Archive | April, 2006

Ditmas Stroll

27 Apr

I “write” a lot in my head. I compose as I go on a neighborhood walk, thinking about a letter I want to write to a friend or an imaginary post that never goes up on this blog (or shouldn’t). Often I come up with somewhat ambitious ideas that I never do anything with, like eating my way around the world and writing about it. Then I realize I probably won’t get to eat my way around the world literally, but of course I could give it a try in New York. Write about a meal I’ve had in each neighborhood of each borough. How delicious.

The other day I went on one such stroll, from Kensington into Ditmas Park. I didn’t end up eating anything because I couldn’t stop myself from wandering. I followed the old routes of my childhood. Maybe now the ambitious plan would be a psychogeographic memoir. Some of the things I love to read are about places and lives in those spaces. So why not try that.

Here is the house I grew up in, on Beverly Road, second story of a 3-family. Here, across the street, the ancient apartment buildings that gave me my boombox lullabies. Both structures are gray and dingy. Broken glass still on the sidewalk, just as I remember. Children playing whiffle ball on a brown, balding lawn between concrete walkways.

Firecrackers would swoop up onto our roof on the night of July the 4th, crackling smoke in the windows. My father would rush out through the window in his underwear and, with invincible flat feet, kick the offending pyrotechnic back into the street where it was launched.

I cross Coney Island Avenue, past the 11-7 and the former Kantacky Fried Chicken (most likely sued by Kentucky Fried Chicken across the street). I enter the green zen of Beverly Square and Ditmas Park. Rows and rows of enormous trees line these streets. Unlike Kensington, where people lop off branches and chop chop chop (we need sunlight, they say, or, the next storm could send these trees crashing down, they say). In Ditmas Park no one chops trees. No one squints in the light. There is a coolness here, amongst Victorian houses in various stages of renovation or disrepair.

I wander passed lawns bedecked with pink flamingos and plaster-cast lions. Houses renovated in the ‘80s by Park Slope expatriates, and houses renovated by Flatbush’s upwardly mobile. Porch swings, silver cats, magnolia trees. Columns at each intersection proclaim each street name with British regality: Marlborough, Stratford. Argyle. Dorchester. Remnants of 19th century moguls.

More interesting to me are the houses still in ruin: relics of a past and food for a darker appetite. A green house with musty brown shards of windows; mummified in plastic; shutters hanging askew off their hinges. A copper plaque on a porch column by the steps reads the name of a doctor, an orthopedist: ancient doctor for an ancient generation. All gone. A dusty sign written in careful block letters pleads, “DON’T PLAY ON THIS PORCH…” the rest is unintelligible, but the warning is clear: the porch steps are broken, a ragged hole. Collapsed where some small child may have played, fallen through and eaten by some slithering monster underneath.

Next door, a house with new stucco and two slender saplings of cherry trees, fresh-blossomed and swaying in the spring breeze.

Jane Jacobs, RIP

25 Apr

I read “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” this summer. I enjoyed it, for the most part, and recommend it to anyone interested in cities (especially the first two or three parts). I’ve had some psychogeographic mental bubblings of late and may start posting things of that nature soon. Stay tuned. In the meantime, a bit about Ms. Jacobs.

Games

24 Apr

Just in case there are people reading this that aren’t also reading my brother Victor’s blog, here is a link to his great, fun, inventive take on traditional video games. He had an exhibit at the Salone del Mobile, in Milano, which has just closed shop. Which shows how up to date I am…

(Just as expected, the more work I should be doing, the more posts end up here. This does not bode well for productivity.)

Greenpoint Blues

23 Apr

I went to see my friend Euna’s band Greenpoint last night. They performed at the Manhattan Korean-American Association of Greater New York, for amateur band night. Euna rocked the electric harpsichord while the front man resurrected Jim Morrison, Ray Charles, and Bob Marley in throaty blues songs with a touch of Mick Jaggeresque dancing, wagging his teased tea hair, his sunglasses glinting in the lights . The Doors covers riled up the previously sedate, seated crowd (save the one fellow up front who periodically danced in circles ecstatically, and the occasional silhouette of a head-banger for the punkier rap-metal band prior). Greenpoint sparkled as the last act and put a smile on my face. Fun was had by all.

