Monday, August 11, 2014

Wedding of Rabbi Herschel and Raiza Malka Hartz

Rabbi Herschel Hartz, named as one of America's most inspiring rabbis by the Jewish Daily Forward, is the founder and executive director of Inwood Jews. Services are held in the basement of Dichter's Pharmacy & Soda Shoppe and in other Inwood locations. While not a member of the congregation, Herschel invited me to his wedding which took place in Crown Heights at the end of June. What a lively and joyous ceremony!

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Vanishing Inwood: A Bodega Closes

For almost 30 years, the Dyckman Seaman Grocery has sat on the corner of Dyckman Street and Seaman Avenue in Inwood, selling cans of tuna, candy ,chips, cigarettes, beer, soda, and good luck candles to neighborhood kids, locals, and visitors to this corner of northern Manhattan. One of those neighborhood kids turned out to be the actor, singer, composer, and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda who grew up just a couple of blocks away on Payson Avenue. His Tony and Grammy award winning Broadway musical, In the Heights, was inspired in part by his trips to the Dyckman Seaman Grocery.

Its doors close tomorrow, Thursday, July 31st, a casualty of rising real estate taxes. Any items that haven't been purchased will be moved to another bodega, this one across Broadway, and owned by the owner's brother. It will be replaced by an extension of the popular sushi fusion restaurant next door, Mama Sushi. And the cat? It turns out that there were two - and both have been given away.

The photographs of the store offer a look at what once was.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

The Morning Commute

The genesis of this film is watching the faces of women putting on their makeup on the subway. Isn’t it fascinating? For two dollars and change, you see faces transformed by foundation, blush, lipstick, mascara. . . Women conceal and create while the men reveal. So we’re really examining transformation, femininity, performance art, gender, the culture of the subway, cosmetics, subterranean grooming, the art of concealment, uncovering the man underneath a beard, the pursuit of beauty, and artifice. And sometimes, well, sometimes lipstick is just lipstick.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Piano Lesson

Lucky people win the lottery. Me? I won a piano lesson. 

Well, sort of. A burly, bearded and bored man won the piano lesson at a raffle to support the Riverside Oval Association as part of its John James Audubon birthday celebration. 

"What I am going to do with this?" he sneered, fanning himself with his prize certificate. 

"Here," he said, shoving the paper at me. "You can have it."

And what exactly was I going to do with one piano lesson? I don't play, have never had any interest in playing the piano, can't tell a C sharp from a C note, and years of playing the clarinet (badly) in grade school and piles of reeds and mouthpieces and sheet music sent me in another direction. 

A confession was made to the piano teacher, a musician named Roger who teaches piano and trumpet and plays in gigs around the city. He encouraged me to bring ideas about music via email as we struggled to find a mutual date and time over several months. What could I possibly learn in one hour?

As it turned out - plenty.

Roger, a very patient piano teacher who also plays trumpet, explained the difference between an upright and a grand piano and a baby grand and concert piano; how the keys work and how a piano is affected by humidity; how a piano is constructed;  how it's tuned; where pianos are built (at the Steinway factory in Queens); the difference between teaching the piano and the trumpet; and the beats of ragtime and marching and hip hop tempos. He played Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf rag in different tempos, The Saints Go Marching In, and Chopsticks, and explained the musicianship behind rap and hip-hop compared to other music. Somehow we also got into a discussion of hamburgers but that's another story.

As a musician, I wondered how Roger lived with the Mr. Softee jingle, a loud, tinny sound that can be heard for blocks. He shook his head and told me the story of two trumpet playing friends listening to the jingle over and over and over again underneath their apartment window on Broadway in Inwood. They retaliated the best way that they could. They opened the windows, leaned out, and loudly played the Mr. Softee jingle right back at the truck. Such is life in the Big Apple.

Here's a sampling of what I learned during my one and only piano lesson. Oh, and if you'd like to get in touch with Roger, send me an email. Great teacher, highly recommend.

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Monday, May 19, 2014

Exclusive: Godzilla Meets Uptown

While his movie is number one at the box office, Godzilla took  a mini-vacation and decided to visit uptown. A quiet, gentle soul who writes poetry, does Pilates, and enjoys yogurt and the splendors of Inwood Hill Park, he remarked that he's a simple man at heart, just waiting for his movie to get to cable. His tour of uptown included Inwood Hill Park, Dyckman Street, and the George Washington Bridge, all done without the company of the ever-present Hollywood publicist. After he gets to know you, he prefers to be called Melvin, an Americanized version of the Japanese name. He charmed customers of Nail Ha'ven, where Daniel Joyce meticulously groomed this movie star and patrons of Papasito, who pretended not to notice this monster in their midst. A visit to Il Dolce Vida was a real treat and Melvin plans to return for the Nutella fro-yo. He bids us sayonara (he speaks seven languages) until the next time as he works on his poetry in solitude.

Godzilla, also known as Melvin, emerges from the Pod on Dyckman Street.

A visit to Il Dolce Vida on Broadway is a little messy but very tasty.

"Look at how great my nails look!," notes Godzilla after a day of pampering at Nail H'aven on Broadway.

Taming the beast with a rainbow drink al fresco at Papasito.

Our man heads on over to La Marina.

Godzilla learned his sky-hook from former Inwood resident Kareem Adbul Jabbar at the Dyckman Courts. 

Sometimes a man needs some time for contemplation.

Godzilla about to take a bite out of Columbia University's C rock. 

Godzilla on the move in Inwood Hill Park.

Such a sensitive soul. Who knew? Melvin says he missed poetry Saturdays at Manny's Soda Shoppe so settled for a mint chip ice cream soda. Says he working on a series of sonnets.

Some manscaping done: Eyebrows waxed at Nail H'aven, thanks to the meticulous work of Daniel Joyce.

Nails getting a little long there.

A bright red works well for the NYC male.

The toenails were getting a little long in the tooth. 

Getting around town.

Blending in - Inwood Hill Park.

A reflective composition. 

Every beast is in need of a shower once in a while. 

What a beast! Our man poses for the camera in Highbridge Park.

Melvin meets the High Bridge Tower. They're about the same height.

"They'll never find me," says Godzilla.

And the only thing bigger than the NJ Governor Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal.

No monsters were harmed in the creation of these photos. Special thanks to my Inwood neighbors who joined in the fun: Manuel Ramirez of Dichter Pharmacy & Soda Shoppe, Eddie Santos of Papasito, Iliya Masseralla and Antonio Fernandez of Il Dolce Vida frozen yogurt shop and more, Martin Collins, Daniel and Hannah Joyce of Nail Ha'ven (Daniel only works on plastic animals, by the way); and the New York City Police Department and the New York City Parks Department (both inadvertently). Godzilla promises a visit to Coogan's next time around.

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