Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Year Five: Reflections


Five years a blogger.

I apologize for the typos, I can’t afford a copy editor. I also appreciate the kind words, encouragement and compliments I’ve gotten in person and by email. I’m not sure exactly what service Dislocations actually provides, but it’s good to receive genuine appreciation. Originality and depth is something I strive towards and it’s nice to both have that acknowledged and to know that many appreciate such aspirations. Last year I passed 100,000 vistors or readers or however the blog-stats are interpreted.

God Bless you all

This may be the last one, by the way.


I do not want to make such a grand statement – because, really, who knows how one will feel come any given morning – and it’s not that any hiatus is being planned – but the fact of the matter is that that each year I’ve written fewer blogs posts. This feeling has been nagging me, that maybe I’ve to the end of the blog format. Things I feel like writing about now, ideas that are coming, do not lend themselves to Dislocations posts.

Maybe blog notions will come again. Maybe I’ll just do pictures with funny captions, or maybe start another blog with a different mission than Dislocations. People have said to me, I love your blog about Jersey City. I thank them, but this blog was never really about our isthmus, it’s just mainly set in Jersey City. Ultimately, my statement is about the human condition, our experience of mortality, how we reconcile the need for community with our limited ability of understanding – we really can know nothing other than the self. Indirectly though, maybe it is about Jersey City, and maybe I do not have much else to say, especially about what fascinates me the most, ordinary life. Noticing anew things we experience every day. It’s those moments, the ones we hold in common, that I fnd the most revelatory. That keeps me going, gets me through.

I’m done. Okay, I’m not saying I’m done. Just kinda done. Maybe. 

Maybe I no longer feel the same Dislocation that inspired me five years ago to launch this endeavor.

For more traditional forms of poetry, fiction, and memoir, go visit my website, Timhrklit.


Without a doubt, the most fateful blog (s) was a pair I wrote about White Eagle Hall. Turns out, they were so well-received by the principals have asked me to work for Jersey City Theater Center, the organization creating a Theater & Arts complex in this neck of Newark Avenue. It’s very exciting and I’ve become their quasi-chronicler as well as publicist and general writer.

Basically though, I had been passing the four heads on this building near-daily for so long I had to find out who they were. The research was fun and included input from the Association of American Polish Historians, and the blogs formed the basis of an academic article available here.

A great place that serves both great tea and is a great drink that great tea opened, but this blog was a reason to write a memoir pieceabout why I never drink coffee, thus have devoted my hot (and sometimes iced) caffeinated beverage life to the leaf.

Always a favorite,  myfavorite reads, the best books of 2013, the most subjective reading list ever-committed to the internet.

A bad fire on Grove Street led to these empty lots and some memorable ponderings.


Jersey City got a new mayor this year, don’t you know. Steve Fulop, nice guy, fast talker, one of the leading young democratic politicians who are exemplifying that generation X is now taking the reigns of power. His inauguration was a city-wide block party, and his man of the people rhetoric struck a chord, and a pre-GWB-Gate Christie showed why his appeal is wider in person than on TV or YouTube. Is Fulop Bloomberg or DiBlasio or is it enough for the majority of the newly arrived that he isn’t Healy? But Fulop already performed a historical task no other media outlet deemed fit to acknowledge – Jersey City’s firstJewish Mayor – his family are Holocaust Survivors – lit the city Menorah. In the 1990s, Jersey City became the test case that led to permitting municipal governments to exhibit holiday decorations.  Nobody else appreciated the multi-layered irony of this moment. 

Murals have become the cornerstone of the art scene in Jersey City and some special city funding implemented a mural project, here are two examples, here and here, of some of the most compelling.

Paint the Car was this interactive art event at the regular interactive art event known as Creative Grove, a sort of artsy flea market that survives in town despite of its misguided detractors. The point, paint art and graffati on a car. FIGHT CONFORMITY NOW!!!

One of the greatest record stores in the history of record stores closed, JR Music, which is by the World Trade Center, downsized last year and will probably close this year. I happen to go to the old, two-level location on Record Store Day last year, the last Record Store Day of the oldlocation, whoo hoo! JR is a series of stores that sells appliances, electronic equipment, computers and CDs, but now that series has been consolidated into one brick and mortar store. I bought a couple of CD players there, recently a computer monitor. But they too are moving their selection online. Kind of sucks if your mouse decides to go kaput and you’re on deadline; I remember going there and finding a dozen different types of mouse to purchase. Now there’s one. Used to go to the record store, buy some CDs – they had a deep inventory and were really cheap –I got a Roy Acuff for $4.95! – but now everything is one location, they phased out the jazz selection. I get the feeling they are selling off the rest of the stock and that will be day. A way of life gone forever. This blog was not intended to be but turned out as both tribute and obituary.

 I love writing about Shakespeare and I caught some really fantastic summer productions, a really great King Lear up in Inwood, so far up the isle of Manhatto that my nose bled. A good buddy, Bob Armstrong, played the titular role of the man who usurped his life. On the Jersey Side, the Hudson Shakespeare Company presented the rarely performed Henry VIII – not the Bard’s best history, but this production made me realize how it is a significant footnote to the Henriad and its two Richard bookends. The same group later presented a remarkable interpretation of Macbeth and in October, presented Titus Andronicus in a cemetery production. I love Titus, and while I quibble with the black-comic interpretation, this was a very satisfying Titus.

My music obituaries are part-memoir. Musical tastes – what makes up our own personal soundtrack and how that soundtrack changes as we follow our journey through life – is an area of interest for me. Why we listen being as important as what we listen to is an idea I keep coming back to even. RayManzerak and Lou Reed provoked a reverie and Pete Seeger’s passing invoked a memory of my interviewing this friendly great man when I was in College, and I was writing it up, I had insight into his momentary bizarre behavior, something about Phil Ochs.  

