Tuesday, April 21, 2015

125th Street--the West Side's unique elevated station

NOTE--This was one of two transit history columns I wrote as an "audition" for an Upper West Side weekly. The publisher originally wanted me to write two a month. When she changed their tune and said she couldn't pay me for them, I told her I wasn't interested--RG

By Raanan Geberer

Once, elevated lines traversed Manhattan. We had four of them: the 9th Avenue El, the 6th Avenue El, the 3rd Avenue El and the 2nd Avenue El. One could look out the window (or, if you were daring, from one of the wooden elevated cars’ open platforms) and see City Hall, the Financial District, the Empire State Building, the great department stores and more. And as the trains rattled through the old tenement districts, you could actually see through people’s windows.

The last of the Manhattan els, the 3rd Avenue El, was torn down in 1955, although a portion in the Bronx lasted until 1973. Transit riders today, unfortunately, don’t have the experience of seeing Manhattan from a moving train – well, almost. There are several elevated stations in Manahttan today – three at the northern tip of Manhattan, and the 125th Street station on the Number 1 line.

Tourists are often surprised that the 1 train comes out of the tunnel for one stop at 125th, and even longtime city dwellers who are used to it sometimes wonder why this is so. It turns out that the train doesn’t climb to the surface at all. It stays totally on a level grade, says Charles Seaton, a spokesman for MTA New York City Transit.

What changes is the topography. At 125th, we are in the middle of the Manhattan Valley, a natural depression running east to west across Manhattan. For the line to stay underground, the transit planners of the early 1900s would have had to put it in a deep tunnel with steep approaches and descents at either end. Building an elevated viaduct allowed the line to stay at grade.

And what a viaduct! Its centerpiece is an arch that the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has called “a testament to the skills of the engineers and contractors who built New York’s first subway between 1900 and 1904" and “the most imposing and visually impressive above-ground engineering structure of the IRT subway system.” The station itself sits right above the arch.

The arch was built both for aesthetic reasons and to avoid obstructing traffic at the busy intersection of 125th and Broadway, according to information provided by the LPC’s Elisabeth de Bourbon. And while the construction of the underground sections of the subway took place out of the public’s sight, the building of the viaduct drew large crowds of spectators. In 1981, the LPC declared the viaduct a New York City landmark, and in 1983 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, says Seaton, the station serves the northern part of Columbia University, the New York City Housing Authority’s Grant Houses, the 125th Street shopping district, Grant’s Tomb and more. It is in walking distance of both the revived Cotton Club, named after the 1920s and ‘30s-era Harlem nightclub that helped launch the careers of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway; and the Old Broadway Synagogue, the last remaining European-Jewish synagogue in Harlem.

Because it is in such a busy location, it is also fairly heavily used. In 2012, according to the MTA, it had 2,560,513 riders and was the 181st most-heavily used station in the transit system, out of 468 stops.

Today, when you’re riding on the Number 1 train and look out the window just north or south of the 125th Street station, you’ll see a varied streetscape – once-elegant old apartment houses, the projects, the shopping district, garages, warehouses and more.
These vistas may change in the future, in this ever-changing city. But to riders on the Number 1 line, the train’s “coming up for air” (even though it stays at grade level) will continue to be a welcome relief.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Requiem for Sheepshead Bay’s El Greco Diner

