Sunday, September 30, 2007


City Wide Florist, says the sign in faded green letters, kitty corner to the cemetery's entrance. This flower shop has been here for as long as I can remember. On weekends, no matter what the weather, a small tray of fake flowers stands outside.

A closer look reveals a silver, plastic Jesus who rested in the center of each bouquet. Encased behind the store's glass windows stand the taller, grander arrangements. They crowd the window facing out towards the street, silent reminders of what a person can leave behind on the grave of a loved one.

The glass door also obscures the shop's interior. And so it felt eerie to walk in and see all the flowered crosses in faint purples, greens, yellows, blues and pinks hanging from the ceiling in the dark, airless room. Boxes covered the floor with more fake flowers, subtle variations of the same arrangement. Each box had a white card stapled to it and hand-written, Trelis, $17.50; Altar, $15.50; Grandpa, $24.50; Angel, $14.50. Only one light, a florescent tube, shone, over the empty counter.

A greeting brought its proprietor to her feet. But she shook her head about sharing anything about her business, its history, its stories. Perhaps this is the effect of years of tending to other people's losses.

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie.
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins

Friday, September 28, 2007


For me Skyline was a company whose black cars stole my parking spaces. They had offices down the street. From time to time I saw their cars in the city's streets, the familiar Skyline afixed to the bumper.

Little did I know they were the largest black car company in the city. Little did I know that they were a consortium of owners from all ends of the world. In fact, they've grown so much that they've bought a building behind the one here, out in back of the parking lot on the side.

When I freelanced I worked a stint at a company who used Skyline's services for its late workers. I looked forward to my late Friday nights when I could call the dispatcher for a car. No one can ever find Blissville. But for the Skyline drivers, this was their base. And sometimes, if I was lucky, I'd get a driver who I'd met before, passed on the street in Blissville.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


A search on the Internet revealed nothing about the new Inn, and so it continues to remain a place of curiosity.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


No one has arrived yet. There is still too much work remaining, painting, finishing, entrances. On Sunday I peeked in to see walls drywalled and the spackled, wiring hanging everywhere.

But at night, past the bright, unremitting glow of the streetlight, a light or two blinks from our new neighbor, Fairfield Inn & Suites, Marriott.

I imagine the visitors arriving, tired after their journey, dislocated but for the backdrop of Manhattan. Where will their rooms look? Over our houses and towards the cemetery? Or over the ragged skyline of factories and billboards, the Chrysler Building sparkling in the distance?

In the morning after, will they notice us on the ground?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Leftover Blissville

It feels like an epoch ago when a colleague at work discovered Blissville on his own. He is a city reporter, and he and his sweetheart, now his wife, would spend their weekends exploring the neighborhoods at the city's fringes. He came into the work the Monday after and told me all about it and the twin houses he'd discovered.

He wondered if one of them was for sale. He and his beloved were house-hunting. The size, the history, the neighborhood, they were all perfect.

I had no answer for him. I hadn't even known about these houses. That night I walked with my own sweetheart around the neighborhood, and I fell in love with them, too. Each was as perfect a house as I could imagine. One even looked empty. But neither was for sale. I reported back and then forgot about them. A year later my colleague and his darling bought a house at the edge of Prospect Park.

Then a few years later the house on the right went on the market. It was more rundown than its neighbor, and the brokers priced it at a half a million. Outside the deli a handmade flier advertised an open house. The price was now three quarters of a million. I walked down the block, around the corner and up the block to the houses I loved. People filed in and out, but I didn't go in. I wanted it too much.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Another legible thought, seen on a wall near Greenpoint Avenue.

An evening trip across the river to the top of the Empire State building netted more grafitti, penned on the stone block walls looking over the glittering city below:

Heather Strassel
Nancy Trileon
Rebecca Stoops
Philip Love's Rose
Angel Villanueva, Edinburgh, TX

And sprinkled in, more names and words in Turkish, Chinese and Russian.

King Kong Was Here!

In neat lettering, TAIWAN.
And further down, Taiwan Is a Country.

But for the moths, drawn to and lit by the tower's lights, these messages meant nothing. They just flitted in the night air like burning scraps of paper.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dial Tone

One of my first assignments as a newspaper photographer was to photograph the public phone from which a famous drug dealer had made his last call, that is, his last before the FBI and its thousands of agents captured him. The phone hung down on a busy corner in East Elmhurst. My editor wondered if I'd moved it there. I hadn't.

