Archive for April, 2009

Helter Swelter

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 28, 2009 by wally426


28-04-2009   Brooklyn, NY

Summer seemed to be back, if only for a few days.

Walking out into the unseasonable temperatures, a warm light bathed everything in a hazy yellow glow. The cars slowly passing by on 8th avenue spewed their endless exhaust, bumping the waves of heat to another level. Every memory from past heat waves collectively flooded my mind. It was almost as if summer had never left. I began to run up Mongomery Place towards the park to escape the gasoline fumes.

In the park, maple trees had exploded in a large green swath. The leaves seemed to have come in over night, yawning through fuzzy pods and stretching their fingers wide to embrace the weather. Their memory was long too, this was second nature to them. You burrow in for the winter, toughening up your bark. When the coast is clear and the last frost has dusted the city streets, you let fly the life within you. I tried keeping to the shaded sides of the path, but it provided little respite from the pulsing sun. People flooded every inch of the meadows and paths, floating along as if they were in a dream. We were all waking up again, shedding our thick layer of winter bark and letting our warm skin breathe life.

The memories became clearer now with each passing smell.

The smell of wet pavement took me back to my Nana’s backyard. During the dog days, she would fill up an inflatable pool she had tucked into the garage during the winter months. As she filled it the water would steam off hot cracked concrete and float over the green philodendrons. I could see her smile and perfect white teeth, her shining mahogany hair as the smell lingered for a moment, then faded as I ran on.

People were bar-b-queuing in the meadow, the smell of charred meat and cooked corn was everywhere, enveloping the runners and bikers in a lingering trail of smoke. I remembered my stepfather’s place in Queens. Steve had this hibachi that he and my brother used every weekend. Once a month during the summer I would go out there with my mother and we’d sit on his stoop and cook out all day. We would sit on cheap folding chairs, talk and laugh. Bob Murphy’s grainy voice filled in the gaps of silence as the Mets games blared on the radio. When it got dark, I would throw ants into the smoldering coals. They would sizzle and pop the instant their crumpled bodies hit the pile of hot ash. I didn’t think about what I was doing at the time, but years later I remember feeling terrible about doing that. As I approached the lake, the smell drifted and the memory gradually faded back through the rays of sunlight flooding the new Prospect Park canopy.

Then came the freshly cut grass on the hill overlooking the nethermead. Out of nowhere, the image of a long fairway came from the depths of my memory bank. I lived with my father out on Long Island during the summers in high school. My first job was as a golf caddy at the Hillcrest Country Club. I’m not sure how most country clubs are, but this one was full of snobby awful human beings who would yell at you any chance they got. The physical strain of carrying their heavy bags and keeping your eyes trained on their shanked balls wasn’t nearly as bad as the mental toughness caddies needed to maintain during constant barrages of insults and gripes. If the person you caddied for hit the ball in the water, it was your fault. If they missed a putt, it was your fault. If they hit a tree and you couldn’t find the ball, you didn’t get tipped. There was a great upside though… Mondays. Not only was the course closed, but caddies got to hit the links for free. Most times it felt as if I had the whole course to myself. There was no yelling, no pressure, just peaceful green all around. Even if I played lousy golf, it didn’t matter. After each shot, I would wipe the club face and rub the wet blades of grass between my fingers. It was the best smell… shredded grass, metal, and lingering leather from the club grips. I saw the ball hit crisply down the long verdant fairway, cutting through the morning mist towards the green.

I was at the top of lookout hill and the run was almost over. It was as if I had missed out on the grueling pain of the eight miles my legs had just covered. Those thoughts of summers past had whisked the aches and stitches away. I passed into the farmers market, past the smell of freshly baked bread. I was taken back to another place, my family’s restaurant on Remsen Street… to the summer mornings I would head into school with my uncle Arthur. There was always a sharp smell of freshly baked rolls and blueberry muffins coming from the restaurant in those early hours. I saw my Boopa standing in the kitchen wearing his red t-shirt, a white apron around his waist, thick tortoise-shell glasses hanging firmly on the bridge of his nose. He was smiling at me. I smiled back as I came back through the door of my building, happy that another summer would soon be here…


¡Jugo de Piña!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on April 23, 2009 by wally426

22-04-2009  Brooklyn, NY

I enjoy a nice stiff drink every so often. Whether it’s the taste of fine peaty scotch or the maple aroma of distilled bourbon, it’s tough to beat a tumbler of neat liquor after a long day at work. As drinking has been cut out of my diet since the marathon training has started, the simple act of having a glass of a choice spirit is one thing I’ve been missing since the ‘drought’ began. A few weeks back, I was over at Victor’s place playing Scrabble with some close friends (yeah, we act like 70 year-olds most of the time). At some point during the night, Victor brought out a bottle of (what looked like) tequila. I recoiled in disgust at the sight of the bottle, remembering nights where the vile nectar had thrown me into a completely unrecoverable stupor. Vic assured me that the bottle’s contents were nothing like Cuervo or Patrón, that it was Mezcal.