Sheepshead Bay elicits a warm feeling for me. It was one of the first areas of Brooklyn I ever got to know, thanks to an early girlfriend and several co-workers at the New York City Housing Authority. In those days, the highlights were Lundy’s, Pips Comedy Club (where my stand-up routine bombed, but a young Andrew Dice Clay, on the same bill, got tremendous applause), Joe’s Clam Bar and Captain Walter’s.
Today, as the Eagle’s Lore Croghan wrote recently, the highlights along Emmons Avenue include the Cherry Hill Gourmet Market, the Turkish restaurant Liman, Randazzo’s Clam Bar (which was also there in the old days), the Opera Cafe and more. And, of course, on the other side of Emmons Avenue is the bay itself, with its fishing boats.
Throughout the years, one mainstay on Emmons Avenue, much less exotic than many of the locales named above, has been the El Greco Diner. When someone walks from the subway to the bay, the El Greco is one of the first things they encounter.  But not for long! As Sheepshead Bites, Gothamist and a host of other media outlets have reported, the owners plan to close the diner by the end of this week, reportedly to make way for a “new residential tower with ground-level commercial space.”
Many of the aforementioned restaurants are geared to both locals and visitors, but the El Greco, it seems to me, was mainly for locals. I can’t see anyone making a trip to go there. It’s not that different from other Brooklyn diners, including the Park Plaza in Brooklyn Heights, the Purity Diner in Park Slope, the Green Pavilion in Bensonhurst, the excellent Three-Star Diner on Avenue U and more.
The menu at the El Greco reveals a lot of variety but few surprises – mainly the usual burgers, omelets, pancakes, sandwiches, pasta, dinner specials and so on. Online reviews of the food there are mixed—Yelp gave it an average of only two stars and Google reviews gave it an average of three stars.
But classic New York City diners aren’t meant for fine dining. They’re meant as a place to go for breakfast, on the way to the bay, after a date, after a softball game, for a late-night snack or to meet old friends and family members. They offer solid, hearty food. And if a diner has a back room or large tables, chances are you’ll find all kinds of groups meeting there, from political discussion groups to poetry readings to board-game fanatics. Just check meetup.com.
It’s not just the El Greco that’s closing. In the past few years, diners have been closing all over the New York area. In Brooklyn, these have included the Kings Plaza Diner, the Americana Diner in Dyker Heights and, unfortunately, one of my favorites, the Celeste Diner in Concord Village.
Diners have traditionally occupied a “middle ground.” They attract people who aren’t accustomed to upscale restaurants or can’t afford them on a regular basis, but who demand something better than fast food.
For all of these reasons, I’m lamenting the closing of the El Greco Diner. Time to raise your glass of Diet Coke, say a toast and wait for the last turkey burger or spinach omelet with French fries to arrive.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

More F Trains Could Alleviate Express Problem

Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Every few years, it seems, a call goes out to restore rush-hour express service on the F train. The last time this happened, the campaign died down after the G train, which shares part of its route with the F, was extended to Church Avenue. Some advocates saw this as a case of, “Well, if we didn’t get one of the improvements along the F-line corridor that we wanted, at least we got the other.”
Now, the campaign for express service has risen again, supported by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a dozen Brooklyn elected officials and the Transport Workers Union. “The F train should stand for fast service, not failed opportunity,” said Adams. “We need to reduce crowding on these platforms, which are causing significant safety concerns, and we need to alleviate the burden riders are facing with one of the city’s longest commutes.”
For many years, F-train express service was a fact of life. The late Dennis Holt, who wrote the “Brooklyn Broadside” column for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, remembered standing near the stairway connecting the upper (local) level to the lower (express) level of the Bergen Street station during the 1970s, prepared to run down the stairs if the Manhattan-bound express got there first. This express was discontinued later in the decade, although a co-worker told me that it continued unofficially for a number of years.
When I first heard about the campaign to reinstate F train express service, I supported it unconditionally. After all, what’s as exciting as a fast express train speeding down the middle track, passing local stations one after another?  Then I got an email from an MTA representative who made me see the other side in part. The letter read, “Approximately two-thirds of F riders in Brooklyn are on the northern segment of the Culver Line, between Church Avenue and Bergen Street, and two of the busiest stations on the line — Bergen Street and Carroll Street — are local stops.”
The most telling part of this statement is “Bergen Street AND Carroll Street.” In the old days, Bergen Street was an express stop. But since then, another MTA representative once explained at a meeting, the Bergen Street express platform has been used to store heavy HVAC equipment that can’t be moved easily.
If Carroll Street was local and Bergen Street was express, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill residents might learn to live with it. But if both heavily-used stops are bypassed by local trains, that’s a problem. Yes, there’s the G train, but rush-hour commuters generally want to go to Manhattan, and the G train, except for two or three stops in Queens, is “all Brooklyn, all the time.”
One solution might be to run some rush-hour trains that run express in southern Brooklyn — skipping local stops between Kings Highway and Church Avenue — while making all of the busy stops north of Church Avenue. This might not make southern Brooklyn residents’ commute as fast as they would like, but it would be faster than it is now.
The best solution, in my opinion, is to put more trains on the F line, which serves several rapidly growing areas of Brooklyn. This would allow for express service while ensuring that people living near local stops won’t have to wait long for their rides. More trains were put onto the L train — now it’s the F train’s turn. The residents of Park Slope, Red Hook, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, not to mention southern Brooklyn, deserve nothing less.

