Monday, December 27, 2010

Windy Snow

Windy Snow… morning after the blizzard, traipsing and trudging towards the PATH… this isn’t snow it’s wind, wind pushing the snow, get ready for the drifts... More than a foot fell… how much more is to be determined, but the wind made it look deeper.

It’s a pain in the neck of course, and I figure my socks will be damp until April, but it looks nice, it’s fun, challenging, your familiar world suddenly not so familiar, a lunar tundra…
Man digging out the car, between the plows and the gusts creating drifts, mountains of snow... hills at least

The gift that keeps giving… our downtown mosquito factory now dormant… see how the wind has formed a pond in the frozen muck, where are your skates Hans?

I can’t remember such drifts… although the wind in general in Jersey City has gotten worse, some blame climate change, some blame the new constructions… who is to say… but look at the drifts half way up the windows across the street, mountains of snow… winter wonder land without the wonder…

The NYC side of the PATH, it’s about nine o’clock, very little shoveling yet… freshly fallen, still white, why whine and gripe… see what this winter has to show you…

Go Quote Yourself!

Elizabeth Rodriguez is the founder/poet/designer of Go QuoteYourself !, a line of T-shirts and tote bags and other sundries that combine urban-inspired minimalist imagery with catchphrases conjured up by Epunto (she says it means “and period” in Spanish, which implies the last word, or words), her poetess alias. Amusing stuff.

One T-Shirt had LOL swirling like a flurry of bubbles around a simple slogan masquerading as definition: Low on Language, thus dispelling preconceptions that this was the well known internet idiom while also commenting on the pernicious aspects of the pervasiveness of that idiom. Another proclaimed I’m a LTD my time is now”. Incorporating the text, her poetry which takes the form of slogans—into a t-shirt or suitable design, a clever idea. I don’t mind such a loose definition of poetry—although to be pedantic, it’s more poetic than actual poem—she has a genuine flare for giving aphorism a texting veneer thus contemporary relevance. They’re catchy, provocative thoughts in a compelling graphic arts context.

She was at the final Creative Grove of 2011, dressed for the cold weather. Elizabeth was wearing winter suspender pants with a sweater, which was under a knee-length sweater itself under a very warm looking long down jacket. She has a real energetic personality. The weather and the holiday cheer was making people giddy, which only augmented her natural vivaciousness.

Her mission statement says.. “It has been a long time since poetry paid a visit to the mainstream…”

Mainstream here being consumer items. A few days prior heard on the news that the MTA was phasing out its program of putting lines from poems in the NYC subway. Well, now it’s up to individuals like Epunto and t-shirts and tote bags.

“GoQuoteYourself!” was founded on the idea that philosophers and metaphor lovers still exist. That in the brightest and darkest of days a poet, a songwriter, or a stranger can say something so clever, insightful, or funny that it deserves to be quoted. Our designs are inspired, designed and financed by poets. It is our way of keeping alive the freedom transpired in words.”

Compelling... freedom transpired in words, an internal freedom, about consciousness.

Epunto explains GoQuoteYourse! –“It is a movement of the mind.”—and says that she sells T-Shirts (and Tote Bags) that think.

I guess your heart is no longer just for your sleeve, or only your heart

Here’s a website, and a Facebook

Farewell: 2010 Creative Grove

Only the last Creative Grove of the year, not the last Creative Grove ever, insisted Uta Brauser, instigator of this Friday afternoon – to – evening art flea market.

Uta is closing her Jersey Avenue gallery—Fish with Braids—moving it to another location or even Brooklyn. Civic and community support for the arts leaves much to be desired in Jersey City. Creative Grove will last, she insisted.

She and her dreadlocks will remain a J.C. resident.
It was December 24, few last minute, hand-made shoppers braved the chilling temps, below freezing. Only a scant number of tables were set up, a stark contrast to the dozens of vendors during the height of the summer. New Years Eve is next Friday... no Creative Grove on that holiday. Because of the turning of the year, new signatures are required for the city permits. No problems she says, just a delay due to the holidays. With inclement weather and the new blizzard season now upon us, other factors may impede Creative Grove, which really isn’t off and running full throttle until Spring. But even partial throttle is good.

So, we bid farewell to the 2011 edition of Creative Grove (the opening was here). I don’t know how well the business is going there, but as a place to hangout after a day of work on a Friday, it succeeds. Creative Grove 2010 is a place where community manifests itself. See you next year...sometime... one hopes...

Gets dark early, the chill was constant, most of the vendors were talking to each other. Last one... of the year, only the last one of the year ...

