Sunday, May 22, 2016

231. Graffiti

     You see them everywhere – on sidewalks, on fences, on mailboxes, wherever there is space and a chance to be seen by passersby.  On the pavement of the Union Square greenmarket on March 23, 2016, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Brussels:


We gon
be alright

     On the Horatio Street sidewalk recently near an entrance to Jackson Square Park, just south of West 14th Street:

I was caged
but I fought back

In white chalk, so I thought, but it must have been white paint, since it has since survived several days of rain.  Under the words were two crudely drawn chickens, or maybe two squawking ducks; the artist’s skills were limited.

     On a mail storage box on West 13th Street recently, squeezed in with a host of scribblings and crazy art:


Some are problematic, as for instance, on the sidewalk at an intersection:


Good advice, but for whom?  Similarly, on East 4th Street:


And on Eighth Avenue near Jane Street:


And on the scaffolding masking renovation of a building on West 4th Street:


when there was no alley in sight.  Just as enigmatic, also on East 4th Street:


     You rarely know who the graffiti artists are, but in some cases I assume young teen-age males, known for their blatant candor, as in these two instances, seen by me long ago, though I don’t know where:

If Satan gets my balls we’ll play tennis

farts are healthy

And in the Union Square greenmarket, scrawled on the pavement in fading chalk trampled by busy New Yorkers who paid no heed:

R  U

     Some show signs of sophistication, as for instance this one, scrawled on the wall of a men’s room on the Columbia University campus eons ago, which was much quoted and became legendary:

God = mc2

For the knowing few, of course, this was a take-off of Einstein’s renowned physics equation, E = mc2, meaning that energy equals mass multiplied by the speed of light, squared. 

     But my favorite graffito (yes, that’s the singular) was one I glimpsed, I don’t know where, back in the rebellious 1960s:

Jesus saves
but Moses invests

     This post will not attempt a history of New York graffiti, least of all their evolution from crude sidewalk  scribbles to the exuberant multicolored art of minority youth spray-painting the sides of the city’s subway cars in the 1970s, until in the 1980s the authorities with great effort eliminated the art – and art it was, in my opinion, however misplaced – and scrubbed the cars ruthlessly clean.  For some, the graffiti-ridden cars symbolized the city’s moral and physical decline, which goes to show that one man’s art is another’s vandalism.  And the debate continues today, when an alleged resurgence of graffiti art has inspired tours in certain neighborhoods to view it, while the New York Post declares that the city must beat the “cancer of graffiti.”

     One graffiti artist who announces himself is Hans (“Ace”) Honschar, age 42, whose colored chalk snippets appear all over the Upper West Side, and who briefly about a year ago invaded the West Village – my turf – and left messages on the sidewalk outside the D’Agostino supermarket that I patronize.  His messages – at least, the ones that I have seen – are relentlessly upbeat:

the two most
joyous times
of the year
are Christmas
morning and
the end of

find ur talent
& fulfill your
for you are
the embodiment
of infinite

I saw that
my life was
a vast, glowing
empty page
and I could do

What he does, of course, is fill every empty space he sees with his multicolored bits of wisdom.  In the process he even makes a buck or two, for shop owners pay him to leave an inscription in front of their shop, and passersby pay him to take their picture for five dollars or, for double that, to have their picture taken with him.

     Fulfilling his destiny, alas, has led to a tangle or two with the police, since graffiti are technically forbidden, but like a good New Yorker he persists.  Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to a strict religious family that attended a Pentecostal church, he grew up in Florida and migrated all over Canada before landing in New York where, like so many, he knew he had to stay, with a special fondness for the Upper West Side.

I wake up
every morning
and I say
to myself
‘Well, I’m still
in New York,
thank you God’

No matter what the outcome of his skirmishes with the police, he will continue to fulfill his chalky, polychrome destiny.

    Graffiti have always been with us and always will be.  They have been found in the ruins of ancient Egypt and Pompeii and surely go back eons, probably to the dawn of writing.  I can well imagine some enterprising young caveman sneaking a few raw squiggles onto the walls of a cave otherwise adorned with marvelous drawings of the animals hunted by our ancestors in prehistoric times.  Graffiti are usually anonymous, often irreverent, often bawdy, but sometimes uplifting and inspiring.  And by their very nature subversive.  No city has contributed more to their fame and notoriety than New York.