Saleem has surely used up all of his allotted phone calls. His compatriots, too. Besides, this phone is a block away from his shop.

But it's just a half block from the sofa so maybe drivers use it, though I doubt it. It's just that far around the corner to be noted.

It's prime locale is directly across the street from the new hotel going up. Lost tourists will spot it. But in this age of cell phones, will they use it? Or will it be another relic from another age, left and abandonned on a street in Blissville?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


There is a block, across the street from the new skyscraper of a hotel, made up of solely garages. These garages are minimal affairs, the requisite cement floor slicked with oil, a few lifters, a skylight, and a bare room – an afterthought, really – for an office. And so for some drivers, a seat outside amid the bustle of the street beats hands-down a plastic chair in a windowless room.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

No Good Deed

Drive by Blissville on a weekday, and all the shops hum with activity. No stranger could discern Saleem's shop from any another. The lifts are full, the sidewalks are lined with cars and impatient drivers stand on the corners while they wait for their repairs.

I let the little pleasures of the neighborhood fill my days. I stopped thinking about Saleem. I think I trusted he would be fine.

Tonight I learned that Saleem has not been able to raise the bail money. Some of his friends have tried, culling together what they have, $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000 in cash towards his release.

But the investigators just push the money away. "How did you get so much cash?" they ask. "What is your name?" And then they open up a new a file.

Meanwhile, ordinary life continues on every corner. As my beloved Tito reminds me, Blissville is more than one man's crimes.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Scott Williams, a painter who has had a studio in Long Island City for eighteen years, seeks out quiet spaces and empty landscapes. And so, sometimes he finds himself in Blissville.

He sees a lot, but asks no questions. He wondered, after he heard about Saleem, if he, too, had witnessed a chop shop, in another part of Blissville, even less frequented. No one seemed to worry what he might have witnessed, and he went on painting.

Perhaps there is something invisible about the stillness required for observation. He just laughs. And marvels how often a couple will park behind his easel for an afternoon of stolen love.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

And What About Saleem?

Rumors circled around the block the day Saleem was arrested. Some mechanics said he got out on $40,000. The papers said bail had been set for $200,000. But no matter what the fee, all bet he was out.

But the next day, Saleem was still in jail. Friday passed, and his shop bustled with activity. All day long Lincoln Towncars pulled in and out. His shop was a model of busyness. His wife even stopped by, no one knows why. She left their two children at home. In Blissville, everyone was kind to her, respectful of her plight.

Saturday passed much the same. The shop closed at its usual hour, ten or so at night. And the next day, Sunday when no shop opens, it opened again. And still Saleem hasn't returned.

No one seems to talk about him, except for me. By my count he's been in prison four days now. I can't imagine what that must be like for him. I didn't know him well, except that he seemed a dour man, suspicious of my camera, protective of his shop.

One mechanic told me that everyone in Blissville's garages knew about Saleem's trade in stolen parts. He added that this was not the first time Saleem has been in trouble. He scraped with the law a year ago, and before that, six years ago, when he had another shop well beyond Blissville's borders, across the tracks on Northern Boulevard.

While Saleem was over there, we in Blissville were having our own scandal. I remember that day because when I woke, police cars were parked up and down the block. And we in Blissville almost never see police. I joined my neighbors and watched as the police pulled car after car from the narrow, one-story cement building just two doors down the block from where I lived.

The investigating lieutenant made her rounds. When she came to me, I could only tell her that I'd seen it open on from time to time, between two and five in the morning. She asked me if I'd known that the people running it were trading in stolen cars. I shook my head. I'd had no idea.

For I had thought them a good neighbor, quiet and clean.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

News! News! News!

Saleem Latif and eleven others arrested!

Saleem Latif out on bail for $200,000!

Saleem Latif said to be ringleader of auto theft ring!

Saleem Latif alleged to have chopped $1 million in auto parts!

Saleem's garage lies in the center of Blissville, just down the block from the Blissville Deli and on the corner of Van Dam, the main thoroughfare. Prime real estate for someone with a garage. Like most of the garages in the neighborhood, Saleem's garage exists mostly to service the Lincoln Towncars he rents out to drivers.

Unlike most of the garages, Saleem always has had a large number of Towncars sitting in his yard and on the street. Many were battered, the rest waited for drivers to rent them.

The owners and workers at other garages shook their head at this. Perhaps Saleem was overextended. Perhaps his business wasn't doing so well. They wondered how he managed to stay in business with so many cars unrented. Perhaps that was why Saleem's garage always stayed open so late, long after the others had closed.