Stop Construction Notice

Stop Construction Notice... I have no idea why and I guess I’m assuming safety, although if the appearance of hazardous conditions was sufficient to suspend construction there would be no construction sites in Jersey City, which we know is far from the case. This site was always iffy. I liked the wheel barrow on the pile of rubble, sort of embodies the who gives a crap about safe conditions at a worksite attitude that seems apparent in our fair city, at least to pedestrians passing by the sites. The elect the sheriff (I only vote for Sheriff’s named Doc) sign, over a month old, older than the notice. Stop Construction Notice... either somebody wasn’t paid off or somebody is getting serious about safety or something else or both… add a comma between the second and third word and a question mark at the end and this could work as a question, yet mean the same thing.

wheel barrow rusting on rubble

gee, stop construction? it looks so safe...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Vietnamese Christmas Card

Plastics Tree

The day before the day before Christmas Eve, Fall fled a couple of weeks ago so we’re all used to winter. The Creative Grove Christmas Tree, made of plastic bottles, lights interwoven that still seem to be on this morning. I was never sure of the statement being made here… Christmas is a joyous time, but it also is about other emotions too and joy has its own set of complexities… Imagine… I think the tree went up during the anniversary of the Lennon assignation… imagine more recyling? I’m totally down with that but I’m not sure Christmas icons are the right conveyance for that message… but I’ve gotten used to it, a sign of the Creative Grove Friday flea market… it was hard to get all the bottles I heard.

Smokestack & Steeples

Smoke billows every morning. Skyline of J.C. Heights. Steeples to the right, tiny crosses in the sky. I got a new camera with a new lens, finally did this image some justice. A remnant of our industrial past, when kids from the nearby Dickinson High School could get decent paying jobs. Now the lone smokestack, smoke billows. I like the way there’s a space, a pause, a slice of sky, between the mouth of the stack and the start of the billow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Max Fish

It’s a holy site to me, Max Fish.

I rarely get down to that neighborhood, the Lower East Side, what I used to call the Lower E. In May I happened to be there, first time in a decade I reckon. It was a sunny afternoon. I had to take a look at the old watering hole. I snapped the picture above.

It was about two hours before it would open; a young fellow was setting stuff up. I told him I used to live here, come here, and he let me look around. It had changed very little. I asked about Ulli, Alan, John, Harry, Gary. Gary had moved somewhere else, the rest were all doing fine and that made me really happy. I had some tears in my eyes. The dude smiled at me. I told him, I’m getting a little emotional, this place means a lot to me... I was a charter member. That odd statue, I believe it was some kind of highway icon for a closed store somehow it arrived here on Ludlow Street. I remembered seeing it from the bar, the same view, drinking a whiskey and beer and feeling a safe happiness, a confidence; I felt comfortable being me for the first time in my adulthood. I remembered feeling welcomed by kindred souls to a degree of which I had not experienced until then and have never quite experienced since. Max Fish was somewhere I was always glad to be and when I was there, I never wanted to be anywhere else.

Before moving to Jersey City, I spent about two years in the Lower East Side or the East Village, whichever you prefer. I use the terms with interchangeability.

And as with most of the good things that I remember, it is now gone.
An article appeared in the New York Times. The blog I was going to write in May finally came to being.

Max Fish when I went there a few months ago, seemed nearly frozen in amber, more remain the same inside than had been changed. It is a vestige of that End of the 80s moment. The worst of AIDS and Crack Cocaine—and Government neglect and unabashed disdain of the victims of those scourges—had only recently passed and the first signs of gentrification were emerging, of which Max Fish could be seen as one: a new business opening up in a slum that catered to the new residents that began to revitalize the neighborhood.

Those newbies tended to be professionals, the first to arrive being artists who want affordable space to live, work and exhibit. The punk and even no-wave music scenes had passed, but as the last decade of final century of the millennia dawned, the revivalist Americana scene was in its infancy, as was the pre-internet DIY attitude. What had become established was the Graffiti art—that fun mix of primitivism and Warhol with its urban, lively charm. Keith Harding images were every where. He had been canonized by the below -14th street-Vatican. Graffiti Art, street art—the aesthetic and the sensibility—it’s being auctioned off at Sotheby now, but when I hit the Lower East Side, it was only beginning to be taken seriously. Max Fish embodied that then embryonic respect.

I moved to Norfolk and Stanton. Every day from about four o’clock to nine, on the same block, heroin addicts waited for the man. Dealers loudly whispered Dragon, Dragon. Every so often a white BMW would drive around the block, speakers blaring steady beats of “House” so loud the windows of my apartment (which did not face the street) rattled. It was the same car, the same beats. My drug days, most of them anyway, were behind me. Heroin was never my thing. One time, I saw this beautiful, hot, young woman. I can still see her in my mind’s eye. Absolutely gorgeous, one of the prettiest women I have ever seen in my life. She wore an olive green waist length Eisenhower Jacket and tights of the same color which clung like paint to her perfect butt and thighs. She was pure sexy beauty. She was under 25 years old. She was there to buy Dragon. It still makes me sad to think about, she was just so lovely and fresh, a joy to glimpse. How long until she joined the girls wandering on Allen Street, a couple of blocks over, waiting for a car to stop, trading their humanity for a fix? I still think about what might have happened to her, how long did her beauty last after that afternoon. I can still see her looking down at cellophane packets of Dragon then slipping them into her jacket pocket.

It was my first apartment. I went away to college in Rural Southern Jersey, lived at home after I graduated as I tried to grow my journalism career. Most of the last half of the 80s I lived with Donna in Elizabeth, an intensely sexual five years filled with severe emotional and physiological (and substance) abuse. My father passed away the year before, Donna and I broke up. She was institutionalized and I entered into psychoanalysis. I sort of had a nervous breakdown, some of which I
documented here.

