Saturday, May 31, 2008


Prior to the 1960's Carroll Gardens was known as simply, South Brooklyn, an area that encompassed pretty much everything along the waterfront from the Brooklyn Bridge, South. But, our beloved neighborhood could have easily been named Butts Gardens. Richard Butts was the man who designed the layout for this neighborhood of late 19th century Brownstones. He's also the guy who conceived of the idea to attach large front lawns, or gardens, to the homes. Most of them can be found on what we call in the neighborhood, the Place streets (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th.) They run between Henry Street on the East to Smith Street on the West.

The neighborhood was actually named after Charles Carroll, a revolutionary war veteran and the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll never lived here. Never lived in Brooklyn and best I can tell never lived in the state of New York. So, how in the world did this chunk of South Brooklyn get his name. After the Dutch, the first families to settle here were Irish. Carroll was Catholic and Irish and among his expatriates from Ireland, he was an icon of historic proportions.

Most of the Irish moved out and the Italians moved in, and many of them from the town of Bari on the Adriatic sea. They were dock workers, mostly. Their original presence can still be found today. Many of the older generation of Italians don't speak English and the neighborhood is dotted with Italian pastry, butcher, pasta and bakery shops.

Dutch farmers bought the land now known as Carroll Gardens back in 1636 from the native American Indians of the region. Henry Street was a dirt path at the time.

A school and park were also named after Charles Carroll. The park was designated as a private garden in the 1840's, but later it became part of New York City's parks department and was re-named Carroll Park.

Now that Spring is in full bloom, I thought I'd take you on a pictorial tour of the gardens in Carroll Gardens.

Friday, May 30, 2008


I'm not sure the folks at the Park Slope Food Co-op remember the blackout of 2003, but I sure do. I remember drinking a lot of bottled water and stocking up on it as well, fearing the power outage may effect the pumping facilities at municipal water facilities. An estimated 40-million people were taken into darkness on August 13, 2003.

But, the terribly misguided and environmentally conscious food cooperative has decided to ban bottled water. It's a recycling issue, they say. The Park Slope facility is member-owned and operated. Members must contribute a total of $125 dollars to invest in the Co-op. You're also required to work there 13 times a year as payback. In return, you get to buy its organic food at lower prices.

Unfortunately, if disaster strikes, whether it be a hurricane or a power outage, members of the Co-op will find themselves shopping at the local bodegas or the big name supermarkets for their emergency water supply. But, the Park Slope facility isn't the only place to ban bottled water. It's a growing, but short sighted reaction to environmental concerns. In the Midwest, SSM Health Care is banning bottled water at it's 20 hospitals. The Toronto Public Schools and Austin city council are considering bans as well.

I'm wondering if the Northeast is ever hit by one of those big Hurricanes they've been predicting, whether the goody two-shoes environmentalists will accept bottled water from the federal government to survive.

What about the people in cyclone ravaged Myanmar or in earthquake shattered China. Should the U.S do the environmentally right thing and stop shipping bottled water to disaster areas?

If there's a problem with people recycling plastic, what about metal cans. Will the Co-op stop selling canned goods, as well? I can just imagine if this lunacy continues, ten years from now there will be no canned goods and no bottled water on supermarket shelves. Then, when that hurricane finally does hit, you'll be banging on my door to quench your thirst.

You see, I'm stocking up on bottled water and canned goods. And, guess what, if you think gas prices are over the top, wait till you see what I'm charging thirsty Park Slopers for a bottle of water.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


A fist fight nearly broke out at my local watering hole here in Brooklyn. I've seen fights break out over girls, spilled drinks and sports. But, never in my wildest imagination could I envision a fight breaking out over, steakhouses.

These two guys were playing pool. One guy, a shorter Asian dude, was insisting the only real steakhouse in New York City was Peter Luger's in Williamsburg. The tall skinny white guy argued that it's over rated and over priced and suggested Keens Steakhouse in Manhattan was much better. Whatever!

