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Posts Tagged ‘Queens’

Ghost Stories

October 20, 2016 | by

Seeking out spirits in one of New York’s spookiest bars.

Photo: Alex Strada.

Photo: Alex Strada.

You’d think it’d be relatively easy to pin down a ghost in this town, with all of its historic buildings and unsettled scores. Most of the haunts frequented by the city’s cognoscenti are said to have an apparition or two knocking around, if you believe in that sort of thing. There’s the shadowy figure that paces the shore of Rockaway Beach. A young girl’s screams are sometimes heard coming from within McCarren Pool. And from the stories told about the Brooklyn Bridge, you’d think its walkway would be incandescent with floating orbs and strange lights.

After hearing that a glamorous specter often manifests and smokes sullenly in a corner of the women’s restroom at the Astor Room in Queens, I drank far too much wine and drifted in and out of the bathroom stalls a few weekends ago, but to no avail. And returning home in the early hours that morning, I thought of the original owner of my apartment building, who hanged himself from the front-door frame in 1890. He, too, has yet to materialize.

So I stopped by the perennially spooky KGB Bar in the East Village after work one night last week to see if Dan Christian, the longtime bar manager, might act as my spirit guide. I’d always heard that the bar was very haunted. Read More »

Our Father Who Art in the Bronx, Our Mother Who Art Nowhere

October 12, 2016 | by

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski, via Flickr.

I’m standing inside the refrigerator door, playing three-card monte with the ketchup, the mustard, and one of those midget jars of tartar sauce. It’s an unoriginal con among seven-year-olds—pretending to rummage the fridge in order to eavesdrop—but it works, right up until the cold gets to be too much to bear.

In a last ditch effort to buy myself more time, I try to warm up by bouncing on the balls of my feet, leaving my hands free to continue the condiment-shuffle, but eventually I have no choice: I break down and start using my goose-bumped arms to rub my goose-bumped legs, even though I know that’ll be the tip-off.Read More »

A Gritty Little Something on the New York Street

March 25, 2016 | by

Remembering Phife Dawg—a family perspective.

Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg.

I lived in New York for the first time for the summer of 2006, between my junior and senior years of college. I was in love with words. I’d started writing, but I needed a job, so I entered book publishing. Two days a week, I read manuscripts in the magnificent but decaying Flatiron Building; at night, I worked the coat check at a white-tablecloth restaurant on Union Square for spending money (the perfect gig, as in the summer I had few customers, and spent most of my time reading). After my shifts at the restaurant, I took the 5 train uptown to Harlem with the typical collection of bleary-eyed late-night workers and drunk revelers, where I slept on a cot in the living room of my aunt’s two-bedroom apartment.

The apartment was modest but warmly decorated in pinks, oranges, and turquoises—colors that undoubtedly reminded her of Trinidad, her island home. Our sleeping arrangement mirrored that of my great-grandmother’s house. She’d lived till she was ninety-eight: a former caretaker who’d immigrated from a rural part of the island, she’d saved enough money to buy a semidetached three-bedroom house in Jamaica, Queens.

As several family members and friends before and after her did, my aunt, the poet Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, had stayed with my great-grandmother to get on her feet in America. She married young, had a child, and, after an amicable divorce, started dating women—a shock to our family of devout Seventh Day Adventists. When I was younger, my parents, in a typical move of the time, never discussed her sexuality. I only knew that she had many female friends, and after a while, sometimes they would be gone from her life in a way that was unusual for just friends. In that apartment, she finally gave me a name for what she was, speaking to me openly about her life like I was an equal, capable enough to understand and not to judge.

On the wall of the apartment hung a portrait of Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest, who was her son and my cousin. She told me that when visitors came by, they would uniformly exclaim how much they loved him. Why do you have a picture of him? they’d ask, before dropping one of his verses, and she would answer with pride, He’s my son, her perfect white smile beaming. Read More »

We’ll Show Them Burger King Creeps, and Other News

November 4, 2015 | by


From “Burger Wars,” an episode of Judge Dredd withheld by lawyers for decades.

