarfed by these leviathans of all-inclusive luxury.
K9-Joe looked with contempt at the scene that had me agog in the passenger seat explaining the traffic would be horrible if we took the coastal route, so we headed up into the hills. He promised he would get me to the Red Hook Ferry Dock in time for the 3PM. Until then I didn’t know there was a 3PM to St. John, but I felt confident K-9 Joe would have me there on time to catch it.
After a whirlwind drive along the spine of St. Thomas, I paid Joe and bought my ferry ticket as the 3PM to St. John beginning to board. It was a sturdy craft, but it lacked any kind of island charm, if it was in Jamaica it would be green, yellow and black with Bob Marley classics blasting throughout.
Still in partial work mode, I made a few calls back home to check on my guys to make sure things were going smoothly, they weren’t but I was sixteen hundred miles away, and I could only give moral support. I tried to relax and take in the delightful island views.
Arriving at St. John I found a taxi to take me to my hotel. The driver said it was “Just up the hill,” and he wasn’t kidding because it was only about a quarter mile up the road. I had been worried because I didn’t know where the work site was, or how far it was from my hotel, or if any of the cell numbers I had would work. Luckily, my fears were allayed as we cleared the boat dock area, The Crab was just around the first curve about halfway between my hotel and the beach dock.
Entering “The Inn At Tamarind Court” one walks into the restaurant area and the actual hotel is to the left. I went to the office and attractive brunette behind the desk smiled and said, “You must be VIncent!” “Yes I am, but please call me Vinny.” I replied in my charming way. She handed me the key, and in minutes I was exploring my room. Now the rooms at The Tamarind are basic, and well, they’re basic, but I’m not too picky as long as they are clean which my room was. It kind of reminded me of my first minutes at The Negril Yoga Center back in 2004, which I was reminiscing about as I unpacked.
I didn’t waste much time, I threw on a pair of shorts, brushed my teeth, stepped into my flip-flops and off I went. I hit the open-air bar and met Amy the Bartender who sold me a $3 Red Stripe, and gave me the lay of the land in Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI.
After a couple or three, I was wobbly enough to take a walk about the neighborhood. I went down to The Crab to find a construction site, which at first scared the hell out of me until I ran into the Chef whom I’d known from their places in New York, and he said they were still on schedule. His confidence caused me to take a second look and I saw that under a layer of construction dust, saw horses, scattered tools, the place wasn’t really too far away.
At this point in a restaurant opening the will and focus of the owner to kick a little butt and hold fast to the schedule makes all the difference. Nothing will force the various contractors to get the job done in the dwindling time allotted than the promise of serving guests i9n three days. The two young brothers who own and act as the operations team for this successful little chain fit the bill, and the next morning the pace of everything seemed to quicken.
From my site visit I walked down towards the boat docks where there seemed to be a lot of bars and shops and the like. Along the water I sat at The Beach Bar for another Red Stripe, but didn’t stay. It was too nice, I was looking for some more interesting places.
I found myself across the street at Larry’s Landing which seemed like a townie bar, and not surprisingly I met several locals. Being a part of the US (sort of) the Virgin Islands attract people that don’t fit so neatly into normal society, and then there are the twenty-somethings not ready to take on the pressures of real life after college. One girl explained it like this: “Well after college, the economy went to shit, so everybody was like, stay in school and get your masters, but I don’t know what I want to do, right? So I was like, stay in Michigan and wait tables or wait tables in paradise? No brainer, duh?” I couldn’t argue.
I went back to The Tamarind for dinner sometime after dark, and there about a dozen people in the open-air bar and restaurant. Amy introduced me around to the mix of locals and fellow guests. By the time I was done with dinner I was clinking beer bottles and buying rounds for the convivial group of misfits. I felt right at home.
At that point it kind of hit me, drunkenly heading up to my room with fresh Red Stripe in my hand, I looked back at the motley crew which I had just been a part of, yeah I wasn’t too thrilled with my room at The Tamarind, pretty old, needing remodel, but I REALLY like the kind of people these places attract. For me vacations are as much about people along the way than about the scenery of the location.
It was a Negril moment. Not fancy, but people who demand fancy can annoy the shit out of me in a dozen different ways. I like this place.
February 10, 2011
So there I was, just minding my own business in the comfy confines of Ozzie’s, a coffee shop on 5th Avenue in Park Slope. I was working on a piece I’d written on a scrap of paper a few days ago (http://bit.ly/2cMYKv), when a young woman stopped and asked me, “Are you a real writer?”
Her name was Michelle, an attractive yet somewhat disheveled twenty-something brunette. A few years ago I would have thought the she was hitting on me, but a subtle blend of maturity and reality keeps that from being my first conclusion these days. She was here to meet-up with a group of people to read and comment on each other’s writing. This was her first “Meet-Up” and she didn’t know who may be in her group.
“I’m forty-five minutes early,” she admitted, and went on about how she felt like she was on a blind date and seemed dubious about her compatriot’s motives. My motives were clear. I planned to sit here and bask in the glory of talking with a beautiful woman half my age for as long as she’d have me.
“Don’t you have name tags or a secret handshake?” I queried mustering my charm while trying not to seem too lecherous.
“This is my first time, so maybe they’ll show me!” She giggled, and then she effortlessly floored me with, “So what do you write for?”
Wow, two poignant questions in five minutes. I know she was expecting the name of a magazine or website, but the way she phrased the question, for me, was much more broad. In response I talked in platitudes about the love of writing, and the need for artistic expression. She seemed satisfied with that, and so the conversation continued until her group grew to become obvious. We exchanged email addresses to share our work, but as she joined her group, I was stuck with her question, “Am I a real writer?”
