Home

A Rainy Sunday Afternoon at McSorley’s

Leave a comment

So I was in NY this past weekend for a reprieve from my daily routine, I try to do this once or twice a year and as usual spent most of my time in the East and West Village. If you’ve ever been to the East Village you’ve also likely been to McSorley’s Old Ale House on 7th. I’m drawn to such places not because it is a tourist attraction but because of its history. Indeed, any day after 5pm you’ll find the place packed with tourists from around the globe and also drunken college kids. During this time I feel as though I am in a sort of bar version of Times Square; a Disney bar. This said, early in the afternoon you’ll find it still attracts locals and feels like the corner tavern it once was. This was the case when I was walking in the pouring rain this past Sunday afternoon and went in for a respite from the weather.

Standing there at the bar while the place is nearly empty truly is a sort of time travel experience. There are no televisions and there is no music playing. Just people talking, that’s it. The silence seems to encourage people to talk to one other.

McSorley’s was opened in 1854 by an Irish immigrant named John McSorley. It has been operating as a bar nonstop ever since. It didn’t close for prohibition like most other bars and instead sold what they called “near beer.” 1 Throughout it’s history there have been a list of notables who’ve bellied up to the bar, including presidents such as Abe Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Teddy Roosevelt. 2 But like most places that sell libations, McSorley’s also drew creatives as well. One of the more notable ones was the poet EE Cummings, who wrote his now famous poem there, as a sort of ode to the place, I Was Sitting in McSorley’s. 3

McSorley’s was also a holdout as a men’s only bar until 1970 (personally, I find this odd as I like to be in the company of women when I am enjoying a drink). After being sued, they begrudgingly allowed women, and the first to walk through the doors was Barbara Shaum, who knew the proprietor and most of the employees because she herself was a business owner and ran a leather goods store just a few steps away. 4 Though they did not install a separate women’s bathroom until 1986. 5

Anyhow, this is what I was thinking as I stood on a rainy day leaning against the bar in the East village. The history is palpable and I could feel the presence of those who leaned on the same bar before me. I wanted to take a photo but not without permission, so I asked the bartender. He responded that if it was alright with everyone else it was okay with him. The only people I did not ask were the single table of tourists from Arizona to the left in the picture. Not in the frame are three older guys who live nearby and have come here for years in the afternoon, “before the kids show up,” one mentioned. They were to my right and did not want to be in the be in the photo so I took one step forward and aimed the camera as to honor their request.

I don’t always think this but in some photos I do, that in some instances a photograph is really capturing time, and that’s what this is. For a split second it stopped time. Other than the modern dress of the few patrons this photo could be any time. After snapping the photo the bartender (who turned his back to the lens) asked me if I got what I wanted. I did, I told him. Then I slugged the last of my beer and stepped out into a full downpour on a Sunday New York afternoon.

 This photo was shot a couple years ago

2 ibid

The Piano Man of Washington Square Park

Leave a comment

This is Colin Huggins, AKA the Piano Man of Washington Square Park. A classically trained pianist, and originally from Georgia, he has been busking in NYC parks with full-sized pianos for more than a decade. He began in Father Demo Square in the West Village, then moved on to Union Square but was asked to stop by local residents because of the crowds he drew. At one point he was fined $6000 (source: Wikipedia). These days one can find him in Washington Square Park nearly every weekend; he’s there every time I visit the city, even in the cold moths. I’ve posted on him in the past because one of the things he does–or allows–is for people to crawl under his piano and lay there on mats (which he provides) to get a full concert sound. Anyhow, this photo was shot last night while he was playing his last song of the evening. Another thing that I think is pretty cool is the phrase which he has on both sides of his piano and is visible in this photo. It’s the same phrase that Woody Guthrie scrawled on his guitar…This Machine Kills Fascists.

