OVERFLOW ISSUE 8 :: WINTER 2011
gowanus . red hook . carroll gardens cobble hill . boerum hill . park slope prospect heights . windsor terrace
OVERFLOW Published quarterly by OVERFLOW Publishing, LLC 555 Washington Ave., #2L Brooklyn, NY 11238 www.overflowmagazine.com
*** Publishers Samuel Carter Jonathan Melamed Managing Editor Shane Dixon Kavanaugh *** Photo Editor Jonathan Melamed Contributing Editor Jason Ng Intern Hannah Kramm
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OVERFLOW ISSUE 8 :: WINTER 2011
Jupiter's everyone has a motorcycle soul, what's yours, by Andrew Smith Edwards
Nicola & the Newfoundlander
The Ocean of Blood
Gentle David's Calming Presence a comic, by Hunter Nelson
the reclaimed life of two artists, by Kerri MacDonald from the Gowanus to the Ganges, by Jesse Cataldo
Go Figure interrogating the start of the superhero supply chain, by Alicia Goranson
Love Your Work
a comic, by Simon Fraser
The Vanishing Point trolleys try, once again, to return to South Brooklyn, by Eleanor Miller
South Brooklyn Slaughter our permanent record, by Susannah Edelbaum
Operation Slob do Park Slope moms give a shit about their appearance? by Erica Reitman
Dr. Ray Stantz: You know, it just occurred to me that we really haven't had a successful test of this equipment.
Who You Gonna Call?
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our real Ghost Busters, by Samantha Stark
female entrepreneurs reshape South Brooklyn, by Rosemary King
Atlantic Avenue's Arab Quarter, by Andrea Swalec
people still know how to roll, by Colin Weatherby
New Yolk City a comic, by Erik Winkowski
cover photo by Sarah Wilmer, contents photo by Eric Vogel.
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1. Liam McWilliams: Born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, Liam moved to Brooklyn five years ago to study at Pratt Institute for Space Age Technologies. He now spends his free time exploring the Universe. Check out liammcwilliams.com for details. 2. Robert Dupree likes fun socks. His work can be seen at www.robertdupreephoto.com xoxo. 3. Susannah Edelbaum just moved from Carroll Gardens to Gowanus, causing her mother to worry out loud that she's going to fall into the canal. She writes about food, art, and crime. 4. Simon Fraiser is a widely traveled Scots comic artist best known for his work in the British sci-fi weekly 2000AD, where he has drawn Judge Dredd and co-created Nikolai Dante. He helps run the comics collective ACT-I-VATE, and he lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter. 5. Kerri MacDonald's pillow is in Manhattan, but her rootsâ€”and her bicycleâ€”are in Canada. She wanders the city in search of food stuffs and stories. More often than not, she finds at least one of the two. 6. Eric Vogel: Three sentences? What to say? What. . . to. . . say? 7. Jeff Brown: 1) Theo Giovanopoulos will you marry me? 2) www.facebook.com/pages/JR-b-jeff-brown/434458930110/ 3) I wasn't where I was, where, why, were you? 8. Jesse Brown: www.jessebrownphotography.com 9. Marlene Rounds: May bagels be with you. www.marlenerounds.com 10. Hunter Nelson is a writer, performer, and illustrator from Houston, Texas. 11. Colin Weatherby is an all-around great guy. If you agree, maybe you'd like to buy him a beer and talk about life. He's good conversation. You can email him at email@example.com. He might take a
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day or two to respond, but he's pretty busy, you know? 12. Rosemary King is completing her Masters in Public Service at NYU. She lives in Park Slope and has trouble managing her time. 13. Erica Reitman is the brains (if you can call it that) behind the irreverent neighborhood blog Fucked in Park Slope. In her spare time, she can be found obsessing over her basset hound Oliver, avoiding all of your children, and snapping undercover photos of freaks on the subway. 14. Alicia Goranson is an actress/writer/vegetarian Bears fan who resides in Park Slope. Had she superpowers, they would have to have something to do with patience and tolerance. Most days she is very grateful for a whole lot of things. 15. Eleanor Miller is a journalist and writer based in New York City, where she's lived for eight years. www.eleanormiller.com 16. Erik Winkowski: Q: what do you call a skateboarding egg? A: an eggroll. www.erikwinkowski.com 17. Andrea Swalec is a multimedia reporter in it for the Middle Eastern pastries. 18. Andrew Smith Edwards does not live in New York. He lives in the many libraries of Columbia University and, as fortune allows, the back roads of the Hudson Highlands. This is his third article for the magazine. 19. Sarah Wilmer: Born and raised in Missouri, Sarah lives and works in New York, with her cat, Tubs. 20. Jesse Cataldo is a Brooklyn resident who loves Christmas. 21. Adam Krause: www.adamkrausephoto.com 22. Samantha Stark really likes it when people really like stuff. Also, she makes videos: www.starksamantha.com 23. Walker Esner will shoot your mom. And your dad. See if he already has at www.walkeresner.com
by Andrew Smith Edwards. photos by Jesse Brown.
othing changes. A dawn ride. At the shop by 6 a.m. Off as soon as possible. Hard to sleep the night before. The anticipation of the ride hangs heavy in the chest. On the way over to Jupiter’s Motorcycle Rentals, the streets are already clogged with traffic: delivery trucks making the pre-dawn run; fanatical commuters making the rush they were trying to beat. Jupiter’s fronts 8th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, a block up from the canal. It looks like it could be any one of the post-industrial firms Gowanus shares with Italian social clubs and elevated trains. A light is on. Two BMW motorcycles are on the sidewalk out front. Inside, Jupiter’s owner, Chris Miles, looks a little bleary. He’s thin, with intense eyes, swept back brown hair, and a rough-trimmed beard. Beemers line the back wall, along with a Triumph Speed Triple. This is the only place to rent a motorcycle in Brooklyn, and one of the few in the city. Chris threw up a website at the beginning of 2009, and by March he was open for business. I’m nervous and tired. I never ride with other people. Chris said he’d loan me one—after I signed a packet of releases and waivers—a single-cylinder BMW, the classic adventure touring bike. I almost kick it over in the dark. The controls are new and foreign. The bike is light, seemingly reared back. Chris’s neighbor, an Australian, pulls in on a Ducati—a feral, low-slung, snorting, custom job, all molded chrome and aggression. Then we’re off, whining through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, swooping through a pre-dawn West Side Highway like a flock of sparrows. City bikers are different from other bikers. There’s little of the code, a sort of courtliness observed by bikers all across America. Like, never leave another rider stranded. Always wave, or nod your head. Treat another biker, especially one who rides the same breed, as a potential friend and ally: not really a stranger to begin with; soon not a stranger at all. Those rules are not for us.
here’s an existential exposure about riding, a sort of rawness, bandaged by the leather, helmets, and gloves. A person is opened up in the way they ride—the way they approach life, their failings their bravery, their fears. It allows for quick, fundamental judgments.
“Look at Johnny Utah,” Chris says to me, referencing the Keanu Reeves movie Point Break. We are in Café 474, on 4th Ave., a drag strip for trucks and staccato air-breaks. It’s a week after our ride. My motorcycle is parked out front. “He didn’t know how to surf,” Chris continues. “But he knew how to handle himself. It goes back to that. You’re exposed, you’re naked. You’re putting yourself on the line.”
Chris is 32. He took up riding 10 years ago, after graduating from college at USC. Like many riders, it was something he’d always planned on doing. A Masters degree from NYU had taken him to China in 2006, exploring the effect of media access on consumer-goods prices in rural and urban China. Any project like that, done well, he said, leaves you with different questions at the end than what you started with. Chris’s question was opened up by a ride, from Beijing to Shanghai, on a black-market motorcycle. Rides are not something that can be told. They’re streams of intense concentration, an openness to danger, possibility, and joy. They’re all those things and something else—the thing that can shake your life. Chris came home. He first worked in government, then the corporate world—a stint at the ratings agency Fitch. But neither made sense to him after China, after the ride. So he decided to open up a motorcycle rental shop in both Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Jupiter’s rents to strangers who don’t have their own bikes. His bikes range from $99 to $159 per weekday, $20-$30 more on the weekends. He also rents by the week or the trip. It costs $2,199 to take a bike one-way to L.A. This year he’s started what he calls a Moto-Share, a bike club that members can either buy into or donate a bike to the pool. In return they have their pick of the stable for rides throughout the year. It’s $1,999 for 18 days a season. One needs a motorcycle license to do it.
he relationship every rider has with his bike is complex. Lawrence of Arabia named his bike Boanerges, “Son of Thunder.” The thing killed him. The first thing a rider does after a wreck, bloody and torn, is check the bike. Often the machine breaks easier than flesh. And is harder to mend.
once—sweet, cold, and bright like wood-pressed cider. As the sun rises out to the east, we wind along the Palisades Parkway back into Harriman State Park. Just 40 miles north of the city, the park has windy roads and steep curves, a sort of three-dimensional wonderland for motorcycles.
merica’s highways are our nation’s only truly great work of art. They are not purely functional, nor were they ever meant to be, nor are they maintained to be. The roads, especially the pre-Interstate highways of America’s first loving blush of auto-mania, were built for pleasure, calculated to delight in sculptural, architectural, and physical space; providing speed and vista; and evoking animal joy and wonder. In all their complexity of waste, destruction, and delineation, they are still our epic masterpiece, the best of us. All of this is obvious as we cut into the park, taking exit 16 off to Cedar Ponds Road, to Lake Tiorati. We slow and stop before going up to take stock. “Only go as fast as you’re comfortable,” Chris says. “Don’t push it. Watch for things on the road. Watch for animals.” And then the bikes ahead gun it, and we spin off into space. I’d ridden this road many times. It’s one of the best in the park. The curves push and drop and fall, pulling your belly in each hard motion, feeling the limits of the bike. How far you’re willing to push them, push yourself. After the first stretch of switchbacks and bends, the road takes a hard power right along a dam and back up into the hills. Finally, curling down around a traffic circle, we reach campgrounds and a swimming hole, all closed for the season. We stop, pull over in a line along the lake, smooth and veiled in mist. We talk of victories, new and old. On the track, the road, the bike, of everything but the moment we are in. There aren’t words for that.