I knew I was not satisfied with the tepid answers I gave my new friend. I’d been working under the idea of “Audacity:” if one has the audacity to step up and tell the world he is a writer, then dammit, he is. It sounds good, there is even some truth to it, but it’s only a first step. Temerity gets you moving, but now what?
I don’t have an answer right now. There are a lot of “should do’s” and even quite a few “am doing’s,” but it’s time for the next step.
February 6, 2010
I should know better. Tuesday is the worst night to walk into a restaurant in Brooklyn, or anywhere else for that matter. But my schedule has been so screwy lately I didn’t think about what day it was until after I was committed.
The St. Claire Restaurant, is a diner on the corner of Smith and Atlantic in what I guess is technically still Boreum Hill though I think the trendy realtors like to call it BoCoCa (I’m not even going in to it.) I’d been by it a hundred times, it always looked clean, well lit, and as I reflect in this moment; empty.
I was on an aimless journey, I’d missed the early start time for a film I’d only marginally wanted to see and I hadn’t eaten, so I hopped off the bus and wandered into the St. Claire. My goal was to get my standard grilled chicken over a salad, though splurging on the special was a possibility.
Completely empty at 6:45PM. I must be an idiot, but still I nodded blankly as the busdude waved his arm expansively saying, “Anywhere you’d like sir.” I took aim on a booth opposite the counter, plopped down and reached for my book. It took several seconds to realize my ass was wet, then my arms, then slowly I awakened to the fact that this clue-dog let me sit at the one seat in the entire empty damned restaurant with the AC vent leaking on it.
Over in the next booth now, the menu and the iced tea came out without incident. To be completely honest it was pretty damned good iced tea. It hit that iced tea sweet spot, not too icy, not too tea-y. I forewent my usual salad mainly because they all had stupid names and I wasn’t in the mood to decipher the Smith Street Special or the Brooklyn Classic’s ingredients. I ordered the meatloaf special. It’s a diner, I’m from Jersey, and the Tuesday Night Special is Meatloaf served with soup or salad, potato and vegetable, how could I go wrong?
The salad came out promptly. Upon serving the salad, my friendly, yet strangely stand-offish server asked what kind of dressing I wanted. I asked for italian. She said, “Creamy Italian?” and I wasn’t sure whether she was asking if that was OK, or if she was trying to warn me off. I smiled and nodded. I’ve spent most of my adult life smiling and nodding at attractive women I don’t understand, so I went with what works.
As soon as it hit the table I realized I’d made a poor dressing choice. The texture was off, different than any other salad dressing I’d here-to-fore encountered. A heaping jiggly blob of creamy detritus that seemed to be plotting an escape from the all too confining monkey dish. I approached with due caution. It was a slightly flavored mayonnaise with chunks of odd chunkiness throughout, confused and a little disturbed, I asked for oil and vinegar.
I pushed my empty salad bowl, dressing dish, and oil and vinegar caddy to the corner of the table when I was finished, where it sat.
My main course came out on two plates, steamy meatloaf slathered in gravy on the big one, and steamed broccoli and green beans on the other also hot and steamy. I was psyched to dig in, “they can’t screw up everything?” I thought. Oh naiveté.
I’ll start with the veggies. The broccoli was sitting somewhere dying before being conscripted for my order. It wasn’t terrible, but more Denny’s than I’m used to. To stay on the Denny’s kick, the green beans were standard Jolly Green Giant frozen flavorless. At least Denny’s used to soak them for days in some greasy sort of salty brine which was a flavor sensation all its own.
Now for the thick meat flavored substance they were pawning off as Meatloaf. Back in the day, and when I was a kid, and when I made Meatloaf in a diner, it was a signature dish. It is deceptively tough to create and sell a dish so common as the lowly meatloaf, because everyone’s Mom makes the best meatloaf ever! So it needs to be of quality and high standard, but with that something extra that makes it great without threatening anyone’s notion of mom’s pièce d’ résistance. A true balancing act.
Don’t worry, your Mothers have nothing to fear from The St. Claire. This meatloaf-ian mystery meat was almost worth eating just to discern what the hell it was, but between the grease, the furiously salty gelatinous glop that passed for gravy, and the hard bits, I was at a loss.
Dizzy with the MSG rush from the canned gravy-like substance, I stacked and pushed my plates next to the still there plates from the salad course, the empty water glass (plastic glass), the empty iced-tea glass (ditto plastic), and my flatware with my uncharacteristically linen napkin folded neatly atop the pile.
Finally after several bouts of the “obviously looking around for my server” head movements, she finally appeared from the one direction I wasn’t looking and startled the shit out of me. I asked for a refill on the iced tea. “How was it?” she asked with an accent of Ukrainian origin. I smiled and said, “The iced tea was great.”
After ten or fifteen minutes of relaxing, reading my book, and recovering from the salt shock, I got up to pay my bill. I was still the only person on the restaurant, though by then I knew why. I perused the bill as I walked to the very uninterested gum-chewing-reading-glasses-on-a-chain cashier, and laughed aloud as I saw that they charged me for the iced tea refill. My first instinct was to be annoyed but the iced tea was the only part of the meal that was worth paying for.
“How was everything Sir?” the very uninterested gum-chewing-reading-glasses-on-a-chain cashier asked in her droning way.
“Pretty terrible actually,” I said with a smile.
“Thank You.” she said not even registering my comment, or so cool that she didn’t want to give me an inch. I just kept smiling, by this time amused by the whole situation.
