Saturday, January 25, 2014

Hudson Dispatch Clippings Archive

 

When Jersey City’s Journal Square lost its Journal, the New Jersey Room at the Jersey City Library, main branch acquired a new archive of old news.

The Jersey Journal recently moved to Secaucus, New Jersey, because why should newspaper offices actually be located in the nerve center of the city reporters cover when they can reside in an office park constructed in the swamplands.  Prior to the move, the paper donated a vast archive – 18 metal filing cabinets, about five feet tall, 18 drawers in each – of newspaper clippings from the Hudson Dispatch, a long defunct newspaper, although sometimes still referenced by Dislocations.


This archive is not just a comprehensive collection of life in Hudson County as seen through the journalistic lens of  a daily newspaper, it is also a tribute to reportage, newsprint and paper. This archive is not just a vast resource of historical records, but a memorial to a way history used to be recorded. The archive is a memorial to the history of newspaper clips.

 In the drawers are min-manila folders, with sealed sides, essentially index card-sized pouches. They are arranged alphabetically by subject. Each story has been cut out and the subject is carefully circled or outlined in red pencil. There’s got to be millions, certainly hundreds of thousands of stories here – I estimated well over a thousand clips in each drawer (there are two rows of manila folders stuffed with clips in each drawer).

Opening the drawers, the acrid mustiness of yellowing newspaper wafts into your nostrils, slightly stinging your eyes, making them feel itchy. You are immediately aware that by peeking into the past, you actually are in what is left of that past.

 
 
 

The subject lines are carefully typed – by typewriter – on the upper edge of the mini-manila folders. Some folders had a single clipping, must had several, efficiently folded to fit into the small pocket. The preciseness of the how the thin paper was shaped by the scissor, the circling or underlining of the subject, the origami-like attention paid to the folding are breathing examples of meticulousness.

Little is known about this archive, just that it was in Jersey Journal offices and was not going with the move to the meadowlands. The Jersey City public library system saved it from being destroyed, these clips lost forever,.

In the pre-internet, pre computer days, maintaining a clip file was standard operating procedure. A reporter gets assigned a story, he or she first sees what has been written about the subject previously. Stories eventually get indexed in a directory, which are used as a guide for micro-film (or micro-fiche!) archives but for a busy newspaper room, a clipping library was more efficient. By the way, there were and still are, clipping services but back in the day (I’m old enough to have been at the tail end of this era) there were clipping services, subscribing to all sorts of publications and they had clients who needed to be alerted if their names were mentioned in the news no matter how small the circulation or exclusive the readership.

Of course, in this internet era of Lexus/Nexus and google, such archives are as obsolete as the thin paper they are preserving. And while this Hudson Dispatch archive is comprehensive, it is also chronologically narrow and why it was previously owned by the Jersey Journal is also sort of a mystery too. There are no clippings or files from the Jersey Journal or Star Ledger or other papers in the archive. The Dispatch was founded in 1874 and lasted 117 years, it was purchased by the Jersey Journal around 1990 and the “jay jay” folded its one time competitor in 1991. The archives only spans 1970 to 1990, ending with the sale to the journal.

Why only Dispatch clippings? What happened to the clippings prior to 1970? Was an archive kept and destroyed or was there a arbitrary “anno” year or start for this historical record.

 

 



 
 



My hypothesis is that in 1970 or so, for whatever reason – probably the beginning of a new regime at the Hudson Dispatch  – a clipping archive was created. The meticulous duty of clipping, sorting, organizing, creating a folder with a typed out subject and the underlining of the subject in that story was done by some underling, the editor’s secretary – when editors had such things – or some peon or that era’s version of a college intern. The archive was maintained from this arbitrary “year anno” to the Hudson Dispatch sale to the Jersey Journal and the archive ends with the demise of the “Dispatch.”