On the upside, I had gotten a new job, senior editor at a Manhattan Trade Magazine company with a decent salary, had gotten out of some debt and ready to finally start my real life. I grew up entranced by Beats and Punks with a wistful longing for the bohemia.

My buddy Tony had moved back to NYC to the East Village and other friend, Michael, whom I had known since Grammar School, lived on Attorney Street. I joined the Bergen County Colony forming in the Lower East Side.

Eventually, after being burglarized twice in six weeks, then being in an unpleasant room mate situation, I and Maureen moved in together in Jersey City. I realized my destiny lay on the Jersey Side, but I still need to be as close as possible to the everlasting promise of possibility—that enticing Goddess & Whore known as Manhattan. That first year or so in the Lower East Side, before the burglaries, I changed my life and a lot of that change was enabled by the comfort of Max Fish.

Tony and I like to drink, especially then. And as understatements go, that is equivalent to the Sky is a Nice Color Blue or George W. Bush was a disappointing President. Mike had gotten married and soon after I moved into town he absconded to Ramsey New Jersey to raise a family. He had been in the neighborhood through the worst of the plague and drug years that was the Reagan Era so I guess he had enough.

We were at the No-Name Bar, a groovy pub on Avenue A one late afternoon when Tony said, let’s drink whiskey. Aside from the occasional C.C. & Soda, I did not drink whiskey. I never even tasted the stuff before, except for Scotch, which I had never taken to. I drank Vodka & Club Soda or Beer. Tony asked the Bartender, what is whiskey? So we got the rap about the differences between Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, the typical spiel about the whiskey family. Then he brought out the Irish, the only real Whiskeys, Jameson and Bushmill and explained how the former was Catholic and the latter Protestant. Tony and I were both former Altar Boys and Bushmill tasted more like Scotch. Thus began a long and continuing relationship with Irish Whisky. As sunset turned to evening at the No Name, Tony and I swore allegiance to the IRA.

It was Tony who told me that he saw a new bar had opened up on Ludlow Street. I had walked bye, some construction was still going on. It looks like a heavy metal bar, like Down Town Beirut (a gin joint I disliked), I said. I was wrong about the heavy metal impression. I don’t remember much about the first time we went there, except that we were told it had only been opened for two weeks.

It was not a heavy metal bar, it was an art bar. The owner, Ulli said she would hold art openings there, act as a gallery. I loved the idea. Finally, after all those years of boozing in dreary Bergen or Essex (Elizabeth, remember) County joints, I didn’t have to talk about or listen to talk about the Jets or the Giants. Instead of team pennants and other sports memorabilia adorning the walls alongside multiple television sets, there was hip urban art, funky and funny. Keith Harring and Bastiat are to this place what Michelangelo and Da Vinci were to the Renaissance. I liked that, I liked the way the ambiance was organic to the neighborhood, an art scene that was original and still fledgling. Only one television too, a small black and white set in a corner above the bar, but not behind it, so patrons weren’t forced to watch television. The only show I remember it playing was Down by Law, the Jaramusch film, without sound. It might have been looped. I saw that soundless version dozens of times as I drank. Years later I actually rented the video. What tedious garbage, much better without the lame dialog.

That first time though at Max’s, I remember seeing the juke box. Not that I played it all that much, it was the song selection. The Velvet Underground and Howlin Wolf. It was still the vinyl 45 juke box, they hadn’t gone C.D. I thought I (and maybe Tony) was the only ones who listened to both the Velvets and the Wolf. One Television? Velvets & the Wolf? No Sports? It had taken three decades, but I finally found a home.

Tony and I, alone and together, soon became regulars. The No Name was forsaken. We loved Max’s from the moment we first went there. As far as I am concerned, it is more than the greatest bar, more than the epitome of bars. It is sacred ground.

In the back were pool tables and pinball machines, planks nailed to the wall for benches, a couple as chest high ledges for drinks. There was another bench, about mid-bar, and a naugahyde couch near the front that would not be out of place at a waffle house, might have actually been in one at time, like the all the furnishings, it was old and used. Max Fish had a mash up furniture, a collection of discarded remnants refurbished for the bar. This Salvation Army aesthetic worked as a unified whole, even though when looked at separately each part seemed out of place. The lack of symmetry created its own symmetry. It was post apocalyptical. God, I loved to drink there. I remember the walls were often dark green, but they were constantly repainted as one art show replaced another. It was always fun when there was new art. On the ceiling for the longest time, World War II model airplanes were suspended. There was a also a bust of well, a hideously disfigured face of Ronald Reagan wearing an Elvis Jump suit. Was he morphing into Elvis, or was the King morphing into the Gipper. Clowns are evil of course, and behind the bar was a large picture of a Clown, a jester really, similar to a classic Joker in a deck of cards. I was apprehensive about drinking within view of an image of Satan’s minion, but Tony reassured me. He compared the Max clown to a vaccine, where they inject a little bit of polio in you so your system becomes immune to the disease. Some evil did find me, as Evil always does and let’s not forget, I lived in Manhattan, an American Gomorrah. Without the clown at Max’s it might have been worse.