I walked over to the table and put my 20% tip on the table next to the festering pile of dirty dishes. It’s not her fault she works in the worst restaurant in Brooklyn, and I’m not the type to hold a grudge.
August 11, 2009
I’m sitting here at Gorilla Coffee in sunny Park Slope Brooklyn celebrating Independence Day with my awesomely cool brand new netbook! It’s so cool and trendy that I just had to add “netbook” to my spell checker. At first I thought these things too small, but for the price and convenience you can’t beat them. I went for the HP Mini with a 10.1″ screen, 160ghz Intel Atom processor, 160 gig hard drive, 1 gig of ram all for $329 bucks.
The reason I went to the whole netbook concept is portability, the thing weighs 2.5 lbs, but when you add that to the convergence of all these technologies I’m not really giving up any performance. Another big reason is it is very blog friendly. As I’ve been moving towards “The Cloud” with Google Docs, Google Calendar and two WordPress blogs, I plan to keep all those heavy apps like MS Office and the like back on my work computer which now seems huge although it is only a 14.1″ Dell Laptop.
So next year when I post my Second Annual Independence Day Blog Post, we’ll see how this new technology helps me keep writing, moving and blogging.
Go eat some BBQ! I’m headed to Coney Island to eat some hot dogs . . .
July 4, 2009
Maybe it’s because I have a nasty cold, and I’m a little grouchy, but as the city braces itself for the impending onslaught of the dreaded swine flu, I wonder if this is all some kind of social experiment. A lesson in control from our friendly faceless puppet masters.
OK, so maybe that overstates the problem, but this media apocalypse is way overblown. From the news to the office, from the subways to the streets a pall of uneasiness has swept my little corner of the world. The housing crisis, pirates in Somalia, failing banks, bankrupt auto makers, the list goes on and on. It’s relentless. People on edge, society all keyed up, then this?
When things are broken, or even when they seem broken, people look for someone who promises to make it better, they abdicate their responsibilities, and the pendulum swings towards tyranny. The path of history is crowded with the muddy footprints of they whose over-reaching has led to the disenfranchisement of cheering crowds.
I don’t believe in messiahs. Life is to be lived one day at a time, one moment at a time. I can’t stomach the thought of a future kept in constant crisis, with people betraying their better judgment for some collective cure. It either ends up as a Demolition Man prozac world of neutered sameness, or Roddenberry’s Borg. Neither is very appealing.
My suggestion? Let’s all take a step back and gain a little perspective. When I used to run fast-food joints we’d train the cashiers to never focus on the line out the door, but to just handle the customer right in front of you. Give them your full attention and the line will take care of itself. I think it works in life too.
May 1, 2009
There was a time I thought plastic (vinyl) fences were a good idea, you know, practical, easy to maintain, long lasting. A man becomes pragmatic and expansive when in the reassuring embrace of The Home Labyrinth Super Store.
Last week I was on a commuter train, minding my own business, trundling through the back yards of suburban New Jersey. Everywhere I looked, endless tracks of plastic demarcation gleaming in the morning sunshine; ice cliffs calving into a sea of banality, one after another, ever new, ever fresh, ever cheerful.
Is my worldview changing? Warped by a few years of introspection, or is it Brooklyn? Am I becoming like those self important Park Slope nose-down-lookers? I’m not quite there yet, but I wonder about those fences. Plastic yard borders surround plastic houses full of plastic things, and even a plastic car on a driveway not yet plastic, though I’m sure teams of plastic scientists are at work right now to remedy the situation.
A banana tastes best as it begins to rot, entropy is what is, an intimacy conspicuously ignored. What price pricey perfection? Standards skewed, Jones’s up-kept, what are we teaching these kids? Causes affecting more causes effect again moving through someone’s idea of BMMRs and minivans choking the cul-de-sac. But it’s OK everyone has GPS to navigate the sameness.
I hope they can find their way…
March 22, 2009
I can’t believe I missed the West Indian Day Parade last year! I don’t remember what I did instead, but if I’d gone I would have remembered what I did, since I did this, and it would have been awesome, but then I’d be comparing this year to last year which may or may not have impacted what a wonderful time I had today. But I digress…
I’ve been living in Brooklyn a little over a year now, and in that time I’ve taken two trips to Negril. Today at the West Indian Day Parade I felt like I’d taken trip number three.
All along Eastern Parkway stretching eastward from Prospect Park’s Grand Army Plaza to Utica Avenue deep in the heart of Crown Heights Brooklyn, a stronghold of Caribbean culture since the 60′s, the massive parade and street fair held sway. It was as much Carnivale as a NYC Parade, hundreds of food stalls, craft booths and t-shirt sellers lined both sides of the two-mile long route.
I hopped a #3 train from Atlantic Ave to the Franklin Ave. As soon as the train doors opened the sweet smell of food on the grill hit me, so I followed my nose. I went right for the first Jerk Chicken stand I saw, the old woman’s lilting Jamaica patois like music drew me in. I ordered a small portion of well prepared nicely spiced Jerk Chicken. I forwent the extra packaging, I knew it wasn’t going to last long, and the lid, fork and bag would just be a waste.
I began walking through the crowd eating my chicken, the spice cleared my head and I began to realize the enormity of this event. As far as I could see a sea of people, food being served and eaten, thousands of colorful flags from all the West Indian countries fluttered in the soft breeze of this perfect sunny day.
I may not be the most objective correspondent but the crowd seemed to be at least half Jamaican, or at least dressed in Jamaican flags and Jamaican colors. There was a good contingent of Haitians, and Trinis as well as Guyanans, Barbatons, and Grenadans. The food was amazing, everything you could think of. Some from organized food trucks run by the myriad local Caribbean restaurants in the area, to small family-run concerns with Grandma doing the cooking and the kids higgling for customers.
