Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lost in the ArtChurch vol. 1: Awakenings, Asleepenings, Adreamenings, Aschemenings

A few weekends back, we attended the sanctification of an an antinomian church, located deep along the border between Bushwick and Ridgewood. We'd been to the Christian Center Sanctuary of Hope before & had participated and written about the experience and art-exorcism of Gordon Matta-Clark. So we were excited about returning and reviewing the latest event slash artattack to take place far away from the well-trod artist paths of Williamsburg and the LES. The Christian Center Sanctuary of Hope (for simplicity's sake, CCSH) is a former storefront-turned-Latino-Roman-Catholic-church-turned-vacant-room-turned-artist-haunt-slash-performance-space, run by three friends of ours: Matthew Blair, Lech Szporer and Andrew Wingert.
The playbill promised a lot: performances, photography, hot liquored drinks, theater, mime, noise band, and possibly the sacrificing of a live chicken named Lucy. When we arrived at the CCSH we were impressed by the full house of young creative peoples jamming the floor, drinking hot toddies and exploring the decor, which included: tree branches rising out of dirt mounds on the wooden floor; two enormous church pews built on risers facing the stage; a ceiling-suspended rope web large enough to climb into, laden with dangling church organ pipes; candles spinning on a Victrola player; vintage radio microphones and more. The carefully constructed aesthetic of slow but beautiful decay contributed to the atmosphere.

Someone in the audience shouted "Cold as hell tonight" and the burbling laughter belied the fact that CCSH is a church, but instead of religion, it offers experience. The experience, like regular churches, is to pull the church-goers out of their expected levels of comfort, to shift their mode of intake and let that shift permeate other processes of life. To enter the building one way and leave changed. Such is the process of Artaudian theater, named after the great pervert of French theatrical aesthetics, Antonin Artaud. Not an easy accomplishment, especially with today's jaded and ironic youth. However it wasn't for CCSH's want of trying.
The opening act consisted of a not-quite-goth girl playing some plaintive songs on guitar, with good intention. Following the music, Becky the Burlesque performer as Neurotic Jewish Mother Necrophiliac. The stand-up routine that followed would've given Woody Allen a hard-on and material for his analyst. The act subsited of both a comic monologue and a live example of teabagging corpses set to Celine Dion. Subtlety it wasn't, and life-shifting it absolutely aint. Then the third act.

A stocky, not unattractive but not particularly engaging actress in a blond wig took the stage and started to do a Tammy Faye Bakker self-help shtick. The southern accent, the "Yes, you can do it too!" power attitude, the 80s music, all of it, a little tiring and expected. Until she stripped down naked in the middle of this unheated church, and proceeded to give a hygiene and sex-ed course on the proper way to insert objects into one's anus and vagina. It was astonishing - by the gaping mouths and wide-eyed shock it seemed that no-one in the audience had seen anything like it. The performer, Ann Liv Young, was using her own splayed legs as the easel and her cunt and asshole as the anatomy chart. Eventually Ms. Young got up, butt-ass naked and all, and thrashed her way around the church, grinding against audience members as 80s house music thumped. Her aggressively sexual dance piece would have been at place in a megaclub in Chelsea, but performed by a naked woman in a blond wig in the middle of an Art-Awakening truly blew this church-goers mind.
Then Lucy the chicken came into the picture. Lucy was supposedly due to meet the chopping block right on the floor of CCSH, but an unnamed woman in tears (who according to Mr. Blair, wasnt part of the show) rushed the stage and made a plea to spare the chicken's life. Another shifting moment, bringing an audience member to interrupt the show. Lucy, along with Ann-Liv Young eventually escaped, courtesy of Ms. Young, her videographer Michael, and a getaway car waiting outside.

The next act started when an argument exploded between two audience members, who moved down to the central staging area and expounded, in Shakespearean English, the accurate process to live a passionate life. It was entertaining, if a bit too pretentious. My lady and I liked the part where both gentlemen chomped down on raw cow heart, only at the insistence of each other. After the argument, it started to rain inside the church, and a group photograph was called for, so the crowd reassembled themselves outside and all posed, shiveringly.

There was still the noise band and mimery to follow the intermission, but we had experienced enough moments of suspended comfort, and besides, I had worked all day while fighting a cold. It was a fast, long walk to our apartment where a warm bed and hot tea were waiting to soothe our souls. Following burlesque necrohiliac stand-up and naked lessons in sexual physionomy, after the almost-slaughter of a chicken and consumed raw cow hearts, tea and sleep will do just fine.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Lost in History vol. 76: Hindenburg Tour: The Humanity, the History, the Joisey Diner.