I had abandoned Vodka and was mainly a beer drinker but one of the things I found out soon after the No-Name Whiskey initiation was that whiskey and beer make a swell couple. It’s the pepper and salt of booze world. My usual drink was a Red Stripe and Jameson rocks (I like ice). This was before the wave of cosmopolitans and mix drink mania hit the bar scene. Being a bar regular, the bar tenders soon knew what you drank and the Max Fish Bartenders—Greg, Alan and this Australian woman who’s name I can’t recall—they hadn’t gone to bartender school, they weren’t mix-ologists. Anything beyond say a Screw Drive was simply not ordered. A running joke was that I would come in, be asked what I was having, and I would say something like can I have a Blue Hawaiian with Mango instead of Pineapple, wait a few beats, oh just give me a Jameson Rocks and a Red Stripe. I kept making up more exotic drinks (Frozen Mai Tai with bananas) to precede my usual set up. I recall Greg thinking it quite funny.

The bar didn’t have tap beer and I was one of the few patrons who asked for a glass for their beer. I just happen not to like drinking beer from the bottle or can, I like to use a glass. Also, I prefer just a regular glass, not a mug or pint glass or stein. Just a tall cylindrical glass. After a while, not only did I rarely have to ask for one, they kept a glass in the ice just for me, at least my memory enjoys believing it was just for me.

One time, Tony and I went to Max’s with this guy, Ron. He was from Boston and a TV cameraman. He had just moved to town, he was part of the room mate situation that was the transition point between the apartment and the move to J.C. Greg was tending bar. He knew what I wanted, Tony’s order was almost always similar (he drank Bud) and then Ron orders a Grasshopper. Greg, sort of a big guy with a beard and light brown hair, was like, a what? Ron repeats himself as Tony and I crack up. Ron says, forget it, just make me a Rusty Nail. Beer sprays out my mouth as I tumble out of my chair, overcome with howls of laughter. Ron has to explain the drink, which apparently is easy, and Greg affably makes it, laughing at my uncontrolable laughter. What kind of bartender doesn’t know how to make a Rusty Nail, asks Ron, honestly bewildered. Welcome to the neighborhood. Ron didn’t become Max regular.

Ulli, the owner, had blonde hair I recall as a wild bush of blonde dreadlocks that she tied up like a bunch of celery stalks, bound in the middle, overflowing on the top. She was German, her accent thick and was tall to the point of being almost gawky. She resembled Glenn Close. She seemed intimidating and when she was on the premises of the bar, she tolerated no shenanigans. I remember her tearing Harry a new asshole for rolling a joint out in the open during one crowded evening.

In a remarkable coincidence, Ulli and I had a mutual friend, Mary who was the wife of a friend I met at my previous magazine gig, Bob, a publisher which means advertising sales, who was about 15 years my senior. Mary and Ulli worked as waitresses at the same restaurant for a long time during the 80s. Mary finished a psychology degree and became a therapist and Ulli opened Max Fish, her own bar. Bob and I were close. I hung out with Bob—in the upper west side, New Yorkers disdain leaving their neighborhood for anything other than work—and traded asked about hers between Ulli and Mary several times. Max Fish in its own way was like a CBGB or Lion Heads or Algonquin, a cutting edge bar signifying a specific bohemian scene of some renown, a place that epitomized the hip of the moment. It’s great publicity, why mess with something legendry. The reality with Max Fish was that a hard working woman had an idea for a bar in neighborhood few in the city cared about except artists and other outsiders, and she successfully realized that idea after years of front line hospitality drudgery. She became more admirable to me once I got her back-story from Mary, which only further endeared Max Fish to me.

We were both die-hard movie buffs. She called them her two hour vacation. I discovered John Cassavettes when the Film Anthology Archives launched a lengthy retrospective that included all of his films. It was the first such retrospective of this master and some film historians credit his widespread influence in indie cinema from the late 90s to present day to the fact that many of the directors were in NYU film school at this time and saw the Cassavettes oeuvre during this showcase. I saw an early one, with Tony, called Too Late Blues because I was a fan of Bobby Darin. I wound up going to just about every film. I fell in love in Cassavettes and this retrospective was another transforming event for me. As I left the theater after Opening Night, a towering woman with a blonde palm tree hair do was next to me. It was Ulli. We were both headed to the same place. As we walked we became lost in an intense conversation about this Cassavettes Masterpiece that we continued in the bar. I seem to remember that one scene Ben Gazara hit Gina Rowlands, she didn’t like that, although she liked the film. I remember talking to her about this film more than I remember the specifics of the conversation, or in fact the actual film. Thus began an ongoing film discussion between us, what we saw, what we were thinking of seeing, what the reviews said in the New York Times. This was before the NYC Revival Theaters went the way of the Jersey Drive In. Cinema 80, the Thalia and the Biograph had daily programs of old films. The Angelica Film Center had recently open, the original French version of La Femme Nakita was a big hit on Houston Street. Films were not thirteen dollars either; I think they were seven, although maybe lower, like five—well below ten bucks. I remember the Cassavettes were below the market rate of the time. Ulli and I talked films constantly, she leaning the elbows of her long arms on the counter of the bar. She possessed an astute and observant mind. It wasn’t just high-brow either, we saw mainstream garbage too and the discussions weren’t about film theory or history, it was the enthusiastic chat of committed film goers. What did we like, what we did not like.