I had my main lunch, after the above mentioned Jerk Chicken, a Curry Chicken Patty, and a half frozen bottle of water, at rough looking food stand run by a group of would-be rastas. They were disorganized, a bit overwhelmed, and their spray-painted sign read Rasta-I-tal, but they had genuine smiles and seemed to be the real deal (Reshay who served me was in Portmore this time last year). I got the Curried Goat with rice and peas. It was fresh, meaty, good portion and was spot on! I gave them a card and told them I was going to write about them. I also told them to open a restaurant. They had that intangible something that turns good food into a great meal.
The heroes of the day were the usual suspects: Bob Marley, Haile Selassie, Martin Luther King and Malcolm-X, but supplanting them all was Barack Obama, it was all about Obama, you’d think he was running for President or something. Even Chucky Schumer’s entourage were sporting “Obama is the Answer” t-shirts. I didn’t wear my Obama shirt, nor did I wear my Bob Marley shirt. I don’t like being “that guy.” There were penty of “those guys” around. It’s funny how silly wannabe white-boy dreads look in such situations.
The music was loud, we were all having a good time, I didn’t see any trouble, but New York’s Finest were out in force. I walked from Franklin Ave. up to Utica Ave where the parade started and I ran into a Police created coral with no throughway, so I went into the subway and went back into the thick of things at Nostrand Ave, but on the other side of the Parkway. This time I walked back towards The Brooklun Museum and Prospect Park. Soon I was standing at Grand Arch at Grand Army Plaza looking back at the parade.
September 1, 2008
At first I thought the situation called for an ode, “Ode to Rebecca”, but our entire relationship consists of two emails and a phone call. An ode might be a bit much.
Maybe I should explain:
Friday night I went over to my friend Dee’s place in Crown Heights. She had somehow come into possession of a wild bird, and she wanted me to help her set it free in Prospect Park. It’s a whole other story. Our original plan for the day was to meet up in Manhattan, have a few drinks, and then go to see the new Indiana Jones movie. So after the bird was free and happy in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, we hopped on a 3 train heading into Lower Manhattan.
Street level somewhere near City Hall I pulled out my trusty Blackberry and hit the Google Maps Button. Within seconds it told me where we were and where we needed to go. I love my Blackberry. I’m almost obsessed with it. It holds everything, numbers, emails, to do lists, music, and lectures on mp3. And of course I have it all tricked out just the way I like it, in the picture you can see I even created a Negril Notes theme for it. Okay, I could be a little obsessed.
The map on my Blackberry said we were too far away to meet up with our friends before the movie started so I hailed a cab and we hopped in. And that’s when it must have happened! My Blackberry fell out of the pocket of my jacket. I always wear that jacket and I hop in and out of cabs, subways, busses, you name it, and that Blackberry has stayed with me every time.
When we met up with our movie companion we found out the nine-thirty showing was sold out and that we were on for ten o’clock. We walked to Chevy’s around the corner to kill some time, ordered Margaritas, and made chit-chat. Dee’s friend was very nice though she was obviously crazy for me, Dee pretended not to notice. Sometimes it’s not easy being me. Anyway, After only one round we walked over to the Regal Battery Park, found decent seats, and settled in to watch Harrison Ford do what he does so well.
I reached for my phone to make sure it was on vibrate, and it wasn’t there! I checked my other pockets; nothing. I stood up and looked around my seat; nada. I raised me arms and screamed “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD!!” Okay I didn’t really do that, but I was pretty upset. I headed back to Chevy’s to see if maybe I took it out and laid it on the bar for some reason.
Indiana Jones was playing in five of the theater’s eleven screens, and we were in theater number eleven on the top floor. Some other showing had just gotten out and the down escalator was jammed. My stress began to build, the escalator moved glacially, and I felt like a trapped animal. I checked my pockets for duct tape to wrap around my head to keep it from exploding, but I had none! Instead I took a deep breath and tried to relax. When I was calm and still several floors from street level I realized all the people around me were talking about the movie, discussing in detail things like the plot, and the ending!
Finally back at the bar the pretty yet vacant doe-eyed bartender, who made us the shitty margaritas, disappeared for several minutes finding a manager. Meanwhile I found the bus boys and asked them in Spanish if they found a phone, I didn’t know how to say Blackberry in their native tongue. “Si Si,” the taller one said and my stress just deflated, I hadn’t realized how hard my heart was beating. “Thanks Guys,” I said as I started counting out twenties as a reward for their honesty, but I nearly broke into tears when they handed me a scuffed up Motorola Razor.
Walking back into the theater I began to think philosophically. “It’s not like I lost a kidney.” “I have almost everything backed-up.” “I’m just going to look like an ass at work on Tuesday.” “I don’t mind looking like an ass.” “Who cares what those bastard think!” “Who needs that f*****ng job anyway!!” Now back on the escalator I asked the big football player type ahead of me if he had any duct tape. He just looked confused, and began walking more quickly up the moving steel stairs.
I plopped into my seat in failure and disgust. My companions were sweet and consoling, which made me feel better, and by the time the myriad previews were over I was able to let go and really enjoy the film. Indy Rocked!
The rest of the night I kept calling the phone hoping the evil bastard who had it would pick it up. I was planning to threaten that I could track them on the GPS, though I never actually loaded the friggin’ program.
Saturday morning I had my spare cell phone charged up and working, and I sent the number to all the people who might need to get a hold of me over the weekend. I kept calling the Blackberry which I keep on vibrate. I pictured it buzzing under the seat of some cab never to be found. But life goes on.