“Everyone has a motorcycle soul,” Chris says. He was speaking of my bike, the single cylinder BMW, the kind he’d ridden in China. “It does everything I need it to do.” Compared to my Triumph, it felt light, almost as if made of plastic. It had big wheels, which makes steering a more exaggerated motion. Less dramatic, more civilized. It had floated, rather than stumbling hard-tailed over the potholes and bumps of New York freeways. The single cylinder whined, rather unlike the grunts and snorts I’m used to. It was a totally different animal.
ver the George Washington Bridge we stop at the first gas station in Jersey. The feel of the bike is beginning to make more sense. I know now what it can offer, what it wants from me. Then we power north. The trees are blazing in all the splendor of the fall, mist trails out from under their canopies. Cold bites through the gaps between gloves and leather. The air smells clean, of exhaust and water and the first kiss of decay at
Nicola & the Newfoundler
by Kerri MacDonald. photo by Jeff Brown.
rendan Smith is a born salesman. It’s a scorching Saturday morning in the Prospect Park Greenmarket, and he’s hawking solar nightlights like a pro. He turns to me, but instead of pushing one of the bookmarks, coasters, clocks, or birdhouses made from reclaimed wood that he and his partner are known for, he sells me a little piece of the Newfie legend. “I was just scared shitless,” he says, taking out his iPhone to show me a picture of his bloody face. Smith had been at the couple’s studio in Connecticut, using a table saw to cross-cut a piece of an olive wood tank that he’d scavenged from a Bronx distillery. That day, rather than being transformed into a piece of one-of-a-kind art, the salvaged wood jammed in the saw and turned into a projectile, spiraling backward and pummeling his face, smashing his glasses, and exposing his brain. He was rushed to the hospital, and surgeons came in to operate. With his flair for drama, Smith reaches the macabre punchline: “One of the doctors goes, ‘Oh my God, you have to see this.’” Smith, whose Newfoundland roots inspired the Newfie label, is used to being in tough spots. Prior to becoming a wood-obsessed street artist, he toiled on lobster boats, earned a law degree from an Ivy League university, and hustled for a Congressman on Capitol Hill. Things are a bit more sedate here at the Greenmarket, where he and Nicola Armster have set up shop a few steps from the tofu empanada and lavender bouquets folks. Armster is the less boisterous of the two, but visually she stands out, sporty sunglasses resting on her pretty nose, lenses tinted red like her pigtailed hair. Together, they are “Nicola and the Newfoundlander,” an art duo that recycles castoff wood from playhouses, peepshows, and other abandoned worlds across New York. They see themselves as part of an arts and crafts revival, with some twenty-first-century twists. What was historically a movement driven out of disdain for the Industrial Revolution has become today one focused on “low art,” utility, hyperlocal sourcing, and, on market days, performance. Whether it’s Smith’s well-rehearsed spiels about turning the past into art, or the charm of owning a nightlight made of reclaimed wood, the things are going like hotcakes. It was for these beautiful enviro-trinkets that Smith had to endure three weeks in the trauma ward—one week for each of the fractures to his skull. Surgeons thought about removing his nose, which no longer had any feeling. He has a deep scar to memorialize the occasion. “There’s still wood in my face, but they can’t pick that out through X-ray or MRI,” Smith says with a hint of nonchalance. “It’s a good way to freak people out,” he says. I gape at the phone, and, like he says, I freak out.
Smith and Armster are not textbook radicals— they drive a minivan and usually go to bed by 9 p.m. But they are the authors of the Green Art Manifesto, which rejects the rarified “high art” found in galleries, and instead celebrates work made from salvaged or sustainable materials that can be sold in public places. As the two see it, they have more in common with scrap metal scavengers than with those whose names appear on museum placards. “I like to think of it as hustling,” says Smith, who also identifies as an oysterman and a political writer. “It sounds more romantic than entrepreneurship.” But for hustler-scavengers, they’re pretty comfortable. Recently, Smith said, they got into a tiff about pricing. “She wants us to live and survive,” Brendan says. “And I just want people to take stuff home.” But as luck would have it, things have worked out regardless. In January 2010, the pair moved from Clinton Hill, where they lived for eight years, to a place on Bergen Street in Prospect Heights. The romanticism in their art works for the couple in Prospect Park, where their merchandise tends to appeal to the stroller set. Their vendor hearts, though, are in Union Square, where they consider themselves part of a community. “Crazy artists just making shit up every week” is how Armster puts it. Because a new Parks Department restriction limited the total number of vendors in Union Square on Green Market days to just a handful, they had to tweak their schedule last summer and pursue art fairs out of state, in addition to Prospect Park days. “Bloomberg’s really fucked things up,” Smith says in between conversations with customers, who pause to thumb through the stacks of organic screen-print clothing displayed alongside the crafted wood. As Armster mans the clothing table, Smith calls out to a passersby—“How you doin’?” —and preaches about reclaimed wood. This is a collaboration ten years in the making. The two aren’t married, but they live together. More importantly, they’re partners in art (and, as they both want me to know, occasionally partners in pancake flipping at family gatherings). They’ve each said the same words more than once: “We love working together.” They met in a writing class at Yale, a short drive from Armster’s childhood home in Guilford, Connecticut. After they had started dating, she said, one of Smith’s inaugural art projects was a quilt made of pennies. She remembers watching him sit on a hillside and sew pennies together using fishing wire. “Are you making fun of my penny project?” he recalls asking her. He eventually dropped the project, but he says with a smirk, “I think that in the future the penny might re-emerge.”
“Then he became obsessed with burning,” she says. “He thought everything had to be burned.” “Nicola’s the real artist,” Smith acknowledges. “I’ve basically been interning for a decade.” The couple spent seven years traveling between New York and Guilford, where Armster’s parents owned some property. They started out camping there in a 1978 Chevy van and soon transitioned to a 1961 Airstream trailer. Today, what was once a garage has been converted into the sort of artists’ haven you might see in a design magazine—built, naturally, of reclaimed wood. “Everything is different woods that we’ve pulled aside,” Armster says, taking me up to the third-floor bedroom of the open-concept house. The ceiling is supported with beams from the Meatpacking District. Every floorboard, every table in the house has a story behind it. They have separate studios—hers on the second floor, his in the Airstream. But the crafting begins in an old barn labeled “Wood, Steel Glas Inc.”—a mill owned by Armster’s brother, about 10 minutes from their reclaimed abode. Certain trees are naturally resistant to moisture, meaning their wood is easier to reclaim. Pine, Smith says, “is crap.” But Armster puts a piece of redwood, a rot-resistant wood, through a wood planer. The beauty of reclaimed wood—and the je-ne-sais-quoi that makes it look so good at an artisanal market—lies in its scars: nail holes, wormholes, and the delicate imperfections of age. For Nic and the Newfie, they’ve discovered that these imperfections often lead to good money. But their philosophy rejects the notion of growth—or, at least, growth that would be unsustainable for a two-person team, Smith says. “We don’t want the business side and the money side to overtake the art side.” As such, they seem to have found a balance. One of their recent projects cleverly incorporates “reclaimed words” rescued from antique dictionaries and refashions them into trendy magnets. Meanwhile, their natural desire as artists to keep pushing their boundaries have led them into different materials, including discarded steel trashcans, which they turn into decorative trees. And of course, there are also the “electronic crafts” in their repertoire—the solar nightlights, for instance, as well as cell phone chargers made from Coney Island boardwalk wood. It sounds idealistic, but they seem to believe it. If anything, it fits into their idea of what they should be: two artists living day-to-day, rejecting the walls of galleries and museums for the (semi) hard knock life of the streets, making political statements with pretty things. When asked how such a seemingly hard life could work out so well for them, Smith says candidly. “People love the idea of the artist. They really like that we exist. And they can see us.”
The Ocean of Blood by Jesse Cataldo. photo by Robert Dupree.
he people behind Swimming Cities weren’t invited to the 2009 Venice Biennale, the prestigious international art festival the fabled canal city’s been hosting since 1895. But they were there anyway, arriving in the Grand Canal at the end of a three-day journey that began in Slovenia. Conveniently enough, their art installation was also their vessel, a scrappy flotilla of rafts made entirely from New York City garbage. The intrusion of the Swimming Cities of Serenissia was unexpected but not unwelcome. “The most moving moment I had at the Biennale,” said New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz. It was Swimming Cities’ third major project, following trips along the Mississippi River and down the Hudson. Traveling along the Italian coast, picking up discarded objects to add to their floating kunstkammer, they earned another name from the locals. Pankabestia. Translation: Punk Beasts. In the last few months, the Swimming Cities team has been working on their latest project at an industrial workshop in Gowanus that specializes in architectural metalcraft. Hidden at the end of a long driveway, which seems to twist interminably along the bleary edge of the canal, the shop is loud and crowded, packed with pieces of scrap and material, the sound of saws echoing off the walls. Outside, in the canal, rests several thin red rafts lolling in the water. On their own they don’t look like much. But together they become something more impressive. Joined by hinges, they make up an inter-locking five-raft system, which when united will form a giant red star. Called The Ocean of Blood, it may be their most ambitious venture yet. The rafts, along with supplies including dry bags, tools, a sunscreenstocked medicine cabinet, five motorcycles, and 15 crewmembers, are headed for the Ganges, where they’ll spend three to four weeks exploring the length of the sacred river. The craft is another hybrid of artistic expression and unsightly functionality, a floating performance space that will allow for interactions with local craftsmen and artists. “The main motivation of the flotilla,” says crew member Porter Fox, “is simply to see if we can. There’s no humanitarian element to the journey other than to entertain people on the riverside and possibly let them see their local waterways in a different light for a moment.” Swimming Cities began with an exploratory jaunt down the Mississippi in 2007, an attempt to engage the myth and reality of the country’s longest river. The group transversed the entire river, from Minnesota to New Orleans, on a series of rafts called the Miss Rockaway Armada. They included live music, Volkswagen engines converted to run on vegetable oil, and a “story booth” for curious locals to share anecdotes. Floating down the Mississippi, they gleaned tales from figures as
diverse as a 93-year-old riverboat captain, an urban farmer, and a drag queen named Rosa Sparks. The next project, called Swimming Cities of the Switchback Sea, departed from Troy, New York, on August 15, 2008. It passed Manhattan three weeks later, on its way to a temporary harbor in Long Island City. It was accompanied by a simultaneous installation in the Deitch Projects gallery space in SoHo. These projects, like the trip to Venice a year later, grew out of the work of Swoon, a Brooklyn street artist known for transcending traditional forms. Her art, which has been featured at MOMA, Art Basel Miami, and the Brooklyn Museum, often takes the form of life-sized, intensely detailed paper cutouts that are wheat-pasted to the sides of buildings. Swoon is not directly involved in The Ocean of Blood aside from offering advice and encouragement, but her style has clearly informed the aesthetic of Swimming Cities, with its fascination with renegade expression and miraculously transformed ugliness. The projects, however, are in no way the work of a single person, and fittingly, the cast and crew for are a diverse and indefinable group. They are created and piloted by a shifting collective of artists and builders, which has included Obie-winning playwright Lisa D’Amour and the band Dark Dark Dark. “Film maker, writer, structural designer, engineer, motorcycle mechanic, visual artists, photographer…” Fox says, ticking off the list of disciplines. Fox, who when I visited was assisting with the work on the trailer, which needed some extraneous parts sawed off, is himself a freelance writer. “You need everyone’s skills all the time on these trips. Living on the water is like living in space.” The project is partially helmed by Orien McNeill, a veteran of previous trips who designed the boats and chose the location, inspired by a previous trip to India. When I visited Swimming Cities, he remained intently focused on the project, taking time to help guide a trailer onto a truck hitch while wearing a coonskin cap, an affectation that suggestions some familiarity with wilderness fantasies. The collective seems to have been partially inspired by characters like Huck Finn, seizing upon the allure of hazardous boats and powerful rivers, which allow for captivating adventures with decidedly muddy agendas. Despite the fact that all of Swimming Cities’ projects have involved reconstituted waste, this trip, like their others, isn’t being staged for environmental reasons. “We would be the first to admit that Swimming Cities, as it currently exists, is neither sustainable, nor an energy-efficient operation,” boasts its website. The use of trash instead appears to be another stylistic choice, which adds further to the air of romance the group seeks to evoke. The incidental
features of The Ocean of Blood—the ramshackle rafts, a holy, ancient river surrounded by mystical jungle—seem to supplement this aim, sounding like the rough outline of an unwritten Beat novel. There are also the motorcycles, which literally provide the driving force for the trip. They function as engines for two of the boats powering a paddle system. This allows for what effectively amounts to a motorcycle trip down the river. The vehicles are capable of being detached from the crafts when necessary, permitting them to be freed for land transport with a little work. In keeping with the group’s style, its plans for the trip are loose. Only a rough outline has been sketched. The boats will be shipped to Mumbai in January before being sent overland to Kanpur, the trip’s starting point. To ease the process, the motorcycles are capable of being broken down and stacked, with the deck portions separating from the pontoons, which also split in half. This will be the most nerve-wracking portion of the trip. “You worry about whether you’re ever going to see them again,” says McNeill. The crew will arrive in March or April, when they’ll begin constructing a sculptural performance space capable of hosting shows and guests while also supporting the daily lives of fifteen people. Work includes fixing and fueling engines, organizing lines and storage, gathering the crew, planning provisions, checking the weather, mapping out the route, pushing off, and enjoying the scenery. Once they set off, what they’ll encounter on the river remains mostly shrouded in mystery, even to them. The Ocean of Blood has no firmly mapped route. “We start and make sure we have enough fresh water,” says Fox. “Then we’ll see what happens.” The river is roughly 1,600 miles long, an inexact figure because it shifts every year, creating new sub-routes and channels. It’s also extraordinarily filthy in places, a fact that may not pose the biggest problem for a crew so familiar with the specifics of waste. As the clock ticked down toward the launch of the boats, the shop was alive with activity, with the last touches being completed: hinges installed, storage plans discussed, and boats painted. The following Saturday, November 6, was the launch party, and by then the boats had travelled from the shop further up the canal to the terminus on 2nd Street, just past Bond, where a grim abandoned building loomed menacingly above the water. The boats, now shaped into their five-pointed star design, were abuzz with life, small fires cooking in barrels, oysters and champagne being served in celebration—a respite after months of fundraising and construction. It wasn’t hard to imagine these messy things trawling the river, awing and freaking out locals, a gang of punk beasts sleepily on the prowl.
