Saturday, December 26, 2009

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Does that make anyone sad? Not likely.

For the past five years, Ernie DiGiacomo has been able to count on parents to guarantee the $1,500 to $2,500 rents he charges for the 15 apartments he owns in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. When he called renters who had missed payments, he often heard, “My parents will send you a check.”

But in the past six months, the parents are pulling back financial help, he said, and as a result, he has watched more renters move out.

“Most of them are moving back with parents,” Mr. DiGiacomo said.

Luis Illades, an owner of the Urban Rustic Market and Cafe on North 12th Street, said he had seen a steady number of applicants, in their late 20s, who had never held paid jobs: They were interns at a modeling agency, for example, or worked at a college radio station. In some cases, applicants have stormed out of the market after hearing the job requirements.

“They say, ‘You want me to work eight hours?’ ” Mr. Illades said. “There is a bubble bursting.”

Famed for its concentration of heavily subsidized 20-something residents — also nicknamed trust-funders or trustafarians — Williamsburg is showing signs of trouble. Parents whose money helped fuel one of the city’s most radical gentrifications in recent years have stopped buying their children new luxury condos, subsidizing rents and providing cash to spend at Bedford Avenue’s boutiques and coffee houses.

For 18 months after graduating from Colby College, Jack Drury, 24, lived the way many Williamsburg residents do: He followed his passions, working in satellite radio and playing guitar. He earned money as a bicycle messenger and, on occasion, turned to his parents for money.

But as the recession deepened last fall, his parents had to cut the staff at their event planning company to 30 workers from 50. Asked for his help, Mr. Drury cast aside his other pursuits and started work as a project manager for his parents. But he still plays the guitar in two bands, Haunted Castle and Rats in the Walls.

“My future is in the family business,” he said. “Music is just for fun.”

The real estate market, too, is shifting as wealth evaporates. Ross Weinstein, a managing partner of the Union Square Mortgage Group, has worked with hundreds of Williamsburg apartment buyers in the past two years.

“A lot of the money came from family,” he said. “That piece, it’s gone for a lot of people.”

In the boom years, Mr. Weinstein said, 40 percent of the mortgage applications he reviewed for buyers in Williamsburg included down-payment money, from $50,000 to $300,000, from parents. About 20 percent of the applications listed investments that gave the young buyers $3,000 to $10,000 of monthly income.

But in the past two months, Mr. Weinstein said, he has handled two to three deals a week in which the parents cut back their down-payment help.

The number of sales in Williamsburg dropped nearly a quarter in the first three months of this year compared with the same period a year ago, according to HMS Associates, a Brooklyn appraisal firm. And in three recent cases, Mr. Weinstein said, owners sold their apartments in short sales — selling for less than the bank is owed, to avoid foreclosure — because they were no longer receiving parental help.

Mr. Weinstein has been advising two brothers in their late 20s who wanted to buy a $700,000 apartment with $250,000 from their parents. But their parents’ investment portfolio has lost so much value that they now can give only $50,000. Since the brothers make about $45,000 a year each, they are now shopping for a $500,000 apartment.

The parents still wish they could help, Mr. Weinstein said, but “right now, they’re in a situation in their life where they need to ensure their own security.”

It is an adjustment that many have to deal with. Eric Gross, 26, a construction worker, was going to buy, with help from his father, a $600,000 one-bedroom condo with city views at Northside Piers, a luxury building, he said.

But his father, who works in the auto industry, said he had to reduce his contribution. “He’s pulling back the lifeline,” Mr. Gross said.

So Mr. Gross is scaling back, shopping for a $300,000 apartment, said his real estate agent, Binnie Robinson of

It can be hard to see the signs of financial troubles in Williamsburg because residents are so loath to show that they had money in the first place. Robert Lanham, author of “The Hipster Handbook,” said in an interview that many newer residents tried to blend in with the area’s gritty history and dressed “half the time like they’re homeless people.”

But parental help was obvious in the intersection of residents with low-paying jobs and $3,000-a-month apartments.

“You can put two and two together, that they have money coming in from somewhere else,” Mr. Lanham said.

The culture of the area often mocks residents who depend on their families. Misha Calvert, 26, a writer who relied on her parents during her first year in the city, now has three roommates, works in freelance jobs and organizes parties to help keep her afloat while she writes plays and acts in films. There is a “giant stigma,” she said, for Williamsburg residents who are not financially independent.