As the shouting escalated, the Asian guy yells, "yeah, let's take it outside." At this point, I stepped in and yelled, "Stop it, you're fighting over a steakhouse." Then, the bartender steps in and says tells them to knock it off. The guy who was being challenged and his chubby friend decide to leave, rather than escalating the situation. He told me he works in New York City public schools and can't have a fist fight on his record or worse yet, a night in jail.

This reminds me of an incident I had about eight years ago at a now defunct bar in Carroll Gardens. It was coming up on Christmas and I just bought a tree that day.
This young Italian punk asks me where I bought it. I told him on the corner of Henry and Sackett streets. At that point, he asks if I checked out the trees at Court and President streets. I told him yes, but I found the trees more expensive and inferior. At this point, he yells "Me and my two brothers run that place." The makeshift Christmas tree place was called, "Three Brothers," and I suppose he was one of them. He then proceeded to tell me how not buying a tree from him insults his family (this is a very mob type thing to say).

I'm trying to tell him it's nothing personal, I just happened to like the Christmas trees better around the corner. I told him I don't know him or his family and wondered how I could insult someone I had never met. This confused his pea-brain mind. At this point, flustered, he stood up and tried to make something of it. "Want to take this outside?", he asked. I said I don't fight over Christmas trees. I wanted to say, "Jesus wouldn't be very proud of you," but I decided against that path. I was on pins and pine needles at this point, when the burly bartender stepped in told the two of us to knock it off. He settled down and I finished my drink.

In both cases the antagonists were drunk. That may explain some of their bravado, but not all of it. When I've had too much to drink, I tend to talk a lot. Others just laugh a lot and many become quiet and introverted. My sense is it's not the drinking that causes these outbursts, because my friends will tell you, I'm not the fighter type. So, I think it's a born behavior, a chemical imbalance, perhaps, much like depression. My thought is, those who want to fight have been punks all their lives and alcohol just charges their natural born aggression.

Tomorrow night, I'm going to go back to that bar where I met the steakhouse combatants and see what happens when I launch into a diatribe goose liver pate.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


As a matter of fact, yes, this issue does concern me. Actually I could care less about an Oyster bar going up on a residential street blocks away from where I live. The issue that concerns me, which obviously doesn't concern the people at the Hoyt Street Alliance is litter. Someone or somebodies scattered these fliers up and down Smith street.

So, in their pursuit of neighborhood justice, they commit their own injustice, littering. Dozens of these things were scattered over a three block area of Smith street. Maybe, organizers of this grass roots effort to block a liquor license should take up a new cause: litterbugs


I can't believe anyone actually falls for these scams, but they must, because several times a month I get various versions of the same swindle. This particular African email scam comes to us direct from Cote D'IVoire (Ivory Coast). I usually just delete these ridiculous letters, but this time, I thought I'd share one with you.

Although the letter doesn't get into specifics, it basically works this way. You email the scamster. He emails you back and asks for your banking, social security number and other personal information. He also asks that you make a "small" deposit of several thousand dollars by certified check to cover the processing fees. Then, he'll ship you off a check for $15,000,000! Wow, $3,000 for 15 mill! Some deal, Huh? If you're a sucker you not only gave the con artist your hard earned cash, but you also gave him enough information to steal your identity and take ALL of your money.

So, why do most of these scams originate from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria. They are four of the poorest places on Earth. They're also some of the most corrupt countries in Africa.

They look at the United States as the World's wealthiest and most prosperous nation and in their poverty stricken eyes, we're all loaded.

Here's the most recent email letter going around:

From :Alex King,
Western Golden Bank
Abidjan,Cote D'I Voire .

Dear sir,

My name is Alex King.I work with the Western Golden Bank of Abidjan, Cote D'IVoire as an accountant Foreign operation department. In the discharge of my duty, I stumbled on this domiciliary account that has remained dormant for three years now with fifteen million dollars($15m)in it. I contacted my director and we sent out staff for enquiries and discovered that the account holder died in Auto-crash with the next of kin.

I am writing you so that we can work with you to remit the money into your account as the next of kin. it is simple process which will take a short while to process. outside this, the bank management will confiscate the money. If I hear from you, I will tell you all you need to Know about the money.Thanks and God bless you.