This is Joseph…

Leave a comment

This is Joseph, we met on a subway train yesterday evening. I heard him before seeing him though. I was standing at the far end of a crowded car when he got on at the other end announcing himself, “Hello good people of New York, my name is Joseph.” I’ve sort of given up on giving money to street people for a few reasons, one is that I myself have very little of it these days but also I’ve become overwhelmed, especially in a city like NY. But Joseph was different, he wasn’t asking for a lot, just pennies or whatever change we could spare. He held a small plastic baggie with some coins in it as he swayed through the car telling his story. He hears voices, he bellowed, this is why it is difficult for him to keep a job. At first he thought they were real—that everyone could hear them—but then people told him they were not.  Imagine, he suggested to us, the sound of all these voices you hear in this car right now were in your head but you were in a room alone, and they were talking to you directly. As he swayed through the moving car a few people put money in his plastic baggie, but no one seemed to look at him. I thought my stop would arrive before he would get to me but it didn’t. When he approached I reached into my pocket and found a quarter and a penny, 26 cents, and felt a little foolish as I offered it to him and apologized, saying that was all that I had. “No worries,” he relied, “74 more cents and I’ll have a dollar.” I told him my name was Joseph as well, and asked if I could take his photo, that I like to document people I meet. He got a big grin on his face and struck a pose. After the shutter clicked he told me to put his face on CNN. We fist bumped and as he parted I said, “Good luck, Joseph.” And as he exited the car he turned and replied, “I’ll be alright, every day is a gift from God. If you believe that, which I do, how bad can things be.” With that he exited into a sea of humanity. Thank you Joseph, I needed to hear that. I often forget and you reminded me. This photo cost me 26 cents, but it is worth so much more. Everyone has a story, today I heard a small part of Joseph’s and my life is better because of it.

M. Steffan’s Sons, Inc

Leave a comment

This is Linda Steffan, fifth generation owner of M. Steffan’s Sons, she inherited the shop from her father in 1993. In the above photo she is holding one of the two leather camera straps she just made for me. Her business card states, in addition to her name, number, etc: Wholesalers and Retailers of Leather and Findings; Shoe Shiner and Leather Craft Supplies.

It’s interesting, I have lived in the neighborhood of this store for many years and have probably walked or biked past it literally thousands of times and often wondered about it, and also questioned whether it was still open. It is very much so.

Unhappy with a strap I had for my camera and wanting one specific, I thought I would stop by so I Googled the place for its hours and came across this recent article about her in the Buffalo News. When I went there a couple weeks ago on my lunch break it was like stepping back in time. I showed her my current strap and what I would like and questioned if she could make one for me, “Sure, why not,” is what she said.

While chatting with her and shooing away her tiny dog that kept nipping at my ankles I told her I read that she had ghosts in the basement which she kept at bay with salt on the stairs. “That’s right,” she said a matter-of-factly, “and there’s also a crucifix as well.” When I requested to see them she declined.

Over the course of three visits in the past couple weeks I was surprised how many customers came in. There was someone with a large leather chair having it repaired, someone purchasing strips of leather, and today a guy was picking up his shoes which he has shined there. In retrospect, I remember chatting with a late neighbor, who was repairing his own leather chair, who told be he purchased the leather their as it was the only place he could find in the city.

It really is an interesting experience doing business with Linda. Not only are you doing business with the owner—which is becoming a rarity these days—but she is polite and cheerful and the place is packed floor-to-ceiling with all sorts of tools and merchandise. What you won’t find are any loud or glaring screens, in fact I didn’t see any electronics at all. My receipt is hand written.

Yesterday when I got the call that my straps were ready I told her I would stop by the next day on my lunch hour, which was Wednesday. She mentioned that she was only open until 12:00 or 1:00pm on Wednesdays so I made sure to be on time. When I arrived, we fitted one of my cameras with a strap to make sure it fit correctly—it did—and then she punched a couple more holes in the leather to make it a bit more adjustable.

Thanking her for her work, before leaving I asked why she closed early on Wednesdays. She smiled replied simply, “Because I can.” Thank you Linda for such a pleasurable experience, I felt like an actual person and not just another customer while doing business with you. 

