One of the benefits of living in a non-trendy part of New York City is that you can benefit from a lot of cultural enrichment without crowds of five-borough tourists that flock to the city’s more fashionable haunts. Everything in the Flushing-Whitestone area where I live is a long train ride plus a bus ride away from where the ‘in’ crowd frequents in Brooklyn and Western Queens.
We recently took a journey to Little Bay Park, a slice of land between the Cross Island Expressway and Flushing Bay. It is directly adjacent to Fort Totten, an old U.S. Army base that is now a public park but still houses military and other agencies such as the police and fire departments and the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
The larger family fun day that had been scheduled for Fort Totten was canceled, as recent rain made their fields too muddy for any public events. Instead a smaller event was taking place on a small strip of land right along a walking and bike path that lead from Fort Totten into Little Bay Park. The main attraction being free kayaking for families.
Here is where a semi-suburban city Dad gets to experience some of the monotony associated with being a hipster festivalgoer. We stood in line in the hot sun for quite a while waiting for our turn to have a free kayaking experience. The start was delayed because the kayak operators found they had only a small sliver of beach to work with and it was covered in garbage. Vest-wearing volunteers using rakes and shovels filled six large garbage bags with garbage while would-be boaters and other park visitors gawked at them while also enjoying the sights of the bay.
This was going to be a killer father-daughter experience that would instill a love of nature and the seafaring life upon my two older girls. My wife had no interest in boating and was happy to wait on land with the baby and the stroller. I have good upper body strength and have paddled canoes before through swamps and on lakes. How difficult could kayaking be?
After a long wait we were finally given life vests and lead to the kayaks. The launch area was filled with empty kayaks and there wasn’t really enough room to both load and unload boaters at the same time. Once we managed to get around the empty kayaks and other boaters, we found that our vessel was already taking on water. That’s normal, the people told us. Water just gets in there. So I sat down in a puddle of water on the seat after having to step into water in my sneakers and socks (you had to keep your shoes on so I thought they had a system where we wouldn’t get our feet wet).
With the girls loaded into the boat, we were ready to launch, but it was a lot harder to do than I thought. I couldn’t hold the big oar steady in front of me without hitting one of my girls in the head, and it felt like we were sinking since I weigh so much more. I managed to paddle us out a little ways, but the wind began blowing us back pretty steadily, and I narrowly avoided getting blown into a rocky jetty.
Now I had something else in common with the hipster festivalgoers of Brooklyn: a general ineptitude and overall disappointment in the performance of manly duties. I’m not stupid and I’m strong enough to lift and move heavy things. But a plastic kayak with a payload of two 40-pound little girls had me stymied. After just a few minutes, not happy with sitting in water and feeling insecure in the shaky boat, they asked me to paddle back ashore. I happily obliged.
An essential part of living life and embracing adventure is the knowledge that not every adventure is going to go so well. This was one of those adventures that didn’t go so well. Not to fear though, the promise of a picnic and some delicious food was enough to motivate our girls to move on to the next thing. Soon we were enjoying a delicious lunch in the shade of a small tree in Little Bay Park.
After our meal we returned to the event area and acquiesced to the demands of ice cream at one of the city’s ubiquitous Mr. Softee trucks, we visited more of the event.
The highlight of the day was singing along to pirate and seafaring songs with Scuttlebutt Stu, who regaled everyone with great sing-a-long songs about pirates and sailors. His songs came with a lot of interesting history. I learned that the term “son of a gun” came from times when sailors would be allowed conjugal visits with their wives aboard their ships, with private beds being made between ships’ cannons. I knew that the term “groggy” came from grog, a mixture of rum and water, but did not know it got its name from Admiral Edward Vernon, known as “Old Grog” from his wearing of grogram jackets. Each song that Scuttlebutt Stu sang came with an interesting lesson that increased our fascination with the sea and demonstrated just how much of our modern culture has been shaped by the ages of the explorers and privateers.
Scuttlebutt Stu was dressed like a pirate with a heavy vest, long-sleeve shirt and tri-corner hat in 86-degree heat and no shade. He was a trooper like I’ve never seen. The breeze and briny smell of the bay lent a great aura of authenticity to the experience of learning about the pirate life through song. Stu is part of a duo called The Royal Yard that performs frequently in the New York area both together and individually.
