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March 9th, 2012

Steno Classes: First Day of School

This is the 6th installment in an on-going series on my experience training to be a court reporter .

On a frigid Monday in February, I waited for the  Seventh Avenue bus to take me to the Grand Army Plaza subway station. Once on the train, I ran into an acquaintance from my daughter's elemetary school. I made a point of not telling her that I was on my way to Park Place for my first day of court reporting school.

I felt stealth, a secret agent embarking on a new career .

When I entered the classroom at the New York Career Institute, more than thirty people were already seated and waiting for the teacher to arrive. At 9:30 on the  dot, Miss G, a skinny woman in late middle age with short spiky hair with specks of grey, entered the room.

The teacher!

She had big expressive eyes and bright red lipstick on her lips. Her outfit, I would later learn, was her teaching uniform: a flannel shirt, a wool scarf, grey sweat pants and white tennis shoes. She looked well put together, even stylish. Maybe it was her hair cut, which was neat and well coiffed.

Miss G, in a voice shrill, sharp and clear, directed a question to the classroom of newbies, mostly women in their early twenties and thirties.  "Why are you here? Nobody comes here without a reason. Rarely do people think of this themselves. They have to be told."

I was sitting next to M, the grey-haired woman I met at the orientation ("I think you're in my demographic"). At 63 and 53 respectively, M and I were the two oldest people in the room. As Miss G went around the room, people described aunts who worked as court reporters, friends, and mothers who had done it years ago.

I told the group that I was inspired during jury duty. M mentioned that she looked it up on the Internet.

"It's the second highest paying job you can get without a college degree." she told the group.

What's the first?" someone shouted out.

"Air traffic control," she said.

The room erupted in laughter. All the faces I would come to know so well blended together that day. There was a man who never came back and a few others we'd never see again. Satisfied with the group's answers, Miss G addressed the class:

"I am offering you a wonderful, well-paid career. If you work hard and practice and take this vey seriously, there is an opportunity for you here. Don't squander it. Many people have come through this school. I have seen people who'd never studied before and took to this thing. This was something they were able to do. It has literally saved people's lives..."

I was moved by the sincerity and passion of her speech. Afterwards, she sent us downstairs in groups to pick up our machines. Most of the class had purchased machines, which wouldn't be arriving for another couple of months. In the meantime, the school was loaning out what Miss G called clunkers, rusty, old machines used by multitudes before us.

Down in the administration office, there was a room full of clunkers lined up in black canvas bags (not rolling suitcases). I was very excited to receive one and proudly carried it back upstairs. The others were already putting their  machines together. Out of my bag I pulled out the machine itself, the foldable tripod legs, and the awkward metal drawer. Miss G went around the room offering aid to those who needed help. When everyone was set up, she told us to unwrap our first package of steno paper and showed us how to thread it through the machine.

We were ready to go.

Miss G showed us where to rest our fingers on the black keys. We learned a few letters: the two  S's and the two T's.

"If the letter is on the left side of the keyboard it's called 'initial' and if it's on the right side it's called 'final,'"she instructed us.

The initial S is hit by the left pinky on the far left of the keyboard (see diagram, above). The final S is hit by the right pinky on the right side of the keyboard (but don't hit the D and Z by mistake). Sitting at her desk at the front of the room, Miss G began to drill us in a voice something between an army sergeant and a stern piano teacher.

"Initial S, final  S, initial S, final S, initial S.."

"Use the pinky," she yelled out if she spotted someone who was using their ring finger instead of the pinkie.

"Initial T, final T, initial T, final T, initial T..."

Miss G drilled us for the rest of the class period, keeping an eagle eye out for fingering mistakes. A young woman, who had failed the class previously and was taking it again, sat near Miss G. She wore Pink brand sweat pants, hoodie, and expensive Nike sneakers and used the wrong fingering.

"I told you, use the correct fingers," Miss G admonished her.

M approached the fingerings with great seriousness, she seemed to be struggling.  That first day I felt surprisingly calm. I enjoyed pressing the keys down as Miss G shouted out the letters. It was a satisfying sensation that reminded me of playing  an instrument. I hadn't used my pinkies that  way since playing the  guitar. I liked the way it felt.  I almost wished the machine made a musical sound.

The time passed quickly. Before I knew it, it was noon and the class was winding down.

"The party's over," Miss G. said to the class. "Go home and practice."

I was sure I would, and I knew I'd be back the next day.

To be continued...

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March 7th, 2012

Steno Chronicles: A Brief History of Shorthand

This is the 5th installment of an on-going series about my experience training to be a court reporter.

There is a long and interesting history of written and machine shorthand. There is even a permanent exhibition, The Gallery of Shorthand: The Evolution of a Timeless Profession, in the Alfonse M. D’Amato Federal Courthouse in Central Islip, Long Island.

Now that sounds like a very worthwhile excursion, doesn't it?

In lieu of making the trek out to the Richard Meier designed Islip courthouse, I  was able to gather quite a few nifty historical tidbits from their interesting website.

In Ancient Rome there were scribes, individuals responsible for transcribing minutes of the Roman Senate. Before 63 BC they wrote from memory and these transcripts were sometimes published.

In 63 BC, Cicero, the great orator of Rome, developed Tironian Notes, the very  first system of short writing. To save time, this system used letters to represent common words, and left out letters, usually vowels, that weren't necessary. Sometimes initials or other parts of several words were joined.  Speed was achieved by rarely removing the hand from the wax tablet.

In 59 BC, Emperor Julius Caesar sought to eliminate the secrecy of Senate deliberations, and ordered that they be recorded using Tironian Notes.

Hail Ceasar.

Apparently some Tironean Shorthand is still used in contemporary shorthand such as abbreviating by using only the first letters of common phrases (am, pm, USA).

During the middle ages, shorthand was outlawed because it was  viewed as crytography or secret writing, and therefore inherently evil. Despite the prohibition, monks were allowed to use shorthand to write. And that's a good thing. Much of what we know about the intellectual and religious history of that time we know form these shorthand writing monks.

But I digress. Machine shorthand, as taught at the New York Career Institute, is what we are interested in here.

We have Miles M. Bartholemew to thank for the invention of the first English-language stenography machine in 1879. That precursor to today's steno machine utilized dot/dash codes to form one letter at a time. It makes me think of Morse Code. 150 words per minute was the top speed you could reach on this machine. Apparently vowels were eliminated and words were written as phonetic abbreviations.

In 1866,  George Kerr Anderson designed the first word-at-a-stroke shorthand machine called. The Anderson Shorthand Typewriter. It used printed letters  instead of codes and was capable of fast writing speeds.

In 1911, the Ireland Stenotype Shorthand Machine was invented by Ward Stone Ireland. This steno innovator spent six years analyzing the arrangement of letters and sounds in the English language. He's responsible for the chorded method and the " two-row, tripartite key arrangement of initial consonants, final consonants, and middle vowels" that those of us who have studied Steno know and love. This groundbreaking system allowed" the greatest output with the fewest strokes."

Indeed, that is the essence of steno: the greatest output with the fewest strokes. Make THAT your mantra.

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March 6th, 2012

Steno Chronicles: Orientation

This is part 4 of an on-going series about my experience training to be a court reporter.

The afternoon of the orientation for new students, maybe sixty of us were herded into a third floor classroom at the New York Career Institute. I looked around at the people sitting in folding chairs. Most looked only a few years older than my  19-year-old son.

There were white girls, black girls, hispanic  girls, Orthodox Jewish girls, and even a few Orthodox men wearing yamulkes (I later learned that court reporting is quite popular among the Orthodox). The average age was probably 25 but there were a few scattered middle-agers, as well.

I was heartened when I noticed one women with short, grey hair and made a note to speak to her after the orientation.  I struck up a conversation with the young African-American woman sitting next to me. She told me she studied steno in high school. "It was very difficult," she said.