He may not have died this year, but the Cohen Brothers released that film based on his life and his being in the news sparked a memoryof Dave Von Ronk.

Local singer songwriter Kelly Saint Patrick performed a splendid set at Groove on Grove, probably the best show of that summer series.

At the Exchange Place Starbucks, I witnessed a guy proposingto a gal. It was sweet and romantic and she said yes.

Dislocations revived my interest in photography as a hobby. I take pictures and think of funny or interesting at least, captions. A puddleforms in this lot after every rain. When the light is right, the puddle reflects our world back to us. This lot was paved over a few months later. The grass is gone, but the puddle still forms and the reflection return.  

Another down time there by the dock, got a good shot of aguy catching a flounder.

The place to be come mid-August is Sixth Street for The Feast. This year I “covered” some of the processions and other events as well as the evening bacchanals.

Winter. We just got through a doozy. I happen to be in the New Jersey Room at the main branch of our public library on a day of a real bad snow storm and a great shot of Van Vorst Park. Then I walked through the unblemished snow of the park, wondering about the illusion of infinite, icywhiteness.

Tachair Book Shoppe held its first annual theater festival, some really compelling performance.  Dare I say surprisingly fantastic.

Local artist, Kayt Hester, works in tape and celebrated the 7-year-return of the Cicada at a special show. A few months later, she had agallery show in NYC, but this space had large glass walls that Kayt had some fun with, messing with our perception of what is 3-D.

Living in Jersey City, warm-weather festivals are a way of life. You see family and friends and neighbors and have some fun and eat food you only eat once a year. The Santa Cruzan festival, a Filipino party, at the end of May, kicks off the season. The 2014 edition – the 35th – was really fun. Jersey City has one of the largest populations of Filipino Americans in the country. What a blessing. What a fine bunch of folks.

I’m a film-buff. A cineaste. I’ve been seriously studyingthe western – by which I mean, I’ve  seen a ton of them and watch many several times. The genre’s best decade is the 1950s, and here’s a list of some more obscure Westerns that are noteworthy. If you haven’t seen The Searchers or Seven Men From Now, watch those agreed upon classics first and then you’ll be ready to appreciate the greatness of the american film-making these 10 films achieve.  

Here’s another piece of news, about newspapers, you will only find out about on Dislocations. The Jersey Journal moved their offices to Secaucus, and bequeathed more than a dozen metal filing cabinets of a meticulously kept clip file to the Jersey Room at the Main Branch of the Jersey City Library. You want to see the history of Hudson County, get a feel of what was important in the daily life, thus get an authentic peak into an area, spend some time with these unique files. 
Stephanie Riggi’s work I’ve seen around but I never had the pleasure of meeting this artist until last year.  Her illustrations are vivid and twisted, and she possesses one of the brightest pallets in town

Luca Casulito is a real go-getter in Jersey City, involved with the arts and her own business. But she also happened upon this process of creating this somewhat bizarre, but very moody and provocative abstract pieces, art objects. She’s always interesting to talk to, but talking about her art is a rarity. There’s a freshness and originally in her abstractions worth noting.

The 313 Gallery is a permanent gallery, meaning they are not a bar and have regular hours – albeit only on weekends – and that is rare and perhaps a first. Also it’s a really interesting space, whose history you can only read about here, and this show featured Bunny Pearlman, whose diverse array included water colors and found art.

Eva – this a German pop artist – had a wonderful show at the now defunct, gone but not forgotten, Fish with Braids gallery.

Art Activates is a mural project for alleys. This was fun to write. I not only wanted to report on this unique, urban beautification project as well as the really fantastic art that has been erected on these rarely seen surfaces, but I tried to convey the experience of seeing this art unfold as you stroll through the alley.


Thanks Everybody. See Ya on down the line,


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Teanj (& Tea & I)

Teanj has been opened a month. I’ve been going there at least five days a week.

I rarely write so directly about local businesses. Dislocations is not a commercial blog, it is more interested in ideas, observations and art than what you can buy in where most posts are set, Jersey City. I’m not into making recommendations.

But I am making a rare exception here. I love tea. I know tea. I drink tea. Teanj is a place worth writing about. In fact, I’ve been thinking of writing about my love affair with tea drinking for a while now, and the opening of Teanj served as catalyst to pour forth on ideas that have been steeping for a while now (yes, I know, smirk or wince).

Teanj sells tea as good, and in many cases, better, than any place in New York.

I am well qualified to judge. I’m a total tea head. On a weekly basis, I go to those New York establishments to get the loose-leaf tea I drink from dawn to dusk.

Now that tea purchase can be made here on the Jersey side.

Tea NJ is a warm and inviting. You can get coffee there too, and the food –it doubles as a lunch joint, with healthy sandwiches and salads – is really good and affordable. Two Vegan friends of mine unbeknownst to each other swear by the black bean burger and another vegan I do not know
came in when I was there and was getting a beverage but was praising the very same dish.

Teanj was founded about two years ago in Union City. The owner had been visiting downtown Jersey City for a while and when this spot on Newark Avenue opened, he seized the opportunity to access the local vegan hipster set.

William Toledo, the owner, runs the place with his son of the same name. Conner and Jen are also on the wait staff. They are all engaging conversationalists.


The atmosphere is comfy and inviting. Punk rock from multiple eras at a muted volume fills the space with an amiable and subdued energy. The chairs and tables are wood. A large square of ceramic tiles cover the slats of table tops. Teanj has a veranda feel, like you’ve discovered some hole in the wall café on the outskirts of a post colonial village.

