Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Fletch Movies (are unwatchable)

So killing time and trying to watch the Fletch movies on netflix. Uff da! I can't believe how unwatchable they proved to be. I remember vaguely liking them back when. Not now. Shudder.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Detroit in the News

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Michigan Central Station - built 1913, closed 1988

Mayor Dave Bing, elected last year in the wake of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's contretemps last year, has proposed a novel way of trying to stave off the death of Detroit. Like a surgeon removing gangrenous flesh, Bing plans to encourage people still living in desolate neighborhoods to relocate to ones that stand a chance of survival.

Immediately I'm saddened by the plan but I'm also realistic enough to recognize its logic and potential. According to the city's survey of itself 1 out of 3 lots is abandoned or empty. The population's fallen from a 1950 high of 1.8 million to just over 900 thousand today. At the same time the total Detroit metro region has risen from 3.7 million to 5.4 million.

The disaster that is Detroit rests at many peoples' feet; the white people who fled, the auto industry that failed to make cars that could compete with Japan's, the unions that bled the auto companies, and the people left behind who elected incompetents and crooks in desperate hope of staving off their city's destruction. I'd add the federal government but what was it supposed to do - force people to remain in a burning and collapsing city or just pour billions down a municipal rathole?

So sadly, I commend Mayor Bing for coming up with a novel way to try and save his home city. Cities across the country have been losing people for years to the suburbs and beyond. There's nothing that could have prevented the reduction of Detroit in the face of that and the changing global economy. But still, Detroit's slow death hasn't been a natural one but an abetted one.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Saddest Music in the World

So I've been listening to a bunch of seventies music lately and in telling the luminous Mrs. V. about it I mentioned I thought "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" was one of the saddest albums I know. This precipitated a short discussion of other sad albums. She felt "The Wall" belonged on the list. I came back with "Setting Sons" by the Jam (though perhaps it loses major points for ending with a take on "Heatwave" that's so uplifting that it almost cuts through all the preceding tracks' misery). I also remembered that the ole' Lawgiver said to me once, in the dim and distant past, that "All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes". Perhaps.
But what do you think (and that's the plural you, I'm not talking to you as a special individual)? Make some suggestions. Don't be limited by the pop music genre.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Augustinian Academy

Once upon a time the Catholic Church built a school for boys, particularly geared towards entering the priesthood. It stood on top of Grymes Hill near the site of Wagner College (initially a Lutheran seminary. I wonder if they raided each others' campus.) looking over Clove Valley. In 1969 it closed due to declining enrollment. It became a retreat house (and I seem to recall my friend's father going there on retreat) and was eventually sold to developers in 1985. After that it fell into a sad state of ruin before finally being demolished over the past few years.

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I'm not the only one interested in Staten Island's fallen buildings. Here's a nice site with pictures of the Academy's sorry state prior to its destruction.

Secret Places

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Last fall when I was searching for old foundations I came upon something beautifully odd and hidden. Some of what I found was unremarkable for where I was but the rest was completely beyond any of my expectations.
Jones Woods lies two short blocks from the back of my house. Franklin Avenue seems to have been where the driveway to Shipley Jone's estate was. On many weekends in my childhood I had heard dirtbikes ripping around on the hills hidden from view behind the dense woods covering them.
I had never actually gone up into Jones Woods and last fall after dropping the luminous Mrs. V off at work I figured I'd take a quick look. I drove up to the top of Franklin Avenue and parked at where the road ended and the entrance to the woods began.

As I walked along the trail into the woods the bits of pavement from the old driveway peeked out from under the dirt and weeds. Only a short walk from the end of the street I came upon the first wrecked car.
Finding a wrecked car in wooded property on Staten Island isn't a surprise. The woods between Howard Avenue and Van Duzer Street used to be filled with abandoned stolen cars. I've always assumed they were stolen and dumped for the insurance.
What was odd about this car was what had been done to it.

It had been painted green. Soon I came across several more cars and small trucks in various states of ruination and all painted green.

Then I came across something odder. Deeper into the woods, off the trail I came upon a series of constructions made from tree limbs.

Some of these constructions were over six feet high. They were arranged between trees as well as freestanding. For a few moments I suspected I had wandered into some impressive, secret art project. Looking around I also saw nets with branches and leaves woven into them strung between trees . Maybe I had wandered into something like Karl Edward Wagner's story "Sticks". That thought creeped me out a smidge.

And then I discovered what I had discovered hidden a few hundred feet from my house. Covering portions of several trees and boulders were the multicolored splatters from paintball gun pellets.
I can't judge if the barriers and nets are of recent construction. They might have been put up years ago and left there when the players got bored and moved onto something else. Or, hopefully, not. Maybe on a warm spring Saturday afternoon if I listen carefully I'll hear the sound of air expelled pellets and the shouts of people in goggles and camouflage hunting each other on the hills.

View to towards the northeast from atop Jones Woods hill.
I didn't find any foundation remnants but I haven't given up hope. When the weather improves I'll head into the woods again.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Forgotten Borough

I added a new link on the "Historical Stuff" section called "The Forgotten Borough". I'd come across the site in it's earlier "Prodigal Borough" version and was happy to find the new version. It's a beautiful site with all sorts of very valuable links to sites about the arts, parks, and real estate (and plenty of other stuff too). Primarily it provides a great perspective about the North Shore by an immigrant from Manhattan (and parts beyond originally). She loves the communities, the look, and the buildings.
I love the North Shore for many reasons, but mostly, I suspect, because it's where I grew up and it forms the background for most of my memories and experiences. I was born in the ruined hospital looming at the head of Cebra Avenue and I almost burned down the woods behind my between Cebra and Creston Place. We shopped in Stapleton every week and I ate fish filet sandwiches at the Woolworth's counter. I practically lived in the Stapleton Library from age 5 to age 18. I went to school at PS 16, Trinity Lutheran (and was baptized and confirmed there) and Curtis High School (the same place my mom and her three sisters graduated from).
As I get older and most of my childhood friends (most of the people I'm friends with now have lived here their whole lives but few of them were part of my life before the age of fifteen) have left the Island and my parents have died I guess I'm trying to reinforce the images of my past by constantly examining and studying the place where I've lived most of my 43 years. It's like I'll lose parts of my memories if I don't reinforce them by studying them to death.
I appreciate everyone who sticks around for the ride and I hope to actually get off my backside and get some better things up here this year (and I hope the preceding paragraphs don't sound too maudlin). I need to get my scanner fixed, I need to get back to the St. George Library for more WPA photos, and I need to maybe get a better camera to get better pictures of my own (I mean how much can I steal from NYPL's collection?) and I need to do this more regularly.

Rockin' in a Magic Place

So I'm listening to a bunch of early David Byron fronted Uriah Heep the past couple of days. In their worst moments (which are still sort of fun) think Spinal Tap's Stonehenge with less self awareness and dopier lyrics (ex. Rainbow Demon, The Wizard). At their best (ex. Circle of Hands, Easy Livin', High Priestess)they came up with some of the best, utterly over the top progressive hard rock of the era.
Unfortunately, they started going stale after five or six albums, fired the alcoholic Byron and later morphed into a straight forward metal band with albums titled wretched things like "Abominog" (cue spooky music).