The archives was part of the acquisition of one newspaper by another, and its usefulness diminished with each passing year. The subjects of the clipping gradually becoming more and more historical than topical references. I imagine the bulky steel cabinets gathering dust, but no one had the heart to dispose of the contents. Maybe some researchers found them useful. A reporter stuck on some facts or background decides to take a shot and goes through the old Hudson Dispatch archive and discovers an epiphany-inducing fact that opens up a great news story.

I just randomly picked through the drawers, mainly for Dislocations pictures. A 1985 story about “Mom & Pop” stores facing market changes, now 30 years later, where are those Hudson County shops, mostly gone, a few reimagined.  Stepping back into history, yet so much of that history is the same stuff, now a different era. Our daily lives may change in detail, but only a few details. The clip files show how news is really not that new. Take a gander for yourself and see how they make you feel.

What a trove of history, and the fact that it will be preserved – the actual paper, the ultimate hard if slowly decaying copy – is a testament to the New Jersey Room’s commitment to Hudson County history, no matter how painstaking the task required by the staff or how incidental the material may seem to the cynical and ignorant.

But good lord, what a task – the cataloging of the contents of the Hudson Dispatch files – every min-folder will have to be inspected, every clip unfolded and read, at least scanned, and recorded. I admire the diligence required, and I both pity and envy those doing this work, which is essentially, a present-day archivist archiving the archival work of an archivist of the pasts.

 Nostalgia for the 70s and 80s remains a permanent part of today’s popular culture, ironically this love of the past seems strongest among the Gen Yers who were either not born or still in infancy back then. Now there’s portal directly to how Hudson County actually lived that era.




 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Snow Storm Call From 14th & 5th

 

I never noticed this pay phone before, it looks sleek and new. It looks like a pay phone booth in the Jetsons or some other imagined future that was imagined before the advent of the current mobile communication world in which snow now falls. 

14th & 5th, I’m here just about every week yet today during the beginning stages of a blizzard. This never struck my eye but that doesn’t mean it is or is not new and the telephone insignia and classic ma-bell logo are likely not retro details but signs this is a refurbished booth. Booth? Do you see any newspaper reporters changing into blue and red underwear? This be a phone Kiosk, baby. That’s what we are calling them now that everyone has a cellphone and nobody has to worry if they have a dime to drop when a personal emergency arises other than a thickening snow storm.

 
 
But the phone call is secondary, it’s the stupid ad on the side of the booth-like remnants of the kiosk where the real money is.

Titan. Why the hell is this kiosk promoting the largest moon in our solar system? It has nothing to do with the stupid ad on the side – promoting that worthwhile social activity – online gambling, now legal in New Jersey. And how do they do it? By highlighting the fact you do not have to go to Atlantic City – in “Jersey” – you know, because it’s just as much fun to sit in your cramped apartment as it is to go to a casino – and promotes this idea by using the term “nuts “ – you know, because refines to testicles are just so hilarious that they should be encouraged in any public space. Way to stay classy, New York City!

I digress. Turns out this Titan is not the home-world of Saturn Girl at all, but a company and a few years ago the Isle of Manhatto during the reign of the oligarch in chief, Bloomberg, awarded the pay phone franchise in the Big Apple, outbidding Verizon, who is now focused on ways to increase  your phone, cable and internet bills.

Some news gleaned by googling:  A couple of years ago Titan acquired “1,900 payphones at 1,300 phone kiosk locations in New York City from Verizon. This latest transaction will triple the Company’s inventory of New York Phone Kiosk media to over 5,000 advertising faces. This purchase follows a prior acquisition of 652 payphones at 462 Phone Kiosks locations from Verizon in 2009 and will complete the sale of Verizon’s entire New York City Phone Kiosk advertising inventory to Titan. With this acquisition, Titan will own the largest inventory of advertising Phone Kiosks in the five boroughs.”

“The phone kiosks generate $62 million in advertising revenue annually -- and last year the city got $13.7 million of the take, triple what it pulled in from calls.”

Apparently the contract is good through October 2014. Titan is already promoting another innovation, digital touch screens inside refurbished booths, oh shoot, I mean Kiosk.
 