interview by Alicia Goranson. photos by Marlene Rounds.
Red Hook, Inu Art Studio. Not far from Gotham City, down a cobblestone street, past the projects, Dave Cortez and Brandy Anderson are under deadline, toiling away in their respective studios. He sculpts; she paints. Passing through this “transitional” industrial wasteland, just out of Ikea’s event horizon, one would never guess that two masterminds are tucked away in their bat caves, quietly constructing future clones. OVERFLOW dragged the commercial artists out of hiding for a chat to figure out the “pro” behind the prototypes.
Why do you two work together? Dave: I always felt that her paint-style complemented my sculpture. She’d just get it right—especially with portraits. Brandy: I think we’re a just good team. I’ve always thought our styles were compatible. Sometimes you can tell there’s just an affinity with people. Dave’s a generous, easy-going guy. It’s really easy. Walk me through what happens when you get an order from a company. What kind of artistic
liberty do you have creating these figures? For instance, do they give you a size? D: The size is specified: six, twelve, and eighteen inch. Then they’ll give you the artwork. There’s nothing new there. We don’t have any real liberty as far as redesigning the character. It’s pretty strict in that sense. But we can really enhance it. And there’s an articulation breakdown—how many joints he’s going to have, which might change, and sometimes is none if it’s a statue. And then I build it off the artwork that I get—keeping in-mind the scale. It’s pretty straightforward.
What about you Brandy? Do the companies give you images to work with? Or do you do the research? B: It depends. Sometimes it’s just about capturing the likeness of a celebrity—somebody everybody knows. And you try to get it as close as possible. Like Eva Mendes or something like that. They give you some kind of reference, but depending on the relationship that you have with the people, you might have more leeway. If I’ve been working with a certain company for a long time and it’s not a specific person, like it’s a comic character, you can just make it look cool. And then other times it’s totally specific and there’s no room for deviation whatsoever.
B: They’re living it. We come at it from more of an art perspective. I’m not necessarily crazy about comics. I am interested in pop-culture. But I don’t feel like we’re out there doing self-promotion like other people are. D: There are some other sculptors and painters who everybody knows. But we’re kind of behind the scenes with this whole thing. And we’re trying to get a little better getting out there, too, because it’s important. It’s nice to hear that people appreciate our work. What toys did you guys play with as a kid? B: I was an only child in the country! I played with, like, dirt. Sticks and Cool Whip! Buckets and
What material do you use for the mold?
And that was something I was going to ask. Because these action figures mean something to the society. They’re about storytelling; they represent heroes or gods to us. In that sense, it’s interesting that the story came before the figure in his case. D: Right. It was weird. It was definitely a throwaway idea. But, the cool thing is that it was so much fun. B: Well, you have developed a lot of characters. And from what I was hearing about them is that there were a lot of storylines with between them that you were working on simultaneously. And then, because of the timing with the neighborhood, because of the changes going on, you decided to go ahead and make these variations of him. One thing that I enjoy about your website are the illustrations. Having lived in Red Hook before the gentrification Armageddon, I feel really nostalgic seeing those images. They seem postapocalyptic, which I guess makes now post-post-apocalyptic. I mean, I kind of feel melancholy.
D: The sculpture itself starts with a synthetic clay mixed with wax and some other stuff. Or sometimes I use an actual wax that’s really hard but you can put a lot of detail into it. And then that’s molded with silicone and casted with resin. Most of the time we’re making at least three copies of each mold. One is going for the reproduction model and the other one is going to the studio who often just want a copy for their own. And, a lot of times, you can make that one as complicated as you want since it’s just to look at, which, if you compare these models to the ones we’re making for Asia…
B: If they keep tearing down the early, historic architecture on the waterfront… D: It wasn’t long ago at all. It’s only been like, what—three, four years?
B: It’s much different.
And when you say Asia you’re talking China.
D: Right. Since there wasn’t really a plan with that… it just snowballed as it went. And for us personally, with the economy, our work slowed down. So the timing may not have been right to make a figure like Pugzee. But it was kind of cool, because it was the first time that we had been working on something not dictated by a company. We were just winging it.
D: Yeah. Everything is done in China. B: And usually for really mass production. I don’t even know how many thousands, thousands, thousands. It just depends on how much money they put into it. But, then, other companies are really good at sending the people over and just making it almost exactly like the ones I paint. That’s always really nice.
things. Make a little city. Make a house out of a corn stalk.
So there are people that do the copies that you actually prefer, in a way, because it maintains the continuity of your work.
Okay, I want to get into the Pugzee, which is arguably your most well-known original character. How did that get started?
B: Well you just feel better about the final product. But a lot of times I don’t care what happens after the ones I paint. But, then, some of them do end up looking like mine. And that’s cool.
D: Pugzee kind of took life on his own. It was just a little project. I wanted to experiment with stuff and I had no direction at all. I knew it would be a dog. And when I gave it to Brandy to paint, when she returned it, she actually came up with the name. It was initially Pugzlee. And once he had a name, he had a personality. It was really weird. All this stuff started to come out in his story: how Red Hook was changing and the gentrification around here. And the character was part of that. Everything that was going on was, somehow, put into the character. And the story is still open. But the main thing about him is that he came about after he was created, after he already had “a look.” He started to get a personality after, basically.
So tell me a little bit about Comic Con. I would imagine that you guys would have almost like a cult status there. What’s that like for you guys? Do you have community there? Are there people that you geek out over? D: I think Brandy and I are in a unique position. A lot of these guys, the fans and artists, they’re in it all the time.
I wanted the burglar mask on him and a blackand-white-striped shirt. But I wasn’t clear about it until she painted the black-and-white jumpsuit. So that’s how he ended up in prison. So, literally, as it was created, it was getting a story. So I’m not sure Brandy’s clear on how much she contributed to it. Your jobs sound amazing. Are there any negatives to what you do? What do you hate most about it? B: Deadlines. D: I was thinking that. But, at the same time, I like the deadlines. Because you get paid quicker—it’s gone and you can get it out of your hair. What I hate are the revisions. I mean, it depends. I don’t mind changing things, but when it’s endless and there’s no real direction… B: Like unreasonable. Well, when they don’t know what they want. D: Yeah, shitty art directors. (laughs)
Who you gonna call?
by Samantha Stark. photos by Eric Vogel.
ew York, the city that never shuts up. All night with the noise! The creak of old joists in a century old wood frame house in Gowanus, the squeak of a loose parquet floorboard in Park Slope, or the squeal of your hyperamorous neighbor's bed springs coming through your paper thin wall in Prospect Heights. . . or is it? Perhaps you've got the feeling that you're spending more time with a dead relative than you did when they were alive? Lost soul walking through your apartment as if they have even offered to pay at least a portion of the rent? A bit paranoid lately, huh? OVERFLOW presents three professionals to call when something goes bump in the night.
WHO SHE IS: Gemma Deller, psychic medium, 347.709.2121 WHAT SHE DOES: “I see dead people,” Gemma says with a laugh. “I speak to what I call speople, or spirit people.” Gemma mostly does readings for people in her home, but sometimes clients call her to theirs. “I get asked a lot to come feel the energy of a place. People call in advance of buying an apartment,” she says. If the energy is negative, Gemma knows right away. “It’s almost as if someone took a blanket and threw it over my head,” she says. HOW SHE GOT INTO IT: Gemma always knew she could sense things, but was scared of anything that went bump in the night. “This is not what I set out to do,” she says. After her son was born 18 years ago, Gemma’s abilities increased. Friends started to notice she knew things before they happened and encouraged her to open up. Now, she says, she’s accepted her gifts. “There’s no greater high than reuniting people with their speople,” she says. WHO CALLS? Businessmen, artists, lawyers, doctors. “You expect the person who calls to be the crazy catwoman down the block—it’s so not.” Gemma has two sets of cards—one that lists her
title as psychic medium and another that just has her contact info. “There’s a stigma attached to the word psychic, especially for men,” she says, so she often hands out the edited ones to them. WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU CALL HER: Step 1. Spirit or Ghost? According to Gemma, a spirit is someone who has died and crossed over into the light. “A lot of times it’s, wait, that’s Uncle Bob and he’s just trying to say ‘Happy Birthday,’” she says. “When you go over there, it’s such a utopian place you forget that that scares the bejesus out of us.” A ghost has died, she says, but has unfinished business or doesn’t feel worthy of crossing over. “A ghost may be stuck in a structure if it’s where they lived years ago and they don’t know anywhere else. So a lot of times, hauntings are not purposeful— they’re not, ‘I’m after you.’ They’re, ‘I’m lost’.” Step 2. Communication. If there’s a spirit who’s a relative, Gemma will give you an impromptu reading. If it’s a ghost, she’ll ask them if they know they’re dead. Then she’ll try to cross them over. “It’s free
will so they don’t have to do it,” she says. “The times I’ve been successful, you can literally feel the difference. They’re here and then they’re not here. It’s as if I got up and left the room—you would feel what it feels like for me not to be here.” Step 3. Cleansing Gemma goes with her gut on how to cleanse each space: burning white sage, kiefe or camphor, asking you to clean your floor with Florida water, lighting white candles, putting a ring of salt around the house, spraying rose water. “It’s not as ritualistic as people want to see,” she says. “Intention is a big deal—you’ve got to own it, like, this is mine and you gotta go.” WHY SHE DOES IT: “When you see a mother dance after losing her child because she got to speak to him, you know that it is a gift, and you should use it.” MYTH BUSTER: A cliché way to start out a ghost story: It was a dark and stormy night. But Gemma says ghosts really are more likely to appear in a storm. “When it’s wet and there’s electricity they come in easier because it’s energy,” she says. “Also, cemeteries aren’t where the dead people hang out—they’re just where we go to remember them.”
