Thursday, May 8, 2008

It has begun

Looks as if street festival season has started up again...Third Avenue between 14th Street and, I'm guessing, 23rd Street was closed off last Saturday. Counted seven of them taking place in Manhattan this coming weekend. (That's SEVEN opportunities to buy four Gap T-shirts for $10 Or bags of tube socks! Or quickie back rubs!) Do these offer any benefit to the local community? I've never heard anyone actually say they look forward to a street festival -- or even admit actually going to one. I'm all for things to bring the community together (such as the various rummage and porch sales different blocks have), but just not the street fairs that seem to peddle the same crap weekend after weekend throughout the spring and summer.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Revisiting an old favorite

In a bit of a lousy mood for various reasons. (The whole city is going to hell -- more than usual, anyway!)

So! In times like these, I watch/listen to an old favorite. (Only seen this a few hundred times. But still.)

Oh, I liked that. Let's do another.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"This is one of the last vestiges of the anarchistic, crazy Lower East Side"

Jeremiah has the scoop that the Tower of Toys is coming down at the community garden at Sixth Street and Avenue B. This, of course, is the work of the late Eddie Boros, a lifelong resident of the East Village...not to mention a legendary regular at Sophie's. (A lot of his artwork still adorns the bar.) Mrs. Grieve and I just had a conversation about the tower over the weekend. The garden had an open, uh, garden on Saturday and Sunday. In the short time that I was there, I'd say some 20 tourists walked by and took admiring photos of Eddie's creation. However much we liked the sculpture, we wondered how much longer it would be part of the garden. (Eddie passed away in April 2007.) For starters, there was the community garden politics: Many people involved there hated the thing. Here's an article from The New York Times dated Nov. 22, 1998, by Karen Angel:

Junk Art Roils a Garden
The junk sculpture on Sixth Street and Avenue B looms above the surrounding tenements like a psychedelic treehouse. From its limbs of raw lumber hang a huge headless Godzilla, a gold mannequin with a horse's head, stuffed animals and other motley objects. For the community garden that houses Eddie Boros's growing sculpture, it has become a source of controversy along with the artist himself, a self-described alcoholic and trash picker who finds his materials in garbage cans and Dumpsters.

Mr. Boros, 66, began building on a 4-by-8-foot garden plot about 15 years ago, as a form of protest. He had been using the vacant land to make carvings, and when the Sixth and B Community Garden was organized, the founders wanted to relegate him to one plot. "I decided to build a little open shed," he said. "I was going up 10 feet, and something started in me. I went up 15 feet, 25 feet." Now the sculpture is about 65 feet tall and occupies six garden plots, and he plans to take it 5 feet higher.

"Eddie is building out of anger," said David Rouge, a founder of the garden. "He has never accepted the authority of the garden." Seven years ago Mr. Rouge led an unsuccessful effort to evict the sculpture. He had to settle for a ruling that forbade Mr. Boros from making it bigger. But Mr. Boros follows his muse, not the ruling.

The sculpture often elicits debate among garden members. "There are these wild raucous meetings with screaming," said Karen Schifano, founder of the garden's mediation committee.

Jimmy Dougherty, a garden member and a film maker, said that most members are defenders of the sculpture. "People are either repulsed by the sculpture, or they think it's beautiful," said Mr. Dougherty, who did a documentary about Mr. Boros that was broadcast on PBS stations this year. Because the sculpture elicits such strong reactions, he said, "it's a successful art piece."

Mr. Boros often climbs to the top of his sculpture. "He sits up there like a pirate in a crow's-nest surveying the neighborhood," Ms. Schifano said. "This is one of the last vestiges of the anarchistic, crazy Lower East Side."

(Here's another piece on Eddie from the Times.)

As Jeremiah notes, you can pay your respects: "Before it's gone, come to An Informal Celebration of the Tower of Toys, Sunday, May 11, 7pm - 9pm at the 6th Street & Avenue B Community Garden."

Anyway, another day, another piece of the neighborhood's soul is lost.

[A reader on Curbed pointed out this video from 1988:]

This is exactly the reason why we'll never get a Wal-Mart in this town

Ha on that headline. Anyway, for whatever reasons, the editors at Time Out New York thought it would be a good idea to ask New Yorkers to strip for this week's issue. And there were plenty of volunteers. See for yourself. (Really NSFW.)

Flour power: "If you're a city slicker like Pam Foster, you come from Waterloo, Iowa. You learn fast..."

That headline is from the intro voiceover in the first video here, a spot for Gold Medal flour from the early 1960s. (What can we take away from this ad? That a woman only needed a bag of flour to be happy...?)
Here are several other vintage NYC-related TV commercials from the 1970s and 1980s...

[$39 for a hotel room in Manhattan!]

Shocker: Rents are probably going up

From the Times:

The board that regulates rents for New York City’s one million rent-stabilized apartments proposed a tentative range of increases Monday night that could lead to larger increases than last year’s.