Monday, September 8, 2014

That Thar Bebop--a Short Story

Rob couldn’t believe his luck. The first car – actually, a pickup truck – that came by picked him up. A student at the State University of New York at Binghamton, he had a gig with his amateur rock band with his hometown friends back in the city. And in moment of daring, he’d decided on the spur of the moment to hitch hike all the way down. 

Not that this was uncommon – in the early ‘70s, everybody hitchhiked. It was sort of a reverse status symbol for many young people, kind of like wearing one’s jeans or flannel shirt for three days straight. But this was the first time that Rob would hitchhike to the city, rather than just around the Binghamton area. When Mark, the freakiest guy in the dorm, the guy with the longest hair, congratulated him, Rob joked, “It’s easy for you! You’ve been a hippie for five years, or whatever! For me, it’s only been a few months!” 

So here he was, holding his third-rate bass guitar in its cloth case in one hand and his shoulder bag containing his schoolbooks in the other. Beside him sat two farmers. “You wanna hear the radio?” one asked. Rob nodded, and the driver turned on a country music station. “You like that?” “Yeah,” Rob answered in a weak voice. “He wants to hear that thar bebop!” said the other man “Yeah, he wants to hear some o’ that thar bebop!” The two farmers laughed good-naturedly. Rob knew they meant rock and roll rather than “bebop,” but he didn’t want to spend the time correcting them. 

He looked out the window. “Bunn Hill Road,” the street sign read. How odd. Where he came from, in the Bronx, there was a street called Gun Hill Road. From Gun Hill Road to Bunn Hill Road! The story of his life. But he didn’t even want to be here. After eight months up here, he was ready to transfer to a college back in the city if his parents would let him. Most of the other students up here were upper-middle-class kids from Long Island, and he found their ultra-confident way with girls, their fancy stereos and cameras, their recent-model cars, their trips to Europe and to California, hard to take. He preferred his Bronx friends, who didn’t have any of their pretentiousness. He’d made only one friend at Binghamton – Danny Weissberg, a really short kid from Brooklyn who wore a black leather jacket and talked like a tough guy. Rob got to know Danny because they liked the same music – ‘50s rock, Commander Cody, J. Geils – and the same R. Crumb underground cartoons. Sometimes Rob felt guilty about laughing at Danny’s crude racial and sexual jokes, but most of the time he was just grateful that he had a friend, period. Danny also played the bass, and when he bought a new instrument he gave Rob his old one – the very bass guitar he was now carrying in its bag. 

“Sorry, buddy, but this is as far as we go,” one of the farmers said, laughing. Ron picked up his bass and his shoulder bag and jumped out. He was still on a country road, not even on the highway yet, but at least it was a start. 

After about 20 minutes without a ride, he got worried. After all, this place was somewhat off the beaten track. What if he was here for one, two hours and no cars came? Not only wouldn’t he get to the gig, he wouldn’t get anywhere. When the sun went down, he’d be all alone and forgotten. The thought was terrifying. He grew more and more nervous. He began to rock back and forth. 