34 seconds. That's all it took for the Hindenburg, the greatest airship in the history of Hydrogen-fueled aviation to explode into flame, sink to the ground and change the world. 34 seconds from the first fire on the tail to the epic crash-landing. What's more, it all happened next door - at the Lakehurst, New Jersey Naval Airforce Station, about 90 minutes from NYC. The good volunteers at the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society provides tours free of charge to interested citizens, only on the second Saturday of the month, only at 9:30 in the morning, and only if all attendees provide their home address and social security numbers two weeks in advance. It is an active Naval Airbase after all.
We couldn't possibly pass up such a geek-a-licious historical adventure, even if, two weekends ago, it was pissing rain like Heaven's plumbing had gone haywire. Off to Joisey! Three cars from three different parts of Brooklyn took off for Lakehurst - the Levy boys plus Alisa car; the Eggplant Xpress carrying yours truly, friends Josh & Jenene, and yours' trulys' lovely new girlfriend Emily; and the roommate car with Steve and GF Zan. After swimming our way south on the Garden State Pkway we arrived at the Airbase and on our way into disaster-history!
The Hindenburg was built between 1931 and 1936 in Friedrichshafen, Germany. 803.8 feet long and 135.1 feet wide in diameter - which is roughly the length of an 80 story building. When fully inflated, she carried approx. 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen in 16 separate cells; this allowed for easier inflation. The German government paid for the Hindenburg's construction; therefore, enormous swastikas painted onto her tail and fin. Her cabins included a piano room, a reading room, a dining room and a smoking room (which utilized pressurized gases, neutralizing the hydrogen.) Her trip to the States on May 6th, 1937 was the first of 10 scheduled trips kicking off the '37 airship season.
Our guide, a well informed volunteer and former navy man Donald Adams, led our caravan onto the wide open field where the Hindenburg went down; we approached a somber airship-shaped memorial complete with historical bronze plaque. There was also a rough hand-painted little Hindenburg on a post, flapping in the tough winds. Donald gave us hard facts - the Hindenburg hovered approx 300 feet in the air, mooring lines out and down and waiting for mooring. This was when (most reports claim) the static electricity in the atmosphere (or a lightning strike) coupled with the wet weather made a deadly combo for the airship, which was venting hydrogen in order to land. Oxygen + Hydrogen = extremely combustible; within 34 seconds, it was all over.
We also learned that the legendary Oh the Humanity! newscast with Herbert Morrison was recorded at a slightly slower speed, so in the sped-up real-time version, his naturally sonorous voice seems high-pitched & charged with extra emotion. What's more, the newsreel wasn't broadcast until the next day out of Chicago, and no-one heard it live unless they were present at the crash. Out of 36 passengers and 61 crew, 13 passengers and 22 crew members died, plus one ground crewman. Two survivors are still alive, including then-14-year-old cabin boy Werner Franz.
Following a lot of snapshots, we made our way into the hangar and airship museum. Along with scale models of the Hindenburg there were relics and pieces from the wreckage. We bought some souvenirs (Hindenburg coffee mug! Naval Air force Base jacket patch!) and made our way into the hangar, large enough to fit two Hindenburg airships side-by-side with 12 feet of clearance. This double-airship hangar is the largest in the country and one of only two in the world. Hidden within the hangar was another museum, filled with model airplanes, ships and jets as well as walls upon walls of Navy, Air force and Army patches, all of which were supremely awesome.
All of this disaster and naval history and air force patches and old men flying model airplanes made us pretty hungry, so off to a Joisey diner we went! Although most of us had our hearts set on a classic stainless steel, Formica counter, burgers / grilled cheese / meatloaf style joint, but instead we settled at a quaint, cute little cafe in downtown Lakehurst. Good food, but the attitude and atmosphere was top notch thanks to the owner, a former local Bronx boy (he and Dad Levy both attended the same high school!) After some homemade ice cream from the parlor next door, we piled back into our vehicles and called it a historical disastery day.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lost in History vows 5: the Wedding Blitz. Ben Inwood & Erin Bublitz, West Point NY, Oct 12th

For those of you who weren't previous aware, Matt Levy had been issued a challenge: 6 weddings in 6 consecutive weekends. In 4 different states, in 2 different times zones (east & west coasts.) We've already detailed the joys and thrills of the first 4 weddings here. We now bring you part 5 in this 6 part series.

Wedding Number Five: Benjamin Inwood & Erin Bublitz, West Point NY, Oct. 12th.
It was a wonderful Sunday for a Wedding. Saturday had been busy: biking around Farmingdale NY with good pals and total strangers in search of cemetaries, oktoberfests, and accidentally, a super skanky stripclub. But Sunday is the Lord's day and I was booking it up the Hudson River Parkway in the trusty Eggplant Xpress, my 2-week old 1998 Hyundai Elantra Stationwagon. West Point in October is beautiful and oozes propriety as the premier Military Academy on the Eastern Seabord. I park Eggy, grab the camera and head to the Hotel. The ceremony's running late, which is good because i was slightly rushing.
Benjamin Inwood, aka Ben-wah, was my best friend in highschool. We lived a few blocks from each other, and for a good two years we were inseparable, although as different as rose gardens and cement mixers. Ben was the conservative, I was the whack-job. His folks still call me Rusty after my traffic-cone-orange early-junior-year hair. Our first travel adventure was a 20-day Greyhound cross-country road trip in the summer '98, between high school and college.
Ben went to college in Alaska; this is where he met his beautiful bride Erin. I went to the final frontier to visit Ben twice. The first trip was due to a bet I lost when, in Junior year, I loudly proclaimed to all our friends there was no way Ben would go to college in Alaska! Up I went, in January '99. The second visit occured in June '02 and came of the need to drive his car and unwanted stuff from Alaska to Brooklyn. 9 days, 10 hours of driving each day, me and Ben-wah. After the AK > BK road trip Ben and I fell out of touch; the last we spoke was his older sister's wedding party two years back. Between the two road trips Ben and Erin moved to Anchorage and had a child. Knowing my far-away best friend was a Dad at 22 was a shocker, but last I saw the kid, in '02, he was brand new and not speaking yet.
He looked good. Pleased and surprised to see me. Much stockier than in the past, but it looked good, solid, like he was a real man ready for his family's future; moving into all those scary adult stages. The wedding was outdoors on the Hudson, and the ceremony, as well as the festivities to follow, were the most conservatively Jewish wedding yet attended. There was the chuppah (the canopy under which the bride and groom stand,) the smashing of the wine glass, and yarmulkes on everyone's head. Nothing in Hebrew or Yiddish, but a heavily mystic Jewishness pervaded the whole day, much to everyone's delight. Especially the massive bowl of jumbo cocktail shrimp. Definitely delightful.
The ceremony was short and sweet, the party slightly longer and better tasting. Ben's darling family, like my own surrogate fam, the most marvelous surrogate family a Brooklyn boy could have. There was dancing, mostly haphazard. And the groom & bride did NOT want to go up on the chairs. However, without a doubt, Ari took the spotlight. A fine looking little man in a dapper suit, he walked with Ben and Erin down the aisle and stood underneath their clasped hands. He walked them back to the hall after the ceremony, and as Ben and Erin took their first dance, he yelled ME TOO! and jumped into their arms. That kid's going to be a real mensch someday.
After taking my fill; after chatting it up with Oren and Truzman - Brooklyn boys of my child- and teen-age years; after unsuccessfully trying to flirt it up with each of my boys' platonic dates; after Mediterranean salads and a take-home tin full of cocktail jumbo shrimp (which made their way into a pesto for that evening's date); after delivering the gifts (Ben, Erin & Ari live in Shaker Heights, Ohio, so this former New Yorker & his fam get: an NYC Subway Curtain Shower Map, two subway oven mitts, and a pair of subway socks for Ari); after hugs, kisses and misses with the Inwood clan, after complements paid to the bride & her family; and after much soul-searching and private joke-making with the mighty Ben-wah; after all those activities it was time to get back in the Eggplant and bring it all home. The rest of the pics are here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lost in the World's Fairgrounds vol. 75

