Sunday, September 30, 2012

All About Downtown Jersey City Festival

What a difference a year makes. All About Downtown Jersey City Festival is a day long street fair celebrating everything about the downtown neighborhood of Jersey City. How can you celebrate everything? All is a lot isn’t it and implies aspects beyond the material. But, gathering in the street among friends and neighbors and having fun and a pleasant time is really all the reason you need.
The Improvement Districts in each J.C. neighborhood organizes these Saturday events, which happen during the warm weather months, although I’m not sure if all the other sectors of our fair city do the same. My favorite booth was the one promoting Jersey City Heights, cross marketing erasing cross town rivalries. I don’t what I loved more – the irony or the unawareness of the irony.

Anyway, they closed off the main thoroughfare of Newark Avenue, no vehicular traffic allowed. Last year, which I believe was the first time for the event, was a little lame and seemed to be over by six. This year was better attended and larger, more energy and more fun and lasted until 10.




A dearth of community events no longer exists in Jersey City. Now the problem is making each one unique and successful. Maybe the scale of this event better suited its setting – the main street of commerce. Canopies lined the streets on both sides from the Grove Street plaza a good two blocks up to Jersey Avenue. On Bay Street, which diagonally intersects Newark, the inflatable bouncy rides for children were assembled. Lots of kids were there and unlike some other street fairs, perhaps due to the anti-grid layout of these downtown crossroads, the children’s section was sufficiently segregate yet fully accessible. It can be a tricky balance. If the kids aren’t properly catered to, not only will most young parents avoid an event, the children can be subjected to potential hazards or even be hazards themselves but catering to kids can soon overwhelm the rest of an event turning it into a kids only afternoon/evening, dissuading parentless adults of all ages from either checking it out or staying once they have. Children should be seen and heard and a multi-generational crowd is what downtown is all about but you don’t want to feel like you’re crashing downtown day at a day care center. With a reassuringly responsible children’s area, organizers attained an optimal generational balance.
One of the organizers told police estimated the crowd at 25,000 but that was for the whole day. An impressive if unverified attendance.

We’re used to the municipal canopies, which are white with green and white lettering. Other folding canopies of different colors, but of the same design and size, were also visible indicating that the demand for vendor booths was high and had to be accommodated. Corporate vendors, such as ZipCar and Yelp and there was even a beverage company handing out samples, were present. That’s what happens when the target market population of 25-45 swells in a given area. The corporate presence increases with each event.

Aside from that apparently irrevocable trend – make of it what you will – the increase in booth numbers resulted in an increase in vendor variety – crafts, clothing, food vendors and community-based non profit organizations. Again, an improvement over last year. More diversity, more things to look at, more reasons to linger… More was more and more was better.

The layout was also improved, using the two stage approach, but instead of book ending the street fair with two stages, there was a main music stage at Barrow Street –midway on Newark, with rows of booths east and west. East – at the Grove Street spot – were food trucks and a DJ and also a mechanical bull, which seemed more of a kids ride than an exercise in Urban Cowboy nostalgia. There was a DJ and I was told there some dance performances, but when I was there I only saw crowds and nothing organized. A friend mentioned some of the food trucks she had only seen in New York City. More than the usual suspects of mobile food vehicles seemed present, although because of hygienic qualms I rarely eat food off a truck. She ordered a Belgian waffle dish that was basically a week’s worth of deserts served on a paper plate.


At the Barrow Street stage, I caught a great set by “Aminal”(which is not a typo). It was the only full set I was able to see. Start to finish was a high energy presentation of hard rock with heavy metal overtones combine with a defiant jam ban sensibility. They might have played fast and often aggressive, but the willingly explored the nuances within the multitude of riffs. The bass thundered, the drums lay down a solid foundation and the two guitarists traded leads. A spoken word piece, which isn’t on the EP I picked up, which had a free-form, bluesy melody backing it, was a high point as a jaunty melody of a song about a whale, whose title I can’t recall. A fine cover, jammed out cover of Pyscho Killer climaxed the set, which ended with an encore an irresistibly rousing Back in the USSR. High-Energy and well honed musical chops, Aminal is the illegitimate child of Henry Rollins and The Allman Brothers.


 As Aminal began packing up their instruments and equipment, what seemed spontaneous but was actually planned, drummers arrived at the intersection of Barrow and Newark. Night had fallen, the early autumn was cool and comfortable. Congas, bongos, cowbells, tambourines, maracas – if it could be carried and tapped, slapped, struck or shaken it was there. A drum circle was formed and rhythm exploded then rippled out amongst us all. Then we followed the drummers towards Groove, a boogie parade past the booths, most of which were empty by now and beginning to be packed.

