Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Almost Less/Less

I’m not sure if the name of the store is Less, Less/Less, or Less/Less Less/Less Less/Less. Pre-Sandy I believe there was a different name. I cannot remember.

Sometimes I think what I tend to blog about most are stuff that is always there but heretofore unnoticed or moments of transitions, witnessed once and never again. This falls into the latter camp. Sandy heavily damaged the strip mall where this 99 Cents Store was. Three months later, I’m still writing Sandy material and I’m not near the end. Really gives you pause realizing the extent of this natural disaster, and the likely fact that weather events of this severity will now occur annually.
 


I’ve never shopped here and probably never will. Not that I don’t love 99 Cents Stores, I do, but I’m loyal to my one on Newark.

99 Cents Store. A friend from the South calls them Dollar Stores. The retail archetype was Woolworths – the original “Five and Dime” store. It somehow became shortened to Dime Store. Both Five and Dime and Dime Store were still used even after inflation meant there was nothing less than a quarter at the stores. In the 90s, Woolworths went out of business and 99 cents stores popped up. For a while, these ultra-discount merchants proudly proclaimed nothing was more than 99 (not including the inner-city NJ 3 cent tax), but that was short lived. Now the name of the store is an ideal, not a rigid limitation. I still call them 99 cents Stores, my friend Dollar Stores, in spite of the actual prices we now find there.

As these retailers go, this one is larger, almost a 99 Cent super-store. It’s fun shopping in these stores. A supermarket, like Pathmark, in whose strip Mall “Less” is located, has discount aisles and items. The prices for name-brand cleansers are the same, for instance and you can find similarly priced cleaning rag at both retailers. But only in 99 Cents Stores can you find mucho bizzaro Spanish language brands, like “Cleanso” or “Fabio,” as well faux alabaster religious statues, irregular t-shirts and a discounted shower sandals.

There is something tongue-in-cheek about shopping in these ultra-discount stores, like watching a syndicated rerun from a familiar sit-com. You remember when it was new, what life was like back then, just a short time ago in your memory, it still makes you laugh, just not as much. You remember when this was full price, and you don’t feel you need as much as you did then but you still see that it might be useful, so you decide if the lower price is equal to its diminished value.

The factory is making something else now. This product you are considering for purchase was the last of the lot, stayed in a warehouse, sold wholesale from supplier to jobber – the name for a third person re-seller –until the owner of this 99 Cent Store bought the lot for pennies on the dollar. Now it has caught your eye even though the only reason you are in here was for the paper towel you forget to buy when you went grocery shopping yesterday.
 
 
 
The ceiling collapsed if not the roof. The electrical system had to be replaced. The entire inventory was destroyed and made unsellable. But the retail concept of discount shopping is evergreen, able to withstand any Sandy
 
 
 
 
 
 

Hoboken Path > Hoboken Train Station

 
 
 
With very little fanfare, the PATH line connecting Newport to Hoboken ran trains today. On the weekends and holidays, 33rd Street bound trains connect Journal Square and Hoboken. What wasn’t running today was the Hoboken to WTC line (which typically doesn’t run on Weekends or Holidays) but I am sure it will be.

Without the Hoboken PATH, getting to the Hoboken Train station from Jersey City was a royal pain. About six weeks after Sandy – mid-December– Hoboken PATH began running, but from Jersey City you had to cross the River. While the Hudson may not be the Styx, I am reluctant.

So, I don’t have pictures here of the Newport to Hoboken tracks. A PATH worker told me that it is actually an incline and the damage by Sandy more severe, and the repair more time consuming than all the other tracks of the PATH system, COMBINED! Okay, she didn’t say combined but I am just cliché that every time you hear all the other, the word COMBINED is sure to follow.
 
 
 
 





 

 

 


 


So, where was I… right… the Hoboken Train Station – theGreat Erie Lackawanna is still in disrepair, little to improvement from when I wasthere last, in December, on Christmas. The lobby is closed, the station master’s office, the bathrooms are port-o-johns and outside. No place to get anything to eat. No ceiling panels to the corridor where you go from PATH to NJTRANSIT rail.
I noticed that there were boxed in the liquor store, ready to be unpacked. Patience and hope.