WHO HE IS: Johnny, Johnny’s Universal Botanica in Park Slope (376 5th Avenue), 718.832.3606 WHAT HE DOES: Store Owner, Spiritualist, and Priest at the Oba Iroko Church of God. HOW HE GOT INTO IT: Johnny’s great grandmother, grandmother, and grandfather in Puerto Rico were all mediums. “That’s what they did, they helped people. That’s what I was born into. My mother’s 74 years old and she’s the strongest medium I’ve ever met. She’ll sit here and she can describe scenarios in a different country. Tell you what your house looked like and the people living there. And people have called up, and that’s just the way it’s been.” WHO CALLS: People of all nationalities, genders and ages. Since Johnny owns a botanica, which is a store that sells spiritual and religious goods, a lot of people come by and ask him for help. “I’ve gotta be honest with people,” he says. “You might think your baby is haunted by bad dreams, but really, it’s gas.” WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU CALL HIM: Johnny can give you recommendations of what to do from his store. He is also a member of a group of mediums who go to people’s homes.
STEP 1. Clear the energy. “I would start light,” he says. “Get some sage, get some holy water. Smoke out the house, light a St. Claire’s candle. It could just be some energy brought in from the street.” STEP 2. Spiritual Investigation If the energy is bothering you specifically, Johnny will bring a team of four mediums to your home for a white table. That’s where the mediums call on good spirits to help communicate with the negative ones. “We find out why he’s bothering you, and ask the good spirits to help him on his way,” Johnny says. “You can’t just say oh, you got to go, you got to leave. You have to also give the spirit an opportunity to say why they’re upset and clear themselves. They’re not going to let go until they’re ready. And they’re not ready until someone hears them.” Possession is a different story. People might be possessed from a past life, Johnny says. If you are possessed, one main spiritualist goes into a trance while the other three protect him or her. “You’re very vulnerable,” Johnny says. “You have to have someone who can actually see what’s going on and help ground the energy if the spirit gets out
of control.” The “break up,” between person and spirit, he says, can be very intense. STEP 3. Consecrate the House Make a spiritual broom out of herbs and sweep the house. Burn asepheta, a strong incense that scares evil away. This protects a person from being latched onto by vagabond spirits. “So you really build a person up spiritually,” Johnny says. Next, build a little alter with 7 or 9 glasses of water. “It clears the space and won’t let anything sit,” Johnny says. Roll a coconut around the room to pick up whatever vibrations and residual negativity might be lingering. You can then crack the coconut and break the energy it has collected. “It works because you have all this faith,” Johnny says. “That’s what it’s gonna do because you know it will, the same way you’re thirsty and you drink a glass of water and you know it’s gonna take your thirst away.” WHY HE DOES IT: It’s in his blood.
WHO HE IS: Dom, Ghost Hunter, 917.656.4334 WHAT HE DOES: Dedicated to proving ghosts exist scientifically. Founded Paranormal NYC, which may be the oldest ghost hunting team in the city today. Also leads the NY Paranormal Meetup group. HOW HE GOT INTO IT: When Dom was 20, his grandfather died. That night, Dom woke up in the middle of the night to find his grandfather sitting on the edge of his bed. “You’re dead,” Dom said. “I know,” his grandfather said. “I have to go to the bathroom,” Dom said. By the time Dom got back, his grandfather was gone. And Dom started dreaming of him. “But they were like lucid dreams,” he says. “I mean he was there, I was there. We were on a park bench across from each other. And the conversations were wonderful.” When Dom’s grandmother died years later, he stopped having the dreams. “I think he was waiting for her to cross over,” Dom says. WHO CALLS: Paranormal NYC usually gets between 50-75 calls a month (more near Halloween.) A lot of the calls come from Brooklyn—neighborhoods like Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Carroll Gardens, East New York, and Flatbush. About 80% come from women. “Men
are sometimes too egotistical or proud to pick up a phone and say they have a paranormal problem.” WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU CALL HIM: Step 1. Research Dom starts by doing a background check on your home. Has anyone passed away there? Was there a violent crime? What was the land used for before? Step 2. Phone Interview To decide which members of his investigation team to bring along (they all have different sensitivities), Dom needs to find out more about why you called. Is the energy intelligent (trying to give you messages) or residual (hearing footsteps, feeling like you’re being watched)? Step 3. Recordings The group will set up video cameras, audio recorders, and take photos (respecting your privacy, of course.) They will also take electromagnetic field readings to see if you have any plumbing, electric, air quality, temperature, or structural problems that could make you think there’s paranormal activity in your home when there really isn’t. Did the group find an outlet that’s not wired right? They’ll try to repair it, so you can sleep better knowing there’s no ghost keeping you awake.
Step 4. Ghost Watch The group will sit in group meditation with the client for about 20 minutes. Using audio recorders, they will try to communicate with the spirit by asking it questions. Step 5. Analysis Dom spends 2-4 days meticulously analyzing all the photos, video, and audio, looking for a voice or image that they didn’t see when they were recording. Dom’s a musician and has high-tech audio equipment that can pull out individual frequencies. “Electronic Voice Phenomenon is one of my favorite things to analyze, Dom says. Step 6. Report Dom then writes out a detailed report with his conclusion, suggestions and comments. Since ghost hunters need hard evidence to verify paranormal activity, the group doesn’t hit very often. In the hundred or so investigations he’s done, Dom estimated only 8 or 9 had true paranormal activity. “You have to find a reason to keep going,” Dom says. “Or else you’d get so bored you’d just stop doing it.” WHY HE DOES IT: “I get a satisfaction out of really helping people—leaving a person’s house and knowing that they’re more comfortable in their own home. And even the slim chance of being able to witness paranormal activity to me is a great thing. I do it for that.”
by Rosemary King. photos by Walker Esner.
re women different from men in terms of entrepreneurship? If you check out any range of scholarship, you get yes’s and no’s and maybe’s. You can't argue decisively that they are generally any better or worse at it. The only argument that we can conclusively make is that the women profiled here are doing extraordinary things that you should know about. Rather than trying to think outside the box, these enterprising ladies took a sledgehammer to it, and they aren’t alone. Brooklyn and its many DIY businesses and organizations are part of this new wave of entrepreneurs who care less about bragging about their MBAs and obsessing over maximizing profit margins. Whether you call them social entrepreneurs or entrepreneurs with social agendas, these seven women have taken the leap without thoughts of glory or riches in mind, (although some did say that those perks would be a sweet cherry on top,) but with visions of how their work can affect the environments around them, creating platforms for meaningful action and cultivating new spaces for expressing anger, thought, and art. And what’s even more inspiring? They all seem to be having a lot of fun doing it. Oraia Reid: The Frontline Unlike most, Oraia Reid can pinpoint the exact day that her life was split in two. In 2004, while walking home late at night, Oraia was sexually assaulted. “As a survivor, I felt that I needed to channel my rage to an outlet in which to react to what had happened to me.” The way that Oraia was able to channel her rage was not typical. “I started thinking about if I had to change my patterns, why not change the patterns of society, to figure out how to make the world safer, for everyone. ” Oraia said she wanted to put her arms around the world, and ensure that everyone would be able to get home safe, and RightRides NYC was born. Using her own car, a map, and three volunteers, Oraia began to orchestrate pick-ups of women and members of the LGBT community and took them home free of charge. From that point on, it was never a question of how long she would keep going, but how big an impact she could make. In a year she had pitched a partnership with Zip Cars and they agreed to donate 6 vehicles to RightRidesNYC. Through grants and donations,
she now operates a full-scale organization of over 200 volunteers in all five boroughs who take calls, drive, and navigate people home. Oraia plans on expanding the New York chapter 24/7 and hopes to see RightRides go national by the end of this year. Partnership talks are already happening with university campuses across the country. Someday she wants a world that is free from gender-based violence. To volunteer for Rightrides, visit www.rightrides.org, or check out the work that they are doing with the New Yorkers for Safer Transit at http://nyfst.org/about/. Emily May: The Visionary Do you remember the last time that someone said something obscene to you on the street? You might just ignore it and stomp away. But if you’re Park Slope resident Emily May, you create a platform that turns an everyday cell phone camera into a way to strike back. “This movement is about turning a lens back onto the aggressor and regaining your power,” May says. May is the executive director of Hollaback!, a movement whose mission is to end street harassment in the United States and across the world by changing the idea that harassment is something we should just ignore. “In 2005, a friend of mine saw a man masturbating on the subway, she took a picture, she put it on Flicker, and the next day it made the Daily News. That was the seed of Hollaback!” Using donated labor, the original Hollaback! team built a website that users could post their experiences or pictures of the offenders. Within the first six months May was featured on the Today Show, and soon the platform was being replicated in cities across the world. May is focusing on turning Hollaback! into a sustainable non-profit. With two grants under her belt, an iPhone app that allows people to report harassment incidents in seconds released, and a goal to raise $300,000 by next June, May seems to be well on her way to solidifying Hollaback!’s future. But May wants to do more than just run a successful business. In October, she spoke at a street harassment hearing hosted by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras. Further speaking engagements are lining up. “My end goal appears whenever I see a
little girl in a stroller. If I do my job right when she grows up she won’t know what a cat caller is.” You can visit Hollaback!’s website at www. ihollaback.org and purchase the iPhone app by searching Hollaback! in the Iphone app store. Owyn Ruck Alchemists
Walking into the Textile Arts Center, there seems to be a “Please touch” sign on everything. The walls are made of fabric, there is soft yarn, and looms filled with half-done projects—even the resident dog, Iggy, begs to be picked up and held. This is exactly what co-founders Visnja Popovic and Owyn Ruck wanted. “We have friends who work professionally in textiles, and they say that they never touch fiber.” Having just expanded into an airy 3,200 square foot space on Carroll Street, Textile Arts Center has made itself a one stop shop for textiles, with weaving, dying, screen printing, and sewing classes offered, as well as gallery shows, art residency programs, and a product line in the works. Owyn and Visnja, both trained textile designers, felt that textiles often got short shrift. “Most textile shows are in remote places, and if a gallery in the city has a textile artist, it’s a one-off. So we had to create a space that elevated the art form,” says Owyn. With high ceilings and two floors for classes and residency programs, the space has an energy and focus that is apparent. Neither Owyn nor Visnja have business experience and both wear several dozen hats, working sevenday weeks to keep things running smoothly. Yet, still bigger plans are in the works. Owyn says. “We’re attempting to run a hybrid of a for-profit and a non-profit, so things like our summer camps would be run for-profit, but our residency program would be grant-funded.” Visnja says that another part of their big mission is to be an integral part of the larger Gowanus community, and they get inspiration from the partnerships that they are building with local artists. “It has a true neighborhood feeling, and the fact that we can contribute feels amazing.”
