The Ninth Street Bridge Operator

He takes his place in his metal perch. The operator’s room is cantilevered from the southwest tower out over the roadway for optimal sight lines through the congested bracing system of the elevated subway. He knows the terrain well. The span was designed to provide a channel width of 60’ and a vertical clearance of 60’ above mean high water when open. He’s at the helm and he stays in touch, with the MTA and the DOT and with all his brethren at the other bridges that span the canal. He’s above it all, but he’s never aloof. The bridge provides three lanes of traffic and two 7’-6” sidewalks connecting to the area city street grid. Yet who really knows the Ninth Street Bridge Operator?

Source: Modern Steel Construction


Third Avenue Flea Market

The Third Avenue Flea Market is located in the middle of a remote stretch of Gowanus. It’s as if the owners intentionally set out to find a location almost devoid of foot traffic. But that’s a plus for the consumer as there’s ample room to browse undisturbed; you’ll never have to contend with other bargain hunters for the choicest goods. The place makes up for its lack of human vitality with a certain hysterical plenitude that suggests unlimited possibilities. It’s a colorful, cluttered cemetery of commercial failure, a bonanza of surplus uselessness that never fails to give me frissons whenever I visit. I often imagine I could be a regular there, not unlike the people you see hanging out at delis and garages—drinking coffee, kibitzing, and basking in the warm glow of stimulating, familiar surroundings.


Vest Pocket Parks (Found Poetry)

New York's “vest pocket parks,” with their iconic vantages of highways and skylines, permeated by the calming drone of traffic noise, are perches of introspection. Sitting in Van Voorhees Park , during rush hour on a hot June day, I see before me arteries of the city in full flow, with a backdrop of buildings staired and serried against the sky.


Singers, Statesmen, and Saints

Singers, statesmen, and saints, among others, have left their mark on the Brooklyn landscape in the form of parks and playgrounds bearing their names. It’s a great tribute to a person to give his name to a public space. What better way is there to keep the name if not the sprit of a person alive than by turning it into something concrete and functional?

Whenever I pass by Harry Chapin Playground in Brooklyn Heights, nestled between the BQE and some charming houses with lush, sun-dappled yards, I can’t get his signature tunes, “Cat’s in the Cradle” and “Taxi,” out of my head.


A Flash in Time (Photo Reenactment)

This light, this spot, this buzz on which I’m working: a perfect combination, “it doesn’t get any better,” it’s almost sublime . . . never again will this moment repeat. (A cliché, maybe, but a perpetually arresting idea.)

Degraw St. & Court St., 8/24/06 (Thursday) at 6:59 pm


Dead Tech (No. 1)

Brooklyn’s techno-waste is disgorged continually through flea markets, stoop sales, and junk shops, producing a veritable time line of “consumer electronics.”

Alongside the other trinkets and cultural detritus, dead tech seems more stolid—simply a byproduct of our relentless compulsion to upgrade, the personification of our “disposable society.”

In dead tech we see the fate of all innovation. And whether piled in a heap on the sidewalk or carefully arranged on a tarp, it’s not simply our old tools being displayed but the fallacy of progress.


The Stoop Sale: A Brooklyn Institution

The stoop sale, that welcome rite of spring, is a Brooklyn institution. Of course variations exist across the country—garage sales and the like—but the distinct setting and a few essential details, the variety of merchandise especially, make the stoop sale unique to Brooklyn.

Underlying every stoop sale is a certain poignancy, born of the near-universal need to part with useful, even cherished items due to lack of space. Much of what’s offered at these makeshift bazaars could be dismissed as garbage, but a thing owned is a thing with a history, often invested with real emotions, like the thrill of discovery or the sadness of some personal association. That such things, freighted with intrinsic value, are sold to complete strangers for a song only intensifies the poignancy.

The avid consumer of culture is never fully sated; never is there a point when he has heard all the music or read all the books he wants to. And what a luxury it would be to have the bulk of all the books and CDs one has consumed in a lifetime within arm's reach, including the middling discs with one or two great songs or the books of short stories with only a few choice selections. But this is near impossible, which is among the most compelling arguments for the necessity of the stoop sale—as a vehicle for maintaining the churn of culture and passing along significant art and ideas (and for making one’s cluttered living room once again livable). It is axiomatic, however, that no more than three months after a stoop sale, the seller will yearn to hear songs on CDs or refer to passages in books that are absent.

The dizzying array of toys seen at stoop sales, from toddler diversions and pre-school learning games to elaborate adolescent amusements, provides a rare, concentrated look at the phases of youth. Eventually, though, the sale ends and all that remains are some unwanted objects and a few fleeting memories, not unlike youth itself.