Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Art of Community

The weekend is winding down here. Afternoon rain wet the sidewalks and the air feels humid, muggy.

As I wrote this, my wireless connection found an unsecure router connection so I hijacked time and while connected I set up a coffee date with someone off of She's an RN who lives in Gardner, MA.

A dialog with myself flowed through my thoughts for most of the day today. After I arrived in Brooklyn by taking the usual route in just over 4 hours, rather than taking my road less travelled that often leads me to a 5+ hour trip, I settled in quickly. And then I figured out the trains to the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition ( art show off Van Brunt in the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Being naive here has it's pros and cons because in eschewing the added cost of bus fare (I later learned that it's a free transfer) I walked through the East and West Redhook Public Housing projects from the Smith and 9th subway station to the art show. It was raining and few people were on the street, but none-the-less, I walked right through the projects.

Is that dangerous? Probably not. But I suspect that it's like dealing with livestock where a calm, steady hand causes no alarm, but fear, anxiety could trigger mayhem. So without event, I arrived at the art show.

When I approached the pier where the show was, I saw that some drainage blocked up, and the end of the street was full of runoff water. A little blue Honda civic was up to its chassis in water! I pined for my camera (at 820, bummer!) and I thought that I could help push the bugger out.

I walked in and Betty and Pauline greeted me and gave me brief instructions to see the show. I walked into the show and I saw a sign that said 'free lemonade' so of course I indulged and had some polite chit-chat with the lady pouring the lemonade. She laughed sarcastically, 'Squeezing the lemons was soo difficult!' as she opened a freezer and took out a can of frozen lemonade concentrate!

The show is for starting artists and simple membership lets anyone and everyone display their work. Iris insisted that I could join and it didn't matter if I were from New Hampshire, but I was still cautious in my thinking. My situation is so unsure.

A great thing about the show is that many photographers displayed their work. One photographer framed his photos with the $3 plastic frames that we used at Compuware. Some other photographers purchased (or made?) intricate frames and used double-mats to display their work. Prices for photography ranged from $75 to $500 and comparable work to mine averaged between $150 and $200.

The gallery had three main sections on two floors and after I explored them all, I wandered outside to the pier. As I wandered, I kept seeing with my photographer's eye and wishing that I had my camera. Using the windows of the warehouse would frame the pier, docks, buildings, grass. And the light was soft enough that I could have exposed (I think) everything with one metering.

Craftsmen and women displayed their work in an adjoining building and I had a great time talking to a jeweler and a metalsmith. While talking to the jeweler, a harried woman rushed in talking a mile-a-minute about her blue Civic that was buried in water. Ha! I thought. It's her car.

Some guys volunteered to push her car out of the flooded street so I joined them and we easily leaned into the car and pushed it up onto the sidewalk so she could drive it away. A different lady approached me, thanking me, and said, 'You know that water you waded in is real dirty!' I smiled and said that I rinsed my feet off in a rainpuddle (not runoff) and I called the floodwater, 'Toxic!'

Speaking of which, I need to better wash my feet and ankles before I sleep.

Talking with the metalsmith was fascinating. She, K. Allyson Hayes, was knowledgeable and talkative about her craft and it resurrected memories from high school of my experience with casting pewter, the melting point of silver, and other tricks of the trade. Allyson showed me a ring she made by fusing strips of silver and copper into a layered two-tone ring with a red stone set into the center of the wide band.

Then she explained the process and showed me a prototype for a wedding band she made. This resurrected another deeply seated memory where I always planned on making the wedding bands if I ever marry and I asked some gentle questions of Allyson to see if her studio was available for other artists to ply their trade. She's open to it, but she's soon moving to New Mexico. I wallowed briefly in sentiment as I remembered those long-forgotten fancies of my younger days.

But as I often respond to people, smiling the whole time, who joke with me about finding the woman of my dreams this summer, 'Why would I want that right now to spoil my adventure!'

I kept wandering the exhibits noting the prices marked on the photographs - especially in the auction section where patrons indicate the price that they are willing to pay. From what I could tell, the prices in the general gallery are slightly higher than the market will bear, but the market is huge - 8.2 million people in New York so why not set the price a little higher than mainstream? Someone will bite.

As I approached the main doorway, Betty and Pauline at the front desk chatted with me and the topic turned to the featured photographer who studies light much like I do with my work. This turned into encouragement on their part for me to sign up with and display my work in September. Before I knew it, I was explaining my dual-citizenship between NYC and NH to Ammie who is taking new registrants.

She politely listened and took my $80 membership fee listing my address as Newipswich, NY 03071. A bean counter is going to flip somewhere! requires up to 16 hours of volunteer service so I kept pushing Ammie whether or not I can do my service before the end of August when my free rent is up at 820. Things are in such flux that I don't know if I should stay, go, or whatnot, but my current plan is that I'll leave NYC at the end of August.

I could always ask John if I could rent the half-apartment upstairs (cheaper, I assume than the first floor) to retain a place to sleep if and business bring me regularly to the NYC.

After I left the show, I wandered into a new Fairway market which bills itself as a unique market. I wandered about the grocery store, a comfort zone of mine surprisingly, and I compared prices to the other stores in NYC and NH. I found huge tubs of olives for sale and I found Greek Olives, keeping a mental note, because I was determined to buy nothing. But the prepared food, olives, and other smells and sights kept me salivating. Stubborn. No purchases.

And then *poof!* my resolve evaporated when I saw Finn Crisp crackers! Oh man I thought as I grabbed a package of the multi-grain crackers. Finn Crisp with butter is a delicacy, if you can call it that, often forced on polite, quiet young kids like myself who didn't care for it at the time, but reveal a well spring of sentimental feelings and loosen $1.69 from the wallet.