People sat in groups of two or three, friends from home, from high school. I eyed a table of cookies, donuts and soda but didn't dare get up. No one did. Everyone seemed nervous, eager for the meeting to begin. I studied the stenotype machine at the front of the classroom. With its black keys, it looked more like a piano than a computer or typewriter keyboard .

When Mr. G, a short Hispanic man, who runs the court reporting program, came into the classroom, the crowd quieted down.

"Are there any paralegal or medical students in the room?" he called out.

Ten or fifteen people raised their hands. He told them to go to another classroom for a separate orientation meeting.

"Now that they're out of here. Is everyone here registered for court reporting?" he said. There was a chorus of yeses.

"Court reporting is a great career. I did it for 18 years," he told the group. "You can make a lot of money as a court reporter whether you decide to freelance or work in a court. But it takes a lot of work. Be prepared to practice  two hours every day. Every day. Alright, I'll give you Sunday off. But you must practice for two hours, six days a week."

I was starting to stress out. Two hours a day? That seemed like an awful lot of time to devote to that little machine. I was still in denial about how much time and practice it would take to reach the required speed of 220 words per minute. How hard could it be?

I'm not sure if this happened or if I imagined it but I think Mr. G lifted up the stenography machine and hugged it to his chest.  I am certain, however, that he said the following.

"I love this machine. I loved this machine from the minute I saw it. This machine gave me a life, a profession.'

My first thought: I will never love that machine. I was sure of it.

After the meeting I went up to Mr. G with a question:

"I'm a really fast typist, will that help me in court reporting?"

"Not really," Mr. G told me. "One has nothing to do with the other."

After that discouraging interchange with Mr. G, I sought out the woman with short grey hair.

"I think we're in the same demographic," I said cheerily.

"I don't know about that. I think I'm a little older than you," she said. "I'm 63."

"Okay, you are a little bit older. So what did you think?"

The grey haired woman, who turned out to be smart and friendly, told me that she was excited. She'd been laid off from a development job at a major non-profit and was game for something new.

"I love school," she said. "I have two master's degrees. I love to study."

"But aren't you worried about learning to type that fast?" I said. "And the textbook. All this stenography. It looks like  gibberish."

Anxiety was seeping out of me. I needed a reality check.

"Don't worry, it'll be fine," the grey haired woman said. We exchanged phone numbers and decided to stay in touch.

For me, the orientation was actually disorienting. Afterwards, my doubts returned with a vengence. Leafing through Therory for Court Reporting Volume 1, the text book for the beginner class, I became unhinged. Why is ate spelled AEUT? Why is sew spelled SWE? Why is will you be HRUB? I wondered to myself.

This is silly, this is crazy. The book's introduction wasn't much help :

"The greatess of this keyboard lies in its simplicity. The four fingers of the left hand control all of the beginning consonants by striking two, three, and sometimes four keys at a time..."

What the hell was I getting into? My anxiety turned into full fledged panic. When I got home I was on the verge of tears.

"I'm not going back there. It was a terrible idea," I told my husband.

He heard me out and didn't try to change my mind. Just a few weeks before, he seemed shocked when I decided to become a court reporter in the first place. He'd gotten used to the idea, but I don't think he was really sold on it. The next day, a Friday, I cried to a friend over coffee at Sweet Melissa's that I had made a terrible mistake.

"Maybe I should learn digital video editing instead," I remember telling her. I had been a film and video editor in a former career. At least it was  creative.

By Sunday night, I was feeling calmer and a thought floated into my mind. Why don't I just try it? If this thing is really so wrong for me it'll be obvious at the first class. If I don't go, I'll never know.

I slept soundly that night for the first time in days...

To be continued...

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March 5th, 2012

Steno Chronicles: Registration

This is Part 3 of an on-going series about my experience training to be a court reporter.

In Janaury of 2011, I put my doubts aside and decided to register for court reporting classes at NYCI. Sitting in the waiting area of the administration office, I was again struck by the plethora of young girls just out of high school, who populated the halls of the school.

I had a real Dorothy moment: You're not in Park Slope anymore.

The look of the women couldn't be more different from the schleppy boho meets Agnes B style of Connecticut  Muffin on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope. I saw tons of eye make-up, blow-dried hair, big earrings, and stylish clothes a la Forever 21 and Juciy Couture.

Bridge and Tunnel chic with a rolling backpack.

The girls looked well put together and smart.  Not worldly but looking to get ahead in the world. Many, I later learned, were from Staten Island. And many were there for their two-year college degree. As I waited I took at look at one of the school's brochures:

New York Career Institute provides individuals with a higher educational experience designed to prepare them for productive careers in contemporary fields. The College’s programs offer students the opportunity to build a foundation for lifelong financial independence and success in their professional lives.

A certificate in court reporting is also an Associates Degree, equivilent to two years of college, so there are academic requirements for those with only a high school diploma, like math, English and psychology. Court reporting students are also required to take medical terminology, English for court reporting, courtroom procedures and computers for court reporting.

The director of admissions, who registered me, told me that that I'd be required to take beginner computer classes, because I never took college level computer classes (did they even have computers when I was in college?) and Written and Oral Communication.

I was dumbfounded. Didn't years as a freelance writer and public speaker count for anything? And what about my computer expertise? I was a blogger, after all. I spoke with the Dean, who told me I could probably test out of the Computer Concepts class but I would not be able to skip the Oral and Written Communications class because I'd never taken a college level speech class. Needless to say, I was irked.

By the end of my registration session, I was registered for three classes: Intro to Court Reporting, Oral and Written Communication, and  Civil Litigation as an elective.

I was set to begin classes in February but not before the new students orientation.

To be continued...

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March 4th, 2012

Steno Chronicles: Decisions, Decisions

This is Part 2 of an on-going series about my experience training to be a court reporter.

Riding home on the subway after my admissions appointment, with my folder of New York Career Institute materials on my lap, I felt a mix of emotions.  The idea of studying to be a court reporter was like a lifeline. A rope had appeared out of the blue that would, hopefully, pull me out of my mid-life doldrums.

At the same time, the "I'm nots" were reverberating loudly in my head: I'm not young anymore, I'm not the mother of young children, I'm not employed, I'm not rich, I'm not successful, I'm not famous, I'm not especially happy, I'm not secure...

This court reporting lifeline was oddly compelling. At that moment, it seemed like a direct  route to something—a profession—that in my fantasy contained some of the elements that fueled my  passion for life: words, stories, personal histories, characters, listening. The challenge of achieving a steno speed of 220 words per minute was far from my mind.

The economic stability was also very seductive. The flexibility of such career would enable me, I thought, to continue as a writer and creative person. It would be the monetary crutch I needed to survive and move ahead in the world. Court reporting would be my  ticket to success, my armor against failure and economic demise.

In the weeks after my admissions's appointment, I left the NYCI folder untouched on the dining room table. I entered a period of confusion and felt like I was split in two. "Old Me" was dead set against being a court reporter. She didn't want to let go of the fantasy of a life as a sucessful writer, blogger and columnist.

"New Me" was being "realistic" and "practical." She knew I needed to change course and find a way to reliably support the family.

"Old Me" and "New Me" were fighting it out. And they would be fighting it out until I made my decision...

To be continued...

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March 2nd, 2012

Postcard from the Slope: The Steno Chronicles

For an entire year, I went into Manhattan four days a week to study court reporting at the New York Career Institute.

People wondered why I aspired to be a court reporter.

Well, it's a long story. Suffice it to say, I had my reasons. Economic, mostly.

I was on the subway one day thinking to myself: How can I make a nice, dependable income? and for some reason I  remembered the stenographer I observed seven years ago when I was on jury duty. I recalled her flying fingers and the graceful way she handled the long, thin sheets of paper.

How does someone get a job doing that?

Mind you, I didn't realize that stenography was its own language. I didn't realize court reporters type 220 works per minute and that it's nothing like typing.

That said, I forged ahead. Thanks to Google, I found the only court reporting school in Manhattan and spoke with a nice woman in the admissions office. The next week I met with her at the school on Park Place in Manhattan. First impressions: Who were all these young women (and a few men) with black rolling suitcases?