Fiber

23 Apr

My good friend Eric just started a knitting blog, recording progress and product of various projects. Crafts like knitting are so much warmer and fuzzier than paintings and sculptures that you can’t touch. Partake in the warmth.

Watermelon, Baby, Chicken Bone

20 Apr

(Some more Luda. Previous bits of Luda can be found under Fiction/Story Snippets.)

She walks down the hot sidewalk pushing the cart, empty but one bulbous watermelon. The metal of the cart sags at the bottom. Green bits of glass sparkle on the asphalt. Round the corner from the bodega and up three flights of stairs—it takes her ten minutes and Luda is tired when she retrieves the grandbaby from the neighbor. Grandbaby coos with glee at her return. She plays with the brown cowlick on his head, coiled like a sarmaluta.

In the kitchen, she gives the baby a chicken bone. He gets grease on his rosy cheeks, bangs the table as she chops up the cool melon, slices through the sweet flesh with her favorite knife: a good, sharp knife, a wedding present to her daughter and the son-in-law. She thinks perhaps she’d make sarmala for dinner, smiling at the baby’s curl. But she’d have to go back out for the cabbage and this thought tires her. She stops chopping a moment and looks out the kitchen window, at the rusty fire escape and down to the avenue.
She hears the dreaded noise: a faint little scuttle.

“Mices!” One of her few English words, such as yes, no, help and bodega.

She drops the knife and it clatters to the floor. Sticky pink juice and black pits splatter. She clambers atop a chair and onto the kitchen table, gathering her floral moo-moo. She sees the little brown mouse go behind the stove. She shudders, but is grateful its not one of the more dreadful rodents, the ones that scurry in the subway. The ones large enough to eat the baby.

Slowly, slowly, she climbs down. The baby laughs at her. Laughs at his silly Bunica. She gets tired easily under all her weight, but she doesn’t take long to clean up the fruity mess, and move the baby to the living room. Out of breath, she switches on the fan and the TV. She sits down with an ooph and watches the mid-day news. Pictures of looting in darkened streets, broken glass, sirens and screaming: the chaos of the blackout a few days ago. She sighs and eats melon, chews and swallows but doesn’t process the sweetness. Watches the procession of soaps after the news, tries to take in the new language, is mildly shocked and amused by the love scenes. Over the course of the afternoon, alone in the apartment with baby and TV, she goes back and forth to the kitchen, cutting and eating the watermelon.

The son-in-law arrives from work on his bike. Brings it up and locks it on the fire escape. He is a good son, with a secure job making gravestones. A demand never to diminish. Only all that death. Was it bad luck? Luda wonders. Her daughter is in a more abstract field. At least she can understand the stones, the carving. Computers, she will never understand. I only understand the buttons on my dress, she thinks.

The son-in-law is taking art classes at the community college at night. Painting. The old Romanian teacher jokes with him: “You can take this class for free if you make my gravestone complimentary.” So he pays just for the supplies and sits in the back, craning his neck a bit to see the lithe model or the basket of fruit and animal skulls on silky colored fabrics.

Tonight he works on his homework, portrait of a family member. He sits Luda down on her twin bed in the sewing room. The walls are painted in a bluish sherbet color and her dollar store house dress is of blue, white, faint orange-pink flowers. She sits forward, hands on knees, rocking slightly with impatience. “Dukes of Hazzard” will be on in fifteen minutes. The son-in-law doesn’t care if Luda misses it because she can’t understand anything on the TV. But there’s something funny about all that nonsense English and sound effects and music—no matter what she watches she finds something to laugh at, manages to clap her hands in amusement. She likes to enjoy life, not like that daughter of hers, hunched over the typewriter in the bedroom, endlessly updating her resume.

