As Cool As Ever Strumming

snowman red guitar

The Snowman with the Red Guitar — atBrooklyn Heights Promenade.

Brooklyn Poets

My wife and I were wondering what became of Strummin’ Joe: rhythm guitar troubadour, ingenious improviser, and all-around nice guy. When we last saw him, he was chicken scratching leisurely pass the last ice shelf on the left. Of course, we knew he was cool but had no idea how cool he really was (or is?).

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“Chill From His Rippling Rest”


Dawn seems to “chill from his rippling rest.” Few experiences are as ethereal as strolling across Brooklyn Bridge on a foggy morning. I did it a few times in my younger, more peripatetic days. While the view is opaque, the atmosphere is surreal; a sense of being suspended in time and space. But you inevitably reach the opposite shore and reality intercedes–unless you’re lucky enough to go on traversing in dreams.

Photo Source: Adam Scott

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest The seagull‘s wings shall dip and pivot him, Shedding white rings of tumult, building high Over the chained bay waters Liberty– – See more at:

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him, Shedding white rings of tumult, building high Over the chained bay waters Liberty– – See more at:

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him, Shedding white rings of tumult, building high Over the chained bay waters Liberty– – See more at:

How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him, Shedding white rings of tumult, building high Over the chained bay waters Liberty– – See more at:
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Food, Glorious Food?

porridge brooklyn

If a young Oliver Twist lived in Brooklyn in 2013, he would probably go to the Brooklyn Porridge Co., a Park Slope pop-up specializing in “whole grain porridges.” The boy Oliver could have his fill of soupy, boiled oats with toppings like portobello & pesto, artichoke hearts & white truffle oil, or ham with Vermont cheddar. Or, the pauper child could simply design his own bowl of gluten-free, non-GMO gruel, with two toppings for $6.95. Eater

Charles Dickens must be rolling over in his grave. Being a life-long student of the complete works and assorted idiosyncrasies of that great writer, I could confidently assert that gourmet pauperism was beyond his fiction. Of course, Boz didn’t live in a time and place, so unabashedly comfortable, that it allowed for such capricious poverty.

Ragamuffin Days & Parades

Manhattan: Bleecker Street - Christopher Street - 10th Stre...] (1933)

If it was known at all outside of New York City, it was because of a chapter in Betty Smith‘s A Tree Grows In Brooklyn where Francie dons a mask and becomes an urchin on the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn at Thanksgiving. Indeed, long before Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade appeared in New York City, there was the Ragamuffin Parade; a much smaller but equally cherished tradition. However, unlike Macy’s annual event, the Ragamuffin Parade was an occasion solely for children; and, similar to Halloween’s custom of trick-or-treating (also preceding it by many years), it was a time for kids to masquerade and visit door-to-door.

Actually, the Ragamuffin Parade wasn’t a single parade but a series of improvised  parades (or  gatherings, to be more specific) held throughout the city. Beginning in the early part of the 20th century, the parades usually occurred in immigrant neighborhoods and historians suspect that the custom may have originated in Europe. While their mothers were cooking Thanksgiving dinner, hordes of kids would transform themselves into paupers. Smearing burnt cork or charcoal on their faces (sometimes they merely wore masks), they’d dress in their parents’ old and, naturally, over-sized clothing and went off “begging.” Making their way down adjacent streets, they held out their hands for apples, pennies or candy with the chant, “Anything for Thanksgiving.”

In the early days of the tradition, “Ragamuffin” parades were held and children dressed in more elaborate costumes as well as the more tattered ones. The parades became a chance for the poorer immigrants to march through the street in extravagant costumes. More organized parades were established in 1923 by a director of the Madison Square Boys Club for the sole purpose of discouraging begging on the holiday among the youth of the city. An item in the New York Times of November 25, 1938 notes that eight year old Frank Manino came dressed as the mayor (“Fiorello”) and others impersonated John L. Lewis and Thomas E. Dewey, with the piece de resistance was “Ferdinand the Bull.” The first prize of a 15 lb. turkey went to an 11 year old boy dressed as a scarecrow. UE

The custom continued into the early 1960s, despite being replaced by Halloween as an excuse for such frivolity in the late 1940s, but is still observed in certain parts of Brooklyn; the Bay Ridge section, in particular. Having been born and raised in Bensonhurst  (which is adjacent to Bay Ridge) in 1954, I myself haven’t seen nor do I recall any ragamuffins on Thanksgiving or any other day (beyond the usual unfortunates who play the part all year round) but I’ll take urban lore’s word for it.

Even though my pre-Thanksgiving dinner time was spent absorbed in watching Laurel and Hardy’s March of the Wooden Soldiers and other televised holiday treats, dressing up as a ragamuffin and annoying my neighbors could have been just as delightful.