There was a crowd of people - very young people of all sizes, shapes and colors -  smoking cigarettes outside the building. I noticed a few people my age but mostly it was a sea of young women just out of high school and college.

The admissions woman told me the training would take about a year to complete training if I was very motivated. She assured me that there were plenty of jobs in the field and that court reporting jobs—freelance and salaried—are very well paid (both statements are true). To train for this lucrative profession, I would need to buy or rent a machine and get one of those rolling suitcases I observed outside.

Of course, I assumed I was the motivated type and it wouldn't take clever me long to reach the stratospheric speeds required of a court reporter. She showed me the stenography machine with its black keys. It didn't look a thing like a typewriter but I was undeterred. I imagined myself in a cute suit working in a court room from nine to five. A regular paycheck, health insurance, benefits and all the rest.

This was in  October of 2010. I filled out an application, sent for my college transcripts, filled out the necessary forms and prepared to begin training in February of 2011. Admittedly it was a strange and out-of-character thing to do. I didn't know anyone who was a court reporter but the idea of making a decent  income and all the courtroom stories I would hear sounded great.

And to be a scribe? Wasn't that like being a writer?

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February 24th, 2012

Postcard from the Slope: Park Slope’s Best Book Sale

The Slope's best book sale is today and tomorrow at the Park Slope Methodist Church on Sixth Avenue at 8th Street.

A few months ago I ran into one of the organizers and she thanked me for all the times I listed that event, which is in its 19th year. I thanked her and we conversed very pleasantly; I told her that I was no longer blogging. .

Suprise. I am blogging. But as I tell people, I'm not doing hyper-local anymore. However, because she was so nice. Because I have a soft spot for people who thank me. Because I like book sales...

I am doing this shout out for this very worthwhile event.   Did I mention I have a soft spot for worthwhile events...

That's what got me into this mess/blog in the first place

Posted in Civics and Urban Life, Postcard from the Slope | 1 Comment »

February 23rd, 2012

Postcard from the Slope: Internet Quicksand

It was great to get away from OTBKB and the quicksand of the Internet for a few months. I spent so many hours hunched over this hot computer, I really needed a  break. I didn't even know how much I needed a break.

I needed a break.

The Internet feels like a new place just a few months later. 140 character tweets are really the currency of  the social media world right now. Yet, blogging doesn't seem to have any less relevance. Scouting about, I discovered a world of blogs on xoJane and elsewhere.

And a world of comments. This week on xoJane, a blogger named Daisy is getting hammered for an interview she did with Tucker Max followed by a post she wrote called You Guys Hurt My Stupid F*cking Feelings, followed by an even sillier post she wrote called 14 Ways to Make Guys Love You (From the Girl Who Lives and Breathes It).

There were aspects of the You Guys Hurt My F*cking Feelings post that I related to. Back in my days of endless blogging, I would get hurt by comments on OTBKB and at the Brooklyn Paper. I forced myself to get a tough skin and to avoid comments. I see that Daisy is just now learning that important lesson.

I’ll be honest: There are times I don’t read the comments. It’s not worth the stress/anger/anguish. But mostly, I try to read them because I think you deserve that. And that it’s sort of part of an unspoken “deal” we have on this site.

That is: You took the time to read my piece (although not everyone does, which is also obvious), so I should check out what you have to say. I’ve been doing that for 10 months. But I think going forward? I might be do less of it.

Despite that insight, she decided to write a really snarky, sarcastic post that left a lot of her readers feeling insulted, which can happen when you take the opinion of a few commenters to be the opinion of your entire readership. That's a mistake because it's usually the people who disagree with you who make comments. Those who like what you're doing don't bother to say anything. If you decide to fight back it makes for some very defensive and not altogether pleasant writing.

So, I dunno if you guys, like, totally heard, or what, but word on the street is: I’m only in it to impress dudes. I know, right? Apparently I’m so concerned about doing this that I don’t even care if I totally throw other chicks under the bus. I don’t know why this is a big deal, or whatever, because, um, hel-lo! Boys are the best! They have, like, money and stuff to pay for my drinks. And penises! And obviously all of my daddy issues mean that I’m basically nothing unless men pay attention to ME ME ME ME ME.

One gets the feeling that the writer is either having a very public meltdown or she's further milking the site for all the attention she craves. Here's an example of one of the many comments she got from outraged readers:

I replied earlier but wanted to reply directly to you as well. No one is taking you seriously at this point, Daisy. It might be all in good fun for you, but it wasn't fun for me. As a reader and xojane commenter (who did not comment on the two articles preceding this one), this made me feel...trying to find the right word...kind of unwelcome. Even though I didn't comment on your other pieces and thought some comments were harsh, there were constructively critical comments that I did agree with and I read this piece feeling like I was swimming in passive-aggressive hostility.

And perhaps because I'm reading this as an editor too...I just want to red pen the last three pieces you've written and tell you to be an adult. It's fine to provoke dialogue, but making your readers feel like shit is another thing entirely.

xoJane is an interesting place. The enormously popular site's tagline  is "Where women go when they are feeling selfish and their selfishness is applauded." Obviously that tag line is just dripping with irony or quotation marks. But the site truly is a haven for over-sharing and over-telling.  There's a column called It Happened to Me, which  features stories like My Father Tried to Kill My Whole Family, My Father Disinherited Me (a beautiful and heartbreaking piece written by my friend Elizabeth Nelson), I Had My Third Nipple Removed, I Am in a Sexless Marriage and so on.

xoJane is actually a fascinating place to spend some time. That said,  it does remind me how dangerous a place the Internet can be. The on-going cycle of over-sharing as a means for attention can be pretty scary. And it reminds me of why I needed to take a break from my own blog back in September. Thick skin is the name of the game but so is careful and constructive writing with something compelling to say.

Posted in Civics and Urban Life, Postcard from the Slope | 1 Comment »

February 20th, 2012

Postcard from the Slope: Coffee with OTBKB

Taking a break from this blog was like a separation from a long marriage. Seven years and I needed a breather. It was my seven year itch, my seventh inning  stretch.

My hiatus began last June. But I'd been flagging since I began training to be a court reporter in February of 2011. In July, I embarked on a trip to Europe and I knew that I wouldn't be writing from there. So the timing seemed right.

Indeed, it was well-timed and necessary separation from life with OTBKB. Here's what I wrote on September 13, 2011:

Last Spring, for the first time in a very long time, I just couldn’t find the time, the will, or the interest to blog.  Because I was in school, OTBKB wasn’t the primary thing I was doing; I felt I had to step away to make room for the new. Stepping away was actually easier than I imagined it would be. I was spending more and more time in Manhattan and my non-stop attention to Brooklyn was waning

Marital separations can go one of two ways. In the best case scenario, they provide much needed time for solo reflection and a chance to explore what went wrong—and what went right.

They can also herald the end of a marriage.

Well, I've had my time away from the blog and I find myself kinda sorta missing it. I miss the daily discipline of it, the outlet for creative expression, the readers, the community connection, the ability to promote Brooklyn Reading Works and other local events.

So I decided that me and OTBKB needed to get together for coffee and talk about getting back together.  And that's exactly what we did. We met at the Purity Diner in Park Slope. I had a cup of coffee, OTBKB was fine with just a glass of water. The conversation went like this.

Me: I miss you.

OTBKB: I miss you, too.

Me: I want to get back together. But in a different way.

OTBKB: What do you mean?

Me: Well, I want to be together but not like before. I need some space, some boundaries, some time for myself.

OTBKB: Does that mean that we shouldn't live together?

Me: Not exactly. It's just that I can't post as often as I did. I can't spend most of my day typing away on a hot computer (like at a hot stove) working on posts. I need to do some of my own writing, I need to make money, I need to do other things, too.

OTBKB: I understand...

Me: You do?

OTBKB: Sure, I could see that you were losing interest, that you were tired. That you were frustrated being with me all the time.

Me: Thanks for understanding.

OTBKB: So what do you want to do?