I still see a film in a theater once a week or so, often more and since knowing Ulli, I have come to refer to that as my two hour vacation.

I think her name was Trudi, I can’t really remember name. She was very pretty, Model-Pretty, NYC thin, dyed her hair in punk colored streaks ( I remember chromatic sky blue), from Australia. She had that accent and the tendency towards arrogance that often marks citizens of the down under nation. She was one of the bartenders, funny, sarcastic and often acerbic. She wasn’t quite as nice as the other bartenders, but that was just the exterior. She didn’t take guff and seemed intent to remind you of that fact even if you were not a giver of guff. I wish I could be sure of her name. She left while I still lived there. Once she knew you, she was genuinely sweet hearted.

My job required a lot of travel, at least once a month. Business travel is a lot of work and I would be intensely busy—interviewing people, writing what they say, assembling notes, taking pictures—up until the moment I left for the airport. I had to interview eye doctors and often it was some meeting and convention in Memphis, Chicago or Anaheim or at a resort where I would have to watch them play golf. Air Travel is mentally exhausting because in a period of 12 hours you are bombarded by sensory overload, waking up in a beautiful resort and going through a variety of different settings, check out, airports, airplane, airports, etc. I loved coming home. I marveled how I preferred the grungy neighborhood that was giving me the murky night to the splendor of a hotel resort that greeted me with crystal clear morning. If I was awake enough—which was often the case flying west to east or after a turbulent filled near death experience that is airline travel—I would take a walk and inevitably wind up on a Max Fish stool. One excruciating flight, I was wired and depressed and needed to see familiar surroundings. I can’t remember if they were closing when I arrived or right after I arrived. The Australian Woman was tending the bar. The particulars are dim, but this is clear—she closed out the cash register, said my drink was on her and I just sat there, listened to Juke Box music, smoked (it was well before the Fascists took over) and talked with her and the guy mopping the floors and washing down the tables, who I think was also Australian. The floor got mopped, I remember her pouring me another drink with a smirk and waved away my attempt to pay, and she cleaned the counter, except for my spot, and the stools were aligned on top of the bar, except for the one I was sitting on. My spot was the last to be cleaned; I walked out with them to the sidewalk as they locked the front, pulled down the gate. If you ever read A Clean, Well Lighted Place by Hemmingway you might understand what was going on. I’ll never forget her act of simple kindness, letting me stay, pouring that extra whiskey. We were both grateful for the brief company I guess, or maybe she could just tell I really needed the comfort and was glad to oblige in providing that comfort in what had become a sanctuary for me. I think she like chatting with me and I was a pleasant distraction as she did all the things bartenders do when they close out the bar. I had been accepted as somebody you didn’t have to worry about, somebody you could leave unsupervised at the bar and talk with while you closed up, somebody who never gave guff.

Fame caught on fast for Max Fish. Ulli installed pinball machines at a time when Bars were still riding the last wave of the Pac-Man craze. The Bar hosted a tournament that got some press, and the East Village also got other attention and one thing led to another, Max Fish got too popular to hang out on popular hang out nights—Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. It became a joke, coming and saying how it was too crowded the other night. People were coming from out the neighborhood, and the bartenders expressed annoyance to the regulars. Business was booming—remained so for 20 years or so—which makes me happy. I hope they did well.

Sunday night became the night for regulars. Tony and I decided it was a great night to drink, We always got good seats at the bar, most everybody was a regular, you could be well hammered by 11:00 and since Monday morning was always a struggle, a hangover at the job was practically incidental. Mondays suck, might as well be hung-over. Those Sunday nights were great, talking with other regulars and neighbors and the staff, it was never that busy so they liked the company, the endless but silent Down by Law on the sole TV, the Juke Box playing… As bar experiences go, never better.

I don’t remember any real crazy nights at Max, probably because I was not in a crazy place in my life any more. I had survived craziness. I was interested in avoiding crazy. I was still seeing a shrink once a week, I was sorting out the craziness that filled the years previous, still dealing with the complex grief my father’s death bestowed and I really just was happy to be anywhere but Paramus or Elizabeth. I was finally able to live like a somewhat responsible adult and have a day of work I was reasonably competent at. That I discovered this awe inspiring oasis where I could imbibe and relax what an extra blessing!

Sunday was a great night just for a little boozing with my buddy, but most nights Max’s was the place to begin or to end, sometimes both. Preparing for an evening of NYC adventure or recounting such adventures in the wee wee hours over a night cap.

I was writing poetry, or trying to do and I read at open mike night at St. Marks. I met Michelle there, this Jewish blonde from New Jersey. I didn’t really date a lot when I lived in the Lower E. Around mid-point up I caught up with Maureen, a long story; we rekindled our college love and moved to J.C. Before that, I had a very brief fling with Michelle. On our first non-open mike date, I took her to Max Fish. Even she, living in Fort Lee had heard this was the hot new spot. They were always glad to see me but you could tell they were being just real cool and the gal was impressed that I was held in such esteem by the bartenders of the hottest bar in New York. She saw me was an impressive insider. Team Max Fish had my back. Love didn’t flourish between us, but yes action was had later that evening. I finally got laid in my first apartment.