I took the 63 bus through Park Slope to the Food Co-Op, and as I sat there I rang the Blackberry again.
“Hello” Holy shit! Someone answered, and she didn’t sound evil at all! She’d found the Blackberry in a taxi the previous night and was waiting for me to call and claim it. I must have sounded like an idiot on the phone, I was so excited, and happy, and exuberant, and relieved that I almost didn’t write down her address.
She was like a Blackberry finding angel, she seemed as happy that I found my phone as I was. Whoever stereotypes New Yorkers as uncaring troglodytes are just as wrong as they can be. I’ve only been living here a year and the people have been great. Rebecca the Blackberry Angel is just another example.
I blew off food shopping for the time being and took the 63 all the way to the Atlantic Avenue Train Station. In minutes I was on a 4 Express train to the Upper East Side. From Eighty-Sixth and Lexington, I all but ran to the address Rebecca had given me, and that I’d written on the palm of my hand. The doorman seemed a bit suspicious as I trundled through the revolving door almost out of breath.
But, as I yanked out my wallet to show him my identification, he handed me the grey envelope that held my beloved Blackberry. I think I actually caressed it as I gently pulled it from the envelope and removed the bubble wrap. Yeah, she actually used bubble wrap! This is a woman of substance!
Before leaving I asked the doorman, that if I sent flowers or a gift basket to the building with her first name on the card, would she get it. He assured me it would.
Later that day I looked around the web for some token of thanks to send to Rebecca the Blackberry Angel, but I couldn’t make up my mind. Flowers seemed corny. A fruit or cheese basket seemed too, I don’t know. I went to Harry & David’s to send a Moose Munch basket, but again it didn’t hit the mark. So I did what I always do in times like this, I called my daughter Kristine for advice. She suggested I make a donation to New York Cares in our heroine’s name. Kristine and I are recent members. We believe in the cause, and they do great work.
I emailed Rebecca the Blackberry Angel to say thanks again, and to tell her in lieu of flowers or some such thing that I was making a donation in her name.
The next morning she emailed back saying it was a nice thought but not to make the donation in her name, but in the name of:
“all of us who will loose a cell phone or need a hand, and appreciate the kindness of strangers.”
She went on to say that she has been the beneficiary of annonymous efforts, and if I wanted to give something towards the “Big Karma bank in the sky,” that I should go for it.
And I did.
Thank you again Rebecca. Words can not describe my appreciation.
May 26, 2008
For years I’ve been moving towards eastern philosophy for the answers to my questions. I tried to find my place in conventional western belief systems, but I just couldn’t get past the invisible man in the sky thing. The Force, Universal Consciousness, call it what you will, but that’s what madeÂ sense to me. I wanted to cut through the BS, to get to the point.
A friend gave me a copy of The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts. In this book I saw the question phrased in a way I understood it, and the open ended answer seemed to point directly at me.
Born and breed Irish Catholic the idea of a non-theistic religion took a long time to sink in. Over the next few years I read voraciously on the subject. I read the popular books; The Celestine Prophecy, The Alchemist, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and even The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. I also read dozens no one’s ever heard of. I went to workshops on “Realizing Your Chakra Energy,” participated in Drum Circles, and other like-minded New Age-y things.
I did a lot of meditation, but I wasn’t very consistent. It was this style one week, this tape the next and so on. No matter how much I sat I didn’t realize any realizations, skies opening or enlightening, but there was something there, something I couldn’t quite grasp, something that kept me coming back.
So, when I moved to Brooklyn last July I made it a point to go to the Zen Center Of New York City to see what they had going on. I wrote about my experience that first Sunday on this site, but not much since. There’s a Buddhist saying: He who knows does not speak, He who speaks does not know. So read further at your own risk.
People always ask, “What do you do there?” Well, we mostly sit, there’s some chanting, and some great teaching.
“You just sit?” Well not exactly, we do Zazen, a form of sitting meditation which is hard to explain, you just have to do it.
“Do you chant prayers to Buddha?” No, chanting isn’t praying, and Buddha isn’t a god.
For something fairly simple it’s very hard to explain. Zen Buddhism is experiential in nature, and it takes time for the clouds in your mind to part for it all to start making sense, and even then it only comes in glimpses. There is something about theÂ practice of sitting quietly and doing nothing, to sit with your own mind, which opens a whole realm of possibilities.
All the books I’d read pale in comparison to an actual thirty-five minute session of sitting. As it was told to me that first Sunday in beginning instruction after describing the mechanics of sitting Zazen; a very easy to say, but to truly enter into it is the most challenging thing you will ever do.
The challenge is the question, “What is this life?” and for twenty-five hundred years people have been coming to The Buddha for a path to the answer. An answer that can’t be given to you, one you must figure out for yourself.
More to come…
April 20, 2008
Upon hearing about Hands-On New York Day, a friend of mine said, “Ya know, that’s one of those things that when you hear about it you and think, ‘Hey I’d like to do something like that someday’, but you never actually do it.” And for a long time that was my position too. I’m not averse to doing this sort of thing, it’s just that such opportunities rarely cross my path at an opportune time, but in this case the stars aligned.
My roommate Chris was the Site Captain meaning he set-up and helped run the event. The hard work was done, so all I had to do was show up. Once I committed I got pretty excited, so I wrangled up some family, friends, and co-workers to help out. The Saturday before the event I had six definites with a few possibles waiting in the wings, but of course when the day came only two were able to make it. I didn’t care as they were the two I really wanted to spend the day with anyway.
