For the purposes of cable news soundbites and superficial political campaigns, the world is often neatly divided between heroes and villains. And though we know that the real world is populated by flesh and blood human beings, complicated, conflicted, just trying to figure what to do next, that doesn't stop us from wanting heroes and reviling villains. We just can't help it... Here, then, is our NYC pantheon for 2010.
A few issues ago, we brought your attention to Herzfeld's near-saintly dedication to reconciling the Williamsburg Chasidic community and the Williamsburg fixed-gear community—for that effort alone, he's a hero. But that's not all: Herzfeld has also created a fund to help cover injured cyclists without health insurance, an all-too necessary safety net in this city, despite all the new bike lanes... Thanks, Baruch.
Automotive High Pistons
We're all about bringing Friday Night Lights to Williamsburg, as the highly talented Automotive High School football team (go Pistons!) finally gets to play some home games at McCarren Park (rather than being forced to play an entire season on the road). The first game is September 25th (with game two scheduled for November 7th), and we'll be there to cheer on the hometown boys—and so should you...
From Ben Flanner, the former e-trader who brought you Greenpoint's Eagle Street Farm (the city's first rooftop soil farm), and the crew from Bushwick hippie-hipster pizzeria Roberta's, came—after brief setbacks owing to pestering permit problems—the city's biggest commercial rooftop farm. Since soil arrived by crane to the acre atop 37-18 Northern Boulevard in Long Island City last May, the team and a small army of eager volunteer farmers have grown and harvested veggies for local restaurants and their farm stands. Heroic cooks can get Brooklyn Grange crops at Brooklyn Flea, Roberta's, or by joining their good old-fashioned CSA.
Donna Marsh O'Connor
O'Connor is the spokeswoman for September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group of—well, the name is pretty self-explanatory. Speaking from a position of not insignificant moral authority, O'Connor—whose pregnant daughter died on 9/11—has been tireless in championing American ideals of tolerance, open-mindedness and freedom, seeking to ensure that 9/11 not be used as justification for violence, revenge or bigotry. Though she's not always succeeded (two long wars!), O'Connor's recent defense of Park51 has been a true testament to her faith in the Constitution, and in American values. As she said herself: "We recognize that we are all in pain. And we go forward. We do what is right." Amen.
And a nod as well to Graham Rayman, the Village Voice reporter who authored the paper's seasons-spanning five-part series about the secret recordings made by Schoolcraft—a cop in Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct, who documented the NYPD's cynical institutional culture, callous enforcement of stop-and-frisk quotas, and whitewashing downgrades of serious complaints. Schoolcraft blew the whistle after being forced into a psych ward by his panicked superiors. His cause—seriously: the salvation of the NYPD—is a noble one, and his tapes are essential listening.
Bronstein's Frownland is one of the key independent films made in New York City in recent years—a sympathetic, painful study of personal relationships among characters with some of the most awkward social skills ever filmed—and he starred as the epically irresponsible "cool dad" in the Safdie brothers' terrific Daddy Longlegs. At least as impressive as the essential D.I.Y. cinema, though, is Bronstein's day job, as a projectionist for repertory film screenings at MoMA and elsewhere (presumably this is how he learned about both movies and antisocial people).
A word-of-mouth-known savior to many and bike-refurbishing messiah to all, Peter Pizza, a sturdily true-blue Brooklyner who repairs, rebuilds and resells mixed multitudes of mostly vintage frames and parts out of his Lorimer Street garage, is a veritable civic hero for our resource-strapped, occasionally MTA-downtrodden times. He is dexterous, industrious and fair—and since he despises bike thieves like he loves old Schwinns, Antonio Ricci himself would have to go elsewhere in search of stolen wares. It might seem cliché to call Mr. Pizza the real-bike-deal, but such a greased glove befits him all the same. And yes, Peter Pizza is indeed his real name.
Though it might be an exaggeration (emphasis on "might") to call collectively villainous an entire building complex and everything "cool" it purports to represent, it is hardly a stretch to call out Douglaston Development (creators of the architectural douchebaggery of The Edge, one of the most recent blights on the Williamsburg waterfront) for their unabashedly fallacious use of absolute and relative superlatives in their bankhole-directed advertising: "Most amenities"? "Best neighborhood"? "Superior apartments"? Or "ingenious," "incomparable," "incredible"? Worst of all, "HARDCORE"? Really, the semantics of condouchery sound a lot like the lite-beer, dance-floor-fist-pumping flatulence of brobaggery.
The Vendetta Breakdancer
Many subway passengers who wait for the L train in Union Square have likely encountered the V-mask-wearing (as in V for Vendetta) breakdancer who performs his spatially sullying, unentertaining spin-spiel just west of the center of the platform. The same passengers have thus been silently assaulted by the vacuity of his head-nodding gaze, and aurally assaulted by the so-called music he plays. What really makes him a villain, though, is that we once witnessed him get into a brutal yelling match with the wonderful elderly Polish man who plays the concertina, among other one-man-act instruments. And guess what? The V-masked man was totally in the wrong. V for Villain, perhaps?
We praise businessman and Republican senatorial candidate Vincent Forras for his service as a volunteer firefighter at the WTC site in 2001, just as we loathe the lawsuit he recently filed against the proposed downtown Islamic Cultural Center that claims, insanely, that the organizers of Park51 (Sufis!) "are believers in radical Islam and its jihad against America and American interests," and that the center will be "a monument to the jihadist's victory over American ideals of freedom and democracy." Those very ideals, it would now seem, are in far more danger from within, than without.
A proper Christian response to the proposed Islamic Cultural Center in Tribeca might be something like... love? Or, sympathy? But televangelist Bill Keller's "Christian response" is a competing 9/11 Christian Center in downtown New York that would spread Jesus' message of hysterical xenophobia through misinformation. Such gems on the proposed center's website include "Islam is a wonderful religion... for PEDOPHILES!" Yeah! Who ever heard of a Christian touching kids?
The Bike-Lock Gluer
We appreciate the issue irritating this unidentified Williamsburg resident who (self-)righteously goes around the neighborhood putting glue in bike locks under cover of anonymity courtesy The Brooklyn Paper—that there are too many abandoned bikes locked up to too few bike racks and available street furniture along Bedford and adjacent blocks. But this is exclusively the business of the city's Department of Sanitation, and vandalizing others' private property is nobody's business at all. His broader anti-bike agenda, outlined in an op-ed smackdown against our hero Baruch Herzfeld, further confirmed his villainy.
Wrong-Way Bicyclists/Cars in Bike Lanes
We understand that for a very long time this city was a lawless, uncivilized rat race of do-anything/go-anywhere transit, and that the suicidally vulnerable cyclist had to do whatever it took to survive. But you know what? There are bike lanes now, and a D.O.T. that seems to care, so if we want to be treated as legitimate transportation, we have to act like it—and that means not going the wrong way down a bike lane on a one-way street. Ok? (And to all you cars who use the bike lane as a passing lane, you're villainous assholes who should be set on fire.)
The Williamsburg Hotel
As we wrote last month, online: "There's just something about a fancy boutique hotel (and a fancy boutique hotel bar) that represents the last frontier of mindless douchebaggery, the kind of superficial, stage-managed exclusivity that appeals to the worst kind of vanity in the worst kinds of people." Alright, we know Williamsburg has been evolving into a condo playland over the last decade, but a boutique hotel/condo with a restaurant called "Streets" that serves high-priced Third World street food has really put things over the edge. Say it with us, "the Meatburg District."
Illustrations by Anat Even-Or