The city’s Rent Guidelines Board recommended increases of 3.5 percent to 7 percent for one-year leases and 5.5 percent to 9.5 percent for two-year leases. The nine-member board will hold two public hearings on June 11 and June 16 and is scheduled to set a final number, not a range, at a meeting on June 19.

The proposed range of increases apply to leases renewed between Oct. 1, 2008, and Sept. 30, 2009.

The board’s 5-to-4 vote left both tenant advocates and landlord representatives equally disappointed. A landlord group had called for higher increases, while tenant leaders, many of whom are pushing for substantive reform of the rent-stabilization system, supported a proposal by some board members for a rent freeze.

“I’m afraid it’s going to be higher than last year’s increase, and last year’s increase was way too high as it was,” said Barry Soltz, 51, the legal coordinator for the tenant association at the rent-stabilized Janel Towers in the Bronx. He was one of a few dozen tenant advocates at the meeting, which had a low turnout compared to previous years.

Why the low turnout? Reports the Post:

With so much at stake, the board's meeting at Cooper Union in the East Village drew the sparsest crowd in recent memory. It lasted just an hour.

"I want to know where everybody is," said Adriene Holder, one of two tenant representatives on the nine-member board, as she scanned an audience of less than 100 in a room that could hold five times as many.

Afterward, Holder said tenants stayed away because they've come to view the entire process as "a sham."

[Photo: G. Paul Burnett/The New York Times]

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dumpster of the week

Along First Avenue north of 7th Street. Hmmmmmm...Take a big, deep breath, kids.

Articles that I won't be reading this week

From New York, a profile of Taavo Somer, proprietor of Freemans, etc. The sub-head alone is enough to scare anyone off:

For those in search of the next groovy thing, Taavo Somer, proprietor of Freemans and the new Rusty Knot, is the prey of the moment. His downtown anti-style wants to have it all ways all the time—ironic and earnest, neurotic and carefree, cool and cheeseball

Actually, I did read the first three paragraphs, where there was a discussion on the old ice machine at Joe's:

To Somer, however, the ice machine was an object of mysterious beauty. He’d moved to New York to be an architect, and although he’d quit the profession almost immediately, he retained an architect’s compulsive tendency to deconstruct interiors, to take them apart in his head and figure out how they worked. “That ice machine was just kind of awesomely utilitarian,” he says. “The inner workings were right in front of you, not hidden away in some super-refined way.” Somer soon found himself filling drawing pads with studies of dive bars—detailed renderings of fictional haunts where he imagined his friends would hang out. The places he drew looked like Joe’s, with one crucial difference: Everything accidental was now orchestrated, the ice machine a piece of the design. “You don’t know it, but that’s what makes a place like that so comfortable,” says Somer. “That’s why you want to come back every night.”

Do you blame me for stopping after this?

Also, not to pick on New York, a magazine I generally like, there's the cover story on something called Sex and the City. The headline and sub-head here make the article seem sympathetic to the star.

Sarah Jessica Parker Would Like a Few Words With Carrie Bradshaw
The Sex and the City star likes Victorian morality tales, frets about artistic purity, and laments the passing of Old New York. So how did she become the poster girl for the New Manhattan

Let me know how it goes.

Meanwhile! The New York Daily News also thinks New Yorkers care about the Sex and the City movie. What else would explain the paper running an EXCLUSIVE review of the movie 25 days before it opens? Great scoop, thanks! Oh, and Features Editor Colin Bertram gives it a breathless four out of five stars.

Meanwhile, does anyone die in the movie? Does anyone here care?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Deal of the week

Hip and Happening East Greenwich Village! Open living room with hideaway bed! Almost floor to ceiling wall-to-wall windows! Just steps to street. Amenities are inclusive of free Wi-Fi and unlimited garbage pickup.

As the sun goes down, this neighborhood comes alive! Mere steps to the vibrant East Village / LES scene, shops and boutiques! A stones throw to happening Ludlow and Clinton Steets! F V J M Z a short stroll away! Off the Avenues for easy cab access 24hours a day! Coffee shops, clubs, lounges, restaurants and all neighborhood amenities!

This is almost an actual ad -- bits and pieces from a few that I saw. Changed a detail or two. And it's only $2,695.

Scenes from a Derby day

Had more. But not feeling all that festive.

[At the OTB on Delancey]

Back at the OTB on Delancey. Not all that thrilling. But a tiny slice of life there. Went the sneaky, hidden camera route for a variety of reasons, mostly not to draw any attention to myself...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

So long, OTB (and happy Derby day)

The Kentucky Derby is today. And in the EV Grieve household (aka, apartment), it's a national holiday. There are screenings of The Lemon Drop Kid, Saratoga, The Killing and Seabiscuit. Well, won't get into all the rituals. Don't want you to think we're really weird. Oh. And there's the ceremonial trip to an OTB parlor. This year, though, the whole thing is a little bittersweet. Bloomberg is pushing for these things to shutter after the Belmont. Anyway, much has already been written about the future of OTBs. In fact, the state just closed two, including the parlor right by my office at 17 John St.

