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Unnostalgic For The Bad Old Days

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As an NYU student in the early 90s, I spent plenty of time waiting for trains at West 4 St station. It was even less of a pretty sight then — panhandlers and the stench of piss were everywhere. Younger readers and newcomers to NYC probably don’t remember these bad old days — economic recession, murder (2,200 annually versus around 600 now), crack, drive-by shootings, aggressive beggars, race riots, trash everywhere, and a general sense that anything could happen to you walking down the street and nobody would care if it did. On the other hand, we didn’t have a single Starbucks back then, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.One night around 10:30, I was waiting for an A train to Washington Heights, which at the time was one of the city’s largest open-air drug markets — heroin al fresco served daily. I was heading up there to drop off a paper at a professor’s home before the deadline of 11pm. (Yeah, I was a pretty hardcore procrastinator even then.) I was more than a bit worried about heading up to this neighborhood that I knew only by reputation, especially at night, but I had to get the paper in.A guy my age dressed entirely in camouflage approached and demanded money — all of it.”I don’t have anything,” I said.”Don’t make me search you,” he replied.Of course, I was terrified but I also didn’t want to give him the few bucks and credit cards I had in my wallet. What could I do?”Here,” I said as offered him a bottle of Snapple juice I’d brought along for the long subway ride uptown. “That’s all I’ve got.”He took the drink and walked away. I was still in a state of shock and it wasn’t until the train had arrived and I was on it that I’d realized I probably should have gone up to the token booth and tried to get a cop. How hard would it have been for them to find a kid dressed in military fatigues chugging a Snapple?And it wasn’t until much later that I reflected on the irony of nearly being mugged in relatively safe Greenwich Village — just a block away from my dorm — while worrying about the dangers awaiting me uptown in dangerous Washington Heights.I slipped the paper under my professor’s door and hurried back on the train. His neighborhood was tree-lined and quiet, not at all like West 4th St and Sixth Avenue. I don’t remember what I got on the paper, but I think I got a B+ in the class.(West 4 St-Washington Sq Station, Manhattan)

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Step Up To The Customs House

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Related posts:A Whiter Shade of Bowling Green 3A Stranger Downtown(US Customs House, Manhattan)

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Heavy Into Port Jeff

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(Port Jefferson Harbor, NY)

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We Are Taking Sugar Water Shower

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Lungamente vivono le donne e le canzoni di Cibo Matto.(City Hall Park, Manhattan)

Related posts:Civic Pride: City HallNantra & Bijou

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You're Tossing Your Seeds Around

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Why isn’t Superchunk more famous? Their songs are so cool.(Battery Park, Manhattan)

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It's Like Rain On Your Q Train

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This is not the beautiful late May weather I asked for. I hope this isn’t a sign that the universe is utterly indifferent to my needs, because I also need to hit it up for $2,500 by the end of next month.(Q train, Brooklyn)

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Stealing Down A Wrong Way Street

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If there’s anything kids understand, it’s a really firm admonishment. Because only then will they realize that they have to ignore it.Skateaway is a song I haven’t heard in, like, forever.(South William St & Broad St, Manhattan)

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(Way) Larger Than Life: The Movie

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These giant portraits of Time Warner TV personalities are unnerving. They remind me a lot of the similarly outsized Nancy Burson photos I saw a while back, but with even more menace.Aren’t huge public portraits are usually associated with fascism? Neal Gabler wrote a great book about our Republic of Entertainment, but maybe the Republic has devolved into an Empire.Damn, I think I just unintentionally made a Star Wars reference. I guess I’m just a tool of the media conglomerates after all. And I’m not even getting paid for all this product placement. Gosh!(Time Warner Center, Columbus Circle, Manhattan)

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What Fools These Mortals Be!

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(Puck Building, Lafayette St & Houston St, Manhattan)

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Self-Portrait In:Of A Scion

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Under the terms of its parole, Bklyn Blggng is allowed one trip outside NYC each month. During these special occasions, a favorite method of conveyance is a Scion xB rented from Zipcar. The Scion’s chunky-but-pleasing design are a hit with both teenagers and teenagers-at-heart and the roomy interior is useful for, you know, hauling stuff.(Greenlawn, NY)

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Empire of the Sunset

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(FDR Drive & 34 St, Manhattan)

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All Those Signs, I Knew What They Meant

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My feeling is that in most other places, this sign would simply read PARKING SPACE FOR RENT. But of course, New York ain’t like most other places (as if you couldn’t tell by the fact that even in Kensington, Brooklyn, people are asking $200 a month for a parking space).No, in our Darwinist Metropolis, you gotta work a little harder to get what you want. So even a flyer for a parking space becomes a pitch aimed very squarely at its target demographic, the yuppie Kensingtonian. What’s more, the very fact that the flyer is cleverly written — and illustrated! — tells the buyer that the seller is trustworthy because he/she is, in fact, just like them. Which is to say, bluntly, well educated but not rich enough to live in Park Slope.I like the new Coldplay single enough to quote it in the title, play it repeatedly (to the annoyance of my houseguest), and of course plug the band.(Avenue C & Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn)

