New Brooklyn Dreams: Dean Haspiel’s The Red Hook

Dean Haspiel’s new graphic novel The Red Hook Volume One: New Brooklyn is out from Image Comics.  It assembles together the web comic originally presented on the Line Webtoon portal, along with several shorter chapters that previously saw print in Dark Horse Presents, Psychotronic Comics and Savage Dragon.

The Red Hook cover

In the past I have observed that Dean Haspiel is a creator who appears to effortlessly leap back & forth between the spheres of independent and mainstream comics.  The Red Hook is an effective distillation of those two poles, an action-packed super-hero saga possessed of oddball indie sensibilities and a distinctive authorial voice.

The first segment, the three-chapter “Emotional Ebola,” introduces the titular Red Hook, real name Sam Brosia, a Brooklyn-born boxer turned masked thief, and his girlfriend / partner in crime, Ava aka the Possum.  Their vivacious romance brings to mind both the eccentric banter and tumultuous misadventures of Haspiel’s kooky couple Billy Dogma & Jane Legit, as well as the postmodern costumed escapades of Paul & Mae Patton from The Fox: Freak Magnet and Fox Hunt miniseries.  “Emotional Ebola” is a somewhat languidly-paced extended prologue, although Haspiel does seed it with tantalizing hints of both what has come before and what is just around the corner.

Events quickly accelerate with the “New Brooklyn” story proper.  The borough of Brooklyn, exasperated by the twin scourges of skyrocketing rents and gentrification, becomes sentient and physically secedes from America, literally breaking away from the other four boroughs.  (I’m sure the “Heart of Brooklyn” wasn’t at all happy about the whole Donald Trump thing, either.)  The residents of the newly independent island of New Brooklyn have set about establishing a new economy, one where art is a vital part of commerce.  The birth of New Brooklyn has also resulted in the manifestation of numerous beings possessing super-powers.

The Red Hook pg 35

Initially the Red Hook and the Possum attempt to continue with their usual second-story shenanigans, lifting priceless paintings and locking horns with rival criminal Benson Hurst.  However life soon takes an even more unexpected turn for the Red Hook, and Sam finds himself forced onto the path of altruistic heroism.  Initially both leery of and resentful towards this development, Sam eventually decides to embrace his new role, regarding it as an opportunity to amend for the past transgressions that still haunt him.

The Red Hook, and the larger New Brooklyn Universe, are very much an expression of Haspiel’s love for New York City.  A native Manhattanite, Haspiel was forced by rising rents to relocate to Brooklyn in the late 1990s, only to see that same pattern repeat itself a decade later, with various friends & fellow artists having to move out of the city entirely within the last several years, and numerous local businesses going under.

(Believe me, having lived in Queens for over a dozen years now, I can certainly relate!)

As Haspiel laments in his introduction:

“NYC is no longer interested in underwriting the avant garde and cultivating soothsayers. It got bamboozled by real estate developers more concerned with leasing empty spaces that hemorrhage money and often stay empty. An evil shell game of dog-eat-dog, while local bodegas and art spaces vacate and resurrect into a deluge of banks and all-purpose pharmacies, where cultural and culinary institutions of the past vex us with their historical significance like ghosts.”

Haspiel conceived the New Brooklyn Universe not just as a setting for fantastical stories, but as a representation of the cultural mecca that NYC once was, a mythic remembrance of a time when the city may have been dangerous & grimy, but also pulsed with life and vitality.

The Red Hook pg 59

Haspiel’s writing is simultaneously humorous, strange and poignant.  The plot is compelling, as are the characters.  Haspiel has always been great at scripting couples.  Sam and Ava’s romance possesses a tangible authenticity.

The artwork in The Red Hook Volume One is breathtaking and dynamic.  This is some of the best work that Haspiel has done in his entire career.

