ISSUE 2 :: SUMMER 2009
gowanus . red hook . carroll gardens . cobble hill . boerum hill . park slope
OVERFLOW ISSUE 2 :: SUMMER 2009
innovative Gowanus workspace defines itself by possibility, by Katherine Harrison and Lisa Allen
Three Sugars: tales of lust and lattes
3’s Company, 4’s an Orgy:
photos by Matilde Damele interview by Kristina Monllos
the Shameless Carnivore sinks his teeth into some stinky pork, by Scott Gold
Focus in the Ring: a photo essay
science fiction as cultural criticism from out of bounds, by Phil Matricardi
you suck, and that’s ok by Jillian Quint
Vile Jelly: a comic by Hunter Nelson
Ironic Solitude: a brief history of 3rd and third by Francis Morrone
one little, two little, three little Indians. . .
(before Ikea) by Breanne Scanlon
by Ryan Dodge
scenes from a Brooklyn Sex Party by Jenny Kate Sherman
20 Permanent Address
a search for real estate at Green-Wood Cemetery, by Mike Phillips
24 Primary Education
council candidates barnstorm Brooklyn’s 39th, by Rosemary King and Shane Dixon Kavanauagh
30 Park Slope Indians
remaking the Montauk Club, by Gregory Bodkin cover photo by Matilde Damele, contents photo by Jeff Brown
photo by J.K. Putnam
etter from the Editors Here’s to the sweet smell of sweat and sunscreen, to crapulent afternoons, to short skirts, to waking up in public parks. Here’s to 4 am barbecues, to dancing naked in lightning storms, to topless scrap-metal collectors lurking along Third Avenue. Here’s to summer 2009. In the spirit of the season, we asked our contributors to set fire to their couches, get out of their homes, and fall back in love with their neighborhoods. What we got was a collection of distinct perspectives on sex, politics, and history in South Brooklyn. We hope these pieces will inspire you to blow the pollen dust off your rusty bike and swap out that artificial suntan you got from the glow of your laptop for the real deal. We’re happy to be here, in these times, on the dole. We’ll see you down at the OTB; we hear it’s air conditioned. Sincerely, Sam, Shane, and Jon
Published Quarterly by Overflow Publishing, LLC 315 3rd Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11215 www.overflowmagazine.com
Publishers Samuel Carter Jonathan Melamed Managing Editor Shane Dixon Kavanaugh Art Director Taemur Moazzam Copy Editor Gabrielle Begue Intern Kristina Monllos Advertising Inquiries firstname.lastname@example.org Editorial Inquiries email@example.com Comments firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Phil Matricardi is an avid science fiction reader and physics dilettante. He currently earns his living slinging Internet popup ads, and says that this is what “keeps the Internet free.” 2. Anna Sweet is the daughter of a burly, loving religious zealot and a coral green-eyed Scrabble champion bombshell. She is in the planning stages of a multi-media documentary on the Appalachian Music legend Norma “Granny” Sweet who besides being the first upstate female “badass” over the age of 60, is also her grandmother. 3. Roberto Patella just received his Masters in Foreign Language Education and Linguistics and is now working toward a career in fashion photography. 4. Hunter Nelson grew up in Texas and was educated by Jesuits. In New York, he is an illustrator, writer, and performer. Look for his Graphic Novel Critter Show to show up in late 2009. 5. Matt Rodigheri is a photographer currently living and working in Brooklyn. The world is his oyster. His work can be seen at www. matthewrodigheri.com. 6. Marlene Rounds is “kickin’ it.” 7. David Gardiner is a Costa Rican ex-professional Triathlete turned Photographer/ Photo retoucher who specializes in sports and event Photography. Clients include Red Bull, New York Road Runners Foundation, and Loreal. When not shooting, he is either riding a bike or running around Prospect Park. He is based in Park Slope, Brooklyn. www.davidgardinerphoto.com 8. Matilde Damele studied Documentary Photography at ICP. Her “street photography” captures women in different cityscapes while her “boxing” photos document the athletes’ training. 9. Katherine Harrison edits children’s books for Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from New York University in 2008 with a B.A. in International Relations. 10. David Brenner is a Brooklyn-based screenwriter. He is currently developing a cartoon series. Brenner.David@gmail.com 11. Breanne Scanlon is currently a graduate student in the Public History and Archival Studies programs at New York University and has been rocking and rolling in Carroll Gardens for over five years. Her oral history project about Judson Church and the Capital Clergy Consultation Service can be found at voicesofjudson.blogspot.com. 12. Scott Gold is the author of the book The Shameless Carnivore: A Manifesto for Meat Lovers, a selection of which was included in Best Food Writing 2008. You can find more of his writing at www.shamelesscarnivore.com. 13. Jeff Brown www.jr-brown.com. 14. Taemur Moazzam Due to an over-abundance of sobriety, Taemur grew old with an education consisting
primarily of video games and comic books. Of the few benefits such an education brings, we have been able to harness his sense of mixing words and images. Recently his profound respect for evil genius has made him less useful. 15. Francis Morrone is an architectural historian and cultural journalist whose eight books include An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn. He recently wrote The Park Slope Neighborhood and Architectural History Guide published by the Brooklyn Historical Society. 16. Eric Rosner If you enjoy my illustrations please check out www. theduhnetwork.com for more, or contact me at ARTBOY32@mac.com. 17. Luca Giovanopoulos is a Brooklyn-based print maker and illustrator. Her inspirations are deeply rooted in fashion and food. Lucagiovan@gmail.com. 18. Sarah Wilmer is a photographer. For proof, look here: www.SarahWilmer.com 19. Lisa Allen is a researcher and reporter for The Deal. When she’s not investigating pharma mergers and grilling activist investors, she likes to unwind in downward dog and re-read Virginia Woolf novels. 20. Michael Phillips is an Associate Editor of HexEdJournal.com and a contributor to Slices of Life [slicemagazine.org/blog]. He also writes and sings the songs of The Peter Pinguid Society [myspace.com/thepeterpinguidsociety]. 21. Rosemary King is a political organizer for a health reform non-profit organization. When not sampling the cheeses at Caputo’s fine foods in Carroll Gardens, you’ll probably find her cooking, gardening, or reading in her Jersey City brownstone. 22. Mr. Gregory Bodkin is a Brooklyn-based librarian. He is currently reclassifying his life. 23. Jillian Quint is an Assistant Editor at the Random House Publishing Group. She has worked on many fine books, a high percentage of which seem to be about British royalty. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. 24. Kristina Monllos is from Newport, Rhode Island, and currently attends Eugene Lang College at The New School for Liberal Arts. 25. Jenny Kate Sherman is currently dating Spider Man. She is a native New Yorker/freelance writer/chronic napper. 26. Gabrielle Begue is an editor and writer from New Orleans who lives in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, where she cooks Creole food and writes a blog about the awesome appeal of objects: http://objectlesson.wordpress.com. 27. Ryan Dodge currently writes a daily dating blog for Glamour. His work has also appeared in the New York Post, Slice Magazine, and the Minetta Review. He hails from Tacoma, Washington, and resides in idyllic Boerum Hill.
by Katherine Harrison and Lisa Allen photo by Jeff Brown
rom Warhol’s Factory to the Round Table Room at the Algonquin, New York City has seen more artistic communities come and go than perhaps any other city in the world. Changing times and climbing rents have continuously reshaped the creative landscape, which is much more expansive today than it was back in the 1970s—a multi-borough stewpot spilling over with the commercialized, the gentrified, and the cutting-edge. Manhattan has its fat-walleted SoHo scene, Williamsburg
“We needed to be around people and we needed a productive space.,” says Carlson. “You freelance because you don’t want to be workin’ for the man seventy hours a week, but at the same time you don’t want to fritter your day away being unproductive.” When they realized that their ideal workspace didn’t seem to exist yet, Carnie and Carlson took matters into their own hands. Flash forward to a crisp spring afternoon on the third floor of the renovated factory at 540
to bring people together in the same bricksand-mortar space. “I’d go to cocktail hours and I was on list-servs, but there was nothing really consistent and nothing day-to-day. I think it’s that day-to-day interaction where serendipitous ideas can come up—things just kind of happen when you’re in the same place with other people.” At $350–$1500 per month, the workspaces are more suitable for established professionals than starving artists, but with high-speed
“I think it’s that day to day interaction where serendipitous ideas can come up—things just kind of happen when you’re in the same place with other people.” and Bushwick share artsy young hipsters and bedbugs by the loft-full, and South Brooklyn has . . . well, what? Erin Carnie and Neil Carlson, the married masterminds behind the Brooklyn Creative League, think they have the answer. You may have seen Carnie and Carlson typing away at some project among the droves of freelancers who hit the Slope to buy a coffee and park their laptops on rickety café tables for hours on end. But don’t expect to see them the next time you walk into the Red Horse or the Tea Lounge. As the couple has discovered, a café full of plugged-in freelancers is not the best recipe for creative collaboration.
President Street that houses their brainchild, the Brooklyn Creative League. “Creative people don’t want to be trapped in a cubicle,” Carlson says as he guides us through an airy spread of workspaces and offices, which will soon be filled with renters from a wide variety of artistic professions. Sun slants in through the arched windows, glancing off clean white walls to warm the exposed brick, while a tangle of pipes running along the ceiling gives the space an industrial edge. The suicidebeige cubicle upholstery so popular in your typical midtown office building is nowhere to be seen. The BCL aims to build a new community, but “it’s not a ‘drink the Kool Aid’ kind of thing,” Carlson is quick to note. The point is
internet, free printing, a lounge with a kitchen and free coffee, comfy reading nooks, and a built-in professional and social network, you can’t say it’s not a good deal. BCL’s diverse membership is an added perk. “We want to serve every level of the creative sector,” explains Carnie, “the playwrights and the poets and the novelists working side by side with the publicists and the editors and the publishers, the graphic designers along with the web designers, and inevitably it’s a kind of mishmash of all the sectors.” According to Carlson, this variety provides the ideal environment for creative ideas to take flight. Need a graphic designer’s take on your marketing plan? Just walk down the hall.