The exteriors of course can still display ads that use retro Jersey jokes to and coarse humor that prey on gambling addicts by negatively impacting the tourist industry of a neighboring state, but the interior will be a touch screen that will automatically call 311 or hail a cab, you know, the very reasons why you bought that Big Apple App for your iPhone.

I found all that out though later, a few days later, when I decided to write up this latest installment of the Dislocations Pay Phone series.

I was bravely trudging through falling snow when I noticed the pay phone and thought about those calls of yore… hoping I get back to the suburbs early enough to pick up the kids or will I have to hear it from the wife. They have it so secure and happy with the lawn and the cable TV that I pay for and that driveway I pay fore that I will have to shovel before morning. I envy the freedom of my secretary with the rose tattoo on her wrist, her willingness to stay late because she only has to take a subway home to Williamsburg, where she’ll heat up soup her mother made, and the way she asked me if I have ever been to Williamsburg, her eyes shining hazel, those ruby red lips always moist and how her body reminds me of the body my wife used to have but instead of calling her I call the wife and tell her I’m heading to Hoboken right now and exaggerate how bad the snow is in the city and the way she tells me to be careful makes me forget about the secretary for a while at least.

 
 


 

So, the day dream swiftly passed and I noticed through the sheets of snow a pit and construction over that pit and remembered a story last week of a water main breaking and it knocked out electricity and water and even land phone service for like a ten block radius and Con-Ed had to make this pit to repair the damage and the repairs are still going on. The utility services were soon restored, but fixing that subterranean infrastructure takes more time. The construction workers out in the snow, doing their jobs, delaying the inevitable collapse of our decaying infrastructure. By maintaining what makes possible the quality of life for everyone within the vicinity of 14th and 5th these workers have homes to go to with food on their tables. 

 
 

 
14th & 5th pay phone, harkens back and ahead. The advertising space is more valuable than the function. Why let pedestrians going about their lives when you can however sublimely sell them something they don’t need – stay in your apartment and give your money to a casino without the free drinks, exciting atmosphere or campy lounge acts – what this city of commerce needs  are more messages of commerce.  Phone booths, oh, I mean, kiosks are mini-billboards and  in case of emergency, you can also make a call. Snow fall thickens, schools and business were closing early. Everyone here was busy getting somewhere else as quickly as they could, except for the blue collar workers who endured the inclement severity to repair what was in the pit that makes civilization possible.
Who notices Titan now  but I, now you.

 
 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gray’s Papaya

 
Empty letters on the fa├žade above taped over windows. Sad, forlorn outlines reminding us something that we knew well is gone forever 

Used to be such a lively place, always lots of customers, take out or scarfing down some hot dogs with beverage. A place to pause for nourishment while in this city on the go.

Gray Papaya had great hot dogs. For the longest of time they sold two for 99 cents. You could eat lunch for two bucks through the 1990s. The hot dogs were loved for the garlic overtones. I liked them, I never really ate there but only because eating hot dogs is not a high priority. I’m more of a pizza slice guy.

But those who loved them really loved Gray’s. A friend tells me when her friend from Philadelphia visits, she insisted on Gray’s for one lunch. Another friend mentioned her days as a club kid, stopping at Gray’s after a long night of partying before getting on the PATH. I remember taking classes and walking a fellow student, she always stopped there to get her hot dogs before heading home. My sister told me of eating Gray’s before this event she went to – she needed something cheap and fast and while they may not have been the healthiest food item, they were great hot dogs.

All just memories now and the hollow frames where bight yellow letters that once tempted your taste buds into straying from your diet now remind us of not just a country that used to be, but how the wealthy class is transforming our surroundings to suit their purpose, and making the life we knew go away.

 
Gray’s Papaya on 8th street closed without notice to the public. The social media outcry alerted me and while I was far from a regular, the news was another incremental heartbreak about what is happening to Greenwich village. Gentrification is an insufficient term to describe the accelerated transformation from an historic bohemian and working class enclave to a glossy and shallow massive college campus and student quad for the next generation of the privileged class.