You would fall into conversations with artists, some of whom had openings there, or local characters like Taylor Mead, some dude who was in Andy Warhol films which had a revival of sorts and I caught a few, like Lonesome Cowboys and Chelsea Girls (pretentious but not without merit), or Rockets Red Glare, a kind of overweight underground actor. I remember Harry told me Jim Jaramusch was there once. I asked Harry if he was a nice guy. Harry pondered this, he always sort of spoke slowly. I don’t know if he is a nice guy or not, he mainly talked with Ulli. I didn’t really talk to him.

I really could care less about celebrities. Taylor and Rocket told me who they were during the course of their conversations. They just happened to be in the stool next to mine and in a chatty mood. One local celebrity I recall having lots of fun chats with was Jasmine, she wore cat eye sunglasses and played the accordion, sang sort of new wave Edith Piaf numbers. She was the only musician I remember playing Max’s, which happened I think only once or twice, the place was so narrow and would get so crowded her elbows came close to ramming someone’s eye, She was just funny to talk to, always dropping off new cards for new gigs, which always local dives where she passed around the basket between numbers.

John was from Ohio, a real gentlemen. We were the same age, but unlike me, he hadn’t cut his hair since high school. He was an artist, but also the bus boy, clearing off stray bottles and glasses and emptying ash trays. If it was too crowded at the bar, I sometimes found a seat at one of the end of one of the wooden benches. More than once John had to be reminded that he was there to bus not to talk to me. We got into fascinating conversations, he’s just a dude I could talk with for hours. We hung out a little outside of the bar, “smoked” together a few times, I went to his art openings, saw him at the art openings of his compatriots. He sculpted glass and worked in Found Art. Found Art fascinated me, it wasn’t like that French guy who merely got a urinal and declared it art, the found art was manipulated by the artists—something wasn’t just declared art but was actually repurposed into art. The concept was new to me then. It reminded me of Primitive art. I was fascinated by how masks used by the Iroquois for what were essentially religious rituals were art, just like cookware and crockery from archeological digs had authentic aesthetic value. Found Art reminded me of this sensiblity, except what was being Found was the flotsam and discarded debris of our dehumanizing culture that had become Reagan Capitalism. Turning that into art was the artists way of salvaging our humanity. I am not articulating it well, probably articulated it even less well back then, but I remember talking to John from Ohio many times about the primitive sensibility in Found Art.

Like me, he was raised Catholic and the influence was finding its way into some of his work. For instance, he had a Weeping Virgin Mary, which was basically a cement Virgin Mary lawn statute, with her eyes drilled out and tubes inserted in the holes of the sockets. The tubes were attached to a pump. The statue was in this large bucket, a wash basin. You plugged it in and the tears perpetually flowed from her eyes. I found it hilarious. Might have been irreverent, but never struck me as blasphemous and even if it did that would not mean I would be unable to appreciate the obvious humor.

He had this other piece where he a picture of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane—a famous iconic image—in the center of which he impaled this large brass bullet, like from an M-! Machine gun, three or four inches long, disturbingly phallic. The piece worked as a coat hook. John didn’t pay attention during Catechism classes because I had to explain what the image of Our Lord meant, what it depicted. I remember him asking me a few times about this, asked me to tell him the story of Jesus the night before he died again, how he prayed to have the cup taken from him, how he prayed so hard he sweated blood, how the Apostles kept falling asleep in spite of his repeated requests to be awake with him during his final night on earth. The huge bullet protruding from this iconic religious image was an appropriate statement, even though John first created the work because he simply liked the juxtaposition. I’ve thought about our talks, especially in the last couple of years as I attempted some art type criticisms in these blogs. I took a course on Aesthetics in College and ever since I’ve contemplated context. Context is something artists are not aware of when they create art. Nor should they be. Creation is about inspiration and craft. John was the first artist with whom I had this kind of conversation and we had oodles of them. Looking back, our discussions had an influence on my thinking and my writing.

I think it might have been Harry not John who painted the famous Virgin Mary Pizza Box, a hand painted picture of a picture of the Virgin Mother done one the cover a pizza box. Thus was state of Found Art, the thing about it was, the picture was really great. The concept was clever, the skill apparent.

After I moved to Jersey City, I still went to Max Fish and was warmly greeted every time. The night of the 93 WTC bombing I was there, spending the night on Tony’s couch. Nobody was talking about the bombing, which had just happened. Months passed between visits, then years. The neighborhood got more upscale, nothing more obnoxious than hipsters with trust funds. The LES became a real scene, it was one of the last bastions of street level drug dealing in the 90s; I knew a few people younger than me who told me about drinking about in my old sanctuary; it was in the neighborhood where they scored their coke. It made me sad. I don’t care about the drug use, drugs are dangerous fun and the choice is up to you; but people going there to make the scene, slumming, had an air of exploitation I find distasteful. I went there once and talked to Alan. Two women walked in and he carded them, they sort of looked Goth. I never saw them card anyone back in the day. They didn’t have to; underage partiers weren’t flocking to the East Village as much back then. He told me happened all the time now, the place was popular and had gotten real crazy, people doing drugs in the bathroom, having sex in the bathroom. I can understand the drugs, but I could not fathom a guy and a gal getting intimate in a bathroom, especially the ones at Max Fish which even in the best of times were held to the standard of just below utterly gross. They were about as hygienic as a tropical cesspool during a diphtheria outbreak.

