Friday, October 29, 2010

Hudson Camera


State of New Jersey Notice of Seizure “All the property here in”

Shit… Hudson Camera… the latest victim of the times

Yesterday, it was 4 PM and I went there to buy a frame. It’s mainly why I go there, to buy a picture frame. They have a good selection, very inexpensive. I was just there in early September when I broke the glass on an old frame and had to replace it. The guy there has been there forever, nice as heck, real downtown J.C. fellow. Probably one of the oldest ongoing retail establishments on Newark Avenue—been there for the near 20 years I’ve been dislocated in our beloved environs. Longer than that, one of the few business I can say that about.

The gate was closed down. Did he close early? Then I saw the pink bulletins, two bundles of mail, unopened, still bound in rubber bands on the sidewalk, tossed through the slots in the pull down security gate. Days since somebody has been inside.

Halloween Sidewalk Sale sign, going on this weekend, taped to the inside the door, the good neighborhood business proprietor, community minded. Keep hope alive.

Maybe this is a temporary situation, a set back. Maybe...

Photography, it has long been part of my day job—business journalist—but also an intermittent hobby. It wasn’t so much of a hobby in the early 90s when I came to town, except for taking pictures of family and friends on special occasions, documenting this or that Christmas or Birthday, that sort of thing.

Around 94 or so, when I became a freelance journalist, I needed a camera for a gig and bought a beautiful Minolta there, $400 bucks, “reconditioned”. Still have it. Nice camera for the time. In fact, if you are of a mind, if you have an issue of Lenses & Technology from the mid to late 90s and you notice the profile I wrote on Savoy & Siegel, our Newark Avenue optometrists, those pictures were taken with that camera.

By 9-11-2001, I was getting gigs that didn’t require me taking pictures and I wasn’t taking hobby or artistic pictures.

The planes hit, the towers fell, I wanted to document.

I needed a new lithium battery and film, but I didn’t have cash. That day around here, phones, credit card machines, ATMs were all screwy.

I went to Hudson Camera. The guy gave me what I needed, didn’t even take my name. That’s neighborhood. Some of those pix can be seen here. I still have a roll of film from that day in the Minolta. Why I haven’t developed it, well, it was just too sad.

Soon pictures became pix and all pix had to be digital. The gigs that I got that required camera work I was able to use the company camera. No compulsion to revive my photography hobby, which was sort of an 80s thing for me.

Fast forward. Last year, when I started the blog, I realized I should start taking pictures again, for the blog. The fun part would be writing captions or impressions.

It was a Sunday that I had this epiphany, I went to Hudson Camera, and it was closed. I went to Target, got a Nikon for about a hundred bucks.

I hated doing this. Target will not be lending me film and batteries during the next terrorist attack.

I later went to Hudson Camera; they had the digital cameras, but only top of the line. I wanted cheap.

They still sold film, still catered to those die-hards and true believers. And a lot of frames. They did a scanning thing that I’ve used once in a while too.

With film cameras, you had to get specific speeds for the work I did, slides were often preferred. You had to go to a camera store to get the precise film. Indoor or outdoor?

Digital means less camera store needs. Download to computer, fiddle with it on photoshop, post online or print it on your own computer. I guess there was a lot more money in that then in picture frames.

Would longer hours, opened on Sunday have helped? Who knows? Who can compete against Target, a quick ride on the path and you have access to the greatest camera stores in the world.

Shit, I still need a frame.

According to their website: “Serving your photography needs for more than 50 years.”

Half a century ending in an official notice from the state of New Jersey and probably ugly and humiliating legal ramifications. My thoughts and prayers are with them.

Another milestone for the neighborhood, I fear not a good one. What businesses are opening up these days? Fallow store fronts; how many years now since has that hardware store on Jersey Avenue been boarded up? Still, their website is still up. Keep Hope Alive!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Saint Jude Feast Day

Happy Saint Jude Feast Day

Congratulations to everyone completing the Saint Jude Novena

“Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied…”

            From: The General Epistle of Jude

Saint Jude Pray For Us.

                     We thank you for your intercession in response to our prayers.

We will always be faithful to you.

Continue to intercede for our needs and in our difficulties.

Be with us particularly at the hour of death

so we may face that decisive moment

with courage and serenity.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Local Décor: Scary & Fall

More scarecrows, fewer pumpkins.

Walking around, feeling the season turn, but isn’t every day the season turning, becoming more of what it could be or becoming less of what it is? I’m not sure about scarecrows. I guess they are harvest motif effigies. But I find them sort of scary, monster like, beings without souls. I just don’t trust them.

Halloween seems to get more popular every year.

The house and apartment decorations in the neighborhood indeed has proliferated, more apparent, more in number. Is it a cause or an effect regarding the increase in our youth popluation.

Whatever, it’s fun. It’s kind of like Christmas, which blends winter celebration imagery with sacred (Christ Child, manger, angels, shepards, holy family) and secular (Santa Claus, reindeer, candy canes, snow man), Halloween mixes autumnal celebration, which are really harvest time images—leaves and pumpkins, gourds, sort of Thanksgiving, with the usual ghoulish stuff, of cobwebs, bats, skulls, black cats, witches.