Brooklyn Creative League is gradually coming into its own as a petri dish for the creative community of South Brooklyn. He describes his own relationship with a web developer who was instrumental in putting together BCL’s website and whom he has, in turn, set up with clients of his consulting firm who need web design services. Not only has the web designer gone on to refer many of his own clients back to Carlson, he has also opted to become one of BCL’s founding members. “That’s just three relationships,” Carlson enthuses, “If you get fifty or seventy people in the space and they’re all having that kind of face time and having those kinds of relationships with each other, it’s really going to blossom.” The benefits of access to a broad professional network are apparent, but BCL hopes to benefit its members in other ways as well, offering a variety of seminars, film-screenings and keynote speakers intended to help guide
members through the obstacles unique to those who choose to go it alone in the workplace. Carnie and Carlson also plan to work in some capacity with the rapidly growing Freelancers Union, offer advice on filing taxes as a freelancer, and maybe even seek out a partnership with a daycare center. But they make it clear that the services they will pursue will be largely be determined by their members’ needs. “Our whole purpose is being responsive to our members,” says Carnie. “Until we have a critical mass of people and we know what their particular needs are, we don’t want to put a bunch of things in place.” Much like the neighborhood it calls home, the Brooklyn Creative League is gradually coming into its own as a petri dish for the creative community of South Brooklyn—and
non-members can benefit from this growing network as well. If one of their workspaces doesn’t fit into your budget yet, keep an eye on BCL’s upcoming events, some of which will be open to the public. It remains to be seen how the BCL will reconcile its dual nature. Will it succeed in integrating the best parts of a tightly run business and an organically evolving community, or will it veer noticeably toward one end of the spectrum? “It’s a business first,” Carlson tells us. “But I think the definition of business that we bring to the table is different—we’re able to consider factors other than the bottom line.” And that is precisely what makes the Brooklyn Creative League such a promising addition to the neighborhood—it defines itself not by precedent, but possibility.
hen you first walk into Stinky Brooklyn (261 Smith St. in Cobble Hill), you experience all the sights, smells, and sensations you'd expect in a small cheese and provisions shop: neatly arranged jars of artisanal pickles, smoked fish, caviar, and bottles of bitters; stacks of fresh-baked baguettes and boules; and, of course, that distinctive, pungent aroma of fromage that makes the joint smell as though, in the off hours, it serves as a storing house for the Brooklyn Cyclones' unwashed athletic equipment. Which, naturally, is what one should look for in a cheese shop—who wants to buy cheese in a place that doesn't reek of cows and sheep and goats and crusty, heady mold? All good things. So, in this department, Stinky doesn't initially appear to be very much out of line with any similar establishment.
by Scott Gold photos by Marlene Rounds
hen you glance to your right.
Just between the cash register and the cheese counter, out in the open air for all to see, rest five whole disembodied legs from five dead pigs held in artful suspension by plastic and metal clamps, the exposed flesh carefully covered by small towels, and the feet (of those that still possess them), jutting out as if asking you to slap them five. When you think about it, it's an awful grisly sight, almost like something out of Torquemada, or at least a seriously gruesome chorus line. But underneath the almost shocking sight of these severed legs is something of pure magic: beautifully cured ham. Humans have been curing hams for centuries—salt curing, in fact, is one of the oldest methods of preserving food. People have long used this process of charcuterie to ensure that they'll have plenty of meat to keep them sated throughout a long winter. And, like other long-passed-down culinary and agricultural traditions, we've learned to refine the process of raising animals and curing their flesh over hundreds of years, so that the result isn't just a staple that will keep a family from dying of hunger in the coldest months, but a deeply enjoyable, hand-crafted product. What began as a survival tool has become, in itself, a reason to live.
But in the decades following World War II, when the U.S. economy flourished and we moved from small neighborhood butcher shops to an ever-expanding presence of chain supermarkets, this long-appreciated art of ham began to slip into the shadows, the tradition carried on mostly in the deep South, and even there it started to dwindle. Elsewhere, people bought their supermarket ham tidily packaged in plastic wrap. Today, you can hop by the Met Food or Associated Supermarket and quickly purchase some “prosciutto” that's been pre-sliced, separated by wax paper, and presented in a clever, colorful package, and not even have to see the entire leg, much less the foot (or the hair, or the blackish mold on the outside of a long-aged country ham). Stinky's Chris Remy is on a mission to change this. In fact, it wouldn't be inappropriate to call him a revolutionary, if only the literal sense of the word: Remy is trying to bring our attitudes about food full circle, back to where we began, appreciating finely crafted foods, and, perhaps more importantly, the animals from which they come. The seed of this idea germinated with a trip to Europe not long after Stinky opened its doors three years ago. “I walked into a shop in Bologna, and I’d never seen anything like it,” says Remy. “They probably had six or seven hams: all different Italian styles, jamón Iberico…it was really an impressive sight. When I came back to Stinky, where we only had the one
ham–we started off carving a jamón Serrano exclusively—I was definitely on a mission to try and do something similar to what I experienced in Europe, not staying exclusive to one product. Now, we rotate through about a dozen different hams, five at a time. When we first opened, we really didn’t know what we were doing with the meat section, but over time we really learned and made connections [to providers], and today we’re able to offer our customers some really fantastic, varied products.” Not that some customers find the idea of a ham bar so lovely. “There are definitely people that walk in and make a U-turn the second they see them,” he explains. “I’ve seen people go into what I’d say would be a genuine panic attack because of the sight. Or just glancing at them and deliberately staying on the opposite side of the store. But that’s the minority,” he says. “Most of the people who shop here have watched us grow from that one ham to our ham bar–I find that most of them are really jazzed by it. And people like me, who’ve traveled abroad to Spain and Italy and other places, who are excited to actually find some of this stuff here in the States. A lot of Europeans, as well, come in and are super appreciative of what we have in here, and they thank us for making them feel a little closer to home. It’s a wonderful compliment.” I, for one, am definitely jazzed, just brimming over with jazz at not just the sight of that glorious pork, but with giddy anticipation of getting to
sample it all. With that, we turn to tasting the current roster of Stinky’s five hams, all lined up in a pretty row. (“The gams!” exclaims Remy, with pride.) “I’m actually just noticing right now that three of our five hams are American,” he begins, maybe with a touch of patriotism, as he removes the cloth from the first leg--a ninemonth-old Broadbent country ham– and begins to shave thin slices away from it with both practiced skill and
a wickedly sharp-looking Spanish jamón knife. “Out of the three American hams, two of them are smoked, which makes a big difference. Broadbent’s is from Trigg County, Kentucky, which is really ham central. And this is one of our best sellers, mostly because of the price ($10/lb.).” And though this is definitely a “commodity pig” (a massproduced animal), “it’s your classic country thing – it’s rough around the edges. It’s about smoke, it’s about salt. There’s nothing subtle about it.” As I taste it, I see how right he is; the flavor of the wood smoke marries with a powerful wave of salt, then finishes with a light pork flavor. Definitely a
bang-for-the-buck ham. “This guy here,” Remy continues, pointing to our next leg, a two-yearold country ham from Benton Family Farms in Tennessee, “is much more haggard around the edges. They don’t mess around–it’s a small operation, and they use pasture-raised Berkshire pigs.” The flesh, as opposed to the rosy red of the Broadbent, is a dark, rich red, almost burgundy. “This
here,” Remy adds, noting that we’ve gone up in price to ten dollars per quarter pound. “We’ve gotten a little sweeter–you’re going to start to see a much more refined ham. No smoke, and these guys are going to be a lot more balanced.” When we taste it, the difference between this jamón and the Broadbent’s is immediate; without the power of that smoke and heavy salt, the flavor is, much like a fine glass of wine, intimate and complex.
jutting out as if asking for a high five is all about the pork here. There’s of course that smoke and salt, but you can really taste the pig, and it’s amazingly delicious. This animal’s had more time to grow, to mature; it’s a much slower process, and that shows.” And again, Remy hits the nail on the head–it does show, the delicate, piggy goodness traipsing across the tongue in all the best ways. Next we move to a classic jamón Serrano from the company Jamandor, in Spain. “We’ve definitely made a turn
From here we take the next step up the ham ladder with a Large Black ham from Caw Caw Creek, just outside of Columbia, South Carolina. For eighteen bucks a quarter pound, you’d hope that you’re getting the good stuff, and you couldn’t be more right. “I love this ham,” says Remy. “The guy that raises these animals makes sure they’re happy pigs. They’re a large, black breed, one of the few commercially available hams that are both raised and cured by the same person. This is your big, salty, unbelievably delicious pork–again, no smoke on this one– aged about
a year.” I take a taste, and porcine fireworks start to pop off in my mouth. I’ve never encountered a ham this intense before, the typical ham flavors concentrated and magnified into something massive, with a tang at the finish that rings the sour receptors in the back of your mouth. And, finally, we move to the pièce de resistance: a Fermin jamón Iberico Bellota. A gorgeous-looking leg bristling with small black hairs on the skin. “It’s a catch,” Remy tells me, going on to explain how difficult it is to import this kind of foreign product into the United States, and the “ongoing, insane, ‘I-don’t-know-if-it’seven-worth-it’ battle with the USDA. And when it comes in, the government lops off its defining characteristic: its big, beautiful black foot.” The reason
for this de-trottering is the source of much speculation and political dispute—not to mention outrage by American ham importers—way too much to do it justice here. The most important thing is that, when you place this pork in your mouth, you’ll know that all the infighting and legal troubles are worth it. It might cost you thirty dollars for a mere quarter-pound, but you pay for what you get: this ham is pure magic, at once both deeply piggy and elegant. If the Large Black was a fireworks show on the tongue, this is a symphony, an overture of delicate fat, followed by a knee-bucklingly powerful aria of rich ham and salt, and a long, languid finish that conjures sweet, porcine dreams. Before I exit the shop, belly filled with exquisite ham, head swimming
with thoughts of lovingly raised pigs roaming the green land and feasting on acorns, I ask Remy about his philosophy. Why does he work so hard to cultivate his ham program? “Food, for me, other than to support life, is just fun. It’s not surgery, I’m not running a battleship. I’m offering the best that I can to people, hopefully making their lives a little better. That’s about as far as it goes for me, to be honest. But I love this…I want this to become part of people’s everyday life instead of just a special treat. I want to see more ham bars popping up down the street. When I see that, I’ll know that we did it.” And on that day, I’ll be there, waving the jamón flag with pride. Viva la revolución!