Sources: Long Live the Ragamuffin Parade

New York Public Library

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The Haunting Conference House


Built in 1680, the Billop House in Tottenville, Staten Island (or Conference House, as it came to be known) was the site of the failed peace attempt of 1776. It was here that John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Edward Rutledge met with Admiral Richard Howe who (along with his brother William) commanded British forces in America during the first years of the American Revolution.

The British were already in control of the westernmost portion of Long Island (later becoming Brooklyn), but the Howes were sympathetic to American grievances and offered to end the war and avoid further bloodshed. However, the British would only accept an unconditional peace on their own terms whereas the Americans would only accept unconditional independence. The peace endeavor failed and the American Revolution officially started.

The Conference House played no other role in history but for its long history of reported hauntings. A child who once lived there used to converse with the ghost of a British soldier, describing the apparition with keen accuracy. On dark nights, a woman could be seen signaling to someone or something by a window; she is famous for a “cold spot” that has been studied by paranormal experts. The ghost is believed to be the servant of Christopher Billup, a Tory who, convinced that the girl was about to betray him into the hands of the Colonists, murdered her.

The house was abandoned in 1895 and wouldn’t reopen until 1937. Vincent and Maureen Malone lived in the house in the 1970s and reported poltergeist-like activity: flashing lights, moving objects, a “cool breeze” that left Maureen feeling “violated.”

My wife and I have visited the Conference House on several occasions. Even I, skeptic that I am, do admit that there’s an eerie ambiance to the place; a feeling that “something” is just WAITING to be encountered there.


Brightening Up the Boardwalk


4.27.2004 Gretchen Mol in Coney Island filming a TV movie, “The Ballad of Bettie Page.”


gretchen mol3

Now these are the sort of attractions that make me want to constantly rediscover Coney Island; they’d even be more thrilling than my annual ride on the Cyclone.

Brooklyn New York Baby Boomers and Everyone Who Loves Brooklyn

King of Kings and Hipsters


“If you know that I am an unbeliever, then you know me better than I do myself. I may be an unbeliever, but I am an unbeliever who has a nostalgia for a belief.”– Pier Paolo Pasolini

Hosanna in the Highest. Brooklyn’s Catholic Diocese has now outdone itself in the field of  marketing by giving a new age spin to that miracle-spinning virtuoso from Bethlehem. Meet the 21st century’s new and improved Jesus Christ …re-resurrected as the original hipster.

As Katie McDonough at Salon notes, Jesus “was a carpenter, and craftsmanship is big in Brooklyn right now.” Not to mention that he famously turned water into wine, “which is very do-it-yourself and kind of locavore-ish.” And don’t forget the beard:

The Diocese was somewhat embarrassed that the ad was released unintentionally, appropriately perhaps, on April 1 (April Fools’ Day, of course). But since it’s gone to such groovy extremes, why should that matter anymore? Here in Park Slope, everyday seems like April Fools Day bordering on Halloween.


Jesus: The ‘original hipster’?–The Week

Judas at the Plate?

Dodgers- O'Malley
4.18.1958 – Dodger president Walter O’Malley presents the home plate of Ebbets Field, signed by all the Dodger players, to Mayor Norris Poulson during welcoming ceremonies at City Hall in L.A.

The Brooklyn Dodgers were gone before I was old enough to appreciate such fun and games. However, I soon learned of the legendarily treacherous deal that O’Malley had struck, moving the team to Los Angeles. Whenever the conversation amongst the “older kids” would turn to the departed Dodgers, the name O’Malley was sure to follow; the conversation quickly taking a more “linguistically colorful” turn. Many considered burning O’Malley in effigy if not in actuality. In those days, you felt as though you knew O’Malley and the Brooklyn Dodgers all your life…whether or not you knew them at all.

But Walter O’Malley was arguably no better or worse than many other baseball moguls that preceded or followed him. To be fair, he didn’t just pack up the team and high tail it out of town like a thief in the night. Ebbets Field was in a serious state of neglect and disrepair; by the 1950s, the place was practically falling apart. In spite of the fans’ nostalgic love and devotion, the Dodgers couldn’t pack the house even during the heat of a pennant race. In short, the team was losing money.

After gaining ownership of the Dodgers in 1950, O’Malley was planning to build a more attractive, more accessible, ballpark for the team somewhere in Brooklyn. But the all-powerful Robert Moses, in his role as New York City Construction Coordinator, squelched O’Malley’s ambitions.

Moses decreed that the Dodgers’ new ballpark would be a city-built, city-owned stadium in Flushing Meadows, Queens (site of the future NY Mets’ Shea Stadium); a take-it-or-leave-it deal. Deprived of an adequate locale in Brooklyn for his team (through the contrivances of Moses, it’s suspected), O’Malley went into his infamous Goodbye, Brooklyn-Hello, LA mode. The rest is often inaccurate history, pointless controversy and, of course, charming nostalgia.

photo:  New York Baby Boomers and Everyone Who Loves Brooklyn