A friend in need.

October 13th, 2008

Even though more people are living with cancer than ever — my father, one of my aunts, and a friend’s now-teenaged son who was diagnosed with leukemia nearly a decade ago among them — hearing the diagnosis, especially for a child, is a heart-stopping moment. So when a leukemia diagnosis was delivered for a toddler named Sadie Page, who attends Carousel Children’s Center in Fort Greene, the community of parents was swift to rally support.

mecca and masauko

The latest effort is a November concert fundraiser headlined by Masauko Chipembere, whose eclectic style is, in his own words, an meld of his African past with his American present. The Los Angeles-born, Crown Heights-based musician counts his activist heritage, his children, Bob Marley, Miriam Makeba, and Curtis Mayfield among his major influences. Read all about it, as well as some very eloquently stated reasons why you should pick up a ticket to the Sadie Fundraiser immediately, after the jump.
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September 6th, 2008

Sixty days. Only sixty days is the difference between whether my heart will burst with joy and pride at the election of America’s first black president (something that I once held out little hope I’d live to see) or sink 6 feet underneath the ground beneath my feet at the alternative. (I can’t even utter the words. Thank goodness Judith Warner can.) Obviously this election is meaningful on many levels, but one that can’t be underestimated is the simple presentation of a black man running the country that, despite its failings, remains at the forefront of the free world.

Representations of black people are quite in vogue. Literally: I was one of the many who snapped up a copy of Italian Vogue’s Black Issue. Nevermind that it wasn’t entirely unprecedented — Trace does a “black girls rule“-themed issue every year (this year’s was guest edited by Spike Lee). As blazingly bland as fashion images have become in the past decade, it was a major gesture that a top fashion magazine (of course it wouldn’t have been milquetoast American Vogue) dared to suggest that black women are worthy of The Gaze. And you surely haven’t missed the stunning array of Obama poster and street art; academics are already furiously researching and publishing articles on the significance of the political imagery. Add to that the twitterpated media attention to the ascendancy of the next generation of black politicians, and HBO’s Black List, and you might start to think we’re getting somewhere.

There’s been hand-wringing about the possibility that an Obama presidency may enable some to conveniently and complacently claim that the battles are over, lookseeanyonecandoit, what are you complaining about? I don’t know, folks; the winning of the presidency is only the beginning of a very interesting moment in our history. How many different people will he piss off in his first 100 days, in ways we haven’t even imagined because never before has the White House been helmed by someone who wasn’t, well, white? Bet: We’ll get to see all the racial and social anxieties about black people — and, obviously, particularly about black men — play themselves out in HD on a global screen, shining light into the corners where the cockroaches usually flee.

But none of that touches the simple power of observing my 2-1/2-year-old son, up past his bedtime on the 45th anniversary of MLK Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech and staring at our flat-screen TV in wonderment at the thunderous applause, looking back and forth between nominee Obama in full, fluent command and me enraptured and teary-eyed on the couch — my sweet brown boy sweetly puzzled at what the fuss is all about.

About that bookstore…

August 23rd, 2008

If you’re still hoping to have one in the ‘hood, now’s the time to step up and show your support. Jessica Stockton Bagnulo (a.k.a. The Written Nerd) is inviting you to a party in support of her effort to open a top-flight general-interest bookstore in Fort Greene/Clinton Hill.


Don’t think I don’t love you.

August 23rd, 2008

Life has been very very full, chickadees. Full of solitude and dear friends, English gardens and Quebecois playgrounds, Pema Chodron and Colette, trucks and trains and buses and planes. A truly terrific little boy, a truly terrific full-time gig, and an existence as a 33-year-old single mom I’ve settled into nicely (not that you’d believe such a thing is possible from American media; hint: watch French films).


At home, in my treehouse, there are lots of things to love: The Scamp’s awesome nursery school; unexpected sweet things (so far, a ring, a butter dish, and a great dress) found at the Brooklyn Flea; Rice’s Thai coconut curry chicken over sticky rice; mint and basil plants from Root, Stock & Quade; Fresh Gardens’ nectarines and grapes; the underappreciated Threading Place; the Pratt Sculpture Park, always; fatoosh salad from Zaytoons; french fries and milkshakes from 67 Burger; interlibrary loans picked up from the Clinton Hill branch. Best of all, and the reason I moved here nearly a decade ago, are long, leafy walks — priceless.

Fridays at 4:20.

May 27th, 2008

My new favorite agony aunts (of the sexual variety), unafraid to tackle any dirty question while baked out of their minds:

Pot Psychology

Pot Psychology.

