Monday, September 23, 2013

Finding My Way Back to Dreamland 2

I had the weirdest dream after seeing a play last night. I think it's because I haven't seen a play in nearly a year. Yes, strange for a culture junkie like me, but after so many years of giving my sweat, tears, and blood and getting so little in return, I just began to feel like I was in some kind of sick abusive relationship and had to take a break. In my head I was writing a letter that went:
Dear Theater,  
I've loved you since I was five years old but I think it's time I face the fact that our relationship is largely unrequited. I know that you have a lot of other lovers and I've always tried to be open about our relationship. For a long time, it didn't matter to me as long as we were together, but frankly, I'm sick of being so neglected. Things just aren't the same between us anymore and I think we need to take a break. Especially since there seems to be something nice developing between me and your brother, Film. 
The fallout with theater has been going on for a while. Last year, I broke my record for least amount of support: I didn't get a single yes for any of the grants, residencies, or programs that I applied for. And I was already terribly burned out by doggedly trying to continue producing things despite the worst case of poverty I've endured my whole life, being evicted from my apartment, and the crashing end of a ten-year relationship. I pondered what Robert Patrick once said to me about quitting theater when it stopped being fun, which I used to think was so very sad, but finding myself at a new wrist-cutting low in stamina and self-esteem, I basically thought at the beginning of this year, Screw this elitist shit.

I did attempt to attend a sold-out reading; salt was added to my wounds when I was turned away despite knowing half a dozen people involved in it. And I went to one promenade theater piece that was eh. And somehow despite thinking I would take a break, I ended up working on three full productions this year. But last night was the first night that felt like I was stepping back into my old relationship with theater.

I was lured into going to a reading by Nancy Robillard, who directed a staged reading of SINCE AFRICA by Mia McCullough at Take Two, the double bill of theater and film that I produced for five years. She was directing another staged reading of the play for Red Fern with pretty much the same cast, plus Mia (who lives in Chicago) was in New York City. So I went with a bit of trepidation, but it was a really good reading and I said hello to everyone and was pleased that I had introduced Nancy to this brilliant play and it was getting another go-around in New York City.

Then this morning, I woke up remembering a vivid dream. Haven't had one since the last time I wrote about (not) dreaming.
I was in the basement of Theater for the New City, the way it looked back in the 1980s when I was a teenager and lived down there. I sat down and my cat, Isis Crisis, jumped into my lap. She looked emaciated and her white fur was matted and dull. I was rather aghast - not because she was DEAD - but because I realized that I had left her down in the basement 15 years ago and forgotten to feed her. I ran outside to buy some cat food and then went back down to the basement, but now I couldn't find her although I called and called. 
I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep,  still rather mortified that I had forgotten to feed Isis when I loved her so much. Turning the dream around fretfully in my mind, I fell back asleep and had an even weirder dream.
There was a huge escalator with hundreds of people slowly going down in a neat orderly line. Next to the escalator was a giant wavy slide that looked much more exciting. So I elected to go down on the slide, which at first was really fun. I laughed and threw my hands up in the air. But then the slide became a tunnel that narrowed to the point where I began to feel uncomfortably claustrophobic. A recorded voice informed me that I was in a tube going to an area where I would either be baked in a pie or deboned. I suddenly remembered that I had been here before and had somehow managed to get myself out. Two buttons appeared in front of me. One said PIE; the other said DEBONING. I remembered that the last time, I had pressed PIE and belatedly realized that the buttons were mislabeled when I was attacked with a set of knives. I had to kick and scream to get out of the machine - though I was hazy on all the details on how I had managed to survive. This time, I carefully managed to choose PIE. A big pie pan appeared that said LAY HERE with a picture of someone curled up like they were in Child Pose in yoga. I obeyed, wondering if I could stand being baked for an hour in a pie and how on earth I was going to escape.  
Apparently according to my subconscious, which seems to have a weird sense of humor, the fate of an artist is to be deboned or served in a pie. But now I'm forgetting to feed the kitty in the basement. Guess I better crack open a nice can of tuna...