    The book:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received two awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction, and first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards.  (For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.)  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

     Coming soon:  Mysteries of New York: Scavengers.  Who are they and what are they up to?

     ©   2016   Clifford Browder

Sunday, May 15, 2016

230. 14th Street Shops: Everything You Need for Basic Living

     When I asked a new acquaintance from Kokomo, in northern Indiana, for her impressions of New York on this, her visit to the city, she immediately came up with three:

·      The vastness of Central Park.  She had never seen a park so large and so impressive.
·      The courtesy and helpfulness of New Yorkers.  And no, she didn’t find them rude or abrupt.
·      The array of charming little shops in the West Village, which she had just encountered after a walk all the way down from Central Park.

Yes, the West Village – and many other New York neighborhoods – abound in charming little shops, more now than ever.  They give a unique flavor to much of the city, lend it a charm that alleviates the city’s impression of bigness and intensity and hurry.  For these little shops invite you to come in, browse, and linger; no hurry here, no pressure.

     For a sample of their diversity, come with me on a bus ride along 14th Street, a street that separates the West Village from Chelsea, and that refuses to be gentrified.  14th Street, East and West, is determinedly commercial, not primarily big-time commercial, but above all small-time commercial, meaning lots of small shops whose juxtapositions are often delightful.  For instance:

·      Chelsea Bagel & CafĂ© next to Bunga’s Den next to Gemini 14 next to Satori Laser next to Desco Vacuum, right across the street from  the looming Art Deco headquarters of the Salvation Army, with its grotto-like entrance with paired stairways leading into what mysterious  recesses I cannot imagine.  Desco Vacuum is known to me, since I have purchased vacuum cleaner parts and accessories there, and Satori Laser offers laser hair removal, but Bunga’s Den and Gemini 14 at first baffled me.  But not for long, thanks to the Internet, which informs me that Bunga’s Den is a “relaxed, funky neighborhood joint offering a number of beers on tap, plus pub eats & comedy nights.”  It features cushioned booths and a handmade wooden bar, but who Bunga is remains for me a mystery.  And Gemini 14?  It proves to be “a color bar salon dedicated to perfection.”  But what is that?  It dyes and styles your hair, even to the point of “magic wand” hair extensions “personally crafted to your needs.”  One good session here and you’re bound to make a hit at Bunga’s.

·      Edible Arrangements next to Smoke Shop next to Yo Yo Spa next to a pharmacy.  Which is clear enough.

·      Bling Lash above Auntie Guan’s Kitchen next to Urgent Medical Care (“open 7 days”).  Auntie Guan’s is, as I assumed, a Chinese restaurant, no doubt presided over by a motherly Chinese lady who is in love with food and her customers.  It offers northern Chinese food, including braised beef noodle soup and dried tofu noodles “with pepper lunch special.”  Sounds good, I’ll admit.  And Bling Lash?  It claims to be “NYC’s Best Eyelash Extensions and Nail Art Spa.”  So here too, a session should set you up for a glamorous entrance in Auntie Guan’s.  On 14th Street, all is possible.  And if northern Chinese cuisine doesn’t suit your system, Urgent Medical Care is right nearby.

·      Brick Oven Pizza next to We Buy Gold and Diamonds / We Pawn.  No mystery here.

·      El Paraiso Spanish/Chinese Food above City Eyebrows Threading Salon next to Framing, and over Framing, a driving school named Defensive.

·      ezPawn Corp next to Jupioca, a “vibrant outpost for blended fruit juices, protein shakes, tapioca drinks, smoothies & more.”

·      Toosh next to Electronics – but what, oh what, is Toosh?  A shoe store, it turns out.

·      Dragon Tattoos over Cigarville next to 24hr Parking (clearance 6’8”).

·      Potbelly Sandwich Shop next to Sprint next to Wigs Plus next to Lighting and Beyond, which offers lamps and electrical appliances.  Sprint baffled me at first, but now, thanks again to the Internet, I know that it is a “provider of wireless plans, cell phones, accessories & more.”  Wigs Plus, never a mystery to me, has a collection of “gorgeous wigs, extensions and hair pieces … something for every occasion.  Shop today!”