Last year, I recorded the passing of the beloved Barnes& Noble, right across the street. The soon to be out of work employees told me that a lot of these buildings were owned by a single landlord who had recently denied, the family sold them to NYU who is jacking up rents because they have a vision of what the 21st century village should look like, which I guess is to resemble as close as possible a food court in a the most upscale Shopping Mall in Dubai.

Facebook scuttlebutt confirmed the scenario described to me during the final days of 8th street B&N. Gray’s Papaya rent was raised a whopping $20,000, forcing this outlet of the local franchise to close. It’s not that Gray’s Papaya was not a successful business. A valuable service – affordable food – was provided to a community – about a dozen people were employed and a profit was made – by both the owners of the enterprise and the owners of the property and lease.

But here’s the rub. The goal of the stage of capitalism we happen to be living is that profits must be maximized. It is not enough to just make a profit; and in fact, what is a reasonable profit is no longer specifiable. Greed is the objective. How else to justify an increase that doubles and triples a rent.

Even that explanation falls short of fully telling us why the 8th street Gray was terminated. A sign says some kind of Bubble Tea (as a die-hard tea drinker (I never drink coffee) bubble tea is an acquired taste I’ve yet to acquire) emporiums is promised, although it is unclear that if this will include Gray’s and the adjacent now closed hat store (a great store that sold affordable headwear, closed around the same time as B&N and still shuttered) or if Gray will become what I can only gather from internet scuttlebutt to be some hideously sounding beverage place called : Liquidteria (does that sound awful or what!)

I find it dubious that these food & BEVERAGE chains, who sound as if they have a trendy and international sheen, will be drastically more profitable than Gray’s. Gray’s had a steady customer based – the place seemed always packed and lively – and was probably the cheapest lunch for a three block radius (there are inexplicably no pizzerias close to this corner, but even getting slices may be slightly more costly than the Gray hot dog special, they certainly are not less expensive). Of course, this is a prime corner, residents, workers, tourists, NYU and New School students and of course those who ride the PATH and consider this neighborhood another environ in our lives. It’s busy, so almost any establishment has a shot generating revenue just because of the potential revenue from the vast numbers of people passing by here any day.

Those same numbers were there for Gray’s. Will the enticement of Bubble Tea so significantly outweigh the proven demand for Gray’s that Bubble Tea generated revenue will cover the jacked up rent, provide a “reasonable” profit to the owners of the franchise, and employee the same number of people (that and their wages are of course, an ignored metric!)


 
I’m… to under-state my opinion… doubtful. If normal business practices and concerns still prevailed, the gamble of getting the jacked up rent from similar (F&B) businesses verses the infeasible rent increase that forced a proven and well established business to close seems like an unwise choice. There is no sort of rent control for commercial businesses; once the lease is up, property owners can do as they see fit. Residential laws are different, mitigating sudden displacements of populations from an area they call home. This contrast results in the urban experiencing of finding yourself living in the same home yet everything you used to know and love being here one year and gone the next.

Gray’s didn’t get killed because it was an outmoded business and “Liquidteria” isn’t moving here because it is some kind of superior business model. The degree of profitability is not the issue at all. Like the closing of B&N (a year later, the building is still fallow) the entire block – actually more than the block – is being transformed into some NYU vision of the village as a massive college campus. It does not take an unjustified leap of imagination to conclude the ultimate financier of this urban planning are the excessive college loans students require to pay for their education, a digression I’ll avoid. Gray’s – a business believed by students but not part of this vision – is only the latest causality. The leases and agreements with the business going into the space will not be made public, and there’s no recourse addressing how justifiable the rent increase was. It’s not like the corner of 8th street & 6th Avenue is up to plebiscite. One F&B business is the same as the next to a city’s Planning Board.