“It takes the wind out of you if you’re not the independent, self-reliant artist you claim to be,” she said, “if you’re just daddy’s little girl.”

The cutbacks for the more privileged residents are a welcome change for locals who have struggled to support themselves without parental help.

Katie Deedy, 27, an artist, works two bartending jobs to shore up her designer wallpaper business. Gazing out from the bar at the patrons playing darts and sipping bloody marys during a Sunday shift at the Brooklyn Ale House, she described how refreshing it felt not being the only local resident trying to live on less.

“If I’m going to be completely honest, it does make me feel a little bit better,” she said. “It’s bringing a lot of Williamsburg back to reality.”

A Ha Ha Ha Ha

This made my Christmas.

20 Bayard condo files for Chapter 11

December 04, 2009 07:30PM

20 Bayard
In a move that stunned real estate executives and residents of the building, the sponsors of 20 Bayard Street in Williamsburg filed the condominium into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection late this afternoon.

According to documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Brooklyn, the condo by North Development Group owed more than $10 million to more than 50 creditors.

The reason for the filing was unclear, however bankruptcy is often used by developers to prevent a property from being foreclosed on. Records with the city Department of Finance show that Istar Financial inherited the building loan from subprime lender Fremont Bank. However, court documents show that Manhattan-based hard money lender W Financial among the listed creditors.

The creditor with the largest unsecured claim was Add Plumbing, a contractor at 120 Evergreen Avenue in Brooklyn. The claim was for $325,000.

North Development Group had previously parted ways with the Developers Group and Prudential Douglas Elliman at the Karl Fisher-designed property, after the brokers argued for lower sales prices at the building. Streeteasy data shows units have been selling for $825 per square foot.

After selling about 50 percent of the 64-unit building, the developer began offering apartments for rent, officials said.

"We sold close to half the building, then we had differences with the developer and we parted ways," said Lior Barak, a senior vice president at Elliman, who represented the building in 2007.

Unit owners at the building were shocked at the move, because there were no visible signs that the building was in the amount of distress that would force a bankruptcy filing.

"If anything, that's what is such a surprise," said Robin Ottoway, a unit owner who bought his apartment in August 2008. "Any problems that we had they came up and they fixed."

Ottoway said the building is nearly full of either unit owners who closed on their apartment contracts or renters, who have moved in since earlier this year.

However, attorney Rob Braverman represented a buyer who filed with the New York State Attorney General in 2008 to get out of a contract at the building. Braverman said the case stemmed from an alleged mold problem at the property. He said the case was settled about two months ago.

Porzio, Bromberg & Newman attorney John Mairo, one of the lawyers representing the North Development Group-controlled sponsor, 20 Bayard Views, in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, was not immediately available. The other attorney, Leslie Berkoff, of Morrit, Hock, Hamroff & Horowitz, was traveling and not scheduled to return until next week.

North Development, led by Isaac Hager, is facing litigation over a $17 million loan made to Kent Wythe 9th Street, another entity of Hager's created to develop a site at 421-431 Kent Avenue and 464-474 Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Sorrows of Utah

Even the microbrews are alcohol deficient.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Alone And Drinking Under The Moon

Amongst the flowers I
am alone with my pot of wine
drinking by myself; then lifting
my cup I asked the moon
to drink with me, its reflection
and mine in the wine cup, just
the three of us; then I sigh
for the moon cannot drink,

and my shadow goes emptily along
with me never saying a word;
with no other friends here, I can
but use these two for company;
in the time of happiness, I
too must be happy with all
around me; I sit and sing
and it is as if the moon

accompanies me; then if I
dance, it is my shadow that
dances along with me; while
still not drunk, I am glad
to make the moon and my shadow
into friends, but then when
I have drunk too much, we
all part; yet these are

friends I can always count on
these who have no emotion
whatsoever; I hope that one day
we three will meet again,
deep in the Milky Way.

- Li Po

Translated by: Rewi Allen

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll

The funny thing is the 'is said to be.' A way of avoiding legal issues. What the article says is that the CIA tried to buy this election and, because of 21st Century technology, it didn't happen. In the way it happened, say, in Latin America in the 50s. Stuffing the ballot box just ain't what it used to be.

