Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ocean Parkway Idiosyncracies: A Photo Essay

The above photo is from a local liquor store. Yes, it's a bottle of liquor in the shape of a woman's shoe. This picture is my introduction to this little photo essay about my neighorhood, Kensington, off Ocean Parkway, and what I find so interesting about it. It's very Eastern European and Orthodox Jewish, with a mixture of other groups thrown in. Sometimes things in their respective cultures doesn't translate as well to my eyes as they might think.

And away we go ...

For example, this place is called Tard

Fax and a haircut ... two bits! (Note: I have gotten my haircut at Vital's. Have yet to send a fax or make copies.)

No, I think we'll be dining in at Castle Dracula tonight.

They have "caucasian" food. Probably won't be opening any branches downtown.

Below are more photos from the really cool local liquor store where I took the photo of the shoe. This store features booze in a variety of strange and wonderful bottles. Such as below, the cognac sturgeon?

Santa Claus, a huntsman, and a porcelain peasant woman: booze porters all.

Whoa boy! Which is probably what you will be saying when you finish this particular bottle.

Booze manequins!

Chasing the dragon ... (Also, I just noticed the part you drink from comes straight out of the dragon's ass.)

I've heard of shotgunning a beer, but this takes the cake.

Okay, THIS takes the cake; also probably not a lot of fun to get through customs.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Ocean Parkway Idiosyncracies Pt. 1: A Salsa Free Zone

My neighborhood is safe, clean and in some ways quite pretty. Ocean Parkway was built up, or so my father says, to be kind of like Park Avenue. Only for Jews because way back when they didn't allow us Chosen People to inhabit the choicest addresses in Manhattan, so we built up our own version of Millionaire's Row.

It's broad, it's attractive, it has charming little side roads running along the main road. It has a lot going for it. But what it doesn't have, for the most part, is salsa.

I know, I know, this is a trivial complaint. If you like the area, and it's a good place to house a little family, and the rent is okay, and the apartment is massive by New York standards, just suck it up and shutup, right?

Only there's one problem: I LOVE salsa.

And I just don't understand why it's so hard to find some in my neighborhood.

I found this out a few nights ago. I had come home from work and missed Randi's message that we were to have rice and beans that night, and I should pick up some salsa. So I got home, and looked in the fridge and realized we were short. Okay, no problem. There are like five delis right near us, one of them ought to have it.

I thought this because salsa is actually the most popular condiment in the U.S. having supplanted ketchup years ago. I thought this because in every other area I've ever lived the local deli or corner store not only had salsa, but tons of salsa, and from different makers. It's an American food, as popular as it comes. It would be like going to a store and finding out they don't have soda, or air.

So I walk to the closest local deli.

"Hi, do you have salsa?" The guy behind the counter, who looks Mid-Eastern looks at me as if I just asked him the square root of pi, or for his papers. He just didn't understand, at all, what I could possibly be talking about.

Hmm, that's strange. I start to look throughout the store. No tortilla chips either, not a good sign. But they have so much other stuff that is typical of delis. In fact they seem to have on their shelves every tomato based product you can find but salsa: ketchup, tomato sauce, hot sauce, the list really goes on.

I see a Latin American guy restocking the shelves. I figure HE would know where the salsa is, if anyone does in this store. So I ask him. He looks at me with a blank stare. Then he walks me over to the aisle, and points at a can of tomato paste. "Salsa?"

"No," I say, "this isn't it. Hey, you know salsa, right? You can put it on tortilla chips? It had chunks of tomato in it, and spices? It's good. You guys must have it somewhere, right?" He stares at me blankly. Here, I must admit, I felt pretty strange; lecturing a Latin American man about salsa. What's wrong wrong with this picture?

I talk to the Middle-eastern fellow behind the counter for a few more moments, and he kind of patronizes me, like I'm an especially confused and strange child.

Okay, so these guys are out. I go next door to another deli. This one is filled with Latino-looking gentlemen. I take this as a positive sign. I look through the aisles, though, and see no salsa. Again, I see tomatoes in every other form BUT salsa. Is this a conspiracy? I ask at the counter, and, again, the answer is they have no idea what I am talking about. It's like The Twilight Zone.

I walk down the block to a Korean green grocer.

"Hi, do you have salsa?" I ask. He looks confused. "Salsa," I repeat, "like the dance?" And here, despite myself, I do a little hip shaking movement to illustrate my point.

This finally makes him understand. "Oh, no. Maybe in the summer."

I leave, baffled. Maybe in the summer? Salsa, as far as I know, is not a particularly cool and refreshing summer time snack. It's not exactly like you would down a chilled pitcher of it, like lemonade. Miffed I walk a block over.

Here, at my local deli where I buy beer, the guy asks me -- in a moment ripped straight from "Seinfeld" -- if I mean seltzer, the bubbly beverage. NO, I answer. I mean the tomato based sauce with chunks of stuff in it, it's really popular in the rest of America, and yada yada yada.

He nods his head, now understanding. "Oh no, noooooooooooooo."