Me: I want to give it a try, again.

OTBKB: Sounds great to me. It's been kind of  boring lately.

Me: I know.

OTBKB: Let's not overthink this. Let's just see what happens.

Me: Now that sounds like a great idea.

OTBKB: Happy Valentines Day, by the way.

Me: You too.

Posted in Civics and Urban Life, Postcard from the Slope | 1 Comment »

September 15th, 2011

Postcard from the Slope: Healing Music by Czech Composer

Music is said to soothe the soul and on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, many New Yorkers opted to attend musical performances scheduled for the day of remembrance.

At the Dr. S. Stevan Dweck Center at the Brooklyn Public LibraryThe Sherman Chamber Ensemble played a program of elegiac music by 18thand 19th century composers, including Gabriel Fauré, Felix Mendelssohn, and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

“I didn’t want it to be all lugubrious. I wanted to combine memory with works of mourning and rebirth,” said Eliot T. Bailen, co-founder of the ensemble and cellist.

Bailen and his wife, flutist Susan Rothholtz, founded the Sherman Chamber Ensemble in 1983. They perform nearly two-dozen concerts a year, including a subscription series in Sherman and Kent, Connecticut.

To prepare for the concert, Bailen listened to radio interviews with survivors and family members who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks.

“I tried to keep my focus on the day and the meaning of it,” he said.

Probably the most unusual piece on the program was the “Piano Trio” by Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884), a Czech composer who was championed by Franz Lizst. Introducing the piece, Bailen told the audience “to listen to the contours of the music and the way that it alternates between beautiful melodies and turbulence.”

Smetana’s composition, he explained, was written after the death of the composer’s 4-year-old daughter.

“It was very specifically written after tragedy and that is why it is appropriate for today,” Bailen explained.

The performance of this piece with Bailen on cello, Michael Roth on violin and Margaret Kampmeier on piano, was virtuosic and highly emotionally as it sonically conveyed what Bailen called “the incomprehensible train of thought between anger and beauty and the heroic aspect of dying.”

The audience seemed moved by the music and cheered for the performers who appeared equally exhausted and exhilarated.

A woman sitting next to me said that she worked in the financial district on September 11, 2001 and knew that listening to music would be a “healing” way to spend the day.

“I listened to the names this morning, but I wanted to spend the afternoon listening to music,” she explained.

After the show, Bailen commented on whether or not music has a healing power. “For some people it does. It takes things we can’t explain or resolve on our own and creates a framework to re-experience it.”

To illustrate this, Bailen said that he made a mistake while playing the first piece of the program, “Elegie Op 24” for cello and piano.

“Sitting in the front row I watched a man grab his companion’s hand during the piece and that moved me,” he said. The emotion he experienced caused him to drop a note, something he rarely does.

When Jay Kaplan, director of programs & exhibitions at the Brooklyn Public Library decided he wanted to present a special program to honor September 11, he tapped Peter Weitzner, curator and host of the BPL Chamber Players in Residence, to produce it on short notice.

“I knew I wanted to get the Sherman Chamber Ensemble and that Eliot Bailen would put together something very special for the occasion,” Kaplan said.

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September 13th, 2011

Postcard From the Slope: Make Mine a Double

I'm thrilled as punch to be in an essay collection called Make Mine a Double, which was published TODAY. To make matters even merrier the collection, edited by Gina Barreca, is garnering great reviews like this one in Library Journal:

Make Mine a Double: Why Women Like Us Like To Drink (Or Not). Univ. Pr. of New England.Sept. 2011. c.192p. ed. by Gina Barreca. ISBN 9781584657590. $19.95. BEVERAGES

You don’t have to drink to enjoy this fine collection of short stories, poems, and essays edited by Barreca (English & feminist theory, Univ. of Connecticut; It’s Not That I’m Bitter…, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World); the complex web of social, cultural, and political factors around women and alcohol will envelop both partakers and teetotalers. The selections run the gamut: Greta Scheibel recalls challenging norms by imbibing publicly in Tanzania; Sarah Rasher discusses negotiating the mores of drinking (and sexual preference) in Japan; Sarah Deming cleverly decries snobbishness and asks for a bartender who will simply make what’s ordered; Susan Campbell narrates her search for the perfect drink, which ultimately led her to soda; and Louise Crawford considers the volatile social cocktail of moms and booze. This reviewer swallowed the collection in a single, greedy gulp, but other readers may prefer to savor slowly the nearly 30 works by an impressive list of contributors (e.g., Amy Bloom, Jill Eisenstadt, and Wendy Liebman). VERDICT In lieu of an evening out with the intelligent, witty contributors, this laugh-out-loud funny, touching, thought-provoking collection is highly recommended.—Courtney Greene, Indiana Univ. Libs., Bloomington

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May 8th, 2011

No Words Daily Pix: Photograph by Hugh Crawford

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February 15th, 2011

Open House on Wednesday: Shedding Light on Millennium Brooklyn

Millennium Brooklyn High School is on the DOE's list of 22 new small high schools. It's not too late to reorder your child's high school application if you want to apply there for next fall.

If you or your child is interested in Millenium Brooklyn, you can also attend an open house at founding principal Lisa Gioe’s current school, M.S. 447 on Dean Street between Third Avenue and Nevins Street on Wednesday, Feb. 16th at 6PM.

Here's my story from this week's Park Slope Patch. I attended last weekend's New High School Fair and came back with this report. The High School confidential Illustration is by Kevin Kocses:

Much has been written about the announcement — and subsequent controversy — over the Department of Education's decision to place Millennium Brooklyn in the John Jay High School Complex in Park Slope.

Far less is actually known about the new school itself, a replicate of the highly successful Millennium High School in Manhattan. That's why I rode on the subway up to the New High School Fair on Sunday at the Martin Luther King, Jr. High School building on the Upper West Side in a heightened state of curiosity and anticipation. Full disclosure: my daughter is an eighth grader, who is in the midst of the arduous and sometimes tortuous NYC high school admissions process.

I wanted to see for myself what the planners of the new school have in mind.

Lisa Gioe, the principal of Millennium Brooklyn, stood in front of a folding table covered in brochures and sign-up sheets, talking to parents and students. A petite woman with wispy blonde hair, she looks very young for someone who has been a mover and shaker in the New York City school system for 18 years.

Clearly she is not as young as she looks. The mother of three who is well on her way to a doctorate in education from Columbia University, Gioe is currently the principal of the Math and Science Exploratory School, a school she founded in 2003. It goes without saying that Gioe knows a thing or two about starting—and leading—a new school.

“The most important thing is to have structures and systems in place. That way the new school can function and everyone knows what to do. We know who’s in charge of what if there’s structure and transparency,” she told me.

Gioe and her planning team, which includes the principal and other consultants from Millennium Manhattan, are hard at work putting these structures in place so that the 108 incoming freshman will enter a functioning school next fall.

While Gioe has yet to actually select teachers, administration and students, she has a very clear vision of the school she plans to create.

"Millennium Brooklyn will have a rigorous, college prep program with an inquiry based curriculum, an advisory system and a strong emphasis on writing and research," she told one parent.

Gioe spoke clearly and calmly as parents pelted her with questions.

"Students are required to take four years of English, Social Studies, Math and Science as well as three years of a foreign language,” she told one mom.

“What languages will be taught?” asked another parent.

“There will be a Spanish teacher at the school but students will be able to take computer courses in German, French, Mandarin and other languages with a facilitator in the classroom,” she said.

“What about art and other electives?”

As the school expands, Gioe explained, there will be after school programs in architecture, engineering, Lego Robotics, art, photography, PSAL sports, student government and student newspaper will be offered. She later told me that the school might collaborate with Fort Greene’s Irondale Theater on a drama after-school program.

No doubt about it: it’s tricky to assess a brand new school that has no track record. Typically parents want to know graduation rates, SAT scores, AP courses and college admissions. They want stats and they want ‘em bad. Enrolling in a brand new NYC public school can feel like a leap of faith.