on Friedman Fri r ed ri dman never imagined he’d end up doing this sort of thing. In his introduction to Rejected: Tales of the Failed, Dumped, and Canceled, the writer/ comedian and Park Slope resident admits, “It’s not exactly a childhood goal to strive toward working with unwanted material.” Yet Friedman would probably be the first to admit that this comedic treatment of pain and failure, his own and others, has led pointedly to some of his clearest successes. Friedman created “The Rejection Show” in the summer of 2003 after a series of disappointments—professional, romantic, etc.—left him wanting to give a voice to rejection stories and rejected works. Ostensibly a therapy session masquerading as a really, really funny variety show, Friedman’s baby allows anybody with an entertaining sob story—though generally like-minded writers and actors of the Lower
from Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and Kids in the Hall. It’s smart and it’s gutsy and it’s just the type of thing I’d recommend to a friend, particularly these days, as the crumbling economy makes it increasingly harder to catch a break. If it sounds like I’m trying to sell you on Rejected, that’s because I am. Go out and buy a copy now. Full disclosure: I work for the publishing house. In fact, I’m Friedman’s editor, so it’s a pretty good thing that I like his book as much as I do. But really, there’s something else I want to discuss here, something about the subject matter that makes me, by all means the book’s most ardent cheerleader, just a tad nervous. After all, isn’t it my job to sit squarely on the other side of the grim thanks-but-no-thanks relationship? Isn’t it me the contributors in this book are snubbing? Me. The rejecter. The crusher of dreams. The marker of failure. Here’s how my end of the rejection process works. On average, book editors get in a handful of submissions a week, each of which we read and assess to see if we—or, more often than not, our superiors—ought to make a bid on it. These submissions come from agencies, so they’re theoretically pre-vetted, and they come in all manner of style and quality. Sometimes a forty-page outline. Sometimes a backbreaking tome. But all of them have the same intent: to woo me. “Dear Jillian,”
I’ve consumed. But essentially: not many. And thus I sit down to compose the infamous rejection letter which is short and shameful and generally employs the word “unfortunately” as if to suggest that the fate of the book were somehow out of my hands. This isn’t to say that I’m powerless in the process or that we’re not trying to publish books. We are. I certainly am. But I also feel compelled to express the realities of the game, which are twofold. One. There are a lot of terrible books that should be rejected so as to never see the light of day. I have seen proposals for cookbooks based on the cuisines of terrorist countries, memoirs from borderline illiterate Z-list former metal stars, novels about sexy, ex-model crime-fighters or sickeningly saccharine children who Overcome Odds. And all of them seem to purport to be the next Kite Runner. Two. There are a lot of inspired, fantastic books that, through no fault of their own, we will not publish. This is the hard part and I’m sure you know the story. Publishing (much like the film or music industries or anything where smart liberal artsy sorts who also want dental insurance end up) is a decidedly for-profit business run by reluctantly high-minded snoots who never thought they’d be line editing the revised edition of The Only Abs Workout You’ll Ever Need, but here we are. And the truth of the matter is that the quiet, subtle, and innovative novel I get in may be the best thing I’ve read all year, but TOAWYEN is guaranteed to sell copies and the novel just isn’t. Sometimes we take chances. Sometimes, you, yes you—immensely talented yet unpublished author that you are—will get noticed and recognized and compensated for your work. But now, especially now, these chances are harder and harder to take and as a result I am forced to write your agent a perfectly nice though admittedly impersonal rejection letter. “I’m afraid I didn’t fall in love here….” “Unfortunately I just didn’t connect with the characters in the way that I had hoped….” “We worry we wouldn’t be able to break out this author in what is already a very crowded marketplace.” And for that, I am sorry. Rejection is never easy. Friedman and his contributors make this clear. Even those who have learned to laugh at it—Lianne Stokes, who slept on the floor of her office after a drunken night gone awry, Wendy Spero, who was fired from both Conan and Letterman after trying to hold simultaneous
you suck, and that’s OK Manhattan and Brooklyn set––to perform/read/ exhibit their rejected work. Audience favorites (which also appear in the book) include “Rejected Sketches from MTV’s The State” and a collection of rejected cartoons by an artist who goes by the name “Odd Todd.” After several years, Friedman found that the show’s format couldn’t accommodate all the material that contributors wanted to share and viewers hungered to devour (it’s called Schadenfreude, in case you were curious). So he went out and began the decidedly un-loseresque process of finding an agent, getting a book deal, and turning his comedy show into a smart, handsome, outrageously hilarious yet decidedly poignant anthology featuring writers
reads the agent’s cover letter. “From the moment I began this heart-stopping novel of unrequited love in war-torn Chechnya, I knew I wanted to share it with you.” Why thank you, I think to myself. I’m certain I would be an excellent judge of your author’s “poetically postmodern” and “culturally nuanced” style. Of course I’d be happy to open her sultry black and white headshot, which you’ve included in the email. But then I have to quickly snap out of it. For, just as it’s the agents’ job to seduce me, it’s my job to find fault with their offerings. Your plot? Kind of boring. Your narrator? Flat. Unlikable. I’m often asked what percentage of submissions actually become books and my answers seem to vary based on the amount of sleep I’ve gotten or drinks
by Jillian Quint internships—never contend the experience was anything less than crushing. And lest you think I’m going to give some moralizing sermon on picking oneself up and dusting oneself off, on learning to ignore the sting and embrace difficulty, I will do nothing of the sort. We probably don’t “learn” from these experiences just as I will probably never get comfortable turning down someone’s opus. Rejection—both ends of it—sucks, pure and simple. Still, one thing we all ought to remember is that it doesn’t last forever. We spurn. We get spurned. We move on. And in the meantime, at least my abs are looking awesome.
No part of the city cries more loudly for reorganization than the Erie Basin and Gowanus Canal district of Brooklyn. It is a region of grimy factories and warehouses and gas tanks, of badly paved, narrow, abortive streets, of empty lots and industrial rubble among which gnarled trees and abandoned privet hedges manage to survive. It looks like a segment of a bombed city. Remarkably, the description is still apt fiftyseven years later. He goes on: “In the midst of this emptiness, the Brooklyn Improvement Company, whatever that may be, occupies a classic stucco mansion, standing at the corner of 3rd Street and Third Avenue in ironic solitude—or should one say hopeful anticipation?” And, fifty-seven years later, we still don’t know whether that “classic stucco mansion” stands in “ironic solitude” or “hopeful anticipation.”
n 1952, Lewis Mumford, who at the time was architecture critic for The New Yorker, journeyed to Gowanus to look at the new factory of Eagle Clothes, on Third Avenue at 6th Street. It’s a measure of Mumford’s greatness as an architecture critic that while he wrote (brilliantly) about the United Nations and Lever House, he also considered it his duty to write about factories and about such parts of the city as the “benighted district” where “the Erie Basin, leaping across the Gowanus Canal, begins to give way to the modest residential streets of South Brooklyn.” Mumford had long campaigned for the removal of garment factories from Midtown Manhattan to the outer boroughs—not so the Garment Center could be made over into fancy offices or apartments, but so the city’s manufacturing operations would be more efficient and workers’ lives would be happier. He believed in the inherent dignity of factory work and that manufacturing plants should be clean, well-lighted places. This the Eagle factory was, a place where wide aisles and strip windows gave the plant “an air of clean, uncluttered serenity.” The basement cafeteria, Mumford marveled, served both breakfast and lunch. The only thing really wrong with the factory was the “tall, raucous sign” that detracted from the pervasive sense of calm. And Eagle Clothes was for Mumford a model of the kind of building that Gowanus desperately needed:
Technically, the walls of the “mansion” were not stucco but a patented concrete known as Béton Coignet. An engineer named François Coignet invented this type of concrete in France in the 1850s. In the late 1860s, the New York and Long Island Coignet Stone Company was formed to manufacture Coignet’s concrete for the American market. The plant was originally at Smith and Hamilton streets. As the company grew, it established a larger plant along Third Avenue between 3rd and 6th streets, with direct access to the 4th Street Basin, one of the four basins built in 1869 by Edwin Litchfield’s Brooklyn Improvement Company. These basins, together with other improvements, created the modern Gowanus Canal that would serve Brooklyn industry for many years. The 4th Street Basin juts perpendicularly from the canal eastward from Second to Third avenues, bisecting the concrete company’s property. In 1872–73, the company erected its office building on the southwest corner of Third Avenue and 3rd Street. This is the “mansion.” Mumford can be forgiven for thinking it had once been a private house, for it certainly looks like one. But it wasn’t. It was the company’s headquarters. (In 1898, India ink baron Charles Higgins purchased a private house, still standing on 9th Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues, to use as the headquarters of his company, the factory of which stood right behind the house.) The building was also intended to showcase the possibilities of the company’s products. The rusticated façades and ornamental detail were made of a
cast concrete used, like stucco, in imitation of cut stone. The building’s foundation was of the company’s own poured-in-place concrete. The floors may be of reinforced concrete. Altogether, the building is one of the city’s pioneer examples of concrete construction, as we learned from architectural historian Matthew Postal’s amazing report for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, which designated the building as a landmark in 2006. Concrete manufactured at the Brooklyn plant was used in several notable buildings in New York, from the soaring vaults of St. Patrick’s Cathedral to the floors of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank on Broadway at Driggs Avenue. Nonetheless, Coignet’s company was shortlived, closing in 1882. The building’s architects, William Field & Son, were based in Manhattan but left a major mark on Brooklyn. In addition to this building, they worked for the great philanthropist Alfred Tredway White, designing his legendary model housing developments: the Tower and Home Buildings and Workingmen’s Cottages in Cobble Hill and the Riverside Buildings in Brooklyn Heights. (For more on this firm, the reader may wish to consult my essay “Alfred White’s Architects,” in the newly published book The Social Vision of Alfred T. White, published by Proteotypes and the Brooklyn Historical Society and available at the Proteus Gowanus Gallery on Nevins and Union streets.) In 1882, the building became the headquarters of the Brooklyn Improvement Company— “whatever that may be,” in the words of Lewis Mumford. Well, I’ll tell you what it was. Edwin Litchfield founded the Brooklyn Improvement Company in 1866 to develop land that he owned. Litchfield was at one time the largest landowner in Brooklyn. His holdings included a substantial portion of present-day Park Slope and Gowanus. In 1852 he purchased the 150-acre Cortelyou farm, for which the “Old Stone House,” in what is now J.J. Byrne Park, was the farmhouse. The farm extended from Second to Tenth avenues and 1st to 10th streets. In 1854–57 Litchfield built his beautiful country house high up on the terminal moraine that bisects Brooklyn, just east of Ninth Avenue (Prospect Park West). Designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, one of America’s most important antebellum architects, “Litchfield Castle,” as the Brooklyn
Daily Eagle called it, commanded a sweeping vista of New York Harbor. (Known today as “Litchfield Villa,” the house, situated within Prospect Park, is the headquarters of the Prospect Park Alliance and of the Brooklyn office of the Department of Parks and Recreation.) By 1866, most of Litchfield’s Park Slope lots were sold or leased, so the main focus of the Brooklyn Improvement Company was to improve the Gowanus Canal and develop industrial properties near it. Litchfield himself had little to do with the “mansion” on Third Avenue at 3rd Street. By 1882 he was elderly and ill, and was spending most of his time in the south of France. He died in 1885. The company, however, persisted in the building until 1957, five years after Mumford noticed it.
at Washington Park. On the east side of Third Avenue between 1st and 3rd streets stands a remnant of the original outfield wall of the baseball stadium. The site, extending to Fourth Avenue, now belongs to Con Edison. Washington Park and the Brooklyn Improvement Company were both served by the 3rd Street station of the Fifth Avenue elevated railway, which operated from 1889 to 1940. Sometime in the 1960s, the Brooklyn Improvement Company building was
The surrounding scene once was a bit livelier.
Since then, the building has clung forlornly to its corner. The surrounding scene once was a bit livelier. Between 1898 and 1912 Charles Ebbets’ National League baseball team (named the Dodgers in 1910) played its home games diagonally across Third Avenue
grotesquely refaced in artificial brick. This is how the building appears to us today—though not how the “stucco mansion” appeared to Mumford in 1952. The concrete ornament— quoins, molded arches with keystones, Ionic columns, a pediment with raking cornices— was also treated in some way as to appear quite artificial and way too shiny. (Actually, since the concrete was itself a form of artificial stone, we may say that nowadays it looks like
artificial artificial-stone.) No color photos exist of the building as it originally appeared, but black-and-white images do suggest that the concrete façades and ornament were of a much more muted hue. Part of why the building today impresses itself upon people’s minds is its garish palette. The building stands at the northeast edge of the ill-fated site owned by Whole Foods Market. But apparently they never acquired the building. (As noted by Laura Raskin in a 2007 Brooklyn Rail article, all standard sources of ownership information state that Whole Foods is the owner, but the company insists it is not.) The building’s fate is uncertain. It has been designated as a landmark, but it’s hard to know what that means for the future. The Landmarks Preservation Commission cannot do anything to forestall the building’s continued decay, much less compel its owner to remove the artificial facing. Just as it’s likely that Gowanus isn’t going to become the San Antonio Riverwalk anytime soon, so it’s likely that the “mansion” will continue for some time to stand in “ironic solitude.”