This past weekend was the 6th annual Open House New York (OHNY), the city's ginormously adventurous exploration of the insides of often-closed structures throughout all five boroughs. OHNY covers many bases for many peoples - from the antiquatedly awesome Highbridge Water Tower; to the luxuriously lethargic Sutton Place apartment tour. From the industrial subterranean Substation #22 in Crown Heights to the open all the time yupster pedestrian Brooklyn Academy of Music building. OHNY is cool shit. CAVEAT! There are tricks of the trade to tackling OHNY. First off - avoid downtown and midtown Manhattan at all costs. Due to the architectural and explorable density of the island, most of the tours/reserved sites are chock-a-block fullup weeks in advance; for those open houses with no reserve, lines get interminably long. Also the insufferable haughtiness of seen it all New Yorkers in their prime habitat - a genuinely cool thing they haven't seen before but play it off like Clara Bow past her prime.
HOWEVER it is possible to enjoy the fruits of OHNY. First and most critical: get far away from the expected spots. Leave Ft. Greene and Astoria to the birds and hipsters. The outer rings of the outer boroughs is fab. Second: own a car (!!!!!) which can take you to said outer rings of outer boroughs. Third: don't make plans with people who get lost on the subway (thank you Larissa!) and take 3 hours to get from Brooklyn to Brooklyn via Manhattan, which would cause you to miss a geektastical walking tour of a neighborhood most New Yorkers would have trouble finding on a subway map. Fourth: Be flexible. With all those points in mind, aforementioned late friend Larissa and I zipped over to Flushing Meadows Corona Park IN MY NEW CAR!!!!! for a walking tour of the Worlds Fairgrounds, inside and around the Queens Museum of Art.
John Kriskiewicz, a visually and audibly excited architectural historian led a group of 40+ for two marvelous hours in the historical shadow of the two Worlds Fairs - 1939-40 & 1964-65. We started inside the QMA's theater and enjoyed a slideshow filled with images and wonders of the two fairs, but focusing mostly on the second one, the first Billion Dollar Fair and the last Great World's Fair. John asked us all to "look back and remember the future" in a tone half reverential and half good-naturedly cynical. The Worlds Fair 64-65 straddled two very different epochs - planning started in 1958, Eisenhower's America, highways and suburbanization. Robert Moses (boo! hiss!) came on board in 60, and nothing was left to decide by 62, so by the time the Fair opened, it was already behind the times. By the mid-60s America was dealing with civil rights, flower power, Vietnam and disillusionment. From consensus to conflict, and the World's Fair split these two eras.
From the neato slideshow we went out into the park to marvel at the always magnificent Unisphere. 13 stories tall, 700,000 lbs, the world's largest global structure and built out of stainless steel by US Steel, it is the only remnant of the World's Fair that is landmarked by the NYC Landmarks Preservations Committee. The three rings that orbit the Unisphere are supposed to represent the first two men in orbit - Yuri Gagarin, John Glenn and the first telecommunications satellite, Telstar. This giant hunk of metal had always intended to be permanent, while the rest of the Fair was temporary.
As John walked us on top of some etched-in-granite murals depicting various scenes from the Worlds Fairs around the globe, he pointed out the importance of the Worlds Fair to the people of America, especially as it opened six months after JFK's assassination. It brought people together to celebrate and enjoy themselves, just as the technology of entertainment (movies, t.v.) separated and privatized people from others. The reason we don't have Worlds Fairs anymore is that with flight, and eventually internet, we can visit the world on our own, and hardly need the world to come to us.
Other points of interest included the exterior of the Queens Hall of Science, designed by Wallace Harrison, in an ethereal style that reminds one of mitosis, undulating forms and shapes inside our bodies; a geodesic dome leftover from the Fair that is now the Queens' Zoo's Aviary; the Port Authority building, a ghastly T-shaped monstrosity now home to a banquet hall; an original Carousel from the Fair, still in use and hardly known by its users to be vintage from Coney Island, circa the early 20th century; and the crumbling NY State Pavilion buildings, designed by Phillip Johnson, massive urban detritus that once stood for utopian visions of tomorrow. All in all a simply spectacular tour, led by a passionate man with a personal connection - Mr. Kriskiewicz showed a slide of a chubby youngster at the Fair. The best part about this Open House? The bright sun, the cool breeze, the laughing children and the tangible history.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lost in History vows 1-4: the Wedding Blitz