Urban Simplicity.

This is Ben

Leave a comment

This is Ben. I met him this afternoon on my way back to my hotel for a siesta. I was tired as I had been walking all day, as is my way when in an incredibly vibrant city such as NYC. It doesn’t help that in haste this morning I hopped on an express train that took me way out of the way from where I wanted to go. I only mention this to note that I had walked far and hard and was so looking forward to taking a break. Anyhow, as I crossed Cooper Square I saw Ben and a smile came across my face. Without even realizing the words were coming out of my mouth I found myself saying, “Excuse me, can I take your photo?” Then I was even more surprised when he turned and said yes. 

Ben grew up in London but has been living in NYC for some time, he’s also dressed like this for as long as he can remember. We chatted about a few of our favorite British punk bands and both agreed that the Clash is one of the best bands that has ever existed. After  taking his photo he asked if I would take one with his phone. After looking at it he thought it was too dark, so we moved to a sunnier spot, you can see the difference in the two photos. I have always been drawn to people that live outside society’s norm (whatever that is), and it’s interesting that after talking with Ben for a few minutes I felt invigorated (but still took a brief nap at my room). There are people of all walks of life in this world, and that is such a good thing. Life would be so boring otherwise.

Things that can be carried on a bike (#734), with brief commentary.

Leave a comment

Things on the bike…$62 in groceries, a bag with a change of clothes, a camera and an extra lens.

So this didn’t happen today, it happened last week and hadn’t happened in a while, but for whatever reason I was thinking about it as I loaded my bike with groceries today, and then was thinking about it still as I pedaled to the JCC to sit in the shvitz for a while. It’s something that will inevitably happen to a cyclist. It happens less that it once did, but still it happens. I’m talking about being yelled at out a car window to get off the road. There are, of course, endless variations of the statement with equally endless possibilities to insert various expletives. Sometimes I’ll yell back, stating that I have the same rights as them, but this time was different. This time they didn’t swear, but they ended the sentence with “snowflake,” and yes I am aware of its derogatory implication. “Get off the road, snowflake,” is what he said and it sort of startled me. This is what they assumed of me simply because I was on a bike.

I was so taken aback that I didn’t yell anything in return. But if I did I should have yelled something like, “Well if being a tree-hugging, climate-change-believing, bicycle-riding, Jesus-following, beatnik, hippie, women-loving/supporting, survivor-believing, black/blue/all lives matter-supporting, immigrant-loving, LGTBQ supporting, pro-choice, democratic-socialist makes me a snow flake, then okay. But I still have as much right on this road as you.

While this statement may sound a bit snarky on my part, and I suppose it is, I’ve also been thinking a lot about the Golden Rule lately. Especially as I scroll through social media where people can speak their mind or post nonsensical memes without being face-to-face to those they target (which, imho is a real detriment to society), it’s sort of like an electronic version of yelling out a car window, I suppose.

Mostly we think of the Golden Rule as spoken by the Jew from Nazareth who came to be known as the Christ, but it is mentioned by prophets before and after him in the bible, and in the sacred texts of most religions, for that matter. It’s the most simple concept but also the most difficult. What I am referring to, of course, is loving our neighbors as ourselves. This, I suppose, even means loving the guy who yelled at me, and also people who I don’t agree with. This is likely no more easy a concept now that it was two millennia ago. What came to me while sitting and sweating in the steam room is that while yes, I do have to love my neighbor (meaning everyone within the realm of my little life, both real and virtual), that I do need to treat them with respect and dignity as another fellow person on this third rock from the sun. But at the same time I don’t think I need to, or even think I have the ability, to like everyone. We can disagree but still treat each other with respect. We need to if we want our country to survive. I’ll get off my little soapbox now.


Urban Simplicity.

Question to self (how far would you go)

Leave a comment

how far would you go
if you lacked resources
for basic necessities
what
would you do
to survive
how far would you go
to help
offer aid
if you
had too much
would your heart
be hardened
or
cracked wide open

Older Entries