The harvest time? Celebrating nature's bounty, as we have done since pagan times.

The skulls and other grave yard stuff, scary because they remind us of our own innate mortality.

That’s why we laugh at it.

The harvest maybe because we always have doubt about life after death, might as well emphasize what life we can verify.

I’m a horror film fan and as usual at this time of year, I’m going through the Universal films, and at the J.C. Film Forum, there’s been some horror (here and here). I get caught up in the spooky vibe. I liked Let Me In.

Trick or treat.

Nightmare before Christmas.

That first frost is almost here.

Happy Halloween.

I liked this one, it’s subtle the joke, the cobwebs over the bicycle too. Would you dare steal this?

Saw this at the Landmark Loew’s Theatre in Jersey City during their near sold out show of Nosferatu. Should have been there. They always do something fun for their annual halloween film series.

Monday, October 25, 2010

State of 9th Street Signage

State of the Union, a comedy, is the next production of the J.C. Theater Company. Their theater is in the basement of Saint Michael Church on 9th Street, recently the setting of a gallery show during the J.C. Artist Studio Tour, studio being the word most broadly defined for that event. I just liked the juxtaposition of the sign promoting the next show, in-between the sign for the theater and the signfor the church, which are more permanent. Indifferent pedestrians chat on cellphone or just pass by. Prayer above, rehearsals below Can’t get more off off Broadway than 9th Street, but I wonder how far off do you have to go before you dipsense entirely with Broadway and turn into regional theater? It’s not the first sign for the J.C. acting crew, but the previous ones were not as noticeable. They were horizontal banners. Live theater is a vertical medium.

Chalk the Walk

Since when did chalk become a verb? I guess I’ve been out of hopscotch circles too long. Nonetheless, even though some artists are in full gripe promoting their treatment by the Jersey City Museum, younger and exuberantartists recognize a fun opportunity when they see one.

On Saturday the Jersey City Museum sponsored Chalk the Walk, were everyone was invited to make art on the sidewalk with chalk. So much of life is momentary and temporary, it seems the chalk medium not only represents that, but actually embodies it. How long is a moment? What is the extent of temporary? These words are concepts, not specific terms, not like the 60 seconds of a minute. Chalk art defines the aesthetic concept as beyond our control. Beauty that lasts until the next rain.

Children and some parents came and decorated the concrete. It was a familyactivity day; associate museum going with fun, start the kids off right. I am tempted to come up with sarcasm about the troubled JCM, but dang, chalking the walk looked like fun.

Sun, slightly cool, perfect autumn weather. Halloween is everywhere.

Some impressive talent was on display at sidewalk level.

Judge, we have some ringers here.

The Art & Design Association of New Jersey City University (Jersey City State College for those who remember the night Mondale lost) were represented. "We were worried we would be too late to draw,” said Stephanie, an illustrator. “We came here straight from the NJCU Open House.”

Stephanie was with Phil, a Printmaking major and Padina, a Fine Arts Major. Illustrator, Print Maker, and a Fine Artist (or is that Fine Arts Artist)? Apparently the ADA (“We call ourselves the ADA,” I was told) is an association for all artists, regardless of specialty (or as their Facebook page says, specialization).

All visual artists welcomed. Can’t we all draw along?

Their enthusiasm was as bright as the sunshine. I used the word exuberance, and a lot of exuberance is due to youth.

Just because exuberance is inherent in youth, doesn’t mean olderfolks—especially older artists—should use age as an excuse for abandoning exuberance. Excuberance is worth the effort.

Yes, we should all encourage creativity among the young, but some of the older artists in town, who are long out of school, who are well into creating their body of work, might want to remember this exuberance. I guess they are all too busy to draw on the sidewalk just for the sake of drawing on the sidewalk on a sunny autumn afternoon.

October in Jersey City begins with a city-wide art celebration.The studio tour and the 4th street fest were fantastic this year. I had agood time, got a couple of good blogs. The art community here is better organized and more unified than ever. Their DIY aesthetic is impressive. There is no lack of enthusiasm. Lots of new ideas being acted upon. But it seems that exuberance is short-lived. By mid-October, it's back to the day job.

We live in a cynical age, and it seems society is hell bent on dictating that cynicism must come with adulthood and adult responsibilities. Bullshit. Cynicism, especially the reflexive kind you get after say age 30, is such a drag, it’s so moldy.

Talking to these young artists, new to adulthood and ready to dedicate their lives to self expression and the realization of their talent, just got me to thinking. We should all not just remember exuberance, but tap into it more often than we do.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Penthouse In Purgatory

A hilarious episode of South Park about the entire internet crashing mentioned erotic Brazilian flatulence videos. Within a minute of googling, I saw a clip of the reference: women, naked and sexy, farted in each other’s faces. It was actually funnier than South Park. There was nothing erotic about it. The site may have qualified as porn, but it was the opposite of sex (and sexy).

This was the state of smut, a world he helped make, when Bob Guccione’s soul finally left his cancer ridden body. His demise was long and painful, documented in the media along with the publicized loss of his empire. Penthouse, at one time the most profitable magazine in the world, was sold in bankruptcy court for pennies on the dollar. As his body deteriorated, he witnessed the loss of everything he built. One can’t help but feel some sort of retribution was at work, a cosmic justice being delivered to this king of smut. He was a well known celebrity, but not especially likeable, incredibly self absorbed, and incredibly smarmy. Who doesn’t mind seeing an un-likeable big shot take a fall.