That said, there is sure to be comfort in the fact that Millennium Brooklyn is partially a replication of a high school with a 97 percent graduation rate led by the principal of a very successful middle school that is considered one of the most popular schools in District 15. My first impression is that the hard-working Ms. Gioe is the one for the job. I found myself getting excited about a student-centered educational community with a rigorous curriculum that aims to foster life-long learners.

But don’t expect Millennium Brooklyn to be a clone of its Manhattan forebear. The school will reflect Ms. Gioe’s passion for writing and collaborative projects. It will also be NYC’s first public high school with an ASD NEST program for high functioning students with Aspergers.

So what can parents expect next fall?

Ninth grade students will be assigned an advisory class of 15-18 students who will remain together throughout their four high school years. The advisor is the student's advocate and functions as the primary contact with the parent.

Students will also participate in an exploratory learning program, where they will be assigned two long term project-based investigations per year for the development of writing skills in collaboration with science institutions, museums, or community based organizations.

Internships will also be a major component of the Millennium Brooklyn learning experience.

And what about college admissions? That was my question and I wanted to know whether she was hiring a college advisor right away.

“We’ll be hiring a college advisor the second year. The first year I’m hiring a social worker,” Ms. Gioe told me.

Millennium Brooklyn will occupy part of a floor in the John Jay building, which houses three other high schools and has metal detectors at the entrance. Those detectors will soon be phased out, something the existing schools have been advocating for ages. Millennium will share the lunchroom, auditorium, gymnasium and possibly some science labs with the other schools. The school day will go from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. with an after-school program offered to all. The students will be allowed to leave the school for lunch.

Millennium Brooklyn is a screened program, which you can learn more about on their website.

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October 30th, 2009

Two Champion Trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Two trees at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden have been entered on the New York State Big Tree Register. You're probably wondering what this Register is:

The New York State Big Tree Register is maintained by the Department of
Environmental Conservation (DEC) as an effort to recognize trees of
record size and promote an interest in their care and preservation. The
Big Tree Register is now available in scientific name order (PDF, 44 KB) and common name order
(PDF, 44 KB). The Big Tree Register lists only native and naturalized
species and does not include hybrid species. The authority for
determining eligible species is American Forests.

Two trees in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden — a 97-year-old Kansas hawthorn and a Carolina holly — have become official members of the state’s Big Tree Register, which keeps track of the largest (as opposed to the oldest) trees of their species on record, as defined by a formula that includes the height, circumference and foliage of the tree.
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October 15th, 2009

The Pepto Bismol House is NOT for Sale!

Huh? What? But OTBKB and the Daily News said that it was for sale. I'm confused now. What's going on?

Well, the Brooklyn Paper is saying that owner Bernie Henry pulled the house off the market because of a supposed dispute with a grandson. Here's an excerpt fromt he BP story: 

Don’t believe everything you read: The famous “Pink House” of Garfield Place is not for sale.

Bloggers and even the Daily News were buzzing this week that Bernie Henry, who famously painted his classic Park Slope brownstone salmon pink in the 1960s, was selling the empty nest and moving to a smaller place nearby.

But the house is not on the market, a real-estate source told The Brooklyn Paper, because Henry’s grandson is under investigation for forging key documents that have put a cloud over who has legal ownership of the building.

Henry, 92, said he couldn’t speak about the matter on Wednesday because his ailing wife had just died

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September 28th, 2009

FIPS: Park Slope Vs. Westboro Baptist Church

Erica of Fucked in Park Slope was at Beth Elohim on Saturday and participated in the counter-demonstration when the anti-gay, anti-Jewish Kansas group picketed the synagogue. Here's an excerpt from her excellent report that also has great pictures.

I just got back from the hate parade
that the Westboro Baptist Church staged this morning in front of Temple
Beth Elohim on Garfield and 8th Avenue. There's a bunch of shit that I
want to tell you about it, but basically this was my take away:

  • As much as we may bitch around here, I'm so grateful and proud to
    live in a community that totally gets that these people are hateful,
    pathetic idiots.
  • These people are hateful, pathetic idiots.
  • Fuck yeah, Jews!
  • Fuck yeah, Fags!
  • Fuck yeah, counter protesting!

I have to admit, I gave some serious thought to Jake Taylor's comment on our original post about just ignoring these lowlifes--how getting all riled up about them is exactly
what they want. However, after waking up early on a Saturday morn and
hauling my ass down there, I have to say: I now totally disagree.

Cause it felt AWESOME to be there on the other side of the street from
the Westboro-tards with a huge, loud crowd that included my husband, my
Twitter friends, BREEDERS, BALLERS, politically active dogs, adorable
kids (yes, you read that right), and loads of other peeps who were all
spreadin love, Biggie style, the Brooklyn way.

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September 26th, 2009

Dr. Philippa Gordon Answers FAQs Regarding Flu Season

Park Slope's Dr. Philippa Gordon has taken the time to answer some urgent questions about this flu season and the vaccine. This appeared on Park Slope Parents and with her permission is on OTBKB. She writes: "I am already working triple time fielding questions, and I anticipate
it only getting worse as the vaccine is released and as flu cases
start  occurring.   So the more info out there, the better.  I will
continue to post answers to questions that psp'ers send me off line,
and you may feel free to use them also, also to let me know if there's
any other info you think is needed."

1.Why is this flu different from all other flus? 

The flu virus changes (shifts) slightly every year, enough to cause
annual  epidemics -- the normal community-wide outbreaks that we 
experience every winter.  But every once in a while -- 3 times per
century on average --a major change (drift) occurs, resulting in a 
novel strain.  It is so different from all other strains that even if
been exposed to or vaccinated against all previous flu strains in your
lifetime, you are unlikely to be immune to it.  Therefore there are
widespread outbreaks all over the world -- a pandemic.

2.  Will there be a vaccine for this novel pandemic flu?  Will it be
safe since it is so new?

-- in October.  Since the strain was first isolated last year, the 
vaccine makers have been working on it.  Although it is a new strain,
the vaccine is made just the way other flu vaccines are made --
immunologically, every flu vaccine is specific to the strain expected
to emerge that season, and therefore new every year --but the  basic
recipe, if you will, for the vaccine is exactly the same.  So it is
neither newer nor more experimental than the  annual flu vaccine, which
has a good safety record.  Moreover, since the H1N1 strain has remained
very stable since its emergence, we know that the vaccine is a good
match for the virus, whereas the annual vaccine may sometimes miss the
mark a bit.

3. Will there be special chemicals that are untested added to this vaccine?

No.   Some
vaccines have immune- stimulating compounds called adjuvants added to
them, and there was some discussion of adding these compounds to the
H1N1 vaccine in the event that the vaccine supply fell short, butthe
discussion was theoretical  only and these technologies have not been
implemented in the US.

4.Does the H1N1 vaccine contain mercury or thimerosal?

All flu vaccines are available in thimerosal-free  formulations.

5. Who should get H1N1 vaccine and will seasonal flu vaccine protect
against the H1N1 strain?

as supplies permit it, widespread vaccination will truncate this
pandemic (the first of the century).  For the present, vaccine  is
being triaged to pregnant women and children, as well as those with
chronic illnesses.  This is because so far, more cases have been
occurring in children, perhaps because older people have partial
resistance, and because pregnant women are at higher risk for
complications.  An added benefit  is that the infants of vaccinated
will be born with some immunity to this strain.     Seasonal flu
vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and up, especially
pregnant women.  Seasonal flu vaccine does not appear to give any
protection against the H1N1.

6.  Since seasonal flu is usually mild, and since so far the H1N1 is
tending to be clinically mild, is it necessary to be vaccinated?  Why
not just catch the flu, and  take anti-flu drugs such as Tamiflu

    Influenza is usually a mild and self-limited disease. It tends to
be more severe in young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and
people with chronic illnesses. However, the majority of the 40,000
and 200,000 hospitalizations  per year from influenza in the USA occur
in previously healthy people.  Since flu is so highly contagious,
eating well, taking supplements, and following guidelines for healthy
living, are not helpful strategies for preventing infection , or for
preventing complications of infection which may lead to
hospitalization, severe illness, or death. In the current pandemic,
more deaths would be expected in the pediatric age group as more cases
are occurring in children.  Another factor in the estimated burden of
disease has to do with the number of acute or intensive care beds
available, and the number of respirator machines available throughout
the country.  In a serious pandemic it is possible that the nation's 
capacity for acute respiratory support  would simply be overwhelmed.