Suddenly a car slowed down. Ron couldn’t believe it–he ran as fast as he could and got in the front seat. The driver was an older black guy in a suit and tie, and yes, he was going to Route 17. He looked like a lawyer or something. As they proceeded down the road, the guy turned on his radio. The sounds of “When The Love Light Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” the Supremes’ first semi-hit, filled the car. “I haven’t heard this in such a long time,” Ron said, hoping the guy would think of him as an OK white guy, not the prejudiced kind, the kind of white person who appreciated black culture. But the guy said nothing, driving on. Perhaps he was tired of young whites trying to impress him with how hip they were, Ron thought. The guy kept on driving. Finally, he let Ron off near Deposit, or as the upstaters pronounced it, “Dee-paah-sit.” It wasn’t anywhere near where he wanted to go, but at least it was on the highway.
Once again, Rob stood by the highway with his thumb out, but this time it was busy Route 17, whose traffic included huge trucks as well as cars. He didn’t expect any of the trucks to pick him up, but you never knew. Hey, here’s a Pinto that’s slowing down. Deliverance! He ran up and got into the front seat. 

This time, the driver was a sloppily dressed, half-bald guy who looked like he was in his late 20s or early 30s, “old” to the 19-year-old Rob. “I can drive you all the way to the Red Apple diner,” the guy told him. For at least 15 minutes, they drove in silence. Finally, the guy asked, “Where do you go to school. By the way, my name’s Joe.” 

“My name’s Rob, and I go to SUNY Binghamton.” 

“Hey! I’m from Binghamton myself! Do you hang out in any bars there?” 

“Well, sometimes my friend and I go to the pub on campus, sometimes we go to the bars on Clinton Street or to Poncho’s Pit. My friend Danny, he just discovered this bar called the Turf Exchange Motel. Ever hear of it?” 

Joe made a face. “It’s OK, if you want to get your dick sucked!” Something about the way he said it made Rob nervous. 

“I thought the gay guys in Binghamton go to the Cadillac,” Rob said, trying to appear cool and not rattled. 

“They sometimes go there, too. Where you from? You from New York City?” 


“You ever been to that Port Authority Bus Terminal? That’s where the guys hang out in New York, right?” 

Rob saw what the guy was driving at, and was trying as hard as he could not to show any anxiety. “Yeah.” 

“Hey, nothing personal, but what would you do if I asked you to suck my dick?” 

“I don’t think I’d be interested.” 

Joe drove on for another minute or two. “Well,” he said, pulling over, “I guess I’ll leave you off here.” It wasn’t even halfway to the Red Apple, but Rob felt relieved. 

Another hitch, desperate for a ride, and another driver. This guy drove a blue VW and was a musician. At last, someone interesting. He was also older, but Ron felt he could talk to him. The guy played alto saxophone and preferred to play jazz, but found himself playing in wedding bands most of the time. 

“So, who do you like on alto? The Bird?” 

“Yeah, you know, the Bird, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball, Lee Konitz ... yeah, it’s a tough life,” the musician answered. “Here, let me take a little drink.” He took out a bottle that was lying on the seat next to him, took a swig, then put it back. Ron admired his chutzpah, but was a little concerned about his driving ability. 

“Hey, you want a drink, too?” 

“Um, no thanks.” 

“What’s in that case, a guitar or a bass?” 

“A bass.” 

“I thought so. My brother plays bass. He used to play with Stan Getz.” And the guy went off on a tangent about all the famous musicians that he 
knew, or met, or played with, or just missed playing with. He was going to look up some of his old friends when he hit the city and have an all-night jam session. Rob wished he could go, but his own gig took priority. 

“Yeah,” the musician continued, “It’s a tough life. When you play club dates – that’s what we call weddings – they really don’t want you to play solos, and you have to play songs they already know. Even if you play a song by an artist they like, but one that’s less well-known, they look at you like there’s something wrong with you. Yeah, being a musician is a tough life.” He picked up the bottle and took another swig. 