Tasteful knick-knacks – selected by William’s wife – give Teanj an air of personal hospitality, but also echo an amiable obsession with tea drinking and tea accruements. A plant grows from a huge tea cup, dainty tea sets – pot and cups are on shelves. Hand-made statuettes of an angel, a water nymph strums a lute, a scare-crow plays a fife. Carved toy trucks and buses are in the wooden case where the sugar and stirrers are kept. The ornaments would not be out of place in the children’s playroom of a large estate, or a breakfast nook where the family was served breakfast. But the revolution is over and our oppressors have fled. Now we drink our tea in their abandoned parlors.

The space actually is a former barbershop – perhaps that accounts for the tangible neighborliness that seems instantaneously noticeable upon entering – and the barber reopened on the same block. One sign that is unmistakably Jersey City –art – available for sale – is on parts of the walls. Every other business here is a part-time gallery. Teanj has been opened a month, and the self-curated mini-exhibit just experienced its first rotation.

On the wall of the hall in the back that leads to the kitchen and rest room are some family pictures, drawings by William’s nine year old daughter. This further enhances the homey feel, emphasizing the family atmosphere that greets you yet they seem seamlessly interwoven with the other objects creating an ambiance of nonjudgmental comfort

Tiny details catch the eye. Clever and amusing, along with the tea encourages contemplation. A gentle and soft oasis; and however brief, Teanj makes worries fade and hectic Newark Avenue a memory.

A dorm-room refrigerator size glass case of cakes and other sweets is near the counter, on with displays of vegan cakes and cupcakes and granola bars. A steamer system is on the caddy corner wall behind the counter, on the wall directly behind the counter is the library of teas – about 40 and growing– with numbers and you look at a menu and pick a number – e.g. Almond Cookie # 7 – the counter ordering process is fun. The cans instill the impression of being in a friend’s pantry.

A rumor is circulating that Teanj is owned by the musician, Moby, the electronica DJ of whom I know next to nothing. One time, while enjoying a cuppa at Teanj, this woman, walking her dog, stepped up from the sidewalk, opened the door and stuck her head in, asking “are you owned by Moby?”

Several years ago, Moby founded Teany, a tea shop with vegan food, located in the lower east side. William, an IT manager at a Secaucus company, would hang out there with his wife and eventually worked part time there. A few years later he was inspired to leave the corporate world and open up Teanj in Union City – the name wasn’t licensed; Moby lost the shop to his now ex-wife in their divorce agreement. She eventually sold the lower east side shop and Teany is under new ownership. Teanj is not an extension or new location of a chain, but Moby’s shop bred the conceptual impetus.

Teanj offers dozens of flavors, the majority custom-blended by William. Herbal and non-caffeinated tea are rare beverages for me. Black tea– that is definitely my thing. I love black tea.

Two other downtown establishments – Basic Café on Erie and the Warehouse Café on Bay – have great ambience, reasonable prices, wonderful food and a quality, respectable cup of tea. But selection is limited to two or three flavors of black tea. Star Bucks offers the same number of options. Like Star Bucks, Basic Café and Warehouse Café makes a sincere effort and offer an atmosphere conducive to solitude or conversation, but their tea takes a back seat to their coffee.

Teanj, like newcomers David’s Tea and Argo Tea offers original blends of the leaf combined with other flavors. Teavina does the same thing, except there’s no place for seating at that establishment.

Teanj is the least expensive of those competitors, offers as good – in some cases slightly better and I say slightly because the tea product offered is high quality from the other providers – a tea.

I both hang out there to sip tea and buy their blends –mainly their Vanilla and Chocolate chai and their roasted Matte – to keep at home for daily consumption . An almond flavored infused tea – Almond Cookie –is rich, a desert-like flavor, a perfect afternoon blend. A Ceylon with dried lime is an innovation I have not seen elsewhere, as is a chai with lemon grass and coconut, a more delicate balance but genuinely thirst quenching.

I know my tea.

I had my first and last cup of coffee at five years old

I’ve been a committed tea drinker ever since.

My parents and family are serious coffee drinkers. Hot coffee was always either available or being made in our home. The brewing process was a percolator, which would hiss and clatter. An electrical contraption, a metal pitcher plugged into an outlet on the kitchen counter, a clear plastic knob on top of the lid where spurts of coffee would spit up and flow back down into the pot.

Inside was this metal cylindrical filter device connected to a long stem, which held the coffee. I remember mostly cans of Maxwell House. Nobody ground their own coffee back then. A tiny bag for kitchen scraps was kept in its small stand by the sink; alongside peels from onions and carrots and other vegetables was always a lump of soggy coffee grounds.

My father got up early to catch the train to Wall Street and he would prepare the coffee the night before, ready to be plugged in, minutes after waking but before taking the shower. He got up before us kids, my mother drove him to the train station and then got us out of bed and off to school. Any coffee she didn’t’ drink, she put in a glass with ice and the glass in the refrigerator so Dad could have ice coffee when he got home. My mother worked as a sectary at our parochial grammar school and she would drink coffee at home before she went to pick up my father at the Oradell train station. A fresh pot would percolate during dinner, after which coffee was always served. Holidays there was always this long drawn out lull between main course and desert as we waited for the percolator to work its magic.

That machine fascinated me as a child, it would shake and make noise, a simple machine, no on/off switch, you turned it on by plugging it in, when the coffee was ready, you unplugged it. At some point, my parents switched to the dripping philosophy of a Mr. Coffee-like device, but not until I was in college I think. I remember most that tin metal pot with the clear knob on top where mini-geysers of coffee periodically erupted as it clicked and murmured. The coffee aroma thickened in the kitchen and spread throughout the house.