Every time I went back, the emotions got heavier, the curtains of nostalgia and melancholy thicker. It was never the same drinking there but not living there. Tony moved to Los Angeles. We both started drinking less. Visiting became painful. I remember a line outside once. I had grown out of the demographic the bar now catered to. While we all feel nostalgic for being younger, there is the wisdom and astuteness that come with age that you would not trade for less gray hair or smoother skin. I’ve had plenty of other adventures and great times after leaving the LES. I love Jersey City in a way I could never love the LES/East Village.

But Max Fish was a special place for me at a special time. As the TV theme song says, it was where everybody knew your name. I appreciated it when I had it, and was difficult to let go of. It was more than a bar though. I was getting my life together and had a lot issues, especially incessant depression. My psychologist gave me this sort of motto which sounds really trite, but was genuinely meaningful to me. Let Tim Be Tim. Seemed family, friends, society perhaps, inhibited me from being myself. It was complicated psychological stuff and it was difficult to work out at the time, but in the long run solving this personal problem was the only way I was able to survive. Max Fish was pure... it let Tim be Tim. I swear I have tears in my eyes as I type that. I have few problems being myself anymore, but I’ll never forget how hard that used to be or how Max Fish made Tim Being Tim seem so easy.

When I saw the New York Times announcement of Max Fish closing. I became sad, the floodgates opened. I had been thinking of a blog ever since the by chance visit in May. Here it is. I’m thankful to Ulli for this place. My memories could not be fonder. I have cherished them for 20 years and will do so until I die.

Below is a picture taken in the Gulf of Mexico. I am wearing a Max Fish T-shirt. I was on an assignment covering a meeting of eye doctors and presenting survey findings at the meeting. I went on a deep sea fishing voyage, I’m holding a dauphin that I didn’t caught, although I caught a lot fish. They were all Southern eye doctors—note the hat, GOBIO, Good Ole Boys in Optometry—and they found it quite amusing they were taking some city slicker on his first deep sea fishing trip. For Irony I wore the Max Fish t-shirt.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cement: Icy & Wet

Winter has arrived. Twenty degrees feels like ten said the radio. Ice forms on the dormant mosquito factories of puddle and corner lagoons our fair city is so well known for. Street-scaping continues unabated, the corner of Newark & Grove getting fresh cement. Will the cement dry before the temperatures freezes its wetness? What could be moving slower than wet cement in frigid temperature? Glaciers? Senior Citizens… driving?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Memory Maps

How do you get there from here? In the age before google maps, you would ask your friend this question and they might actually grab a napkin and borrow a pen from your waitress and draw a map. They don’t just know how to get there, they remember how to get there. The map they draw represents the memory they are now sharing with you. It becomes how you visualize their memory and eventually will be your memory.

“Memory Maps” is the cleverly sentimental show at Gaia Studios ( on Third Street that explores the fragile yet universal nature of memory. The project is by Aileen Bassis ( and started as a public arts project in June, where according to a press release, the artist “made a thin wire web that attached to two trees and invited people to draw a map of a place they remember on clear acetate and wired the maps onto the web.” The public cartography inauguration took place at a NYC public art event, and dozens of maps were drawn. Aileen photographed participations in the “Act of Remembering,” a phrase I find extremely endearing.

In the gallery space, the photographs were featured on wide sheets of paper, the maps aligned a corner. I wasn’t able to make the connection between the hand drawn maps and the Act of Remembering (as opposed to remembrance) before talking to the artist. It wasn’t the fault of the pictures, which were looked like un-posed portraits of regular folk, but that the act of remembrance is not a specifically identifiable visage. The connection probably would have dawned on me eventually. Another component of the project featuring quotes on the nature memory by philosophers, such as Aristotle, St. Augustine and Sartre was not displayed, apparently due to space restrictions. Maybe its inclusion in the next iteration of Memory Maps will provide additional connective tissue.

The photos documenting active recollection were printed on a scroll spanning a wall of the gallery. The reproduction technique used was similar to lithography. On another wall, was another photo collage of the act of remembering, but instead of a scroll the images were printed on large panels and the panels stitched together with thick thread, which seemed to mimic the nature of our memories, how one leads to another, how drawing a map inspires recollections of your time in that place, how a memory of place leads to but is different from the subsequent thought, idea or insight.

Maybe it’s this—our collective memories, or how my memory of this place gives you this map and that map you follow creating your own memory is the connection we all share. Maybe memories are the seams that bind us together.

The core of the show was the hand drawn maps. Islands, Lake George, neighborhood, a variety of places, some more intricate than others—and of various spaces, for instance one seemed like a block and a few streets, the other what I believe was the western portion of eastern Europe. The drawings were personal, their sentimentality appealing, and the obvious and intentional amateurishness very charming. Yet, the intensely subjective perspectives of each drawing melted when viewed as a whole.

The specific location or size of the space depicted in the map was really about consciousness—and the role personal and collective memory plays in creating consciousness—not geography. Memories connect us more than place, space or time.