(I don’t need to tell you this is NSFW, right?)

Take a look.

May 27th, 2008

Augusta Palmer, co-director of If You Succeed, which I discussed here, is screening the film at Embora on May 30 at 8pm, and May 31, June 6, and June 7 at 10pm. Catch it while you can.

Also, the Written Nerd has kicked off Stimulating Reading as a way to raise funds for a possible Fort Greene bookstore. Show some support if you’re able.

Hello stranger.

May 27th, 2008

Yeah, I know. It seems like a mighty long time. Fact is, these days I’m writing when people pay me or where no one else can see it, and if I ever want to sleep, I don’t get time for much else.

But my pal Hilary Davidson tagged me, and I can’t ever turn her down. So, briefly, seven random things about me [that I’m willing to post on the internets]:

  1. I agree with Charlie Parker that you just really need to listen to Hank Williams.
  2. My first apartment in Fort Greene — a ground-floor, rent-stabilized studio on Washington Park — cost $683.50 per month in 1999. I should’ve taken the 1-bedroom in the Clinton Hill Co-ops for $800.
  3. When I was pregnant with The Scamp, nothing in the universe tasted better than Cocoa Pebbles in ice-cold whole milk. I seriously ate it for dinner for days straight during my first trimester, which was in the summertime. And hey, the kid loves chocolate now.
  4. I am addicted to the Thai coconut curry (with chicken and sticky rice) at Rice and the elderflower water at Smooch.
  5. My hair is cut by a well-tattooed California surfer boy named Michael.
  6. Whenever I walk over the sidewalk subway vent on Lafayette Avenue near the former Video Basket in warm weather, the smell of the underground that wafts up along with the cool blast of air transports me to July 1999 immediately, every time.
  7. I had — and still have, rest their souls — crushes on Orson Welles (Citizen Kane and F Is for Fake — please!) and Robert Rauschenberg (not on my team, I know, don’t care). Warm, open, generous spirits paired with a sexy voice/drawl are irresistible. Hmm…maybe that explains something of why I also adore Peter Falk.

Schooled at the Academy.

March 6th, 2008

It’s been a trying time: The Scamp has started nursery school in central Fort Greene, and despite the warm and friendly environment, sweet classmates, and excellent teachers, he’s not going easy. If you don’t know firsthand, believe me when I tell you that there is nothing more gut-wrenching than walking out on your kid when he’s screeching in apparent terror and scratching at the air in your wake. And though my nerves would probably drive me straight to Frank’s, they’re not open at 9am, so my feet take me to Academy Restaurant instead.

I’ve been camping out in this diner all week, waiting for a “come get your kid” phone call; forcing myself to eat — even though I have no appetite — in order to justify my butt in the booth; amping up with coffee and finally putting my wrung-out emotions aside, digging into my work, currently a rewrite/update of a travel guidebook. When I first ducked into Academy on Monday, I had no needs other than a warm place to collect myself and pass an hour; now, I can’t imagine a better diner in the city and I don’t know why I didn’t start coming more often a long time ago.

In this gilded New York City of $2,000 one-bedroom apartments, $20 one-course brunches, and $2 one-way fares, it has been easy to undervalue the charms of the diner. After this week, I won’t again. I walk into Academy and I can seat myself immediately, whether in a booth by the window or at the counter. The no-nonsense, nicotine-stained waitresses bring a menu, take my order, bring my food, and drop my check easily and efficiently, without leaving me to wait for anything. I’m left in peace to sit staring out of the window, reading a New Yorker article on Michelle Obama, writing new restaurant reviews from my collected notes, checking my phone anxiously to make sure I haven’t missed the nursery school’s call. And the banter all around, words falling like confetti, every fragment of conversation an inspiration: Tommy Konstantakis with a wry word for everybody coming in and out; a young gringo who lays out his plan to move to Central America and live on the cheap with a full staff of hired help; a drummer on a break who pounds absently on a barstool with his sticks while waiting for his order; the middle-aged guys who point to Madonna as the beginning of the end of the age of sartorial grace (”The pants are falling off their butts now — of course they’re violent!”), but insist they’d vote for a woman politician (”Just not Hillary! And I told her, ‘You only like Obama because he’s black!’”).

And at a time when I feel almost paralyzed by multiple pathways that lead to I-don’t-know-where, and I second- and triple-guess nearly every choice I make from the time The Scamp jolts me awake (”Muh-MAH!”) in the morning till the time my mind finally wears its battery out and lets my eyes close too late at night, it’s comforting to know that “scrambled hard” means the egg will come scrambled hard; that asking for a decaf will get me a cup of instant Sanka, so I’d better buck up and drink up the real deal; and that I am alone together with a steady stream of working stiffs, artists, and those without a trust fund who just want a fill-up kind of meal and a smile for under $10 (or even $5) ‘cos that’s all they got to spare and they just want to make it through the day like anybody else. Some things are too good to change.

