Sunday, August 31, 2008

Navy Yard Lounge - the best/sketchiest dive bar in hipster Brooklyn?

We've been going to NYC a ton lately, almost exclusively to Manhattan, and we've gotten a little bored by how clean and sterile everything seems to be. I even tried Hell's Kitchen, the Lower East Side and The Bowery, but still- a Starbucks and/or American Apparel on every corner, it seems.

Living where I do, I see some really BAD dive bars and other business establishments that I cannot believe are still open, given the sorry state of their exteriors. But I did not expect to see this phenomenon in a trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn (DUMBO). Well, it wasn't exactly IN the trendy neighborhood, perhaps, but certainly "adjacent," and definitely within stumbling distance of Williamsburg hipsters in pricey lofts who love slumming in places like this.

Yesterday, we walked several miles, from uber-trendy Williamsburg (Brooklyn) to newly-swanky DUMBO via Brooklyn's industrial waterfront. This trail is not exactly in the tourist guidebooks, but we self-styled "urban anthropologists" were looking for beauty like the dilapidated Brooklyn Navy Yards (which closed in the 1960s and parts of which are hauntingly decayed and overgrown at this point, particularly the Admirals' or Officers' Row housing).

When we came across this gnarly building, there was so much going on at the front door, I crossed the street for a closer look. The "rules" posted on the front door were just awesome- exactly like something I'd seen Upstate. Except they looked like a drunken pirate wrote them. What is with the 23-year-old-drinking-age? Belt-and-suspenders approach, I suppose.

It was about 4 pm and the front door was locked. Places like this usually open at like 6 am, right? I made a point to take a photo of the address so I could be sure to look the place up at the NYS Liquor Authority's website, to see how old the place was, and when it went out of business. Perhaps when the Navy Yard closed, 4 (count 'em FOUR) decades ago, leaving this area barren and desolate, except for a few public housing projects nearby?

WAIT! What was that catching my eye, a few feet around the building facade? Was it . . . a red neon beer sign light ON in the window? There is actually electricity running to this hellhole? I walked a few feet down the sidewalk to find the establishment's liquor license- valid 2006 through 2008! NO WAY!

I am all for dive bars- downtown LA's Skid Row has some excellent ones. But this one- I dunno, maybe it's because I don't know the area, but I just think you'd go in there and wake up in an alley, minus a kidney or something. It's just that scary. I have obtained liquor licenses before, and let me tell you- it is tough to get a liquor license in New York state. The authorities really put the applicant through the third degree, making them submit fingerprints, photos of the place, detailed drawings and an application so detailed it even asks what type of background music might possibly be played.

This place? How did it ever get - and keep- its liquor license? Even an allegation of prostitution, or one-too-many police calls to the place- and it's outta business.

The Superfly Hasidim of South Williamsburg, Brooklyn

As we were wandering around Williamsburg, Brooklyn yesterday, we were struck by the huge number of Hasidic Jews walking around (it was their sabbath, so they were really decked out, and also traveling in family-packs.) Living in LA and New York, we've seen tons of orthodox Jews before. But the specific flavor we saw yesterday begged much more inquiry.

I had read about the conflict in Williamsburg between the 60-year-old Hasidic community there and the fast-encroaching artists and yuppies, but I didn't realize how huge and hardcore this particular Jewish community was.

It seems that the Jews of South Williamsburg are a sect known as Satmars. They are Hungarian in origin, and the community began just after WWII, comprised mainly of newly-arrived Holocaust survivors. The sect stresses re-population of their decimated ranks, and we saw several families with 7 or 8 kids. There are about 200,000 Satmar worldwide, and about a third of that number lives in this little area in South Williamsburg. Due to the high birthrate, this community doubles in size every decade. I won't go into more detail here, because there is way too much to write about and I could never do it justice. If you're interested, I found a couple of blog entries- here and here- that are really excellent and detailed (lots of photos, too!)

[Side note: it's ironic that this conservative sect, which tries sooooo hard to stay isolated and apart from mainstream America, is now getting up-close-and-personal attention by the blogging community, probably as a result of all the hipsters moving into their neighborhood in recent years and coming into (at least visual) contact with them.]