Recently I had occasion to read for the first time in a number of years Daydream Lullabies, a trade paperback collecting Haspiel’s Billy Dogma stories that were written & drawn in the mid-to-late 1990s.  Haspiel was, of course, a good artist two decades ago.  However, comparing the material in Daydream Lullabies to his work in The Red Hook, it is readily apparent that Haspiel has grown tremendously over the past twenty years.  He is definitely an artist who has consistently grown, never sitting still, instead working to continually improve his craft.

The Red Hook is a one-person production, with Haspiel writing, drawing, lettering and coloring.  That last aspect is especially striking.  Haspiel’s color work for this graphic novel is vivid, his hues and tones effectively complementing his dynamically weird linework.

The Red Hook pg 114

Haspiel has clearly put a great deal of thought into the New Brooklyn Universe, having worked with several colleagues to devise it.  Among these collaborators is talented writer Vito Delsante, who pens a two page prologue for his own New Brooklyn Universe creation The Purple Heart, illustrated by Ricardo Venancio.

Another pair of creators who have dipped their toes into the New Brooklyn waters, so to speak are writer Adam McGovern and artist Paolo Leandri.  Their four-part Aquarian story recently ran as a back-up in Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon #229-232.  Having now read The Red Hook Volume One, which establishes the New Brooklyn Universe, I’m planning to re-read that Aquarian serial.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Dean Haspiel and his collaborators do next in chronicling the weird, wonderful world of New Brooklyn.  Hopefully future editions of The Red Hook, as well as the various companion series, will not be long in coming.

Radioative Ridgewood

Time to break out the hazmat suits!

I was pleased as punch a few days ago when I learned some lovely news about Ridgewood, the Queens neighborhood that my girlfriend Michele and I live in.  The Environmental Protection Agency just added a block of Ridgewood as a Superfund site.  In fact, the EPA announced that this spot has the highest radiation levels anywhere in New York City.  As announced earlier this month on the EPA’s website:

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has added the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company site in the Ridgewood section of Queens, New York to the federal Superfund list of hazardous waste sites. The soil and nearby sewers were contaminated by radioactive material from past industrial activities at the site. Testing indicates that there is no immediate threat to nearby residents, employees or customers of businesses in the affected area along Irving and Cooper Avenues. Since exposure to the radioactive contamination may pose a threat to health in the long-term, in December 2013, the EPA took action to reduce people’s potential exposure to the radiation and address the potential health risks from the site.

“The now-defunct Wolff-Alport Chemical Company operated from 1920 until 1954, processing imported monazite sand and extracting rare earth metals. Monazite contains approximately 6% to 8% thorium, which is radioactive. Radiation can increase a person’s risk of developing cancer such as cancer of the lung or pancreas.”

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

According to The Forum West local free newspaper, regional EPA administrator Judith Enck stated that “the EPA would be seeking out those legally responsible for the contamination and holding them accountable rather than forcing taxpayers to pay the price of the clean ups.”  Hmmm, good luck with that.  I seriously doubt that the Wolff-Alport Chemical Company is going to be of any assistance in cleaning up their mess. Are they even still in business? I’ve never even heard of them before. If another company bought up the assets, I’m sure the present owners’ legal council would argue that they were immune from liability for any number of reasons. This is the sort of thing that could be stuck in the courts for years, if not decades.

As you can imagine, I’m none too thrilled with this. After all, I’m only 37 years old and I’ve already had cancer twice in my life (and I don’t even smoke). Finding out I live in the same neighborhood as a radioactive site is the last thing I wanted to hear.

Not to get political, but this is the exact reason why I get so angry when pro-business legislators, supported by massive campaign contributions from corporations, cut back on the EPA’s funding and budget, or gut regulations against polluting.  Inevitably they argue that too many environmental regulations are “bad for the economy.”  Yeah, well, a significant percentage of the population coming down with serious illnesses is probably bad for the economy.  Our overtaxed health system having to then treat all of those sick patients is also bad for the economy.  But y’know, in the end, when politicians say that something is “bad for the economy” that is usually just a euphemism for “it’s going to cut into the profits of our corporate puppet masters.”