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Asian-American Blues

So a few months ago, I applied to the Asian Film Academy (AFA), whose stated aim on their website is "to foster emerging filmmakers and establish Asian filmmaker's network." Stupid me for thinking that I'm an Asian filmmaker. This was their response:
I regret to inform you that it is not possible for you to apply for AFA because we can accept applications from those who have Asian or dual nationality only.
As a result of considering your application form, it seems to be that you are born in the USA and you only belong to the United States.   
So I'm not Asian enough for this program since I was born in the United States. But then again, I'm not American enough to be part of mainstream America either.

I responded by stating that my parents are Taiwanese, so I'm Asian even if I was born in America. They asked what nationality I had based on my passport. This was what I wrote, which was met with silence.
I have a US passport. But it seems that I have Taiwanese nationality, according to Taiwan's government website. You can scroll down on the page to see that it says: 
A person shall have the nationality of the Republic  of China under any of the conditions provided by the  following subparagraphs:
1.His/Her father or mother was a national of the Republic of China when he/she was born.
Both my parents were ROC citizens when I was born. My mother is still an ROC citizen - her English is too poor to take a US citizenship test. I've thought about applying for citizenship in Taiwan, just never done it since I've lived and worked in NYC my whole life. 

And I think it's terribly wrong that Asian-Americans aren't considered Asian. We struggle to belong anywhere, it seems.
It rankled that I had to prove my Asian-ness and I guess it's been part of the pile-up of discouragement that I've been feeling. I'm finally back to applying to a few things now and I just pulled up this application to copy some verbiage, but it got my blood boiling again.

I mean it just blows that Asian-Americans can't apply for programs in Asia and we are also limited in the support we get in America. Like instead of being both Asian and American, which is what I consider myself, we are actually neither Asian nor American.

Talk about rejection on top of rejection on top of rejection.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Tompkins Square Park, 25 Years Ago

On the night of the 2003 blackout, I was sitting in Tompkins Square Park with my then boyfriend, enjoying the festivities that always spontaneously erupt during any emergency in New York City. We were in the old bandshell area, saying hello to people and enjoying the nice campfire glow from several garbage cans that had been set on fire. Several shirtless 20-something guys were dancing around one of the garbage fires, whooping like happy monkeys liberated from the zoo. A policeman finally ambled by and told them that he had to douse the fire. “Awww!” whined the kids and then they all began pleading, “Not now! Not now!”

My boyfriend and I burst out laughing, both of us flashing back to 1988, when the kids in the park would have been shouting, “Pigs out of the park! Who’s fucking park? OUR fucking park!” Where did all that anger, all that conviction, that sense of ownership, go? In the new New York, the puerile cry is, “Not now, dad! We’re having too much fun!“

Police Riot by Erik Drooker
It’s been 25 years since East Village residents stood up against 400 policemen in a heroic last stand against gentrification in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood was completely different then. Picture being constantly accosted by drug dealers on the corner. "Sense? Sense?" they would say. Or the names of various heroin brands, "Presidential? Poison?" Lines of scruffy people scratching their faces snaked out of bodegas that had nothing but a few dusty Goya cans in the window. Every so often you'd see some cops making a sweep of arrests, but most of the time, drug dealing went on right out in the open. Many buildings were hulking burned-out shells. Whole blocks were comprised of crumbled heaps of rubble.

It was like the Wild West, completely beyond the law. There were no regulations about anything. Depending on who you are, this could be really nerve-wracking or incredibly liberating. Shoot outs happened on the streets, drugs were sold openly, a thieves market flourished on St. Marks Place. But you could also do a show in the bandshell anytime you wanted. Or walk down the street in nothing but your skivvies and glitter in your hair. Or turn that empty store into a performance space. And you could live pretty decently on $800 a month. Which is why the neighborhood became a magnet for artists and radical thinkers from everywhere in the world.

So when white flight began to reverse itself, the first place people made a beeline toward was the East Village. In 1986, the Christadora House was converted into the first luxury condominium with a doorman in the neighborhood. Situated on the poorer side of Tompkins Square Park, it had formerly been a community center and settlement house, so it became a target of a lot of hostility and a symbol of gentrification. You just couldn't help but notice how the upper-middle class people who had started moving in were scared by the homeless people in the park and the lawlessness in the neighborhood. And they had the money and clout to do something about it. By 1988, there were enough of them to pressure the Community Board to shut down the park.