For those of you who haven't been up to speed with the stories and subjects of my whirlwind life, there's a whole lotta marriage going on. From the middle of September to the middle of October I have been invited to, and plan on attending, 6 weddings over 6 consecutive weekends, taking place in 4 different states - NJ, NY, CA & MA. The last wedding I attended was a long time ago, possibly 6 or 8 years back. And now we have 6 weddings in 6 weekends. When it rains, it absolutely deluges. Some of my friends have remarked that this must be a sign of growing up; some have mentioned that maybe I might hear the jangling of bells in my own immediate future (not just yet, thankyouverymuch); some have exquisitely pointed out that I should be getting very drunk and hopefully very laid over 6 separate wedding weekends; and to quote my darling brother Gideon: "Wow. 6 weddings in 6 weekends. 30's coming up soon, bitch." So what follows is a blow-by-blow wedding blitz breakdown extravaganza - complete with pictures, descriptions, social breakdowns, stories and comments of the first four weddings.

Wedding Number One: Jordan Hoffman & Anne Farrell, Seabright NJ, Sept. 13th
Jordan Hoffman is a former tour guide for the Levys' Unique New York, but moved on to bigger and better things (or so he claims) working for UGO entertainment as well as making films on the side. More importantly, Jordan has been loving and living with his wonderful, wondrous girlfriend / fiance / life-partner Ann Farrell for many years now, 5 out of their 7 in coupleship. The sweethearts live in Astoria, Queens, in an apartment crammed with geekitude of the highest order - graphic novels, Star Trek figurines, a million Jazz albums, '50s retro kitschware in the kitchen, and a fatso catso named Goober. Jordan and Ann are lovers of life - fun loving fun having people. I would certainly and sincerely call them jolly, as well as funny-as-all-get-out.
The wedding was held on the beach (yes, those are random bathers in the background) and in a catering hall in Seabright New Jersey, about 2 1/2 hours from the city. It was a packed car all the way down there as the entire Levy clan attended. The short, delightful festivities were held on the beach, so that as Jordan and Ann yukked their way through the vows (Kerry, the officiator: "To have and to hold for better or for worse, in richer or in poorer, til death do us part." Jordan: "Can you repeat that last part again?" Ba-dum dum bum,) there were total strangers in bathing suits and with boogie boards strolling past the event. Made for great pictures. After the vows, after the huzzahs and the hoorays, after the cheers and whoop-tahs, we all went inside to get drunk and fed and danced and romanced. On the whole, a wedding filled with laughter and joy, humor and irreverence. Also a 30's style radio mic, and a killer DJ. Good interaction between the various friends, family and associates of the Hoffman / Farrell crews. More pictures of the Hoffman/Farrell funtimez are here.

Wedding Number Three: Jonathan Tull and Nina Isaacson, Mendocino Woodlands Park, California, Sept. 20-21
This wedding was clear on the other side of the country, but Jonah and I had been planning a vacation away from the city for a while - it had been the busiest summer Ive ever had, with non-stop work weeks gunning all the way through July & August, then two back-to-back tourism conferences in September - one in San Antonio Texas, the other in downtown Brooklyn. After all that tour guiding and biz building it was time for a well deserved get-away, to visit friends in San Fransisco and chockup another wedding on the calendar. Off to California, and the Jon Tull - Nina Issacson freak flag wedding in the woods! Jon Tull was the bookkeeper for LUNY and fronted a funny kind of bipolar humor, vacillating between a laid back California stoner dude 'tude to an anal retentive number-crunching Brooklyn busybody - well suited for his bookkeeping facilities. He met his not too blushing bride here in Brooklyn and although I had never met her before the wedding itself, she and I are both babies of 1980, and grewup in relatively relational Brooklyn hoods - Flatbush and Park Slope, attending Murrow and Stuyvesant High Schools respectively. I should've known this chick, probably slept with her in another life, but our paths never crossed.
Their wedding was held in the breathtakingly beautiful redwood forest campground about 3 hours north of San Francisco, 4 1/2 if you get lost getting out of SF and again if you get lost in the campground. Which we did. And therefore missed the vows, exchanging of the rings, promises, cheers, jeers and humors. But we made it on time for the festivities, and boy howdy were there enough of those. We rolled in just after the
I Dos (missed by 20 minutes! 20 effing minutes!!!) and stuck around through Monday morning. There was eating, drinking, magnificent speechifying, (no fewer than 4 peeps broke down in tears describing the love and trust of the married couple) and dancing. The food was killer - garlic sausages, grilled asparagus, freshly baked rolls with jalapeno butter. And cupcakes! We imbibed local California keg beer, top notch wine, bourbon, vodka and gin, as well as some of the more illicit California produce.
This particular wedding celebration was operating on its own kind of communal CA attitude - most of the attendees in their 20s and 30s had arrived at the camp on Wednesday, partied through the festivities on Saturday, and returned to the real world Sunday. Us lucky Levy boys got to stay til Monday AM, which meant we closed the party down, along with Nina and Jon, Jon's folks & older brother, Mom's friend and Nina' gal pal; therefore from the Sat night attendance high of 80+, the Sunday night's BBQ had just 9. It was a marvelous everybody-project, where the food, the booze, the illicits, the fun was brought for and consumed by everyone. And with too much food leftover, Jonah and I did our civic duties and brought back to our host in SF all sorts of goodies, including an uncooked pork loin, a case of beer, cheeses, juices, a tray of the aforementioned sausages, and the crowning achievement, a box of cupcakes. Further effects of the wedding in the woods can be discovered here.