I’m sure some people reading this are probably muttering “That dirty commie!”  Well, let me tell you, I am definitely no fan of communism.  In a completely unregulated capitalist society most of the population is slowly exploited, left to attempt to live on starvation wages, with no health care and no protection against pollution and crime.  In a communist society, on the other hand, you probably have a good chance of getting shipped off to a labor camp, if not being executed outright as a “dissident” or “enemy of the state.”  So, yeah, I’m not a huge fan of either extreme.

There is nothing wrong with free enterprise, just so long as it does not exploit people.  That is why I think labor unions play a key role, but it is also important that they do not become too powerful.  You really need a balance between management and labor, so that neither group becomes too influential or authoritative.  Along those same lines, a certain amount of laws, of government regulation & oversight is necessary.  Without it, individuals and corporations are both going to run unchecked and claim victims, whether it’s by knocking over the corner liquor store or dumping toxic waste in someone’s backyard.  There is no liberty or security.  But too many laws, too many regulations, are a surefire recipe for also strangling freedom and innovation, as well.  It’s a case of anarchy versus a stifling, oppressive, wasteful bureaucracy.

Heh heh, I’ve probably managed to upset quite a few people by now.  That’s the great thing about being a moderate nowadays; you are almost guaranteed to piss off nearly everyone on both sides of the political spectrum.

blah blah blah

Oh, man, give me a soapbox and do I ever go off!  But getting back to where I started, I’m none too thrilled at the notion of possibly glowing in the dark because decades ago Wolff-Alport decided the cheapest, easiest way to deal with their trash was to dump it down the drain. That’s the problem with selfish, short-sighted thinking. Eventually it will lead to really crappy unintended results. And by the time that happens the people being affected, the ones getting bit in the ass, are those who had nothing to do with causing the problem in the first place.

Well, that’s enough out of me.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off buy a Geiger counter.

Diving into the back issue bins

After weeks of cold and snow, we finally got some rather pleasant weather here in New York City yesterday, with temperatures actually climbing to around 55 degrees.  Michele and I were happy to be able to get out of the apartment.  We spent most of the afternoon in Manhattan, walking around the West Village after having lunch in a nice Greek place.

Earlier this week, when I was on the M Train heading into work, I was reading a trade paperback, namely Mister Miracle by Jack Kirby.  A guy sitting next to me asked “Are you a Jack Kirby fan?”  I answered that I was, and we ended up talking about comic books for a few minutes.  Right before the guy got off the train, he asked me which comic shops I went to in the city.  I mentioned the usual places: Midtown Comics, Forbidden Planet, and Jim Hanley’s Universe.  He commented that he liked Roger’s Time Machine.  I replied that I hadn’t been there in over five years, and I hadn’t even been sure they were still in business.

So, there I was on Saturday with Michele in the West Village, walking uptown.  She asked me if I wanted to go anywhere in particular.  I remembered my conversation on the subway a few days before, and I mentioned Roger’s Time Machine.  By now we were only a few blocks south of West 14th Street, which is where they were located, so we decided to head over.

It turned out that Roger’s Time Machine is now known as Mysterious Island.  But they still have the same incredible selection of back issues that I remembered from my last visit.  It’s a good thing that I was on a budget and that Michele was there because, wow, I probably could have spent a couple of hours browsing.  As it was, I did end up picking up several cool back issues.

back issues

My first selections were Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #s 226 to 229.  Those comics feature (37 year old spoiler alert) the first appearance of Dawnstar (designed by artist Mike Grell) and the death of Chemical King.  I’ve wanted to read these stories for quite some time, so I’m glad I’m finally going to have the opportunity.