But, I come not to praise this guy from Bergenfield, New Jersey, but to bury him. Okay, maybe to praise him a little. Penthouse is fascinating. Permit me to offer some thoughts that might make worthy of consideration the removal of a few days off of what I assume will be a lengthy stay in Purgatory.

I believe that Guccione, along with Hefner and Flynnt, while not great men, achieved great things. Sleazy, greedy publishers. No doubt. Porn mongers? That’s obvious. But while the results of what they wrought may include some unsavory, unwanted aspects, these men did two things that have made America a better country.

1) Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press. Our freedom to say and print what we want, a first in the history of humankind, is both fragile and the foundation of our entire society. Without it, our society will crumble and die. How do we sustain it, how do we keep it alive? Constantly testing and expanding freedom by constantly testing ourselves and our ability to tolerate speech and images we dislike. The 1950s, the era when these men came of age, was particularly repressive and paranoiac. They tested the accepted boundary of taste, made us question the negative role that taste can play in freedom of expression. We are a freer nation because of them. If you see this as a bad thing, you just don’t love freedom.

2) Sexuality, nudity, sex itself, being able to talk about it, admit to thinking about it, depicting it more freely in art, film and literature. With the Internet, it’s pretty hard to remember when openness was not the case. I hate to think what repression on a day to day basis is like to live with in hard core Islamic nations. But aside from the kicks available from access to sexual material, magazines like Penthouse being sold, and the sexual revolution that accompanied it, has meant that the health concerns involved with sex are also openly discussed. Teenage pregnancies, sexual transmitted diseases, the physiological ramifications of both bad and good sexual experiences are all topics anyone can discuss. Not only can we all can, we all do. The taboo is gone. The jobs of healthcare and other professionals are easier and more effective. So, it’s still not appropriate to talk to your parents about your lover over dinner, but at least the safety concerns can be discussed in an open setting. The birds and bees talk may come sooner than most parents prefer, but I have feeling that was always the case and at least the talk, on average, is less fraught. This was not always the case. I’m not sure if Penthouse caused more STDs than it prevented, but at least there is less hesitation and more honesty when discussing such issues with families, friends and healthcare providers—and sometimes, law enforcement officials.

Even though I acknowledge that magazines like Penthouse, Playboy and Hustler helped usher in more freedom to our crazy country, they also helped commoditize sex, which has been sad. Unfortunately, I don’t see how that can be avoided in a free country that encourages the pursuit of wealth. I’m not talking so much about the selling of sex in terms of buying nude pictures of women, but the context in which those pictures appear. The photo shoots themselves are almost always in luxurious settings. As these magazines became more accepted, attracting advertisers who wanted to reach that Mount Olympus of consumers, the male market of 18 to 35, primer earners and spenders in our society, photo spread and other stories about the products appeared, like GQ, the latest jeans or watches or cars. It’s not like GQ or Cosmopolitan is pure or lack prurience in their advertising and fashion photography. We select clothes so we look attractive, sexiness should be part of the aesthetic. But within the context of magazines like Penthouse and Playboy, which purport to celebrate sex and heterosexuality, seeing our consumer culture on blatant display always unsettled me. The message is that you need these products in order to get sex; or if you get sex you should also have these products. No matter how much I esteem sex, desire, the whole nine yards, and appreciate the erotic sensibility of the photography and some of the writing, this incessant linking of eroticism with materialism, cheapened the former and justified the banality of the latter.

Titillation magazines, like FHM or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue , which feature just scantily clad women, achieve the same goal, yet without the graphic sexual content, seem a little less troublesome, although not more morally defensible.

The demise of Penthouse magazine is a contemporary drama about the irrevocable force of irony. My day job is in trade magazine publishing, has been for decades, and although the dollars are lower and the politics and mission of business to business magazines are vastly different than consumer publications, the game is the same: Assembling a magazine for a target audience, selling advertising space to reach that audience. That’s the business I and my colleagues know. We scrutinize what takes place in what we call the consumer world. Penthouse was a beautiful magazine, a mix of sexual material and consumer culture. Like Playboy and even Hustler, well known authors appeared too, like Gore Vidal or William S. Burroughs, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth. You know, Playboy now publishes more short fiction than Esquire. It recently serialized the not bad noir by Denis Johnson, Nobody Move.

I read Penthouse for the articles was the joke, but you could tell the editors wanted that not just to be a cliché. Say what you want about Guccione, or the content, the magazine was impressive.

Stereo Equipment, clothing companies, even mutual funds, began to advertise in the skin magazines, accompanying the cars, cigarettes and alcohol ads. So what if Levis and Samsung were in the same magazine as ads for sex toys, XXX videos and 900 numbers. The ads worked. The Readership responded and spent money.

Penthouse always played with the line separating Soft Porn from Hard Porn. Playboy never crossed the line—it was not until the 70s that Hef featured pictures with playmate’s pubic hair, pushed by the popularity of Penthouse, who always showed the bush, shocking us with the reality of vagina. Hustler, always the pioneer, never shied away from the aesthetic of complete and clinical gynecological examination.