By this time, the car was wavering back and forth in the lane. Rob didn’t want to get into an accident. On the other hand, he couldn’t just say, “Please stop the car and let me out, because you’re drunk.” That would be an insult. What should he do? Rob’s anxiety was building up, minute by minute. He started to have breathing problems and had to take out his asthma inhaler. Then, around the bend, far away at first but getting closer, a rest area appeared. Rob knew had to make his move fast. 

“Oh, excuse me,” Rob said, turning to face the driver, “but I’ve decided to get off at this rest area. I haven’t had anything to eat all day. I’ll be able to get another ride from there.” 

The musician shrugged his shoulders, took another drink and said, “OK! Cool, man!” He slowed down and let Ron out. As the car sped away into the distance, Ron heard the sound of brakes squealing and saw the VW stop short, just inches from another car. He felt incredible relief. 

Rob walked over to the main building, took a much-needed piss and then got a cheeseburger and a Coke. There were a lot of interesting things for sale and he would have liked to have looked around, but he couldn’t – he had to be at the community center in two hours. He walked absent-mindedly back to the side of the road. Here, this brown Maverick is slowing down. Better run to it. 

The Maverick had two girls in front and another long-haired guy in the back. Because the girls were constantly talking to each other and not to the guy, Ron correctly guessed that he was another hitchhiker. They were going all the way to New York. What great luck! 

One of the girls, the one who wasn’t driving, turned around. “Rob, is that you?” 


“I heard you were up at Binghamton, too. I saw you on campus a few times. I’m Reena Greenstein. You remember, right?” 

Ron remembered. He’d known her, although not very well, since junior high school. Something about her made him – and a lot of other kids –somewhat uneasy. Her father owned a hole-in-the-wall candy store that carried a lot of girlie magazines, and he was known to take bets on the side. It was rumored that one time in ninth grade when her parents weren’t home, Reena had made out with four guys, one after the other. In her first year in high school, she had gone out with Joey Fernandez, a neighborhood guy at least 10 years older than her who eventually OD’d on heroin. True, she was smart in school, but still ... She and the other girl, the one who was driving, had started talking to each other again. Rob started to eavesdrop on what Reena was saying: 

“I might as well start having good relationships with my professors now, so I can get good recommendations for graduate school a few years down the road. I’m completely sure now that my future is in anthropology, probably cultural anthropology, teaching and doing research, and having relationships with people in the anthropology community. I’m trying to get a summer internship in New Mexico.” 

Ron was surprised. Now she’s reinvented herself as some kind of prissy “A” student type! Well, this “B” student salutes you. Maybe she should get together with Danny Weissberg. That would be something – Danny, who tries to act like a hood, and Reena, who actually had been a hood! Something to think about. 

Rob looked at his watch. He’d be back in the city in plenty of time. When they got to the toll to the Tappan Zee Bridge, he generously kicked in two dollars for the tolls. For the first time since he’d left his dorm room, oh, it was only a few hours ago but it seemed like a month ago, Rob began to relax and to be filled with positive energy. Soon, he’d be at the community center with his friends, doing one of the few things that really mattered to him – playing music. “Back in the USSR,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Watching the River Flow,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Smoke on the Water,” “Ramblin’ Man.” His girlfriend would be in the audience. And Binghamton? It was 300 miles away. He was happy at last. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mr. FInkel--a tale of an aging Jewish gangster in the 1954 East Bronx

Mr. Finkel paced up and down in his spacious apartment on Crotona Park East. He lived in the best building in the area, an elevator building that had been built just before the crash in ’29. It had a marble lobby, three staircases, a big courtyard with a statue in the middle and a laundry room . It was one of the few things that gave him solace nowadays. In the background, his wife watched the Army-McCarthy hearing on TV.