I was fascinated by the percolator, an R2D2 unit that seemed from another era even during my analog era Wonder Bread years. Once plugged in, invisible fumes of coffee filled the air, but the beverages inside were forbidden to children. My teenager older siblings were allowed coffee, which they drank in the morning and after dinner, but not I. The smell of coffee permeated life in our house, from dawn to after dusk, the source of that lush aroma – which I still love – was my childhood tree of knowledge of whose fruit could be indulged in by everyone but me (and my littler sister).

I kept nagging my father, let me try it, let me drink some coffee.

Now, Kimball’s Coffee (Kimball was my father’s first name) was renowned by the family as being thick as mud with a flavor akin to brimstone. It was the kind of coffee they drank in the Marine Corps, he would say. The aunts on holidays insisted on making the coffee to accompany holiday pies and cake. Even among coffee drinkers, Kimball’s Coffee was an acquired taste few acquired.

Finally he gave into my nagging, made me a cup with milk and sugar. It was awful. I can still remember gagging, involuntary spewing it from my mouth. I then vomited (or least as I remember). The revulsion was total, racing through my entire body. My father laughed at my reaction. It was the last cup of coffee I ever had. Even when I tried something coffee-flavored, like coffee ice cream, that sense memory surges back. Ironically, I make a great cup of coffee – during the live-in relationships, since I usually woke up first, I made the coffee – but I have never been able to overcome my reaction to Kimball’s Coffee. Coffee was ruined for me forever.

Instead, it was tea for me. In high school, I remember earl gray and Lipton. Early Grey was the only tea other than Orange Pekoe (Lipton, Red Rose, Tetley, etc.) that was sold, soon maybe Darjeeling. I had a tea pot during college, and I would brew pots and pots of tea while writing papers and studying for exams. When I went to England I was fascinated they actually served tea without a bag. Before then, I never even conceived how that could be possible.

It would be decades before loose leaf brewing would become the staple of my life it now is.

By the late 90s, the world of tea started changing. Tea began a universe-wide upgrade. Before then, there was Lipton, Tetley and Red Rose and the basic orange pekoe.


You want to read about why varieties of different teas exist or the hokum about how the tannic acid enhances your tantric Tao, go to a more insipid blog. I have little patience for tea mythos. I do not really like green or herbal teas, I love caffeine and the main purpose of tea is as caffeine delivery system.

Herbal teas began to proliferate in the 1970s and 1980s, with the company Celestial Seasonings. Health Food Stores cornered that market, but as the forces of capitalism always have it, supermarkets expanded their selections to compete against independent stores. For black tea, there was Bigelow and Twinning, with their Constant Comment, Early Grey, Darjeeling’s –these were around when I was a kid and became more prominent in the subsequent decades.

But it really wasn’t until the 1990s when you started seeing English Breakfast with its hardy flavor and instantly noticable higher caffeine level. With my suasage and egg on a roll at the bodega before work I could now get an English breakfast tea. More brands began to appear.

That’s the funny thing about being a tea drinker. Tea was limited to a Lipton or Lipton copycat brand for years. Waiters would ignore my request for tea instead of coffee, or bring me coffee than give off attitude because I was different. Sometimes the water was tepid not hot. Mediocre tea was the rule.

We no longer live in that Tea-verse. Unlike so many things –like music or movies! – tea has gotten better as the 20th century ended and the 21st century dawned.

First Starbucks came. I loved – and love – Starbucks. Soon after they began to appear around these parts, 1995 or so – the one at Pavonia Newport was the first in Jersey City – it was announced they acquired Teazo, the first tea brand that pointed to a world of tea flavor well beyond Twinning.

Star Bucks was where I had my first Chai Latte – my first introduction to the land of chai, that spicy mix of Assam tea leaves, cinnamon, nutmeg and spices with steamed milk. I never had steamed milk before. I would always be served some limp Tetley while my companions gleefully quaffed their cappuccinos. I was obsessed with the chai latte for a while, overdosing on them to such an extent that I took a break for years. Teanj makes a great latte – they use dried ingredients, not a syrup, and they dry them into a powder themselves. I recommend the Vanilla Chai latte.

But the tea bags of chai or Awake, a high-quality English Breakfast tea, served at Starbucks would give a me reason to meet friends there or read, enjoying their unique atmosphere that combines rustic coziness –echoing Seattle, the northwest port city where it was founded – and impersonal on the go service efficiency of a corporate restaurant chain. The premium brand market expanded as did the price points.

Then, sometime towards the end of the first or beginning years of the second decade of the 21st century the tea boom bomb was detonated. Bush II might have ruined most aspects of America, Tbut ea was the exception. New brands and flavors abounded. Chocolate tea appeared. Then I discovered loose tea, to serve at home. Somebody had given me a coffee of the month gift for Christmas from Zabars, and I called them up, and using a white lie to strengthen my request, explained my doctor forbids me to drink coffee can you change this to tea. They were very nice, sent me a new bag of loose tea and a new bag every month. English Breakfast or a decaffeinated herbal they asked.

English Breakfast of course – they and a very limited selection of flavors then – I wonder of that has changed. I went to the Zabars location and bought a tea scoop, which measures out a typical per serving portion and a tea ball, where I could put the leaves into for steeping. I haven’t gone back to store-bought bags since.

But as the Coffee now Tea of the month program ended – and it took more than a month to go through the entire pound of loose leaf tea I was sent – I discovered Tea & Sympathy, this emporium of British food stuffs in Greenwich village. Tea & Sympathy is a British Store and adjacent British restaurant, which has great tea by the pot, served in the overly fussy British style of clever pots and dainty cups, but you have to order the high cholesterol bad food, like Bangers & Mash or Bangers & Baked Beans (bangers are serious, incredibly delish and artery hardening sausage). I once had their custard cake, a pound cake stuck in a bowl of custard like a dying mastodon in a tar pit. I immediately went home to lay down and sleep off the diabetic shock.