So I continued through the store, Finn Crisp in hand, and I saw that the selection of King Arthur flour was slight - surprisingly. And I made all sorts of notes to self as I wandered the aisles. I remembered the olives. And since it was nearly 6:00 PM, I thought I could buy something pre-made for supper. Dang Finn Crisp!

I scooped a small quantity of olives into a container and sampled a salty specimen, spitting the pit into my fingers to put into the pit containers scattered throughout the display. The briny bitterness is what I expected and I remembered the Greeks in Greenville, NH who introduced me to Greek olives on pepperoni pizza. MmmMmm.

I looked at the pre-made food and I settled on a half-chicken for $2.99. The chicken barbeque sauce spilled from the container at the checkout line and a sharp-spoken manager pushed the cashier to, 'Wipe! Wipe! Wipe! Then check the customer's purchases. Wipe! Ok?' And the girl rolled her eyes and made eye contact with the bagger girl before wiping up the mess.

My bill? $7.03 put on plastic.

Outside, I debated my options for returning to the subway station at Smiths and 9th St. I wanted to walk, but I was weary from travelling. Besides, I am too unfamiliar with this neighborhood to have a good sense of security. So I went to a bus stop and the signs eventually told me that the bus would be going the wrong way. I walked another street where I saw a bus stop sign with arrows and route that go towards my destination. I sat and waited in the small, empty bus stop shelter.

Soon some women arrived. I asked an elderly Italian woman if she wanted to sit, but she refused and eyed the bench suspiciously as I did wondering if some paint was wet or not. Then a man with short-cropped hair, an earring, and a cigarette dangling from his lips walked towards the bus stop; his hand nestled hand in hand with his girlfriend.

Across the street, kitty corner two attractive young women and a man appeared from a gated entrance. The younger woman smiles and waves saying goodbye. Goodbye? I wondered silently. She can't be waving to me. But she waved persistently until the man with the short-cropped hair called to her, 'See you soon. Where are you going?'

The girl replied simply, bubbling with delight, 'Paris!'

And the man and his girlfriend had a conversation about her background.

Then a car stopped in the street, a woman walked briskly to the window to talk. A bus casually went around the parked car while the women talked. Someone else smiled and nodded to each other - a man holding his son's hand. The elderly Italian woman gossiped with an Asian woman who had walked into the bus shelter.


My thinking went back to talking with Derek about the loss of the American community in our mass-marketed materialistic American ambition. And how his tribal, African friends all want the American dream, infected almost, but yet they are mortified that Derek lived previously for years in a neighborhood where he never ever said a single word to his neighbors. His African friends were stunned! So during our conversation, Derek and I mourned the loss of the American community, but here in Red Hook, the signs are plain as day. People care. People talk. Community thrives.

The bus arrived, I transferred to the subway, disembarked at 9th Ave and walked up 41st street. Lilly was taking some air in her doorway so I stopped to chat for a few minutes. Cecilia's son walked by and I called to him because he didn't hear Lilly. 'Nicky!' He turned and walked back to use and kissed Lilly in a traditional Italian greeting. They exchanged pleasantries for a moment before his mother called him home again for a minute.

Lilly glowed while talking about how well-bred Cecila's sons are. Her genuine smile provoked memrories of Aiti telling the story of meeting Isa (my grandfather, but the Finnish word for 'father') because simple love transcends all and stays eternally young.

The key revealed itself plainly when Lilly raved about Nicky's deceased father. She smiled, glowing, 'He'd do anything for me around the house. Even snow!' And as I said my goodbyes to Lilly and shook Nicky's hand goodbye as I walked up the street, I had just witnessed for a brief moment the product of love and generosity cast through our generations.

I walked and turned the corner onto 42nd Street. I saw two of my Asian neighbors sitting on their stoop. I approached and we smiled, nodded, and genuinely acknowledged that we are good neighbors. I touched my key to the lock on the 820 door and I paused. The community which I cherish in New Ipswich is also here. I know my neighbors. There's love here. Things are not so bleak as my pessimistic streak tells me they are.

My last topic thread for this entry, I think, has to do with Aaron's counter and my rebuttal regarding Section 8 housing in Brooklyn. One of his relatives audits Section 8 rents to ensure that the earnings of the tenants are within the guidelines. He futher detailed a scenario where a his relative contacted a tenant, explained the guidelines, explained the violation, and listened--horrified--as the woman cupped the phone in her hand yelling to her son, 'You're quitting your job tomorrow or else rent goes up. Quitting, got it?'

Aaron's story stopped there, but on reflection I rebut. The tenant hung up the phone on his relative so the sub-story ends naturally. But I still believe in the possibility that the son stood up to his mother and said, 'No. I'm not going to quit.' Innately part of the American dream of self-sufficiency by showing that he's working his way out of Section 8 status.

Sure a majority may abuse the system for their own good, but a small percentage will benefit from the system as designed and their families will last. Mix in heavy, consistent doses of love and respect, and the elixir is set for sustained family. Think of Lilly, Cecilia, and Nicky on 41st Street?

While Tristan and I climbed Mt. Watatic yesterday, I told him the Section 8 story and he passionately verbalized my thoughts, 'But Tim! There are people in Section 8 that are not going to stay there. They're going to pay their rent. It's a hopeful place!'

So either my blog influenced his ideology (his mother, turns out, is one of my few loyal readers and reads excerpts to Tristan) or our Somero blood senses the same hopefulness in inner city living. I prefer the latter.

A family story tells of one of my great-great aunts, Finnish of course, breaking segregation in inner-city Detroit to live with blacks. She lived there, taught there, protested there, and briefly went to jail there. Most likely for the same ideology that I describe here.

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