Mr.Alex King

I replied to his email asking for more information. Within a few hours, I got this response:

My dear friend,

Compliment of the season and happy moment of the day.I do hope my email was well received.I want you to understand that this is a mutual sucessfull business
I invited you into.It is a confidential treatment between you and I. be rest assured you will benefit from it as soon as the transaction is complete because i will intend to come over to meet you face to face for the disbursement of the fund.I want you to furnish me with your Full name,contact details and telephone number as i will like to speak with you on phone today regarding the transfer and to ensure that you will be capable of handling this transaction.

You can call me on 0022507635812. when you call, instruct that you want to speak with Mr.Alex king. I will be giving you other procedure as soon we finish
talking on telephone.All i need from you is your adherance with arddent support to enable us see this sucess.

Mr.Alex King

These scam letters are all over the internet. Here's a site that collects many of them. They're all about the same. You can copy and paste the below link and take a look for yourself.


Oh, and if you were interested in Abidjan. Here's the Wikipedia entry:

Abidjan is the largest city and former capital of Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast). It is the commercial and banking center of Côte d'Ivoire as well as the de facto capital (Yamoussoukro is the official capital.) It is also the most populated city in French-speaking Western Africa. It stands in Ébrié Lagoon on several converging peninsulas and islands, connected by bridges.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Every once in a while, when I find a gem of a picture, I'll share it with you. This is a shot of the bicycle delivery fleet at Sal's Pizzeria at Court and Degraw streets in Carroll Gardens. They also own a funky scooter type gizmo that wasn't there the day a snapped this shot.


I can't tell you how many people greeted me with a "Happy Memorial Day" on Monday.
What's so happy about it. It's a day set aside to remember our nation's war dead, yet, most Americans look at it as a three day holiday for family barbecues and vacations. Lest us not forget the true purpose of this day as explained below in an excerpt from usmemorialday.org:

"Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states. The South refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war). It is now celebrated in almost every State on the last Monday in May (passed by Congress with the National Holiday Act of 1971 (P.L. 90 - 363) to ensure a three day weekend for Federal holidays.)"

I walked around my neighborhood of Carroll Gardens on Memorial day, looking for some examples of patriotism. There were some, but they were few and far between. I'd say maybe every block had one American flag raised. Pathetic, really. In my window, I still have a newspaper pull out of an American flag with the message, "Support the Troops." It's been in my window since September 11, 2001, although it's fading colors are now red, white and yellow.

I was scheduled to attend a big backyard barbecue in Queens this Memorial Day weekend, but it was postponed at the last minute because of a family emergency. That's probably a good thing, because I spent several hours at home, watching on T.V. some of the tributes to our American war dead. The ceremonies were moving.

Department stores celebrate Memorial Day with big sales. Macy's is perhaps the biggest culprit of spitting in the faces of soldiers by luring shoppers into their stores for deep discounts. Just a block away from Macy's Hearld Square location, a lone National Guardsman stands guard inside busy Penn Station. I'm sure he'd be impressed by Macy's wonderful tribute to our war dead up the street.

I have a way of solving this non-appreciation for the real Memorial Day. Instead of celebrating it on a Monday, make it the middle of the week, where it would be nearly impossible for people to create a three day weekend of barbecues and beach-going.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Jamie Donovan is a strapping Irish guy who works at a Midtown bar. He must be 6'3 or more, but you'd never think of him as a dart player. Pool player, Yes! Dart player, No! He's actually a recovering pool player. One day at his pub in Harlem, someone challenged him and his friend to a game of darts. He had no idea what he was doing, but shot a nearly perfect game. From that point on, he was hooked.

But, this story isn't really about Jamie, it's more about the game of darts or should I say, the names of the teams of people who play darts in leagues across the city. Like pool, bars recruit people who want to organize teams to shoot darts. They compete against each other for the opportunity to win prizes and bragging rights.

Jamie wanted to show off how well his team was doing, so he presented me with a sheet of rankings. He's on an "A" team. The better you are, the higher the rating, all the way down to a "C", the least experienced and quite frankly, the worst players.