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My Bicycle Spaniard, My Poor Restless Soul

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Is everyone spending more time on a bike and less time in front of a TV or computer this year? Don’t forget your New Year’s Resolution.Bicycle Spaniard is beautiful song by Cracker.(Riverside South Park, Manhattan)

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High Above Morningside Heights

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I’ve kinda been avoiding churches ever since accidentally watching The Omen on TV when I was nine. But I’m glad this past weekend I had the chance to attend a friend’s screenplay reading in the tower of Riverside Church. The view was amazing — and the screenplay is going to be quite good when it’s finished. So go see Rehana’s movie when it’s out, and try to avoid The Omen if you’re under ten.(Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive, Manhattan)

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The Last Of The Famous International Playboys

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I know this is last week’s news, but I had to let it sink in a while: is the UN really coming to Brooklyn? And why, being that I’m in favor of most of the proposed new development for Brooklyn, do I have mixed feelings about it? I think it’s because the rumored site for the UN’s temporary relocation is MetroTech Center in Downtown Brooklyn. MetroTech is a nicely-done 1990s urban renewal project that’s home to an unusual (but apparently successful) combination of corporate, government, and academic tenants. Polytechnic Universitiy, FDNY, Verizon, Bear Stearns, SIAC, and the NYC 911 call center all call MetroTech home. MetroTech is important to New York because it’s an economic anchor for Downtown Brooklyn and provides an alternative for corporations that might otherwise move their back office operations to Jersey City.So how does the UN fit in? I don’t think it does. The UN at MetroTechTM would bring security and traffic hassles to an area that’s already congested — and on the upswing. Why not look at the UN relocation as a way to bring some wealth and attention to a part of Brooklyn that could use it? I think the Brooklyn Army Terminal or Red Hook would be ideal. The subway access would be bad, but I’m sure the UN could afford to set up a water shuttle between the Brooklyn waterfront and Manhattan. If they go to Red Hook, they might even get to hang out with Ikea. Swedish meatballs, yum.[Yeah, the Morrissey reference is a stretch, but whatever, it’s a cool song.](United Nations)

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You Can't Put Your Arms Around An Ambulance

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Ever since I watched Bringing Out the Dead, I haven’t been able to look at an NYC ambulance at night without hearing this Johnny Thunders song in my head. Go rent it now and you’ll see (and hear) what I mean. And let’s take a moment now to honor our FDNY EMTs.[iTunes recommended for the audio features on this site.](Union St & 4 Av, Brooklyn)

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On The Road, A Capella

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With Lord Ganesh on the dashboard, all obstacles were cleared as we made our way across the Bowery, over the Manhattan Bridge, and up Flatbush. The traffic and the lights and the energy of New York City on a beautiful spring night made its own music and inspired others.How beautiful the joyous urge to sing with friends in a car — and how strange the compulsion to want to record it and post it on a blog.Apologies to Rachael Yamagata, who wrote and performed the original. [iTunes recommended for these and all audio features on this site.](Aparna’s car)

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Brooklyn Junction, What's Your Function?

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Most days, I’m an economic determinst, but even those that believe economics explains most behavior have to admit that politics, culture, history, lack of imagination, and good ol’ inertia are sometimes equal partners in the human adventure.How else could you explain Brooklyn Junction? The Junction, as it’s known, lies at the crossroads of Flatbush Avenue and Nostrand Avenue, two of the borough’s busiest thoroughfares. It’s home to Brooklyn College’s 15,000 students, it’s the terminal for the 2 and 5 subway lines, and it’s a transfer point for several bus routes. Here, in the heart of 2.5 million strong Brooklyn, you have all the ingredients for a major center of culture and commerce. Instead, you’ve got a lot of fast food, unremarkable shops, and some parking lots. I’m not saying we need a mega mall here (as has been proposed), but a little imagination, a little political will, and a few bucks could turn this into a seriously cool destination for Brooklyn. (Flatbush Av & Nostrand Av, Brooklyn)

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Glass, Concrete and Stone

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It’s nice to see a non-hipster/yuppie new business going up on the Lower East Side. I say this, of course, after buying Earl Grey Creme tea at Moby’s Teany Cafe and having drinks with fellow NYC photobloggers at Magician. Gentrification is such a head-trip sometimes.Glass, Concrete and Stone is a great David Byrne song that I first heard while watching the even greater film Dirty Pretty Things. That story is about illegal immigrants in London, one of whom wants to come to New York to work in a cafe. Is Teany hiring?(Essex St & Rivington St, Manhattan)

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Your Pork Chop House Excellency