A year ago the police descended upon Blissville and raided Saleem's garage. They accused him of using stolen parts in his car. They took away all his cars.

Saleem looked haggard, nervous, and for days, even weeks, no one saw him. Without his old cars along the sidewalk, the neighborhood looked oddly clean.

But he never closed the garage, and business continued. And in time, Saleem returned. Little by little his fleet grew again. And one by one, the battered cars returned.

It was over this period that he lost many of his mechanics. And so today, when the police swarmed his shop again, only new mechanics were working there.

Did the new mechanics know, that when Saleem gave them a part to instal, that it was stolen?

According the the District Attorney, often, if he needed a part he didn't have, he would send someone out to steal a towncar. He even had a special sticker for his cars so his band of thieves wouldn't mistake his cars from another. He is even accused of registering his cars with proper parts, and then replacing some of their parts with stolen ones.

The mechanics in his shop tried to work as usual. It couldn't have been easy. Television crews and journalists milled about the street, waiting. Other factory workers watched from their doors.

And Michael, the deli owner stood on the corner while cameramen filmed him and his awning, "Blissville Deli."

And Saleem? He pleaded not guilty.


Found, near the railroad tracks, down by the creek.

Every so often I follow the rail road to to its end, the terminus of Blissville, at the Dutch Kills Creek and Hugo Neu's scrap plant. Greenpoint is dotted with scrap metal centers, but Blissville, with its access to the Newtown Creek, also has a few. No wonder. Scrap metal has become the city's most lucrative export.

Follow the tracks toward the city and they stop at the East River and an LIRR station. Head out to the end in the other direction, and you'll find yourself in Montauk.

This land was once settled not by the Dutch as its name might imply, but original Plymouth Rock colonists. Today developers have their eyes on it. The way they see it, housing is compatible with industry side by side. Never mind the pollution. Its views over the creek look clear out to the city. But where will the industry go? And where will the rats hide?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Discernable Text

Everywhere in Blissville graffiti is scrawled. Any flat surface will do.

I know it is a language, but it's opaque to me.

Signage also abounds. I recognize the English, but its content eludes me. I can only assume others grasp its meaning, factory workers or railmen.

And then suddenly, a message I can both read and understand, and think on as I gaze out at the fading half moon.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Imaginary Forest

A copse of poplars, no more. Even so, it hums with monarchs, crickets and sparrows.

Shhhhh. My secret Blissville.

The Elevated Train

He travels from block to block above our heads, traveling a path where no cat can follow. And when the lines pass through a tree, he gets off.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Parking Wars

Saturday afternoon marks the beginning of Labor Day weekend in Blissville, when workers head home and factories close.

But come Tuesday morning in this little economic enterprise zone, the pressure for parking spaces will run high. For the businesses that depend on room for deliveries, it's an exercise of cooperation, from business to business to business.

Of course, not everyone honors the same ethic. And so the wars begin. The export-import company's truck will obstruct the entrance to the garage, who in turn will block it with a tow-truck while all along, the traffic along the street will build. And soon a chorus of horns will ring out through the neighborhood. But time is money, and eventually the garage will be forced to pull back to let the delivery truck leave. An armistice that will last only a day.

I once waged my own wars on the block. Cars from the limousine company down the block were occupying more and more of the spaces. I was tired of having to park several blocks away. They had a huge parking lot of their own next to the company building.

And so I fought back. I honked and yelled at the company's drivers. Sometimes I double-parked to trap them in, and when I could, I snuck in behind them and stole the space outright. If they cursed me, I cursed back. They had room of their own down the street, I reasoned. They didn't need the space in front of my apartment building, too.

Then one day I went to my car to run a mid-day errand. I started up, turned the wheel and inched forward. Clunk-a-clunk-a-clunk, my car went. I felt it as much as I heard it. I got out to see what the problem was. I had two flat tires on the passenger side of the car. I got back in and hobbled down the street to the garage at the corner.

The mechanic who came out shook his head. "What did you do?"

I shrugged. "Nothing," I said.

He shook his head again. "Someone slit your tires, miss."

I swallowed. What choice did I have? I told him to put on new tires.

For the next few months I studied those drivers, wondering which one had waited under the cover of darkness to slash my tires. But I conceded whatever parking space they wanted on the block.

Years have passed, and I've found my own peace. And somehow, I never want for a parking spot now.