The store though, besides these selection of digestives –which are cookies or crackers or some British delicacies – and Cadbury chocolates unavailable elsewhere in the states. Tea & Sympathy is a paradise for anglophiles and a way for ex-pat Brits to indulge their munchies and fight off homesickness. But they also had great loose leaf – a golden tea I pick up once in a while, still – and quality black and chias. You can also get a cuppa to go, there’s a park nearby and when the weather is nice and I am in the neighborhood and have some time, Tea & Sympathy fits the bill. Even though I have now bought my loose leaf home stash elsewhere for a good three years at least, I still go to this tory outpost for to get the best tea balls in the tea-verse.

I use bags in the travel mug – sachets is a popular, $10 word for them – but for the home drinking, like the mug I am working on now as I type – it’s the tea ball, a kind of miniature tin colander attached to a thin chain, so you can lift it out of the mug. At Tea & Sympathy – and I do not know of another store that offers these made in England steeping devices – the tea balls have a small ceramic ornament – a tulip or rose, I’ve seen a red London phone booth and a friend who lives nearby gave me a ball with a holiday-themed, ceramic holly leaf. The ornament is a counter-balance to the ball filled with tea, dangles over the lip of the mug, enabling lifting out ball and making it easier to move the ball up and down, as one does a tea bag that has a string attached. I am positive this does nothing to advance steeping, but this mindless gesture enhances contemplation.

Sometimes you need to let the mind wander. Tea encourages reflection and contemplation and this slight hand movement of dipping the ball or bag is often part of that experience. Why tea balls are still made without the counter-balance ornament baffles me, the fact the concept has not been widely accepted by other tea ball manufacturers is criminal. With the counter-balance, the chain falls into the tea, then you have to go fishing with a spoon. Focusing on the tea and mug momentarily shatters any chance at reverie. Tea should be more about the tea drinker than the tea. Tea & Sympathy is a fun store, the brits very nice so at least I’m glad I have an excuse to visit and tarry.

I found other places in New York that sold loose-leaf tea. They sold coffee too. Nothing that made me want to become a regular, no way to taste the teas and were basically limited in their offerings. You couldn’t sit down and linger over a cup. Also, the shops were off my beaten paths.

Argo Tea came into town around 2011 or so. It’s a Star Bucks for Tea and they sell loose tea. The tea is excellent and their black tea is a morning staple for me – it is called Nelegri and grown in Africa – going to their Union Square location is just about a weekly occurrence for me – I am in that neighborhood very often – I can always find a seat. The staff is usually friendly with some notable exceptions. For the loose tea, you self-serve, like the bulk sales of dates or nuts at a health food store. You fill up these paper bags, but then you bring the bags to the cashier and they turn on the scale. They keep the tip jar on the scale and remove the tip jar. Anyone with any experience with scales knows how delicate the mechanisms are, even the most digitized models and every other week there is a problem with getting the right weight or price – there is a system of codes and the cashier has to enter the codes into the register. The turnover of employees is high at Argo, the scale training is not a priority. The system is tragically inefficient, sometimes it is accurate, other times they round it up. I always feel I a little ripped off. Argo has an entire wall of these clear, cylindrical loose leaf teas – inviting all to self-serve and then when you get to the cash register, nobody knows how to use the scale, the manager is called over, the system of codes is explained– it is probably easier to launch a missile attack than it is to get 1.5 ounces of hazelnut chai at Argo.

But they have a loyalty card, you get free cups the more you spend and the tea is pretty superb. The ambiance is similar to Star Bucks, I keep going back. They steep the teas before they are served. I love the black tea tea-paccino with two percent milk and a shot of vanilla flavor, but the inanity of some 20 year old kid saying it will be $13 for my loose leaf tea when I know it’s about four dollars since I buy it every week and the manager, who now knows me, has to cancel the order, re-weigh the tea then re-enter the secret ARGO tea codes gets really annoying. I’ve been at the register 20 minutes some times talking some friendly but ineptly trained front line worker through the complex tea weighing process, not exactly the optimum prelude to drinking of a cup of tea. I love the tea and enjoy the place, but this part of the Argo concept seriously needs re-evaluation.

David’s Tea is down on Bleeker Street. The atmosphere is like an aggressively friendly medical marijuana dispensary. It is cleaner than Argo, bordering on antiseptic. Enthusiasm overflows from the staff, who show you the teas – the tears are kept in large canisters, which they bring out for you to smell. The CFO was once at the Bleeker location and he and I got into a tea chat – as this blog indicates, when prompted I can rattle on about tea – he said Argo is in the restaurant business, David’s Tea is in the tea business and the Bleeker Street location is the rare one where there is a place to sit and drink the tea. The lights are bright, but it is a little sterile and the tea is treated a little too much like a quasi-pharmaceutical. They give you no reason to linger. The staff, many of them are struggling actors and performers, are extreme extroverts. Their intensely bright cheerfulness takes some getting used to. But I love going there and the have some great teas. I they have some chocolate yerba mattes that are unique and some chai teas worth noting. I will often have a cup of their citron oolong – I never make oolong at home, it is an afternoon tea I only drink out – and they have a gurana chai, which I mix with other chais, that will push you from zero to sixty, with a nice peaty accent that can be nice note to the spicy symphony chai exudes.