   Currently, anti-flu medications are recommended only for children
under age 2, hospitalized patients, and those with underlying chronic
disease. It is desirable to restrict use of these drugs to prevent
viruses from developing resistance to them.  Widespread use of
currently available vaccines will decrease the number of cases and the
duration of outbreaks, and thus the overall burden of disease in our

     In recent years, especially in Great Britain and the USA,
has taken on other social meanings, associated with fear of
environmental toxins, suspicion of the government and pharmaceutical
industry, fear of neurologic damage or long-term side effects, or the
desire to raise one's children in a simple or more natural fashion. It
is legitimate for individuals  to take these issues into consideration
as long as the risks are clearly understood -- this is informed
consent.  Those choosing, with full knowledge of the facts, to decline
the flu vaccine, are making an acceptable decision both ethically and
legally, as this vaccine is not mandatory.  Those who do not have such
fears or objections should feel comfortable in taking the vaccine,
because the more uptake of vaccine, the less disease, and the less 
disease, the fewer adverse outcomes will occur. Widespread uptake of
vaccine not only safeguards individual health, but contributes to the
health of the community.

7.  How much will the vaccine cost?  Will insurance cover it?  How will it be administered?

doses of the H1N1 vaccine have been purchased by the government, and 
will be distributed through state and local health departments. 
for distribution will vary from place to place.  There is no charge for
the vaccine itself, although there may be an office visit or
administrative fee charged by clinics and private offices.

seasonal and pandemic flu vaccines are available in an injectable form
which is made from killed virus, and in a nasal spray containing live
virus which has been weakened, or attenuated, so that it cannot cause
infection.  Nose spray can be used in healthy patients aged 2 through
49 years, who do not have asthma or egg allergy.

As regards
co-administration of the vaccine, most patients age 9 and up will
receive one dose of each vaccine, in either or both modalities.
Children age 8 and younger will need 2 doses  of the H1N1 vaccine, and
1 dose of seasonal flu vaccine, and children receiving the seasonal flu
vaccine for the first time in their lives will need two doses of that
vaccine as well.  Final details regarding the timing of multiple doses
in young children and the mixing of the two forms of the vaccine will
be determined and made public when the vaccine is released for
administration in the next few weeks.

Sources:  Red Book of the American Academy of Pediatrics,,
Mandell's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases,Elsevier 2005.

Submitted by Philippa Gordon

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September 6th, 2009

Video: Racoon in Prospect Park

A young raccoon looks for food in the bushes in Brooklyn's Prospect Park.
When he gets tired of the attention he climbs out of sight.
I saw this coming home on Labor day weekend, on the walking paths, near the Vail of Cashmere.
This video was sent to me by Efrain Gonzalez. I'm not sure if he is the videographer but I think so.

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August 22nd, 2009

Battle Week 2009 at the Old Stone House and Elsewhere

Retreat There's a whole  lot of early American history in the Park Slope/Gowanus/Sunset Park area. The first battle of the Revolutionary War took place in Washington/JJ Byrne Park and that's what's celebrated every year during Battle week. Marilyn Pettit, Chair of the Old Stone House Board of Trustees explains:
"The Battle of Brooklyn took place seven
weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and was the first
battle of the United

"Even though the Americans
lost the battle in the face of the overwhelming British forces, the bravery they
displayed helped galvanize the Colonists and proved their determination to fight
for the freedom and liberty which they eventually won seven years later in

"The Old Stone House is the place where
256 brave members of Captain Smallwood’s Maryland Regiment sacrificed themselves
on August 27, 1776, to buy time for the rest of their American comrades to
evacuate to safety during the Battle of Brooklyn."

Sunday August 23, 11 AM - 1 PM

Evergreens Cemetery Walking Tour


Cemetery presents a walking tour of the revolutionary war-related sites
of the cemetery. Meet at Evergreen Cemetery Main Gate, Bushwick Avenue
and Conway Street, Brooklyn.

Wednesday, August 26, 6 PM
Gowanus Dredgers Estuary Tour


the Gowanus Canal and learn the history of this infamous escape route
for American soldiers during the Revolutionary War. 2nd Street between
Bond and the Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn.



Friday, August 28, 6 PM - 8 PM

Battle of Brooklyn Neighborhood Walk

by Old Stone House Board Member and Hunter College Archaeology
Professor William J. Parry. Meet at Grand Army Plaza, entrance to
Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn. $12 per person/$10
OSH members; includes light refreshments. Wear comfortable shoes.
Reservations and infortmation:


Saturday, August 29, 11 AM - 12 PM

Maryland 400 Remembrance Ceremony

at the newly refurbished Maryland Monument in Prospect Park. Enter
Prospect Park Southwest and 16th Street and proceed across to Wellhouse
Drive, then uphill to the monument. Sponsored by the Maryland State
Monuments Commission.


Saturday, August 29, 10 AM - 5 PM

Battle Days Reception

Old Stone House, JJ Byrne Park, 3rd Street at 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, OSH Gallery. Reenactors Welcome!

Sunday, August 30
Battle of Brooklyn Commemoration


The Green-Wood Cemetery, 5th Avenue at 25th Street, Brooklyn. 718-768-7300 for more information.


10 AM - 12 PM Green-Wood
historian Jeff Richman and author Barnet Schecter conduct a trolley
tour of the cemetery. Reservations necessary. $20 for the public, $10
for Historic Fund members. 718-768-7300

11:30 AM Tributes to George Washington's Irish Generals, The Bold Fenian Men/The Civil War, Irish Korean War Memorial, Matilda Tone

12 PM - 1:15 PM Re-enactment inside the Main Gate

1:30 PM Parade to top of Battle Hill

2 PM Memorial Ceremony at Battle Hill; Micahel Callahan, Guest Speaker

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July 31st, 2009

What Do We Do About Post Office Closings?

The US Postal Services is set to close post offices all over the country. On the local level it's the Seventh Avenue PO plus others in Brooklyn that are facing their demise.

Anyone who has ever walked by the Seventh Avenue PO knows how crowded it always is. It's not the most efficient place in the world but it's obviously a heavily used resource in this community. What are people supposed to do without a post office? Sure you can buy stamps online but what about packages.

People are wondering what they can do to fight this. Who should they call or write to make their opposition known?

Some thoughts:

Let's get our local elected officials on the case. Obviously we need to send word to our Borough President Marty Markowitz (who likes to think of himself as everyone's closest link to big government).

Next: Councilmembers David Yassky and Bill deBlasio, who both represent parts of Seventh Avenue, should be on the case explaining what's going on. 

And then: Craig Hammerman, District Manager of Community Board 6, could also be of help.

From there: The Mayor.

Maybe some of the City Council candidates have some BIG IDEAS about how to stop this from happening.

And then there's Bill C. Thompson and Tony Avella, candidates for Mayor.

Hellooooooooo out there. Anyone know how to stop this???? Anyone want to explain what's going on?

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July 31st, 2009

National Watermelon Day at Ringling Brothers in Coney

Apparently elephants like watermelon. Does everyone know that? So on Monday, August 3rd: "the
planet's premiere watermelon artist will lend his talents to Coney Island
icons, and the precious pachyderms of The Greatest Show On Earth!"


I'm not really sure what they're talking about here. Just trying to drum up some interest in the circus I guess:

WHAT: An elephant brunch featuring one of their
favorite treats: watermelon -- of course! ... a fascinating foursome of
truly unique carved watermelons -- you'll be amazed and awestruck by
the melony magnificence of the Wonder Wheel and the Parachute Jump! ...
and free watermelon for all attending -- bring a napkin!