Since my goal is to entertain (and not really to educate), I'll be shallow and drill down on the most immediately-curious thing about the Satmars: their SWEET HATS. These are not your ordinary-run-of-the-mill-Hasidic-guy hats. No, boring wide-brimmed fedoras they are not. These babies are TREMENDOUS. John described them as "mink cat beds." They are called shtreimel (or "ex-SHTREIM-el!!!" as John called them.)

Turns out, the Satmars are the only group that still wears these traditional hats, which are made of beaver and cost- ready? ready? are you SURE?- $5,000!!!! They are worn by married men, and traditionally given by the father of the bride. Tack THAT onto "miscellaneous wedding expenses." They are so pricey that they have become the object of theft and also, it seems, competition. Sort of the Satmar version of "bling," if you will. There is even a movement to cap their cost (get it? "cap"? ha!)

The Satmar wear other types of clothing that are definitely unique (why do all the girls and women have flowers on their black dresses?) The men wear black silk (something about a prohibition on wearing wool) robes that looked to me EXACTLY like Hugh Hefner's, along with some very sweet white socks and black slippers. If it weren't 80 degrees out, these Satmar outfits would be downright PIMP.

(Is that a lightening bolt I see headed my way???)

NYC GRAPHIC graphic design

We were in DUMBO, Brooklyn yesterday- which is an artsy area carved out of crumbling warehouses, naval shipyards, and power plants. Which is why it was particularly ironic to see, amidst all this urban decay, someone would take such offense to the thought of a dog adding his own 2 cents to that mix. But really, REALLY, do ya have to be sooooo graphic? Gross.

Cupcake Haterz

As we know, I am not cool. So if even I have known for some time now that $5 cupcakes are all the rage lately (thank you, Marie and Lauren!), they must be really huge. In L.A., it's Sprinkles and in NYC . . . I don't know- Crumbs? Magnolia? Not sure. Again, not cool enough.

But I did realize that cupcakes were so huge that they had become synonymous with a certain breed of hipster (that's the millennial name for the "yuppie scum" of 80s fame). Evidence: We were exploring a gritty, transitional area of Brooklyn yesterday and I couldn't help but laugh at this sticker I found slapped into the doorway of a rusty, crusty industrial building. The industrial area, DUMBO, was forgotten for decades after WWII until artists, priced out of SoHo, started homesteading in the 1970s/80s. By the late 1990s, it was all over for the starving artists, and million dollar condos are now standard. So enjoy this protest, all you cupcake eaters:


Thursday, August 21, 2008

L.A. vs. Binghamton: Who has the better ranters?

If you've ever walked around a downtown area, you may have noticed someone's ramblings scrawled on a sidewalk or parking garage wall. But unlike me (and apparently some of my friends, you probably never stopped to read it, much less photograph it and figure out where it came from. But that's why I'm here- to do these things for you, my dear reader.


My LA-homie Marie had the good sense to send me this photo she snapped of some "sidewalk speech" she encountered at 4th and Main, where Skid Row rubs up (sometimes uncomfortably) against Hipster Heaven.

This tirade scores lots of points, actually:

1. Placement: right outside a popular community gathering spot. A wine bar, no less. And adjacent to City Hall-power broker lunch spot Pete's Cafe, a favorite of LAPD Chief Bratton.

2. Penmanship: I can't write that neatly on legal documents at work, much less with God-knows-what scratching on a gritty sidewalk.

3. Accountability: The writer specifically names the people he holds accountable for his gripe (in this case, the LAPD's crackdown on Skid Row "quality of life" crimes, possibly in response to a surge in economic development and loft-dwellers in the area). In naming the many objects of his wrath, the author hits all the right officials: the real estate developer who kicked-off the gentrification, the city councilwoman, LAPD Central Division Captain and the Commander, and the City Attorney.