 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gay Liberation Movement Monument

 

Is Freedom simple or complicated?
 
The feeling of being free seems to be simplicity itself. As easy and ordinary as passing time quietly in a park with someone you care for. But reaching that clear and unhindered moment is a complex ordeal.  In reality, there may be nothing uncomplicated about freedom at all. But truths like that are ignored in our sound-bite society.
Sheridan Square Park in NYC is named for General Philip Sheridan. It is also the home of the Gay Liberation Movement Monument.
Some would agree with you if you said Sheridan fought for freedom. In the Civil War he did to the Shenandoah Valley what Sherman did to other Southern states when he marched from Atlanta to the sea. He inflicted relentless destruction, crushing the will of confederate civilians to wage war. He fought for the end of slavery, but was relentless and without mercy when it came to vanquishing his enemy. If you were a Virginian slave – or unionist – he was a liberator. If you were a Virginian secessionist, he was a sadistic invader.
Those freed from Slavery, those fighting to save the Union, might insist he was willing to pay a terrible price for their freedom. The immediate victims of that price, whose farms and homes were destroyed, likely disagree.
He was General Grant’s favorite general, and when Ulysses became president, Sheridan led a genocidal war against Native Americans, he attacked the Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Comanche tribes in their winter quarters, taking their supplies and livestock and killing those who resisted, driving the rest back into their reservations. He did the same later to the Sioux, although in 1876 there was a set back when Custer was ambushed. His troops killed not just warriors, but women, children and old men. They also gave them blankets with smallpox, spreading disease among the populations and allowed professional hunters, trespassing on Indian land, to slaughter bison, knowing that the buffalo was a way of life for Native Americans. Sheridan said: "Let them kill, skin and sell until the buffalo is exterminated".
Settlers who had been victims of attacks might say Sheridan fought for their freedom. People living in those states – and everyone else in the nation, because all benefitted from agriculture, mining and other industries that followed in those states, enriching our national economy – might also say that because of Sheridan’s merciless warfare, we live in freedom today. Native Americans have a different perspective. Sheridan was one of the strategists  enacting the American Indian holocaust that was Manifest Destiny. Sheridan is their Eichmann.
Sharing space with Sheridan in his namesake park is the monument to Gay Liberation. The stonewall riots began in this neighborhood in 1969. They may not have been the actual first step towards civil rights and equality for homosexuals, but no previous event was as visible or memorable.
Homosexuality was illegal, and homosexuals existed in an underground society that was under constant harassment by police. Consensual sex between adults was treated as a crime, because it was a crime. Laws prohibited sex between members of the same gender. African American Americans and women were successfully protesting for equal rights. Even Native Americans had AIM – the American Indian Movement – that was almost as successful. In spite of a few celebrities, like Tennessee Williams, who had come out before coming out was a term, gays were ostracized, the segment of the population that dared not speak its name. Police raided and harassed the clientele of bars in the west village, where gays were able to enjoy some freedom, however clandestinely. The night Judy Garland died the police decided to raid and the mourners decided enough was enough and what might have on the surface seemed like camp, suddenly turned into a resistance movement and a fight for freedom began.
Many homosexual men and women were active participants in the anti-war, civil war and women’s liberation movements of the era, but always remained in the closet. Many political values and goals were shared, but the organizations behind those movements could be as homophobic as society at large. To come out was to risk not just being ostracized, but legal repercussions in the form of fines and prison. Most of the gay New Yorkers leading the stonewall riots were inspired by other political movements of the era. They had a genuine grief for Judy Garland – she was probably the most outspoken gay rights supporter of her generation of celebrities – and finally stood up to the police harassment, who were cruelly enforcing an unjust law.
Freedom is never simple, is it?
Rights have to be defined, put into law. Laws require regulations to be written, so disputes can be litigated and even that litigation and case law further shapes those rights, and ultimately that freedom.
But the right to love who you want. Desiring who you want to desire? That seems simple. Starts simply most times at least, love does. Starts with a you and an I, what could be more basic? You don’t tell your heart how to feel, it works the other way around.
Freedom requires more than just laws. Rights are enshrined in law, but laws are not enough. Attitudes have to change, which takes time, education and individual experiences.
