Tag Archives: williamsburg


Fresh Pond Crematory

Death is never far in Queens, the borough of graves, but it creeps closer in certain places than others. One such place is Mount Olivet Crescent, a slip of a street that wends its way up a hill in Maspeth and down another in Middle Village. The Crescent is bordered on one side by its namesake cemetery, a lush expanse of granite mausoleums, angels, and obelisks cut in half by the busy thoroughfare of Eliot Avenue. A few ramshackle flower shops hang on for dear life, squeezed on all sides by vinyl-sided one-family houses and a sore thumb of a chrome-plated apartment complex. The Crescent comes to rest near an enormous sign pointing the way to the parking lot for the Hess-Miller Funeral Home, host to more than a few wakes for family members of mine.

At the Crescent’s summit, the Fresh Pond Crematory looms over it all, a cream-colored slab with a circular driveway paved in brick, ideal for the approach of hearses. Built in 1884, the exterior resembles a crossbreed between federal mint and Gilded Age prison. Cremation was rare enough in those days that a Brooklyn Eagle reporter made the long trip to Fresh Pond after hearing the mere rumor a wealthy German businessman was to be cremated there. The reporter soon found himself in an Abbott and Costello-esque exchange with one of the attendants, who impatiently explained he could cremate no one until the oven was complete.

The reporter eventually got what he wanted: a graphic description of exactly what cremation does to the human body. (“The total weight of the ashes of a full grown man would only be six or seven pounds.”) He also received a defense of the practice from the attendant, based largely on the overcrowded state of the city’s cemeteries and some other concerns about corpses that haunted the Victorian mind.

Oh, cremation is what we must all come to, and it has a great many advantages when you look at it in the right light. You can’t wake up after burial and find yourself choking to death with six feet of earth over you and your coffin nailed down, and medical students can’t snatch your bones and monkey with them in their dissecting rooms. You can have your cemeteries all the same, and set these urns in them and plant flowers about the urns; that will be all right and nobody will be hurt. This thing has to come.

The crematory has grown considerably since those days, when nearby residents were worried about the smell such a facility might produce. A towering smokestack now announces its true purpose, as do the large copper letters over the main entrance, dripping green with its name. Beneath, in smaller, more polished type, is the announcement AMERICAN COLUMBARIUM CO., INC.

Continue reading Niches

Baby’s First Brooklyn Moment

On Sunday morning, me and the family took a brief trip into Greenpoint to pick up some gardening supplies and to stroll. I lived in Greenpoint for six pre-kid years and I still love it there, though I don’t find many chances to make it back to ye olde neighborhood.

When I called it home, Greenpoint struck me as having the exact amount of artsy-ness that Williamsburg aspired to while being a tad more real, for lack of a better word. For one thing, Greenpoint never needed to “recover” in the way that Williamsburg did, since it had a well-entrenched middle class that never left in bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s. On top of that, it seemed like the artists in Greenpoint actually had jobs and weren’t being held aloft by trust funds. This was provincial prejudice I’m sure, because it still wasn’t hard to find a wealthy dilettante among the populace, someone who seemed to be dabbling in bohemia until Dad’s Law Firm came calling. These folks tended to be the ones most into juvenalia like kickball tournaments and organized games of manhunt, since they had the idle time and total lack of worries necessary to waste in such pointless pursuits.

As I said, we were strolling through Greenpoint, on Nassau Street near Lorimer, where McCarren Park ends. Ahead of us, I saw a twenty-something swinging from scaffolding like it was a jungle gym. At a certain age and in a certain mood, I could have found this kind of thing is cute. In fact, I’m sure I’ve done the same at some point in my life, though I’m also sure I haven’t done so since college. To mid-30s Dad Me, it just struck me as juvenile, embodying the worst aspect of all the dumb infantile things people think of when they now think of Brooklyn. My mind voiced a judgmental Really?, but I said nothing out loud.

My daughter was less guarded. Our corner of Queens holds very few hipsters, and this was not a specimen she’d encountered before. “Why is that GROWN UP swinging like that?” she asked, very loudly. I saw this guy as a kid, because that’s how he was behaving, but to my child, everyone over the age of 10 is a Grown Up, and this was conduct unbecoming a Grown Up. The Swinger abruptly stopped, somewhat embarrassed, and continued on his way, as did we.

“Grown ups shouldn’t be acting like that,” my daughter said, again very loudly and slightly annoyed, as we passed by The Swinger.

“I agree,” I said, and I felt confident that I’d already given her enough information to tell the Real Grown Ups from the fake ones.