WHEN: Monday, August 3 -- 11:00 - 11:30 a.m.

At the corner of 21st Street and Surf Avenue in Coney Island.

WHY: Because it's National Watermelon Day and
watermelon is the ultimate summer fruit -- because Coney Island is the
ultimate summer destination for New Yorkers -- and because The Coney Island BOOM A RING is the ultimate seaside circus celebration!

Posted in Postcard from the Slope | 2 Comments »

July 31st, 2009

Closing of Park Slope P.O. Part of Larger US Plan

Its seems that the proposed plan to close Park Slope's Post Office on Seventh Avenue between 3rd and 4th Streets is part of a much larger plan by the US Postal service to close many post offices around the country. Thanks to Eliot Wagner, OTBKB's music columnist, I have this article from Linn's Stamp News dated July 27, 2009:

Post Office Closings, Consolidations May Be Next
By Bill McAllister
Washington Correspondent

that its post offices are "not intended to operate as monuments to a
bygone era of postal customer interaction," the United States Postal
Service has petitioned for a review of its plans to shrink the number
of its retail outlets.

In a petition files July 2 with the
Postal Regulatory Commission, Postal Service officials raised the
possibility that it might close so many post offices that the changes
may constitute a national change in the availability of postal services.

If the changes are judged to be that, the commission must give its blessing to before they can be implemented.

eight page petition said officials don't know yet how many of the
nation's 27,200 post offices and 4,800 branch stations are likely to be
closed or consolidated under the proposed plan.

But they said declining mail volume cannot justify retaining all of the current retail outlets.

to the petition, newer forms of stamp sales, including the internet and
consignment of stamps to merchants and automated postal centers, are
growing, reducing the need for post offices.  These new services
account for 30 percent of retail revenues and are trending upward.

petition states: "In many cases, the justification for the
establishment of a station or a branch at a particular location 20 or
40 years ago no longer exists."

The planned station and branch
optimization initiative assumes "that excess retail capacity can be
identified and reduced."  It warns that some customers could be
inconvenienced by the changes, but it argues that the USPS will
continue to provide mandated postal services to all parts of the
country after the closings.

A Postal Service spokesman said that
officials in the 74 administrative districts are expected to review the
number of retail outlets they currently have and come up with a
cost-cutting plan to reduce the number.

The changes are not likely to be implemented until Oct. 2, the start of the new fiscal year for the Postal Service.

petition requests that the commission issue an advisory opinion stating
that the changes will keep the public properly serviced with adequate
retail outlets as required by federal laws.

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July 16th, 2009

NYC Food Banks Need Food: Help Babeland and Others

The cupboards are close to empty at many food banks around the city because in these economic times the need is greater than ever and contributions are down. Babeland is doing a food drive. I also heard that the Church of the Gethsemane in Park Slope is in need of canned goods and other food items. Here's what Babeland is up to.

For 25 years Food Bank For New York City has been the city’s major
hunger-relief organization by procuring and distributing food to a
network of approximately 1,000 food assistance programs citywide that
help to feed the approximately 4 million New Yorkers in need. Babeland
is teaming up with neighboring retailers to help out and reward your
effort! Bring 5 or more cans of food to any Babeland store July 17-19
during our Semi-Annual Sale and get up to 25% off everything at
Babeland as well as discounts and deals at neighboring retailers like Ed Hardy, Dermalogica, Lazaro, Montauk Sofa, Vivienne Tam, and Antique Garage in SoHo and The Dressing Room, Roni-Sue’s Chocolates, 20 Peacocks and Tropical Salon
on the Lower East Side. In Brooklyn, take your philanthropy to the
Bergen Street Stoop Sale to get 25% off at Babeland and 20% off at Bump, Eponymy, Ride Brooklyn, Private Stock and Bergen Street Comics and enjoy select discounts on food and drinks at Fish and Sip, Melt and Organic Heights.

Even without a donation, you can shop Babeland’s Sale and enjoy 20%
savings on everything in the store! But the more you give, the more you
get off.


For complete details on participating businesses, visit
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July 13th, 2009

NY Mag: Gowanus Slime

I hear from Jill.Weiskopf over at New York magazine that this week's issue takes a look at the past, present, and future of the area around the Gowanus Canal , otherwise known as the “Gashouse District,” that is home to:

The Contaminants

The industrial plants that lined the canal handled just about every nasty thing that could end up in the water. Certain oily pollutants like coal tar that are customarily measured in parts per million are, in the Gowanus, measured in parts per hundred. Heavy metals like mercury and lead are present; so are PCBs and pesticides.

The Microbes

Cholera, typhoid, typhus, gonorrhea: They’ve all been found in the water. A team of biology professors at New York City College of Technology have also studied a curious white goo oozing along the bottom, which turned out to be a mix of bacteria, protozoans, and various contaminants. The microbes appear to have evolved resistance to the filth, and the scientists have been trying to figure out whether their disease-fighting mechanisms could be adapted for medical use.

See what may lie ahead for the area at


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July 13th, 2009

Community Board 6 Resolution: Supports Propsed Bike Lane on PPW

 Here is the resolution from Community Board 6 that went out to Commissioner Palmieri, Borough Commissioner of the DOT. CB6 supports the Department of Transportation's proposed installation of bicycle lanes on Prospect Park West.

Joseph Palmieri
Borough Commissioner
Department of Transportation
16 Court Street, 16th floor
Brooklyn, New York 11241

Dear Commissioner Palmieri:
I am writing to advise you that at its May 13, 2009 general meeting Brooklyn Community Board
6 resolved by a vote of 18 in favor, 9 against with 3 abstentions, to conditionally approve the
department’s proposal to reduce from 3 to 2 driving lanes and install two-way bicycle lanes in
the parking lane with a painted median on the eastside of Prospect Park West between Union
Street and Bartel Pritchard Square in our district.
After hearing a presentation from the department at its April 16, 2009 meeting, our
Transportation Committee first wanted to thank the department for returning to us with a
substantial traffic calming proposal.  As you are aware, we have been seeking relief from
speeding traffic along the Prospect Park West corridor for some time now, and we appreciate the
opportunity to work with you to bring much-needed traffic calming to this particular location.
In that spirit, our support for the department’s proposal was conditioned on the following due to
our concerns that this ground-breaking proposal has the potential to create other dangerous
conditions, if not implemented with great care.
First, we believe that, along with the installation of the bicycle lanes, a separate set of traffic
signals should be installed to control the southbound and northbound bicycle traffic, particularly
the northbound traffic that would not otherwise have any visible traffic signals.  We note that on
the westside of Manhattan the department has installed a separate set of signals for bicycle traffic
control and we would expect nothing less for Prospect Park West.
Second, the department must study the Prospect Park West vehicular (including but not limited
to personal vehicles, MTA buses, school buses, trucks, etc.) loading and unloading locations,
especially at peak use times, and ensure that the proposed changes are implemented in a manner
which does not result in a doubling-up of vehicles that blocks traffic and constricts moving
250 Baltic Street • Brooklyn, New York 11201-6401 • 
t: (718) 643-3027 • f: (718) 624-8410 • e:
traffic to just one lane.  Particular hot spots requiring study include the curbsides around the Poly
Prep School at 50 Prospect Park West, 9th Street park entrance, and the Pavilion Movie Theater
at 188 Prospect Park West.
Third, that a fully built-out raised median replace the proposed striped median which is intended
to physically separate the two-way bicycle traffic from the eastside parking lane as soon as
possible.  We realize that this might involve some capital work on the department’s part, but we
believe that it is an essential component toward making the physical separation complete. 
Ultimately, it is our belief that motorized vehicles, non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians all
will be safest if there is a raised median separating the bicycle lanes from the parking lane.  We
would encourage you to continue to work with us and the Parks Department to develop an
appropriately sensitive design for these medians so that they will compliment the historic nature
of the park and the existing special treatments that are already in place along the Prospect Park
West eastside sidewalk.
Our discussion about this issue did raise a number of additional questions that we were unable to
address, which we would like your help in understanding.  For that reason, and to allow for time
for the department to work through the conditions above, a supplemental resolution was adopted
by the Board by a vote of 16 in favor, 14 against, with no abstentions, that the department delay
the installation of the bicycle lanes until September 2009.  Between now and then we would like
the department to address the above conditions and the following:
1) How would the eastside curb, bicycle lanes, and median area get cleaned, presumably by the
Department of Sanitation’s mechanical brooms?
2) What would happen to storm water run-off at the eastside curb, bicycle lanes, and median
areas?  Where would it drain?
3) How can we balance park users’ loading and unloading needs with the community’s desire to
preserve and retain the maximum amount of parking on Prospect Park West?
4) Will the existing Street Cleaning Regulation and any other curbside signage be relocated
from the eastside sidewalk onto the traffic medians?
We look forward to your answers and continuing to work with you to improve safety along
Prospect Park West as quickly as possible.
Thank you for your attention.
Richard S. Bashner
 250 Baltic Street • Brooklyn, New York 11201-6401 • 
t: (718) 643-3027 • f: (718) 624-8410 • e:
cc: Hon. Marty Markowitz
      Hon. David Yassky
      Hon. Bill de Blasio
      Commissioner Jannette Sadik-Khan, DOT
      Prospect Park Administrator Tupper Thomas, DPR/PPA
      Ken Freeman, President, Park Slope Civic Council
      Robert Witherwax, Grand Army Plaza Coalition
      Randy Peers, Chairperson, Brooklyn CB7