Wedding Number Four: Bill Scanga and Sarah Frank, Aboard the Jewel, Up and Down the East & Hudson Rivers, NYC, Sept. 27th
God please, make the weddings stop. Well, maybe not until I've completed my wedding blitz. After a week-long vacation in San Francisco, I took the red-eye back to NYC, arriving 6:30am Saturday. This left enough time to get home, crash out for a few, shake myself awake, shower, shave, suit-up and head out for wedding number four, the glorious union of Bill Scanga and Sarah Frank on board a boat traversing the rivers of our city. Bill is the older brother I never had, a fellow member of the City Reliquary, an avid cyclist and the Vice President of collections at the DR, including but not limited to: pencil sharpeners, marbles, vintage bicycles, exonumia, postcards of the Williamsburg Bridge and more. Bill is also a hysterical human being with an unmatched love for life. The guy is a 12 year old trapped in the body of a 38 year old. And up until Saturday, all I knew about Sarah was that she put up with Bill's shit. But as of Saturday I learned a lot more about Sarah. That she's patient, calm, and has wonderful eyes. That she's on top of her game. That her folks are supercool. And that she's gorgeous, dressed up or down, the girl is a total babe. Bill is luckier than I ever imagined.
What more could one ask for other than a wedding aboard a boat around the East River? Maybe some clear weather, which we didn't receive. All fog and gloom. But nevertheless, the procession was awesome, parked under the Brooklyn Bridge with a very special speech delivered by the Best Man and Officiator of the ceremonies, Dave Herman, President of the Reliquary and Bill's best friend. A live soul band swung the dance floor and the bar kept the partygoers sufficiently tipsy enough, although that could have also been the boat itself. Although the food took forever to get to the buffet tables, the cupcakes as wedding cake (cupcakes are in this season) made up for the delay. As did all that booze and soulful tunes. There was an afterparty at a hip downtown dance club, but the truth is that after numerous bottles of Prosecco and gallons of sweat dumped on the dance floor, there isn't much more to tell about the afterparty, except that the only thing I brought home was my hangover. Other parties might have different stories regarding the afterparty, as well as the tequila shots that were consumed, but don't trust them. Splish Splash more pix!

4 down, 2 more to go.

The Wedding Blitz of 08 is Great!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Lost in the Hudson River vol. 74: Bannerman's Castle

It couldn't have been a more perfect day. A wide-open Saturday in the slowly closing August, replete with wide blue skies, beautiful breezes, a temperature floating in the low 80s, and a yellow school bus just aching to take off with its cargo of 30+ New Yorkers to places unknown. This was it: the final Going Places, Doing Stuff adventure of the summer, and as a former GP, DS leader (of the very first one, no less!) and a participant in 6 out of 8 there was no way I'd miss the final blowout. In addition, Jeff Stark, the organizer of today's spectacular, is a friend, colleague and role model, and his knowledge of the hidden, urban, rural, & superb New York is unmatched. I trust this man with my life, and throughout the course of 16 hour day there were many opportunities for those words to sing true, if not always with my life, then instead with my sanity, poise, calm, and the life of my new $700 digital camera.
We met in Queens Plaza, where Jeff introduced himself with a welcome and a warning: the Places we were Going and the Stuff we were Doing was, in some cases, highly illegal and certainly arrestable. There was to be no peer pressure on anybody in case they wouldn't or couldn't participate, IE even the coolest adventure wasn't worth the revoking of a green card and the booting out of a country. That having been said, the day was going to be awesome, occupied by 4 different artists and their 4 wildly disparate projects, all to do with the Hudson River and water and Jeff couldn't wait any longer. So we piled onto our trusty yellow Bucephalus, with the omnipresent, multi-talented, infinitely patient Marcus behind the wheel, and we were off!
First stop - a short fence hop in Long Island City and onto a pier to meet and listen to Marie Lorenz, a New York based artist who builds and sails her own canoes under the title Tide and Current Taxi. She had docked briefly in LIC with her canoe and two passengers on their way to Roosevelt Island and Renwick's Ruin, in order to give an impromptu talk on the power of currents and how she uses them in her project. She told us about how the East River is one of the largest collection of tidal currents in the hemisphere, and by using those streams to propel her boat, she harnesses nature to get where she wants to go.
Next up, a lengthy bus ride to somewhere upstate - nearby Beacon NY - where we crawled through a strategically cut hole in a chain link fence and scampered off to a swimming nook. This nook boasted a couple jump-off points, between 20 and 40 feet up, a picnic area (just a bunch of flattened-off rocks) and most excitingly, another handmade boat, painted tomato-red. This boat came courtesy of Paula Zaslavsky and her partner Dylan Gauthier, two sharp young Brooklynites who used to run the Empty Vessel Project but now work on an ongoing DIY boat building project, Mare Liberum. In between homemade peach cocktails and lunch; before and after trips in their lovely boat and a brief talk about how anybody can build their own pond-worthy sailing vessel; once intrepid venturers had had their fill of divebombing off the rocky steps into the swimming hole, Jeff announced it was time to move on. Farewell gorgeous swimming hole! We had 2 more art-water projects to hit.
After an ice cream and coffee hit in downtown Beacon, we drove until we came to a clearing in the road, and crossing through some bushes and over some very active Amtrak rail lines, until we were standing on the banks of the Hudson. Off in the distance was a crumbling shell of what seemed to be a castle. This was the big exploration - Bannerman's Castle, on Pollopel Island. And Jeff, in all his rational, madcap determination, was going to get us over there.
After a few back and forth trips via one leaky canoe, one tippy kayak and two rockin' zephyr motorboats, the majority of us were on the island, and free to wander around and take magnificent pictures of this unbelievable ruin. Really. Click ahead and see the slideshow.
The story to Bannerman is as eccentric as the building itself. Frank Bannerman VI, born in 1851 and grew up in Brooklyn, was the Father of Army-Navy stores. Inheriting a flag & rope business from his father, he realized the inherrent value of purchasing surplus ammunition, uniforms, heavy artillery, and other goods from post-war governments, and sold them to other nations, at peace or at war. At the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, Bannerman purchased 90% of the captured goods in a sealed bid, and needed a remote location to stockpile his collection. His block-long storeroom / showroom at 501 Broadway was no place for such weapons of destruction, so Bannerman purchased Pollopel Island in 1900 and built himself a castle to store his goods. The construction of the buildings took 17 years, not the least of which because Bannerman did most of the loyout & construction himself, without the use of professional architects or engineers. He designed most of it in an outrageous stylized Scottish castle style. The place is magnificent, with little flourishes tucked in the labels and signposts, as well as in the wall sconces and turrets.
Bannerman died in 1918, and his family continued to sell army supplies up through the 70s, but they sold the island and the building to NY State in 1967. Unfortunately, two years later a tremendous fire ripped through the building, which damaged most of the walls, incinerated the ceiling and made the grounds unstable for long-term visitors or tours. We were certainly trespassing, but were doing so with utmost care. (The Friends of Bannerman Island would probably have called the cops on us.) The pictures show the story better than these words can ever do. After an hour or so, after we had a few go-rounds the island, after a near-death experience in which Jean busted his head open via a too-shallow dive, it was time to return to the mainland.
Which we did. Went into town, had some pizza and beer. Visited Swoon's Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea, which had been docked up in Beacon for the night, but it really was just an afterthought. Then we piled back onto the bus and returned to New York, getting back to Queens Plaza by 2 in the morning. It was simply splendid - the entire day. Kudos to Flux, to Jeff Stark, to Marcus the driver and to all participants of Going Places, Doing Stuff.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lost in History vol. 72: Exit Poll Cocktail Toll