A few howlers from the piece.

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment for this article.

“No intelligence organization worth the name would ever entertain these kind of allegations,” said Paul Gimigliano, the spokesman.

Some American officials said that the allegations of Mr. Karzai’s role in the drug trade were not conclusive.

“There’s no proof of Ahmed Wali Karzai’s involvement in drug trafficking, certainly nothing that would stand up in court,” said one American official familiar with the intelligence."

Two examples of damning with faint praise.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Eight Thousand Words

I have a long article in the Fall issue of the Virginia Quarterly Review.

From beginning to end, this piece was tough on me. The phrase 'the torments of the damned' comes to mind. But it's out and I'm pretty happy with it. Of course, I think it should be twenty thousand words.

Many thanks to Bill Wasik for all his help and to Ted Genoways for giving it a home.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Flat Foot Floogie'

'In penning his biggest hit, "Flat Foot Floogie," the sly Gaillard perpetrated a monumentally mischievous prank on the American pop music public. The whole first line read: "Flat Foot Floogie with the Floy Floy." As it happen, a flat-foot floozie (Galliard substitutes "floogie"). in the African American slang of the period, is defined as a streetwalking prostitute and, in the same lexicon, the floy floy is defined as gonorrhea. In other words, America was unwittingly singing along to a song celebrating a streetwalker carrying the clap.'

Not my prose but a great joke, the 'YMCA' of its day. Slim Gaillard was a bad-ass.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Observations from the Late Shift

William T. Vollmann is a genius.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dear Jon

A long-time friend of mine - almost 30 years! - died unexpectedly last week. He was in a coma at the end and I got to spend time with him in the hospice. I was alone there and I knew it was the last time that I would see him. It was disorienting to see Jon lying there but also powerful. In this society we are all too often kept from the deaths of the people we share our lives with - by distance, by accident, by queasiness. Yet I wouldn't have been able to honor Jon's life in the same way if I hadn't been close to his death. I wouldn't have felt it.

We were angry, energetic, trouble-making teenagers together. When we were about seventeen, we broke into every single private school on the East Side of Providence. Partially this was because we resented rich kids, but mostly because it was convenient. Later we found out that the schools had put out a bounty on us. Jon and I were delighted.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Led Zeppelin

I'm reviewing a bio of the dread Zeppelin and realizing that they were my first foray into sophisticated music. Laugh if you must but they went far beyond the simple textures and orchestrations that I'd been listening to up until then. They, more than Pink Floyd, were the Radiohead of the 70s. Except that they were so much better than Radiohead (Wait, maybe that means Radiohead was the Pink Floyd...).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Abrasion of Formless Time

Robert Stone has a particular American story that he keeps telling in all his books. There's always an idealist, a drug-fiend, and an enlightened realist, although sometimes the realist and the drug-fiend are the same. The idealist dies; the realist suffers but makes it. Meanwhile we get a dirty version of America and environs over the last half century.

Monday, July 27, 2009

'An expectation of deference.'

“When he has the uniform on, Jim has an expectation of deference. But when he’s not in uniform, he’s just a regular guy.”

I don't care much about the Henry Louis Gates arrest. I have a feeling he's pompous and I also am completely sure that the cop give him a harder time because he's black. But the idea of a cop expecting 'deference', that bothers me. Last time I checked, cops are public servants, paid out of taxes. Servants, as far as I can tell, are supposed to give deference, not receive it. Instead, all-too-many cops seem to feel that wearing a badge gives them the right to swagger and push people around. I don't recall signing that particular contract.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Birth Control Pills Made You Cheat on Your Girlfriend

I was fascinated by this article from 'Psychology Today' about how strippers who were ovulating made much more money than those who were on the pill.

It made me think about the number of times women have told me that the pill killed their sex drive. They told me that it was confusing to find themselves no longer attracted to men who they'd been in complete sexual harmony with, like having a lover turn into a brother. Men talk about it less but it seems the boyfriends felt the same way.

This would seem to provide an excuse to the wandering male - and yet another source of anxiety for women - but I think it speaks to the danger of the all-too-easy promotion of the pill as a form of birth control. For example, female track athletes on entering college are immediately put on the pill by coaches who don't want them to get dangerously thin. And most health care will put women on the pill if they ask for contraception - women actually have to ask for an alternative, safer method
like the IUD.