Sheridan’s bloody acts in the Civil War led to enshrinement in law of civil rights for American blacks through constitutional amendments. But Jim Crow nullified those amendments for about another 90 years. Supreme Court decisions, additional amendments to the constitution, national, state and locals and accompanying regulations, were needed to not just over throw Jim Crow but to make those rights a reality in every state, including the Shenandoah Valley. But it wasn’t just the legal reality. Segregation was easy to accept because if the other is not part of your day to day life, they remain other. In this sense, civil rights legislation allowed for personal racism to be overcome. They enabled the possibility for to experience the humanity of the stranger.
There’s  certainly more work to be done, and there will be more work to done in four years when Obama leaves office, but we are at a point now that was unimaginable when I was a kid.  
Gay Liberation began as a local phenomena. Anti Sodomy laws still existed in some states into this century. Attitudes had to change, people risked everything for coming out. AIDS happened.
This statue celebrated its 20th Annivrsary in the summer. In 1992, I had friends and colleagues who were out and some who were not. Gay men and women seemed welcomed, no big deal, some of my best friends are sort of thing. But the idea of gay marriage was still seen as such a radical pipe dream to be ridiculous. It hadn’t happened in Europe even. Ten years earlier (I was still in College), I could count the people I knew who were out on one hand and still be able to hitch hike.  
In 2012, gay marriage is legal in New York, and the populations of two other states voted it into law. I wonder if two decades of commemoration through art by this sculpture had something to do with the process of accepting one step sufficiently so that next step could be taken.
I love freedom. I support freedom unconditionally – I think I do, but if you have a bone worth picking then let’s get a beer and talk about it. My only issue with gay marriage is nomenclature. It is not an argument against, but thoughtful nitpicking. Wife and Husband are gender specific nouns, but they are used more commonly than spouse.  How will gay marriage affect the usage and legal meaning of those terms? Only observation allays this concern, I do not have a stand one way or another on a preferred outcome regarding word choice.
The religious argument against gay marriage is intellectually dishonest. The premise is that somehow the whole of society will suffer because an adult is permitted to have sex with an adult who wants to have sex with them. Their lack of purity hurts us all, the argument essentially goes. The purity argument, which comes from a dubious interpretation of the Book of Deuteronomy is an unsubstantiated premise, and not just because I used the adjective dubious.
Freedom of religion means you can practice yours freely, but to use the religious argument to deny a freedom is sheer hypocrisy, not to mention an attitude of ignorance and ingratitude about a freedom essential to the believer’s quality of life. To put it more plainly, you are not doing unto others. If you are using the same vehicle by which you are free to eliminate the freedom of an other, than you  are abusing the system and in fact, taking away some of your freedom by eliminating the freedom of choice for others. Our constitution allows you to interpret scripture to see homosexuality as a sin, but sin cannot be made illegal just on the basis of your religious belief. Murder and theft, for instance, may be sins, but they are also against property rights – of your self and your possessions – and if they were not illegal, then society would collapse. There is no property equivalent for consensual sex, in spite of what until now were centuries of western societies trying to set up legal prohibitions against sex deemed sinful.
Marriage may be a sacrament, but sacraments by definition are not legal constructs. They can not be bound— or impeded – by the laws of man because they are about recognition – perhaps even an interface – with the invisible or supernatural world, i.e. God. Allowing two people to enter into a social contract and granting them the rights and privileges of that contract is common sense. Let’s accept that the evolution of acceptance has been gradual but if two individuals are not allowed the benefits of that social contract, they are indeed being persecuted.  Gay Marriage allows a freedom that was denied for some individuals; those who oppose it are unable to – and in fact do not – claim, much less prove, that their freedoms are in any way impeded by Gay Marriage. The argument that gay marriage diminishes the institution of marriage is simply hypocritical and is a similar argument supporting anti-sodomy laws, that the whole of society is diminished by the sexual impurity of two consenting adults. In the decades after the 1969 Gay Liberation Movement, society has survived the revocation of anti-sodomy laws. The idea that while society can but the institution of marriage cannot is ridiculous.