Then as now, Tompkins Square Park is the heart and soul of the neighborhood. Sure, there were plenty of problems with the park in the 1980s, but it wasn't just a destitute wasteland that no one in their right mind would enter. It was just poor, full of Latino kids from the nearby projects, and homeless people, who had erected a camp on the southeastern end. I remember lazy warm nights sitting on tire swings in the Avenue B playground with my high school friends, dancing with old Latino guys to the rhythm of conga players, performing in the bandshell to hundreds of spectators including families with kids. So when a sign appeared in Tompkins Square Park that police would be enforcing a 1AM curfew, many people were outraged, viewing it as a takeover by the wealthier people in the neighborhood and a trick to evict the homeless people. On July 30, the police announced on megaphones that they were closing the park and clashed with people who refused to leave. Incensed, neighborhood activists planned a bigger and more organized protest the following Saturday, August 6.

The evening began with a few hundred people marching around the park carrying banners that read GENTRIFICATION IS CLASS WAR and chanting, “Who’s fucking park? OUR fucking park!” About a hundred policemen were stationed in the park, about a dozen of them mounted on horses. Someone started setting off M80 firecrackers, but despite all the expletives and explosions, it was actually pretty tame. Videos made by Paul Garrin and Clayton Patterson, however, reveal that many of the police officers already weren’t wearing badges or had taped them over. They were apparently prepped for a brawl.

At 12:30, when it began to get close to the curfew, police tried to shut the park down and things began to get heated. Bottles were thrown and someone was arrested. Then at 1AM, the mounted policemen suddenly charged at the crowd. The commissioner called for reinforcements and their arrival added to the pandemonium. The police indiscriminately began beating people up, whether they were protesting or just simply passing by. “Move along, black nigger bitch,” a policeman said as they pounced on Tisha Pryors and her friend, Downtown reporter Dean Kuipers.  “I’m going to crack open your skull,” a policeman waving a nightstick shouted at media activist Paul Garrin, who continued to videotape as they grabbed him and threw him against a wall. A hundred people ended up in the hospital in skirmishes that persisted until 6AM, but the police were unable to close down the park.

Within the next week, over a hundred of complaints of police brutality were logged. “The police panicked and were beating up bystanders who had done nothing wrong and were just observing,'' stated Allen Ginsburg in The New York Times. The ranking police chief was later and the precinct captain was temporarily relieved of his post. The incident is called the Tompkins Square Park riot, but it's important to remember that it was the police who rioted. They were so out of hand that they radicalized a whole bunch of people who had never considered themselves particularly political.

Photo from Tompkins Square Park before the police rioted. By Q. Sakamaki from
his fantastic photo book on the riot published by PowerHouse Books. 

I wasn't there that night. I had spent the afternoon performing on 10th Street at the first show for Theater for the New City's summer street theater, which that year was about an evicted family squatting a Coney Island funhouse. We all went to get a drink at Bandito's on Second Avenue afterwards so I was about three blocks from the melee and missed it. Though I do remember seeing people running past and wondering what was happening. After hearing about the incident in the park from various people, I turned up at 7A Cafe the next night to see what was going on.

The place was packed and it seemed just like any other night. No one seemed to pay attention to the television on the corner of the bar but when an anchorperson began talking about Tompkins Square Park, the bartender turned off the music and amped up the volume. In a flash, the entire restaurant stopped talking and stood up, watching the news report in silence. It was one of the most beautiful moments of solidarity I've ever witnessed. We were all in it together – it was our park, our neighborhood at stake. When Mayor Koch announced that he was reversing the curfew, we cheered and hugged each other. Then the bartender turned the music back on and we went back to dinner. Life went on as usual. For a few more years.

In 1991, the cops descended on the park once more and this time, they were able to close it down. Maybe everyone happened to be out of town for Memorial Day. Maybe the energy of the neighborhood was all spent by then. Maybe the gentrification that had begun in the mid-1980s had already cemented into a resinous gloss of triviality and conformism. When the park re-opened a year later, the bandshell had been removed and there was a volleyball net in its place. Which always seems to me to be some weird irony. Gone was the opportunity for ad-hoc theater and music events in the park. But we can all play volleyball! Spontaneous raucous events in the East Village did persist for a few more years – people continued to crawl through the fence for late night parties at Dry Dock Pool and meander across to the East River on Sunday nights for salsa dancing and illegal gambling – but the closing of the park was like the taming of the West. A vital part of the East Village spirit of resistance died.