ERMANENT DDRESS My Search for Real Estate at Green-Wood Cemetery by Mike Phillips photos by Sarah Wilmer
t may strike some as odd that, at the first sign of spring, my immediate desire is to visit a cemetery. I hop on my bike and carefully navigate traffic, past the delis and roti shops on Nostrand Avenue, across the wasteland of Empire Boulevard, and through the park. The uncannily familiar smells of exhaust and asphalt yielding to soil and grass, no longer dampened by the cold, call up memories of past springs, of road trips and ballgames and women.
As I pull up to the ornate gothic gate at the entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery, I dismount and turn off the Mets game on my Walkman. The cemetery was founded in 1838, just a few years before the first real baseball games were played in Hoboken by New York clubs who could no longer find a place to play in Manhattan. Like the grand old game, “rural” cemeteries like Green-Wood aimed to provide urbanites
seems more alive than the city that surrounds it. From its founding in the days before New York’s great public parks, Green-Wood became a major place of recreation, and it retains some of that character today. While there are no longer carriage tours or throngs of picnickers, one often comes across young couples meandering along the winding paths or Park Slopers powerwalking up the glacial hills, on top of which one occasionally finds Sunset Park Latinas sunbathing. I employ my usual strategy regarding the dozens of miles of roadways and footpaths that weave down slopes and disappear behind crests: I get lost. Stopping on a hilltop, I smile at the immense quiet, though the sounds of the city may still be heard in the distance, echoing as if from a different time. I make my way to Battle Hill, the highest natural point in Brooklyn, where a statue of the goddess Minerva raises her arm in greeting as she peers across the harbor at her foreign cousin. The
where a statue of the goddess Minerva raises her arm in greeting as she peers across the harbor at her foreign cousin with a simulacrum of pastoral life. As New York became a crowded, industrial city, the traditional practice of churchyard burials ceased to be feasible, so deceased Manhattanites did the only sensible thing: they moved to Brooklyn. At the entrance I’m greeted by the chatter of the wild parrots who have made their home in the spires of the gate. Indigenous to South America, they are supposedly descended from domesticated birds who never made it to the pet shop, having escaped from their crates at JFK Airport. The management initially attempted to get rid of them, until they realized that they keep the pigeons away. (Bonus: Chemical analysis has shown that parrot feces are far less detrimental to the cemetery’s many brownstone structures than pigeon feces.) The transition from dull gray pigeons to bright-green parrots seems counterintuitive, but in many ways the cemetery, home to an astonishing variety of plant life,
statue commemorates the first battle fought by George Washington’s army, right here on the hills of Brooklyn. I sit down, light a cigarette, and begin to contemplate the nature of time, history, and memory, without coming to any definite conclusions, other than that I want to be buried in Green-Wood Cemetery. † † † I arrive exactly on time for my two o’clock appointment; Theresa walks in a moment later. She is younger and more attractive than she sounded on the phone. I expect her to be somber, but she smiles and asks what she can help me with. I tell her that I’m interested in a burial plot, that I’ve been thinking about the future, and, with my transient lifestyle, it would be comforting to know that I have a place. She nods and smiles brightly. I say that I want to find out what it takes to be buried in this beautiful place, hoping to telegraph that I won’t be buying anything today so that she won’t be disappointed. I’m no good with salesmen.
She drives the minivan to the first site, where the cemetery has recently dug up a roadway to make room for new graves. On the way, I tell her that I’m interested in history, asking about the petition on their website to block high-rise development in the sight line between Minerva and the Statue of Liberty, a drive that she assures me has been successful. We pass a cluster of graves of Civil War veterans where an old man in a baseball cap weaves between the plain white stones.
elsewhere.” I make a mental note of the plot’s number, and we head to the next site.
I ask whether more people are choosing mausoleum space over burials these days, even though it’s more expensive by several thousand dollars. She tells me that it depends on nationality, with more Italians choosing the indoor option. I think of the time I wandered into the cemetery’s state-of-the-art Hillside Mausoleum and the claustrophobic vertigo I The dirt lot is not especially appealing, though the location is pleasant, experienced as I gazed down the dystopian waterfall that slices through and the level ground strikes me as somehow beneficial, as if a body its five stories. “I wouldn’t want to be in a mausoleum,” I say. “It’s might slide down a hill. She explains that one grave site accommodates so....” She finishes my thought: “Cold.” three caskets, one on top the other, plus three urns. There is no charge for standard upkeep, which is sufficient in more visible, high-traffic We climb up a small set of granite steps built into the hillside, ducking areas such as this, though she advises buying a maintenance plan in under tree branches. The bottom step is inscribed on the front with more remote areas. These plots, she tells me, go for $15,861, cheaper the word “Mother.” This site is a larger one that can comfortably by $5,000 than sites in older areas of the cemetery, because there “the house six caskets and six urns. “This is a nice location,” I say, “but I engineer has to do more work.” I do not ask what this entails. don’t think I need a double site.”
“I am needed more elsewhere.”
Back in the van, I ask Theresa how she got into this line of work. “Well,” she says, “there’s some background to that.” She explains that she was in her sister’s bridal party, back when she herself was married, and she needed some extra income, so she got a part-time job at a funeral home. “Then,” she says, “some things changed very fast in my life, and I was no longer married.” She needed a better job, and this one opened up. I ask if she enjoys it and immediately regret my choice of words. “At times,” she replies. “It can be difficult. It’s sad.” But today she seems alive, in that subtle manner that divorced women sometimes have. The sky is clear, and a slight breeze stirs her hair as she curiously surveys her map and directs me to another plot. I like this one, on a hillside, surrounded by nineteenth-century marble obelisks. One stone, a doctor’s, bears the epitaph, “I am needed more
“No,” she says, “you wouldn’t need that.” This makes me sad somehow, and suddenly the whole thing starts to seem ridiculous. As I lean out of the open window of the van into the slow breeze, I think of all the places I’ve lived, and I wonder who lives there now. I wonder how they arrange their furniture and what they have for dinner. I wonder whether things are turning out the way they planned, and I know that they’re not, but I also know that it’s better that way. Theresa parks at the entrance and asks me if I want to put a hold on any of the sites we’ve seen, thirty days with no obligation to buy. They don’t take down payments. I politely decline, saying I’d like to spend some time there by myself and think about it. It’s a big decision. “Of course,” she says. We don’t shake hands, but she is still smiling.
photos by Roberto Patella Interviews by Rosemary King & Shane Dixon Kavanaugh
t this very moment, there are five men on the loose and running wild throughout Brooklyn’s 39th Council District, an area that includes Gowanus, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Park Slope—in other words, the heart of OVERFLOW territory. They’re barnstorming local civic groups and associations. They’re crashing neighborhood block parties. They may even knock on your front door and ask for your vote. These five men are all Democrats, and they’re looking to fill the City Council seat being vacated by Bill DeBlasio. To prepare you for this moment, OVERFLOW has assembled this brief. We sat down with each one to get a sense of where they’re coming from, what they care about, and why you should care about them. Take a look, and don’t forget to vote in the primary on September 15, 2009.
With his salt-and-pepper hair, impeccable suit, and trench coat, Josh Skaller looks every inch a candidate for the New York City Council. This natural penchant for style is perhaps explained by the fact that before moving to Park Slope ten years ago Josh was a composer, and even ran the computer music studios at Harvard, a passion that
These days Josh is a pretty tough guy to pin down on a Saturday morning. Somehow we lucked out, capturing thirty minutes of his undivided attention at the Park Slope home of his communications director, Lisa Fane, while he caught his breath between glad-handing a Little League Parade marching down 7th Avenue and going doorto-door in Kensington. Josh is candid. He pulls no punches—and to win the fight, he’s willing to take them, too. Age: Forty Occupation: IT director for Global Works, a tech and ad company Years spent in the district: Ten Neighborhood: Park Slope Favorite local haunts: “I have an eight-year-old son so I have no neighborhood haunts.” Three words used to describe himself: “Help me, Lisa!” Legislative priorities: fixing the economy; developing programs that empower small businesses; establishing a more environmental approach to city planning Solutions for the city’s budget woes: “The budget should be a representation of our priorities. What we can’t cut is education, health care, and services for our seniors.” On Gowanus development: “I think that every out-of-context doorman building sucks a little bit of life off our streets. Once you go condo you can’t go back.” On the Gowanus becoming a Superfund site: “The city has had two hundred years to clean this canal. We can’t afford to wait any longer. The Superfund will ensure a thorough cleanup of the Gowanus and bring green jobs to Brooklyn.” Yankees or Mets?: “After those two stadium projects, neither.” Skaller’s Notable Quote:
“I’m 40 years old. How horrible is that?”
he still nurtures. As Josh explains, his background in music gives him a unique appreciation for the emerging artist communities in Gowanus as well as a commitment to help preserve them. When it comes to politics he is equally passionate. An unabashed progressive, he has served as director for Democracy for New York City and as president of the Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats.
It was his wife, Mia, a girl from the circus, the love of his life, that lured Gary Reilly away from his native New Jersey to Carroll Gardens at the end of 2004. It was the F train’s express tracks—which he discovered had been defunct since the 1970s—that kindled Gary’s passion for improving the quality of life in his newly adopted neighborhood. After waging a staggering campaign for enhanced services along the F line, which brought him to both Albany and City Hall, Gary took an active role in Community Board 6 and a handful of other civic outfits. Now he’s running for City Council as a fierce advocate for “sensible” development and transit policy.
Reilly’s Notable Quote:
“You can’t have an economy that’s entirely based on selling each other apartments, coffee, and beer … as much as I enjoy living in an apartment, drinking coffee and beer.”
Gary told us we had “carte blanche” over his digs on 1st Place between Court and Clinton when we showed up—he had sent Mia and his in-laws, who were visiting from New England, out for coffee. Taking his own words to heart, Gary spent the next ten minutes showing us his eclectic collection of furniture throughout the apartment, MTV Cribs-style, before seating us at the dining room table. “You can only accomplish so much as an outside voice,” he started. “If you really want to effect change you need a seat at the table.” Touché. Age: Thirty-five Occupation: environmental and land use lawyer Years spent in the district: Five Neighborhood: Carroll Gardens Favorite local haunts: Caputo’s; Smith and Vine; Al di Là; Gowanus Yacht Club Three words used to describe himself: “Pale.” “Open.” “Intelligent.” Legislative priorities: universal pre-k; living wage jobs; tolls on East River bridges Solutions for the city’s budget woes: “Now’s the time to increase the progressivity of taxes in this city.” On Gowanus development: “The process by which Toll Brothers received approval for spot zoning by the City was ass backwards.” On the Gowanus becoming a Superfund site: “I welcome the resources and expertise that the EPA can bring to our community to finally get the Gowanus cleaned up. It’s long overdue.” Yankees or Mets?: “I know this is heresy to most people, but I don’t really care about baseball.”