We congregated in front of the DJ stand, who added electronic accents to the rhythms. Those without instruments clapped along. The rhythms of the drum circle became concentric, rippling out through the throngs manifesting in free-from dancing and even some hula hooping. The people will have their party. The rhythms echoed up Newark Avenue, past folded canopies waiting to be carted away and up into the night sky and the universe we all share.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Manna Liquors

 More than 20 years ago, Pete told me that he got the name Manna Liquors, which was Varick Street, from the bible, during the 40 years journey from Egypt to the Land of Milk and Honey when the Israelites were starving and the lord sent down bread from heaven. Years later, his sister told me he had entered seminary, he studied to be a priest.

I used to drink more than I do now. This has been my liquor store since 1991. Retail and dry cleaner loyalty is an urban thing. I generally only go to a specific dry cleaner, Korean green grocer, and about two bodegas, and a specific liquor store. There are plenty in the neighborhood, and generally loyalty is based on the proximity to your apartment, but it is loyalty nonetheless.

The only non-bar booze I’ve ever bought in J.C. was from Manna Liquors. After the 90s, my drinking at home diminished but I am good for a couple of (small) bottles of Makers Mark and/or Jameson’s a year, especially around the holidays and the occasional six pack or bottle of wine. Luckily, the thirst for booze has not diminished in the neighborhood and there were plenty of new customers to take up the slack. I’m not a wine drinker, but others praised the Manna wine selection.

I helped his nephew write his first resume. Pete’s Vietnamese. He’s lived here since the war. This other time – I won’t bore you with how this circumstance arose – but I was addressing a group with many Vietnamese-Americans in it and being February, it was the eve of TET, the Chinese New Year, celebrated by most Asian cultures. So, Pete taught me how to wish them a happy Tet in Vietnamese. The Jersey Accent does enough damage on our native tongue so you can imagine how easily it mangles the sing-song rhythms of Vietnamese. But he took the time and we had a lot of fun and I surprised all the people I was speaking to with my rehearsed greeting. I don’t remember how to say Happy Tet in Vietnamese, but I’ll never forget the time spent with Pete.

Sometime after 9-11, he gave the store to his sister and opened up a 2nd Manna Liquors somewhere in Brooklyn. Before he did, they renovated the store, putting in new shelving, “yuppifying” it. They did a nice job. Beautiful wood shelving, like you see in California wine country casks, soft lighting. Then, before he moved, he threw a block party in the courtyard of the adjacent apartment complex. All his family and all my neighbors were there. Vietnamese spring rolls and barbecue ribs were served; free booze of course. He took Polaroids of everybody and we signed our names in an album under our pictures. After the sister took over, the album was on display. I flipped through it many times. It is storeowners like this that turn a neighborhood into a community. The mold has been broken and they are not making any more like this, it seems.
 His sister carried on that tradition. She is beautiful and warm and just so friendly. Had some kids, ran it with her husband who loved football. Asking about Pete and shooting the breeze for my Christmas Makers Mark or in November, buying the Beaujolais Noveau to have with the Thanksgiving turkey, year in and year out. The fact that a weekly customer and long become a two or three time a year customer did not matter, the warm friendly smile, the glad to see you expression. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, it is an annual tradition… or was.

She had already moved from Jersey City. We have mutual friends who are Vietnamese and there has been somewhat of exodus out of Jersey City, to the suburbs.

I do not necessarily pass this store often but today I did and saw that it was closed, going out of business signs, everything must go. Her husband waved to me about a week ago or so, recently… I didn’t see any signs ... it was after Labor Day.

After I got over the shock, I talked to the bodega owner across the street. The closing was announced a week ago, maybe less. The inventory was sold and they’re gone. She said the decision was sudden. She said there was back and forth with the building’s owner, who stated adamantly that 25 year lease that would not be renewed and they did not want to buy the space. I do not know all the details, and I’m not about to speculate, but the fact is, that blows. In this economic climate, not to renew a lease on a business that is still succeeding? There is no available parking on this street, the space can really only be a local store (although crack den or massage parlor are possibilities). The nearby space also owned by the same building is a former Video Rental Store and has been unoccupied for about a decade and that ain’t no lie. Real Estate in Jersey City operates under a logic alien to the rationale mind.

I was also informed that Pete is very sick and for reasons unknown was not selling the liquor store license, an expensive and valuable certificate in this town. There may be more to the story than I know and I’m just reporting what I heard second hand.

Who cares about the why’s and related gossip. The fact is we’ve all been depleted.