     Let there be no doubt, on 14th Street you can satisfy every conceivable need – not luxury needs, but the basics.  You can spruce up your appearance, pawn something if necessary, and buy cigars, smoothies, wigs, pizza, cell phones, and vacuum cleaners, and have a good meal at Auntie Guan’s and a beer at Bunga’s.  And if these material delights aren’t enough, and Urgent Medical Care can’t help, there’s always the Salvation Army.

     To round things out, let’s have a quick glance at the Union Square greenmarket, which is often the destination of my eastbound Wednesday morning bus rides on 14th Street.  Most of the stands there are familiar to me, but recently I discovered two new ones.  The John D. Madura Farm of Orange County offers a variety of mushrooms at its stand, one of which was completely new to me: the maitake mushroom.  Native to both this country and Japan, it is also known as hen-of-the-woods.  It’s a big brown thing the width of your hand with the fingers outstretched – for a mushroom, plenty big.  Being a cluster of curled or spoon-shaped caps, it looks like an out-of-control growth, but the stand assures us that the maitake has a woody flavor suitable for everything from soups to salads.  It’s weird in appearance, fascinating, but I have yet to give it a try.

     Near the maitake stand is a stand with a sign that caught my eye:

growing   malting   mashing
distilling   aging   bottling
Orange County Distillery

Yes, from Orange County come some more novel products that should appeal to locavores: vodka, gin, bourbon, and corn whiskey – farm-to-bottle spirits produced in that county’s fertile Black Dirt Region.  So there you have it: one quick visit to the greenmarket, and you can gobble a woody-tasting maitake washed down with a shot or two of genuine New York State-produced bourbon.  No need, then, to patronized Auntie Guan, though in this richly diverse city there’s certainly room for all. 

     The book:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received two awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction, and first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards.  (For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.)  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

     Coming soon:  New York Graffiti.  And then, Mysteries of New York (there are many).

©   2016   Clifford Browder


Saturday, May 14, 2016

No Place for Normal: New York: Sheri Hoyt review

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World
Clifford Browder

Mill City Press, Inc. (2015)

ISBN 9781634137249

Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (3/16/16)
“No Place for Normal: New York” by Clifford Browder is a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City. Readers are regaled with tales about city icons - from street characters to celebrities, famous restaurants, and tourist locations such as Greenwich Village, Union Square, and Central Park, rounded out with tales of inspiration, adventure, drama, and nightlife. New York City has no room for anything normal - the more eccentric, different, weird, and astonishing, the better. It is undeniably the most unique city in America, as demonstrated in these great stories.
Although a transplanted Texan of many years, my hometown is Saratoga Springs, New York. That noted, I must say that one of my favorite stories in the book is “Upstate vs. Downstate: The Great Dichotomy.” Even as a child, I remember when people asked me where I was from I would always respond “Upstate New York” as opposed to just “New York,” clearly wanting to establish the difference in the inquirer’s mind. I don’t recall how that was ever ingrained so deeply in my mind; even so, I can’t imagine what would have happened if NYC had succeeded in seceding from the state!
I believe one of the most interesting stories in the book is on the back cover. I found the author’s short bio to be an interesting story in and of itself. Browder, a writer and retired freelance editor, resides above the Magnolia Bakery – you know, the Sex and the City Magnolia Bakery! He has never owned a car or a television, and in his own words, “shuns the cell phone and tolerates the computer!” Living in New York City – unplugged? Now that’s a story!
I thoroughly enjoyed “No Place for Normal: New York” by Clifford Browder and highly recommend it to all fans of entertaining short stories and lovers of New York City. It would also make an interesting travel guide for people who just want to learn more about the city that never sleeps!

*                        *                       *                        *                         *

 The book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

Sunday, May 8, 2016

229. Computers Are Stupid

      I hate computers because they’re stupid, just plain, flat-out stupid.  Oh yes, I know they can do fantastic computations and beat us paltry humans at chess, but that’s not smart in the true sense of the word.  They can’t reflect, weigh alternatives carefully, and make logical decisions.  They can only do what they’ve been programmed to do, which makes them the equivalent of a moronic robot, or maybe worse.  Here are some examples of their stupidity.