He’d been out for two years already and was itching for some action. He kept his job as a Wall Street clerk that he’d been given as a condition for his release, but let’s face it, there was no future or real money in that. He wanted to get back in the game in the worst way, but his parole officer wouldn’t even let him go to Tillie’s candy store, with its two-bit bookies and its penny-ante pinochle games. His wife’s brother owned a big commercial laundry on Allerton Avenue and White Plains Road, and both his wife and his brother-in-law both wanted him to become a partner.

But so far, he resisted. After all, he’d been in the outfits since he was 17 and Dutch Schultz hired him to work on the truck delivering barrels of beer. He was still only 52 years old—he had a lot of years ahead of him. Some of the guys he used to run with, like Meyer Lansky, Longie Zwillman and Doc Stacher, were making millions in Florida, in Vegas, in Havana. Why not him? It just wasn’t fair! He wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and become a square.

On top of it all, his wife kept pushing him to move to a better neighborhood, to the Concourse or Pelham Parkway.  But Mr. Finkel resisted. Yes, the neighborhood was changing. But the changes hadn’t reached his block, or any of the adjacent blocks. He’d lived in this building ever since he moved up here from down-and-dirty Fox Street. He knew the butcher, the baker, the appetizing store guy, the newsstand owner, the local movie theater. No, he’d stay here for the time being – unless, of course, he got his big break and moved to Miami or Vegas.

Suddenly, he got the call he’d been waiting for. It was Mr. Vellela. He wanted to see him tomorrow in his suite at the Concourse Plaza. They agreed on a time. He wouldn’t miss this for anything in the world!
“How you doin’, Sol,” Mr. Vellella greeted him as he walked into the office. “You want a drink? Scotch, 
bourbon, rye, anything? A martini, maybe? My girl will make it for you.”

“Just a Canadian Club and soda,” Mr. Finkel answered, sitting down in the plush armchair. “What took yiz guys so long?”

“Well, we’ve been a little preoccupied. Frank Hogan, the Manhattan DA, is startin’ to make some noise again. Also some tension between some of the families. Don’t worry about it—it’s a Sicilian thing. But let’s let bygones be bygones. You up for a little proposition?”

“Sure. You know me,” said Mr. Finkel eagerly, sipping his Canadian Club. He was finally going to get some action. “Watcha got in mind?”

“We want you to run some numbers for us.”

It wasn’t much, but at least it was a new start. “Sure! Where?”

“In your area, you know, East Tremont, West Farms, Crotona Park.”

Mr. Finkel frowned. “I dunno. About half the neighborhood is P.R. now. Those people want to bet with their own kind.”

Mr. Velella smiled. “That’s why we want you to partner with this kid, Jesus! He’s smart, he’s resourceful, he knows the lingo, he knows the people.”

“His name is Jesus? You bullshittin’ me?”

“It’s pronounced Hay-Zoos! Lots ‘a Puerto Ricans have that name.”


The next day, Mr. Finkel met Jesus, whose family owned a private house near the old railroad tracks south of 180th Street. He was impressed with his intelligence,  his organizing ability, the way he had a backup plan ready if anything went wrong. Jesus would organize the street operation, recruit local teens as runner and do the collections, while Mr. Finkel would do the bookkeeping and deal with Mr. Vellella and the other higher-ups.

“You and me, Jesus, we’re gonna make mucho dinero!”

“That’s Hay-Zoos!”


For awhile, things went great. It was almost like the old days before the war, although not quite. Because he didn’t want to attract too much attention from the parole board, Mr. Finkel wore suits from Robert Hall nowadays, not the $100 suits of yesteryear. For the same reason, he didn’t drive a Packard anymore, just a more plebian Oldsmobile.

After about six months, however, things began to go sour. Jesus became late with some of his payments and became increasingly difficult to find. And, of course, Mr. Vellella put the pressure on him. He decided to take things into his own hands. Going through his ledgers, he focused on one address that was two months behind in payments. He decided to go there himself. He was a little nervous about going that far south, to 169th Street, but why should he be afraid? Wasn’t he the same guy who had personally bumped off three hijackers when he was riding shotgun for the Bugs and Meyer Gang back in the ‘20s? He might be a little more overweight and a little more gray, but he was still the same guy, he told himself. He headed out. Just to make sure, he put his gun in his pocket.

