Friday, January 30, 2009

The Most Wondrous and Depressing Web Site

DetroitYES is a forum for exploring the ruins and history of Detroit as well as discussing its potential futures. In 1950 the population of the city had swelled to 1,849,568. Today it's fallen to 916,952. The history of racial conflict and economic decline in Detroit is way too complex to go into here at this time and I don't know enough about it.

I first got a sense of the city's decline and parlous state after I read "Devil's Night" by Zev Chafets back in 1992 or thereabouts (which I got in the temporary discount book store that was in the old Richmond Avenue Rockbottom back around that time). Detroit was a city that held no place in my brain except as some sort of place with car factories. Little did I know that that was increasingly a thing of the past and that the city founded in 1701 by Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac was a rotting corpse with little chance of revivication.

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The Urban Prairie of St. Cyril's - Seemingly countless blocks of working class homes have been swept away by time and tide and the wrecker's ball.

Since then I've learned a little more about Detroit and its fall, particularly following the riot of 1967. Economic collapse, racial animosity, political corruption and just plain meanness took a city that once numbered almost 2 million down to under 1 million and its populations continues to fall.

I once thought cities aren't disposable. How could things ever happen that would lead to the abandonment of vast swaths of expensive or desirable real estate? Recently I've been reminded of the great lost cities of antiquity like Ur and Sumer. Time passes them by, populations shift and the flow of history is diverted to flow in other directions. That's what's happened to Detroit and other American cities like Baltimore and Newark. It's just happened in our own short lifetimes, not over the ages like in the Fertile Crescent.

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Just tooling around on GoogleMaps I found this liquor store housed in the husk of what was probably a bank in the midst of nowhere.

Also check out: Forgotten Detroit

Friday, January 23, 2009

One More Neighborhood Church

Next to my neighborhood (Cottage Hill, once Hamilton Park) are Livingston and Snug Harbor. Livingston is home to an old and storied Unitarian Church. The present building is the third home of Staten Island's Unitarians, following the original building on Cebra Avenue(which was sold to the German Lutherans to become the original Trinity German Evangelical Lutheran Church who moved the whole thing over the hill to St. Paul's Avenue and Beach Street),

then the "St. Roofus" building in the same location as the present building's.

Finally, in 1895, years after the Great Blizzard of 1888 brought down the roof of "St. Roofus", the present building was erected. It's a tidy little building with a pleasant look to it. You can see the small trees in the older photo now grown old and larger surrounding it in the contemporary picture.

Unitarianism has been described somewhere as a soft pillow on the descent to atheism. Perhaps that's a bit extreme , but it is a bit nebulous and feelgoody. Nonetheless, the track record of the Unitarians on abolition and civil rights is laudable and the building does fit nicely into the neighborhood.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Inauguration and All That

So I did listen to the inauguration the other day while making a late breakfast. I've listened to most of them (as I recall) since I first voted back in 1984 (for Reagan). There were a few clunky lines that stood out (the bitter swill of civil war?!?), and Rev. Lowery's ending rhyme was a bit dumb. Calling for the yellow to be mellow strikes me as perhaps, unintentionally, racist. Overall, though, I was mostly pleased. Oh, and Aretha was just plain awful.

As a strong believer in small government, and after eight years of Republican perfidy on that subject, I wasn't thrilled by his many calls for a larger one. I did expect that, so I wasn't shocked by them. I did like his calls for unity, and strength and all those good things.

What I'm hoping for is that the sheer force of his personality will quiet his critics on the left and drown out the worst critics on the right. I've heard him talk enough about solid, pragmatic solutions to things that I'm not anywhere near writing him off at this early stage. (I'm posting this just after waking up so I'm not getting all wonky and detaily).

So with a prayer on my lips and eyes unblinkered by the sort of idolatry in the video I've already posted, I'm hoping for the best for at least the next year. After that, who can tell?

C'mon, this is creepy

Skip ahead through all the dross to 3:54. I'm sorry, I sort of like the guy so far, but this sort of creepiness ain't helping me. Sure I want to help the Borg Collective and all, but this sort of ickiness makes me shudder. But hey, it's enough to rouse me from my discomfort to post something.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Too Cool

Sure I've already posted an obituary for him today but these are too cool not to post. I never could never have even dreamed of looking as cool as he does in the opening of the second video when he just puts out his cigarette. And then he gets to dance with Cyd Charisse.

No. 6 RIP

And now this? Who's next?