I'm stunned that the state closed this location for good at 7 last night, HOURS BEFORE THE BIGGEST BETTING DAY OF THE YEAR.

Idiots, yes? As the Post reported, the branch, open since 1982, generated bets of $5,915,870 in fiscal 2007.

I stopped by John Street yesterday at lunch. There were FOUR people inside. It's actually a lovely little spot. The paneled walls give it a basement rec room feel circa, well, 1982. There are 12 betting windows (15 if you count the three automated tellers). Yesterday, only three of the windows were open. I was shocked how quiet it was. I took exactly one picture inside the door (and a lousy one at that) before I was shooed away by a OTB worker standing guard by the door. I tried to explain what I was doing. He didn't seem interested in my story.

This line from the Times article sums it up best:

It is an ever-narrowing slice of New York that still belongs to the hustler and the old-timer. Soon it may be extinct...

Like everything else that helps give the city some character.

My shopping list today includes rum, vodka, Grand Theft Auto IV, underwear...and I'll start watching Gossip Girl

Are advertisers even trying anymore? I saw all this in a two-block stretch.

[Nice grasshopper, so to speak]

Related: More vanity.

East Ninth Street between First and Second Avenue, 7:46, May 3

Friday, May 2, 2008

“It’s a corporation, and it’s run like that"

Nice piece of reporting in this week's issue of New York Press. Apparently the Strand is a horrible place to work, with allegations of racial discrimination as well as insensitive treatment of pregnant workers. Not to mention the vermin.

"It’s not the East village hipster bookstore it’s presented to be,” said one current 26-year-old male employee. “It’s a corporation, and it’s run like that."

An aside, I didn't realize that corridor along Broadway was once a haven for book stores. According to the article: "In 1927, Ben Bass opened the Strand on Fourth Avenue, which was also known as Book Row, a stretch from Union Square to Astor Place filled with 48 bookstores. Today, the Strand is the only one that remains in operation."

Another aside. Thinking about something Alex wrote at Flaming Pablum: "I fear that very soon, all the record stores in Manhattan -- big and small, corporate and independent -- will be a thing of the past. And that, my friends, is going to be a sad day. And book stores will be the next to go."

I hate to say that he's going to be right...but he's going to be right.

And, uh, an aside to the asides: Sure, I'm used to advertising being on Page 1, but those American Apparel ads are really annoying.

[Via Gawker]

New York City subway films of the 1970s

So I've been yammering away about the remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. It has made for some nice conversation at the bar. You know, great New York subway-related movies. Lo and behold, I found a clip on YouTube featuring "New York City subway films of the 1970s." (No French Connection or The Taking of Pelham One Two Three in this montage that includes Death Wish, King Kong and The Warriors.

Oh, speaking of The Warriors, this scene spooked me when I first saw the movie 100 years ago.

Now, it just seems kind of...funny. "Ohh, scarey! One of the guys from Loverboy with a falsetto is clinking those empty pony bottles together...Please stop!"

Soon we'll be saying, "At least it's not a Starbucks AND a bank"

Are there that many Starbucks/bank combos around town? (This one only shares an entrance -- the businesses are separate. But the thought of them together...) I've never paid much attention. Saw this one om Sixth Avenue in the 50s. Actually, it was handy. I could use the ATM to get enough money to buy a cup of coffee. [Booing myself]

Thursday, May 1, 2008

They're filming the episode in which the rent on Bert and Ernie's one-bedroom basement apartment goes from $900 to $2,950

Bicycle thieves suck

Along First Avenue.

"In a changing world, The Villager is still here"

That's John W. Sutter, publisher of The Villager, the weekly community newspaper now celebrating its 75th anniversary. These days, The Villager is the one paper I can honestly say that I look forward to reading. I'll walk around Wednesday night to check out The Villager boxes to see if the paper has been delivered. (I did this years back on Tuesday nights to get the Voice, which I no longer read on a regular basis.) I admire the paper's devotion to community issues...and appreciation of the community spirit that, despite everything from NYU to chain stores, can still be found in the neighborhood.

I started my journalism career at a similar chain of community newspapers that were locally owned. I covered all sorts of meetings (school boards, city council, zoning, etc.). This was almost 20 years ago. The plot lines seem to be the same, from a Midwestern city to here. We had the greedy developers hoping to build six luxury homes on a small parcel of land that would have ruined the fabric of a quaint neighborhood. There were chain drug stores taking over old mom-and-pop storefronts. Locally owned eateries closing to make way for some hideous chain restaurants.

Anyway, there are several essays on the paper's history right here. Here's to 75 more years.

What people at other sites I really like are writing about...

Cheap crap in the old Tower space (Flaming Pablum)

The Obama fund-raiser at Mona's (East Village Podcast)

Jeremiah continues his tour of Yorkville (Jeremiah's Vanishing New York)

Last of the Kiev (Lost City)

A heroin OD in Tompkins Square Park (Neither More or Less)