Open Letter to the M Train Media Baron

Dear person,

mtrain.jpgYou don’t know me, nor should you, but we ride the same train to work in the morning. I get on in a grubby section of Queens, while you get on in Williamsburg. I’d never had the pleasure of meeting you until this morning, when the the train reached Lorimer Street, and I heard your braying voice the moment the doors opened. You were talking on your cell phone, to your mother, apparently, and very loudly.

I don’t like to listen to other people’s phone conversations, but since you stood right in front of me and decided to talk in a ludicrously loud tone of voice, it was impossible to ignore you. I could tell you were Someone Important, because right off the bat you mentioned two extremely popular cable TV shows, and made it clear that you worked for the network airing those shows (even though you were talking to your mother, who presumably knew this already).

Apparently, one of these shows, which just debuted to rave reviews, was experiencing an inordinate amount of traffic on its Web site. Or rather, the person in charge of said Web site had not prepared for such traffic and was getting slammed. But rather than tax his/her staff or outsource the issue, this person was trying to handle the issue him/herself.

I don’t know why I’m obscuring the gender of this person, since you mentioned his/her name many, many times, at top volume, like everything else you said. You also made sure to mention that you knew all this because you received an email you weren’t supposed to, which you then proceeded to forward to other folks, just for laughs.

This surprised me. I have friends who work in various media. Sometimes they work on Very Important Things and they can’t tell me the exact details. And I accept this because, hey, who knows who might be sitting in that next booth or in the bus seat next to me? You, clearly, are not limited by such discretion.

But the thing that really set me off, really brought it all together for me, and made me write this letter, is when you said to your mother, “I don’t have time for this! I’m a 32-year-old girl!”

Yes, you are. You are a child. Your job, which is evidently very important (though not important enough for you to wear anything nicer than sneakers) is just a toy to you. If I had a job like yours, first of all, I’d be thrilled. But I’d also be very careful about bitching about any aspect of it in public.

As you yakked away, I wrote several tweets about your phone call. I could just as easily fired off an email to a certain Web site that likes to trade in media gossip like this (hint: it rhymes with Mawker). And thanks to your detailed descriptions, it wouldn’t take too much googling to find out who you are or the full names and titles of all the other principals you complained about at length.

And that might get you fired, but what the hell! You’d just flit to some other joke-job, or you’d couch surf for a while, or maybe finally go to India or something, you know, really learn about yourself. Your life has zero stakes, and based on the fact that you were having this conversation with your mother, you were clearly raised with zero stakes, too. I’m 100 percent positive you come from money and privilege, and the reason you’re yapping at top volume on the train is because this job is just to keep you in beer and coke money. You could lose it tomorrow and not feel a thing.

My life has nothing but stakes. I come from no one. I grew up with very little. I was able to go to college only because I earned a scholarship (and took out some oppressive loans), and I went to every goddamn class because I was terrified of losing that scholarship. I’ve spent every day of my adult life working or hustling to get work.

I have a wife and a child. I can’t bitch about anything I do for pay because if I do and I get fired, I have zero safety net. I can’t pull up stakes and crash at a friend’s place or live in my mom’s basement for a while or move to a commune.

That’s because I’m an adult, and I pity you. I have more obligations than you can possibly imagine, and yet I write every god damn day. I have more things to do that I don’t want to do than ever before, and yet I’m working on more projects of my own than I ever have ever before.

But you, you will do nothing of value with your life, because you don’t have to. You will create nothing and bring joy to noone, because you don’t have to. You will never do anything you don’t have to, because you’re a “32-year-old girl”, and children don’t do things they don’t want to do.

I meet people like you a lot. They’re my age or thereabouts, and when I tell them I have a kid, a look of abject terror flits across their faces for a split second. It’s not the idea of being a parent that scares them. It’s the idea of having any sort of responsibility, of having to live in a world in which their id isn’t constantly satisfied. “You mean I can’t just sick out for a few days and go to Bonaroo?”

Do you have to have a kid to be an adult? Of course not. I would say all of my friends are adults, and very few of them have children. To be an adult, you have to have a sense of the world outside yourself. You clearly have none of that, or else you wouldn’t be yelling about your job (which many people would kill for) at top volume on the subway.

I know you are highly unlikely to read this, and even if you did, my words would be unlikely to change you in any appreciable way. I just want you to know that your life is completely and utterly meaningless, without a single redeeming feature, and one day you’re gonna die alone and afraid, just like the rest of us. Cheers!

— Me