Posted in Postcard from the Slope | Comments Off on Community Board 6 Resolution: Supports Propsed Bike Lane on PPW

July 12th, 2009

Volunteers Needed for Macy’s Fishing Contest in Prospect Park

Volunteers needed for Macy's Fishing Contest in Prospect Park:

First of all, I'd like to thank all of you who have answered our call for
volunteers for the Macy's Fishing Contest in Prospect Park.

At the Fishing Contest, kids 15 years and under learn about fishing.  All
participants borrow a fishing pole, attend educational workshops and
participate in Arts and Crafts activities.  All fishing is
catch-and-release; we use barbless hooks and kernels of corn as bait.

Volunteers at this event will assist with registration, distribute and
collect fishing poles, monitor fishing stations (unhooking and measuring
caught fish), assist with Arts and Crafts and/or whatever else is needed
to ensure this event runs smoothly.

We are still in need of volunteers for the afternoon (1:00 PM-4:30 PM)
shift from July 15-19.  This event has been a tradition in Prospect Park
for more than 50 years.  Come on out and join us...unless you'd rather be
out fishing.

For more information please call the Volunteer Corps office at 718-965-8960.

Posted in Postcard from the Slope | 3 Comments »

July 6th, 2009

Robin’s Nest: A Teeny, Tiny Shop in the Laundromat

Hugh and I were walking down Seventh Avenue after the Breakfast-of-Candidates interview with Tony Avella when we saw something akin to a stoop sale in front of the Laundromat near 4th Street. 

On closer look, I saw that it was a new shop within a shop at the Laundromat that spills out neatly onto the sidewalk.DSC04053

Owner Robbin Farrell teaches Bikram Yoga at two Park Slope studios. A former Peace Corps volunteer she's a well-travelled collector who is selling (or "releasing" as she calls it) merchandise from her trips to Niger, Jamaica, and the Marshall Islands ( where she taught and developed yoga curriculum for the past two years).

Her shop, Robin's Nest, features a various and sundry collection of merchandise, including clothing, pottery, leather bags and more.

"I will be here as long as I'm able in this economy. Hopefully things can work...I'm starting with this nice phase and will transition into yoga merchandise. Releasing things from the past and transition into the future...That's the nesting idea, the image, the logo, three little eggs that will grow," Farrell told me. 

"I am also a longtime Park Sloper. Worked my way through college on 7th Avenue at an art supply store...the one under the drips," she said. 

Posted in Postcard from the Slope | 2 Comments »

July 4th, 2009

The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one
people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with
another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and
equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle
them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they
should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of
Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted
among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these
ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to
institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and
organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely
to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate
that Governments long established should not be changed for light and
transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that
mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to
right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably
the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute
Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such
Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such
has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the
necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of
Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a
history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct
object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To
prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and
pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his
Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly
neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large
districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of
Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and
formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual,
uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records,
for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause
others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of
Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise;
the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of
invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for
that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners;
refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and
raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign
to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent
to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders
which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring
Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging
its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument
for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries
to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun
with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the
most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high
Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of
their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has
endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless
Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished
destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress
in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered
only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by
every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We
have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to
extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of
the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have
appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured
them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations,
which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence.
They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.
We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our
Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in
War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America,
in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the
world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by
Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and
declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free
and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to
the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and
the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and
that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War,
conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all
other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And
for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the
protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our
Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

John Hancock

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry

Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York:
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey:
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina:
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton

Posted in Postcard from the Slope | Comments Off on The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America

July 3rd, 2009

Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue on the Fourth of July

On All About Fifth, the new Fifth Avenue blog produced by the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, there's a list of things to do on Fifth:

Fifth Avenue is not just home to amazing restaurants, clothing
boutiques, jewelry stores, toy stores, and so much more, but it is a
burgeoning location for exciting events, like live music, public
readings, and community building activities. Naturally, everyone is
excited about celebrating the Fourth of July in style with a little
barbecue with the family, but don't forget about the exciting list of
events that are taking place Thursday and Friday nights. And,
definitely be sure to keep visiting the businesses along the avenue
that are participating in the 1st ever Fifth Avenue Art Walk. What
other avenue in New York would turn businesses into one-long art
Posted in Postcard from the Slope | Comments Off on Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue on the Fourth of July

July 3rd, 2009

The Dinnersteins of Park Slope

The Dinnersteins of Park Slope were cited in 2006 in the very first Park Slope 100:

SIMON, RENEE, AND SIMONE DINNERSTEIN, artist, educator, acclaimed pianist, because they are the first family of Park Slope creativity.

NOw that Simone is making her New York
Philharmonic debut on July 7th and 8th the New York newspapers are
gaga, too.
Yesterday I ran into Renee on Seventh Avenue and she graciously thanked me for putting something about the Avery Fisher Hall concerts on the blog. She also told me about a nice piece in the New York Post about Simone and her family and their distinctly Park Slope story.
In fact, hers is such a Cinderella tale -- the whole Billboard-topping, Oprah magazine-raving, globe-hopping trip -- that playing with the Phil could seem almost anticlimactic.

Yeah -- as if.

"I never thought I'd play with them!" says Simone (sah-MOAN-ah), who'll play Liszt, not Bach, at Avery Fisher Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"I went there last week to try out the piano on the stage, and I
could barely get out the words to the guard to tell him where I was
going. This is what I saw, growing up, as completely unattainable."

She grew up where she lives now -- in Park Slope, the daughter and
niece, respectively, of painters Simon and Harvey Dinnerstein. (There's
a jewelry designer in the family, too.) She fell in love with the piano
when she heard Chopin at dance class, but she wasn't given lessons till
she was 7, which in these prodigy-ridden times is practically elderly.

Simone's father, Simon Dinnerstein, is wonderful painter, who likes to sketch distinctive Park Slope locals like Thomas Park, a barista at Connecticutt Muffin and Wajih Salem, one of the owners of D'Vine Taste. He was featured in a Brooklyn Paper article by me.

Renee's award-winning talents as a teacher are well known. In fact, when my son was first at PS 321 all the parents prayed that their children would get "the great Renee Dinnerstein" as a kindergarten teacher. I believe that she developed PS 321's Reading Buddies" program, which matches an
older and younger student to spend a library period together throughout a school year.

That program is one of the many best things about PS 321. And the Dinnersteins are lovely neighbors to have.

Posted in Postcard from the Slope | 4 Comments »