But more than that, if the institution – for lack of a better term – of marriage depends on the legal definition of the social contract, and as such threatened by gay marriage, then you are abandoning the sacramental notion of marriage. If that institution is the Sacrament, then it cannot be diminished through law because sacraments are beyond – by definition external to – “our” laws. Sacraments and institutions are distinct entities. An institution enshrined by and through, law, that it is a social contract and as such, influenced by legislation and plebiscite, is contrary to a sacramental institution. They are not one and the same, and once they are, the sacramental aspect of marriage dissolves, because Freedom of religion means freedom of belief. Once it is enshrined in law, it is a fact and no longer a belief. The best you can hope for is peaceful coexistence, which is why even when you get married in a house of worship, witnessed by friends, family and a congregation of fellow believers, you also get a marriage license.  The social contract of marriage is not equivalent to the sacramental union, but the religious argument against marriage wants to make it equivalent and that will only diminish the sacramental union, the very basis of the argument. That seems to me to be also the definition of hypocrisy.
The only way the Civil War could have been prevented was if the founding fathers nullified slavery with the constitution. Insufficient numbers of slaveholders were willing to voluntarily give up their slaves. Thus, the war came.
 By 1860, the only resolution left was the Battle Cry of Freedom. The Indian Wars America fought against Native Americans in the Plains States should have been avoided. Our government broke every treaty, and combined genocidal military tactics of direct assaults on civilian populations – the very tactics that won the Civil War and World War II – as well as enacting policies for the extermination of the Buffalo, the basis of a way of life for all the key tribes. Greed and racism motivated the free to make others less free. Co-existence with American Indian Tribes was possible, it had been official policy for decades and was supported by many in the 1870s and 1880s,  but of course that side lost.
Gay rights never came to war fare, although Matthew Shepard and the millions of AIDs victims, particularly those ignored by the government and our overall healthcare system of no-system in the 80s and (early-to-mid) 90s, might not have been able to tell the difference. In a sense, Gay Marriage is similar to Civil Rights legislation, a correction, a focus of law that ensures freedom that may have only been implied in previous amendments to the constitution as well state, local and case law.
Gay Marriage did not seem as obvious in 1992 when this statue was finally erected in Sheridan Square Park, even though by then, all other equal rights for gay men and women had become the norm (at least round these parts). Legislation is an important first step for rights, but it is just the first steps and changing attitudes and perceptions, removing that mental BUT – as in, I have nothing against gays, BUT – requires time, patience, discourse and conversation. A realization that a lot of that BUT is more about you than me. Denying somebody freedom is your problem, not theirs but sadly, you may be the one in power.
I like the eeriness of this statue, the refrigerator white of the sculpture is both other-wordily and natural. In fact ,its nocturnal glow seems preternatural. At night these statues seem incandescent.  George Segal is the sculptor of the Gay Liberation Movement Monument. Two castings were made of the statue, which are brass and painted white, in 1979 but did not reach the intended spot until 1992.
Some gays originally protested the statue, deriding for appearing to depict “cruising couples.” I’m old enough to have seen the Pacino film, to have read John Rechy, and remember hearing those funny bits on Howard Stern about Parkway Rest Stops, so that thought crossed my mind.
Casual sex was – and is – part of gay society – just as it is common in Heterosexual society – but the anonymous environment of a park has long been replaced by the more anonymous and open space of the Internet. People use to hook up in a park, NO WAY! So, times have made that perception obsolete and the sculpture more closely resembles the artist’s original intention, depicting a natural moment between couples in a park, showing them to be as human as anyone else, regardless of sexuality. Context can be everything.
And now, most parks are like Sheridan Square, where couples of any gender can pass time un-harassed. And, if harassed, there are laws to protect them.
The need to be who you are is a universal aspiration. Every human being wants that. Everybody wants that freedom. It is an ideal that represents the best of America; an ideal Sheridan’s Commander-and-Chief rightly said was the last best hope for mankind.
 The freedom to be in a park un-harassed deserves the permanence of public art. We live life by moments, as such freedom seems simple but the facts tell another more complicated story that politics all too often trivializes.
In my Toy Story hallucination, I imagine conversations between the Gay Liberation Movement and General Phillip Sheridan statues. Are they about the simplicity of an ideal or the complexity of reaching it? Who takes what side, and when?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Slackliner