Teavina opened a location in Jersey City. The tea is quality, Morning Matte was given to me as a gift, long before Teavina came to the Newport Mall, and that got me to include a matte in my morning repertoire. I had never been in one before the Newport shop opened. The atmosphere is high-priced, luxury store – a Harry & David’s – and it is way over the top in that regard. Their canisters are large and instead of opening them and holding them up to you sniff, they wave the lid over the canister pushing the aroma towards you. Teavina is the most pretentious tea store in the tea-verse. They sell the teas in two ounces, not one, allotments, but the prices are for one ounce on the cans and they constantly push their canisters, so whatever is on the canister is double at the register. I’m sorry, I’m not going to buy $50 dollars worth of one tea just to have a metal contained with your company’s logo in my kitchen. Teavina sales practices is needlessly confusing, a bait and switch. If you care how much you spend for tea Teaavina is not the place to shop. It’s for really not for people who like tea but for people who like buying luxury items but cannot afford a new Porsche. It is really not for the serious – i.e., obsessive like me – tea drinker. You can buy cups of tea here, and they make a big deal of using a pure rock sugar – and they make a big deal of steep time and the temperature of the water – boiling hot is not good enough– what pretentious nonsense. But apparently Jersey City health laws prohibit serving milk, so they put in creamora. A cup of tea can cost $4.99 there and you can’t even get it with milk.

Last time I was there, they were out of the teas that I wanted, I got a cup of tea that was terrible and they were out of the sugar and the creamora. Go to the Starbucks, they own us now, I was told. It was just an escalator ride away, but I tried this new tea but it had a fruity flavor, which I did not know by the name and I don’t like fruity teas. A waste of money and time. I’m not saying I’ll never go back, but I haven’t since.
Enter Teanj in 2014, not just a small but noteworthy improvement over the current phase of the tea-verse, but competitively priced and with a tea that is equal to others, superior to most. Did I mention, it’s about a five minute walk from the apartment.

That’s the other thing I cannot quite believe. Not only is the dark ages of tea over – uninspired flavors and mass-produced brands – but now the best tea place in the known teaverse is right in my neighborhood.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Tachair Bookshoppe's First Annual Play Festival

There’s off Broadway and off-off Broadway and  maybe additional offs or another qualifier all together are needed  to help define what happened on Newark Avenue this weekend. 

Amidst the organized clutter that is Tachair Bookeshoppe, a local gathering place and purveyor of used and volumes was turned into an intimate performance space, presenting a credible weekend of short theater pieces, including play excerpts, one-act plays, monologues and an immersive story reading with stand-up comedy in between

Tachair is hosting more events poetry readings, lectures, and author signings – you know, the typical bookstore type open to the public affairs.  As this niche grows, the store has been modified to better present public events. A small-platform has been set up along part of the wall and with the lounging tables cleared away, a near-black-box-sized audience can be accommodated. The First Annual Play Festival showcased mainly local playwrights and performers, in retrospect a logical evolution, given that theater and plays are a growing segment of our arts community. Tachair is a Jersey City-grown cultural nook committed to catering to its neighborhood and city.

I went to both nights. They were well-attended events, all the seats were filled, about 50 folks. There are plenty of repurposed spaces and black-box theaters that accommodate that size capacity. Intimate theater is its own experience and that uniqueness is intrinsic to its charm.

The literary backdrop of the bookstore only added to the intellectual validity of the proceedings. Bookstores – especially those brave enough to preserve in our current era – are monuments to the printed word, thus by definition encourage theater, well at least in the mind. Novels and short stories and even much non-fiction informs our imaginations of different places and people. They enable us to dream, or at least dream better. What better environment for theater than one already so adept at disposing of disbelief? Indeed, what might have been anticipated as a distraction, instead enhanced. You were immediately drawn into the each of the pieces featured in this anthology, existing for a short while as the artificial world explored issues relevant to all our lives.

The Play Festival featured mainly local playwrights and actors, the back-to-back nights of theater was hosted by Rich Kiamco, an established comedian whose credits include Howard Stern appearances hosted both nights, warming up the crowd. Love was the main theme of the plays presented on the opening evening, this connective tissue played into Kiamco’s strengths, which is relationship humor. He also has the very local reputation of being one of the first (or is that among the first) gay couples to be married in the Jersey City Hall when marriage equality became Garden State Law. He was half of a couple to be among those to mark this breakthrough in freedom by being married at midnight by the mayor.

Setting the tone on this first night where the reality of love and the hope both love inspires collide and co-exist, Kiamco, who is of Filipino descent, talked about coming out at 14 to his very catholic and conservative parents then fast forwarding to the present day where his parents and relatives were unsure of the wedding presents to send or whose last name he would be using. In-between, he engaged the audience with his warmth, which was agreeably sarcastic. He proved always ready with a wise-crack and the audience was enthusiastically responsive. He asked how long the couples in the room had been together and how they met, making comic material of a couple, together 30 some odd years, who actually met through the Village Voice Personal Ads section. He started off with asking who had been together pre-Facebook, being confronted with a couple who began in the Desperately Seeking Susan era was comedy gold. Kiamco’s comedy universalizes the subjective – immigrant’s son rebelling against conformity or a couple going against the odds of personal ad dating resulting in a sustainable romance – into relatable experiences.

I apologize for not being able to get the names of the non-author actors. No disrespect was intended, I write this in free time and tracking down all the name proved too time consuming. Feel free to email me or better yet, put their names in the comment section.

The present reality of individual couples chilling love to be more than just pleasant was the at the core of Three Bites by Summer Dawn Hortillosa, the third act of a three act play –  the play is the story of a couple told a years apart, each act set over a meal. The Tachair act was the third and final slice of the lives of these two people. The couple are clearly falling out of love, bicker and snipe, perplexed that the blackened catfish they ordered is “burnt”. The woman is poet writing treacle platitudes about love for a greeting card company and her husband of three years seethes over her apparent hypocrisy of imaging these praises to romance where the reality he feels is that their relationship lacks romance. They blame each other for the disparity.