Given the health risks of the pill, this is obviously insane. We're willing to let pharmaceutical companies control our very make-up as human beings. From sheer convenience, women let themselves be talked into altering who they are on a basic animal level. And what does it mean for relationships when this takes place? Are we willing to agree to have diminished attraction in a relationship to suit some vague, long-term goal? It seems both flippant and dangerous.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Hunt

I run and play soccer on a field near my apartment. Starting at dusk the edge of the field near an overgrown meadow is carpeted in rabbits feasting on the well-watered grass. Rabbits are pretty bold here - you can run within a few feet of them before they even move. A few nights ago I saw bobcat there with a dead rabbit in its mouth. I got close to him before he slid away.

Last night I was on the field again. In the distance, close to the fence, I saw the bobcat stalking. He'd creep close to a group of rabbits and then lope toward them, not fast, just a smooth pace. I started running toward that side of the field. The bobcat saw me running near him and froze, eyes flashing green in the dark. He seemed pretty unconcerned and started stalking again. I stopped and watched the cat dash forward and heard a shrill squeak. When the cat turned toward me I saw that it had a rabbit in its mouth, only this one wasn't dead yet. Its hind legs kicked, the bobcat holding it nonchalantly. The other rabbits keep grazing, although I thought they started running just a little bit sooner when I moved near them.

A naturalist friend told me that there aren't that many bobcats around UCI - there isn't enough habitat left and they tend to be extremely territorial. They also get hit by cars all time.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Fables of Faubus

Fifty years ago Mingus Columbia released 'The Fables of Faubus', Mingus' condemnation of Governor Faubus' attempt to stop the integration of Arkansas schools.

In a bit of family history that I'm pretty proud of, my uncle was there as part of the 101st airborne unit sent to protect the African-American students.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Red in Tooth and Claw

tonight I went running on playing fields near my apartment. It was just before nine but the stadium lighting made everything visible. I came to the darkest corner of the fields where a fence separates them from an undeveloped expanse thick with brush. As a ran, a large animal ambled toward me, rabbit limp in its mouth. The rabbit dangled nerveless, probably just killed body much longer without the tautness and compression of life. At first I couldn't tell what the predator was, the body thick with smooth muscle over squatty legs. I thought fox, then coyote, then dog, but it didn't have the pointed ears or muzzle. As I got closer I saw that it was a cat, a bobcat, had those side-whiskers that look like mutton chops and a cat's lope. It was big for a bobcat. A website said they can way up to thirty pounds and this animal was all of that. The bobcat let me get pretty close, slinking along through the grass, then sliding under a set of bleachers with its dinner. All around on the field other rabbits grazed peacefully, only hopping away when they were in danger of being stepped on.

On that same night, and the next, I kept running by a bloody rabbit skin near the same place on the field. I guess the hunting is good.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Story of Bigfoot

This work of Bigfoot scholarship was emailed to a California newspaper by a man calling himself 'Hillbillie Bill.'

I have a real hot news tip for you. The film that Roger Patterson made in 1967 in Northern California of Bigfoot, was real. Here is what Bigfoot really is. Long before Jesus was born there were thousands of slaves who ran off around the world and started their own countries. When these slaves ran off there was a large group of men and boys who took off and ended up in Africa. Some of these men and boys caught female Orangutans and took them to South America and had sex with them and created the American Indian. The men and boys who stayed in Africa caught female Gorillas and had sex with them and created the Black man. When scientists found the bones in Africa they thought we evolved from a female Chimpanzee. But it wasn’t a natural evolution it was a man made evolution. That’s where Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti, Orangutan man and the Skunk Ape comes from. They are half man and half Gorilla and half man and half Orangutan. They use to call the American Indian the red man. The Orangutan has redish hair. When those men bred out the hair the Indian’s skin remained red. The Gorilla has black hair and skin. When those men bred out the hair the Black man’s skin remained black. Bigfoot, Sasquatch, Yeti, Orangutan man and the Skunk Ape are not prehistoric creatures from millions of years ago but they are man made creatures from several thousand years ago. The creature that Roger Patterson filmed in 1967 was half man and half Gorilla. Otherwise known as Bigfoot. Man created his own evolution. Hillbillie Bill

Land of the Teletubbies

Irvine is the anti-Brooklyn. When I first got here I was describing it to a friend of mine. I talked about the sunny days, the bright colors, the sculpted green landscapes, the happy polite undergrads, and of course the bunnies hopping about everywhere.

