Friday, February 25, 2011

Back Door of Lloyds

I might hazard a guess that the gate over this doorway on Columbus had been closed for well over a decade. The mural was painted over the gate. I never noticed any deliveries coming here. I think it’s the 99 cents store. Or maybe I just never walked by when the gate was up. So notice the lettering on the door, Lloyds Department Store – Receiving – in italics, isn’t that wonderful – 110 Railroad Avenue, when was the last time that was the official name of that street, the 70s, maybe? Well, I don’t have time today to go to Jersey Room at the library to do some research but glimpsing this piece of history this morning was fun.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Without Borders

Borders is bankrupt. Initially, some of their stores are closing although book industry watchers feel it is just a matter of time for all to go defunct.

I went to the store on 2nd Avenue by 32nd Street the day after I heard the news. I used to go there often, when I started my current day job gig, because the office was way over there on the East Side. In retrospect, I probably went to Barnes & Noble more, even though they were not as close to where I spent many days – and there was one at the Newport Mall and Hoboken. Back then, at least... only a few years ago but now far, far away.

I would have gone to independent bookstores, but that era has long passed. I guess they are now the brontosaurus and the chains are wooly mammoths. The Ice Age is upon us, make no mistake.

Borders was and is, never as good a bookstore as Barnes & Noble. I used to go the flagship B&N store on Fifth Avenue before it became a chain. They always had a competitive selection of books, and now music and DVDs; so even though I try not to shop at chains, B&N has been a notable exception.

B&N was always way, way better than Borders. But, during my brief Border days, I remember getting “After Secession: Jefferson Davis & The Failure of Confederate Nationalism” – I have an inexplicable interest in Jefferson Davis; and the Best of Sugar Boy Crawford, a New Orleans R&B cat who wrote Jockomo, the original version of Iko Iko. Come to think of it, I special ordered both of those, so it was not like their inventory was any great shakes. The special ordering was easy. Anyway, the office eventually moved right around the corner from a B&N and I rarely made it down to Kips Bay (or is this Murray Hill).

“We’re going to have a liquidation sale, sell everything down to the fixtures. It will start in a day or two. It will last until everything is gone.”

GOB they call it retailing. Going out of Business.

"I’m sorry if you are losing your job,” I said.

She was young. Adulthood is still new and there are more disappointments ahead. Let’s hope they don’t outnumber the good times and splendor.

“I am,” she said, resigned to her immediate future. “But that’s what unemployment is for.”

Probably the last time you’ll ever work in a bookstore,” I said.

She frowned. “It’s sad.”

I agreed. She was a book lover, a reader, as am I. That means a bookstore frequenter. She was likely one before she got this job.

The atmosphere was quiet, subdued. A lot of moms with their toddlers were there. The store has a big children’s department, a faux Starbucks. Bookstores, especially these super store things, were designed to be a destination, that’s why you can hang out there, get coffee. The atmosphere can be relaxed.

As such, they become a meeting place and in essence, a place where the community manifests itself. But you know there can be profit in community but rarely is there enough profit to satiate stock holders.

Alas, times are changing and I fear that browsing a bookstore, still one of my favorite pastimes, is a thing of the past.

Well, there’s still the Strand. Is Saint Marks Books still opened?

So, I came back on Monday for the actual sale. Only 20 percent off, not that great a sale really.

I bought a newly translated Tolstoy novella, How We Live Now, novel I always wanted to get through and a novel by William Trevor, which I am unfamiliar with. The selection sucked, because at Borders it always kind of did, but I wanted something to remember the store by. I took a few pictures and a corporate manager came up to me and he made me delete the pictures of inside the store. It was uncomfortable. He would have to ask me to leave if I didn’t.

I could have argued, but what the heck, didn’t seem worth it. I just wanted the contrast, of the inviting community atmosphere when it was a going concern alongside the GOB sale, customers placed into the position of being jackals shredding a carcass and the cashiers stoically doing their tedious tasks for the last time. So I bought my books – there was a real long line – the coporate wasn’t nasty, just a douche bag. At check out, they had to put a line through the UPC on the back of the book, explaining all sales are final.

Then I took a picture I was not allowed to take, waved at the manager. Borders left a sour taste as a parting gift. I hope the paychecks given to the employees who obviously enjoyed working there do not bounce.

Monday, February 21, 2011


Nancy as High School teacher traveled to Mexico as a chaperone for students, there she discovered Our Lady of Guadalupe, the only apparition of the Blessed Mother in the Americas recognized by the Vatican. Nancy is Protestant, mainly Episcopalian and has only grudging –if that – respect for Catholic imagery and dogma. Somehow though, she became enamored with the Guadalupe apparition. Was it her maternal warmth, her unconditional compassion, or how her inspiration led to hundreds of thousands converts and has ever since united Mexico. Hispanic culture in Central and South America would not be what it is today without her. Maybe it is hard to pin down the precise appeal for Nancy, nonetheless the appeal was there. Why ask why?