What goes best with politics? Blue-in-the-face arguing? Solipsistic grandstanding? Memorabilia collecting? Sure, those are always a hoot, but what truly makes political discussions oh so fun is booze! The addition of liquor to our political conversations allows us hard-working, hard-drinking Americans to surge forward, secure in the knowledge that our treasured opinions on personal, cultural, communal and national matters make so much more sense when they’re powered by liquor. That’s the beauty of America: when the BAC level coursing through our bloodstreams makes red and blue states meet in the middle, liberal arms around redneck necks, and we sing the national anthem (not really, but we all have a dream).
Dean Baldwin also has a dream: one that involves free booze and the documenting of ever-shifting social dynamics. Not an American but a bona fide Canadian, Mr. Baldwin was in Chelsea last Thursday for the opening of his interactive vodka-fueled exhibit, titled Exit Poll Cocktail Toll, which runs through today at the White Box Gallery. For Exit Poll Cocktail Toll, one of six weeklong exhibits shown as part of White Box’s Six Feet Under series, Mr. Baldwin brought a bunch of vodka, shelves, and curious questions to the American fashion-forward, art-going, booze-drinking public. Picture, if you will, a fancy Chelsea gallery with a bar at the center. Free vodka drinks handily dispensed by cheerless galleristas — vodka and cranberryl vodka, pineapple and blue curacao; vodka and nothing else — to happy-go-lucky hipsters and the standard gallery-hopping crowd. Surrounding the bar, mounted to the walls, are a bunch of shelves with empty plastic cocktail glasses stacked on either side of a demarcated line. Sharpied on each shelf is a question, and under each shelf is a option of two answers.
“If the election were to take place today who would you vote for?” has an overwhelming stack of empty cups — 30 or more — on the Obama side, and a half dozen for McCain. “Does Capitalism control democracy?” (pictured) also has a stack of empty cups on the YES side, and a handful (but not many) on the NO side. Another query has a shelf perched high above the heads and reachable arms of all boozers in the gallery and a ladder placed squarely underneath leading to the inquiry “Are poor people lazy?”
Chen Tamir, a NY resident and guest curator who invited Mr. Baldwin and his spirited installation of spirits, describes his art as “creating social scenarios and sparking conversation through the argument of art and the lubrication of booze.” White Box’s theme of Six Feet Under was developed to take a humorous yet interactive approach towards the election season. Chen and Dean interviewed friends as well as strangers on the street to come up with 30 questions, which were then whittled down to 13 and displayed prominently on the walls. It seemed as if patrons had a good time boozing it up and making their decisions known. If the answers to the questions surprised n -one, well, neither did the crowd of young urbanites on hand for the opening. Neither did the stack of empties on the positive side of the shelf labeled “Did you come for the free booze?”

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lost in History vol. 73 - Hip-Hop Gospel in Maria Hernandez Park - One Afternoon Only!