Clara Janis: The Virtuoso The question of what makes a leader is an intangible one for most of us, but to Park Slope resident, Clara Janis, it is just part of her everyday job. Clara is the deputy director of the Center for Global Public Service at NYU Wagner and she works with management and leadership guru Professor Paul Light to understand how leadership works. “One thing I’ve come to understand is that social entrepreneurs are not one in 100,000, they are one in two or three. There are so many different forms, but as long as you have a purpose, and are committed to something, you’re just going to do it.”
peace with any anxiety that comes from being on your own.” Since moving back to Brooklyn from Boston, where she was the sole proprietor of a record store, Deb has made it her mission to give other “lone wolves” an outlet for their work. Deb is the founder of Brooklyn Craft Central, a craft market which partners with various spaces throughout Brooklyn. and whose mission is to support independent artists by giving them an outlet to sell their work. The structure she provides other artists parallels the one she gets from the Brooklyn Creative League, a cooperative of freelancers who share workspace in a Gowanus warehouse. “Coming here to BCL spawned so
Clara is not a typical entrepreneur in the sense that she works for herself, but her position was selfcreated. “I started to work with Paul when I came to Wagner for a project about Presidential appointees, and we had such a great working relationship, he wanted to keep me around.” Paul and Clara were able to tap into funding from NYU Abu Dhabi and the Center for Global Service was created. “It almost wasn’t a choice. It’s the opportunity to go to Singapore, Afria, Asia and figure out how leadership and service happen.” Clara says that she takes her inspiration from the work that happens in her own neighborhood. “What enables people in Park Slope to do the things that they do is a basic set of assets, freedoms, rights, a strong community of people who participate. We’re trying to assess what creates this environment where people can go out and try.” Clara realizes though that her time in academia is not infinite: “I’m most passionate when I’m empowering people. I can do academia, but I’m not an academic.” Clara sees herself working in a number of different settings, but whatever she does, she’ll carry a deeper understanding of what her role means. “I’ve learned it’s not about the credit, it’s about ending up in an ideal world, and that’s profound to me.” Deb Klein: The Natural Deb Klein has never had a salaried job, vacation days, or health benefits, but she already knows 100% that she does not want them. “It’s just in my blood to be my own boss, so I’ve made my
Clara Janis much networking and introductions, and it birthed all these amazing collaborations. I found a home here, a base.” According to Deb, especially since the recession, Brooklyn has been a gathering place for artists who are looking for an environment that lets them support themselves. “One of the reasons that I didn’t leave here is because the shoppers, artists, and sponsors all come from within a few blocks of here.” And as the Etsy.com handmade products crowd (both creators and consumers) grows, more people have taken notice of these artistic enclaves
that people like Deb are facilitating. DIY has become an integral part of the Brooklyn brand, and Deb, whose whole career has been DIY, has both the drive and independent spirit that makes her a perfect fit for directing this kind of crowd. “I can relate to the people that I work with. I understand the challenges that they face and how hard it can be at times.” Julie Kim: The Pied Piper When pressed about why she quit a ten-year career in environmental engineering, Julie Kim, co-owner of Littlefield, an art/performance bar in Gowanus, says that she was led by music, literally: “My business partner, Scott, and I were in Oslo, and we heard some music coming from a side street. We followed it for about ten minutes, until we came to a little treasure spot. That’s when we got the idea to do Littlefield.” With money raised from friends and family and maxed-out credit cards, Julie and Scott signed a 10-year lease in 2009 on a warehouse space at 622 Degraw Street and proceeded to equip it with facilities for music shows, art exhibitions, and parties. “It was important to me that the design of the bar be really functional and also be eco-friendly, since my background has been in environmental issues,” Julie sourced wood salvaged from a Queens bowling alley to build the bar and tables, while the walls are made from recycled truck tires, which are eco-friendly but also great for the venue’s acoustics. The space is beautiful but has an original feel, one that Julie says is “of Gowanus.” “This area is different from the LES or Williamsburg because artists who are really struggling to make it live here.” Despite its newness, Littlefield has been able to draw notable acts. Julie recalls when Stars played back in September. “The place was packed, the energy was incredible. All of the staff were hugging each other and high fiving because it felt like we all contributed to this. It was amazing.” This thrill that Julie and her staff get from making sure that their patrons have a great time is palpable. “I’m a front of the house kind of woman. I love interacting with people, and hopefully people will feel that and then keep coming back.”
Clockwise from top left: Deb Klein, Emily May, Visnja Popovic, Owyn Ruck, and Oraia Reid
Brooklyn Souk by Andrea Swalec. photos by Adam Krause.
he next time you dart across Atlantic Avenue, you’ll no doubt notice the new socially conscious coffee shops or the recently opened Barneys CO-OP. You’d be forgiven for thinking of the busy thoroughfare as brownstone Brooklyn’s latest hot shopping strip. Local media have certainly played their part: New York magazine recently trumpeted the galleries and “locavorish snacks” that have arrived on the stretch of Atlantic between the waterfront and Flatbush Avenue. But Atlantic shouldn’t be considered a piece of overlooked and undervalued property due for gentrification. The area boasts a distinct Arab community with roots that stretch back over 100 years. The shopkeepers have known each for decades and send customers to each other’s stores if they run out of something. Indeed, on Atlantic it’s still easier to find a prayer rug with a built-in, Mecca-seeking compass than, say, a yoga mat.
Arab community, “Little Syria,” then located on Washington Street. Combined with the existing Arab business owners, this melting pot of people eventually made Atlantic Avenue home to one of the city’s most visible ethnic districts.
Immigrants from modern-day Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria—then parts of the Ottoman Empire—set up shops on Atlantic as early as 1895. People who had owned stores in their home countries became storekeepers here, and their friends and family members gradually moved to the area to join them. The neighborhood expanded when construction of the BrooklynBattery Tunnel in the ’40s displaced Manhattan’s
Today, Atlantic Avenue’s Arab-owned businesses find themselves lodged somewhere between the planned 18,000-seat stadium at Atlantic Yards and a set of increasingly trendy neighborhoods. Though their customer bases have increased, their rents have as well. I asked Atlantic Avenue’s Arab business owners to show us the goods, share some stories, and tell us what they really think about the newcomers.
Beginning in the ’50s, when brownstones turned into rooming houses, some Atlantic Avenue Arabs and their businesses left the area. Just in time to replenish the community, a new wave of Yemenis and Palestinians arrived in the mid-’70s, opening a handful of shops and restaurants. In the early ’90s, facing recession, some of Atlantic’s Middle Eastern restaurants were forced to close. Many Arab-Americans moved to Bay Ridge, in search of cheaper real estate. Those who escaped the recession were soon confronted by the rise in rents brought on by newcomers and developers during the housing boom.
Islam Fashion Atlantic Avenue between 3rd and 4th Avenues As the all-woman staff of Islam Fashion fitted me for a pale pink headscarf in stretchy jersey, store assistant Touria Baghali said she and her coworkers pride themselves on customer service for women. “If it looks bad, tell them the truth! Then they will come back,” she said one Sunday afternoon. The women in the shop talk about hijabs like auto enthusiasts talk about horsepower. They’ve got two-piece Al-Amira hijabs with caps and elasticized top layers, rectangular Shayla hijabs that come to a point in the back, and non-slip underscarves that peek from below top scarves to add a touch of contrasting color. They cost as little as $4 for a child’s headscarf to $20 for an adult-sized one with rhinestone detail around the face. For the rest of the family, Islam Fashion offers Mecca nightlights; halal, alcohol-free, scented oils; earnest bumper stickers (e.g. “The most excellent jihad is that for conquest of the self ”); call-toprayer-broadcasting clocks; and Arabic electronic spelling games. Owner Mohamed Zohny, a lifelong businessman originally from Egypt, moved Islam Fashion
from the Upper East Side in 2000. He says his new landlord, Atlantic Assets, just increased his monthly rent from $3,486 to $4,000 and warned him that it would rise to $7,000 soon. (In 2005, the Manhattan developer bought half of the buildings on the north side of Atlantic Avenue between Third and Fourth avenues, for $8.3 million.) At that rate, Zohny will have to close the shop. Atlantic Assets’ website already lists the crowded store as an available space.
belts favored by Moroccan brides. Lamrini brings the belts, like most of the store’s stock, from Morocco. Lamrini, 62, started making jewelry as a teenager, in his family’s shop in the labyrinthine walled city section of Fez. He opened his own shop in
“I am so depressed now,” he said. “Before, I used to be one of the top people in the business. The changing neighborhood is not good for the business. It comes at the wrong time.”
Rather than being upset about the changes on Atlantic Avenue that displaced him, Lamrini is confounded by new shopkeepers’ ability to pay rent. “I don’t know how they can make it.”
Casbah Nevins Street between Atlantic Avenue and State Street In a tiny, dusty workshop behind the cash register at Casbah, Ahmed Lamrini makes jewelry and listens to WNYC. In his shop tucked just above Atlantic, Lamrini shapes and welds brass and copper, and inscribes Arabic letters on his handiwork. Opposite his workspace are rings with semiprecious stones, essential oils (one of the most frequently spotted items in the neighborhood), and the Hulk Hogan-sized gold
This June marks five years that Casbah has been on Nevins Street. For the previous five, Lamrini minded his wares at 529 Atlantic, a few doors down from Islam Fashion. When the store’s $1,555 per month lease expired, Atlantic Assets told him the rent would be raised to $4,500 per month. Lamrini was forced to move shop to less-trafficked Nevins Street, where he pays $1,350 per month. His old shop is now inhabited by Nunu Chocolates, which has artisanal chocolate plus wine and wireless Internet.
Oriental Pastry & Grocery Co. Atlantic Avenue between Court and Clinton Streets
Cleveland in 1970 and named it Casbah because he thought it was a word Americans associated with Morocco. “There was a song or something,” he said. When a fire destroyed the Cleveland shop, he moved his family to Brooklyn to rebuild and cut one connecting flight from his trips home.