It’s a remarkable story. The peasant Juan Diego saw a vision of a young girl of fifteen or sixteen, surrounded by light, on a Hill outside of Mexico City. She spoke in the local language, Nahuatl – not conquistador Spanish – and asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor. Diego recognized her as the mother of Jesus Christ. He told his story to the Spanish Archbishop, who instructed him to return and ask the Lady for a miraculous sign to prove her claim. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather some flowers from the top of the Hill – this was in December, when no flowers bloomed, but of course, on the hilltop he found flowers. He brought them to the Virgin who arranged them in his cloak. He brought the cloak to the Archbishop, the flowers fell to the floor, and in their place was the Virgin of Guadalupe, miraculously imprinted on the fabric. That’s the story, anyway.

Nancy and I went o the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe on 14th street. Behind the altar is a triptych, on side showing Juan and his vision and the other side, the basilica that was built and the bequest of the mother of Jesus. In the center, the apparition hovers, above her a crown is suspended. The colors and symbols of the image are said to relate to the native people cultures at the time – and to all the tribes, which unified the country. I took these pictures last week there. I remember it as a good day with Nancy here, even though somebody stole her sunglasses. She had a broken foot and was hobbling around. It was a winter visit. Guadalupe shimmers in the sky, a blanket made of stars, pleased with adoration and willing to help those in need, an eternal vision of love.

Freight Train, Freight Train

I’ve been wanting so long to get a good picture – or any picture – of one of the freight trains that run through what seems to be the border separating downtown from the heights. Either I do not have my camera with me when I spot one rolling through, or I have my camera and the tracks are empty. The latter has been more common. I don’t know where to get a schedule so I can nab a pix. In this are of terrorism I reckon that CSX isn’t of a mind to publicize their freight train schedule, especially if they are carrying hazardous material. Which I do not know if they are or not, I’m just speculating here, the point being it’s not an easy picture to get and more than once I’ve had the camera with me and seen the train but by the time I caught up to it was away on down the tracks.

The other morning, the stars had aligned and I was close and saw the train and I started to run after it, past Division Street on Newark, behind the field in back of the Fire House there, underneath the abandoned trellises. There it was, the iron horse, in all its utilitarian glory. Rarely do you get this close to a moving train. No fence or barrier or any kind. I got as close as I could. What an exhilarating experience. The sheer weight of the movement, slow and steady, steel leviathan, made by man.

Fuel Cars, Box cars, some of the sides were tagged by brave graffiti artists. Chugging, squeaking, sure I flashed on that great train movie earlier this year, Unstoppable.

I thought about how the tracks and the cars of the train and the freight carried by the cars in the train connect America, united us still just as they attempted to do following the civil war. Every freight yard in the country can be gotten to from any other freight yard. Tracks connect to tracks. The route may not be direct – in fact its circuitous nature is part of its splendor – but you ride that train you ride America. Good Lord, I was tempted, to hop the freight car and ride to the Hobo Jungle.


by Elizabeth Cotton

Freight train, Freight train, run so fast

Freight train, Freight train, run so fast

Please don't tell what train I'm on

They won't know what route I've gone

When I am dead and in my grave

No more good times here I crave

Place the stones at my head and feet

Tell them all that I've gone to sleep.

When I die, Lorde, bury me deep

Way down on old Chestnut street

Then I can hear old Number 9

As she comes rolling by.What an awesome song this.

Some say she was the greatest guitar player that every lived and if you have heard the smithsonian folkways release you probably agree. Trains give her the escape she desires, and she dreams that when she dies the trains will give her the salvation. Didn’t need to get all allegorical like Freedom Train, This Train, People Get Ready. She was singing about Freight Trains.

Roy Acuff saw a much darker side of the freight train, though still sought escape in his Freight Train Blues

I was born in dixie in a boomer’s shack,

Just a little old shanty by a railroad track,

The hummin’ of the drivers was my lullaby,

And a freight train whistle taught me how to cry.

I’ve got the freight train blues, lordy, lordy, lordy,Got ’em in the bottom of my ramblin’ shoes,

And when that whistle blows, I’ve gotta go,

oh! lordy! guess I’m never gonna lose,

The mean old freight train blues.

now my pappy was a fireman and my mammy dear,

Was the only daughter of an engineer,

My sister married a brakeman and it ain’t no joke,

Now it’s a shame the way she keeps a good man broke.

I’ve got the freight train blues, lordy, lordy, lordy,

Got ’em in the bottom of my ramblin’ shoes,And when the whistle blows,

I’ve gotta go, oh! lordy! guess I’m never gonna lose,

The mean old freight train blues.

This narrator was born into a rail road family. For the potential madness read La Bete Humaine. Bruce Springsteen also viewed the nightmare invoked by freight trains in a this vivid couplet from I’m on Fire
At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
And a freight train running through the middle of my head
But Bruce didn’t see beyond the metaphor, in this song at least.