This coming week, several events will commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the riot in Tompkins Square Park.  Those of you who weren't there can get a rare glimpse of the good old bad old days. And those of us who were there can look back on that summer 25 years ago when Tompkins Square Park was still our fucking park. 

Event Listings:

  • The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MorUs) is sponsoring a film festival in their space and several in several gardens. Filmmakers will be in attendance, some of these films are real gems. 
  • facebook page of all the events - the panel discussion at Theater 80 on August 6th will be interesting, especially with a slideshow of War in the Neighborhood, the great graphic novel by Seth Tobocman. 

Videos of the Tompkins Square Park police riot:

Articles on Tompkins Square Park police riot:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Finding My Way Back to Dreamland

I haven't been able to remember my dreams since I lost my apartment three years ago. It's been rather odd, since I used to regularly record my dreams in a pink marble composition book that mysteriously appeared one day. Interestingly, the pink marble composition book also disappeared in the eviction. So I seemed to have lost my old dreams along with the ability to remember new ones.

Sometimes I thought this was because there was too much cement. I always did dream better somewhere rural but come to think of it, even when I was in Taiwan last year or up at a friend's country house, I still couldn't remember any dreams.

On 11th Street, there used to be a pear tree right outside my bedroom window. A truck ran into it at the end of my tenancy and the city chopped it down. It wasn't long after that when I stopped remembering my dreams. Even though the mom and pop of the restaurant downstairs planted a bush of some sort. I began to think of that pear tree as some kind of lightning rod for my dreams.

And maybe there's some truth to that. One morning a month or so ago, I woke up and in that split second before I opened my eyes, I thought I was back on 11th Street in my old bed with the pear tree outside my window in full flower. Then the barking of Cantonese and the grunting of trucks on the Bowery invaded my consciousness and I realized where I was. But that split second with the flowering pear tree stayed with me. It was like my old friend, wherever she was, had somehow finally found me.

A few weeks after that, I dreamed that I said 'I love you' to someone. And then another night, I had a dream about that cute guy at the bank. I think he was dressed in a funny outfit of some sort but I don't remember anything else.  Two nights ago, I woke up with a start in the middle of the night and remembered all of a completely crazy dream, just like the ones I used to have. I was so surprised, I couldn't get back to sleep. So I sat up and wrote it all down:

There was  matador who was showing off to a woman he loved. The entire crowd was fixated as he executed one graceful pirouette after another, so close to the bull, yet dancing away just in time. His cape was made of black velvet. Finally, the matador waved his cape at the bull and the entire audience was struck with the thought that this time, he was not going to be so lucky. Sure enough, the bull came charging at the cape and sank his horns deep into him.

The matador staggers out of the stadium and then suddenly, he turns into a guy with thin blond hair in a light suit who looks sort of like my high school principal. Injured and bloody, he stumbles onto the top of a long metal staircase going down to an exit on the ground floor. There are lots of well-dressed people going up and down the staircase, who scurry out of the way, as the boss (he's now the boss) tumbles down the steps in his death throes.

As he dies, lots of black water begins to seep from the wounds in his body. This is followed by urine. There is so much liquid, it floods the building and creates a pool up to the middle of the staircase. It smells and it's disgusting. Everyone is desperately clambering up the stairs, trying to get out of the fetid water, grimly dealing with the stench. The boss floats upside down in his own putrid water. Then someone takes pity on him, turns him over, and starts to drag him up the stairs in the vain hope that he might still be alive. People applaud and cheer at this exhibit of goodwill.

I look down through the water and see that there are still a lot of submerged people sitting on the benches on the ground floor level of the building, holding their breaths. A few of them fart and bubbles come out of their butt.

What a weird dream, especially after three years of dreamlessness. My subconscious must have a particularly bizarre sense of humor.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

George Washington was in Chinatown

I've probably passed this plaque a million times and never really noticed it. Right on the corner of Bowery and Canal, on that big domed bank that's now HSBC. There's usually a Chinese guy scraping away on a two-string violin under it.