Four or five years ago—no one can remember when exactly—the Moustapha family rented out their shop in Cobble Hill for use as a Law & Order set. On one of the front windows, the TV crew affixed a new Arabic sign, reading “Grocery Store, Local and Imported,” to make the Arab store look more “real” to a national audience. When the cast and crew left and curious fans stopped peeping
through the windows to gawk at the stars, Sam Moustapha decided to leave the new sign up. “I like it. It’s nice. It’s authentic!” he said, wearing a multicolored windbreaker unzipped to the sternum.
Moustapha’s family owns the building, so he is not very concerned about the financial impact the new shops, including Barneys CO-OP, just a few stores
In the front of Oriental Pastry & Grocery, which opened in 1967, the Moustaphas sell hardto-find Middle Eastern grocery items: Yemeni raisins, whole carob bean pods, halal marshmallows, and at least 13 flavors of hookah tobacco. In the backroom kitchen, eight ovens roast whole stuffed lambs (available by special order) and make golden pastries baked with clarified butter, orange flower water, rose water, and a kind of rare tree sap from Syria, their homeland. Like many a New York salesman, Moustapha says his offerings can’t be beat. “This is the best pastry in the city, hands down!” he half-shouted. After tasting a filo dough, pine nut and cashew square, I didn’t argue with him.
away, will have on the older businesses in the area. He has seen new customers in recent years, and says he thinks the new stores indicate the economic health of the neighborhood. “Before [Barneys] goes into an area, they survey the area to make sure it’s successful. This means we’re doing great.”
hether or not Atlantic Avenue’s Arabowned businesses will be able to ride out the latest wave of change in the neighborhood is yet to be seen. Can tubs of olives and CDs of Quranic readings continue to pay the rent, even if it doubles? Urban Outfitters, which has a location next door to Oriental Pastry & Grocery Co., has in the past sold multicolor keffiyahs, the checked scarves sometimes worn to express affinity with the Palestinian territories. Will Arab businesses similarly have to adapt to the new demographics and sell wares that will please mosque-goers, luxury shoppers and sport utility stroller-pushers alike? Locally sourced, ready-toeat halal dinners? The restored vintage abaya? Cheerful Islamic wall decor by Jonathan Adler? If the past hundred years are any indication, the Arabs on Atlantic will find a way to keep their community together.
375 9th Street at 6th Avenue in Park Slope Open Monday - Friday: 10:30-7pm, Saturday 10-6pm, Sunday 11-5pm 718-768-2453 www.bklynbikes.com
THE VANISHIN I
t’s been decades since the last trolley route ran regularly in New York City. Are there finally glimmers of hope for a trolley revival in the city’s most populous borough? Trolleys were once a defining feature of Brooklyn city life. The borough’s famous baseball team (its defection to California is still mourned by diehard local fans) owes its name to the formerlyubiquitous trolleys: you became a true Brooklynite when you learned how to dodge the railed cars that crisscrossed the streets. But the borough decommissioned its last two trolley routes in 1956, and a year later the Dodgers left—two unrelated events that wiped out some of Brooklyn’s distinctive character. Though the Dodgers are never coming back, reviving the streetcar (another name commonly used for trolleys) in Brooklyn is being considered. Local preservationists and public transit activists have argued that electric-powered trolleys are environmentally-friendly, are easier to add than subways, and are capable of linking neighborhoods that are difficult to conveniently commute between except by the often maligned bus system. Though running on fixed tracks would help trolleys avoid traffic and the inconsistent arrival times that plague buses, it also means less flexibility in case of accidents or construction. Also, trolleys require new infrastructure, which costs more initially than simply buying more buses. Critics and supporters have spent years arguing whether bringing the trolley back is driven by nostalgia or by a genuine necessity. In September, the city announced it was running a feasibility study using federal funds to “help determine if this mode, once a staple of New York
City’s streets, is a viable method” of transportation between Red Hook and downtown Brooklyn, according to the Department of Transportation. Optimism abounds, with URS, the company responsible for the recent revival of streetcars in Portland, Oregon, leading the study. But one resident was more ambivalent—though you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who more genuinely wanted to bring the trolley back. Bob Diamond, locally renowned for his tours of an abandoned train tunnel in downtown Brooklyn (accessible via manhole outside the Trader Joe’s on Atlantic Avenue), notably tried to construct a permanent streetcar line in Brooklyn with a ragtag team of volunteers earlier this decade. Diamond says that during that effort, as with other projects, the city pulled funding and backed out from its promised support. Surprisingly, or perhaps not if critics of Diamond’s gruff personality are to be believed, the city did not ask him for his expertise in conducting the latest study. “I’m doing everything I can to make what they’re doing successful,” Diamond said. He paused. “It’s kind of a strange situation. I have to sit there, and they act like I had nothing to do with it.”
he history of the trolley in New York can be traced back to horses. The first public transit in the city was the omnibus, a stagecoach that ran a set route with its passengers. But the closest ancestor to the trolley was the horsecar, which ran along tracks in the street. It wasn’t until the 1880s that steam-powered cable cars ran through New York, and shortly thereafter, electric-powered trolleys arrived on the scene.
At the peak, there were an estimated 3,000 trolley cars in Brooklyn alone along 80 routes (today’s subway system has just over double the number of cars on 24 lines). Trolleys ran in every borough of New York for seven decades until subways and automobiles, aided by a campaign by General Motors and other companies to promote buses made them obsolete. Subways, of course, don’t reach every neighborhood, and buses, which do, are often undermined by car traffic or public ignorance. Red Hook, a neighborhood already on the cusp of bigger development efforts after the installation of both Fairway and Ikea, may be the next “it” neighborhood, with waterfront properties, spectacular views of the harbor, and historic buildings—but no direct subway service, making it a prime candidate for transportation development. But despite the enthusiasm of the DOT, some locals remain skeptical the streetcar study will lead to anything. “This thing is all politics,” said one activist who’s familiar with past trolley efforts but did not want to be identified because of his continued involvement in local politics. He added, “It’s obvious that the MTA is so bogged down with bureaucracy that they can’t even breathe without costing millions.”
o really understand Brooklyn trolleys, you have to get to know more about Bob Diamond. He rediscovered the Atlantic Avenue tunnel in 1980 after it had lain abandoned for over 100 years. During his tours, he regales audiences with tales of ghosts, spies and even a legend about John Wilkes
NG POINT Booth, all of which connect to the famous tunnel. Diamond also likes to talk about his frustrating efforts to work with city officials over the years. In 2002, after years of planning and fundraising, Diamond and his group, the Brooklyn Historic Railway Association, started construction on its own trolley line in Red Hook. Eventually, however, the city forced Diamond to stop building when his group couldn’t guarantee it would have enough cash to finish the project. The DOT refused to provide funding, so tracks that had been laid with government-provided grants and Diamond’s own money were ripped up. Some of his trolley cars were scrapped, and the group was evicted from its workshop by developer Greg O’Connell, who was opening the Fairway supermarket. Personality conflicts within BHRA split the volunteers: one member, Arthur Melnick, left and started his own group, the Brooklyn City Streetcar Company, and proposed his own trolley line in Brooklyn Bridge Park; another, Greg Castillo, had a falling out with Diamond, though they have since reconciled. It was heartbreaking, but Diamond never completely gave up even when the city seemed to. Then came word of the new study—but neither Diamond nor Melnick, or any of their associates, were asked to participate.
t the first meeting of the Community Advisory Committee in October, representatives of the DOT gave a presentation that included bullet points such as “Brooklyn Streetcar History,” “What is a Streetcar?” and “Streetcar Systems in Operation.” Simplistic explanations and a slowmoving process frustrated those who had already been contemplating trolleys for years.
by Eleanor Miller.
In the November presentation that DOT made to the transportation committee of Brooklyn Community Board 2 (which, along with Board 6 in Red Hook, covers the area through which the currently proposed trolley path runs), committee members peppered the DOT representative, Christopher Hrones, with questions about potential routes, the design and construction of stops, and comparisons of streetcars to current bus service. When asked to comment for this article, the DOT only referred to its press releases and website, which contain information on the study and the community presentations. Indications from the DOT seem to show that the city is serious about exploring the issue, but there is no assurance anything will happen after the feasibility study is concluded. Diamond’s past projects and Melnick’s studies appear to already cover much of the ground that the DOT says its project aims to explore. There is little debate, for example, that better public transportation is needed to connect Red Hook with other neighborhoods, including downtown Brooklyn where many residents work or shop. The community has been “clamoring” for streetcars said Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6. He added, “We supported the request for a study for many, many years.” Hammerman is cautiously optimistic: “I think it could potentially be a great thing but, of course, we need to fully understand the costs and the benefits.” The somewhat basic nature of the study feeds the impression that though it seems like a good idea, it ultimately won’t lead to any immediate action, though local community members do say they
want more information before forming their own opinions. No one is quite clear about the timing, either. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez secured funding for the trolley study 5 years ago, but it was never used until the DOT’s announcement this fall. The timing did fall soon after Diamond had threatened to give up on city bureaucracy and leave Brooklyn for good, but as the official study doesn’t include Diamond (or any other previouslycreated trolley group) in any official way, it’s pure conjecture to think Diamond’s announcement was the impetus. More likely is the city’s desire to take advantage of federal stimulus funding for new public transportation projects. Local groups are certainly on board. “We have always been supporters of bringing jobs and new businesses to the neighborhood and believe that a streetcar would only benefit local commerce and entrepreneurs looking to open new businesses in the neighborhood,” wrote the O’Connell Organization, the developer who evicted Diamond years ago. Hrones also said bringing trolleys back may be a tourist attraction. For now, the study is on track to issue its report by the end of February, after phases to examine “existing conditions,” “potential routes,” “cost estimating, construction issues, and alignment evaluation” and “feasibility evaluation.” Will all this bureaucratic talk actually turn into results? Even if nothing conclusive occurs, the fact that the government took what was a local resident’s dream so seriously may provide credibility for future investment. Then again, the Red Hook trolley could turn into Brooklyn’s version of the Second Avenue subway: a tantalizing transportation project that may or may not happen in our lifetimes.
by Colin Weatherby. photos by Sarah Wilmer.
was pretty excited when OVERFLOW asked me to write about Melody Lanes. After all, the place has been open since 1958 and is a Brooklyn landmark. More importantly, I’ve been pretty depressed lately and thought this would be a good tonic. Ok, depressed isn’t the right word for it and melancholy just sounds lame. Maybe morose? Long story short, I just got back to Brooklyn after a year of adventure and shit has been pretty dismal. I’m broke. I can’t seem to find a real job. I live in a windowless coffin. I spent my last hundred bucks on novelty bicycle tires and a yuppie Moleskine notebook for this article. I have also lost my game with these slick city women. Life basically sucks.