There’s much clever banter, such as “Hindsight is 50/50.” Fate may not be determined at meals, but we’ve all had meals where it seems the past and the present are somehow contained in unsatisfying entrées. We’ve all been in that place where we blame the one we thought we love for the facts of our life we are unable to change.

Three Bites showed a relationship at a point where everything that was is now the opposite of what was once hoped, where once shared dreams – the greeting card lines the woman scribbles in a note book – are now disconnected from the reality. The tension and sorrow boiled beneath a Seinfeld-like surface of a restaurant scenario, what to eat, whether to eat what you are served and interacting with a waitress who can infuriate the couple only by the fact her southern accent indicates how oblivious she is to their plight.

The scenario in Do-Not-Call List by Laryssa Wirstiuk, explores the conflict between human connection and our digital enabled relationships. Digital technology increases both the number and efficiency of relationships, but at the same time further distances us from the human connections actually at the core of romantic love.

Instead of directly breaking up with a boyfriend she met online and whose communication seems entirely conducted through an internet dating service, she is canceling her membership. This initiating plot-point is based on a conceit, that one is still able to go to an office in person when interacting with service providers in this digital era we all find ourselves enduring and the play actually makes some comedy over the confection, with the company representative constantly reminding her they prefer to handle these personal issues online. An implication of the play is that the man at the desk is actually the online love interest of the woman, although this bait and switch idea was not developed.

The play effective satirizes the frustration everyone experiences when dealing with billing or technical support where the protocols strictly adhered to are totally unrelated to what the customer wants. The woman is reluctant to reveal her reasons for canceling the service, but when it is implied that her boyfriend has communications with other women on the services, becomes adamant about seeing those communications, which of course violates company protocol. Some very funny slapstick occurs with the woman trying to see the screen of the laptop  and the corporate petty bureaucrat hiding the screen. Technology offers an illusion that it can obliterate the heartbreak and anxiety of romantic involvement. This feisty sketch depicted how our humanity proves otherwise.


House of Doors by Yvonne Hernandez introduced the monologue portion of the evening. Hernandez becomes – the makeover and characterization so complete that acting is an insufficient word – a homeless woman being interviewed by a college student working on a paper. Why she is homeless is not explicated – this is not a public service announcement abut the devastation of mental illness or a political diatribe about an unjust economy and merciless system. This woman has fallen through the cracks and the umbrage she feels about being pigeonholed as a stereotyped – as someone less than human – is honest. The core of this characterization comes from the title – she lives in a makeshift shelter where discarded large doors make up the walls – and one day she returns home from panhandling to find it burned down, killing the woman she lives with. The woman is convincing her interviewer that she has a past – she’s a daughter, a mother, a sister, used to read Charles Dickens – that she is literate and a “somebody” – just like her, but the real lesson is not that her ability to love is not just part of her history, but her present. This monologue enraptured the audience, a story of how a life survives through severe depredation, and but how survival consists of the essential attribute of our humanity – the ability to “love and be loved.”


The monologue Senses by Summer Hortillosa kept soaring from and descending back to a reality of a millennial couple – told by a the woman (Summer) – on the verge of falling in love or perhaps admitting the love they feel is mutual and authentic.

It is the moment of a kiss in public, with fingers interlocking, time freezing and love. The kind of kiss that makes the two feel they are now at the center of the universes. The woman fantasizes about this perfect potential of impending couple-hood, a world where they both become wildly successful, earning dual life time achievement Grammy Awards but then must still find love even she admits to their less than perfect jobs and more realistically sized bank accounts  and all the other obstacles our contemporary world throws at today’s 20-something’s.


Do they kiss? Well, you may have to find out for yourself. This was a high-energy performance. The momentum kept mounting, the imagination at work and the rapid and constant succession of ideas and images was breathtaking, yet never artificially manic. Every detail of import to a young woman caught between her optimistic outlook and the harshness of reality is expressed with a break-neck, free-associative fervor. You start by eavesdropping on a romantic incident and then are suddenly sprinting through the inner caffeinated subconscious where love is defined by an individual’s hopes and dreams, which of course are far from unique to the individual or her generation.
Yvonne Hernandez returned to the Tachair stage to close opening night with another character study of a woman survivor. Fifty Ways begins as an extended riff on a song she “remembers growing up,” the Paul Simon classic ode to dumping the other in a relationship. This song was at one time was a number hit, dominated top 40 and FM radio to such an degree it comes close to era-defining. It was probably Simon’s biggest post Simon-&Garfunkel hit and has one of those catchy hooks that time only makes cloying. Many songs you can’t get out of your head, but this Simon ditty is one of those you wish you could. Even Simon fans admit this fun song soon gets grating and annoying.

The woman searches the lyrics, hop on a bus, etc., for guidance in leaving a relationship. The pop music offers only useless advice because she only leaves “10 stitches and two restraining orders later.” The comic careens into a powerful though more tragic truth. The reveal of domestic abuse is not a shock – we now understand what were clues to the squalid reality this woman struggled to escaped from.


Simon’s novelty song is cavalier about matters of the heart, a love ‘em and leave ‘em anthem. Her childhood dream of idealized, even empowering love is compromised by the reality of suddenly finding herself in an abusive relationship where leaving your lover is not some preference in the pursuit of greener pastures of pleasures but a matter of life and death. This monologue was sly and thoughtful, hits you right in the gut with dramatic twist that only after the blow the audience realizes  the true story was hiding in plain sight  all along. She invoked a collective memory of a pop song then reminds that reality isn’t just far away from the pop music sentiments, but often the opposite of those sentiments.