Walking up the tenement stairs to the apartment where that particular numbers drop was located, he had the sense that something was wrong. Suddenly, he found himself face to face with five Puerto Rican teenagers.

“Where you going,” one of them asked. “You don’t live here.”

Thinking fast, he said, “I have to visit someone. I’m a Welfare investigator.”

“No you’re not,” said the same kid, whom Mr. Finkel gathered was the leader of the gang. “We know who you are. As soon as we saw you on the street, we followed you here. You’re Mr. Finkel, right?”

“What’s it to you?” Mr. Finkel asked in a oud, aggressive voice. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with. You don’t know the people I’m connected with.”

The gang laughed. “We’re not afraid of anyone, man,” another one said. “We’re the Diablos!” 

“You’re making a mistake,” Mr. FInkel said, yelling even louder. “I’m gonna tell Jesus about this!”

They laughed again. “That’s Hay-zoos, man. He’s working for us now!” the leader bragged. “He’s been with us for about a month.”

So that was why the money wasn’t coming in, Mr. Finkel thought.

“Look,” the leader of the Diablos said in a suddenly conciliatory voice. “We don’t wanna hurt you. We give you respect because we know you’re one of us. You’re a player. But your Jew gangsters and your Italian compadres don’t run things about here no more. We do! So why don’t you just go home?” 

Mr. Finkel was packing heat, but he knew he couldn’t take on five guys. As he started going down the stairs, he heard the Diablos’ boastful chant:

“Out came the Diablos
From the coconut trees
They were bad motherfuckers
In their BDVs!”

When Mr. Finkel got home, he was shaking. “What’s wrong?” his wife asked. “Something happen to you?”

“Nothin’,” he said brusquely, waving her concern away with his hand. “Just gimme a Canadian Club and soda, will ya?”

Mr. Finkel stayed awake all night, thinking. If he left the life, Mr. Vellella would be pissed, but Vellella knew enough about him to know that he wouldn’t start running to the cops and the DA. Maybe it was time, he thought. In the morning, he woke his wife up with a smile.

“Rachel,” he said, “Tell your brother I’m goin’ in with him in the laundry. And so we can be closer to the place, we’re movin’ ta Pelham Parkway!”

Monday, June 30, 2014

Bay Ridge--a Brooklyn Success Story

Originally from Brooklyn Daily Eagle

A recent Brooklyn Daily Eagle article by Paula Katinas states that “Bay Ridge is such a desirable neighborhood to live in, people will do anything to live there.”
Many buyers are purchasing one- or two family homes, gutting them, then transforming them into multi-family housing with as many as eight apartments. In some cases, says Katinas, the buyers claim they’re only making minor improvements, get permits for the work, but then redo the house from top to bottom.
If they are caught doing so, they should pay the penalty. But the question remains—what is it about Bay Ridge that makes the area so attractive? It’s common to see third- or fourth-generation residents living in the area – something that can’t be said about most neighborhoods.
One reason is that Bay Ridge has a mix of private homes, two-family houses and apartment houses. The smaller houses range from spacious wooden homes to row houses that in many cases are as appealing as those in Park Slope and nearby areas. The apartment houses are generally solidly built, many are elevator buildings, and they are generally well maintained. This is not the situation in some nearby neighborhoods where the single-family homes are well cared for, but many of the older apartment houses are somewhat rundown.
Another factor in Bay Ridge’s success is its nightlife. The bars and restaurants of Bay Ridge don’t feature famous singers and musicians, but they make the neighborhood as lively at night as during the day. If a neighborhood has crowds of people walking around at night, crime is less likely to occur. The clubs and bars contribute to a sense of community, and many of the bands have a local fan base. If one particular bar is a problem, the community moves into action, but the majority of them are solid, law-abiding enterprises.
In addition, Bay Ridge and nearby Dyker Heights have a very high number of people who are actively involved in local affairs. Political clubs (of both types), churches, Boy Scout troops, PTAs, youth baseball leagues, amateur arts groups, community gardens and more all have very high rates of participation.
Why this is the case I don’t know, but this type of cohesiveness may easier to maintain when you have large numbers of people who have grown up together and known each other for many years. One Bay Ridge resident who works for the Eagle once told me that most residents know who their local politicians are. By contrast, when I went petitioning to get my assemblyman back on the ballot in my own neighborhood, quite a few passers-by didn’t know who he was – even though he’d been in the Assembly for more than 25 years.
Finally, Bay Ridge is a community where small business thrives. A case in point is Hinsch’s, now known as Mike Hinsch’s Greek-American Diner. There used to be hundreds of places like Hinsch’s all over the city, but it’s not an accident that Bay Ridge is where this one has survived. Yes, chain stores are making inroads on 86th Street and other Bay Ridge arteries, but not as much as in some other neighborhoods.
This type of small-town living isn’t for everybody, but it appeals to enough people to make Bay Ridge a Brooklyn success story. No, builders shouldn’t cheat to get more people in – but can you really blame them?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Memories of Long ISland College Hospital

From Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Now that LICH is closed, regardless of when or in what form it will eventually reopen, it’s time to reflect on the past.
I first heard of it when I moved from my basement apartment in a two-family house in the Bronx to an Art Deco apartment house in Midwood, Brooklyn. At the time, I was suffering from serious asthma. That was why I moved out of the two-family house – my place was next to an open boiler, and I believed it was exacerbating my condition.
Once in Brooklyn, I started to look around for a new doctor. My previous doctor was a well-known pulmonary specialist at a prestigious Bronx hospital, but it was clear he was doing nothing for me – I was still going to the emergency room frequently and wheezing and getting out of breath constantly. I decided to try an allergist, and found an allergy practice in Brooklyn Heights. I knew very little about the Heights at the time, but I reasoned that it was about halfway between my new home and my job in Midtown Manhattan. The doctor was affiliated with what was for me a new hospital – Long Island College Hospital.
For the first time since childhood, I found myself taking allergy injections on a regular basis. No offense, but these allergists didn’t really help my condition, and I was actually admitted to the hospital a few times. After changing jobs to what is now the Brooklyn Eagle, my health plan changed and I had to find another doctor. My new doctor was also a LICH-affiliated physician with an office in the Heights. He stopped the injections, and put me on the road to recovery, a road that improved as new medications were added to my regimen. Even though I soon got married and moved to Manhattan, I kept my Brooklyn doctor for a few years.
Along the way, I had two operations at LICH. The first was to take out nasal polyps. My doctor exclaimed that they were growing at such a rate that they not only endangered my breathing, they would push into my brain area. The operation was a success. The second operation was also a success, but the aftermath was extremely painful.
There was also the time that I was taken to the LICH emergency room from the Eagle’s old office on 30 Henry St. after I attempted to open a Snapple bottle, only to have the bottle break and cause a wide gash in my wrist. The Eagle’s production manager at the time filmed the whole thing with his digital camera and suggested that I sue Snapple. I did, but my lawyer gave up after Snapple kept insisting on more and more documentation.
Even before LICH’s recent financial crisis, we wrote stories about the hospital. I once wrote a feature on the Lamm Institute, a division that provided services to developmentally disabled children. The building has since been sold. I also interviewed a new high-powered chef at LICH whose goal it was to bring gourmet food to the hospital cafeteria. Sadly, it couldn’t last. On a third occasion, I interviewed a group of doctors who were introducing a new machine to detect osteoporosis. They tried it out on me, and to shock, it turned out that I had a mild case of the disease. They told me that years of taking asthma-related steroids had taken their toll.
At any rate, these are some of my memories of LICH.