I’m teary eyed as I write this. It’s like a kick in the gut.  I’m also mad I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.  Manna Liquors served the community and has been here for as long as I have and the fact is that, like so many other places that served the community and has been, it too now is gone. I'm sad.
Despair is something I do not need more of than I already have but sometimes it seems it is the only thing that keeps coming my way.

Dead Puppy Halloween Shop

No surer sign of the end of summer than the pop up Halloween costume shops. I remember one in Hoboken that took over the abandoned Barnes and Noble. 
This store used to be the Pet Shop in the Mall. I forget the last franchise that had the spot, although I believe I remember it as Puppy Palace. That might have been the name of a mall store of my New Jersey youth. Whatever the name, now and then – well the then now not the now now – it was still a retail outlet for puppy mills. Puppies were the main attraction. On Saturdays you could see all the kids looking at the puppies. Lots of fish tanks too, pets, supplies… the whole gamut. I bought a $60.00 water fountain for my cat, so he would have fresh water when I went on trips.

This sort of pet shop puppy sale might have been outlawed, sure seemed cruel but I don’t know all the facts or why this store closed down. I’m sure the economy is a factor – two new high end pet supply stores opened on nearby Newark Avenue, accompanying the Pet Shop that has been a part of downtown since about the Eisenhower administration. Or maybe Pet Shops don’t fit into the new fashion oriented Newport Mall, home now to large Century 21 and H&M outlets. Still room for a tacky, ghetto fabulous Halloween store, can’t take Jersey City out of the Newport Mall or the Newport Mall out of Jersey City, no matter how separate from the city it often seems.

We live in a temporary economy but at least we can have seasonal sales. I wonder if it will sell Christmas ornaments after the Nightmare before Christmas. Competition already has started on that score. Kohl’s has a full fledged decoration and Macy’s already has its holiday red, so bright it can singe your retina. One holiday at a time I always say. The spider is a new party entertainment. You step on this pedal and the spider jumps in the air. Scary stuff. I wonder if they have any ghosts of dead puppy costumes?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pathmark Pay Phone

I’m on a payphone and wanted to axe you if you wanted oatmeal for Breafest. I am at the Pafmark and brought farina.
Now, before you accuse me of some sort of ethnic bias for that phonetic re-creation of a typical conversation from this phone, I’m here to say regardless of race, creed or color, if you were raised in Jersey City you pronounce the TH in Pathmark as an F or PH, which for whatever reason is the same as the pronunciation for the K in Breakfast. Just Axe (not ask) anybody. It’s some kind of inner city thing – just like saying brought for bought – it’s a rather obstinate bit of accent – technically might be a dialect– but it is quite common round these parts and really cuts across the board. I grew up in the suburbs, I do not have it and it has long ceased to grate my nerves but it still surprises me that you hear it from white, black and Spanish– regardless of background, all you need to possess this verbal tick is to be Jersey City born & bred.
I can’t believe I have never taken this phone before since I go to Pathmark just about weekly. It is there unused and not working (no dial tone so I assume it is no longer connected). One of the benefits of a mobile phone is that you can multitask, walk the aisles looking for provisions is good time to gab, even use the APP that shows you if something is cheaper at C-Town, I mean, a-hem, Key Food (very local humor here).

No Loitering. Let’s just make this clear. No loiter. Course, if youse are going to loiter the pay phone is primo spot.

There’s something end of the world about the Pathmark, separated by a fence and patch of lawn from the residential land on one side, then on the other Grand Street, which is anything but, just a grimy four laner. Old Colony Pathmark they call it, a strip mall nestled at the edge of Downtown.
There’s a pay phone. I keep remember those times, before our new common era, where we all have mobile communication, are rarely out of touch, when sometimes a pay phone was needed, your life dependent on it, and you knew where they were, the pay phones. There’s one at the Pathmark. There’s one at all supermarkets, more than one likely. Now this is the one that is left, the only one.
This puddle has nothing to with the pay phone; it’s in the lot on the other side of the building. Grackles were fluttering their wings, bathing in this misquote larva laden pond. It rained four days ago, the first rain in a week and Jersey City’s antediluvian drainage system means the puddles don’t go away, they just create bathes for birds and of course, the litter. This puddle was here when the pay phone was working and the only way to call from the supermarket