     When I turn my computer on and want to go online, I get this message:

None of your preferred networks are available.
Choose the Wi-Fi network you want to join from the list below.

This makes no sense to me, nor can I comprehend the gibberish in the boxed list accompanying this message.  So I click “Cancel” and try again, at which point I get the same message and have to click it off again.  And when I do get online, I get a message that I am not online, even though I obviously am.  When I consulted an Apple genius at my local Apple store, all he could suggest was to keep on canceling the first two messages and ignore the third.  So the merry little game continues.

     But there’s worse.  If I touch the screen ever so lightly, it magnifies; the print becomes ten times larger.  So I touch it again, this time intentionally,  usually what’s on it jumps around.  After several more attempts, finally I get back to normal-sized print … maybe.

     On other occasions I get a message that I’m not connected, which in this case is usually true.  Why this should suddenly happen isn’t clear.  So I click the keyboard on, which may or, more often, may not help.  Then I click the mouse off and then back on, likewise usually to no effect.  So with great reluctance I turn the computer off, turn it back on, and wait.  Sometimes this works, and sometimes not.  If it doesn’t, I have to turn the modem off, turn it back on, and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  Slowly the little lights start flashing, informing me that the power is on, then USB (whatever that is), then DSL (ditto), and finally, at long last, the Internet.  But if I didn’t save whatever I was working on when the connection went out, that material is lost.

     And the much-vaunted memory of computers is, to say the least, flawed.  They think they know what I want, based on some past venture, which may have been an error on my part.  As a result, I am offered items that are totally irrelevant.  If I check the stock market, I’ll get offers of low-cost trading, and unsettling announcements about how the market is about to plunge to the nethermost depths, or maybe soar to celestial heights.  None of which interests me in the slightest.  On other occasions I’ve been offered Viagra.

     Then there’s spam – tons of it.  It used to be rare, but now – probably because of some innocent digital foray of mine – it assaults me daily with sweet irrelevancies like these:

·      Mediterranean cruises
·      24-hour road assistance for my nonexistent auto
·      No-hassle life insurance
·      A home warranty that will save me big money
·      A reverse mortgage calculator
·      A program to take off two pounds of belly fat daily
·      Surface coatings to protect my wood, steel, or concrete floors (they should see my floors – all splinters!)
·      A device to charge my devices without cables
·      Help in finding an attorney (“Don’t procrastinate!”)
·      A free (so they insist) cellphone with unlimited texts
·      Burial vs. cremation
·      A degree in marketing
·      An offer to fly business class
·      A camera system to provide security and surveillance in my business
·      New tires at a discount
·      Energy-efficient windows that pay for themselves
·      Help in shopping around for a sports utility vehicle
·      Photos of singles 40+ in your area, free (Wow!)

These offers aren’t just irrelevant; they’re farcical.  But when I try to implement the promised spam detector, I go in circles.

     Granted, some knavish souls might suggest that I’m the stupid one, not my or any other computer.  But computers are supposed to make life easier for us humans, they’re supposed to be docile and helpful servants; instead, they are tricksters, rogues, and morons, depending on their mood of the moment, and the opportunities that arise.  When they aren’t just plain dead stupid, they are cunning and malicious, a real threat to our sanity and well-being.  So take your choice: they’re either abysmally stupid or fiendishly clever.  If the latter, we’d better watch out.

     A clarification: I have a Mac and swear by it.  My quarrel isn’t with the computer itself, but with its programming and whatever else may be involved.  The computer itself is fine; the software is another matter.  And these current problems are nothing compared to those of my first computer, a product of some company whose name escapes me, a company that has since, quite appropriately, gone out of the computer business.  With that computer I would get, when least expected, this message:

This computer has performed an illegal operation
and will be shut down.

And shut down it was, with consequent loss of any material not saved.  This problem, probably embedded in the software, was never solved; it ended only when I changed computers.  On this merry note I conclude.

     The book:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received a second award: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Awards for Regional Non-Fiction.  It also won first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards.  (For the accompanying review by Sheri Hoyte, see post #223 of March 27, 2016.)  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

     Coming soon:  Little shops of 14th Street, and after that, New York graffiti.  In the offing somewhere: Mysteries of New York.

     ©  2016  Clifford Browder