A Slackline is a cross between a balance beam and a trampoline. Bruce said he got his as a Christmas present. This weekend we were having a January Thaw sans a January Freeze (so far), a warm winter, wind-free Saturday afternoon. Bruce brought his Slackline to the park.
A tightrope? Don’t be so 20th century. Slacklining is TOTALLY different. There is not the same level of tension as a tightrope, and it’s the width of a wide ribbon, some kind of nylon and canvas, a band as sturdy as a harness.

A google reveals that Slackline has reached something tightrope walking never could, single word verb status: Slacklining.

Slacklining can be self-taught, but tightropes are so taut that tightrope walking must be taught. (I apologize)

 
 
 
This was Bruce’s third time Slacklining. I’m getting better, he said. He was able to walk across the expanse between the two threes – a Slackline resembles a narrow hammock – unaided, but for hops and leaps, he used a stick to maintain balance.

Slacklining may be relatively new, but there are already dozens of websites, newsgroups – Slacklining yoga, Slacklining martial arts, Slacklining competitions – beach Slacklining vs. urban Slacklining – Slacklining social media. The whole nine yards. What, did you expect something else? Relatively new is a relative concept. Slacklining is hot, the new rollerblading or skateboarding and if you don’t believe me you are really doubting the entire internet, blasphemer.
To be fair, spell check still denotes it as two words, so is still officially a fad, not yet a trend.
Happens all the time and I know I'm not alone. I see something that appears somewhat unusual in the park while enjoying some rare sun on a winter’s day, go home and get on the computer then find out there’s a whole Slackliner world out there. Slacklining is not just a cult, it’s a coalition of cults. I keep finding loops that not only am I not in, but I have no knowledge or awareness of. Sign on to the internet, only to find out more than I ever wanted to know about that loop until now I never knew existed. I have not been there or done that but in this day and age, within a few mouse clicks, you feel like you have been there, done that, have the t-shirt and moved on to something else. The time separating information overload from complete ignorance will be measured in nanoseconds by the time you finish reading this sentence.

Why shouldn’t Slacklining be popular? It looks like fun, and aside from the likely sprained ankle, relatively safe. Now it has arrived in Jersey City, where it should be noted that since Hamilton Park was renovated and dog runs installed, now the trees and lawns can be used, enjoyed. Slacklining would not have been possible, just a few short years ago, when dogs were allowed to run wild and poop with abandon.
 
 

Let a thousand Slacklines bloom. Okay, not a thousand but I do like to think that public space should encourage, not limit, our imaginations. Let our creativity soar as high and as far as a Frisbee. Hey, watch out for the guy on the Slackline!

Since I’ve always lacked equilibrium and what little I have left is rapidly diminishing, I did not give Slacklining a try. I can barely do the limbo. But man, it looks like fun.

 
 

 
 
 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Loss of Love

 
Last to know, first to ponder. I guess I probably heard that Made With Love was closing, but for whatever reason it didn’t register until saw the flier taped to the window, the inside dark, the place as empty as the canisters that served as the transparent cookie jars.
 
 
 
 
 
Because of health issues, I have to watch the sugar, so I didn’t hang out there much. The few times I did, it was always a good time, such as this art opening.

Besides serving baked good, using organic and wholesome products, including specialized vegan items, Made With Love was always doing something. Art exhibitions, intimate concerts – the establishment was actually at the center of a controversy about live music, which eventually led to the city’s first cabaret law that actually allows such events – but also, birthday parties, for kids. Mommies (and more than a few daddies) loved hanging out there. Few places could seamlessly cater to a cross section of generations, and lifestyles.

In addition to the Jersey Avenue location, Made With Love bake sales were mobile. Creative Groove, Farmers Market and occasional Groove on Groves – all the outdoor events during warm weather months that make the Grove Street Pavilion a manifestation of community, Made with Love had a table with employee, selling goods; as well as various street fairs and other local affairs, such as the annual La Fiesta Italiana – “The Feast” – or the 4thStreet Arts Festival. Jersey City can be a disparate city; isolated scenes, like islands in an archipelago, each with its own rules, cultures and tribal fraternities. A cursory glance of at say, the Feast and 4th Street, sees little in common, and yet what they do have in common was a table by Made With Love.