In his race for City Council, John Heyer hopes to have history on his side. Born on Van Brunt and King, he has lived in Carroll Gardens his entire life, a neighborhood that his family has called home for the last five generations. In his free time John gives walking tours of mom-and-pop shops and sacred sites throughout the area. He also possesses a comprehensive archive of historical artifacts from the neighborhood, which he has used to curate exhibits at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
We met up with John on Carroll Street in the basement of his parish, Sacred Hearts-St. Stephen, where he had spent the morning in an Easter Bunny costume playing with kids. At 26, John almost looks like a kid himself, and is the youngest of the five candidates in the race. But don’t let his age and looks fool you. He already has twelve years of public service under his belt (starting as an intern in Assemblywoman Joan Millman’s office at age 14), and he currently
barnstorm Brooklyn’s 39th
works as a special assistant to Borough President Marty Markowitz; is a licensed funeral director; has his own limousine company; and is married with a baby on the way.
and as a member of Community Board 6. He’s also a board member of the Brooklyn Community Pride Center and sits on the Fair Trade Committee for the Park Slope Food Co-op.
Age: Twenty-six Occupation: funeral director; special assistant to Borough President Marty Markowitz Years spent in the district: Twenty-six Neighborhood: Carroll Gardens Favorite local haunts: “I don’t know a better haunt than the funeral home.” Three words used to describe himself: “Real.” “Practical.” “Prepared.” Legislative priorities: school reform; keeping property taxes low; supporting small businesses; demanding fiscal oversight of the MTA Solutions for the city’s budget woes: weed out government inefficiencies and eliminate waste; form greater public-private partnerships to deliver services to the underprivileged On Gowanus development: “The Gowanus is a sewer line between Carroll Gardens and Park Slope. We need more people to advocate for the canal.” On the Gowanus becoming a Superfund site: “My family lives near the Gowanus—this issue is personal. History has shown the Superfund unable to achieve fast and thorough cleanups, and we should be better informed about alternatives.” Yankees or Mets?: “I love the history of the Yankees, but they were the rivals of the [Brooklyn] Dodgers. The Mets are cool now because their new stadium looks like Ebbets Field on the outside.” Heyer’s Notable Quote:
Bob suggested that we meet at Blue Marble Ice Cream on Atlantic Avenue for our interview. Helping himself to a pastry and coffee, Bob’s affable manner was discernible as soon as he shook our hands. He fit right in to the laid-back feel of the shop. “Blue Marble is a great example of local business, and it’s just a great place to hang out,” Bob told us as he bit into his croissant. When the owner of Blue Marble approached him to say hello, he happily paused the interview to talk about local events and compliment her on the store.
“If I go a week without a cannoli or a seven-layer, I’m in trouble. Actually, my wife’s in trouble, ‘cause I turn into this animal.”
Save for the eyesores sprouting up and down 4th Avenue, Bob Zuckerman finds the neighborhoods in the 39th District to be “much more civilized” than the Upper West Side, which he and his partner of twelve years left in 2002. Since moving to Brooklyn Bob has had no trouble finding ways to stay active in the neighborhood. He’s served as president of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats
Age: Forty-eight Occupation: on leave as executive director of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation and Gowanus Canal Conservancy. Years spent in the district: Seven Neighborhood: Gowanus Favorite local haunts: The Tea Lounge; D’Amico Coffee, Aunt Suzie’s; Al di Là Three words to describe himself: “Friendly.” “Driven.” “Collegial.” Legislative priorities: establish a residential permit parking system; use stimulus money to move toward a green economy; protect and grow small businesses through property tax incentives Solution for the city’s budget woes: “We must protect kids, the elderly, the disabled, and public safety. These things are sacrosanct. Then we have to look at everything else.” On Gowanus development: “I fall in the middle. We shouldn’t wait until the Gowanus gets cleaned up, because if you bring people to it, those people will be more effective advocates for progress.” On Gowanus becoming a Superfund site: “I will support the Superfund designation as long as I’m convinced that it will lead to a more comprehensive, coordinated cleanup and that funding is in place for such a cleanup.” Yankees or Mets (and Zuckerman’s notable quote):
“Are you kidding? Mets! Have you seen my campaign’s business card!? It’s modeled after the Mets’ logo. Look!” Brad Lander
Over the years Brad Lander has made it his business to ensure that the 39th District stays affordable for all income groups. He’s worked for the Fifth Avenue Committee, a social and economic justice non-profit, and was later able to build and preserve 2,500 units of affordable housing in the area as the director of the Pratt Center for Community Development. If elected to the City Council, Brad hopes to help Brooklyn continue to be a place where community innovation and involvement are the norm. He envisions a community-based planning system for New York, would like to see unemployment insurance offered to freelancers, and is a staunch supporter of mom-and-pop shops. Brad greeted us at his South Slope home with a smile and shush. His wife and young children were down for a nap, so he suggested that
we head over to his local watering hole, Commonwealth. Wearing a little league T-shirt (he marched in the Park Slope Little League Parade with his children that morning), and a pair of jeans, Brad comfortably ordered a Brooklyn Lager, sat back, and bantered about the neighborhood he’s called home since the early 1990s. Age: Thirty-nine Occupation: senior fellow and past director of the Pratt Center for Community Development. Years spent in the district: Seventeen Neighborhood: Park Slope
Favorite neighborhood haunts: “I do love Commonwealth.” Three words to describe himself: “Progressive.” “Committed.” (Could not think of a third.) Legislative priorities: “The Mayor announces a fitfy-milliondollar program to enable laid-off executives to rent Class-A vacant office space in lower Manhattan. Where’s the fifty million dollars for neighborhood entrepreneurs to rent vacant storefronts on our commercial strips?” Solutions for the city’s budget woes: overhaul the “absurd and inequitable” property tax structure On Gowanus development: “We got a lot of the 4th Avenue rezoning wrong. No ground floor requirements. No affordable housing. No environmental standards. No school or childcare facility requirements…a real missed opportunity.” On Gowanus becoming a Superfund site: “I support Superfund designation and cleanup of the Gowanus Canal. It will take federal, state, and city resources to clean it up, so it can become a safe and healthy resource for our community.” Yankees or Mets: “I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but my son likes the Yankees.” Notable quote:
“I’ve lived in the neighborhood for sixteen or seventeen years….What year is it now anyways?”
wo weeks before the swinger party I ran scenario after scenario through my head. Would people be watching me have sex? Would I get to have sex with someone else? Would I be paying the eighty-dollar cover charge just to watch other people do it? I had trouble sleeping. Was this orgy going to spice up my sex life or just leave me with herpes?
First came the rounds of scrutinizing screening e-mails from the hosts of the party. Questions posed in order to see if I was the right fit for this lecherous event. They asked about my feelings on experimental freedom, jealousy, and favorite sex positions. The initial questions were simple enough; what were my hobbies outside of the bedroom and a list of my favorite books. By the third round, the party planners wanted to know if I preferred doggie style or missionary, bondage and whips, or latex and handcuffs? However, never once was I asked if I was STD free or what kind of food I would like to eat at the buffet. I have always been sexually adventurous, starting at age eleven at truth or dare parties and playing seven minutes in heaven in my friend Johanna’s bathroom with the kids from the neighborhood. Growing up in the city, I always thought that I had seen it all: homeless men jerking off on the subway, prostitutes in line behind businessmen at the bodega to get their morning cup of coffee, dogs with leather jackets. So, when I was propositioned to do a story on a swingers party, my gut instinctively told me, “why not put an orgy under my belt?!” I was more intrigued to see what actually happens at an orgy rather than frightened or nervous that I would somehow leave scandalized or scarred for life. With that said, curiosity does not always beget courage and I asked one of my guy friends to come along so as to have some sense of security. Since he is actually my ex-boyfriend I felt that he was the perfect candidate. He had already seen me naked many a times so that wouldn’t be too weird and since we broke up on amicable terms, I knew we could put jealousy aside and take the evening’s events as they came. The night of the party, the hosts, a Ms. Monster and a Mr.Blunt, e-mailed my friend and me the rules of the party. The rules included things like: “only one man in the play area at a time” or “if someone is not interested in playing with you, please respect their boundaries.” However, the term “playing” was never defined. One could only guess it had nothing to do with jump rope or skip-it. The fifteen rules started out clear and concise: 1.Practice Safe sex at all times. 2.Camera’s or recording devices are strictly prohibited
Then the rules got more conspicuous: 8. Whether coming alone or with a partner, you should establish your boundaries before attending the party and stick to them until the end. It is not a good idea to re-negotiate your boundaries in the heat of the moment. And last but not least: 15. Please employ your best hygiene. My friend and I agreed that we could consent to all of the rules, even the last one.
e arrived at the disclosed destination, a random warehouse covered with graffiti in the middle of Brooklyn at around eleven thirty. I had butterflies in my stomach, and he had skittles in his. As soon as we walked through the door, neon blue wigs, sparkling platform shoes, and a blast of cigarette smoke hit our wide-open eyeballs. Our coats were taken, and we were given goody bags. I felt like a little kid at a birthday celebration, the best part always being the goody bags full of candy and toys gifted at the end of the party. These goody bags were a little different. Not only did we receive the bags at the beginning of the event rather than as a parting gift,
but after looking through the red velvet bag, I saw that it was full of useful supplies, foreshadowing the available activities of the evening. There were individual packages of lube, condoms, and peppermint breath mints. The place was a huge, open loft space with curtains separating different rooms. Room one was filled with dim lighting, velvet couches, and two massage tables. There were naked massages available for twenty bucks a pop by a man dressed as Zoro and a woman dressed as Wonder Woman. The fact that they concealed their true identities immediately said a lot about the event. This particular evening was about being uninhibited and being someone else, or with someone else for a few hours. There was front row seating available if you wanted to play voyeur for a while and watch various men and women strip off their clothing and get caressed by the masseuses. In theory, it was kind of a turn on, but when I went in for a closer look I saw that the man currently getting a rub down was hairier than a yeti and did little to make my loins tingle. Then there was a long table of food, chocolate fondue, fruit and birthday cake. There was a fully stocked bar, which was supposed to be BYOB but was not stingy in the least. There was an elevated stage where a stripper, sporting a hot pink wig, stilettos and red dangling nipple tassels was dancing to "Baby Got Back." We watched the show for a while, but I was not there to observe the hired talent so I turned my attention to the guests. There were mostly couples, ranging from twentytwo to lower sixties, but the majority of the guests were probably thirty something. Everyone was dressed as slutty as I was. I had been unsure of what to wear to a sex party, so I sported a lacy yellow slip underneath a sparkly party dress: easy access.