Skin magazines can only be sold to 18 years or older; the regulations about what constitutes pornography are not really vague, but sort of inexact, like the difference between R and N-17. I don’t remember all the particulars, but no depictions of direct penetration, or genital contact, like if there is space between a tongue and a clitoris, then the magazine can be displayed and sold at a 7-11 or the Hudson Newsstand, but if that tongue touches that clitoris then the publication must be under the counter or relagated to the adult book store. Penthouse always played around that line, got that tongue closer to that clitoris than Playboy dared.

Then along came the Internet. The world changed. People who wanted hard core but had too much self respect to journey to the adult book store (or to the adult section of the neighborhood video store), no longer had to settle for the soft core at their local 7-11. Penthouse may have had reasons to read it other than the sexual imagery, but few of those reasons alone were good enough to buy it. The success of the scandal of Vanessa Williams was long past. To compete, Penthouse crossed the line more and more. The material was pornographic, devolving into showing women going to the bathroom (it’s impossible to capture the full splendor of face farting in still photography). Mainstream advertisers fled in droves, fewer newsstands were willing to risk carrying the magazine and the audience who wanted that sort of thing could find more and better examples with a click of their mouse.

Magazines have had a rough time of it these past ten years. Daily I negotiate the worlds of online and print trying to figure out what to do. It’s day by day, no silver bullet exists, there is no panacea. We can only see what is in front of the headlights, everything else is shrouded in darkness. We may not know what to do, but we always have Penthouse to use as a case-study and example of what not to do.

Lastly, Guccione must be recognized for two contributions to writing and cinema, while they may not be crucial, are without question, memorable. Their degree of merit, well, that’s for you to decide.

Penthouse Forum. You don’t have to have read one to know the reference. Supposedly written by readers, these were true life sex stories. But they were actually the world of porn-utopia, where all problems and concerns are solved by feeling and giving into amoral lust. Maybe it was harmless sexual fantasy, but the real fantasy was the porn-utopia world, where sexual desire and fulfillment of that desire are the only things that matter. Sex never has consequences in porn-utopia. At its height, not only was Penthouse Forum—and its similar section—Penthouse Letters—major selling points of the magazine, the concept was spun off into additional monthly magazines, just with the stories. He was a brilliant publisher in his day, Guccione.

In the real world, a teenager is bitten by a radioactive spider, you expect illness and even death to result. But in the pulp world, you get super powers, save the world and fight for the good of mankind.

Now, in the real world, if the night time janitor is caught masturbating by a young beautiful woman, that woman would likely call law enforcement or at least the man’s employer or supervisor. She would probably scream and run away. In the world of Penthouse Forum, however, that woman is so overcome with passion that she invites her best friend to have a threesome with the janitor.

Unabashedly ludicrous and relentlessly consistent—climax by third graph—Penthouse Forum was always intensely readable magazine writing. Don Diello in White Noise has a funny scene with a couple reading these stories as a turn-on. Penthouse, although truncated, is still being published, and so are Penthouse Forum letters. The magazine now eschews hard core porn photo shoots, but Penthouse Forum remains. You have to admire the ability to produce and edit this work—hack prose takes talent too—even when the writing itself maybe less than admirable.

Who knew that a volcano could be used as a metaphor so often and in so many ways?

By the 70s and 80s, the great mystery and science fiction pulps had ceased publication, even the salty, spicy and often sleazy reality magazines like True Detective were gone. The only magazine pulp writing left was the sex stories in Penthouse, and Guccione was the best at it. In the “erotica” sections of major book stores like Barnes & Noble, collections of Penthouse Forum are to be found. I bet that, just as Black Mask stories are now heralded as works of literature by academics, the value of these examples of pulp writing will soon be recognized. I am positive more than one PHD thesis is out there waiting publication. Best pulp writing of the 1970s and 1980s—that would be Penthouse Forum!

Then there’s Caligula, the greatest movie ever made. Just kidding! I happened to love ancient films, from sword and sandal epics of ancient Rome to bible Stories. Yes, they are among the cheesiest films, but they are always entertaining. Sex Films, even the best of the genre like Last Tango in Paris and 9 ½ Weeks, are always cheesy, at least in spots.

When it comes to cheesy films, Caligula is Wisconsin. We’re talking humungous formage.

Cheese doesn’t mean it’s bad—there is greatness in spots and moments that actually feel true to what Ancient Rome might have been like. Malcolm McDowell has some great moments, but still. Cheese! Curds & Way. Picture the Grand Canyon filled with Velveeta! A three DVD box set, with great liner notes was released a few years ago, with the uncut, the uncut, commentaries, lost scenes, making of documentaries. It’s great, but I have to admit, it’s a guilty pleasure. Not because of the graphic sex scenes, because of the cheese.

For more on this film, visit this fun website:

This film was initially released as an unrated special showing for adults only. Theaters across the country would show it, charged extra, it was hip for a weeks. You had to check it out. I went to see it with my girlfriend and another couple. They weren’t a couple really, the guy was still in the closet and the gal just a friend. He told her it was a comedy. I was into Roman history, the 12 Caesars was a favorite book. My buddy’s friend was freaked out. My girlfriend and I had a great night… after the film.