Supposedly Patrick McGoohan was sought to play Gandalf by Peter Jackson but turned it down stating simply he was retired. Good for him but sad for us.

As my friend Evan D. wrote on his post regarding McGoohan's passing, he did shine even in the least of things. I watched "Ice Station Zebra" again recently and he shines, overwhelming everyone, including the lovably hammy Ernest Borgnine, with his almost too rich tones. He did the same thing in "Columbo" several times (he also directed some of the best episodes of that show).

Like Ricardo Montalban, he was married for a long, long time. He married the actress Joan Drummond in 1951, between a rehearsal and a performance of "Taming of the Shrew".

Be seeing you.

Rich Corinthian Leather

Ricardo Montalban, RIP. From marginal ethnic roles (particularly as Asians), to leading roles to cultural icon as Mr. Roarke, and for more importantly for all fanboydom, and Khan Noonien Singh, He was also one of the utterly despicable villains on "Columbo", and actually getting to play a Mexican. In recent years he co-starred in Rodriguez's "Spy Kids" movies (as Antonio Banderas' father, which is pretty cool) and continued to used that super rich voice in commercials.

As a side note, he was married for sixty-three years to Georgianna Young (Loretta Young's sister). That's cooler to me than even playing Khan. RIP.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Icy Steps of Doom

I stepped onto the first and topmost step out of my estate and in a split second between the firing of the controlling neurons and my foot contacting the step I realized that it was not free of ice. A thin, molecular thin, sheet of deadly, deadly ice. The sort that creates and utterly frictionless zone under a lumbering hulk like myself.

With bumping and thumping I ended up in a heap at the foot of the ten or so stairs fronting my home. I knew my head was safe but my back felt broken. i had also winded myself a thing I'd never done before and instantly thought I was paralyzed and would die of asphyxiation at the foot of my home.

I did, though, quickly regain my breath and dragged myself, moaning like a gut shot eland the whole way, up the steps to the front door. I quickly set about terrifying the luminous Mrs. V. by ringing the bell like a mad man.

She came down and called an ambulance. Holding off a bout of nausea, she quickly set about trying to take care of the steps in anticipation of the EMT's arrival. They came, saw they would have to remove me through the back of the home and set about making it so. One of them, though warned, didn't hold onto the railing while returning to his truck and he took a tumble breaking a finger in the process.

All this drama, once I was deposited at the St. Vincent's ER, was followed by several hours of waiting, excruciating pain, a few pills finally, then some X-Rays and eventually a seal of bruised but ok health and a release.

Now I rest, type, watch "Poirot" and contemplate that never again will our steps be icy.

Friday, January 02, 2009

An Unpaved and Vacant Lot

Town of Castleton's Village Hall

Built in 1871, this building was the center of municipal operations for the town of Castleton that once existed as a unique entity along the north shore of Staten Island. Until a few years ago it was one of three remaining village halls that once operated in Staten Island and Queens. Now only the one in Stapleton and another in Queens remain.

In the recent past this once beautiful building, then crumbling, was demolished for safety's sake. The firm that had purchased it to convert into residential units in 1985 had walked away from the expense and responsibility entailed in owning a landmarked property.

All through the earliest days of my childhood this red and slate building had marked the the last leg of the bus trip to my grandmother's house on Henderson Avenue. We'd take the #5 bus from the corner of Victory and Cebra, ride over the hill and get off at Jersey and Richmond Terrace. There'd we'd transfer to the #102 and ride west along the Terrace and turn left on Lafayette and then onto Henderson and my grandma's.

The Village Hall was visible as soon as you turned onto Lafayette and my eyes were usually drawn to it. It was imposing, decayed and had the look of adventure in it. That I, nor my friends, never tried to enter it may seem odd based on the few other adventures I've mentioned but it was far from home by foot and not really in a neighborhood we'd end up in by accident.

Today nothing but an overgrown fenced in lot remains of building.

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Castleton Village Hall from Mike Dominowski's site

Donald Westlake, RIP

Donald Westlake died New Year's Eve. He created the Parker ultra-hardboiled novels and the comic Dortmunder novels as well as other characters and a seemingly bottomless well of short stories.

I'm not as big a fan as several of my friends but the Parker novels that I've read, as well as "Kahawa", have kicked me off my seat. He wrote some of the hardest and most brutal crime stories I've ever encountered. Great stuff and a great loss.

Preview of Upcoming Parker Comic by Darwyn Cooke