Ir sounds like the teletubbies, she said.

What are teletubbies? I said.

[a capsule history for other uniformed souls]

The programme features four colorful characters: Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po, who live in a futuristic dome (the "Tubbytronic Superdome"), set in a landscape of rolling green hills. The environment is dotted with unusually talkative flowers and periscope-like "voice trumpets". The only natural fauna are rabbits (although birds are often heard, particularly blackcaps and wrens). The climate is always sunny and pleasant save for occasional inclement days, with rain and puddles, and snow at Christmas time. The Teletubbies are played by actors dressed in bulky costumes, although the sets are designed to give no sense of scale. The Teletubbies don't normally wear real clothes other than the colored suits they wear. They have metallic silver-azure rectangular "screens" adorning their abdomens. These screens are used to segue into short film sequences, which are generally repeated at least once. When the series is shown in different countries around the world, the film inserts can be tailored to suit local audiences, or default to the British ones.

They even had bunnies? I said.

They had bunnies, she said.

Thanks god I was too old to be subjected to that, I said.

Another more sinister way to think of the students here is as Eloi, wandering through a Brutalist landscape built by Morlocks (played by the U.C. Regents). Someday the Morlocks will devour the witless happy Eloi.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

They're Not in Any Hurry to Get to Heaven

I still haven't quite figured out why God wants you on a mechanical ventilator.

Religious Belief Linked to Desire for Aggressive Treatment in Terminal Patients

Published: March 17, 2009

Terminally ill cancer patients who drew comfort from religion were far more likely to seek aggressive, life-prolonging care in the week before they died than were less religious patients and far more likely to want doctors to do everything possible to keep them alive, a study has found.

The patients who were devout were three times as likely as less religious ones to be put on a mechanical ventilator to maintain breathing during the last week of life, and they were less likely to do any advance care planning, like signing a do-not-resuscitate order, preparing a living will or creating a health care proxy, the analysis found.

The study is to be published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

“People think that spiritual patients are more likely to say their lives are in God’s hands — ’Let what happens happen’ — but in fact we know they want more aggressive care,” said Holly G. Prigerson, the study’s senior author and director of the Center for Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care Research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

“To religious people, life is sacred and sanctified,” Dr. Prigerson said, “and there’s a sense they feel it’s their duty and obligation to stay alive as long as possible.”

Aggressive life-prolonging care comes at a cost, however, in terms of both dollars and human suffering. Medicare, the government’s health plan for the elderly, spends about one-third of its budget on people who are in the last year of life, and much of that on patients at the very end of life.

Aggressive end-of-life care can lead to a more painful process of dying, researchers have found, and greater shock and grief for the family members left behind.

The new study used both a questionnaire and interviews to assess the level of reliance on religious faith for comfort among 345 patients with advanced cancer. The patients, most of them belonging to Christian denominations, were followed until they died, about four months on average.

A vast majority of patients, religious or not, did not want heroic measures taken. Still, 11.3 percent of the most religious patients received mechanical ventilation during the last week of life, compared with only 3.6 percent of the least religious.

The most religious patients were also more likely than less religious ones to be resuscitated in the last week of life and to be treated in an intensive-care unit as they died, although those differences may have been due to chance.

“Doctors don’t always acknowledge, and I’m pretty sure patients are telling us, that God is really important in their lives,” said Dr. Gerard Silvestri, a cancer specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, S.C., who has studied end-of-life decision making.

A study by Dr. Silvestri in 2003 found that while cancer patients listed their oncologist’s recommendation as the most influential factor affecting their decisions about medical care, their faith in God was the second-most-influential factor, ranking higher than the recommendations of their family doctors, their spouses and children, and even information about whether treatment would cure the disease

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Radio Radio

I'm going to be doing a live broadcast on this guy's show today, 7 p.m. EST. Supposed to be talking about why martial arts are good for society, something like that. I should have no problem running my mouth; I so rarely do.