Friday, September 21, 2012

Body Sculpting

My current routine means I go through Washington Square Park about once a week; well it’s more like that I am in this neck of the Manhattan concrete woods and make a point to stroll through this always lively patch that has been a part of all our lives for so long. Always a little more lively when NYU is in session and being September, classes have started. It seems about once a month there’s a picture worth taking for a blog post. So this guy was doing the human statue thing, standing without moving – didn’t for about the five minutes that I looked and pondered – he took the time to spray paint himself and clothes and hoops and then stand there risking muscle cramp and subject himself to gawkers, the least I can do was document the moment that I saw him blink. Well, you can’t quite tell from the picture that he blinked and to be fair, blinking was the only movement. He played a very convincing statue; he projected the gray in which he was covered. But you see the eyes and that gave the game away: It’s Alive! The can in front revealed he accepted donations, get paid for doing nothing. You call this nothing? It’s art. It’s the highest form of art:  life imitating art, literally and figuratively, which hard ever happens. He’s a petrified mime. The absence of performance is in fact, the performance.

See, he's blinking, his eyes may appear open but that's just the moment of blink captured. I love the faintness of the racoon effect on the perimeter of his eye lids and eye sockets, or maybe this metal statue uses flesh colored eye liner.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

Temporary Tempest

Real Dylan fans don’t go to the Temporary Tempest store to buy their copy of The Tempest, Dylan’s fantastic new record. They went to Rebel Records on September 7th, the Friday before it was released on September 11 and the Temporary Tempest Store opened, late afternoon on September 10.

I like supporting the few record stores, especially independent record stores left. The “Pop Up” retail store would be offensive ifthere were more record stores (besides Rebel, I shop at JR Music and I know there are a couple of others but you don’t exactly have to take off your shoes to count the survivors) left it would be taking business away from. Bob Dylan had a history of supporting independent record stores, in the late 90s he ran two special give always. Print out a coupon from the Internet, go to an independent store and you got a free CD of recent live recordings. Yes I have them both. But how can that sort of promotion be effective when the outlets are so few and everybody just downloads the songs anyway.

There was no new music, or exclusive music available (how about selling the bonus disc from Tell Tale Signs which was in a deluxe package that cost more than a hundred bucks!) from the Pop Up store, just memorabilia like Dylan hats and T-shirts and posters, basically stuff you get off his website if you so desire (I do not). It’s easy to pick on Dylan or any artist for doing something so blatantly commercial, but it does ignore the fact. The retail industry for music is in the crapper. A few years go he released a 1961 concert Live at the Gaslight and a selection of other people’s songs that he wrote some lively liner notes for exclusively through Starbucks and some critics said he was aligning himself with a corporation, as if Starbucks is the equivalent of Halliburton or if independent coffee shops have enough of a distribution network to sell CDs. The Pop Up Store was selling the Gaslight CD, now available on Amazon.

The guy behind the counter said his company does pop ups. There’s a lot of empty spaces in cities, and with the turnover in commercial tenants, these spaces are basically turnkey, little to no modification to the space is required for the retailer to operate, beyond a coat of paint and one wall here was exposed brick. The pop ups have been used for other purposes – art galleriesare an obvious example – also it is targetted promotion. I remember a city in Florida during the height of winter did a pop up promotion for a few days in NYC, publiczing weekend getaways. I also remember one for a new energy beverage. It’s an outgrowth of Guerrilla Marketing, which creates the sought after buzz by paying low wages to people who promote one-on-one with consumers. One example is giving out free samples in busy places, hoping for word of mouth to spread, especically to social media outlets and blogs (dammit, I’ve been bamboozled again!)

Bob Dylan is not responsible for the demise of record stores or the effectiveness of pop up stores as part of a sales promotion. Not only does the pop up promote the new album, but it moves merchandise, probably enough to pay for the store themselves.

You can take pictures, said the chap behind the counter, but not of the back area.

Behind the counter there were opened boxes of T-shirts and the posters and other knick-knacks.

From writing a protest song that was adopted by a movement to touring into 70s, Dylan has always been unprecedented. But this pop up store isn’t that unprecedented for an artist as active as Dylan. He tours through the year, has been doing so since the 80s. His voice may be shot, the live arrangements are drastically dissimilar to the recordings, but he is one of the most successful touring acts today. His new records get Grammy award nominations, and while campaigning for the Nobel Prize in Literature is a perennial Bob Dylan fan wish, he is a working musician putting out great music and deserves the marketing support of his record label.




The Temporary Tempest is in the revitalized meat packing district and by revitalized I mean a developer fueled metamorphosis from druggy sewer to a high priced game preserve for the Trust Fundarati. Bob Dylan’s new marketing experiment being smack dab there in the middle of this particular neighborhood is both fitting for the environs while also living up to Dylan’s relentless, often inscrutable, half century of subversion.