"In 1783, the Black Horse Inn stood on this site and the Bulls Head Tavern adjoined it. Here General George Washington began his triumphal march into the city upon its evacuation by the British November 25, 1783. The Citizens Savings Bank organized in 1860 has occupied this site since 1862 and this building was erected 1924." 

Man, there probably was some party that day. I bet there were drinks on Washington.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Nostalgia in a Bamboo Leaf

My parents were workaholic Taiwanese immigrants whom I was lucky to see at 8:00 at night. Most times, we grabbed fast food from Arby's or Sizzler's or some fish shack my mother liked, but occasionally, we would make a foray from the depths of Queens to Chinatown. This was before the Taiwanese community formed in Flushing, so Chinatown was where we got our dose of culture. One of the places that we regularly stopped at in Chinatown was May May on Pell Street. It was the only place in New York City you could find a decent zongzi (粽子) or bah zhang (肉粽), as they're known in Taiwan.

Bah zhang from a Taiwanese article about the Dragon Boat Festival.

The food you eat as a child has a certain nostalgia. I think this is because of the way babies and small children feast on everything so completely with all their senses and their entire bodies. The taste of your first foods seep into a deep visceral layer. It combines with the feeling of security you have as a child, with love, with feeling satiated, content and whole. I always wonder what is up with American children who only will eat plain spaghetti with butter. I can't imagine a child in Asia refusing to eat something put in front of them, or wanting colorless food with no taste.

For those who don't know what a zongzi is, it's been compared to a tamale. But instead of corn husks, it's wrapped in bamboo leaves. And instead of corn meal, it's glutinous rice. In China, bah zhang is traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, but in Taiwan, bah zhang is so iconic, it's almost synonymous with the place. It's like hot dogs and pizza to New York City. Or gumbo to New Orleans. There's even a sentimental song (烧肉粽 or "Hot Bah Zhang") that always cracks my mother up, about someone who graduated college but can't find a job so s/he's making a dismal living selling bah zhang on the street. It might be an Occupy Wall Street anthem if it weren't so syrupy. Click below for famed Taiwanese diva Teresa Teng singing the song, with subtitles in English. For the full effect of seeing this with my mom, I ought to include a high-pitched laugh track.

The bah zhang in Taiwan are studded with steamed peanuts, dried black mushrooms, and meat. Often, a roasted chestnut is included, which always seemed like an extra treat to me as a kid, like finding a gold coin in a cake. There's also a Cantonese version of bah zhang that has a dried powdery egg yolk in it. Cantonese people don't put such an emphasis on rice as Taiwanese people do and their version of bah zhang always seemed to me like pizza from some random town in the middle of America. Dry, dense, and mealy. But I know there are plenty of Cantonese people who prefer their version of bah zhang, which they call joong.

May May had about eight different kinds of Taiwanese-style bah zhang even though it was in the heart of Cantonese Chinatown. There were even three vegetarian kinds. You could smell the aroma of rice and bamboo halfway down the street. I used to buy a half dozen at a time to put in school lunches for my kid. It was perfect for the early morning slog of trying to rouse the child, get him dressed, cook breakfast, and prepare lunch - all I had to do was steam the bah zhang for 15 minutes and pop it into his lunch box. I didn't even need to wrap it in anything since it already was wrapped in bamboo.

So when May May closed in 2007 after 42 years of serving nostalgia in a bamboo leaf to hungry Nuyorasians, I was devastated. I looked for bah zhang everywhere but I either had to go all the way to Flushing or settle for those bleh Cantonese ones.

May May before it closed. 
Where May May used to be. 
Last week, after a panel at CUNY's Asian-American/Asian Research Institute, I happened to sit next to Antony Wong at dinner. Talk somehow turned to Chinatown and I lamented about May May closing. Antony told me that he had just learned that some people from May May went across the street to the old coffeeshop and they are now selling bah zhang there.