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There are just some secrets, like the massive sports betting ring I run, that I will never discuss on a blog. There are other secrets, however, that I’m more than happy to reveal. One of them is the braised chicken soup with noodle at Excellent Pork Chop House, a Taiwanese soul food joint on Doyers Street. For $5.95, you get delicious chicken soup with shiitake mushroom accompanied by a separate bowl of noodles, bean sprouts, minced pork, and pickled veggies. Top it off with an optional hard boiled egg ($.50) and way too much hot chili sauce like I do, and you have a meal that’s satisfying, cheap, and fast. For dessert, you can hop over to Fay-Da for a coconut bun and tea. Like Colt 45, it works every time.(Excellent Pork Chop House, 3 Doyers St, Manhattan)

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Parkchester Station at 8:53

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(Parkchester Station, The Bronx)

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Beautiful Garbage, Beautiful Dresses

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Oh look at my faceMy name is might have beenMy name is never wasMy name’s forgotten(Broadway & Stone St, Manhattan)

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Ailurophilia Marla Monday is Cat Week

Monday is Cat Week: Bidalasana

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Marla’s like a totally new cat since she got into yoga.

(Marla)

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All About Our Mothers

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Happy Mother’s Day! You did remember to get her something, right?(Century 21, 22 Corlandt St, Manhattan)

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And It Was All Yellow

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Look at the stars, look how they shine for you.(Bowling Green, Manhattan)

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Civic Pride: City Hall

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As an urbanist, I’m a little embarassed to admit that I’ve only been in New York’s City Hall twice in my life. The architecture is beautiful.I think parts of the building, including the rotunda, are open to the public, although the intimidating police checkpoints at both entrance gates seem to suggest otherwise. To enter, you’ll have to put your bags through the x-ray and walk through a metal detector, but you don’t have to explain why you’re visiting. The rotunda alone is more than worth this minor hassle. Make sure also to get your photo taken on the steps while shouting something and shaking your fist, for the full City Hall experience.Related post:Meet Me at the Corner of Dirt & McGirt(City Hall, Manhattan)

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Chase/Bank

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(Chase Manhattan Plaza, Pine St & William St, Manhattan)

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Rodenticide (Special Guest Star: Tiki Barber)

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Sometimes, I don’t ask why things are the way they are. I just keep the thought to myself and press the button on the camera.Releated post:Rodenticide(14 St-7 Av Station)

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These Random Access Memories Can't Wait

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I recently finished a really good book about memory improvement, but I’ve been too lazy to actually perform any of the brain exercises recommended by the author. So while I now know more about the brain than I did before, my memory hasn’t increased a bit (to say nothing of a byte).One thing I do recall (ha, ha) from the book is that the brain is all about association. Each piece of information in our heads is useful only in as much as it refers to another piece of information. The key to improving memory and brainpower, apparently, is increasing the number of these connections within your neural network. The meta-story here, of course, is that hypertext and the web, including blogs like this one, also derive their power and usefulness from the linking of information. For me, much of the fun of doing this blog — and hopefully for you reading it — is in making connections between the photos and the text. I rarely plan any of my shots; I just shoot whatever seems interesting at the moment. Sometimes the accompanying text (even if only a caption) comes to me right away, sometimes weeks later. (I also like hearing what connections others make to the photos and words [subtitle/hint, hint: please leave comments].)So what’s all this got to do with a snapshot of a shadow of a tree? This photo sat on my hard drive for about a week after I shot it. For whatever reason, I was having a difficult time even thinking of a title for it, even though I liked the picture. Suddenly this morning, I looked at the picture again and it reminded me of John, a kid I went to elementary school with. John had freckles and was a stutterer. He was a bit excitable but generally well-liked. He wasn’t the smartest kid in our grade, but he did have good morals — he yelled at me once after I meanly ridiculed a classmate of ours, which he was 100% correct in doing.But the memory I most associate with John is one that he had nothing to do with. Sometime in the third or fourth grade we had a poetry display in the hallways. Our teacher had made simple posters with poems that I’d assumed were from students, because under each poem was the name of a classmate. This one was John’s:I think I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.I remember being really impressed that John knew how to write poetry — and good poetry at that. It wasn’t until about twenty years later that I discovered that not only was John not the author, but that there was also more to the poem than our teacher had shared. I hadn’t thought about this story in years, but all of a sudden so many memories about this old classmate, who by the way was someone I wasn’t even particularly close to, came flooding in. It made me think about what other memories I had in my head and how, in my own lazy roundabout way, I might actually be doing my own form of brain exercise by blogging.And now two more free associations: Happy belated Arbor Day. And enjoy some Talking Heads if you have iTunes.(South St & Vietnam Veterans Plaza, Manhattan)

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Sakura Matsuri: 36 Views

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In honor of both Hiroshige and Naomi Iizuka, I shot these pictures yesterday at Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Sakura Matsuri cherry blossom festival. It was packed, and I was disappointed not to see many women wearing kimonos this year, but the weather was beautiful and so were the cherry trees.[As always, clicking on the image above will display it at the original size. If anyone decides to use this as desktop wallpaper, let me know how it looks…](Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 1000 Washington Av, Brooklyn)

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The True Administration of Justice

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(New York State Supreme Court, 60 Centre St, Manhattan)