A fascinating and provocative show filled with ideas subtle and multi-layered. The work is ongoing so I suspect the next installation will be even more robust. The space itself was really cool. It’s the basement of an apartment building, but I was told it was a high basement. I have no idea what that means exactly, but you walked down a few steps to enter the space yet it wasn’t entirely below street level. It was a little below and a little above.

The front portion, the foray if you will, was the gallery, with white walls and some makeshift spotlights. Through a doorway was the studio portion. People were sitting around, conversing with each other and welcoming visitors.

A folding table provided the setting for the spread of wine, water, soda and snacks that are the traditional signs of a J.C. Friday event. A few paintings and other artworks occupied some of the corners of the studio, as well as a printing press and other work title. It was very clean and orderly and you get a real productive vibe. I liked it a lot.

Gaia, named after the Greek Goddess of the Earth (also the mother of Uranus, who together begat Cyclops), is a collective of women artists, where as individuals and as a group, they engender a creative atmosphere and increase representation of women in the arts. They also get involved with politics and activism. They think globally and act locally. This downtown themyscira is new to me. It radiates empowerment of artists and encouragement of ideas and work.

The organization seems to prefer the _gaia as opposed to Gaia. Since I do my own copy editing and I prefer not to vex the evil goddess HTML (not to mention the avoiding the wrath of the she-demon Spell Check), I didn’t follow this idosyncratic, post-internet, type meets text mashup of a name. Besides, the underscore was invented by Geeks not Greeks! As recompense, here’s their mission statement: _gaia’s mission remains as a collective of women, for women, for the making of textiles, clothing, printmaking, painting, architecture, music, film, photography, science, the performing arts, writing, environmental, social and political activism: all things which color the lives of the women involved. We actively promote and support the work of local women artists while developing programming to reach out to and help emerging artists in need of studio space, facilities and resources. In our pursuit of awareness we also concentrate on activism, from issues in the local community to global issues affecting the lives of women.

Sticker Art Opening

Hello… My Name is Sticker Art—is the name of the show currently at Fish with Braids. I know you might expect a little reportage here, but sorry. I went as you can see, but the event was so packed I couldn’t get a handle on the art or speak to the artists and my inside pictures were all of jugulars and napes. But I had a swell time talking with some friends. A lot of people can fit into the space, it was as crowded as a Path Train heading to 33rd street at 8:50 on a Monday morning. References to the ship cabin scene to the Marx Brothers can be made here. Now, I’m sure the show—a collective of artists—was responsible for the higher than expected draw, but there may have been another factors. Rumors are swarming around the community that Uta Brauser will be moving the Gallery to Brooklyn. Wither thou goest J.C. arts? Is the city government moving from non-support to non-cooperation? I have no answers or even speculation. So how many people can fit into a store front gallery before you have to apply for a cabaret license? I don’t know the answer… no one was singing or dancing when I was there…

Stay Tuned click here

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lost Corner Revisited

About six months ago, this was what was here, a traffic light, replacing them you know. I called it a lost corner, because the widening of the avenue meant we lost a corner (and gained a new albiet abbreviated one), which meant that the traffic light had to be replaced. Heck, I’ve practically done a whole series on the traffic light replacements (here here here). The Lost Corner revisited. After removing the remaining light pole base, the crew here had to dig into the asphalt with a back hoe with hydraulic jack hammer in order to clear a space and expose the metal encased cables beneath our city that enable the traffic lights to illuminate coordination twixt vehicles and pedestrians. Then they have to saw off the cables and repave. I’m probably missing a step; apparently they don’t have to remove the entire cable just the ends. I wonder what they connect to; I mean where is the cable that these cables connect to. I wonder about the subterranean intricacy on which this city stands. Still, I got a pretty good shot of the heavy duty metal saw cutting into the cable. Look at those sparks. They were wearing goggles, the workers. Maybe there are more complicated things to devise that traffic lights, but admit it, you take them for granted. It was a problem solved long ago, maybe a century I reckon. But somebody solved the problem; a job was created. This looks like hard work, using that saw, cutting that cable, you have to know what you’re doing. Training is involved. I contemplate this kind of stuff all the time, the multitude of labor required to make our society function. Dig those sparks...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Locked Bike Wheel

I’ve heard of two bicycle thefts in downtown J.C. in the last couple of months. Those are just the ones I know. Reminded me of this blog. Just pisses me off, seeing the lock still on the wheel. I mean, there had to be some serious activity to detach the tire, and some kind of van to put the frame and back wheel into. Is bicycle thievery rampant in our town? What is the resale value on these things, it just seems so petty and a violation and you see it and hear about it way too much. This was near the Little League field.

Mall Fiddler

The violin sound was enhanced. Some sort of winter-themed, seasonal themed, music with classical overtones, there in the Mall, on “black” Sunday, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It sounded like there was talent, but it was weird, it was a violin synthesizer, really dehumanized fiddle sound but a fiddle nonetheless. CDs for sale, I guess my opinion was not entirely shared.

Locker 5

Good bye, farewell. I just like the number 5, I liked this locker. First locker since high school, really. Had it at the Gold Cost, then at F&T. Never worked out wearing glasses or my “religious” medal.