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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