8th street used to be so lively. Now, many storefronts are dark. Besides the cap store, there was the Silver Age Comic Book shop and 8th Street records, which had a great bootleg selection and other funky shoe stores and clothing boutiques. All gone. The replacements have yet to arrive. I noticed this last year and I purposely walked the street again for this blog and those same storefronts are still dark. An entire year – and obviously more – of no business being conducted, no jobs being created.

All these businesses were profitable, met their lease agreements but when that lease was up for renewal, the increase was purposely too high for those existing businesses to afford. How can owners of property sustain what by all appearances seem to be years of revenue loss.

Because the profitability of Gray’s and the jobs it created and the service provided to the community are inconsequential to the NYU goal of global change. Higher education, especially in the private realm, now that is a money making racquet. No oversight to value delivered or limit to prices charged, students take out six figure loans, augmenting the wealthy spawn enrolled; adjuncts, who teach most classes, get coolie wages while presidents and deans make high six figures. (nearby Cooper’s Union is charging tuition for the first time in its 100+ year existence). The bigger picture is inconceivable to us mere mortals bemoaning the loss of a venerable and landmark hot dog stand. It’s not just abut the corner, or even about 8th street and what it will become) it is about the entire swath of the isle of Manhatto from 14th to Houston. Individual businesses and jobs, the fabric of what non-students, non-faculty members and other non-college employees once thought helped define the quality of their lives has been or soon will be eliminated. The business of higher education now dominates what once was a working class haven and bohemian refuge.

It sucks. It was not inevitable. It can still be changed, but there’s no counter plan and next to no hope.

Two economic news items ended 2013 and greeted 2014.

1)      The Stock Market had its best year in like 17 years or something, a year resembling not just a pre-recession financial crisis year, but a 1990’s boom year.

2)      Unemployment did not go down in any significant way and the jobs created pay about half as much as they did in the 1990s. 2013 ended with 20 people looking for every job created.

How can those two economic trends exist?

 
 
Easy. Companies can have increased sales but are under no obligation to create jobs in the United States. Corporations receive no tax breaks or other incentives for job creation. It’s not news that manufacturing is done overseas because workers are paid slave wages and working conditions are unsafe. It’s also not news that the tax laws and other economic policies favor the investor class, who now can pool larger resources to create a chain of F&B dispensaries the stock holders make dividends, a manger of several stores can work his or her ass off for the bottom rung of a middle class salary and everyone else makes minimum wage. Even franchises where there is an onsite owner/manager is an outmoded business model. If you’re an independent business owner, who took a risk on a neighborhood and became one of the stabilizing influences that midwifed the transition from urban decay to urban renewal, you get slapped in the face with an impossible to meet rent hike. If the corporation comes up with a F&B business conducive to the entire transformation of a city into a campus, there’s no risk for the chain’s investors or the investors guiding the ruination then reinvention of 8th street.

This isn’t capitalism any more. The forces of supply and demand are not work. An empowered investor class intent on increasing investment derived revenue is not some function of an invisible hand. Those who have won will win again and those losing will not just lose more, but grow in number.

The nation’s economic wealth is not longer measured by job growth. In fact, lack of job growth enhances the stock market. Companies cut pay roll to become more profitable and those left work harder, use more technology and when it comes to the hard work of actually making something, that’s all done in other countries.

Those responsible, those making those decisions, they never ate at Gray’s.

Well, you don’t read Dislocations for economic lessons but this was an exception.


Remember Grapes of Wrath, when they push Muley off the land and he asks who is doing it, and he’s the Shawnee Land & Cattle Company, but and it is not a who, but a company, but the company is owned by the Bank in Tulsa, and that manager is just taking orders from banks “back east,” and Muley wants to know who to convince him to keep his land, “who to shoot.”

The man giving him the conviction notice, says “I don’t know who to shoot, if I did, I ‘d tell ya.”

Later, the cats – the large tractors – come by and plow the little shack away but he threatens the driver, who he knows, with shooting him and asks how can you do this against your own and he replies, “$3.00 a day,” telling Muley that everybody is their own look out and if you shoot me they’ll hang you for sure and there will be somebody here tomorrow to finalize the eviction, to remove a way of life, to ensure the profitability of the investment.

