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June 20, 1987

Twenty-Five years ago today was a day I’d been looking forward to for a long time and was the most exciting day (even though I knew exactly what was going to happen) of my life.  It was the day I traded the sour, hot air and bug spray smell of my family’s south Miami Beach apartment for that of hot dust and hardwood floors; and freedom: in Brooklyn, New York.

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A Nose For Tofu

I’ve been in the Natural Foods business for years, 16 of them in fact.  It’s changed a lot; it’s become a lot more mainstream – now going to places like Whole Foods is for a lot of people like going to the mall.  But it wasn’t always that way.

Health Food stores used to be the province of the hard-core health nut.  I know, because I worked in one, a place in New York City called Perelandra, for four years in the late ‘90’s.  It was a magnet for the neighborhood’s zombie-like ascetics who frequented the place (loyal customers though they were).  Thin and drawn was the look of the Perelandral habitué (their appearance seemed to belie their whole healthy pursuit thing, no?).  The severe ethos of many of these people worked on them like a social attrition, making them as demanding of us as they were on themselves. Read more

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The Sideways Sofa

I worked hard and saved all my money to get into Pratt Institute.  Even so, the vast majority of the tuition I had to funnel into that Brooklyn school of art and engineering was paid for by bank loans.  Delayed a full semester by months of paperwork, I was pretty excited to get there in January of ’88.  One cold weekend I settled into my new dorm.

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The Temp

I moved to New York to go (presumably) to Art School but as far as plans I hadn’t really figured anything out.  I decided to just go there anyway and stay with my brother in Brooklyn, either forever, or temporarily, until something, some plan, coalesced.

I arrived in June of ’87 armed with a 4-foot steamer trunk, an art portfolio and vague plans to get my art together to show to the admissions department at Pratt Institute.   Pretty quickly my brother disabused me of the permanent residency option.

This came a quite a shock to me; I guess I really HAD made plans after all (to crash on my brother’s floor in Boerum Hill until we were both old men).  It turns out Luis had become the “plan coalescer” and I realized I had to get a job, and fast. Read more

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Screen Memories

Driving past another dead Blockbuster Video the other day made me think in general about the deaths of locally owned video stores a decade earlier and then, more specifically, the death of my own little store in Brooklyn.  Far from celebrating the possible karmic backlash represented by the retail failure of a large company like that of Blockbuster (after they’d stomped on little mom and pop stores for years); I was actually in there a couple of weeks before they closed, stocking up on $1 DVDs.

For a few years in the early 90’s I worked at a video store in Brooklyn called Screen Memory.  It, like thousands of other small businesses everywhere, had a stable core staff that at least for awhile, and only while they were still employed there, considered each other to be kind of like family.

7th Avenue, The Slope

Well, that is, a family that not only fought each other over the store remote, but also over shifts and assorted duties (like splitting up the cash deposits customers had to leave to become members).  Many of us (except Bob, the general manager, who was REALLY religious) drank a little too much; every night after work was kind of like a weekend night for us.

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Beau

It’s a well-known fact, and even a hoary cliché (which is I guess itself a cliché) that New York City is a gathering place for creative people who want to express themselves in a larger, more fertile setting.  But there are places even within New York where that matriculation of talent is even more refined, places where Liberal Arts Majors from all over can find work.  Examples include Perelandra Natural Foods, Ozzie’s Coffee, and a little (now defunct) video store called Screen Memory.

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