The names of the teams kind of caught me off guard. They reminded me of race horse names. His current team is the FUBARS. Not very exciting. His former team was the "The Arrowmen." They dissolved and formed the "The Arrowmen Resurrected." Now, the team is known as the "The Arrowmen Return," a completely new team that wanted to boast about their roots, but with a completely new set of faces. Jamie doesn't play for them anymore.

Back to the list. I was amazed at how much these teams sounded like race horses, but at the same time, captured the sport of darts very cleverly.

Poison Dart Frogs, Point Whores, Dart bags, Britney's Spears (my favorite), Starving Dartists, Flight Club (get it, in the air, flight). Then there were a few that were just off the wall and sounded more like the horses: Throw Like A Girl, Psychotic Eskimos and the team that didn't care about playing Darts, but just wanted to drink, "Makers Mark." But, then again, even that name had an association of sorts to Darts.

James says the first few games he played before joining a league were all about money. Five dollars here. 20-dollars there. $100 bucks for a game or two.

Now, he could care less about the money and he no longer gambles on darts. He's on a team now...and whether you like it or not, the RUBARS (again I don't get it) are number one.


People are thrown in jail because they are believed to be a menace to society. Many experts believe jail hardens an already hardened criminal and makes non-violent offenders aggressive and even more of a bad ass. Jose spent eight months in the big house for violating his probation. I know the kid from my neighborhood. He's 22, a latin guy with tattoos, but not very threatening looking. He called me a few times from Rikers Island. Jose never asked for anything. He always wanted to talk.

Most of the time he spent his days alone with no cellmates. He liked it that way. Jose told me he started reading a lot to pass the time. There was plenty of time to kill. He spent 23 hours each day in that dank cell in the middle of America's most populated penal institution. If you're lucky enough to get a window, you have great views of the skyline across the East River.

Jose never committed a violent crime. He decided to skip out on his probation officer for an earlier crime of distributing drugs, a felony. That landed him eight months at Rikers. I asked him if he met any killers. Jose says he met a cop killer, a baby killer and a gangster who killed for his criminal posse. "Did they keep those guys somewhere else?," I asked. Nope. "We're all neighbors," he said.

Rarely, he says, were there any problems. He says unlike the old days, guards ran a tight ship and kept everyone under control. Jose says there were days were he was scared and felt threatened and wanted to get out of his section of jail. The guards refused to move him. He knew the only way to get out was to fight his way out. He got into a fist fight, which landed him in another section of the prison. Unless you pull out a knife, he tells me, they generally don't add any more time to your sentence.

You'd think this kind of a day-to-day life would turn someone bad or make a bad apple even worse. Granted, Jose has only been out of jail for five days now, but he seems like a changed man. Jose was never a religious person, yet as a Colombian his family was Catholic and very devout. In his search for a soul, he turned not to the Bible, but to the Koran, the Muslim holy book. I asked him if he converted to Islam and he really hadn't. He just liked the lessons learned from the Koran. Because of stereotypes, I wondered what he thought of terrorists and specifically Muslim extremists. He told me the Koran doesn't endorse what they're doing and he thinks what they did to America on September 11th was not only a crime, but downright evil.

Now, five days out of Rikers and Jose already has a cellphone. He's applied for government assistance and is trying to reclaim thousands of dollars he believes the government owes him. He's also actively looking for a job and swears off drugs and even alcohol. Unlike, many graduates of the school of hard knocks, Jose appears to be heading down the right path and for him incarceration at one of America's toughest prisons may have actually done the trick. Jose tells me, "I'm not going back."

Thursday, May 22, 2008


They say dogs are man's best friend. I can tell you my previous dogs, Noodles and Romer and going back to the days of growing up, Missy and Ashley, were not only man's best friend, they were every ones best friend. That's why the below classified ad I found online at the site "Kijiji" (whatever that means) was so disturbing.