A glimmer.

March 2nd, 2008

4W Circle may be gone and bars in the spirit of Cellars may be giving way to the likes of The Hideout, but signs that black bohemia might be hanging on in Fort Greene/Clinton Hill appeared in the form of this Colson Whitehead review of Brooklyn Was Mine and this Erykah Badu interview (complete with snapshot of the rent-controlled 1-bedroom she’s held on to since she moved here c. 1996). Add to that one of the ex-Hub’s twice-yearly Joie Lee sightings on my block, and hope springs eternal.


Photo of Ms. Badu modeling a Jacob’s Eye purse from Jacob’s Etsy shop.

A Fort Greene bookstore in store?

February 9th, 2008

Bookstores are my temples. From Mugwumps, a funky, early-80s-era shop in Little Rock, to Foyles in London (where, before its renovation and retrofitting, browsing the aisles meant risking burial by a tower of books, precariously crammed from any available surface to the ceiling), I enter and immediately feel more at peace and unable to leave with my hands empty. Which is why it’s deeply odd for me to live in a highly literate New York neighborhood without a local large general-interest bookstore.

Jessica Stockton Bagnulo may be set to finally change that. The keen mind behind The Written Nerd, one of the best blogs on books and bookselling you’ll read, Jessica has also just won the Brooklyn Public Library’s PowerUp! business plan competition. Local residents immediately began lobbying Jessica to open up shop here, so Fort Greene/Clinton Hill isn’t about to lose out to Windsor Terrace or Prospect Heights without a fight. Still, $15K is just the start of the funding that Jessica will need to pull it off, and there’s still the pesky matter of securing a suitable space at a reasonable price.

The Written Nerd

I have no doubt, though, that Jessica will realize her dream: Not only is her enthusiasm infectious, but she also has worked methodically for the better part of a decade to learn the ins and outs of the business. Find out why she’s bullish on independent bookselling and hear her ideas about the bookstore that could soon be on a Fort Greene/Clinton Hill corner after the jump.
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Survey says.

February 4th, 2008

The Fort Greene Association Retail Survey results have been tallied by our man Jon Zeitlin, and the findings will be distributed soon via your friendly neighborhood media outlets such as The Brooklyn Paper. While the press release and report are coming together, however, I’ll tease you with a few tidbits:

  • 58% of the respondents (there were ~400) said they were “somewhat likely” to satisfy their daily needs when shopping in Fort Greene; another 34% were either somewhat or very unlikely to find what they needed.
  • No surprise that there was significantly greater satisfaction with existing restaurant options than retail/services options.
  • The effect of the Internet on brick-and-mortar stores is overrated, at least for this neighborhood: Only 10% of respondents shop online when they can’t find what they need here, while 51% cruise over to a nearby neighborhood and another 32% handle their business in Manhattan instead.
  • The top 10 most-wanted places across categories (retail, restaurants, and services) were: bookstore (overwhelmingly — something like 70% or so of survey respondents picked this), bakery with bread and desserts, seafood store, hardware store, natural foods store, gourmet grocery store, cheese store, 24-hour diner, stationery/card store, and florist. The most-wanted places were fairly consistent across incomes and ethnicities.
  • Other desired stores included a bike shop, a food co-op, an Ethiopian restaurant, a knitting store, and a cooking supplies/housewares store. Um, and someone did request a Starbucks.And adult-moviesite.com/a_actress/f_10089/
  • The person who requested a Starbucks was a lone wolf, though: Respondents rejected “chains,” Starbucks, fast-food or take-out Chinese, “overpriced boutiques and markets,” porn shops (!), and dollar stores.
  • At the Ingersoll and Whitman houses, respondents most wanted a supermarket, preferably either a Pathmark or Shop Rite (though Fairway, Costco, BJs, and Wal-Mart got 1 vote each as well.

As for my beloved bowling alley, it seems that mostly black respondents wanted one — it was number 12 of 20 when the data was cut by race. Someone pointed out that there is a bowling alley in the basement of Cadman Church on Lafayette and Clinton; wonder if it could be refurbished and find a new life?