It was a wild, raucous sold out crowd. I’ll never forget the booing when two men kissed. Besides the sex stuff, it is a violent and gory film. At one point, they tie a string around a man’s penis, pour gallons of wine down his throat until he dies, rip open his stomach with a sword so the wine can gush out, then a woman urinates on his corpse. But two men kissing, the horror!

Here’s a short version of the making of this film. Guccione had invested in films, like Chinatown, and was eager to do a well done, respectable porn movie Deep Throat made a ton of dough and indicated there might be an audience for this sort of thing. He got Gore Vidal, who wrote for Penthouse, to do a screen play. Vidal of course wrote the great novel, Julian about the Roman Emperor who tried to revive paganism after Christianity took over. Guccione solicited the work of Italian Director, Tinto Brass, a poor man’s Fellinni, known for his “pink” films.

According to legend, Guccione, a photographer before being a publisher, felt that the Brass footage wasn’t sufficiently sexual enough, and using his Penthouse Pets and extras, filmed hard core, pornographic scenes that were then spliced into the films. This may sound crazy now, and it was crazy then, just not as crazy. Remember, Deep Throat. Everyone went to see that, mainstream folks. A cultural moment appeared that glimmered with the hope, or so Guccione apparently thought, that hard core pornography would be accepted as art.

Indeed, the scenes are wonderfully filmed; I mean they are prurient and pornographic and all that means and if you are offended by such things, don’t see the film. If you despise porn, this will not make you like it. That said though, in terms of film aesthetic, explicit, actual sex has never been filmed this well; no other example is even close. X rated porn however, no matter how well done, doesn’t diminish the cheese factor of Caligula one iota. It only adds Ricotta and Brie to the Cheddar.

You have to admire a guy so devoted to his prurience that he would spend millions to make this happen. He also broke Italian law. Apparently, it is illegal in Italy to edit a Director’s work wihtout permission; the DVD has the original film with out the porn. The Brass is not as good as the original. Guccione had a vision, no question about that. He made a big budget Porno. The film lost money and has been trailed by scandal ever since its release. Pets sued Gioccione. Peter O’Toole claimed he was drunk during his scenes and didn’t remember them—he staggers through the film, a lecherous, syphilitic ham chewing the scenery. There are shots of him stunned, gawking at the crowds of nude men and women on the sets, which were enormous and stunning. McDowell, riding high after Clockwork Orange, killed his career. He went on to murder Captain Kirk and be the voice of Metallo, the Superman foe with a kryptonite heart, in the Bruce Timm animated DC Universe. Mirren is finally getting new roles after being relegated to British television work. She has sometimes said that the threesome in the film with her, as Mrs. Caligula, Caligula and Caligula’s sister, got very close to being real. Vidal sued to have his name removed—there was a novelazation of the film, entitled Gore Vidal’s Caligula. At least he got out of the screenwriting business and went on to write his greatest work, Burr, Lincoln and 1876.

Needless to say, porn may have proliferated, but it stayed out of major film houses. Caligula is a train wreck of a film; one of the best sword and sandal genre, but still a train wreck. Yet, it has aged well and grows increasingly watchable with every viewing. One of the most unique films ever made, a singular cinematic experience.

I’m not sure I’ll miss Mr. Guiccione. It’s odd to feel admiration without one drop of esteem. Nonetheless, he deserves his due. His era ended long ago, he finally caught up with that demise.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sky Crossing

This picture didn’t come out too well, it was supposed to show the universal symbol of walk. Traffic lights are being replaced throughout the neighborhood and this crossing light was bent so it faced downwards, not across, screwing with pedestrians. I’m sure it will get repaired. So I came up with a sarcastic title.

Saint Jude Novena

Saint Jude is the Patron Saint of Dislocations. Okay, as far as I know, there’s no patron saint of blogs and I typed this for one reason, google hits. It’s all about key words. I have been getting better at looking at the analytics for Dislocations, and one of the most viewed pages is this one on the remarkable, somewhat unsettling statue of Saint Lucy at Saint Michael’s Church. If you type in patron saint of dislocations, this blog item is like right near the top. Sorry, if you are looking to a Saint to pray for physical dislocations. The title of this blog I just sort of came up with, and these dislocations are more about the psyche than the physical..

In any event, last year I posted
here and a bit more of its history here about the Saint Jude Novena. Novena means nine and today, October 20th begins nine days of consecutive prayer and meditation that culminates in a solemn mass on Saint Jude’s feast day of October 28th. Saint Jude is the patron saint of hopeless cases and desperate situations. We can all use his help, I know I have.

This novena has been going in Jersey City since the 30s and likely before. I noticed this plaque by the shrine to Jude at Saint Michael, which is on 9th street near Hamilton Park. Class of 1972—the high school is long closed—I think that indicates longevity. One of the real hidden parts of Downtown Jersey. You don’t read about it in Weekend’s Best Bets or other sources of what to do in town, but there it is and it is happening now.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Fearing Bookless Hoboken

The Barnes and Noble in Hoboken sure has a lot more Halloween decorations than the N.Y. stores I thought as I got to the entrance. I figured it was because they had such a large children’s book department. Used to be lots of parents and toddlers in the place.