I’m not a great singer but it was great fun to sing along, the wife and kids sang along as well and soon others joined in. It was perilously close to the kids’ nap time, and it’s always somewhat of a race to get home so they can sleep a little longer and get some more rest. But we stayed around for a few more songs and then headed home.
We made it back in time to let the kids nap in their own beds, another day’s adventure behind them. We were all the richer for it.
More than 20 years ago, when I was still in college, I started writing short stories for my stepbrothers. My stepbrothers Brett and Lyle wanted to be hero detectives, and so the first short story, “Sherlock Brett and the Case of the Missing Clowny” featured them searching for our younger sister’s favorite stuffed toy (spoiler alert: I had the stuffed toy; I was such a poor college student that I was trying to barter it for groceries).
These stories were silly fun for young kids, though I snuck some adult jokes in there in case my father or stepmother happened to read one of them. I began making a habit of writing these stories for Brett and Lyle’s birthdays and for Christmas.
The adventures of Sherlock Brett, his trusted brother and sidekick Watson Lyle, and our sister Georgia, have evolved over the years. My younger brothers and sisters are all adults now. I still send stories, but they have much more adult subject matter and explicit sex and violence.
Four years ago, I got a call that Brett had taken ill in Miami—he had moved there to work for Univision—and that the illness might soon prove fatal. My father and stepmother flew down there immediately. Brett was in a coma and his prognosis was grim, but he pulled through. He’s still recovering from the effects of being sick and in a coma, and it has been a steady but slow road to recovery for him.
Brett has stayed sharp and I’ve continued writing stories for him. He hasn’t let his long recovery process put a stop to his life and he married his wife Samantha, who now has a bigger role in the Sherlock Brett stories.
While I am glad that these stories have a small and appreciative audience among family, I thought that they could help form a vital part of my literary canon and be published for the general public. I put a few short stories online for sale through Amazon, but you had to have an Amazon Kindle or have the (free) Kindle app on your smart phone.
For Christmas last year, I wanted to have a physical book to send Brett as a gift. I began collecting some of what I thought were the better and more recent Sherlock Brett stories and compiling them in a book. I pulled them together and began editing them for publication. This took longer than I expected and I learned I know little to nothing about book design.
But slowly things came together. I got the very excellent Justin Melkmann to do the cover art and help with editing from my wife Emily got the book in top shape.
Last year, Brett was the first person I called after our youngest daughter was born to give him the news and tell him his new niece’s name. I told him I was sorry he had to share a birthday with another family member, but the doctors had determined the time was right for our offspring to be from her mother’s womb untimely ripped.
I managed to get Brett copies of Sherlock Brett Saves America, a collection of Sherlock Brett stories that will humor and inspire. He said he was very happy with it, and that made my day.
So if you’d like to read the adventures of a detective who not only ran for president but also handed Islamic terrorists their worse defeat ever, took the world’ largest bowel movement while helping fight a band of White Castle bandits, and helped fight an unfair bathroom law in North Carolina, then buy this book.
I plan to continue writing the Sherlock Brett as well as stories about my other brothers and sister until they ask me to stop or until I die. These are fun to write and I have license to bring some much-needed levity and satire to our world.
The greatest rock & roll band that’s ever existed, The Dwarves, were scheduled to play at Bowery Electric, and it had been too long since I’ve seen them. I bought a ticket online and made plans to travel to Manhattan on a weekend, something I rarely do anymore. But this show would be worth it, I was certain.
I made my way to Bowery Electric, which is on the Bowery a short block uptown from where CBGB used to be.
The Bowery has not been itself for a long time now. It was known the world over as a place for bums. It was the Skid Row before Skid Row existed, and served as the template for the down and out sections of town in art, literature, and life.
I would travel to Manhattan when I could as a suburban teenager in the 1980s and 1990s, and going to the East Village was a harrowing experience. The Bowery was full of homeless people selling trinkets and other junk on blankets. Some of the bums were mental patients on medication that just stared into space. Drunks slept in doorways, crack heads begged for money or cigarettes or robbed you. If there was a Bum Olympics in 1989, it would have been held on the Bowery.
Today there are few homeless charities and even fewer flop houses on the Bowery. Fancy hotels and restaurants dot the Bowery now, and apartments that used to rent for a few hundred dollars a month in my lifetime now rent for upwards of $5,000 a month, if they’re available for rent at all.