4. Spelling Counts!: In naming these parties, he has better spelling than the L.A. Times some weeks. True, he flubbed City Attorney Delgadillo's name, and I note that he didn't even attempt the challenging Mayor Villaraigosa's (made up) name, but I won't hold either of these against him.

5. Messaging: After reading what I thought I was going to be an incoherent rant, I realized he's actually got it together. I hear him loud and clear: He's pissed at the "unequal application of the law" and that certainly does happen (best example I've seen: the monthly Art Walk attracts thousands of gallery-goers who drink wine in plastic cups while walking from gallery to gallery, yet Skid Row dwellers get cited for violation of "open container" laws for doing the same thing.)

6. Ownership: Very strong in the send off, O.G. Man. Way to put your full name (William Wrey Holt), and your Cowboy Name (Coyote Bill) and your Skid Row Name (O.G.) Failure to identify yourself would have been a missed opportunity at fame (like the kind he's experiencing right now, through my blog's massive readership.)

Bonus points for O.G.: He should have left a phone number or other way to communicate with him. "Any time, any place" just won't cut it. Who is Chief Bratton going to call to arrange the meeting being requested? Rookie mistake.

Negative points for ME: In the interest of full disclosure, of course I already knew who "O.G." was. I knew him as "O.G. Man," actually, but we all know that Skid Row names are jealously guarded, so their can't be two.


In probably my most egregious example of my "everything in LA is better than everything in Binghamton" mentality, Binghamton's entry into the crazy ranting contest is pretty weak.

At first, I thought the flyer taped up in the window of a boarded up downtown storefront was just more Southern Tier Graphic Design, but then I realized that these things are slapped up all over the place. And none of them make any sense. It gets no points for anything, except maybe for highlighting?

This one gets points for neatness - some points, because it looks like they used stencils - but the message is lost on me. Also, it was on the sidewalk in a residential area with not a lot of foot traffic, so it might actually lose points for poor placement.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Do Facebook "status updates" count as "reading"?

Since I began my love affair with Facebook (FB) a couple months ago, I've become particularly fond of reading people's "status updates." A.k.a. "twitter," FB status updates are the answer to the question "What are you doing right now?" They are meant to be fleeting: people sometimes update several times a day, or several times a week. Many people never offer a status update.

They tend to be very personal and offer a glimpse into the intimate details of people's lives, in a purely fun way. I decided I'm not a freaky stalker for liking them so much, since, by definition, they are actively offered up to be shared with the world.

When you post a status update, it typically broadcasts to everyone in your FB "friends" network. This network averages about 100 people- people you know- so you don't want to make an ass of yourself with a stupid status update. I have identified (at least) the following categories, with real -life examples of each (names have been redacted where necessary to protect the lame.)

Self Promoting:

[Girl from high school who wants to show everyone how cool she is now, via pretentious status updates] cannot seem to bring herself to unpack from her trip to the Turks and Caicos!

[Girl from business school, with same affliction as the above] is missing the Spa in Ojai.

[Self-styled stud of Manhattan Beach with 300+ FB friends, most of them ladies] is battling AT&T on insane international data charges.
("Insane" charges? Dude, we get it. You're so cool you travel internationally for work and/or pleasure, and apparently have really important stuff going on and must stay in constant contact with home-base at the beach.)


[Guy from my high school who lives in Thailand now and looooooooves to write about his crazy booze and woman-filled weekends in exotic locales] is recovering from a crazy and awesome weekend in Hong Kong & Macau!!!!!!

[Same guy as immediately above] just got back home... drunk as shit!! when i wake up today...i will be hurting for sure!!!!!
(At least he's consistent with his over-use of the exclamation point!!!! Why someone would want to broadcast that to 308 "friends," I am not certain.)

[Guy I barely knew through work in LA, who appears to be preparing to run for public office of some sort] is remembering why you should drink more water when drinking . . .
(Keep in mind, this went to all 766 people in his FB network. I can only assume that many/most are professional contacts, like me.)