It was late afternoon, I was doing work calls by cell. I was in Hoboken, after a trip to mom. I delayed the PATH return home so I could keep reception. There was a book I wanted to buy, so I meandered towards the Barnes and Noble.

I walked in, no book in sight. Halloween merchandise as far as the eye could see.

I stepped outside to check that I was in the right store. Yes, the CVS and gym was still there, still part of this urban mini-strip mall where I remembered the B&N in Hoboken to be.

I went back in the store. I asked the clerk, didn’t this used to be a Barnes & Noble?


When did it close?

March. March... March... shortly after the closing of the last bookstore in Jersey City, the B&N related chain B. Dalton’s. I blogged about that closing here and I swear I was told the Hoboken one would remain open.

The closest Barnes and Nobles now to Jersey City is in Edgewater—without crossing the river that is. I find that sad. Of course you could go to another bookstore. Oh that’s right, you can’t. Except for bookstores associated with our local colleges, all the book stores are gone.

I remember when the Barnes & Noble came to Hoboken. Backwater Books was this fabulous independent bookstore in Hoboken and they soon closed, claiming they could not compete against this big store. This scenario was repeated throughout the United States. Independents were gone, Barnes and Nobles stayed. We adjusted and why not, Barnes and Nobles are excellent.

Barnes & Nobel became the only game in town. With few exceptions (Strand, St. Marks), the only game even in New York town.

Oh, there’s a some Borders in NYC, but that company is bankrupt and on their way out.
So is Barnes and Noble, actually.

So maybe everybody has a Kindle or Nook or whatever. Who needs to browse books, who really needs to read paper. Hey, I have a literary website so it’s not like I’m opposed to the concept. I just am opposed to the lack of options, but I can’t take pleasure in the slow demise of Barnes & Noble, no matter how much cosmic justice there seems to be—the goliath falling, replaced by another goliath, except this goliath has nothing to do with paper. Get a mobile device and you won’t have to stay home to shop. Just no more going into a store to browse for everyone.

Those devices are great, but let’s face it, less bookstores mean less reading and less reading means more stupidity. Grab your seat at the tea party. Feed your ego and starve democracy!

This location being a seasonal store is not a good sign for this little nook of Hoboken. It means there were no other stores or businesses to take rent it out. Like Christmas decoration stores—which I am betting will replace this on All Saints Day. Nothing wrong with that, but it means that the community that tends to form around retail development will no longer coalesce. Hoboken’s B&N had a large children’s book department; always parents and kids in there. Where do they go now. Of course maybe it will turn into a Pawn Shop or Asian Spa for Gentlemen or maybe an upscale Crack Den. Who knows what turn this recession may take next.

Halloween may be about the horror masquerade, but now that both Jersey City and Hoboken have no bookstore, what comes next is what truly should be feared.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Grand Opening Remnants

Long gone, those pennants flapping in the wind, the glorious grand opening. All the colors of the rainbow stretching across the parking lot, inviting customers with excitement and promises of better times, a better place. Here in downtown Jersey City, all the young people filling condominiums bringing in fresh attitudes and Gen Y dollars. Didn’t work out the way it was planned, the recession hit, money was tight. Somebody down the street sold the same service for a lower price. No loyalty anywhere any more. The Grand Opening went on as long as it could, a year or two. No second act, the triangle flags couldn’t make through repeated winters. Oh, how they crowded in when things were new and times were good. I can still hear the flapping, still feel the breeze.

Traffic Light Assembling

Probably should get used to this sight cause there is a need for more not fewer Traffic lights and that need is growing since nobody seems interested reducing cars. But safety first is my motto (one ‘em anyway) and it’s good to see brand new traffic lights being installed. Actually, since I’ve never seem any being installed before it was good to see them, it was fun too. I like things out of place, dislocated shall we say, hmmm? Trucks hauled the lights and poles to the corner while it was undergoing scaping, competent workers put them in position. They assemble. May the three colors regulate our stop, go and slow (as if, around here yellow means accelerate, pedestrians beware) for a thousand years; at least a decade? Traffic lights displaced, no assembling. Only for the time being.

To The Roof

I think it was a generator, although the same flatbed truck had pallets of bricks. I guess until they perfect teleportation technology this will be how they hoist stuff several stories high. I liked the coordination going. I don’t think they’re recreating the Woolworths, so maybe this is another condominium. I wonder when they will replace the gap building, or if they do will it be after the buildings are occupied. I wonder if they will keep the mural, which seems unlikely. Time to launch the restore and save the Christopher Columbus Avenue mural project. If it is not saved, it has probably seen its last summer or the last summer we’ve seen it.

Visiting Mom

A sort of journal of a sort of typical trip to mom. It’s really about how to get from Jersey City to Paramus without driving. It’s also a snapshot of a son visiting his elderly but still full of vigor and vim mother.
The journey begins with purple flowers. Actually, it begins with purple. Saying purple is my mother’s favorite color is an understatement, even obsession is inaccurate. Purple is a way of life. The Korean produce bodega on Newark always has a nice selection of purple flowers. I probably go to this store every other day. Their stuff is great. They know what’s going on when I get the flowers, the woman who runs the place has a 95 year old mother.