Sorry that I haven't been blogging. I've been deeply engaged in the best and the worst aspects of life. And writing. And writing. But I should be back in circulation soon, and also looking forward to reading y'all.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Read My Salon Piece, You Bastards

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ellen Miller, 1967-2008

My long-time friend, the author Ellen Miller, died just before Christmas this year. I'd gotten an email from her on December 13th saying she hoped to meet over the holidays. When I didn't hear back from her, I assumed that she'd been caught up in the chaos that had hounded her for the past few years.

Ellen was one of the most talented people I've ever met. She had an intense feeling for language - for word play, metaphor, style. Her first novel 'Like Being Killed' did well both critically and in sales - a rare combination. Ellen reminded me of two of my best professors from college. Like them she was from New York, Jewish, very left, both earthy and intellectual, and not particularly crazy about Israel's treatment of Palestinians (Grace Paley also comes to mind, although they were very different writers).

Job had nothing on Ellen. In the last few years, she'd been afflicted by severe health issues that nearly killed her a number of times (her doctors almost did her in also with their clumsy attempts to figure out what was wrong with her). Her landlord kept trying to evict her from her beautiful apartment, a typical New York story. All of these issues kept her from focusing on her writing, and working, which only made things worse. She did have a very long manuscript in process and hope I'll get to see it some day.

Ellen never gave up. I'd talk to her and be astounded by the suffering she'd gone through. I think it would have broken me. To see this vital, intelligent, kind friend being tortured was almost unbearable. Apparently she collapsed in a local deli and couldn't be revived quickly enough. I include her obituary below. I will miss having Ellen in my life.

Ellen’s life and work will be remembered by friends and family at a memorial service scheduled for February 8, 2008. Details below. All are welcome.
Ellen grew up in the Carnarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, in a working-class Jewish environment. Her vivid experience of this upbringing formed an important element in her second (unfinished) novel, Stop, Drop, Roll, an excerpt of which appeared in the anthology Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edge (2003). She also contributed stories to the anthologies 110 Stories: New YorkWrites After Sept 11and Brooklyn Noir, among others.
In addition, Ellen taught creative writing at New York University, Pratt, and the New School, where she was admired by her students and colleagues not only for her mastery of the writing craft and dedication to teaching, but for her remarkable courage and honesty both on the page and in the classroom. Notwithstanding years of chronic illness and other hardships, which she faced with superhuman strength and determination, Ellen lived a rich and creative life and deeply touched many others. In the terminology of her favorite hobby, boxing, Ellen had “a lot of heart.”
She received her BA from WesleyanUniversityin 1988 with Honors and Phi Beta Kappa and later earned her MFAfrom the New York University Creative Writing program where she was the recipient of the NYU Creative Writing Fellowship for Fiction. She was also awarded a residency at the MacDowell Colony, among others.
Drafted in a six-month creative burst and published in 1998, Ellen’s novel Like Being Killed enjoyed many critical accolades, including a brief appearance on the San Francisco Chronicle’s bestseller list (after a cover review). Kirkus Reviews noted that “[the narrator’s] voice is authentic in unsparingly illuminating the link between self-protection and self-destruction, revealing a tender inner life that persists despite addiction, depression, and descent into squalor. A bleak, bracing debut.” Meanwhile, her teacher and mentor Annie Dillard wrote: “Ellen Miller hurls herself, along with her readers, into a world that resonates with moral complexity, startling anecdote, humor and good humor, brutality and compassion. Her prose is uncommonly clear, compelling, unaffected, and strong. The range of her narrative concerns--from Primo Levi, Nietzsche, and dead languages to bagels and peach pies--proves that she can make anything interesting."
She is survived by her devoted partner, Christopher Rowell, her step-father, Scott Hyde, her two brothers Steven and Michael, and her beloved god-daughter, Olivia Francesca Foster. She will be missed dearly by all.