The freight train demanded respect. It is deliberate, pragmatic, what it brings we need. If you have a chance, try to get as close you can and just behold.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pay Phone – Sophie’s Choice

Half the pay phones have been removed, this proves it Okay I don’t know if that is true or not. But this shot at the Newport Path train proves the 50 percent theory. I like the jarring past and present instilled here, wires weirdly spiraling out the holes in the brick wall. Wonder why the don’t remove the hull as well as the actual phone? I wonder why that one was removed and the other left to stay. I do have another theory though, on the 50 percent thing. Cause I do believe that more than 50 percent of us have a cell-phone by now, but even those with a cell-phone may still need a pay phone so the pay phone population must exceed the pay phone user population, by half, roughly. I estimate.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bygone Bench

I was planning to sit on this bench on Sunday afternoon when the temps rose into the 40s. Now no one can. They just put these damn things in as part of the street scaping, can’t even last one winter intact. Typical crap. We never get to see incompetence displayed, just its aftermath. Welcome to Jersey City, a-hem… I meant New Jersey!

Creative Grove Chills 2011

Take it as a sign of spring, Creative Grove returned – about a month earlier than the 2010 debut. The weather was nippy, only a couple of vendors, a DJ spun trippy beats as he dabbed paint on a canvas – you probably need to put on thermals (where’s my union suit?) to spend quality time there, but hey – it’s a start. Nice to see something other than grimy mounds of snow, although removing the Christmas Decorations might be a good idea.

Patching Pot Holes

Asphalt only appears solid; it’s really in a constant state of viscosity. Wasn’t this repaved less than a year ago? Well, caught our city workers patching it up again. Pothole season. The more snow, the more potholes. Water seeps through tiny fissures in the asphalt, when the water expands when it freezes, widening the crevices into gaps. Something like that. Read it on the Internet so it must be true. The hazard has been averted but aren’t all aversions temporary? Sorry these pictures are blurry. It’s a never ending job, asphalt upkeep.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

White Angel in Snow

I remember reading somewhere that depicting angels with wings actually comes from G Hellenic Paganism. Pagan theologies had angels too, just like the Old & New Testament and the Koran. This angel plays a lyre and readers with a good memory might recall this blog about her. Saw the angel from a different angle this time in the snow and I was struck by the white on white, the similarities in tones caused a de facto shimmering, quite appropriate for these heavenly creatures prone to visit our material world from time to time.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mom on Pony

My mom is 91 and a picture of her ringing in 2011 is here. On the back of this sepia-tone print is “Jo – age 3” so you do the math. I guess the only thing this picture wasn’t before that shaped the 20th and now 21st centuries was World War I – but the vets of the Great War hadn’t yet turned 30 yet.

There’s an arm in the periphery on the right hand edge of the frame. I am guessing that this picture was taken at a take a picture of your child on your pony stand. Photography and ponies had been invented by the time her parents were born, and even her grand parents, but photography has a consumable middle class memento item—hers may have been among the first generation to have that luxury.

She’s a cute child, but certainly that’s not rare. I love the innocence of that face She’s my mother, she has always looked old to me. To see the glimmers of her face here, decades before I came along, in the face that I’ve known all my life, it’s strange. I recognize that expression, that expression still lives, nine decades hence, it’s strange and somewhat emotional. But it’s also just innocence, a child on a pony. History, fate – it’s far away from this tiny person on her tiny steed – her parents and siblings behind the camera, watching the first pictures of the youngster being taken.

Early fall last year, Hamilton Park had a BBQ, where there was also a pony for toddlers to sit in and pictures to be taken. Maybe 90 (or so) years isn’t that long ago after all.

Art Outlet

I saw this and laughed out loud. The plywood conceals some interior renovation going on. Being inclined towards word play, I thought: with the J.C. Museum closing its doors, Street Art offers local an artists an affordable outlet (okay, let’s move on). I’m not sure how intentional the child like outline of the electrical outlet was, but the placement on the wood is amusing. Street art at its best is funny; maybe that was its big break from graffiti artists of yore. This reminds me of a tuxedo t-shirt. As functional as a tattoo, yet it represents what makes modern society run – electricity. But seriously, who has a plug this big?

Water Main Break

About eight o’clock. Saturday Morning. The water pipe ruptured. Cold, steady drizzle. icky weather. Could have been worse, could have been below freezing instead of just above. Water Main Break on the western portion of Seventh Street, where it crosses (joy) Division Street. Water had to be shut off.

Nobody wants to spend their Saturday Morning with no water—not to metion closing off the street, calling in a crew. The flow we see is only above ground, the damage beneath is the real threat.

About an hour later, the gym was able to open. United Water sent in the troops. Now the repair begins. The street has to be scarred, the asphalt cut way, so they can get to the rupture to fix the pipe, bandage up our decaying infrastructure and delay the inevitable once again.

The next day, the sun is shining, water is flowing in faucets, dripping from spigots, swirling in toilets. Might want to boil it first if you intend to drink it. Asphalt patched up, good as new. A broken pipe is fixed. Just another day in our fair city…