I could take the PATH, and have of course, to Hoboken. I generally do not, I hate to risk mussing the bouquet. The cab is only ten bucks, the ones that line up at Columbus. It’s quicker and easier to judge the time. I hold punctuality in high esteem, and usually have to give myself time to buy the train tickets, which have gone up in price.

I give myself time to get an egg white with turkey bacon and whole wheat toast and a cup of tea at the Hoboken Train Station. I don’t mind spending a few extra minutes there, reading or just watching commuters. I love the term in transit. Movement is passage. Yet, there are conductors, maintenance guys, workers of all sorts, clerks at the counters, cooks at the delis, the workers whose responsibility ensures the passage. Permanence and passage. Transit.

What makes it all possible to maintain the state of passage? Everything that is going on in the peripheral.

There’s a wonderful gal who is often at this counter, where they make a very tasty egg white breakfast sandwich. She lives in Journal Square. I don’t know her or her name. She’s young, quite beautiful, fair skinned, long red hair, sleepy eyes; her jersey accent is thick but non-abrasive. Honey might sound like her. Several months ago, I happened to at the VIP on SIP eating dinner. It was a slow, quiet night at this diner. She was in the other booth, complaining to her boyfriend about his behavior. I wasn’t eavesdropping but I couldn’t help but over hear. I didn’t hear close enough to get any substance of the dispute, but one glance at her I just felt, what kind of dip-shit are you buddy, she’s an angel. It’s not like there was screaming or anything, the only reason I noticed her or heard anything was that I was seated in the booth next to her’s I saw her a week later at this counter during my mom run. I asked her if she lived in Jersey City. Journal Square she said. I told her I think I saw her at the VIP. Probably, she smiled, I go there all the time. I didn’t mention anything else about the scene. It’s not the height of the Hoboken rush hour when I go. The less hectic atmosphere is conducive to small talk. She is such a nice person, she’s one of those people when you encounter then, she immediately adds brightness to your day, no matter what.

I usually take the 9:47 to Ridgewood. NJ Transit is adding the new trains, but today I get one of the older ones.

Ridgewood, classic suburban train station. Bergen County Main Line, all the way up to Port Jervis.

I do not drink coffee, I drink tea. This independent place, The Ridgewood Coffee Company has the best cup of English Breakfast. Some suburban hipsters run the joint, and they play records, vinyl. This day it was Luke the Drifter, classic Hank. Instantly, everything improves when you hear Hank do Luke.

Google the Ridgewood Bus Terminal sometime. The other internet pictures look a little different than this ramshackle, weather-worn glorified shed of a transportation hub.

Bergen County and Ridgewood in particular, is a pretty white bread place. There’s a lot more money around these parts than what I recall from my youth. Besides me, the other bus passengers seemed to be either Mexican immigrants or African Americans.

Finding out about these buses took a little doing. Oddly, the bus station, two short blocks from the train station has nothing about the trains and likewise, nothing about the buses is at the train station. I heard about it accidentally, one of the Ridgewood Taxi mentioned there was a bus, and it’s not really apparent from the otherwise NJ Transit website, but there was a phone number. Very short time on hold I was able to ask. Basically I needed to know that the buses go on Paramus road between Route 4 and Century Road. I had to piece it together. There was a stop listed, which was a quarter of a mile from the assisted living.

There are two buses, the 163 and the 175, that run this route. To find out this information, I called up the NJ Transit number.

I walked to the station, only a couple of blocks from the train station. I asked about the route, Did they stop on this Assisted Living Home?

You mean the old lady’s home said the gruff but loveable bus driver, calmly on a cigarette break.

Yes, the old lady’s home. It’s by the El Cid restaurant, right across from what they used to call Paramus Beach.

He exhales smoke out the side of his mouth. I’ll stop there. So, that is how it works, they make unscheduled stops.

What about going back I asked and was informed just stand out and wave down the bus, they’ll stop.

Welcome to the suburban bus system, just like the jitneys, except much nicer. This was a clean, comfortable bus. Probably takes the better part of an hour to get into NYC, and you would not mind the ride. Great air conditioning. There were less than half a dozen people when I got on.

I always have a book with me, I could have read but I gaze out the window instead. I used to get a constant barrage of angst visiting the land of my birth and youth. I hated being defined by suburban mind-set that I hated then and spent the rest of my life rejecting. But the rejection is long over, I am who am. Rejection is easy; replacing what has been jettisoned, not as easy. You can’t chose where you’re from; it’s the mean and stupid who hold to those arbitrary prejudices. What we have in common is far greater—and far more interesting—than what makes us different. I’ve made peace with the suburbs.

I am visiting Mom for the day. I love her, I think we have a pretty good relationship. But the parent relationship experience is never free of some anxiety and even sadness, who needs to regurgitate the angst of a decade or so ago?

The bus ride helps with that, quiets the mind by stretching out the journey. I find myself enjoying the suburbs, seeing the greater abundance of nature one gets in the city. It’s a day in the country. The exact route although through my home town. Paramus takes streets that I am not as familiar with. I’m sure I’ve been here before, just can’t remember when or why and even if I could that would have been two decades ago.

