Bushwick – Got the Jimmy Legs


Now it's all covered with daisies

Pizza Pizza

Little Caeser's comes to Bushwick

While some of us (me!) struggle to find work, others in the neighborhood are newly employed. I just found out that a Little Caesar's has opened up the street from me, on Broadway between Jefferson and Cornelia. This is a few blocks off my usual beaten path (it's about halfway between the Halsey and Gates stops on the J) so I didn't hear about it until somebody dumped a bunch of these promotional postcards on my stoop.

There was a time when I would get all huffy about big chains moving in over the Mom & Pop paradigm, but a) I used to live in Clinton Hill, which has been overrun with ostensibly M&P shops full of expensive, unnecessary goods and services (who needs that many type of french pastry?), and b) the storefront it took over was unoccupied, as were its neighbors up and down the block, and they had been that way for years.

You know how after a forest fire, the first things to sprout are the little ferns and underbrush type stuff? They thrive because there's no competition. Their success sets the literal groundwork for the recovery of the rest of the forest.  Maybe the Little Caesar's and the Checkers and the Dunkin Donuts are these lil' recovery plants for Bushwick. Down in my end of the neighborhood, half the storefronts are unoccupied, so anybody willing to give it a shot is fine by me.

The Little Caesar's of my youth was strictly a financial proposition. They used to give you a 'free' pizza with every pizza ordered, hence their mnemonic chant-slogan, "PIZZA PIZZA." Of course I later realized that the cost of the 2nd pizza was already folded into the cost of the first, so it really wasn't such a good deal after all. Also in terms of quality, well, that too was a bit lacking. But I fell for the pitch and patronized them often as a teenager (I think I knew somebody who worked at one maybe). It seems they have abandoned the 2-for-1 pizza concept in favor of a more old-timey approach (round instead of square pie).  So who knows if it's any good, I'll probably break down and try it out shortly. But Jimmy, you cry, aren't you a vegan? Well, one nice touch is that LC is touting the fact they can make a vegan pizza now. Things are looking up!

Which end will I be on this time

We went to our polling place this morning, fearing long lines and difficult-to-grok voting apparatus. But not only were the machines working fine and easy to understand, there was no line. Like, at all.

As you may know, your average polling location is split up into a number of "election districts" which determine how many actual voting booths there are. Your address somehow determines which election district you are in. So we're in front of our booth, with no one else. All around us, every other district had fairly long lines, some prohibitively long. Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, we voted and got the hell out of there. But I gotta say, it looked a little weird.

Not to put too fine a point on it, we were pretty much the whitest people in the room. The only other white guy was filling out a provisional ballot … for our election district. It would not be hard to look at this scene and assume the palefaces had some kind of elevated status (like how first class passengers get to go through airport security faster). In short, on this historic day, we looked like the poster kids for White Privilege.

Now, I know that couldn't really be the case, but try looking up 'election district maps' and see what you find: Dick. What the hell is an election district? Anyway I eventually found them on some of the maps of other districts. Here (with a little inference) you can see that election districts are very small subdistricts, in my case 3 consecutive blocks. But more tellingly, my district is actually part of a larger Assembly district whose borders make me a part of Ocean Hill; we're just over the line by one block. Odd then, that my voting location is squarely in Bushwick, since many other designations include us with other neighborhoods. Who knows, but what it means is me and my 3-block radius vote in our own special bubble. Still, 3 blocks in this neighborhood is still a whole lot of people. (I'm sure they're all planning to vote when they get home from work.)

And it doesn't stop there, take a look at the Congressional District maps as well, it gives gerrymandering a bad name. You'd think that districts would be more or less blob-shaped, a circle or influence, or a square. But no, my district is a weird multi-pronged affair, covering several neighborhoods and spanning ridiculously-varied socioeconomic strata. Seems suspect, in any case. Forgive me if I seem cynical and paranoid, it's just been a long time since I voted and it felt like it mattered.

Up from Flames: Bushwick Walking Tour

TourBushwick was graced with another walking tour from the good folks at bcue.org, and as usual I nearly missed it. I got all confused about the dates and realized it was happening this past Sunday with some 20 minutes to spare. I made it to the Myrtle-Wyckoff station a little late, but hey, the walking tour is pretty easy to pick out of a crowd.

Mural FacadeApparently this tour was written up in Time Out: New York but I didn't catch the article (did anybody see it?) So besides the usual gaggle of old-timers and locals there were a few tourists. Though who can really tell these days.

This tour focused on Bushwick's most commonly-associated aspects, namely the blackout, the fires, the drugs, the mob influence, the crooked landlords, the specter of gentrification. Yet it was a lovely fall day and tour leader Adam Schwartz is great as an educator and raconteur, so he made sure it wasn't a total bummer. St. Barbara'sSome highlights included visiting St. Barbara's a Spanish Baroque style Catholic church built in 1909. Regardless your feelings on religion, you gotta admit this is a kick-ass building. You can't believe you're in Bushwick when you're inside it looking up at the insane level of detail on every available surface. Bushwick historian John Dereszewski was on hand and mentioned that he remembers an even stranger sight: St. Barbara's during Bushwick's nadir, pristine while surrounded by rubble and neglect.