  • The French artist Sophie Calle’s Suite Vénitienne, first published in 1983, is back in print. If you or I made a book about stalking and photographing a complete stranger, we would be cast out of our communities; when Sophie Calle makes one, it’s a minor masterwork. In 1980, she saw a man on the street and tried to photograph him—he eluded her. That night, she ran into him at a party. His name was Henri B., and he told her he was going to Venice. She decided to go, too. In Suite Vénetienne, “Calle spends thirteen days looking for and trailing Henri B. around the city … at last, she finds [him]—he’s been staying in a pensione a hundred meters from her own. She stands outside his hotel and watches as he comes and goes … The strength of the project comes from the interplay between Calle’s physical pursuit and her emotional remove. Calle doesn’t care for Henri B ... Yet proximity to her subject seems to create a kind of attachment. Calle dreams of Henri B., he ‘consumes’ her. She has high expectations of their encounters, then worries about displeasing him. They meet. She frets it was banal. She tries to rent his former hotel room. She envisions herself sleeping in his bed.”
  • Beneath the chapel in St. Leonard’s Church in Worcestershire is a single skull, just one, lonely skull. Scuttlebutt has it that someone stole this little guy from Shakespeare’s tomb back in the eighteenth century. But we may never know if this skull is Shakespeare’s. And I don’t mean that rhetorically—we will actually probably never know, because the Church of England doesn’t want any DNA testing on the skull. In a seven-thousand word statement, some stuffed-shirt barrister guy “sided with prominent Shakespeare scholars who have rubbished the claims and concluded they read ‘like a piece of Gothic fiction’ … He said he had seen ‘no scholarly or other evidence that comes anywhere near providing any support for the truth of the story” and that there was “nothing whatsoever to link it to William Shakespeare.’”
  • Later today we’ll share some exciting news about Lydia Davis. But first, in the name of public service, some not-so-exciting news. A copy of Davis’s Collected Stories—a copy from the NYU Library, no less—has gone missing. It was last spotted in North Brooklyn, outside Tony’s Pizza at Dekalb and Knickerbocker, near the B38 bus stop. Have you seen this book? Its cover is handsome, its spine thick, its borrower concerned.
  • Today in comic-book news you didn’t know you cared about: two parodic, dystopian episodes of Judge Dredd are back in print. The comics, from 1978, depict a postnuclear America in which commercial culture has run amok, and they made lawyers squeamish: “In Burger Wars, Dredd finds a devastated middle America in thrall to the warring Burger Lords, modeled on Ronald McDonald and Burger King’s eponymous monarch, who capture the heroes and force them to live on burgers and shakes. In Soul Food, a Dr. Moreau–style genetic engineer living in the blasted wasteland has created mutated creatures based on mascots of American retail culture including the Jolly Green Giant and Michelin’s tire-man Bibendum … Ben Smith, head of books and comic books at Rebellion Publishing, said: ‘The most common question we have been asked at conventions over the years is “Will you be reprinting Burger Wars?” It’s a delight, and frankly a relief, to be able to finally say, Yes!’ ”
  • Frederick Wiseman’s new documentary, In Jackson Heights, is (really!) a riveting three-hour testament to a neighborhood’s civic life. “What Wiseman found in Jackson Heights is people talking, mainly in organized, formalized settings that have their pretext and their agenda defined. He finds civic life taking place in public and quasi-public places—houses of worship, stores, storefront offices of non-profit community organizations, and local governmental offices … The discussions that he films involve such matters as fair labor practices, gentrification, the legal ramifications of urban gardening, the push for change in traffic-safety regulations, school redistricting, police harassment of gay and transgender bar patrons, fear of deportation, citizenship-test study, and the laws and norms to pass a taxi-driver test. In other words, the movie is about the very stuff of life … The problems that Wiseman finds are local, practical, intimate, but the emotions that he films are grand and tragic.”

The Lonely Art

October 5, 2015 | by

Robert Seydel’s visionary, genre-defying art and writing.

“The King” by Robert Seydel, n.d. © the Estate of Robert Seydel

Untitled by Robert Seydel, n.d. © the Estate of Robert Seydel

How are we to regard the artist who writes or the writer who makes art? There’s a venerable lineage of creative figures working both sides of the street: think of the poems of Marsden Hartley, the photographs of Eudora Welty, the collages of John Ashbery, among others. In almost all such cases, a hierarchy effortlessly falls into place; what’s primary and what’s ancillary are self-evident. Would we be much drawn to look at the watercolors of Elizabeth Bishop if we did not know her first as the poet who wrote “Roosters” and “One Art”? True aesthetic ambidexterity seems vanishingly rare, particularly among top-tier figures: a great artist’s side projects invariably seem secondary and marginal.

The work of the genuinely hybrid artist Robert Seydel (1960–2011) chips away at our biases about one art form always taking precedence over another. Read More »

The Jimmy Winkfield Stakes

December 23, 2014 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!


A racetrack in obsolescence.


Photo: Ilya Lipkin

Every year on the third Monday of January, the Aqueduct Racetrack, in South Ozone Park, Queens, runs a six-furlong race in honor of Jimmy Winkfield. The choice of date, Martin Luther King Day, is not accidental. Of Winkfield’s many accomplishments, which include winning the Russian Oaks an incredible five times for Czar Nicholas II, he is best known as the last black jockey to run a winner in the Kentucky Derby, in 1902.

To be black in the world of horse racing was no easy thing in the early part of the twentieth century. Winkfield, born in Kentucky, had enjoyed a storied career in Russia and France, but when he returned to America he was forced to enter a reception held in his honor through the hotel’s service entrance, with the bellhops and the kitchen staff.

Because of the raw January weather, attendance at the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes is usually rather sparse compared to the bigger events at the height of the racing season. This year, my older brother Ilya and I saw the race completely on a whim—we thought it might be fun to trek out to the Aqueduct like we used to when we were younger. Back then, if the weather was fine, our father would drive us to the track out in Ozone Park, a favorite destination for the unattached men in the neighborhood. Edik from the dry cleaners down the street was a fixture there, as was Pavel, the bartender at the Pennant Sports Bar on Northern, and Parsons, whose brother was an orderly at the elder-care facility where our grandfather died. To me, gaining admission to that world of working men was no less exciting than the races themselves. I watched with great interest as they quaffed beer and studied the odds on the board and cursed when they invariably lost their money. Being a bit older, Ilya had a better sense of what was actually going on. He nagged Pavel until the bartender showed him how to decipher the near-hieroglyphic racing form. The one time my father let him place a bet, we won eighty dollars. It proved to be a red-letter day, because that same afternoon, I fed a carrot to Cigar, the Hall of Fame thoroughbred, just before the first big win of his career. (The Aqueduct now runs a race in his honor as well.) Read More >>