And wow, what a special day it was! I had been so focused on the outcome that I hadn’t put a moments thought into the process, the actual doing of the thing. I expected a freshly painted fence, and a lunchroom with brightly painted murals. I didn’t plan on the camaraderie and sense of purpose seventy or so eager volunteers would engender. Very un-Zen of me I know.
The day was all about the process, the experience. The care and goodwill this disparate group of strangers put into beautifying this little elementary school in Brooklyn warmed the cockles of my heart. It was so much of a Coming Together my inner cynic was forced to do a double-take. Could it be there really are this many good people in the world? And this was only one of a hundred plus events that day; seventy-five hundred people fanned out across the city planting trees, fixing up schools, cleaning playgrounds, and generally doing good.
Did I mention it was really fun too? I’m no painter, but I painted for hours. Kristine and I did a lot of sky work, while Diana painted a super-hero elephant. The sky is important in mural painting, theres a lot of it, and the chances of screwing up are slight. Kristine and I also did about an hour of fence scraping, less glamorous than mural painting, but it had to be done. I was impressed how the crayola blue fence brightened up the whole school.
Im proud to have been a part of Hands-on New York Day. So proud in fact that this Thursday evening Im going to Borough Hall in Brooklyn for orientation on becoming a full-fledged member on NYCares, the umbrella organization which Hands-On New York Day is a part. My little crew is excited to do more volunteering, and as members there is literally something going on every day, so finding a monthly project to work on shouldn’t be tough.
I’d like to thank everyone who made this day possible; Christian for all his hard work, Kristine and Diana for making the day even more special, and every other person who worked at Public School 94 on April 12, 2008.
April 15, 2008
My first 9/11 as a New Yorker was thankfully uneventful, though it seemed to me there was a lot more security around on 9/10. All day people were looking up, and pointing south, “Where were you?” conversations overheard everywhere.
In some ways, it was just another 9/11 which is pretty sad. The news covered the anniversary with little enthusiasm; speeches, reading the names of the victims, politicians making uninspired speeches.
I did have one moment though. Kristine sent me a PowerPoint presentation featuring dramatic photos of the destruction, pain and terror of that day. I was sitting in a little restaurant on Carmine Street in Greenwich Village looking at the presentation, and at that moment the radio was playing My City Of Ruins by Bruce Springsteen. I was moved by the pictures, I was moved by the music, I was moved by the gut wrenching emotion I was experiencing. I’m the guy who says, “People forget what happened on that day…” But I’d forgotten. I remeberedÂ the details, the ten thousand worthless facts and figures, but I’d forgotten that feeling, that fear, anger and dread.
In the evening of September 11, 2007, I had the opportunity to attended a seminar dealing with 9/11 and life in New York City; ”Moving Beyond Anger.” First there was a screening of a Bill Moyers documentary from the 90′s called Beyond Hate, followed by a discussion of how anger and hate manifest themselves in our daily lives.
The film was hard to watch. It painted a grim picture of our world from a pre-9/11 context, and things haven’t improved. Our discussion dealt with anger and hate from a Buddhist perspective, and though we never got in to much about 9/11 specifically, it was interesting to discuss current events in the light of a 2500 year old tradition.
Where were you?
September 11, 2007
This isn’t a diatribe against the Eagles coaching staff for letting great player like Jeremiah Trotter go again. No, the sudden sacking of the vaunted Middle Line-Backer, or more so my reaction to it, brought into clear relief the fact that I no longer live in Philadelphia.
It’s funny how things hit you. I worked from home today, and I spent most of the day listening to Philadelphia talk radio. The day’s big hubbub was the decision by the Philadelphia Eagles to release Jeremiah Trotter. I always liked Trotter, he’s a good guy, he’s great in the locker room, but he was a step slow last season, and it’s time for him to go.
If I took the train home to Philly, half the train would have a kind of hangover because of the Trotter news. Someone would see you reading the headline on his paper and say, “It sucks what they’re doing to Trot.” An affirmative grunt would rise from the throat of everyone within earshot.
Later I’d stop in the Steak & Hoagie Factory, and I’d get into a conversation with that drunken guy who is always in there watching the Phillies. Then he’d probably get all emotional, and I’d regret starting the chat.
But in Brooklyn, no one cares! No one knows who Jeremiah Trotter is, and if they do know, they don’t care. I felt so foreign!
Intellectually I knew leaving the Philadelphia area after twenty-two years would eventually hit me, but I thought it would be more, I don’t know, cinematic? Like maybe catching Rocky IV on TBS, or seeing a picture of Kris and Me on South Street, but no, I’m standing on the D train heading into downtown Brooklyn pining over the future of the Eagles’ Defense, and it hits me like a ton of bricks.
Now I didn’t weep openly or anything like that, and I’m sure I’ll get over it, but it will be a long time before I can say I’m from Brooklyn.
Good Luck #54,
Vinny from Philly
August 21, 2007
For years I’ve been a proponent of Eastern Philosophy. I read “The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts in the late nineties, which set me on a course of discovery. Since then I’ve read boxes of books on subjects ranging from Vedanta to Voodoo, Tao to Toltec, and nearly every flavor of the New Age (though I did draw the line at Shirley MacLaine). But from the “I Ching” to “The Alchemist” I kept returning to simple straightforward books on Zen.
The clarity and simplicity of Zen Buddhism attracted me. Books by Natalie Goldberg, “Writing Down the Bones” and others have been the backbone of my writing practice (daily journal writing in the spirit of Zen, but not Zen). I’ve burned a lot of incense, and I’ve spent many hours meditating, but without any real structure. I was playing at Zen, curious about the idea of Zen, more correctly, my idea of Zen.