"Mia would be so happy to find a loving adoptive parent to take her in! She is apparently very scared of men, which leads us to believe she was abused quite badly by a man. She needs a female to take her in and have patience to teach her that men are O.K MIA is very good in the house, she is quiet and completely house trained. She is very affectionate with women but very apprehensive with men, she also has been great with other dogs she has met."

A man-hating dog,huh? What happens when the mailman comes to the door? What happens if you take the dog for a walk? Will MIA attack? Can I really trust this dog with anyone? Kids?

Like humans, dogs do experience trauma in life. Dogs can also be trained to dislike certain things. Back in 1982, the Kristy McNicols movie, "White Dog" featured a white German Sheppard that was trained by a white supremacist to hate black people.
Dogs can be trained to do just about anything. In Jamaica, for instance, some resorts reportedly train their dogs to chase black men off the beach, allowing the white guys to get a tan undisturbed. South Africa's apartheid government bred "boerbulls" by crossing several dogs to create a very aggressive mixed breed dog. But, according to experts, dogs don't necessarily have to be trained to be evil. They can have an innate sense of hatred.

Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a professor at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and author of several books on animal behavior, was interviewed for an article on the magazine website, Slate.com. Says Dr. Dodman, "Any behavioralist knows that dogs don't like subsets of people and though the most common subsets are broad—strange men or little children—"sometimes it can be quite specific. It could be tall men, or men with beards. It might be men who are wearing big shoes, might be as subtle as men who smoke cigarettes—which can be hard to pick up on—but it can also be black guys."

The writer of the above classified ad for a woman adoptee should be ashamed of herself. I'm guessing it's a woman, because she's already explained the dog hates men. (I'm just hoping its not some crazed lesbian women's libber.) If this lady truly wants to have the dog "rescued" then she needs to take the first step before putting it up for adoption. She needs to take the man-hating dog to a experienced behavior therapist for dogs before she puts the "affectionate, house trained" dog up for adoption.


Joni Mitchell's ode to over-development rings true here in Carroll Gardens. While they're not putting up a parking lot, they're "paving paradise." It's our little paradise of brownstone homes and small shops. The latest incarnation of this comes in the form of the Clarett Group's new project, "The Collection at Court Street."
(click on the little arrow in the video below for "Big Yellow Taxi")

The project is bordered by Court, Union and Sackett Streets and right now all that sits there is a big empty lot surrounded by a high wooden construction fence. But, Clarett and it's architects , Rogers Marvel, have given the community a sneak peak of what we might expect to emerge from the now empty space.

The big sign in front of the project proclaims, " a collection of modern town homes, maisonettes, duplex and single floor condominium homes thoughtfully designed by Rogers Marvel." Really? Thoughtfully designed? For whom? In this neighborhood of turn of the century brownstones, anything modern is not thoughtfully designed. The million dollar yuppies moving into the neighborhood will grab up these homes, starting at $500,000. But, for the rest of us who have to look at the monstrosity to come, modern means undesirable.

With a few exceptions, the folks at Rogers Marvel design modern retail, office and residential properties. They're sleek and often Frank Lloyd Wright-esque. Modern is fine in neighborhoods where it's appropriate. Neighborhood gentrification is good, but projects like this go over the top. Gentrification is good in places of blight. This is not a blighted neighborhood in need of a modern face lift. This is a historic neighborhood that needs to be preserved as such and I'm sorry, "The Collection at Court Street" is nothing more than a collection of junk.


They've filmed all sorts of movies and T.V shows here in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Perhaps the most famous was Cher's "Moonstruck." But, the T.V. series "Third Watch" was often filmed here and so was "Law and Order." Some of those T.V. cooking and travel shows have featured restaurants in our neighborhood. But, just the other day at the corner of Henry and Union Streets, a crew was filming a commercial for a law firm.

Any clue what kind of law firm? That's right the slip and fall, accident chasing type. Here's the scene: Smashed up car with smoke coming from the engine. A flashing red police light in the background and a reporter doing a stand-up in front of the devastation. This shoot took most of the day because they just couldn't get the smoke right. Finally, one of the special effects guys started fanning the smoke to get just the right look.