On Wednesday I had the second half of the afternoon off, and it was gossip catch-up time with the BFU (that’s Best Friend in the Universe, to those of you who didn’t know.) So I boogied by bike from East Bushwick to Williamsburg, caught-up with the lovely girl for an hour or so, shared a raspberry iced tea, marveled and planned a future fedora purchase at a South Williamsburg Hatter Tomatoes you've never had (but should! - email me for exact location!) I heard some on lower Broadway across from the WBridge Bus Depot, and made my way back home. After stopping to pickup some of the most amazing homemade Sundriedslammin' live music from Maria Hernandez Park across the street. So I hoisted our groceries, and biked up the slight hill to the open plaza in the heart of the park. I practically biked right into a serious urban gospel concert happening in the middle of the park, middle of the afternoon, middle of the week.
The chorus is comprised of 30 some-odd teenagers, mostly of the Latina & Afro variety, but with an assorted Asian up on the stage, all of them bouncing back and forth behind a 4 member band supporting a few different solo performers. Electric Guitar, Bass, keyboards and drums; all amplified and booming across the park, to the senior citizens on the benches, to the squadron of tykes on tiny bikes, to the dozen or so attentive listeners on the folding chairs, to the sarcastic older boys in the back row making snide comments, to the occasional hipster strolling past with a quizzical look on their face. The solo performers are alternating tracks between hip-hop, rap, soul, r&b, the odd & impressive hard rock track with a bitchin' guitar solo. But between all the nice beats, the grinning kids, the tshirts that say DIE HARD, LIVE FREE, the grooving rhythms is a message - that life is tough, drugs and violence can tempt one down the wrong road, but friends, family and Jesus Christ can help those in need.
I had stumbled upon a one-time only live performance from the YE Ministries. YE stands for Youth Explosion, and the backs of a few DIE HARD, LIVE FREE tees were emblazoned with a YE graffiti logo. Youth Explosion Ministries is a religious & spiritual group originating out of a Ministry on Myrtle Avenue in Glendale - aimed mostly at Junior High and High School students, but allowing the word to reach all. And all it did reach - the music was awesome. The positive presence was tight. The message, if one were to listen closely enough were indeed religious proselytizing, but proselytizing about the one and only God and living a life more attuned to pure expression and experience. And who can find anything wrong with that?! I left Maria Hernandez with a rhythm in my heart and an uplift in my spirit. And a badass mix cd, which I will gladly share with any who write and ask. (Along with the location of those delish homemade sun-drieds.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Lost in History vol. 71: Party for Your Right to Ride!

On Tuesday night we had the pleasure of converging at a midtown bar, in a room full of people who like to drink and ride bikes (hopefully not, but probably sometimes, at the same time). However, instead of drinking and riding (hard to accomplish, let alone in a cramped Chelsea bar), we were standing around on our own two legs schmoozing, boozing, talking shop about cycling in the city and crossing fingers for the bike stuff raffle. Welcome to the first ever social mixer/benefit for the positive, progressive bike advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives.

Trans Alt (or TA) was founded in 1973, during the cresting wave of environmental action and organizations that also birthed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. Although Trans Alt is hardly as powerful as sweeping legislation or a major government branch, they are still effecting small and large changes on the streets of New York. TA’s predominant focus is on bicycle and pedestrian advocacy, in five different fields: Bicycling, Walking and Traffic Calming, Car-Free Parks, Safe Streets and Sensible Transportation. TA stresses that it is not focused only on cyclists – their goal is the best possible utilization of our multifarious mixed-use avenues. In their very helpful green transportation hierarchy, TA demonstrates how different a city block could be if it were occupied by 50 New Yorkers in cars vs. 50 New Yorkers on bikes vs. 50 New Yorkers on a city bus. Clearly, the mass transportation mode beats private autos, and the happy cyclists trump all.

A phenomenal 110,000 cyclists travel the city every day, whether commuting to and from work, riding for work (say, delivering food, packages and documents), or for leisure. All these people deserve safer bike lanes and off-street greenway paths to get to work and home (and the bar) safely; daily commuters need more indoor and outdoor bike racks to lock up their trusty rides — all of these are causes for which Trans Alt lobbies, in City Hall and Albany, for the sake of safer roads for everyone— cars included. Along with bike advocacy, TA works towards traffic-calming atmospheres, where local community groups join the Department of Transportation to achieve pedestrian-primary spaces (parks, streets. routes) throughout the city.

Back to the booze and the blab about bikes. TA’s first mixer/benefit (because when you think about it, cyclists only get together on their bike, which is hardly time to talk shop) was a rousing success. 150 happy people (out of TA’s 6000-strong membership) crammed into The Black Door’s back room, swilling free drinks and snacking on veggies and dip. The atmosphere felt more like an after-hours office party than a collection of strangers who prefer the cycle to the subway.

Nuckel, TA’s Membership Director shared some facts about Transportation Alternatives. First off, they’re growing rapidly: a few years ago they just had 7 paid staffers, and now they’re up to 20 full-timers and practically bursting out of their office (a few flights above The Black Door). Also, TA sees itself as the wonky, legislative side to the cycling community. (As opposed to Critical Mass, the take-it-to-the-streets direct action side — with which TA has no official affiliation, although members of TA ride CM all the time.) Wonky political pushers are important when dealing with mega-bureaucracies like NYC and the DOT — to get the Man on your side, you have to know how to talk to him. To that end, TA is involved heavily with small-time players with moderate agendas — like City Council members, a dozen of whom have signed an open letter to Police Commish Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg asking that the charges against Christopher Long (the Critical Mass rider who was knocked to the ground by a rookie cop) be dropped, and that a fuller investigation into the NYPD’s anti-bike tactics are opened. It’s a start . . .

On the whole, it was a lovely evening, filled with booze, bikes, and beautiful people, excited about all of the above. Unfortunately we
didn’t win anything from the Trans Alt merch table raffle, so after two free whiskeys and some veggies and dips, we mounted our freewheel singlespeed Fuji, snapped on our helmet, and headed east, along a lovely bike path that was planned specifically for us.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Lost in History vol. 70: All Boro Bonanza

Damn you Flux Factory. Are you really that good? Can you truly tell the secret whims and desires, the wants, needs and must haves of a bunch of New York City artists / adventurers / self-proclaimed geeks / cheese-bus aficionados / travelers / cheapskates / and those in the know? It seems that way – and 54 people can prove it.
Two weekends back, Flux hosted another one of their fantastically popular, terrifically peculiar, all-day extravaganzas titled Going Places, Doing Stuff. The premise behind GP, DS is that there’s a whole lot of awesome to see in our city. And yet, people generally take this city for granted. Since Flux lost its lease on their gallery-cum-home in Long Island City (they have to move by October,) lead curator Jean Barberis (full disclosure – a fine friend of mine) realized that one doesn’t need a static indoor gallery to display the art or performance of New Yorkers – one can do just as well in the city itself. So Flux asked a half-dozen writers, artists, historians, and so forth to create an adventure-slash-tour, on board a yellow cheese bus, in which participants would have no idea of where they were headed, just a title, a list of supplies to bring and a departure time and place. Get on the bus and take off to points unknown.