interview is you and the interpretation is reality!” He refilled the peanuts and walked away. His gibberish didn’t make a lick of sense to me, but it kinda resonated with my apathy and he seemed to be having a good time. The mood soured when I realized that I was starting to envy the intellectual
I figured a couple miserable turds at the bowling alley would set me right. My problems would all snap into perspective. I don’t know what to do with my life? Big deal. Old Man Sweatpants at the alley bar with the colostomy bag and the VFW jacket would surely spin some fantastical pickled yarn about his days as a “screenwriter” that would make my life look like a magic carpet ride through a candy store. I rifled through the closet and found my best sports coat. If nothing else, I was to determined to at least be looking sharper than my miserable subjects. Thursday afternoon is usually a good time to scrape the bottom of the barrel, so I wandered over to the lanes and bought a drink. Melody has a great bar, by the way. The decor is fantastic: minimal lighting, plenty of TVs to watch the horse races, and the gentle din of crashing pins to soothe you into your next drink. Better yet, the bartender is trapped behind a horseshoe with seating on three sides, captive in his tiny cockpit a few feet away. This bar is designed for the painfully impatient drunk. More importantly, booze-slinger Peter Napolitano puts on a pretty good show. He seems like classic Brooklyn crazy with his tuxedo, metaphysical philosophies, and awkward humor, but he’s actually kind of endearing. Imagine David Lynch meets the Rat Pack and you have Peter. He’s so good that even the New York Times did a profile on him last year. Unable to think of a better icebreaker, I asked Peter what he thinks of Melody Lanes. “Look: this isn’t about me or this place,” he said as he flattened out a bar napkin and drew a triangle. “You are A, I am B, and C is the effect. The
acrobatics of a man working at a bowling alley and some jerk at the Times that scooped me on this nuttiness. Peter’s pithy ramblings slowly faded into the background and my attention returned to the bottom of my glass. Budweiser on draft is $2.50 and the fancy stuff (Bluepoint) is only $3.00. You can literally sit in this bar all day without leaving if you were so inclined. There are $4.00 hamburgers, $2.00 curly fries, and $1.50 popcorn at the equally impressive snack bar. All of those prices are the Brooklyn equivalent of free, if you didn’t know that already. Needless to say, the combination of cheap booze and bottomless self-loathing was making me thirsty. With a more-than-slight buzz, I pulled out my Moleskine ($14.50) and got to work looking for misery. Over on the east end of the alley I saw
about twenty-five Caribbean dudes going krazy and decided they looked like pretty good targets. Surely they were blowing off steam from a long day at some dead-end shitstorm. I was kinda hoping they’d be too busy and suspicious to deal with me, as their shouting and high-fiving was out of control. I don’t remember ever seeing one of them sit down for more than about three minutes. Even weirder was the fact that they were all pretty decent bowlers. Gutter balls were simply out of the question. They even kept it cool with the drinking until the balls were bagged and the party migrated out to the sidewalk where beers and rum were passed around. They called themselves the Surrey Sports Club and they were damned serious. So much for my workaday burnouts. “We used to play cricket in Flatlands, but the children aren’t interested,” said club president Eric Padmore in a friendly patois. He laughed and continued, “We’re too old for that stuff now, anyways.” I was careful to notice that these guys were mostly in peak physical condition compared to the average flabby Brooklynite. Apparently cricket is more brutal than it looks. I just searched the game on Wikipedia, and I can’t imagine a kid in Brooklyn ever wearing those silly uniforms. It turns out that one of the kids in their club is an incredibly gifted sixteen-year-old bowler named Gary Pacheco. He’s as big as a linebacker and throws a 289 like it’s easy. He won the Brooklyn & Queens Juniors Title when he was a freshman. To top it all off, his entire family was wearing matching orange polo shirts and pleated khakis because “it’s better for team unity and it makes us feel good,” said Gary. He has several prospects for a bowling scholarship to college. A bowling scholarship, for Christ’s sake. I went back to the bar, completely crushed by all the positivity. I had another couple Buds while I waited for the other lanes to fill up and drowned my sorrows. I switched to whisky (5 bucks!) and tried to clear my head. Gary Pacheco was now bowling with his equally talented older brother Gabrielle. Their mom, Ingrid, was watching from the sidelines and giving them pointers. I felt like I was going to be sick. While I was away, a couple Latin fellas showed up at the bar and started playing dominoes. One of them looked like a giant bulldog and was wearing a sweaty Jack Daniels t-shirt. He kept slamming down the tiles and shouting at the old guy in the
fedora across the table. I inched closer and turned my ear. Unfortunately, Jack Daniels Tee was a jovial cherub. His Dominican Spanish just sounded angry. In fact, while I watched the game, his wife came in with their baby. He jumped up, ordered her a drink, and cleared a seat. She smiled at him, totally calm and accommodating to his insane antics. The baby slept through the entire thing. The dude even finished his beer, left a generous tip, and the whole family was out by 9:00 pm. I looked away in disgust only to catch a guy at the bar watching 60 Minutes and eating a Greek salad. As it approached 10:00pm, the alley began to fill up. I looked around and wandered between the lanes: fresh-faced Asian couple, endearing young lesbian tribe, church group, and a gang of frat boys. I counted eight sports-related pieces of clothing on the frat boys and assumed they might give me some local color. Maybe they’d call me “faggot” and throw a beer in my face. But once again, I was disappointed. These dweebs were raising money for charitable donations! I think one actually called me “sir.” Their league name was the most insulting part: “Recession Special.” At least five of them were gainfully employed. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was easily the worst person in this place. Goddamn Melody Lanes is
like a bowling alley from my nightmares. Instead of stale cigarettes, the place smelled like popcorn and Lysol. The bathrooms are cleaner than my apartment, and the carpet is gum-free. You can get socks in the vending machines for $10. I even bought some of the aforementioned popcorn from the friendly girl at the snack bar, and it was fresh as hell. I put on my coat and bee-lined toward the door. I pulled up short as the lady behind the counter caught my eye. She was about 60 with a thick Brooklyn accent. She had that tough-as-nails look on her face that white people only get when they’re Polish or born in New York before the Lindsay administration. She was curt with me when I came in a few hours earlier, so I threw a Hail Mary, a last ditch effort. I started to fantasize about her giving a paranoid, xenophobic rant. Maybe she had a couple painful day jobs and was taking care of her invalid granddaughter on the side. I planned to bait a conversation about immigrants and “the old days” just to test the waters. Sadly, Carol was another friendly bust. She agreed that Melody Lanes is just freakishly wholesome. She’s worked with Eli Beshara (the owner, whom she loves) for several years and thinks the area is really on the up and up. She looked me in the eye
and said, “I tell ya, if I am here, things are good. If this area was the same as it used to be, I would’ve left a long time ago.” Carol thinks bowling is great and having a nice resurgence after bottoming out pretty bad a few years back. At $7.25 per game— and heavily discounted for early/late specials and league play—it’s the cheapest fun around, unless you enjoy long walks. She even corrected my terminology. Nobody calls them “alleys” anymore. They are “bowling centers.” “Alley just sounds dirty,” she explained with a grin. I left thinking that I was an even bigger piece of shit than I realized. I stumbled down Fifth Ave. towards the F train and fished some day-olds out of the Terrace Bagel garbage. I munched contemplatively on a stale sesame and took a moment in Prospect Park. Maybe it’s time I started to reconsider my life decisions. It’s not too late for grad school; I think I have a couple years before that becomes embarrassing. I probably have about five years before I go completely bald, plenty of time to get situated. I quietly climbed the stairs and cracked the ice tray. One more whisky before bed. I flopped into my makeshift milk-crate desk and stared at my monitor. Maybe I’ll start reevaluating next week. Google says there are three more bowling alleys in Brooklyn.
SOUTH BROOKLY by Susannah Edelbaum. illustration by Liam McWilliams. OVERFLOW scoured South Brooklyn’s crime blotter recently, discovering that even our peaceful enclave has a strange, and sometimes savage, permanent record. True to our tabloid and voyeuristic sensibilities, here are some of the more bizarre and horrifying murders that have taken place in our neighborhoods since 2004. Red Hook: Pamela Scully, 50, March 29, 2008, strangled Though NY1 quotes an anonymous neighbor’s claim that besides their fighting, the Scullies were “good people,” other news outlets report that Pamela Scully, 50, would sometimes abuse her husband Patrick, aged 58 or 60, with a baseball bat. Alcoholism is attributed to Mr. Scully, and in some reports, to both. Mrs. Scully was also described as a small-time drug dealer in Red Hook, where the couple lived at 151 Richards Street. However, it was Patrick, a decorated Vietnam veteran, who strangled Pamela to death with her bathrobe’s fabric belt. What specific incident led Mr. Scully to finally murder his wife and attempt to take his own by stabbing himself in the stomach and arms is unknown. But the list of Pamela’s misdeeds includes kicking him in the street, calling him names, and generally being a “hell-raiser.” In contrast, those who lived nearby said Patrick was timid, and his most conspicuous activity was fishing off Red Hook’s Valentino Pier. Another neighbor Huey Irving supposed that Patrick took his wife’s abuse “because he loved her.” His suicide attempt unsuccessful, Mr. Scully’s case is still pending—he is being tried for second degree murder. Cobble Hill: Steven Van Utrecht, 46, May 29, 2007, shot to death A family dispute led to Cobble Hill’s first homicide of the aughts. The Van Utrecht family had owned their townhouse at 109 Butler Street since the 1980s in what was at the time an Italian-dominated neighborhood. Three of four Van Utrecht siblings and their mother had been living together there, until William, 53, gunned down younger brother Steven “Chi-Chi” Van Utrecht, 46, on the building’s front steps. Before being shot to death, Steven had smashed his brother’s bicycle. What the two were arguing about is unknown.