A memorial service in honor of Ellen’s life and work will be held on Sunday, February 8th, 2009 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm at the Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House, 58 West 10th Street (btw 5th and 6th Aves.), New York, NY. All are welcome.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Last Words of Lasantha Wickramatunga

Wickramatunga, a Sri Lankan newspaper editor, was assassinated last Thursday. His newspaper was critical of government conduct in the war against the Tamil Tigers. Gunmen had tried to kill Wickramagunga before, and he knew he was a walking dead man. He left a letter to be opened on his death. In it, he names the government as his murderer (even though he'd been a long-time friend to the president)and mourns the loss of democracy and human rights on the island. The text of the letter is at the address below. It's moving and disturbing.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

When Home Isn't

In the week or so I've been back in NYC I've managed to pick up two police summonses. The first came when I was leaving a warehouse show where some friends were playing. Free cans of Colt 45 and empanadas, the best Christmas party in a while. I'd just cracked a Colt when my crew decided to leave. I walked outside with my can.
'You're going to get a ticket for that,' Cindy said.
'Yeah whatever,' from yours truly.
Twenty feet from the club door a squad car pulled up. Busted.
'What's that?' the cop said.
I showed him.
'Pour it out,' Cindy said.
'You can keep it' the cop said. He was young, twenty-five maybe, handsome, African American. Had a certain suavity to him. As he was writing me up, he took a call from a woman and flirted with her. Then he said, 'Sorry baby, I'll hit you back later. I'm writing a ticket here.'
Overall, the cops were pretty decent about it.
'I knew that had to either be a Colt or a coconut drink,' the black cop said. 'No other can looks like that.'
I'll take the blame: that summons was on me but still it was a sign how the Bburg waterfront has changed. The empty streets among the industrial buildings were the last place you'd ever see a cop, even as recently as a year or two ago. But there are some big money highrises going up there and it seems the developers have put out the word that they want the rabble kept in line, even though the highrises are still mostly vacant (and given the economy, just might stay that way).
As I stood sipping my Colt the cop reassured me that I would beat the summons easy.
'Just tell them you were drinking coconut juice and I wouldn't listen,' he said. They'll throw it out. Happens all the time.
I thanked him and they drove away.

A few days later I was talking a late night walk down the same empty waterfront streets. I passed the big development for 'The Edge' a condo-tower complex promising 'edgy' living for millionaires at the edge of the East River. They'll even have their own water taxi to Manhattan (how nice for them). I saw a cop car cruising but I was sober and up to no wrong. I reached the waterfront park that had long been an afterhours hangout for all kinds of strange characters to do strange things - especially Hasidic men, who smoked pot there, cruised prostitutes and had gay flings with each other (I kid you not; I've seen them on the benches, making out like mohels). The park was empty though; because of the cold, I thought. I walked in and stood staring out at the water. A few minutes later, I turned around to see two cops running at me like I was raping a four year-old.
'You know you can't be in here at night' they said.
'I don't know,' I said. 'It's not posted.'
'Do you have anything sharp on you?' One said. He was another handsome young cop, Asian-American this time. Looked like he was about twenty-three. Bburg must be where the send the rookies to make their bones.
'Sharp?' I said. 'All I got is my cellphone and keys.'
'I'm going to pat you down,' the Asian said. 'It's for my safety. You could decide to beat me up and throw me in the water.'
'You never know,' I said. I didn't say that them beating me up was a lot more likely.
'I like your jacket' he said as he frisked me. 'Biker jacket right? Nice leather.'
Another lame summons. Another cop slightly embarrassed at writing it (although it didn't stop him from writing it - quota to fill).
'This is worse than the Giuliani days,' I said.
'I was a kid back then,' the young Asian cop said. 'I don't remember that.'
'Trust me,' I said, 'It sucked.'
And it did suck, but not in Bburg. Even in Giuliani's most delusional 'Il Duce' days, cops weren't harassing people in the Grand Street Park at 1 a.m. on a Tuesday night. Williamsburg had still been low rent and therefore below the radar for 'quality of life' complaints. I wanted to lecture the cops on the injustice of it; I wanted to ask them how they felt wasting their time locking down a neighborhood to make it more appealing to people who earned a hundred times more than they did. I kept it simple.
'You couldn't find a cop here in the old days when there were gangs and rapes and muggings every night. I wish they had you guys doing something more useful.'
'I wish they did too' the young Asian cop said. 'Don't worry about it. When you show up, they'll just dismiss it.'
'But that's the problem,' I said. 'I have to take time out of my day for complete bullshit.'
He shrugged. He had a quota to meet and I was helping him fill it.
And me? I was only doing exactly what I'd been doing for years; but the new Williamsburg has no place for it.