I have to say, I think this is changing and I’m sure once the warm months return, some of the newer places in town, which include specialty bakeries like Made With Love – although none touting the organic and natural angle – that have opened will have no problem setting up make-shift, satellite stands in the diversity of events Jersey City hosts. But in this regard, Made With Love was one of the first. Made With Love overlapped when a lot of places were only either or.

Made With Love has a special place in the Dislocated heart. Two of my earliest blogs, first year of this here endeavor, here andhere, were Made With Love. These were among the first times that I just took some pictures, had a conversation, wound up with a blog that captured a moment. I’ve repeated that dozens of times, most always walk around with my Coolpix for that very purpose.

Celeste Governanti was the Made With Love proprietor. A warm and congenial personality, she glowed with a maternal vibe . A red head always with a ready smile, she’ll be missed on Jersey Avenue, where I would often see her. Made With Love always seemed buzzing with some activity or another; she was the queen of the cozy hive.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
I have no idea or information about why it is closing. Like many things, I imagine it’s a confluence of factors, unfortunate events happening too close together. But two things come to mind.

Her twitter feed ends on a cryptic note… to “Hate mingers” (a wonderful typo of monger) on JC Lists, which is a message board. I have only viewed it once or twice, never participate. Between the blog and the FB I get enough cyber JC in my life. Anyway, around Sandy there was a kerfuffle. The bakery suffered damage and was out of power, like us all and a generator was set up there, which had outlets for people to charge up their devices and a sign was put up on the generator, asking for $1.00 donation to defray costs. Generators are run by gasoline. So, a picture was taken and posted, and this was deemed as some kind of profiteering off storm victims, turns out the generator was actually from Fish With Braids, and there were a flurry of signs by Celeste proclaiming I’m a Sandy victim.

Well, I’ve lived in New Jersey for half a century and one thing we can always rely on, our heads can never be too far up our asses. So, the threads got ugly and unfair.
 
 
The other factor I am hypothesizing about here, which is different although the head up the ass rule applies except here it applies to our city.

Jersey City is moving and shaking. We are redefining the urban environment, several stages ahead in gentrification. Forget Williamsburg or Park Slope, Downtown is the next Soho. Blah blah blah. Don’t you see the couples with their toddlers and/or pedigree pooch?

And yet, look at Jersey Avenue, the block where Made With Love is on. Right in the center of what should be a thriving downtown is a dead spot, mainly do to a vast hardware store, with its retro Native American (really kind of racist in the current era, although it does look kind of cool too) logo, that takes up about 25 percent of the block and hasn’t been opened for business in more than a decade!

To the north of this store is a shoe repair shop that’s been there for something like 40 years and to the south is Made With Love. Next door to Made With Love is a place that was a book shop, a toy store but is currently empty. On the far southern corner is a wings and pizza joint, which by the way, serves GREAT pizza! On the northern corner, is a tiny cement park, aligned with store fronts that now include custom frame store, an optician and new cookie bakery. It’s booming, the frame store has been there a while and the new retailers replaced older urban businesses. This nook is on the Newark avenue not Jersey Avenue side, and begins a row of stores that are nearly consecutive, heading west to the Grove Path stations.

You go to Newark Avenue for an assortment of reasons, but you turn to Jersey Avenue and Made With Love becomes a destination. There is no other reason, unless you need a heel replaced, to be on that side of the street. There’s no reason to stroll. The closed up hardware store is just retail death, a lead weight. When it snows, it is also a hazard since nobody is there to shovel and the city doesn’t seem interest in holding the relator liable for neglect.

What is frustrating is this is a large space in what should be an optimum location. There’s even a parking lot nearby. Head south on Jersey and cross Christopher Columbus and there restaurants and other businesses (the corner multi-storied building home to Caroline’s Laundry had a fire last year, was evacuated and remains uninhabited and no construction or similar activity is apparent).

I do not know why Celeste decided to throw in her apron. I am sure there were personal reasons, which I hope were not tragic ones. But I am guessing that the way the city planners have ignored what should be a thriving block had to a be constant frustration. Think of all the retail stores you pass on Newark on your way to or from the Grove Street Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks. In comparison, Made With Love is a lone outpost that you have to wade through an unpleasant wasteland to reach.