That the Bowery Electric still exists is short of a miracle. So many music venues fled Manhattan that had Joey Ramone lived he would barely recognize the street that bears his name. Standing outside the venue, I was mistaken for a bouncer as a young woman began handing me her I.D. I waved her inside, telling her I didn’t work there. Maybe I should have asked her for a $5 cover and then treated myself to something at 7 Eleven up the street.
The venue’s Web site said that the show would start at 7 p.m. and seemed to indicate another show was scheduled to start at 10. I hustled and made good time and got to the show to learn that the first band of the night had canceled and that The Dwarves would not be starting to play until 10 p.m., when the Web site had said the show would end. Even in these modern times, the best shows still run on Punk Rock Time.
I set out for a brief walkabout of the East Village and found myself on St. Mark’s Place, where everything is now geared towards tourists or college students. The Papaya King proved a good find; I was one of two customers there at the time and I enjoyed some hot dogs while watching people walk by, most of them much younger and none of them looking like fellow travelers in the neighborhood for a punk rock show.
Across from Papaya King, the building that once housed the iconic fashion store Trash and Vaudeville is shuttered and under renovation. I would go there all the time years ago, not to buy things, but to put up flyers for upcoming shows that Blackout Shoppers would be playing. The store is still in business nearby on East 7th Street, but seeing it pass from its longtime location on St. Mark’s was another illustration of how change has rapidly come to this part of the city.
On 2nd Avenue between 7th and 8th Streets there is still a vacant lot where three buildings were destroyed in a gas explosion in 2015. There were a few curiosity seekers milling about the sidewalk where a chain-link fence keeps people from the lot. The lot is covered in gravel and there were two bouquets of flowers there for the two people killed in the explosion.
I made my way back to Bowery Electric and started running into people I knew. I am not as active on the music scene as I used to be, but I have a lot of friends I made over those years and meeting up with them at shows is always fun. I made my way downstairs where the main stage is set and found a good spot on a low balcony to see the show.
The Dwarves did not disappoint. They played their entire The Dwarves Are Young And Good Looking Album straight through and then played a lot their most beloved songs. Original guitar player HeWhoCannotBeNamed joined them and with Nick Oliveri on bass they can branch out into some of their more aggressive stalwarts. The Fresh Prince of Darkness shreds on lead guitar. Lead singer Blag Dahlia is a sinister master of ceremonies who wears a shit-eating grin. A Dwarves show is a celebration of the nihilistic aggression that made punk rock so phenomenal, but with a humorous twist that prevents anyone from trying to take things too seriously.
At the end of the show I met some more good music friends and made my way upstairs to use the bathroom before I headed home.
When I got upstairs, there was a different scene. The well-dressed hipsters and well-to-do young people with good jobs where in command of this part of the venue. As I stood in line to use one of the single-use restrooms, I decided to stretch my back since I had been on my feet so long. I bent over a bit to put my hands on my knees to straighten by back and the sharply-dressed guy who was next in line took a few steps back, thinking I was getting ready to throw up all over the floor. I thought about making some gesture to assuage his fears, and let him know that I am only a sober middle-aged punk rock fan with a bad back, but why bother? If you’re in the habit of wearing pressed slacks and dress shoes to a bar on the Bowery, maybe you should live in fear of being vomited on.
On my way out, I stopped to shake Blag Dahlia’s hand and congratulate him on a great show. He thanked me and I left into the glittery night of the East Village for the long trip home.
A few weeks ago I saw a man get arrested at the 23rd St. N/R Station. As two NYPD officers tried to cuff him he broke free of them, and shoved them, shouting ridiculous blather about being treated unfairly and fearing the police. One of the officers pulled his Taser and I thought the man, who looked significantly larger than both of the cops, was going to get Tasered. Instead one of the officers talked him down and he soon put his hands behind his back and allowed the cops to cuff him. A witness told me he was being arrested because he was mentally disturbed and had been on the train tracks.
The cops had every right to Taser the guy, and if I was in their shoes I can honestly say that would have been my inclination. I was impressed with the cops’ ability to avoid violence in the situation. Police don’t always have that option.
Lost among the media coverage of two terror attacks in England and the U.S. President’s declaration about withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, a New York Police Department Sergeant was charged with murder in the Bronx.