In my effort to learn more about Zen, I discovered the Zen Mountain Monastery in Upstate New York, though I was intimidated by the idea of just showing up for a weekend retreat. I thought a visit to the New York City branch in downtown Brooklyn would be more accessible, more my style. Well, now I find myself living in Brooklyn, and only an express subway stop from the New York City Zen Center, so I decided to dive in to see what it’s really all about.
Last Sunday morning I left the house at eight-twenty, and immediately I began to stress about time, “What if I’m late?” “What if the train is late?” “Did the website say nine or nine-fifteen?” I let myself relax long enough to have breakfast at the Sunset Park Diner, and by eight forty-four I was in the subway. The D train came, after what seemed an eternity, the empty-car air conditioning was a blessing after five minutes in the steamy station at 36th & 4th. At eight fifty-nine I disembarked at Pacific Street and climbed the two flights to street level. I made my way down Atlantic, across 3rd, on to State, not breaking pace till I stood in front of Fire Lotus Temple.
Standing at the huge wooden doors I felt a cool breeze, there were cars and people passing, but there wasn’t the bustle of pre-church hob-knobbing. So often the art of being seen at church is as important as the arts practiced within. There was guy in a t-shirt and jeans sweeping some dead leaves. He didn’t seem to notice me as I took in the moment. I figured he was in some deep Zen trance, and a thrill shot through me as I took my first steps into Zen.
I climbed the steps and entered the vestibule. I use the term vestibule from my catholic altar boy experience. This is all new to me, I’m sure they have their own name for the entrance alcove. As I entered a student wearing a grey robe welcomed me.
“Hi, is this your first time to the temple?” she asked, I guess my yak in the headlights look clued her in. “My name is Heather, welcome.” Her easy smile helped lessen my edge.
“Hi I’m Vince, um I mean Vinny,” I stammered like a jackass. I was nervous, she was cute, and my “monkey mind” was on full display. She directed me upstairs to where I could put my shoes, and then she invited me to join the others in the training room for coffee or tea. She said someone named Karen would be there clue us in on the morning’s schedule.
I walked up the loudly squeaking staircase to the second floor, found the coat room, took off my shoes, but left my socks on. I wasn’t sure if naked feet were cool. What about athlete’s foot? In socks, sweat pants, and an oversized golf shirt, I entered to meet my fellow sangha members.
I don’t know why I was expecting middle aged bald men, maybe it had more to do with how I see my self, but this group was an eclectic mix of Brooklynites. All ages, sexes, and sizes were represented. They were all barefoot. Everyone seemed nice, smiling and nodding. Quiet chit-chat murmured in the rear third of the space. There as a refreshment table, some chairs and couches. The front two thirds of the room was a mini zendo complete with a small Buddhist altar and a dozen or so Zabuton (32″ X 28″ meditation mats), with corresponding Zafus (14″ round cushions used for sitting meditation). Otherwise the room looked like any second story living room in a Brooklyn brownstone, hardwood floors, baseboard heating, and walls painted too many times bearing the scars of age.
Karen, also a gray robed student in her mid-twenties, took the four or five of us newcomers and explained what we should expect during the service. There was still about ten minutes before we were to go downstairs, so I grabbed a cup of coffee, signed up for the newsletter, put my five dollar “suggested donation” into the blue box, and then I snuck into the coat room to loose the socks.
At nine twenty-five Karen directed us downstairs to find our space in the zendo. My heart was pounding as I creaked down the noisy steps ahead of the others, and I entered a Buddhist Zendo for the first time; barefoot with butterflies. At that moment I realized, after all my reading and study, just how green I truly was. I found a zabuton/zafu/seat on the left side of the room three rows from the back, and I tried to get comfortable looking around to see how others propped themselves up on the little cushions. I put my hands together and tried to be solemn, but trying to be solemn is like trying not to think about a green elephant.
There was a faint incense smell mixed with wood cleaner, the room was dim but not dark with ceiling fans at full blast. Heavy wooden columns and thick paneled walls gave the room character. In the front of the room there stood a small altar, small by catholic standards, with a lovely Buddha carved from some kind of colored stone that gave it an antique look. To the left was a tall thin vase of flowers, two puffy white and mum-like, a hyacinth, and a few twiggy things; very elegant. On the right a heavy beeswax candle like the ones I lit by the hundreds as an altar boy. In the center fore is an incense holder, and in the rear a small vessel of water. Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The basic four elements.
A bell, no, more a chime brought me and the group, the community, the sangha, to focus. With another chime the liturgy began. I felt excitement muted by circumstance as Shugen Sensei began his chants. I had little idea what was going on, but followed along as best I could, bowing, and chanting with the group.
The full bows were unexpected. I’d read about them, but these were my first, and graceful they were not. The full bow begins standing, hands in gassho (a Namaste or traditional prayer gesture) with feet together. Then it’s a bow from the hips, down to the knees, and down further, till the forehead touches the mat with hands to the side of the head, palms up. Then it’s back up. I think we did three such bows. It was then I realized why people were stretching before the service.
Sutra books were handed out to those who needed them, and within moments the group began chanting the Heart Sutra. I was caught off-guard and it took me well into the second verse to catch-up with the group. I’d prayed aloud before, I’d sang in church, but I never felt such group cohesion as we all chanted in rhythmic unity.
By the time we were through chanting in both English, and what I assumed was Japanese, though it could have been Sanskrit, the words had somehow penetrated. I still had no idea what was going on, but my feet sank deeper into my zabuton.