Hope Gardens Phase III
We also covered the Hope Gardens housing project, which may bore some, but I find fascinating. It was the last housing project created before Reagan ended the whole 'experiment,' but has proven to be the most successful. Instead of monstrous high-rise buildings, Hope Gardens is mostly 3-story buildings, some set up like apartment complexes and some more like townhouses, complete with garden apartments. You see Hope Gardens in many locations throughout the neighborhood; its sprawling footprint was determined largely by which blocks were most decimated by fire. It's sort of too bad they weren't able to reproduce this model elsewhere.

Tony's PizzaThe tour culminated with a stroll through Maria Hernandez Park (where people were playing volleyball, which kind of blew my mind until Adam explained its popularity in Ecuador and Mexico). We ended things at "The Well," a block of Knickerbocker that previously contained a seemingly-bottomless supply of drugs in the 80s. Say what you will about the neighborhood now, we're already a long way from that now.

Some photos from the tour are here.

Where's the street-wise Hercules

The other day I heard the whining of a cat. This is obviously not that unusual around my house, but it was coming from outside. Which okay is also not all that unusual. But anyway this whining was more pained or forlorn or whatever, so it got my attention. I looked out and saw a black and white cat on a stoop across the street, crying at the door. The cat looked suspiciously like Marbles, who also used to sit on various stoops before we took her inside. It seemed pretty clear it lived in the house and wanted back in.

As I watched the cat, the neighbor next door to the cat emerged with their enormous Rottweiler. The dog is a fairly docile female, obviously not one of the 'bad' Rotts. But still, she's a big, big dog. The guy brought her down and started walking her down the sidewalk, oblivious to the cat. The dog immediately snapped to attention, pulling on the leash to try to get closer to the cat. The guy, skinny and generally unhealthy-looking, was having a lot of trouble controlling her; he pulled with all his strength and still the dog inched forward.

I don't even think the dog had an malicious intent, she just wanted to get up closer. It yanked the guy right over to the stoop, within a few feet of the cat. Now here's the funny part, the cat stood its ground and fought back!

You shoulda seen this little cat, all arched-back and puffed-out tail, hissing and growling at this enormous dog, rearing up and spitting. This was either one tough cookie or one stupid feline. The dog still leaned on the leash, the guy still struggled to pull her back to the sidewalk. Eventually he got the dog to walk further down the street. I figured the encounter was over, but a minute later they were heading back, but now the guy had a tree branch in his hand.

The cat was still on the stoop, and so the dog was still straining to get at it. So with one hand trying to hold back the dog, the guy starts swatting at the cat with the stick! The cat growls at him but doesn't run away, it just stays out of arm's (stick's) reach. The guy keeps swinging the stick, forcing the cat over to the areaway. Now he's trying to hit the cat by sticking the stick through the bars of the fence. The cat is hiding under some patio furniture, but keeps coming out as if to taunt the doofus. It would have been hilarious if he hadn't been serious.

By this point he's really trying to hurt the cat. At first I thought he was trying to shoo it away so the dog wouldn't be distracted, but now it's pretty obvious he's locked in a battle of wits, and he's unarmed. Except for that stick. He's swearing at the cat as his blows hit nothing but the neighbor's grill; the cat may actually think this is all a game. This guy is the same brain surgeon who got into an argument with the mailman a couple weeks before, resulting in a block-long shouting match as he questioned the mailman's manhood the further he got down the street.

So I'm trying to figure what to do. I want to go out and hit the guy in the head with a brick. I decide to try a passive method, then escalate if necessary. I go out on my stoop with a broom and start sweeping up the leaves (needed to be done anyhow). The Brave One shuts up right quick, drops the stick and disappears inside with the dog. What a douchebag. Did it even occur to him that his neighbors might not like it if he were to bash in the head of their pet? It's assholes like this that give the neighborhood a bad name. The guy's on my shitlist from now on; I've got a tree branch with his name on it.

I'm pretty sure everybody on the block knows about me and our cats, so I'm sure the guy got the message just from me coming outside. I went to check on the cat, it turned out to be a female kitten about 6 months old! What a little sparkplug! She kept on whining, so I brought her over to my stoop and gave her some food. She sunned herself for a while and then left. I didn't see, but I'm hoping she got back in her house. If not, she at least knows where to go if she gets locked out again.

And I looked and I saw that it was good

One of the first times I took the J train out to the Halsey station, one of the many reasons I felt like I had stepped off the map was the station itself. All the stations prior to it (and after it if you get to Broadway Junction) have decorative colored glass panels adorning the platforms. Halsey had no such thing, favoring beige-painted solid walls, interrupted only by a small section of chain-link fencing at one end (and there's probably some code thing that insists on this). Because of this disparity, Halsey seemed especially forlorn, like the MTA just didn't care enough about our little stop.

Of course, now that I've lived here a couple years, I don't even notice the walls, unless somebody's tagged it. I've seen far more depressing stations than mine (several on the M line in mid-Bushwick are particularly uninspiring), and I would rather the MTA spent its money fixing the inside of the station (where water tends to pool deeply around the Metrocard vending machines when it rains) rather than give us something purely cosmetic.

But since none of that seems to be happening any time soon, I'm happy to see our station upgraded to the level of, say, the Kosciuszko station. The panels looks very lovely, and the other people on the platform seemed to be pleased by it as well. Is it a sign of increased gentrification here? Or did the MTA just have a lot of leftover panels lying around and they needed the storage space (I note that the panels are all different, unlike most other stations). Probably no special agenda here, I'll know gentrification has stuck on Halsey when the Rite Aid actually stocks things properly.