In researching the art of making Mezcal, I was taken back when I learned how labor intensive and intricate it was. First, the roots of the blue agave plant are dug up. Mezcaleros (farmers who make the Mezcal) call the roots “Piñas” after their likeness to pineapples. The roots are then buried under a pile of hot rocks and straw mats made of palm. As the mats burn, the smoke flavors the piñas which grow soft and absorbent under the hot rocks. After a day or so, they are dug up and crushed with a stone wheel (usually drawn by a horse). The resulting mash is put into wooden vats with water to ferment. In yet another step to the process, the mash is then cooked in round stills made of clay or copper and all alcoholic vapors are burned off. This last step is often repeated twice. To me, it seemed like the ultimate organic spirit.

 Vic handed over the open bottle to nose it out, and it proved to be unlike anything I had smelled previously. A smoky, delicate, agave-like aroma with a hint of spice which took my senses south of the border. The taste proved equally as magnificent, so smooth and balanced with very little fire. Needless to say, I’ll have to add a bottle of Gusano Rojo to the old liquor cabinet for those cold winter nights.


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 13, 2009 by wally426

13-04-2009   Brooklyn, NY

The wind blew hard from the north and made an odd whistling sound through the bars in the decaying fire escape. I took another step and felt my feet give weigh beneath me. My hands held fast to the railing and eventually I swung myself up onto the stairs above. The fragile rusty step couldn’t bear the weight and had broken off, clanging noisily along the crumbling framework three stories below. Luckily, there hadn’t been any people passing by and my presence had gone unnoticed. I jimmied one of the dusty windows open and tried to push open the wooden board which had been nailed over it. The thing wouldn’t budge. I would need to kick it open to get inside the abandoned building. That would make a ton of noise however, so I needed a distraction down below in order to complete the break-in. Less than a minute later, an old bag man came rumbling down the avenue with an overflowing shopping cart. He stopped at the corner and began rummaging through the garbage can, bottles clinking and clanking together as he emptied it. The stars were aligned! With three swift kicks, the wooden board pried loose with a loud squeak and I was able to squeeze into the darkness.

After shimmying through the narrow opening, I fell into a billowing pile, something soft. The smell inside the place was intense, an odd mixture of old books, dust, and bird droppings. Using the LCD light on my camera screen, I saw that I was laying on a huge mess of clothes. The whole room was filled waist-high with them! I walked toward the doorway on this layer of old cloth, it was like walking on a cloud. The low grey light from the LCD cast an eerie glow on everything in the room, shadows danced along the peeling walls as I moved towards the hallway. After walking from room to room, I noticed the place was filled with furniture, books, old records, toys, posters and boxes. Clothes were still neatly hung in the closets, toiletries still stocked the bathroom shelves, dried flower stems hung listlessly in dry vases, even beds were still made. It was as if whoever owned the place had just vanished one day and never returned. Signs of decay were pervasive. Paint peeled off the walls in large uneven swaths, water damage revealed piping in the ceilings and walls, tiles were ripped up and scattered all over the bathrooms, and staircases had splintered after years of neglect.

I wondered if the place was haunted. At various points during my journey through the house, I listened and closed my eyes, trying to feel some sort of presence. Sounds of the house settling and the occasional scurrying of rats was all I heard. If there were any wayward spirits, their intentions seemed to be benign. I imagined for a moment being a spirit trapped in that house, cowering in the darkness of one of the decrepit rooms, sick from the stench of bird shit and fading newspapers, looking out onto the avenue on a sunny day and watching the people pass by below, knowing all the while that I would never be noticed again.

After poking around the rooms, I eventually found my way onto the roof. The absolute stillness up there was incredible. Before my eyes, a beautiful sweeping view of Brooklyn and Manhattan spread out into an infinite matrix. When walking in the canyon between the buildings at street level, it’s hard to notice how residential Brooklyn is. From this vantage point, you see how few buildings rise above four stories. The Manhattan skyline looms like Mount Olympus over Thessaloniki. People once called Brooklyn ‘the bedroom of the city’, and from the roof it was easy to see why. The glow from all of the light pollution cast an orange aura over the buildings, bathing them in a soft haze. The distant street lights hummed and twinkled like stars. City dwellers have a virtual galaxy at our fingertips, we just need to get up above the lights to notice it.

The house moans beneath me, and it’s quite clear that I have overstayed my welcome. I am a flea on the back of a dying dog. I make my way back down from the roof, through the cracking hallways and crumbling staircases, through the room piled high with clothes and back out through the broken wooden plank. With my eyes fixed tight to the ground, I slowly creep down the old fire escape, careful not to step into the abyss my feet created on the way up.