That old coffeeshop is a living authentic relic of good old Chinatown. I've passed by hundreds of times and noted its sign, which has the Chinese going from right to left, so it must date from the 1960s or before. The next morning, I finally went in, and sure enough, right at the door, I encountered a big pile of three different kinds of bah zhang for just $2.25, which is less than what May May used to charge. I bought one for lunch, and was happy to see that they're the Taiwanese-style ones. And they're really good; the only thing missing is the mushrooms. And the chestnut.

Finally, a place to find bah zhang in New York City! I've also just learned that this the place to go for roast pork buns. Mee Sum Cafe at 26 Pell. Pass it on.

Mee Sum Cafe on Pell Street.
Inside Mee Sum Cafe, old style NYC. 
The pile of bah zhang at Mee Sum Cafe. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Day in Beacon

The city blahs had me last week. I felt weighed down from too much asphalt and car exhaust. My blood vessels felt as constricted as the traffic by the Holland Tunnel. I was gasping for air. Sunlight. Green things. And it was my birthday, damn it. So even though I was broke and had a rehearsal to attend on Sunday night, I convinced Z to steal away with me and head upstate to Beacon.

I've been there before, but only to Dia: Beacon and the waterfront park. This time, I wanted to see the town. And I thought it would be nice to climb Mount Beacon. Except I didn't really have the proper shoes for that, but I figured, well the West was won with women wearing low heels, no?

Beacon was originally two small towns: Fishkill Landing, a busy port, and Matteawan, a manufacturing center. The area was "bought" from the Wappinger natives in 1683 by former New York City mayor Francis Rombout, who died shortly after and left the 85,000 acre estate to his four-year old daughter, Catheryna.  She single-handedly developed the area, carving out farmland, building a major grist mill on Fishkill Creek, and creating the first produce cooperative in the Hudson River highlands. Beacon was a stronghold for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and it became a major manufacturing center in the 1800s, with factories producing paper clips, biscuit wrappers, coats, air brakes, and especially hats and bricks. There were purportedly over 500 hat factories in Beacon at one time. Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building were built with bricks from Beacon. The town boomed until after World War II, when the factories began to close and it went into a sharp decline that only changed when Dia: Beacon opened in 2003. Since then, it's become known as an arts destination, but most people, like me, day trip it to the museum and never really get to know the town.

We set off from Grand Central Station and arrive at around 10:00 in the morning. Getting out at the Beacon Station, you cross the overpass, hike up the hill, and cut across the police station to get to Main Street. Beacon shows its history as a factory town. It's not as pretty as the Saugerties or even Cold Spring. I was reminded of the town of Catskill, which is also solidly working class. But there's a nice authenticity about the town. It's definitely not an artificial suburb. And I was surprised how multi-ethnic it is.
Beacon's Main Street with Mount Beacon in the distance. 

Pinoys in the town. 

Apparently there's a Muslim contingent too. 

Wait, I thought I left Chinatown...
Halfway down Main Street, antique stores became ubiquitous. Z and I prowled through most of them, although we couldn't really afford anything. But wow, prices are really fantastic.

Antique shops on Main Street. 

A 1950s bubble bath on Main. 

Gorgeous cupboard in basement of Studio Antiques for $265.

Lovely dresser from the 1800s for $225 at Studio Antiques.

Great display of antique bottles at Dickinson's Antiques.

Hoosier Cabinet at Dickinson's Antiques with tambour door and flour bin for $275. 
Then we made out way to Bob's General Store where the trail for Mount Beacon begins. It was actually called Fishkill Mountain until Beacon was incorporated in 1913. Interestingly, the original name of the town was Melzingah, after a local Indian tribe, but when New York City newspapers mocked the name, the townspeople chose the name Beacon instead, after the beacons that were lit on the mountain to warn the Continental Army of British troop movements during the Revolutionary War.

In 1902, the mountain became a tourist destination when an incline railway opened to take tourists up to a casino and hotel. Built by Otis Elevator, it was the steepest funicular railway in the world, going up 1,540 feet on a 74 percent grade. The railway ran until 1978, when it closed due to a financial difficulties. Then in 1983, a huge fire destroyed the railway from top to bottom. In 1996, a restoration society was founded to bring the railway back, but it still remains a steep climb to a marvelous ruin and a beautiful view.

Along the East side of Main.

Main Street railroad tracks.
The bottom of Mount Beacon - this is the remains of the old Station House where people would get on the funicular. 