That early scene in both the novel and film came to mind as I took pictures of the renovation inside of Gray’s Papaya. The sink still working, the clock still telling the time, but everything else a dismantled mess, a crumpled sign still promising Tabs – you could run a Tab at Gray’s

This corner is as much a part of the life of many Jersey City folks as many corners in our own city. Gray’s is within our orbit, we share in the loss.

Cities change all the time. One person’s shock is another’s gradual process. I hate the idea of being a cranky old man croaking about how life was so much better back in my day.

What is happening now though – and Gray’s Paypa no longer being on 8th street is the latest example of this – is upheaval. Our society’s priorities are now entirely to make rich people richer. Income inequality is being raised, the new Mayor of New York is a progressive, President Obama seems to fight the good fight but all to willing to settle for incremental victories.



 
 
The change that is needed is comprehensive. The New Deal got us out of the Great Depression by creating the Middle Class, but it was more than just a series of complex economic policies. The New Deal happened by  a change in attitude about the role of government in structuring the economy, a role that beginning with Ronald Reagan and finalized by George W. Bush has so unraveled that any solution now seems unattainable.

We can no longer buy affordable delicious hot dogs and there’s nobody to shoot.




 

 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Moment of Demolition



 
What a satisfying job it is must be to demolish a building. That’s what came to mind immediately. There’s a child-like gee in witnessing controlled destruction, a feeling I can only imagine is magnified in the person operating the machine.

 


The machine is called an excavator, a kind of back hoe, said the workers. Nice guys, take all the pictures you want. Had to stay a safe distance of course. The machine was brand new. It was doing the job.
 
 
 
Operating the excavator is probably difficult, safety first and all, but it must be fun and satisfying to move the controls and destroy. Destruction as a job of work; must be a rewarding feeling at the end of the day to have transformed an edifice into debris.
 





 
The former building was nothing special, a one story structure, made of cinder-block. Probably here on Christopher Columbus when the street was known as Railroad Avenue.
 
It was adjacent to a new Laundromat, a kind of super Laundromat more suited to a strip mall than our gentrifying inner-city. The Laundromat remained untouched, it was only the other building that had to go. The Laundromat was not always a Laundromat. Perhaps the two buildings once housed a single enterprise, there was still a garage door attached to Laundromat building, a link made of metal pieces that men separated from each other with a blow torch before the excavator did some more surgical destruction. Total detachment from the Laundromat structure resulted.

Dust clouds began to billow as the claws ripped into the exteriors, crushing and wrecking, turning what once was something into fresh wreckage. I can feel the particles on the edges of my mouth, which I cover with my scarf. I can watch destruction for hours. I’m fascinated, by the action, the force, the inevitability. The activity is so deliberate. Jagged pieces of building tumbling in spurts, falling haphazardly to the ground with a ragged thud. The claw crunches metal against old concrete. The reality being created is physical. This building was created, there was an architect design, pipes and walls and wiring. Livings were made. Somebody had an idea, it came to life. Painted, repainted. Years pass and now all those years, what do they mean, what is this life or was his life, now a pile of rubble, ready to be carted away.

 
 
 


 
 




 


 
 
 
But then another deal, another life, another investment and demolishment before that new idea become reality. Somebody bought a knockdown. Destruction precedes construction, just as sure as the turning of the earth.

The next day, entirely gone. A full afternoon of demolishing in the cold air of January. A freezing drizzle fell all day. Now just rubble, field of broken blocks and an old wood. What once was no longer is, what once was useful now waste. The excavator still at work, now picking up the remnants. Disposal follows destruction.

What they are going to build I ask. You know the answer. Condos. Right next to a Laundromat. New memories for other lives to create. I don’t remember what was here. I just remember watching the destruction, controlled disaster is one of the most enjoyable stages of the endless cycle of city life.