I was asked to lead the first Going Places, Doing Stuff, and we delved, mind, body and soul into weird religious spots in Staten Island. The second GP, DS took us into the wilds of Pennsyltucky, courtesy of artist Douglas Paulson. Two more adventures were led – one by Fluxer Annie Reichert, in which she brought a busload of explorers to her native suburban New Jersey and accompanied her Dad on everyday Dad stuff; another journey called Wandering Restaurant, where Portland, OR artist Gary Wiseman brought people to edible areas in Queens. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend either of those two escapades. But nothing was stopping me from attending the Flux-curated expedition on July 19th. What’s more, it was the only one in which I truly had no clue where we were going.

We went All Boro. Five boroughs in one day. Ambitious? Insane? Brilliant? Check, check, triple check. Flux Factory Senior Team: Jean Barberis, Stefany A. Golberg, Morgan Meis, Jason D. Brown, Chen Tamir & Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria compiled the days’ events as personal favorite of theirs. We met at the Staten Island Ferry terminal at 9am, in order to knock off the most estranged borough first. Also, the SI Ferry is one of the only places in NY where you can drink in public (I’ve done extensive research on the subject.) Once we disembarked at St. George, we boarded our cheese bus (54 adults on a machine that should only hold 40) and the journey began. First stop was a private gallery in the backyard of a home in St. George. Some Chilean sculptor who was related to another, more famous Chilean painter. I had had a few rum and iced coffees by then, so I didn’t quite catch the guy’s name. Following the sculpture gallery we made our way down onto the North Shore, immediately across from Sailors Snug Harbor to discover the coolest spot of the day – a DIY BMX bike track hidden in the overgrowth on the shoreline of Richmond Terrace.
After running around like maniacs on this totally badass BMX track, we returned to the cheese bus to discover – our very own Staten Island cocktail! It was 10:30am, we had 4 more boroughs to tackle, and people were getting nice and soused. All cocktails coutesy of Chen Tamir. Staten Island Cocktail

6 parts coffee vodka

1 part dry vermouth

2 parts fresh lime juice

Maraschino cherry
Combine liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with maraschino cherry.
Over the VZ bridge to Brooklyn and to our next stop – Floyd Bennett Field, NY’s first municipal airport. Opened in 1931 at the southeastern tip of Brooklyn, FB Field was home to a number of daredevil pilots just as aviation was cruising from the airplane age to the jet engine age. Wiley Post, Amelia Earhart, Howard Hughes and more all made Floyd Bennett Field a space-age wonder in a pre-World-War-II New York. After a quick tour of Hangar B – home to dozens of out-of-commission Army, Navy & Government aircrafts, complete with septuagenarian Brooklyn boys building a replica of a Jenny bomber out of wood,

we went to the Aviator indoor stall for a picnic lunch and more Brooklyn booze.
Brooklyn Cocktail

2 ounces rye or blended whiskey
1 ounce dry vermouth
Dash of maraschino liqueur
Dash of Amer Picon
Shake all ingredients well with ice; then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Onto Queens! Way up north in Queens – the neighborhood of College Point, and the art gallery and brilliant loft-garage-home of local artist John Norwood, a friend to Flux. Again, more art here, some of which was wonderful and some of which was just weird. I took off to explore College Point Boulevard and score some scrumptious Columbian fresh-fruit drinks called Cholada. The day was long, hot, and brains were addled with liquor and other, more illicit substances, so a nice long respite in Mr. Norwood’s air conditioned home was just the ticket. We watched airplanes take off from LaGuardia Airport, just across from Flushing Bay. We drank a special Queens cocktail that was just as nauseous as the first two.

Queen's Cocktail

1 chunk of Pineapple
I slice of Orange, in the shaker.
1/3 Italian Vermouth
1/3 French Vermouth
1/3 Booth's Dry Gin
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

We soaked in the A/C and tried to ignore the fact that eventually all 54 of us would have to reboard that 40 pax bus, in 92 degree humidity, in the northern-ass-end of Queens, and depart for the only borough that attached to the mainland of America. Which we did. Evetually.

The Bronx. Fort Apache. Burning tenements. Yankee Stadium. Yachts. Lobster shacks . . . quiet, serene, Maine-like fishing villages?!? Welcome to City Island, population 4500. Commonly referred to as New England in New York, this impossibly picturesque spit of land off Pelham Bay is famous for seeming completely outside of NYC, yet within the five boroughs. We parked the cheese bus and wandered around the Pelham Cemetery, purportedly the only final resting place in New York City right next to a body of water. We hiked our way down the 1.5 mile City Island Avenue to the southernmost point which was when we split for dinner. Some went the fried and greasy route, some went the burgers and fries route, I went the whole lobster & clam bake route. It was a well-earned crustacean.
There’s only so much All Boro a New Yorker can handle – so after yet another impossible to swallow cocktail, this one named for the Boogie-Down Bronx, we piled onto that magical cheese bus and slept our way back to the city. They said it couldn’t be done – All Boro in one day. Clearly "they" never messed with Flux Factory.