I'm sorry, but is my neighborhood in a worm hole? I know that it's mainly occupied by Eastern Europeans, and they can be a xenophobic group, set in their ways. But god knows they've filled the local stores with stuff they like to eat. I can get about 10,000 different brands of pickles, and hundreds of different kinds of pork stuffed into a casing, but salsa is hardly this crazy, exotic thing. It should be available everywhere. Yes, I know, it's not herring stuffed into a can, or yet another platter of smoked salmon. All of which I am completely down with, but this is something that almost everyone else in the rest of America eats with great gusto. If they tried it they would probably like it. I told various deli owners this during my stupid, quixotic quest, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears.

Maybe if they made salsa that tasted like kielobosa ...

Finally, this last deli guy directs me to the first place I should have gone anyway: The Mexican deli up the street.

Feeling abashed for ignoring the obvious I walked into the Mexican deli, and did, indeed find salsa. It wasn't a brand I was familiar with, and they only had two jars of the stuff anyway. For a crazy second I thought about stocking up, but then I remembered that while I may live on Ocean Parkway I work in Manhattan, and if I really apply myself I just might be able to find some salsa, I don't know, EVERYWHERE.

The two kinds they had were not what I had grown used to. One was green salsa, and the other looked black. I went with what was more familiar and bought the green. And I must say, it was excellent.

On the way back from the deli I formulated a theory as to why salsa was so hard to find. Eastern Europeans, and Orthodox Jews -- who together they make up most of the neighborhood -- won't touch the stuff. They might not even know about the stuff. Real Latin Americans, the next largest minority in the neighborhood, also don't eat chips and salsa, because it's gringo food. I'm guessing here, but it seems to be right. So, the only people who really eat a lot of chips and are us yuppies, and there just aren't all that many in my area. Okay, so it's not exactly like I'm pioneering the Wild West in my covered wagon. But, still, I'm suffering, at least a little, by being an early gentrifier. You could almost feel sorry for me.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Daughter Is Like The Stock Market

You know those graphs you see of the stock market, where they are generally moving in one direction over the course of several months, but there are peaks and valleys along the way? That's kind of the way Stella Rae is with sleep.

Generally, and we know this, things are headed in a more positive direction. Most nights she sleeps reasonably well. We've certainly experienced a world of difference from when she was first born, through when she was three months old. In that time, as I've no doubt noted before, she slept very little, cried a lot, and was so sensitive to every single sound, or source of light. Needless to say our first three months with her were pretty tough, even in comparison to the ride most new parents get. Or so I've been told by many parents I've gotten to know. Including, natch, MY parents.

But over time things have gotten better, slowly. It's changed as she's changed, invisibly to the naked eye, but subtly. There wasn't a day that all of a sudden hit and Stella Rae was sleeping more. It took months for her to adjust to this cold, cruel world. Still, over an enormous amount of time it seems like she'd finally started to get there.

Then about three weeks ago something akin to a miracle, at least in our eyes, took place. She started to nearly sleep through the night. I mean, we were dumbstruck! We didn't know what to do with our newly rested and recharged batteries. You'd think with all this extra energy we'd have written the great American novel, or at least novella, or at least website, but no, we didn't really. As hard as it is for us to adjust to no sleep, we adjusted back to more or less regular sleep all too quickly. Then if we ONLY got six hours a night, we were suddenly groggy. Just as water fits its container, our sleepiness seemed to adjust to however much sleep we received. In other words we remained sleepy, despite getting normal hours in.

Soon we were shuffling blindly for coffee, as always. Bumping around. And it's not like I got into work all that much earlier, either. Or was all that much more productive at work. I guess I was back to being me.

But there were a few changes that we couldn't help but notice. We became much nicer to one another, Randi and myself. And Stella would wake up with a smile. It was all quite pleasant.

Then, like the stock market, there was a sudden, sharp and unexpected downturn about two weeks ago. Stella started to wake up multiple times a night, again, and for no good reason. Then it would take, once more, hours to get her calm enough to get back into her crib.

I developed new strategies out of necessity. I went back to holding her for what seems like hours, until she collapsed on my shoulder. Randi once again had to become Iron Tit McGraw, allowing the Brooklyn Baby to chew on her sensitive bits for way too long in order to get pacified. Sometimes I would sit with her in the middle of the night on the couch, with all the lights off, just sitting there. Eventually, party animal that I am, I would wear her out this way. I also started to take her to the rocking chair in the middle of the night, too, and do the same thing.

So, this is where we are. Our daughter might or might not wake up. We may or may not be able to get her back to sleep. None of it really makes any sense. Our hour long bed-time ritual sometimes works, sometimes doesn't. Overall the trend is positive, and if you could buy futures in whether Stella will likely sleep more four months from now I would recommend it. It might not pan out, but it probably will. I think our personal stock market of sleep really bottomed out about six months ago, but maybe there is another huge crash coming. We will have to find out.