Trying to make people think you are a better person than you really are (usually to impress chicks):

[Manhattan Beach dude referenced above] is listening to the Childrens Hospital LA Radiothon:

Taken out of context, these sample twitters are probably not nearly as annoying as they are in real life, so let's do a series from a single poster, to emphasize my point:

[Guy who will be crushed if he reads these and figures out it's about him, but there is only a slight chance of him actually recognizing his own writing because it's so damn generic]

. . . is getting ready for bed.

. . . has a full day planned.

. . . felt the earthquake.
(yes, you and - literally- 15 million other people. That's all you can give us?)

. . . is going to help my sister clean today.

. . . is off to the gym!
(this is his status update at least twice a week, usually quickly followed by " . . . is sore.")

. . . is relaxing after a really exciting weekend.
(Yeah, the excitement just oozes off of your posting. It's infectious, actually.)

For those of you who are reading this and wondering why I would be "friends" with someone who annoys me like these people do, you do not understand the unique set of social rules that govern FB relationships. FB friends are not necessarily (but may well be) actual friends. Many (most?) are the result of some sense of obligation, or just curiosity about what happened to these ghost-people from your past.

I know- I'm not perfect and I've certainly posted status updates that, taken alone, would probably fall into at least one of the above categories. But I like to think that mine are, at least, a variety- a potpourri, if you will- of slices of life.

Rest assured, status updates from my actual friends- and those people who bring me constant entertainment- bring nothing but joy. These categories and examples make my life worth living, as I sit in this remote bit of upstate New York for just a bit longer:

The Right Now:

Marie is noticing Chik-Fil-A is not as good as I remember.

Marie is very happy with her seaweed salad.

The FB-Themed:

Richard is suffering update status block.

Racquel got carried away w/sushi app; sorry guys. I figured out the more I send, the more sushi I can choose from.

Jamie is avoiding her children by playing on facebook and filling out this really lame "what are you doing now?" thing. So sad what it has come to.

Jonathan is pretty sure the new Facebook is poo.

Just hilarious:

Jonelle is not into man jewelry....especially bracelets and anklets...and definitely not together. (sorry guy sitting across from me).

Kristin saw a grown man drool in one long, vertical, mouth-to-floor rivulet this morning. While she was getting coffee.

Kristin just found out some Facebook spam went to her friends in her name, and now she feels bad, betrayed by the flimsy matrix that is the Internet.

Gerard just ate a piece of cheesecake the size of his head. NYC still does NOT suck.

Jed likes you.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Garlic Festival: Binghamton-style

What do all these gnarly photos have in common? GARLIC, of course! Well, at least they were all taken at the annual American Civic Association Garlic Festival we just returned from today. Not exactly the one in Gilroy, CA, which is HUGE, but popular around here, nonetheless. We are desperate for ethnic food, so the mere promise of an enchilada is enough to get us to wade through the ubiquitous pierogi and holupki and pay the $1 entrance fee (not making that up).

The American Civic Association is a gateway for new immigrants to the US, helping them gain citizenship and generally adjust to life here. Once a year, those immigrants return the favor by making food from their homeland and selling it at the garlic festival. There is even garlic ice cream (which no country will claim because it tastes GNARLY).

We arrived and quickly locked in on the chicken enchiladas at the end of line- 2 each, please! Back at the (long, metal, plastic covered) table, the chicken enchiladas were lacking . . . moisture, that is. I took a chance and revisited the line to see if someone could scare up some salsa from the back.
"SALLSA?" she asked, confused.
Yes, salsa. "
Yes, that's it.
She returned with a huge jug of . . . BBQ sauce. I tried not to laugh.
"Not exactly, you know, salsa? It's made from tomatoes and you put it on Mexican food?"
She returned with an equally-huge jug of actual, Costco-style enchilada sauce. HEAVEN!!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Empower Jim Power! The Mosaic Man of the East Village

Yesterday, John and I spent most of the day in the East Village, just exploring. As is my ritual, I read up on the area by finding a ton of articles about the neighborhood on the NY Times' excellent and easily searchable online database. So I guess it shouldn't be totally surprising that I spotted what appeared to be a homeless man, doing something not-so-legal to a public light post, accompanied by his trusty companion, and knew exactly what was going on: this was Jim Power, the famous "Mosaic Man" of the East Village!