Second Night

Kiamco returned to his role as MC and warm-up act, repeating some of the same growing up Filipino jokes but adding parking jokes, working the hyper-local angle into his act. Looking out, he saw that it was mainly a hometown audience and bemoaned a problem he has working where he lives, “you all already know my sh-t,” but he had some fun with a couple who had been together for a long time, meeting in a bar when they were both drunk. His audience interaction put the people at ease, made them comfortable with seeing provocative theater in a peculiar setting of a local bookstore.

He may have had the hardest task, it was like working a cocktail party where everyone there ready to listen but you were the only who had to talk.


Illogical Defiance by Tricia Milnamow was first up, a love-triangle dramedy that veered into melodrama – I love melodrama, a term that for some has gained unwarranted negative connotations.



The floor is littered with paper, what could be pictures. The couple is seated and we eavesdrop as a minor squabble between a man and woman begins and we all know what is said may seem inconsequential in its content now, but will undoubtedly lead to a live changing event.

The woman is complaining they need to move to a bigger space, which means the man must make more money by taking extra shifts so they can afford to move. The guy, an aspiring photographer, doesn’t see the need to move because their current abode is large enough to contain what he considers essential. Her needs and what she needs he feels justified in dismissing.

These complaints are obviously just deceptively petty tips of an emotional iceberg. She is conflicted by love for him and the nagging sense she can do better and perhaps the guilt of her wanting more than he is capable of providing.

Then his best friend knocks at the door, his girlfriend, apparently from the upper-class, has thrown him out of their apartment and he needs a couch to crash on. The men seem to have a past and perhaps present involvement with each other’s girl and the crasher can now rekindle his romance with his best friend’s girl – “I’m his best friend, but you can do better than him.”  The three here are concealing information from two of the parties and it is not at this point clear who knows what. I wanted to be there when they find out what they don’t know, but this was just excerpt.

While it worked as a skit, or an enactment of a minimalist short story, what was presented was the first act of a longer play. The acting had a mumble-core quality, but the self-ironic overtone did not obscure the human truths at the core of the tale. These adults are facing the lowered expectations of fading youth. There’s tough choices ahead and the woman knows the decision she makes will hurt one of these two men, even if her heart is broken first. But like I said, I love melodrama, especially of the kitchen-sink, dirty realism variety. For the time being I was fine with filling in their future (there will be emotional pain, there will be love).

Playwright & Illogical Defiance cast.

Mykel Dicus apologized for not having a drummer or the sound and lighting and other theatrical accoutrements for his one-man, multi-character show – Mykel's Kashmir Nirvana-Unplugged  -- which is about his time in a Hells Kitchen Railroad Apartment in what seems like the 80s into the 90s – sometime in the still recent past when Hells Kitchen was still Hells Kitchen (not Clinton) and when at the time he survived a horrible beating by the hands of one of those room mates. The violence is not depicted, just the frustration of a court system where the perpetrator receives an inexplicably minor sentence.


The gears shift in this accelerated stream of consciousness yarn-spinning – he is waiting on the money from a room mate to pay the landlord and this room mate is an African American diva from the south who is ordering take out Chinese food, who gets into a altercation with the Asian worker brushing off her complaints about the food she is given. Dicus portrays both the Asian and the African American while shifting back to himself, the main tenant in need of room mate rent money to play the cigarette smoking landlord (he used an electronic cigarette as a prop, thus not violating the no-smoking policy at Tachair, as well as state law). The performance was raucous, although I felt passing discomfort about the ethnic depictions – these people were not exactly compassionate character, making avoiding stereotyping a challenge for an actor playing an ethnicity not his own. But, he convened us these were genuine New York experiences. A modern day Damon Runyon, the characters were believable and manifesting themselves with meth-like acceleration.


Conspiracy of the Cocked Hats, Washington Irving may not qualify as a play, but the reading by Trish Szymanski was a performance to behold – hand gestures, raised voice and frothing. I’m not a Washington Irving fan, thought to be the first American to make his living by writing, but maybe horrible grammar school teachers are to blame. I do not remember reading this piece, a colonial-era satire. The tale is an imagined diatribe by a Dutchmen enraged about the unstoppable “Yankee” encroachment on the isle of Manhatto  and finds the only solace in the Dutch survival on the Jersey Side. The culture of the original Dutch settlers remain strongest in Jersey City, the still recognizable locations Irving referenced delighted the audience.

Szymanski’s introduction, explaining the background of Irving, reminding us of the Dutch roots of our area, framed the performance. She invoked believable outrage, adding a fresh comic layer to the wheezy prose of this bygone era scribe by infusing a Jersey Pride attitude to the rant against inevitable change. Funniest stuff I heard all month and it’s almost 200 years old!


A reprisal by Yvonne Hernandez of House of Doors and Fifty Ways concluded the two day festival of short plays. I asked Carol Valeau why she had this repeat, and she replied she liked the work and thought it was worth seeing twice. I have to agree, I liked both the second time, but House of Doors especially. I found I wasn’t as bothered by the lack of political or personal explanation as to why the individual was in the state she was in during the second performance. Instead, I was more impressed how Hernandez made undeniable visible someone who we as individuals and as a society ignore as invisible. She went deeper into this character’s inner struggle to retain her dignity.

Events are on the rise at Tachair and while this one had the modifier, “first annual,” the theater has invaded the bookstore and may become a more constant presence here.
 “I don’t want to wait a whole year before we bring plays here again,” she said.
 Everyone in attendance seemed to agree. This theater was as valid as it was unique. What a funny and moving pair of evenings.