Unlike the real stock market, though, if we put our resources into making this situation better we at least have a reasonable feeling that our investment --in this case an investment of time -- will be justified. That's more than I can say to the investments I've made in the actual market. And you can't hug the actual stock market, although sometimes Stella Rae isn't all that keen on being hugged anyway.

I am going long on Stella Rae, though. I think this one will finally pay off, although I hope it's before I'm ready to retire.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Crappy Dads

I've been thinking a lot about Henry Miller recently. Now, stick with me, I think this is going someplace.

Like most of us I have a fairly routine routine. I wake up every day at the same time, go to sleep more or less at the same time. I have a wife and child that depend on me, in every sense. I try to be reliable, responsible and loving. I live for them at least as much as I live for me. I do things that I think will improve all our lives. I do not do things, as far as I know, that I think will embarrass them. I do these things with love, and with all of my heart, grateful for my fascinating, extraordinary wife, and my daughter. We build our lives together, and I am so proud of all we have already done. And it just keeps getting better.

But, sometimes it's easy to fantasize about being Henry Miller.

Let's face it, the guy did everything wrong, and lived to tell the tale. He moved to Paris without a nickel, and sponged off friends for years, quite literally. He did what he wanted, period. He seemed to have utter confidence in himself as an artist and everything else was second to that belief: convention, responsibilities. He was free, or so it seems from the outside.

Sure, he was broke. Sure, he only got any kind of recognition about sixty years into his life, and after that he was still pretty much broke. Sure, he lived a life of tumult, with a string of bad marriages behind him. But Miller was pure, his art was pure. The kind of purity you can only get when you commit to your craft that totally. Without it you will never know how great an artist you can be.

So sometimes I wonder about that. But then I wonder about this: what must it have been like to be Henry Miller's daughter? Because he got married, even before he met the fabled June, to a piano teacher, and he had a daughter. That first marriage disintegrated, probably when he fell into's June's insane embrace, and then that marriage crumpled when he moved to Paris, penniless, to write.

But what about Miller's daughter? Her dad was a broke, shiftless, sometimes homeless bum. A deadbeat. Not there emotionally, financially or physically.

Now, I don't know what kind of relationship Miller had with his daughter. Or the other kids he had with other women/wives down the road. But that's kind of the point, right? You never find out what kind of parents most of these seemingly heroic figures are, because, it seems, no one cares.

Gauguin split for Tahiti, leaving his family behind, to screw his brains out with native women, and paint. But what about Gauguin's family? Didn't they miss him? Didn't they hate him? Did they ever reconcile?

Jerry Garcia spent a life honing his craft, bringing joy to millions of music fans and casting a spell across a generation. But his daughter, at his memorial service, seemed bitter and angry. Heroin addict, itinerant musician, baby daddy but not father, that was the other Jerry Garcia. What about Jerry Garcia's daughter? What does she think about her dad today?

Sometimes I think this is the untold story of the world: what about the kids that have to survive the so-called "great men?" Did this experience, being the child of the obsessed, the ego-maniac, the pure artist, cripple them in some ways?

Because the level of concentration you need to become truly great at something is not for the faint of heart. You can be great at something, but it's often to the exclusion of so much else. Including, it seems, a healthy family life. The countless hours working on your masterpiece, the selfishness that is so often required of top-flight careers, these things require you to become laser-focused.

And society values such people lavishly. We praise these great men. But we don't praise great fathers. In fact, it seems kind of like damning someone with faint praise. Like he's a patsy in the game, the family man, boring, mediocre.

And, I can see the other side. We all benefit from the obsessed. I read Miller and am glad for his ego-mania. I listen to Garcia and thank him for his life spent without his family. I look at the art of Gauguin, or Picasso, and it transports me. So I don't know what to say. I can't imagine not having these great works in my life.

But I know that raising a healthy child is a great work, too. In my opinion the greatest. And not one that everybody can do. And to do it right, your art, by definition will suffer. Because it's not all about you anymore. That's why so many rock bands become snoozers when the singer becomes a dad and starts singing about the kids. It's a death sentence for us. But a life sentence for him. The good kind, one would hope.

I feel if I can be the father I hope to be I can raise a child who will help heal the world with kindness, compassion and brains. A tall order, but that's my real hope. And that she will be joyful, too, as she goes through this life. What she becomes, ultimately, is not that important to me. But I hope that she believes in it, and does it for the right reasons, and strives for greatness. These are my desires and hopes as a parent. That my child is greater than I could ever be, and she will have the confidence and serenity that I find such a challenge. Tall order, I know, but that's how I see parenting. If I give less than my 100% toward making Stella the best person she can be, then I have failed, and the consequences are far more dire than the failure of anything I could ever write. In my life, Stella and Randi win. The rest fights for silver.

I have no answers, only questions, in this post. I know the ego maniacs will always be with us. I also know we all benefit from their ego mania. But often their families pay in a most spectacular fashion, and the children are innocent. I know where I side, but I enjoy that others can live that life for me.

So, I'm sorry Henry. Not that you'd notice!