Spend 10 minutes walking around the East Village and you cannot help but start to notice explosions of mosaic artwork affixed to things like walls, bus benches, sidewalks, light posts, you name it- Jim Power is the homeless/Vietnam Vet/artist who has been beautifying the East Village for twenty years. He is something of a celebrity in the neighborhood, and even has a memorably-named website:

My life appears to have become so uneventful that this sighting was my closest brush-with-fame in a long time. Pushing that sad thought aside, I vowed to blog about Jim Power (who looks remarkably like Garth from Wayne's World) because it seems that he is especially upset lately: his mosaics are falling into disrepair and are even being destroyed by city forces that don't respect the artistry and effort behind them. He's apparently so fed up that he's even destroying some of his own work.

P.S. What does it say about me that my husband was completely unfazed by the fact that I walked up to a homeless-looking guy, chiseling away at a lamp post with tools in his hand, and said "Is this Jessie Jane?" It's weird enough that I know the names and personal histories of tons of homeless people in Downtown LA, but why in the world should I know such intimate details about people in cities where I don't even live?

What good is a public park if you can't have any fun in it?

A fourth Saturday in a row for me and NYC, yesterday, so again we have a NYC blog entry today.

I've written before about Bryant Park in NYC, and how it went from being overrun with drug dealers and homeless people to being a focal point for cultural activity in Mid-town Manhattan. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised that there are lots of rules now associated with the place.

But no "drug use"? How much fun can the park be, really? I also love the hypocrisy of the rule against alcohol, which is that you can't consume any in the park. Unless, of course, you are paying $15 for a glass of wine at the adjacent BP Grill or BP Cafe. In that case, no problem!

And again we see the anti-pigeon campaign carried out. Seriously, what gives with New Yorkers and their hatred of our winged friends?

Finally, maybe it's the lawyer-in-me, but this sign begs the question: What is an "organized ballgame"? Does that mean my friends and I can go play ball there, as long as we don't look like we know what we're doing? Unclear. Aren't these kinds of laws "void for vagueness" or something?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Upper East Side: "Home of the Bed Bug Beagle"

Never in my wildest dreams (nightmares?) did I ever expect I'd find myself living in Binghamton, New York . . . blogging . . . about bed bugs. Here goes . . .

I was in NYC this weekend, enjoying a stroll through the very swanky Upper East Side, when I noticed this attention-grabbing truck. "Assured Environments" is the self-proclaimed "Home of the Bed Bug Beagle." I recalled that I'd written about bed bugs in NYC before, and I thought I'd revisit the issue and see what's up with bed bugs in 2008.

Turns out, NYC is facing a resurgence of the buggers, after largely eradicating them in the 20th century. People blame the uptick (pun intended!) on several factors: increased immigration from third world countries, inexpensive/increased international travel, and the banning of powerful pesticides (DDT, anyone?).

The part I didn't realize is that they don't just infest scummy flophouses (although please note the first sentence of that NY Times article I just linked to, which includes a "hobo" reference- BONUS!) but are equal-opportunity invaders. In hindsight, I should have parked myself near that bed-bug-beagle-blaring-bus and listened to the fussy, rich, plastic-faced ladies of the UES as they discovered the unwanted carriage outside.

Seriously, how bummed are you to find that van parked outside? In densely-packed NYC, with its common-walls and interconnected housing units, your neighbor's bed bugs are your bedbugs. I can hear the blame-game beginning: "I think Flavio brought them in- he's always taking business trips to Rome. I bet he returns with a suitcase full of them!" or "I saw Buffy's butler tossing empty bottles of DDT down the garbage chute- trying a home remedy, I say!"

So this company, Allied Environments, is pretty smart to capitalize on people's deep-rooted fear of bed bugs, and couple it with their equally-strong love for all things fluffy, like the sweet-faced beagle. Apparently you can literally train dogs to sniff out anything- from cocaine to peanut butter to bed bugs. And beagles are waaaay better house guests than DDT.