After walking a couple hundred yards, a stairway up the mountain appears.

200 steps, then it's a steep climb along a rocky trail.
Nearly at the top!

Ruins of the old power house at the top of the mountain.

Z in front of the ruins of the power house.

The view at the top. Turkey buzzard wheeling in the sky.
The climb back down was harder for me in my utterly wrong shoes. It was pretty darn steep and I picked my way down carefully as Z in his flat sneakers took a few spills. We made it down in 40 minutes and had enough time to check out another antique store and stop for an ice tea before getting to the station to catch the 5:13 back to the city. But just as we arrived at the platform, I realized that I left my phone plugged into the wall at the coffeeshop. With Z's goading, we managed to race up the hill to Main Street and back with just a minute to spare.

We caught our breath as the train slid into the station, and this time, we made sure to sit on the water side of the train. It was gorgeous, especially seeing Bannerman Island gliding past us on our way back. I love islands and exploring an abandoned island with the ruins of a 19th century mansion and arsenal sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon. One day when we have more time and money, it would be great to kayak over there. We could also take a sail on the Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger's sloop. And visit Dia: Beacon again. And have dinner in one of the restaurants. With so much to do, one day in Beacon is just not enough.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

One Small Car, One Big Dresser

I was on my way home yesterday when I spotted this lovely thing sitting on the street.

Take me home! 
For the past month, I've been trying to figure out how to afford a dresser. Now that I have a semi-permanent spot in Chinatown, I've been dying for a place to put my socks. I sold all my furniture from my apartment on 11th Street (except for the porcelain top table, which is still buried in storage).

Specifically, I want a 19th-century dresser, since I don't really decorate a place, I basically make a set piece out of my apartment. And there's something about the place that feels like a 19th century farmhouse or maybe a rustic cabin to me. Don't ask me why - maybe the wood panelling? So I'm looking for Victorian shabby, kind of like Christopher Walken's little cottage in Heaven's Gate. Or like this picture from the 1880 Koepsell Farmhouse in Wisconsin.

But I've been too broke to do anything but drool over furniture on Craig's List.  So I stopped dead on my tracks seeing the dresser on the street. There were lots of scuffs and dings, but the drawers all worked well. Nothing weird in them. But how to get it home? I looked in my purse and counted the money I already knew was in there - $4.00. And my bank account had 28 cents. I was expecting money the next day but the dresser would definitely be gone by then. 

I began calling friends who had cars. My friend in Ditmas Park couldn't come, but he suggested two other friends who might be closer. I called one of them. Out of town. The second suggestion was Chip, who said he had to call me back in ten minutes. I put up a note on facebook, "Anyone downtown or on the west side who has a vehicle and will help me get a dresser to my apartment?" Across the street, a Latino guy was getting into his giant SUV and I considered asking him for help but chickened out. A friend out in Sunset Park responded to my facebook post. He considered coming back into the city, but in the meantime, Chip called back and said he could come get me in half an hour. 

It was getting cold. Two other people stopped and checked out the dresser, so I draped myself over it and tried to read my book. I'm on the chapter in Jane Jacob's amazing book The Life and Death of Great American Cities that's about gentrification. Chip finally arrived and it turned out his car was small. Very small. For some reason, neither of us had thought to check whether the dresser would fit into his vehicle. After trying to stick it in the trunk (no...), we put it on the roof. 

Um, yeah, but how will it stay up there?
Then we looked around in the car but there was nothing to secure that dresser with except a ball of twine that happened to be floating around. So we wrapped twine all over it, trying to ignore that it was kind of fraying as we did so.

Good way to Tie Die. 
Yep. REAL secure. It looked like a spider-web inside the car. Well, we only had to get it across town, but man, it was a harrowing and slooooow 20 minute drive. Chip had his hand out the window to make sure the dresser wasn't shifting too much. We gingerly skirted around every pothole. People were laughing at us. One lady said as we drove by, "He's HOLDING it up there!!!" 

But here it is in my bedroom this morning with the old mirror that I bought a thousand years ago at Obscura when it was on 10th Street.  Now I need a hurricane lamp, and a Jenny Lind bed, and a nice paint job in the room...