January 18th, 2008

The Fort Greene Retail Survey results aren’t all in yet, but it seems safe to say that grocery stores are likely to rank high as a community want. Yet already the times when your best hope for a quick and inexpensive bite to eat once you arrived back home in Fort Greene were take-out from Cambodian Cuisine or a slice from Mario’s are well and truly gone. Besides all of the restaurants that have opened up in the ‘hood in the past decade, the past three months have seen the introduction of lots of small market options. The latest, Provisions (753 Fulton St.), has been open for four hours and is serving free coffee as I type.


According to Jason, one of the store’s partners, fresh fish and meat will be available on Tuesday; the rest, including cheeses and charcuterie, will show up over the course of the next month. There have been murmurs of concern about the number of groceries in close proximity — including R&J’s, Fresh Garden, Greene Farm, Union Market, and whatever the Brooklyn Heights-based prepared food company that snapped up the former Seven Corners hardware space is going to open — but Jason didn’t seem particularly worried. Speaking of Fresh Garden specifically, he said, “I think we’ll complement each other.”

Now, will all of this stop me from ordering from Fresh Direct? Let’s face it, probably not; the convenience of being able to order online and have it show up at my door is too good to pass up (maybe if I didn’t have a toddler to wrangle and my local Met wasn’t so crummy…). But I’m finding already that I prefer to go to Fresh Garden for good fruit (Fresh Direct’s is generally crap; I used to go all the way to Citarella in Manhattan) and La Mediterranee yogurt, and I may find myself stepping into Provisions for other extras and treats (such as the freeze-dried peaches and Rao’s tomato sauce I picked up today). The prepared foods place could also be a boon (other than pizza, Fresh Direct doesn’t do that well, either). My homelier end of Fulton in Clinton Hill appears to be gaining an organic food shop, which if it’s really worth a damn will be fantastic to have; I’m also looking forward to Choice Market II, whenever they get their landmarks situation sorted and the doors open. Nothing here is really a one-stop solution (though a possible food co-op is promising); still, it’s nice to finally have some worthwhile options.

A mocker.

January 12th, 2008

The best mixtape I ever received was so good that I still keep a Walkman around in order to listen to it from time to time. It was a 21st-birthday gift from Colin Brooks, a friend since high school and a drummer so talented that he was receiving press plaudits before he received his diploma (as I recall, one review in the Little Rock Spectrum appreciatively noted that he “pounds the drums as if they owe him money”). The mixtape, which includes treats such as Frank Black’s “Abstract Plain,” Elvis Costello’s “Welcome to the Working Week,” and the Stones’ “Tumblin’ Dice,” was not only a kind-hearted effort to ease my oppressive anxiety over misguided romances and looming wage-slavin’ but also an eclectic demonstration of Colin’s appreciation of smart pop tunesmithery wrapped in driving rock ‘n’ roll.


At the time he gifted me with the tape, Colin had already provided the backbeat for at least 10 Little Rock punk bands, including the Numbskulz and Substance; in the 10 years since, he has also served time with Skeleton Key, Sea Ray, The Stills, and now Dan Zanes & Friends. That’s right: Dan Zanes, formerly of the Del Fuegos and now the free world’s best hope for all-access music that doesn’t make you want to break the CD player after your child has listened to it 50 times.  The group has won leagues of devoted fans and industry respect (including a Grammy Award); guests on their records include Debbie Harry, Lou Reed, Aimee Mann, and John Doe. Still, I never quite foresaw the day when my grizzled friend would be surrounded by any bottles that didn’t contain beer, so I used the excuse of the band’s upcoming February show at BAM to pester Colin about exactly how it came to this.

Find out how Colin navigates the underbelly of rock stardom — y’know, the soft one that involves pajama parties and plenty of coffee — while staying true to his indie rock roots after the jump.

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Brooklyn Surfer.

January 10th, 2008

When most people think of surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding, New York City is not usually the first image that comes to mind — but that’s because they just don’t know. They’re starting to find out, though: the Gray Lady recently took notice of a Brooklyn band of skaters, and new shops such as the Harlem-based Everything Must Go and Homage in Cobble Hill have started serving up gear. But one company that pulls board sports into a truly 21st-century reality (it’s all about the mix, y’all) is Brooklyn Surfer. Established just several years ago by Michael Green, a surfer/skater/snowboarder and “creative dude” in the ad business, Brooklyn Surfer is an apparel company and a conceptual brand; Green’s affiliate company, BSI Agency, has clients that include MTV, Sony, and Microsoft.


Michael is soon off to a trade show in Germany, followed by a few days to enjoy the powder in Vermont before returning to dig into the next season of Brooklyn Surfer products and concepts. He took a time out, though, to tell me how Brooklyn Surfer represents the true surfer of life.

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