Familiar yet strange. Could be anywhere USA, well, maybe anywhere New Jersey USA. Okay, make that North Jersey. USA though, no doubt.

Paramus Beach, that’s what it was called I’ve been told. It’s an old swimming hole. I never went there, I don’t remember it being open and it’s astounding this piece of real estate has remained undeveloped like this, more than 20 years. Life’s too short to make rationale sense of New Jersey real estate but you know that don’t you.

You do get the feeling that you are getting off in the middle of nowhere, but this isn’t Appalachia and no broken tooth banjo players on porches are in sight. No porches in sight, actually. It’s just a more wooded section surrounding a rather decrepit section of my dear hometown. I cross the street to the Assisted Living Facility, sign in and up to Mom’s apartment. Lunch is at 1:00. I’m there by 11:30, we hang in her two room apartment. She cuts the stems of the flowers and places them in a vase. She says they’re beautiful. She always says that. I don’t watch television at home but I do watch it here. It’s always on. My family is big on the TV watching. I have to admit that being without it makes me like when I watch it. I like watching Thomas the Tank Engine.

Survived by his wife. About 80 percent of the residents at the facility are women. My mother has a feisty table. They are almost beside themselves with laughter when I told them the bus driver called the facility the Old Lady’s Home.

“You tell that bus driver that we’re not all ladies.”

I have of course returned several times since this particular trip, they still refer to their facility as the old ladies home. I don’t always get the same bus driver, but I don’t tell them that.

After lunch mom and I take a walk. She takes a lot of walks, she has to use a cane these days. They all talk about the number of walks she takes. She’s always walking. They talk a lot about each other, there at Assisted Living Central.

Today it’s raining, so we can’t go outside. We walk around the building, up and down the halls of the three floors. Then we hang out mom’s little apartment, efficiency. She likes to play solitaire on the computer. In fact that’s all she uses the computer for, although at work—she works one day a week at the Rectory of the Church and Grammar School, yes it’s where I grew up and received four of the seven.

She does secretarial work there, has since the late 60s or early 70s and that ain’t no lie! I think she might use the computer there. I love to say my mom is 91 and still works. Even though it’s at the Assisted living room, it’s how we have spent much time these last 15 – 20 years, the television on and chit chatting, she plays solitaire, I take a brief nap. I don’ t watch television at home, do not have cable. Usually it’s some Turner Classic Movie. I forget if it was a Norma Shearer pre-code thing or Black Hand, a Gene Kelly noir about the mafia where everyone spoke with fake Italian accents.

It’s just about spending some time together, it’s about transcending impatience, accepting boredom as part of the experience. Think about how few people in your life you can do nothing with or how the opportunities to do nothing with somebody diminish with adulthood. That after school special term, quality time is an important concept but does it really mean boundless entertainment? Maybe the idea is more about time than quality. We take the ability to do nothing with somebody we love for granted, like we take the color of the sky for granted; but can you think of a more beautiful blue?

Back to the buses. Out there in the suburbs, NJ Transit buses are a little flexible with the schedule. There aren’t assigned stops along Paramus Road, you just stand there and wave down the buses. Because two different lines travel the route that I require, buses are available about every 15 minutes.

My mother is quite excited about this, waiting for a bus. It’s rainy the day of the visit. Mental note, only visit on sunny days. She walks me to the front door of the place, I beg her to stay here, I’ll wait for the bus myself.

We say good bye, hug and I walk and look behind me. There’s the red wig and cane following.

"No, go back home, you can’t come. Go back!"


I walk to the corner. A slight drizzle begins.

“Mom, please go back.”

Her cane bangs on the sidewalk like a judge with a gavel and she declares, “I’m waiting here.”

“It’s raining.”

“It is not.”

“Look at that puddle, see the ripples. Those are rain drops.”

”It’s not raining that hard. A little rain is not going to kill me.”

“Mom, you’re 91, stop acting like you’re 85.”

I tend to amuse myself more than her.

She bangs the tip of the cane. Than she starts in, "where is the bus?”

”Go back inside mom, they don’t have a schedule.”

“I’m waiting here.”

“Look, the bus isn’t coming. I’ll go back inside and call the cab.”

“I’m waiting here. You are not calling a cab.”

Luckily the rain tapers to a halt, it was off and on, just a damp day.

Believe me, if it was a real rain I would not have bothered with this.

She is actually enjoying this chance to show a sliver of independence. She is able to insist.

Then the bus comes. Everything is cool, we hug once more, I get on as I pay the fair my mom is like thank you to the bus driver, throwing her whole body into it. People in the bus are laughing and waving at her. It’s about half full.

The bus driver says, “don’t worry we’ll get him safe to Ridgewood.”

Thanks mom, I’m getting my chops busted by the bus driver. You know, she’s a nice old lady. People like her, people like old people when they’re nice. It was a little embarrassing, but it was also pretty darn funny.

To get to the Hoboken-bound trains in Ridgewood, you walk through a pedestrian tunnel.

My favorite thing about waiting for the train in Ridgewood is one of my favorite things to do, spot the headlight of the oncoming train.

Hoboken Path. Hudson County. Home from Home.