o who were the guests? Well, there was an old creepy guy with a hired Russian, seventeenyear-old escort, the rich white guy with the Asian girlfriend, the couple who both sported black leather bondage outfits, her with a dog collar and him with the leash in his hand all night. There was a couple who had
by Jenny Kate Sherman illustrations by Eric Rosner
to be from New Jersey and looked extremely uncomfortable, and there was the good looking couple who could have come straight off the runway, and were most likely hired to be there in order to supply the sex appeal. After downing our drinks, we hit the dance floor. As I looked around, I suddenly felt like a turkey on the day before thanksgiving. Everyone was eyeing us, looking us up and down and either licking their lips and drooling in anticipation or turning away in disgust. It was going on all over the party, everyone eyeing each other with curiosity—Will you see me naked later? Do you want to? Suddenly my friend nudges me and points to the couple next to us. An old guy with a handlebar mustache was going down on his partner, right there on
the dance floor! He was rubbing his baldhead all up in there, and she just tilted her head back and smiled. I watched in both shock and disgust as Mr. Handlebar opens his eyes and winked at me, mid tongue action. I grabbed my friend and pulled him back into the massage room. The Russian escort was stripping off her clothes in front of the old creepy guy as she prepared to get massaged. “Do you want to get a massage?” I asked my friend. “I don’t think I want some dude spreading my butt cheeks apart and rubbing oil all over me, but feel free if you want to.” he said. I didn’t want my butt cheeks rubbed either, so we decided to mingle. The couple next to us started up a conversation first. “Hey how old are you guys,” an emo nineteen year old looking boy asked us. “Twenty-five.” My ex said, “how about you guys?” “Twenty-two.” A girl with dark eye makeup answered. “How did you guys find out about this thing?” I asked. “Uh...a friend,” the boy said. “Hey, did you see the rooms in the back?” The girl asked us. The whole time we spoke, she was rubbing her partners crotch over his skintight pants as if it was going to bring her luck or something. They were very young and out of place, albeit a bit more turned on by the scene than we were. But they seemed just as curious as we were. “We're going to stick it out till the end,” the boy said, “and see if this huge orgy thing happens or not, what about you guys?” Not interested in “getting with them” we told them we would wing it, and went to check out the rooms in the back, or I should say mattresses surrounded by see-thru white drapes. There was a sign on a dry erase board saying that men can only enter if accompanied by a woman, but women can enter as they please. My friend and I entered together, only to see a chubby white woman being railed in the ass by Mr. Handlebar. Her face looked like it was experiencing pain more than pleasure, but I caught her eye, and she smiled at me, inviting me to join in. I turned to the next mattress room and there was a young guy with three women all over him. One of the girls, the Russian escort, who appeared to be left out of the orgy seemed a little ticked off. I couldn’t see why, at least she was being paid to be there. Back on the dance floor there was a young guy walking around with a whip looking for people interested in that, and more food had been put out on the buffet table. We hung around until after two in the morning, waiting for the huge orgy to break out, however it never occurred. In my mind, I had envisioned that at the end of the night everyone would strip off their clothes and go at it like rabbits, but this wasn’t how it worked at Ms. Monster's house. People would pair off and then return for another drink or some of that birthday cake. The only people who were there to fuck seemed to be the ones who were most visually unappealing. Everyone else seemed to be there just to check it out. Overall, a fun crowd of misfits who enjoy sex, much like most of my friends do. Was it worth the cover of eighty dollars, no. Do I know what the obscene cover charge went to? No, but I am guessing it goes to Monster and Blunt's rent, or to the buffet.
Park Slope Indians
Remaking the Montauk Club
by Gregory Bodkin photos by Jeff Brown
ver one hundred thousand people lined the streets of Brooklyn to watch the parade celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering the Americas. The crowd was awed by the display of American military might past and present. Thousands of members of the regular Army, the National Guard, and the Navy marched. Members of local schools and civic associations came alongside them. A huge mass of Civil War veterans was preceded by a contingent of young Italian women who were elaborately dressed in the colors of the American and Italian flags. Twenty-five thousand people marched from Brooklyn Heights down past Grand Army Plaza where a new arch was being dedicated. Two years prior General William Tecumseh Sherman had laid the corner stone and now a gigantic arch—the largest in the world after the Arc de Triomphe—stood over the entrance of Prospect Park in the center of the proud and independent City of Brooklyn. The parade took four hours to pass the grandstands near the arch. Canons thundered and choruses chimed in with patriotic songs sung in English, German, and Italian. Clergy of every denomination offered prayers and politicians gave proud speeches. As the sun set, the crowd of thousands watched a brass band play songs that accompanied a glorious fireworks display, and thousands more watched from the roofs of nearby Park Slope and Prospect Heights. The ceremony’s guest of honor was former President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland was in a campaign to win back the White House after losing to Benjamin Harrison in 1888. A native New Yorker, he had lost his home state in that election and was determined to make New York swing Democratic in 1892. Therefore he was sure to make an appearance at the Montauk Club before heading over to the ceremony. The Montauk Club was housed in a newly finished Venetian palazzostyle building on nearby Eighth Avenue. The grandstand erected by the club’s entrance was insufficient for the crowd that assembled to greet him. The thousands of gathered people roared with applause when he stepped out of his carriage and the throng blocked his entrance into the building. The cheerful mob had to be pushed back by officers of the Brooklyn City Police to allow Cleveland to enter the club, where he hoped to relax before the day’s festivities. But inside he was greeted by the club’s five hundred members dressed in tuxedos and lined up in neat rows. They all, of course, wanted introductions. Cleveland held back his frustration and began shaking the hand of every member. The process took over an hour and a half. As the line went by Cleveland smiled politely, nodded, and made the occasional quip.
The members of the Montauk Club were the elite of one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in not just the City of Brooklyn but in all of the United States. Cleveland had to make a good impression here not just to gain their support but because any disturbance or unrest amongst the Indians, as club members called themselves, would be noted by the press. And impress them he did. Even die-hard Republicans were won over by his charm and wit. He retired to the dining room upstairs where he lunched with congressmen, state senators, and high-ranking Brooklyn officials before joining the festivities at Grand Army Plaza. The day was a celebration of an independent and proud Brooklyn that saw itself as an important part of the social and political fabric of an ascendant nation. A few weeks later, Cleveland would win New York in the election and become president once again.
he Montauk club as it was when Cleveland visited is utterly dead. The years have been hard on Brooklyn and on the club lifestyle that was so huge in fin de siècle America. Even though the building’s dark oak walls still echo the clinking of port glasses being toasted for an Indian’s birthday and store the scent of decades worth of cigars smoked by men whose grandchildren are now grandparents themselves, the link between the club’s past and the present is minimal. I first went to the clubhouse to do research on visits like Cleveland’s and those of later presidents and other public figures, but I was saddened to learn that the trove of ephemera and records that must have existed was destroyed by years of roof leaks that exposed whole floors to the elements. The programs, menus, photographs, and correspondences which would have given those events that extra bit of texture were ruined by rain, birds, and wellintentioned theft. The best records from those times now are those that come from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, The New York Times, and The New York Tribune, which all closely reported the Brooklyn and Manhattan club scene. The Montauk Club I found is in the midst of a struggle to reinvent itself in order to avoid obsolescence. The club’s membership, which at one point was six hundred, had dipped to about one hundred by the mid-1990s. And although they come from a core of old Brooklyn families who have deep and influential ties to Park Slope’s history, they’re not the haughty aristocrats who founded the club in 1889. This much smaller and more modest group has been unable retain the club palazzo’s former splendor. As one might expect in New York City, a developer bought the building, fixed it up, and turned the top two floors—where club members once lived when their families were at summer homes, or where distinguished guests spent the night after giving lectures to the club—into condos. The ground floor, once the club’s bowling alley, where Montauk competed in heated interclub
bowling leagues against the Knickerbocker Club of Flatbush or the Union League of Bed-Stuy, is now a real estate office. The club owns the two floors it still occupies as if it were a condo. I talked to two members about the club’s history, its present, and its future. David Carter, an art appraiser, is a handsome bowtie wearing man who represents the new wave of club members. Allan Kramer is, like me, from an old Brooklyn family, and he is a Pratt Institute-trained librarian who was once the president of the club. He has a very solid memory of old Brooklyn—that Brooklyn that existed before its renaissance and before its decline. At the bar, with its wood paneling and gothic windows that look out on to Grand Army Plaza, they shared stories with me about the club’s history. Carter and Kramer both have a sense of humor about the current state of the club. There’s good-humored antagonism between the two groups—the long-standing members and the newer people who are transforming the club—that’s mostly played out by cracking jokes about each other. The newcomers want to expand the club, make it large, hip, and sophisticated, while the long-standing members genuinely don’t want the club to be a snobby scene. I was invited back to attend a party for new members. The Montauk has been focusing its membership drive on people under thirty-five, giving them a break on the cost of membership and organizing special events. Everyone I talked to was kind and had nothing but good things to say about joining. All had high hopes for the Montauk’s future. But it was a scene that would play well in Gossip Girl or at an Ivy League young-alumni meeting— complimentary champagne and sangria being drunk by people in designer labels who speak with occasional affectation. And with some notable exceptions, the new members did not mingle too much with the older ones, which is a shame because everyone I talked to was smart, colorful, warm, and welcoming. Many of the members I met had specific reasons for joining, but the most plausible reason I got was from a girl who said she just liked to dress up and go out, that she just liked the idea of it. And, in all seriousness, it is a sumptuous notion, the ability to go to a place that’s so extremely beautiful and to have a few drinks and dinner where you know everyone and everyone knows you. Looking out on the sangria-drinking crowd, mingling where presidents and senators once smoked those cigars and drank brandy and port, I found it hard not to wonder about the future of the Montauk. It wants to keep adding new members, possibly as many as a thousand, but will the new members stay loyal? Will the under-thirty-five set even still be in Park Slope in ten years? It’s easy to think that for them it’s a passing fad, since the club can’t offer them what it offered to members in its heyday. Will these people last through the hard times and make it a glorious institution again? A great, great man—yes, Grover Cleveland—once said, “The ship of Democracy, which has weathered all storms, may sink through the mutiny of those aboard.” The Montauk Club, which itself has weathered so many storms, will only have a bright future if it is able to project a clear raison d’être and keep its membership unified and coming back. Otherwise this historic ship may sink into the dark, permanent waters of the past.
by Ryan Dodge photos by Anna Sweet
n May 2008, I began writing a dating blog for Glamour magazine. My search for true love has so far been in vain, but in the meantime I’ve discovered some interesting places in Brooklyn to grab a cup of coffee, distract myself from work, and moon over unattainable women.
Building on Bond Pacific and Bond, Boerum Hill Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. “Hey, how’s it going?” I ask. My face is tingling and flush and it’s hard to breathe. “I’m good. How are you?” She’s just as cute as I remember, like the quiet but knowing girl in high school who played soccer and politely laughed at all of your nervous jokes. We only dated for two months and it has been at least that long since she gave me the boot, so according to the Generally Accepted Relationship Recovery Principle (Duration of Relationship ÷ 2 = Recovery Period) I shouldn’t be considering suicide by butter knife right now. What can I say? I really liked her. “Want some cheese? I think it’s pecorino. Mighty tasty,” I stammer. I haven’t yet figured out whether Building on Bond is a coffee shop or a restaurant, so I always get something to eat. I like pretty much everything about the place, from the quiet, tree-lined locale to the high-design hardware store aesthetic, which features lots of unfinished wood and exposed fixtures. The clientele is an attractive mix of youngish yuppies reveling in their postWilliamsburg/pre-Park Slope lifestyle. The girl is a foodie, and I’m glad I passed over my usual Greek salad in favor of the more gastronomically interesting cheese plate. We wax inane for
a few interminable minutes before she rejoins her friends at a table a few feet away from mine. It takes every ounce of fortitude to resist the overwhelming impulse to throw a wad of cash on the table and scamper out like a spooked gazelle. Instead I push aside the plate, open my laptop, cue up The Best of Joy Division and pretend to work, not once looking up from my screen. She’s in my neighborhood, this is my overpriced coffee shop, and I won’t be chased away, even if every moment I spend in her presence makes me feel progressively worse about myself. Forty minutes later I’m halfway through “Digital” (“I need you here today, don’t ever fade away, don’t ever fade away…”) and three-quarters done with my cheese. I absentmindedly stare at a woman sitting at the counter, a beautiful boho chick with a paigeboy haircut and the air of someone who knows exactly how attractive she is, the type of woman I think I want. The type of woman I actually want has been avoiding eye contact with me for the last forty minutes. The album ends, as good a cue as any. I deliberately pack up my things, keeping my back to her. I give her a chicken-armed wave as I walk past her table. Her smile, sad and knowing, breaks my heart all over again. I haven’t been to Building on Bond since, but you should give it a shot—the pecorino really is delicious.