At the end of the liturgy part of the program, the newcomers were asked to gather at the back of the hall, and to accompany one of the lay students upstairs for beginning instruction in zazen. Once upstairs we all took a seat on a zafu and zabuton, and were told a senior monastic would soon be in to talk with us. I looked around at this group of newcomers. A woman in her fifties, who I came in with, was beaming in expectation. A young couple looked terrified, like potheads at Jesus Camp, and a pretty twenty-something girl looked like a little Buddha in full lotus. My knees hurt just sitting next to her.
Me? I was sitting Indian-style; I don’t think that’s any kind of lotus, but still I tried to straighten up when a man in the black robes of the monastic entered our space. He was an ominous figure, and we were spellbound as he sat before us spending several minutes rolling, folding and configuring his robes so that, when done, he looked symmetric. He addressed us in a gentle voice, and with kind humor.
He spoke of Zen, its history, and its general philosophy. He told us a bit about the Fire Lotus Temple, and of the Mountains and Rivers Order it is a part of. Then he taught us several different sitting positions. I picked a kneeling/sitting posture called seiza, using the zafu to carry my weight with my feet hanging off the edge of the zabuton.
He taught us how to sit: back straight, head forward, eyes in a “gentle gaze” at a forty-five degree down angle, hands together in the cosmic mudra. Our next step was to go down to the Zendo, find a space, and commit to sitting still for the second thirty five minute period of zazen. Zazen for beginners consists of watching the breath. When distractions arise, let them go, and go back to your breath. He explained how Zazen or sitting meditation is very easy to describe but extremely difficult to do.
“Bring it on!”
I found a space on the far right of the zendo. I situated myself in my seiza position, and it felt good, I even remembered to bow to my seat before sitting. A succession of chimes and clappers began my first real zazen session. There I was, counting my breath and dismissing my thoughts. I was in the zone! “I can do this for hours,” I thought.
Then came the distractions; the mosquito bite on my foot, a truck in the street, motion here, a creak there, I dismissed them and went back to counting my breath. I became aware of every itch, ache and pain, and I began to feel stress, like when you’re on an exercise bike, exhausted, and the timer says you’re only halfway through.
“This is intense,” my mind rebelled, going off in a thousand directions. I fought to stay with my breath, but I wasn’t winning. I sank deeper into my cushion and stuck it out. This was the longest thirty five minutes ever. I began to think of all the other ways I’ve lasted thirty five minute in other situations, but then I’d catch myself and go back to my breath.
A chime toned signaling the end of zazen. I unfolded my lifeless legs, and awkwardly began to stand, my bones creaking like the temple stairs. I followed along as we began kinhin (walking meditation). During our instruction the monk said to “just walk,” continue in meditation, counting your breath and just walk. The cool marble floor felt good as I walked and stretched. I was in the moment, and as I sat, less formally now, on my cushion I was ready for the next part of the service, the Dharma Talk.
Shugen Sensei gave a talk dissecting a Zen Koan from the ninth century. A Koan is a story or statement, or even a question that defies rational understanding, but can be accessible through intuition. I enjoyed the teaching. Shugen Sensei brought the meanings in to present day life and familiar situations, even speaking of life in New York City.
When the talk was finished there was more chanting and bowing. I tried to chant along, but was just moaning in tune with the group. “I’ll pick this up eventually,” I thought, and for the first time I knew I’d be back.
At the end of the service, everyone dusted off their zabutons, and fluffed their zafus. Some people left, but most went upstairs to the training/refreshment room for more coffee, refreshments and conversation. I spoke to a few of my newbie classmates. The older woman and the little Buddha were jazzed, while the young couple looked less scared, but still a little freaked-out.
I felt great. I felt at peace. I had a sense of accomplishment, and I knew I was at the beginning of something that I really didn’t understand. And that was ok.
August 1, 2007
Cub reporter Buzz Bogan here on the scene in Midtown Manhattan where something happened at or near Grand Central Station around 6-6:15 today.
The police closed 42nd Street, only allowing westbound foot traffic, heading away from the scene. It was quite a sight! Thousands of New Yorkers walking calmly but quickly eastward on 42nd Street. This reporter saw several dozen people who looked like they were sprayed with a fine rusty dust or maybe dirty water.
All subways in or around Grand Central are closed as hundreds of first responders rush to the scene. Police, Fire, EMS, you name it, if it had an NYC Logo; it rolled to the area around Grand Central.
Of course we were all thinking, but no one was saying, BOMB! The word on the street was that a transformer blew up under Grand Central Station, but as you can see from my photos, the smoke is coming from the south side of 42nd, while Grand Central is mainly on the North side.
I was in Grand Central about 5:30 when and a harried call from my boss had me scurrying to find a Starbucks so I could grab some internet access, and to avert a minor crisis at an Upper West Side overpriced eatery.
After Starbucks, I ended up at 45th and 6th, eating falafel from a great sidewalk vendor, when I noticed people rushing and pointing to what looked like a cloud hovering over the Chrysler building. On closer inspection I realized it was billowing smoke or steam, so I braved bodily harm and went to see what was up.
Faces became serious, talking on cell phones, and heading away from 42nd Street with a purpose. When I reached 42nd and 6th, the police were stopping anyone from getting closer to the “incident”, an after some pushing and shoving I made my way to the center of the cross street looking up at a sea of humanity completely filling the street from 5th Ave to 6th.
By 6:45 things calmed down, people walked south to other subway stations, and aside from news helicopters and some official siren-laden motorcades, whatever happened was over. I headed back to Brooklyn to see what the news has to say on the subject.
July 18, 2007