Sgt. Hugh Barry responded to a call last October to find a mentally ill woman threatening officers with a pair of scissors. He managed to talk her down and she dropped the scissors, but she then retrieved a baseball bat and swung at the sergeant, who shot her twice. That’s a very clear case of an officer being threatened with deadly force and responding appropriately.
But soon after the incident New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and police Commissioner James O’Neill condemned the officer, claiming he violated department procedure by not calling for the Emergency Service Unit or using his Taser. Last week, the Bronx District Attorney filed murder charges against the sergeant.
It’s a travesty that should be inciting outrage nationwide. And not because we adhere to some warped notion that all cops are heroes and we should get behind anyone with a badge. This indictment should elicit outrage because Hugh Barry is a human being who has a right to stop someone trying to murder him. This indictment is an affront to decency because #FactsMatter.
New York police are rightfully angry.
The indictment of Sergeant Barry is not the action of a truthful or serious people. It’s the action of an ignorant and myopic ruling class that by sacrificing the right innocent people, they can somehow forge a tenuous peace in a volatile society. We’ve seen this before. Many of the most well-known cases in recent years that spurred large-scale protests and questionable prosecutions were manufactured controversies that didn’t stand up to a desultory examination of the facts. In places like Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York, grand juries correctly rejected politically-motivated criminal charges against police.
But a large segment of the body politic insists that any death at the hands of police fit a certain narrative, a narrative that’s been undercut by the facts at almost every turn. Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill bought into this narrative despite very clear evidence to the contrary. They would rather appease an extremist activist movement than work to protect our citizens.
If our city still has any respect for the truth, Sgt. Barry will be back on the job by this time next year and Bill de Blasio and Commissioner O’Neill will be looking for work.
There’s yet another superhero film coming out soon, but instead of the endless Spider-Man or Batman retreads, Wonder Woman is being brought to the big screen.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has managed to call attention to its showing of the film by hosting several women-only screenings that will raise money for Planned Parenthood. Of course this has produced a needless shitstorm of controversy as any explicit expression of identity politics is wont to in these contentious times.
Raising hackles against the screenings is a lot of pointless blather. This is at best a cheap publicity stunt (that has so far worked brilliantly). If it really bothers you, you should be extra sure not to give the organizers the attention they crave.
And it obscures a larger issue that this gives us cause to address: Freedom of association is a universal human right.
It’s a right of all free people to live as they choose among whom they choose. It’s a building block of any community. Because just as a community of free people defines who they are, they also define who they aren’t. The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is not taxpayer-funded or given exclusive license of any kind by the government. It’s a private business. If it wants to ban men for a few screenings or a week or a year or forever, it can. There’s a distinct difference, not commonly understood, between the obligations of a publicly-funded entity and the rights of individuals.
Private businesses have a right to be as discriminatory as they like. You don’t have to let Mexicans into your house or fat people into your store. We agree that this kind of blanketed bigotry is morally wrong. There’s a quintessentially American value to want judge all people by their individual merits and not by some tribal calculus. But we all have the freedom to live however we want, and if that means being prejudiced, then that’s an individual’s right over their own private property and life.
Let’s use this as a “teachable moment” as they say, and point out that the same right women have to hold a women’s only event applies to both genders and any other personal classification you care to make. No one coming to the defense of the Alamo Drafthouse would have a leg to stand on should some of their critics hold a “men only” event. I don’t want to attend a sausage party movie screening just to make some kind of\ point, but if that’s your scene, have at it. In a free country, you have the right to be a bigot if you want to be, whether that’s based on gender, race or anything else.
Freedom of association is a universal right. That means if you believe in human rights, you have to defend the exercise of that right, even if you condemn the sentiment behind it. If you try to stop people from exercising their rights, no matter how virtuous your intentions seem, you are the villain.
I don’t think the powers that be at the Alamo Drafthouse hate men; in fact the owners are men. I think they are savvy businesspeople who managed to wring a ton of free publicity for their screenings of yet another superhero film. The public will likely forgive this strategically-timed chauvinistic bent; and they’ve won the hearts of a lot of women who may occasionally go out of their way to bring them business.
We will make some real progress if these screenings can make our more progressive friends “woke” to the fact that freedom of association is a great freedom to have and has to be protected.