Steven himself was an ex-con, having served time for attempted manslaughter. He was paroled in 2001. Personal accounts, however, indicate the neighbors thought of him as a generally good guy. One reported that Chi-Chi was the “baby of the family,” who took care of his mother and would help prune nearby residents’ bushes. Another neighbor, identified only as Rosemary, said the Van Utrechts were “a beautiful family,” “like peaches and cream.” In contrast, though, the brothers were known to fight often, and, of course, one wonders why William had a gun readily available in the first place. Steven’s body lay sprawled for hours on his home’s front steps before being cleared away. William went on the run, leaving the remaining Van Utrechts afraid that he would strike again. He was seen “skulking around” the Red Hook Houses and later was apprehended in New Jersey. When he was brought to trial for his fratricide, William pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to twelve years in prison. Windsor Terrace: Joseph Alicia, 50, September 24, 2004, bludgeoned This neighborhood has played host to just a few homicides in recent years, but the method and attitude of its only 2004 murder is beastly. Multiple witnesses heard Joseph Alicia screaming as he was beaten to death by Michael Whelton, his ex-wife’s third husband. Whelton’s weapon was a baseball bat. The two men had had a long-running feud over Alicia’s visitation rights to 8-year-old “little Joseph” Alicia, who was neither of the men’s biological son. Lori Whelton was pregnant with the child when Alicia had married her. He had subsequently raised little Joseph as his own child. When he and Lori divorced after nine years of marriage, he maintained the right to see little Joseph, which evidently enraged Michael Whelton, who by all accounts wanted Alicia out of the family picture. When Alicia attempted to vacate his divorce in order to maintain access to the boy, Whelton turned up at East 4th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway, and murdered Alicia next door to Councilman Bill de Blasio’s offices. There was no witness substantiation of Whelton’s lawyer’s claim that Joseph Alicia was “a provocateur obsessed with Lori Whelton and her
child.” In court, where Whelton was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to a maximum five years, he was caught unrepentantly winking at his wife, who blew him kisses in return. At least the other real victim, then-eight-year-old little Joseph, won’t have Whelton around for a stepfather. Park Slope: Alex Santiago, 22, July 31, 2010, stabbed and bludgeoned Given Park Slope’s safe reputation and status as Brooklyn’s most bourgeois neighborhoods, one might think the area’s recent heinous homicide would be the result of some long-standing feud or a crime of passion. Instead, Alex Santiago’s death was seemingly random and capricious. It started at a local bodega when several young adults thought Santiago, 22, “looked at them wrong.” Santiago and his friends eventually left in order to continue on to the bar Tiki Hut. Santiago called his pregnant wife, Stephanie, to let her know about the incident and to say he was all right. However, a van trailed him, carrying four men who were followed by a dozen to 15 others. They beat and stabbed Santiago to death with tire irons, crowbars, and knives on the corner of 5th Avenue and 12th Street, just in front of neighborhood mainstay Commonwealth. His friend Jonathan Burgos was stabbed helping defend him, but survived, as did Joseph Rivera, a bystander who had tried to stop the attackers. Rivera told police that other witnesses looked on while Santiago was beaten to death as if nothing was happening. A possible theory might be that Park Slope residents, like the people who watched the murder of Kitty Genovese, were relying on others to take care of the situation. But perhaps they were just completely overwhelmed, unable to believe what they were seeing. The many murderers have not been arrested or even identified. Carroll Gardens: George Weber, 47, March 20, 2009, stabbed George Weber, 47, was found after being slashed and stabbed to death in his home on Henry Street. Claims have arisen that Weber and his murderer did have something of an ongoing relationship, but in this case, no matter how long the two had known each other, that 16-year-old John Katehis was in fact working as a male prostitute is confirmed by
YN SLAUGHTER his reply to Weber’s Craigslist request for violent sex. According to police, Ketehis wrote, “I can smother somebody for $60.” Despite his youth, Katehis was a self-described sadomasochist whom his Queens neighbors found creepy. He was first apprehended on the G train, right after leaving Weber’s house with a bleeding hand, but was let go. He was later arrested, wearing Weber’s clothes, after his victim’s body was found. Police used Katehis’s father to help lure him to a rendezvous. Weber was hardly an example of anonymity —the popular WABC radio newsman’s death appalled his loving fans and neighbors. Katehis is still in custody after numerous complications arose leading up to and during his first trial, which ended with a hung jury. Weber had given his illegally youthful consort alcohol and “a powder” which was later found devoid of narcotics. Meanwhile, Katehis claims to have stabbed Weber accidentally, a detail left out of his initial statement, which, due to his injured hand, was written for him by a detective. But challenging Katehis’s assertion is that the bound Weber was stabbed upward of fifty times, making for quite an accident. Katehis is being tried as an adult and has been charged with murder in the second degree. His next court date is on December 16, 2010. Prospect Heights: Chai Eun Hillman, 41, September 30, 2010, stabbed “He did that in a blind rage…. He probably wants to kill himself,” the New York Post quoted Daniel Pagan’s wife on his stabbing of Chai Eun Hillman, 41, outside the Branded Saloon bar on Vanderbilt Ave. Like Alex Santiago’s death, Hillman’s murder came at the hands of a stranger. Pagan, a 36-year-old ex-con, attacked Hillman, a bartender at Branded who was off-duty for the night, and another man who had come to Hillman’s aid, Daniel Hultquist, who sustained several injuries but survived). The murder took place around 2 a.m., and all participants were likely drunk. A mundane skirmish over Pagan and Hillman’s dogs, which were tied up and accidentally entangled outside the bar, escalated when Hillman allegedly touched Pagan’s wife’s arm.
Though Hillman was a qualified martial arts expert, Pagan was carrying a knife and had a history of violence, having been previously convicted of manslaughter for shooting a man to death in 1991. Pagan’s wife, Yvonne, later claimed Hillman had “grabbed” her, but almost all other accounts report that Hillman had merely touched her arm as an indication that he could deal with the intertwined, panicking miniature pinscher and poodle. Besides the grabbing allegation, Yvonne also cited diabetes as one of Pagan’s weaknesses that led him to stab Hillman to death. Before brandishing a knife, security cameras reveal that Pagan repeatedly punched Hillman in the face. Pagan then fled after stabbing him in the torso, only to be stopped by police while driving in reverse down Bergen Street. He was soaked in blood. Upon being arraigned, he was held without bail, and has since been charged with murder, attempted murder, and criminal possession of a weapon. His next court date is January 7, 2011.
by Fucked in Park Slope's Erica Reitman. Photo by Jeff Brown.
In her column for OVERFLOW, FIPS’ Erica Reitman explores Park Slope’s most prevalent stereotypes.
view of the entire joint. I decided to kick things off by polling my friend’s 7-year-old daughter:
“Park Slob” was the nickname novelist Amy Sohn used when referring to Park Slope in her juicy mommy-tell-all book Prospect Park West, and the implication was clear: neighborhood moms may very well be spending hours on their childrens’ social schedules, homework, and organic food needs, but they’re not spending much time on their appearance. One of the characters in Sohn’s book wanted to do things differently: “While other mothers wore cargo shorts, P.S. 321 T-shirts, and sneakers, Rebecca chose Marc Jacobs minis, Splendid scoopnecks with high-end push-up bras for maximum cleavage, and four-hundred-dollar Miu Miu fuck-mes. Just the week before, when Sonam, her part-time Tibetan babysitter, was with Abbie, Rebecca had trekked into Nolita to buy herself a gold lamé romper at a boutique.”
“Does anyone in the room look really pretty?” I asked her.
“Anyone else?” I pressed. “Uhm...not really,” she said.
The question is, do real moms like Rebecca actually exist? Is anyone in Park Slope really wearing gold lamé rompers?
I couldn’t really disagree with her. My quick visual scan of the restaurant revealed five moms within eye sight: one Old Navy devotee who seemed to be proudly rocking her polar-fleece activewear pullover, jeans, and a pair of Dansko clogs; the overalls chick; another Ugg wearin, faded longsleeved t-shirt mom with her hair in a ponytail; a chick wearing a black cardigan covered in those sweater pill bally things; and a mom in the opposite corner who I could barely see, but appeared to be wearing a Juicy tracksuit knock off. But at least it was an outfit! I gave her one point.
I set out on a recent Sunday morning to investigate how slobby (or not) Park Slope actually is. Not wanting to stand out amongst all the moms, I enlisted the help of my breeder friend, who joined me with his two daughters on our undercover Operation Slob. We started off at brunch at Two Boots on 7th Avenue. Two Boots is basically ground zero for family-friendly food, so I knew that the crowd here would pretty much be 100% Mommy and Me-centric.
For those of you thinking it was unfair to judge these moms on a Sunday, which is normally the day of rest and relaxation, let me remind y’all that Sunday is pretty much Saturday night at Studio 54 for moms. Between the play dates, brunch, the birthday parties, the Hebrew School dropoffs or Church, picking up bagels, picking up Connecticut muffins, and all the other errands about town, if there was any day to really bring it, Sunday would be it. And so far, so bad.
I realized I needed a loose scoring system in order to track how slobby or not these moms were, so I decided to award one point for each of the following: a nice outfit, a nice pair of shoes, makeup application, and hair that wasn’t a complete and total mess. Therefore a totally put-together mom could potentially receive up to four points.
After brunch, we headed over to the Park Slope Barnes & Noble. This place is always crawling with moms and kids, and I thought we could continue our investigation from this spot. We rode the escalator down to the first floor and holy friggin’ jackpot: A JACK JOHNSON WANNABE KIDS BAND WAS PERFORMING!
We had a minute or two up front before the host was able to seat us at Two Boots, so I managed to do a quick scan of the room before we sat down: seven tables were seated up front, with a family at each. I spied my first mom immediately to my right as she stood up to grab something out of her diaper bag for her fussy baby. She was wearing corduroy overalls and a brown, weathered, puffy pair of Uggs. Her hair was in a messy ponytail/ bun combo and she was not wearing any make-up. Uh oh...shit was not off to a good start for Team Gold Lamé Rompers.
The entire back area of the children’s section was crawling with moms and strollers and kids and dads dancing in a variety of very embarrassing ways. It was like a Beatles concert in 1969, only the band playing kinda sucked, and no one had any weed.
We were seated in the corner of the room, which provided us with a lovely, panoramic bird’s eye
“I do!” she retorted.
I looked around the sea of L.L. Bean pullovers with long ago forgotten patches of crusty barf on the sleeves, mom jeans, ill-fitting sweaters, faded, washed out shirts, Merell slip ons and Ugg boots (sidenote: ENOUGH with the friggin’ Ugg boots, people. This trend was over like a year and a half ago!). And that’s where I saw her.
In the middle of all of the action, seated on the floor next to her baby and her tragically hip husband/boyfriend/life partner/whatever was a real-life four pointer! Let me set the scene: mom was wearing a navy blue mini-skirt with gold button detail up the side. Perhaps it was vintage, perhaps it was Dolce. It was hard to tell. The mini was paired with a white, long-sleeved tissue tee, but we’re talking James Perse here, not Gap. She was wearing a gorgeous, clearly vintage (possibly Fox?) fur jacket on top of the t-shirt, with a large collar. She had brown, knee-high leather boots and, of course, a full on make-up job. She was rockin’ a Betty Page type haircut with bangs, and both her daughter and her husband/boyfriend/life partner/whatever also looked impeccable. I was struck not only by the sense of satisfaction I felt because we had finally found ourselves a bangin’, totally-put-together-four-pointer mom, but also by how utterly out of place she seemed. In fact, my breeder friend said to me (as I excitedly pointed at them while jumping up and down): “These people took a wrong turn on the G train. Someone needs to let them know that we’re in Park Slope, not Williamsburg.” We continued to walk down 7th Avenue in search of more moms to award some points to. But aside from some courtesy awards given here and there for lip gloss, a gorgeous pair of suede boots and one or two hot outfits, it was slim pickins. And this isn’t to say that everyone looked like crap. But most people sort of just looked OK. A year or so ago, a newly transplanted Park Slope mom took to a local parenting forum to inquire whether or not there was any “fabulous” left in Park Slope. She threw on her mink coat and hit the streets. On her blog, Fabulous in Park Slope, she recounted the following: “I got some pretty interesting looks on my outing, and it’s about time. To be honest, I was happy that they were taking notice that there is something else out there than long black The North Face down coats and mittens made in Nepal. I don’t understand, you are missing out on all the fun it is to be Fabulous! I miss seeing other people all dolled up, contemplating what the new “it” bag is, and seeing the most incredible new Loubitons on the girl across the street.” She was a real life Rebecca. On Team Gold Lamé Romper. Unfortunately, based on our investigation, she appears to be mostly alone.
by Erik Winkowski
print ain't dead, it just went local. . .
published quarterly 10,000 copies per issue + online distributed free for all readers throughout South Brooklyn
A quarterly magazine, an account of life around the Gowanus Canal