Anyway, Made With Love was a cool place, Celeste a delightful individual and, whatever the cause or causes; we are all diminished by the loss.

The website is still here. Hope springs eternal.
 
 

 
 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Demise of a Diner

Did you see University Restaurant is closed, I asked my friend.

I just went by there last week.

It’s no longer in business.
 
 

This conversation took place a week or so into the New Year and last week meant December. I didn’t call it University Restaurant; I called it that diner on University. I am in this neighborhood about once a week, although the holidays and earlier, Sandy, kept me away but no more than a week or two than usual. I haven’t had the occasion to eat here in quite a while, but I am sure I would have noticed it being closed, just like I did now.

The death of this diner is a recent one. New York diners cannot compete with New Jersey diners, but they do a good job and offer reasonably priced food in Manhattan’s costly eating realm. As the name implies, and it’s close proximity to New School University and NYU, is popular with students, faculty, and employees. For a period of time I hate here, lunch. Grilled Swiss on rye with bacon, bowl of soup and an ice tea. Free refills on the tea, It was a nice, pleasant, fast service, good food. Everything anyone could require.

So, now it’s gone. This neck of the Manhattan woods is undergoing what appears to be a pernicious make-over. Seems a lot of places are now closed, the closing in the past few weeks. Perfectly good businesses, lots of food traffic, but the decisions being made seem unrelated to the laws of supply and demand that we’re told are like gravity, we’re all subject to them and while they may not be fair at least they are objective. Supply and demand – not to mention tradition, custom and community – can be made far less powerful than gravity by laws of NYC commercial real estate property ownership.

 
 
 
One of two things. Not satisfied with the profits a large, well-runned diner can generate ,the owners will open another establishment that can increase the size of those profits. Or, NYU is taking over the West Village, turning it into a vast campus and the University Restaurant was only the latest business of the old village to succumb. Both things could be true, and there’s a “for rent” sign on the window, so maybe the proprietors of this respectable village diner had personal issues that caused the demise.

More than likely, a confluence of factors rather than a single reason is at fault.

NYU has turned itself from a regional college into an international academic leader. It brings young people and money into the city, my friend a Manhattanite reminded me.
The village is not the village anymore, I sad. 

The village hasn’t been the village for 20 years.

True that. True for us too.
 
 

 
 
 

Monday, January 14, 2013

McDonalds Returns

 
 
A giant clown is heading towards the Pathmark. Help! Oh my God, it’s Ronald McDonald – hide the children and stock up on your insulin, we’re all going to die. Super Size Me was not just a film, it was a prophecy.
 
 
Oh wait, it’s just a giant inflatable Ronald, not a living monster. Luckily, it’s also not a permanent fixture but just a grand re-opening promotional decoration.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


McDonald’s is back on Grand Street, in the Old Colony Strip Mall where the Pathmark remains as the anchor. I can’t remember the last time I ate at a McDonald’s, but it had to be before I saw Super Size Me. I never loved McDonalds, but it tastes good. Let’s face it, it’s terrible for you. You can’t be eating that stuff after age 30 or so, at least not without repercussions. But it’s not like anything I can say, or anyone can say anywhere, can stop McDonalds, or even noticeably reduce its popularity.

Last fall, an early morning fire severely damaged this outlet, causing the roof to collapse. Nobody was injured. News reports indicate that the fire department was on the scene for about 80 minutes and the cause was under investigation. I can’t find any report on the cause, and while everyone suspects the Hamburgaler, my suspicion is that it was an inside job. I always blame the clown.

Word is that Sandy delayed the re-opening; additional construction required due to flood damage. Except for Pathmark, most of the stores in this strip mall are still closed. The Chase bank outlet was out of commission for about six weeks, and all the other storefronts on this strip of the strip mall are still gated. Sandy ravaged this place. Repairs slowly continue.
 

 
 
 
 

The re-opened McDonald’s is back and packed. I have a feeling the Big Macs taste just like every other one from every McDonalds every where around the world. The shiny face of the current stage of capitalism, a smile as permanent as Ronald’s, murdering us slowly and with stealth but the outcome is as final as it is inescapable.