Ozzie’s Seventh Ave and Lincoln Pl., Park Slope I’m sipping a soy latte (milk makes me gassy) and looking for names I recognize in the “Sunday Styles” weddings section when a mom and her young son sit down next to me. She’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 and wearing yoga pants, a tattered Kraftwerk t-shirt and a ponytail. She reminds me of my first girlfriend, who kinda resembled Catherine Deneuve, believe it or not. She isn’t eating or drinking anything, just watching Junior slobber over his bottle of organic lingonberry nectar. She catches me eyeing her and does the look-away-look-back thing. I pretend to read about the joyful union of Kit Merriweather III and Caroline Van Der Wyk while reminding myself that this woman has a child, for chrissake. I pull out the “Week in Review” and resolve to give a shit about instability in Pakistan. The only reason I’m at Ozzie’s is because Gorilla Coffee (Fifth Avenue and Park Place) was packed and I hate standing around waiting for a table. Ozzie’s is nothing to write home about—the coffee, décor and clientele are uniformly innocuous, a real-life version of the coffee shop on Friends—but you can always get a seat, which is no small thing at the freelancer’s ball known as Brooklyn. It isn’t long before Junior is making unpleasant noises and the woman is rummaging through a Whole Foods tote bag. I glimpse a tasteful diamond solitaire on her left ring finger and turn back to the paper, thoroughly disgusted with myself. “ ‘At the far end of town, where the Grickle-grass grows and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows and no birds ever sing excepting old crows… is the Street of the Lifted Lorax.’ ” She turns the page and I can’t resist leaning over and looking at the pictures, which are spookier than I remember. “Pretty hard to resist, huh?” She’s smiling at me. “Yeah, I used to love The Lorax. Still do, apparently.” “This one practically has the whole thing memorized,” she says. Junior grabs the book and starts flipping through the pages. “My favorite were the little bear guys. What were they called?” “Brown Bar-ba-loots. He likes those, too.” “Part of me wants to have kids just for the excuse to re-read all of those great books,” I lie. “Yeah, it’s pretty great. But don’t rush yourself—sometimes I really miss the single life,” she says, and I swear to God she winks. I’m still blushing when a forty-something guy bends over and gives her a kiss on the cheek. He is wearing a pair of those bulky sport sandals that are practically boots. “Sorry, babe—the FreshDirect guy was late.” He starts looking around for a seat. “I’m actually leaving. You can sit here,” I say, folding up my paper. “Truffula trees!” Junior shouts, out of the blue. “Which everyone wants because everyone needs,” I say. I’d wink at her if I was better at it, but instead I keep my head down and walk out, accidentally leaving behind the “Automobiles” section. If hubby values his marriage he better lose the sport sandals.
Hope and Anchor Van Brunt and Dikeman, Red Hook I have the tattoo, cut-off shorts, boat shoes, aviators, v-neck, bike helmet and stubble, but based on her aggressively bored tableside manner I know she sees through all that. Nope, to her I’m just another yuppie slumming down Van Brunt, hoping to pick up some old-tyme Breukelen grit along with smoked Gouda from Fairway and a Horup lamp from Ikea. She’s wrong on the details but right in essence. Hope and Anchor is a restaurant, not a coffee shop, but on Saturday afternoons they’ll let you fuck around on your laptop until the bar crowd shows up. I like to sit by the plate glass windows by the street—if you pay close attention, you can actually see the neighborhood slowly gentrifying, despite the looming housing projects and lack of subway access. The restaurant’s design motif is dockyard tattoo shop, and it feels respectably gritty despite the fact that the menu includes a tofu scramble. In terms of getting some work done, Baked—which is located down the block (Van Brunt and Wolcott) and features free wi-fi and electric outlets at every table—is the best thing going in Red Hook. In terms of mind-blowing waitresses, Hope and Anchor wins in a mercy rule blowout. I’m gonna try to describe her without staring. She’s relatively tall, with short black hair that screws up into ringlets. I don’t know how large her breasts are, which is not a dealbreaker for me either way. OK, I looked. They’re not very big. Which is fine. She’s wearing denim wedge heels, mid-length khaki shorts, a paisleyish top, and a long dookie rope with nautical medallions. It works on her. How frequently does a hot waitress get hit on? Twice per shift? More importantly, does it ever work? Probably not, but the bloody mary/iced coffee tandem I’ve been gulping down has me feeling dangerously brave. I catch her eye. “You want the check?” she asks in a slightly different shade of boredom that kindles a small spark of hope. “Uh, no. Do you need me to leave? I can leave. The last thing I wanna be is a mooch. Seriously, it’s like my greatest fear, behind Alzheimer’s.” Like I said, dangerously brave. “No, you can stay.” She smiles and the spark cackles in a brushfire. When you can’t fake bravado, go for neurotic—there’s a reason Woody Allen used to date Diane Keaton. “Good. I have one question,” I say. She tilts her head and shoots me an indulgent look. “How frequently do guys hit on you? Twice per shift?” Her smile is frozen and about to crack, but I hurtle on. “I’m asking because I’ve never tried, as you can tell, and I’m genuinely curious.” She doesn’t say anything and I can tell she’s sizing me up. We’ve reached a critical juncture in our flirtation. “I promise not to ask when you get off tonight—I’m not that corny—but I might just leave my number on a napkin when I leave.” She stares at me, completely inscrutable, sphinx-like. Finally she speaks: “Your napkin’s dirty.” I look down at my hollandaise-stained napkin and have nothing to say in reply, suddenly out of steam. At least I tried. But then she snatches a clean napkin from an empty table and hands it to me with the check before turning away and striding into the kitchen. I jot down my name, phone number, and email address on the napkin and leave it there alongside a very generous tip. She never calls or writes. A few weeks later I walk by and she isn’t there. Maybe she got fired and had to leave the City, I tell myself. But on a sweltering Saturday in August I literally run into her while she’s standing on line for an empanada at the ball fields. She clearly doesn’t recognize me, and I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse.
by Breanne Scanlon Photo by David Gardiner
had lived in Carroll Gardens for a year and a half before I ventured beyond Columbia Street into Red Hook. When I finally did, I was stunned by the juxtaposition of the million-dollar views of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan with the outlines of corroding cranes and shipping containers of the Red Hook Container Terminal. After that, I began taking regular walks over the BQE to explore the neighborhood and the docks.
While I was captivated by this urban enclave, it took The Wire, specifically Season Two’s action around the ports and shipping industry in Baltimore, to get me thinking more deeply about Brooklyn’s own shipping industry. How did the rise of and dramatic changes in the shipping industry shape the population and landscape of our waterfront? How did the Red Hook we know today come to exist in the first place—and how is it surviving?
n 1636, Dutch settlers arrived in the area of what is now known as South Brooklyn and purchased wetlands at the edge of the East River from Native Americans. The settlers established a village at the waterfront and named it “Roode Hoeck” after the red soil and hook-shaped peninsula. By 1664, the Dutch had taken over all the Native American land in South Brooklyn and cut a canal from Red Hook to the Gowanus Creek in order to move goods quickly between villages. Dairy farmers from Yellow Hook (today’s Bay Ridge neighborhood) brought milk to Red Hook and used the extremely rough waters between Red Hook and Governor’s Island to churn the milk into butter. As a result, the waters became known as Buttermilk Channel. As the village of Red Hook grew alongside New York City, it came to be defined by its relationship to the waters around it. New York became the nation’s leading port when, in 1825, the Erie Canal linked the New York Harbor to the Great Lakes. The harbor at Red Hook was big enough to handle bulk
cargoes like grain, sugar, and coffee, and shipping companies began to use it more frequently in order to move away from the crowded docks of the Lower Manhattan port. In the 1840s, Daniel Richards, of the Atlantic Dock Company, began to build the Atlantic Basin at the foot of Hamilton Avenue, which had previously been a shallow swampland populated by squatters. It was completed in 1850 and had room for 150 ships. Between 1848 and 1849, nearly eight hundred homes, boarding houses, factories, and warehouses were built in Red Hook to serve the booming shipping industry and the Irish, German, and Scandinavian immigrants who worked on the docks and lived in the area. In 1869, Irish immigrant and builder William Beard led the development of the Erie Basin, which was the largest man-made harbor on the East Coast at the time. Ships arriving in Red Hook from overseas kept rocks in their cargo hold to serve as ballasts to control the buoyancy and stability of the ship. Beard charged these ships fifty cents a cubic yard to dump their rocks around
the waterfront, and then used the rocks to form the hook-shaped breakwater of the Erie Basin. The Beard Street warehouse still stands on these same rocks today. Hundreds of other warehouses were built nearby, along with large silos that stored grain that arrived from the Great Lakes region for shipment abroad. One grain terminal still stands on Columbia Street, but in the 19th century, scores of grain terminals could be spotted on the waterfront at Atlantic Avenue and Pacific, DeGraw, Second, and Furman streets. Large groups of Italian immigrants arrived in the 1880s to take jobs at the Erie Basin. By the 1920s, Columbia Street was known as the Little Italy of Red Hook. It was during this decade that the Black Hand, the beginning of the Mafia in New York City, established headquarters on there. Infamous gangster Al Capone grew up in Red Hook and received his nickname, “Scarface,” from a fight with a merchant seaman in the neighborhood. In addition to its uses as a port and receiving terminal for the booming shipping
industry, the harbor at Red Hook was also used for recreation in the late 19th century. A floating bathhouse was built at the end of Conover Street, and local residents and dockworkers swam and fished in the waters around it. Wealthy New Yorkers (including J.P. Morgan) docked their yachts at Tebo’s Basin in Red Hook. By the 1930s, nearly seven thousand people were employed on the Red Hook docks. However, after World War II significant changes occurred in the shipping industry, threatening these workers’ livelihoods. Traditionally, longshoremen lifted cargo
and Newark, New Jersey, where there were direct connections with railways. This quickly rendered many of New York’s piers and shipyards and corresponding industries in Red Hook unnecessary. Ports began to close, and jobs rapidly disappeared. Around the same time, in 1946, construction began on the Gowanus Expressway, which ran directly through homes and businesses in parts of Red Hook. The creation of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (completed in 1950) and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (completed in 1960) destroyed many more homes and stores in
Yet even in the midst of decline, there were signs of renewal. In the 1970s, New York City subsidized housing near the west side waterfront, and many artists moved in to take advantage of the low prices, large spaces, and abundance of light and views. Local activists and politicians continually tied the revitalization of the Red Hook community to the revitalization of the shipping industry on the waterfront. In 1981, the Red Hook Container Terminal, built by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, opened on Hamilton Avenue, bringing many shipping jobs back to the neighborhood. The
packed in burlap bags and wooden crates on and off ships into warehouses for storage before shipment. When container shipping was introduced in the late 1940s and early 1950s, cargo was instead loaded directly into large containers that served as both bodies of trucks and railcars. Instead of relying on men to move individual bags and crates, massive cranes lifted these loaded containers directly on to trucks and trains in a fraction of the time. The Port Authority of New York developed huge container ports in Elizabeth
the area and further sealed the neighborhood off from nearby Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill. Trolley service was removed in the 1950s, effectively isolating Red Hook from the rest of Brooklyn. The loss of industry combined with these massive construction projects created a crisis in the community. Between 1960 and 1980, the population of Red Hook declined by over eight thousand people. The 1980s saw a crack epidemic spread through the neighborhood as industry further stagnated and more jobs were lost.