Luda brushes her white hair away from her forehead, her bowl cut growing out. It is hot and though all the windows are open the air inside is very still. Very still and vaguely brown. The baby sits in his high chair, commenting on his father’s art in gurgles, banging the chicken bone on the little table. A natural critic.

“Did you eat that whole melon?” he asks.

“What melon?”

“I saw the rinds in the trash. You can tell me, Bunica. Better you tell me than Mia.”

“I tell you, you tell her. What’s the difference?”

“You know you don’t need all that sugar.” He reaches for a tube of pink and squirts it on his pallet.

“Melon. Fruit. It’s healthy!”

“Do you want to go blind, Luda?”

She rolls her eyes and sighs. Looks at her hands. Needs to cut a cuticle or two. Tell me what’s next, she thinks. Amputation? She lets a moment pass.

“What would you like for dinner?”

He doesn’t look up, he is concentrating on the canvas.

“Whatever you cook is good with me,” he finally says, still not looking up. She sighs and heaves herself up.

“Can we finish later?”

“Sure, Bunica.” He looks up at her, finally. Gives the smile with the dimple that the baby has.

At night in her little room with the sewing machine and the twin bed, she lays facing the window. The moon peeks in and bounces off the sherbet walls. Her thick glasses are off and everything is a luminous blur. She listens to the baby cry and to her daughter murmur in the other room. Their sounds weaving in and out of her memories.

Ramble

12 Apr

An early post this week, and then I delve into papers and finals, which means possibly less posts, possibly more!

Ramble Underground has published my story Cumulus.

Foray into Children’s Lit

6 Apr

Tobias Theophrastus Bombastus von Hobbins IV sat on a park bench by the water. He stroked his enormous beard with his enormous hand. He reached into his beard and took out a handful of crumbs, throwing them at the ducks in the pond. The ducks gobbled the crumbs, and waddled toward him for more. He reached into his beard and threw more crumbs. His stomach growled.

“Time for lunch,” he said to himself. Tobias reached again and took out a cucumber sandwich covered in plastic. He unwrapped it and nibbled daintily at the crustless lunch. The ducks looked up at him.

“Quack,” they said.

“None for you,” he said to them, mouth full of chewed up cucumber and white bread.

“Quack,” they said again, waddling off.

Tobias finished his sandwich and dusted his hands off. Slowly, he lifted himself from the bench.

“Oof,” he said.

He walked down the lane, whistling to himself. He was happy. Today he would buy a didjeridoo. He walked out of the park to the music shop. The bells chimed when closed the door behind him.

“Hello,” said the shopkeeper, wearing thick, goggle-like glasses.

“Hullo!” Tobias said brightly.

“May I help you?”

“Are you in the habit of selling didjeridoos?”

“A whointhewhatnow?” The shopkeeper scratched his bald shiny head.

“A didjeridoo?” Tobias put one fist on top of the other and pressed them against his mouth, trying to imitate the noise.

“Oh, a triangle,” said the shopkeeper. He held out a small metal triangle and struck it with a metal stick. It clinked.

“No–”

“Yes, that’s exactly what you need.”

“But–”

The shopkeeper rang up the triangle. Tobias could not argue with the shopkeeper, it was not in his nature. He bought the triangle. He walked down the street, shoulders slumped, clinking his triangle. He clinked back to the park, clinking at the ducks.

“Quack,” they said to him.

Clink, he went, before putting the triangle away in his beard. Tobias sighed. He heaved a heavy, deep sigh. He stroked his beard, and sighed once more, with gusto.

“Hmmmm,” he said, reaching back into his beard. Heaving (again) he pulled out a long tube. He blew on the tube.

“Quack,” said the ducks.

“Bbwo wo woo wooow wo,” blew Tobias Theophrastus Bombastus von Hobbins IV on his didjeridoo.

(This character was salvaged from a much longer story I’d written several years ago that crashed and burned. Maybe one day I’ll be able to salvage more, or at least do something else with him.)

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