Container Terminal, which receives cocoa, lumber, steel, and specialty goods for the tri-state area, has had a precarious existence at times, especially during the recent realestate boom when some city officials wanted to replace the terminal with luxury housing and restaurants. However, in 2008, American Stevedoring, which operates the terminal, signed a ten-year renewal lease with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, an indication that the neighborhood’s history and culture will echo well into the 21st century.
HOSTILE BIPEDS science fiction as cultural criticism from out-of-bounds
by phil matricardi illustration by luca giovanopoulos
r. Martin Luther King Jr. called Lt. Uhura on the phone. He’d heard she was thinking of quitting Star Trek. He told her that she couldn’t; she was a vital symbol for the African American community: the first black woman on television whose role had nothing to do with her race. Serving alongside blue aliens and creatures with deely-bobs on their heads, Nicole Nichols’s African ancestry probably didn’t seem so strange. The crew of the Starship Enterprise, living in a post-industrial, postcapitalist, post-racial utopia, wouldn’t think much of it. At least she’s not Klingon. Also, one time, under the telepathic control of alien platonists (don’t ask), Lt. Uhura and Kirk kiss, which was kind of a big deal for the less enlightened 1968 earthling television audience. Star Trek occurs in a completely fictional universe and so is free to explore contemporary cultural themes with an anonymity that would be completely ham-handed under normal circumstances. Consider the Farengi, whose qualities are enormous ears and an obsession with
“latinum,” aka gold. They travel the universe establishing trade; often dealing in weapons or drugs, but careful never to really piss off the Federation because they’re hopeless cowards. They also have pointed teeth and like to eat live worms, which is good because on their home planet, Farenganar, it rains every day. You also have to practically bribe someone just to cross the street. Then there are the Bajorans and Cardassians of the spinoff Deep Space Nine. The Cardassians (whose makeup is over the top and very evil-looking) invaded their neighboring planet of Bajor, claimed racial superiority, set up work camps, and began to exterminate all dissenters. The Bajorans, an enlightened race distinguishable from humans by a few ridges on their noses and a penchant for wearing one dangly earring, had given up much of their advanced technology long ago in order to devote themselves to their ancient and peaceful religion, lon, yet are forced to mount a fierce guerilla resistance in the face of atrocities. This in turn instills many of them with lasting bitterness even after their planet’s
liberation, but seeing Cardassia occupied and oppressed in turn by the evil “Dominion” helps them to work it out. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, wanted only to tout the moral potential of humankind, hence the uber-utopian Federation, where there is no war and no money and everyone’s highest goal is to make the rest of the universe a better place. The Enterprise under both Kirk and Picard aids countless barbarian alien proto-space-empires to take a more peaceful course, and likewise forces countless decadent elder alien races to confront their moral bankruptcy. However, there is also a great sci-fi tradition of questioning human preconceptions through the use of a surprise moral twist. Examples abound in literature (Ray Bradbury comes to mind) and television (The Outer Limits is notable). Case in point: The Planet of the Apes. Who is more immoral, the apes who lobotomize humans to preserve the status quo or the humans who destroyed the earth in the first place? Likewise, the Twilight Zone episode when the old woman’s house keeps getting invaded by mini flying saucers and robots. The poor woman has only her broom to fight them off, which she employs to great effect. Yet at the end you see USAF written on the flying saucers and hear a radio broadcast that says the invasion has failed due to stronger than expected resistance from the giant yet primitive aliens. One of the greatest moral twists apears in the novel Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Ender is a child prodigy, rigorously trained in strategy to defend Earth from the dreaded “buggers”—ant-like aliens from across the galaxy who attacked and destroyed a human expedition without any attempt at communication. Ender is told that he is playing a simulation to test his abilities as commander of a battle fleet against the buggers. Each level is more challenging than the last. They wake him up at odd hours and force him to play, sometimes for days at a time. Then comes his final exam, where his tiny fleet is confronted by hopeless odds on the alien’s home planet. Only wanting the torment to end, he bitterly charges through the enemy ships and destroys the planet itself. He turns to the assembled generals defiantly and, seeing tears in their eyes, he realizes suddenly that his game was a facade. He had been remotely commanding real ships the entire time and has just unwittingly committed xenocide, the destruction of an entire race and civilization. The best sci-fi deals in this kind of visceral morality, and often the humans turn out to be evil and the aliens turn out to be more “human.” The “Cobbers” (see the bestiary in OVEFLOW, Issue One) were set up as a counterpoint to an extremely evil human civilization in Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky. These humans called themselves the “Emergency” because they came to power during the ravages of a brain disease that nearly wiped out their planet. They not only learned to control the disease, but to use it to program human beings like computers, selectively targeting areas of the brain not related to desired functions and shutting them off. Their victims, called “zipheads,” became OCD idiot savant slaves, especially useful for computer programming, lavish space ship decoration, botany, and general servile behavior. It was only through the tireless and super human work of ziphead translators that humancobber communication was possible at all, and the semi-inhuman work of the zipheads allowed the Cobber’s essential decency and morality to shine through. This in spite of the fact that they look like giant drooling spider monsters and speak in a hissing scream.
In the prequel, A Fire Upon the Deep, the human characters are hanging out at a space station. All kinds of aliens are there, aliens that are balls of goo and aliens that have to hang out in special atmosphere booths because they can only breathe poison gas or smoke or acid water. The humans meet some fellow bipeds, but they’re covered with spikes and fangs and hiss at them. They have a better time hanging out with the “Tines” (again, see the bestiary) and skyroriders—intelligent cyborg potted plants riding robotic carts. Everybody in this novel, however, winds up fighting together an utterly alien “power” from beyond the galaxy, an intelligence that cannot be understood on human terms at all but which manifests itself like a virus, intent only on spreading destruction. Speaking of vast and evil powers, I really must mention Cthulhu, from H.G. Wells’ The Call of Cthulhu. Cthulhu is an enormous and mind-numbingly terrible ancient god with a bloated body, shriveled
bat wings, and a squid face. This is the first description of a squidfaced monster in literature and has been ripped off on countless occasions. The Great Cthulhu sleeps in a vast submerged city, waiting for the stars to align when he will return to the earth and resume his evil reign. I like the Cthulhu story because rather than framing the issue as a moral choice or alternative, Wells makes Cthulhu’s evil inscrutable, and this deity among monsters is only viewed with abject terror rather than condemnation. For who are we, really, to pass judgment on the universe. If only we had some non-humans to compare notes with, at least we would know which of our deep questions stem from human experience and which are actually knocking at the nature of the universe. Hopefully either the SETI program will turn something up or apes will evolve language or whales and dolphins will turn out to really be talking, so we can finally get some perspective. Once again from the master of the twist, Orson Scott Card, comes a short story called “Mortal Gods.” It turns out that all the other planets in the universe are inhabited by basically the same race of slug aliens, who don’t breed but split in half to reproduce. Each pair has the same memories as their “parent,” and thus, they are immortal. When they happen upon Earth, it causes a great furor, as they have never seen a discrete intelligence that actually ends. Earth becomes a destination of distinction, and the best and brightest aliens journey for thousands of light years to come here and turn our world into a utopia in exchange for one thing: they want to watch us die. The story ends as the gathered aliens, chosen from their many planets for this honor, watch an old, old man fight for his life on his deathbed and finally pass away as they weep and praise God and cry, “How beautiful.” Next time: “They are watching us, I have spoken with them: sacred others from UFOs to Aliens.” I explore distinctly UFO-like angelic encounters in the Bible, as well as the anthropology of alien abduction. Are we prey to heavenly E.T.s, or do we pray for eavesdropping celestials?
atilde Damele is an Italian photographer whose slight frame is in stark contrast to the hulking boxers she takes as subjects. Armed with a well-worn Nikon N90S loaded with 3200 ASA film, she’s elbowed her way into the sweaty underground of amateur boxing. Damele is ambitious, adventurous, and magnetic. During our interview, a man in the café, who was also Italian, tried to talk to her and get her card. She wasn’t interested. KM: Tell me a little bit about yourself. MD: I came here ten years ago from Italy. I studied English Literature, I wasn’t a photographer but after I graduated I took a course on photography in Tuscany and all of the teachers were from New York. They saw my work after a couple of weeks of workshop said that I had talent and should go to New York. I said, okay, great and left a year and a half later. I took a short course on photography at ICP, International Center of Photography, on documentary photography. After that I started shooting in the street; working on “street photography.” I was interested in daily things, in everyday life, making something interesting out of the ordinary. So “street photography” is that and New York has a big tradition of this type of photography. This is what I’ve been doing, and in 2002 I started to shoot boxing. KM: Why boxing?
MD: One morning I woke up and thought, “I have to shoot boxers.” Maybe it has to do with my childhood of watching movies that have to do with boxing. Or just fights on television and I was impressed as a child. So, these memories came back. Or maybe it could be that it represents manliness, an ideal of man, of strength. Once I started going to these gyms I started to feel the passion for the sport. It’s the only sport I really like. I don’t like sports. I like it solely because it embodies the struggle for survival that boxers go through in their life, with their training, they have to train so hard, and very few of them make it and become famous. It's very extreme and this is what interests me. There is a lot of passion and drama, more than in other sports, I believe.
MD: Well, I have to say, with all of these years in New York I’ve always lived alone. I’ve never been married. I’ve never really had a boyfriend. It’s solely the people I’ve known for the longest time, New York. So that always makes it feel a little bit like home. You know, there is a variety of people, some good people, there are people that are less good. I can say that there are a lot of people that I like to see again. KM: Do you feel comfortable shooting there? MD: Yes, they never ask me, “Why are you shooting?” They got used to me.
KM: What gyms do you frequent?
KM: You said that you took a break for a while from boxers, are there any other projects you’ve been working on?
MD: The gym I’ve been going to is Gleason’s Gym. It’s like a big family. Also, it’s close to me; I live in Cobble Hill so it's not that far. I’ve started making friends there. They make you feel at home there. I’ve been spending hours and hours over there. I’ve been covering local fights, the Golden Gloves, and also fights outside of the city. I also started following the life of one boxer very closely but it was difficult because they’re very unavailable and busy. They are in their world.
MD: I’ve been traveling, to Brazil and Mexico. I’ve been doing what I do here, there, “street photography.” Getting into another culture and understand it. But, I want to go back and finish the boxing project because I feel that it is an open project. I want to do more with it. And also when I stop taking photos of boxers I miss it, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the adrenaline, ringside it goes up so much, and I feel the same passion that boxers do. It makes me feel very much alive.
KM: Do you feel like the community at Gleason’s is really important to you?
photos by Matilde Damele interview by Kristina Monllos
Published on Jun 3, 2009