I then took a look through the section of Bronze Age back issues for smaller companies, with an eye to finding some Charlton horror comics.  The store had quite a few, and I selected Ghostly Haunts #39 and Haunted Love #s 4 & 10.  I also came across several books published by the short-lived Atlas Comics in the mid-1970s.  One of these was the first (and only) issue of Demon Hunter, which was plotted & illustrated by Rich Buckler, with a script by David Anthony Kraft.  Demon Hunter’s career may have been cut unceremoniously short, but a year and a half later Buckler & Kraft introduced the very similar Devil-Slayer within the pages of the Deathlok story in Marvel Spotlight #33.

Finally, from the 99 cent long boxes, I picked out a couple other things.  I found Secret Origins #26, featuring a Black Lightning story by his creator Tony Isabella.  I wasn’t even aware of this issue previously, so it was a pleasant surprise.  And for Michele, I bought Howard the Duck #8, the issue where Steve Gerber’s cigar-chomping misanthropic mallard ran for President.

All in all, I came away with a nice haul, as well as an affordable one.  I’m looking forward to reading this selection of Bronze Age goodness.

Mysterious Island is located at 207 West 14th Street, 2nd Floor, right by Seventh Avenue.  I highly recommend stopping by there.  They’ve got a lot of really great stuff.

Eddie’s Sweet Shop

By popular demand (well, one person asked for it, so that’s good enough for me) I am going to talk about another old time ice cream shop located in Queens: Eddie’s Sweet Shop in Forest Hills.  I wanted to do a write-up about this place before the end of the summer, anyway.

Eddie’s Sweet Shop is located at 105-29 Metropolitan Avenue, Forest Hills NY 11375.  I’m not sure exactly how long they’ve been in business, but according to their Facebook page, Eddie’s is “a century old.”  Believe me, it shows… and I mean that in a good way!  Eddie’s is a really old fashioned looking ice cream parlor, with classic-looking wood-paneled décor, a marble-topped counter with stools up front, and a decades-old cash register.  It’s incredibly charming and intimate.  The ice cream is delicious and, if the hype is to be believed, home-made.  It certainly tastes better than most of the store and chain brands out there.  In addition to their sundaes and milkshakes, Eddie’s has a large glass counter full of candies for sale; nothing fancy, but it’s a charming addition to the ice cream.

Eddie’s is located across the street from Cinemart Cinemas, a really cool second-run movie theater, and the Theater Café, a film-themed casual dining restaurant.  Often my girlfriend and I will catch the bus to Forest Hills, go to the Café for dinner, catch a movie, and then afterwards cross the street to get dessert at Eddie’s.  We’re usually not the only ones who have that idea, as Eddie’s often gets extremely packed when the movies let out.  This is especially true in the summer.  But even in the middle of the winter, when it’s freezing cold outside, movie-goers will flock to Eddie’s for ice cream afterwards.  That’s how good the place is.

This is the kind of place you would have expected a young Peter Parker to hang out in during his teenage years (remember, Spider-Man is from Forest Hills).  Or, as my girlfriend once suggested, Eddie’s is where Archie would take Betty and Veronica for an ice cream sundae while futilely attempting to decide for the umpteenth time which of those two beauties he wanted to pledge his heart to.  In other words, Eddie’s is like something out of an old comic book, or maybe a time warp.  It really has to be seen, because it’s sometimes difficult to believe that places this cool still exist.  If you happen to be in the area, I highly recommend stopping in for a scoop or two.

Below are some photos I took at Eddie’s Sweet Shop last summer.  I haven’t been there in a few months, but hopefully I’ll have another opportunity before the end of the summer.

eddies sweet shop 01

eddies sweet shop 02

eddies sweet shop 03

eddies sweet shop 04

Sunday at Coney Island

I really enjoyed the concert at Coney Island a few weeks back with Squeeze and the Romantics, so I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to get to the Joan Jett show last Thursday night (I had work the next day and I also wasn’t feeling well).  My girlfriend did go to that one, and she said it was a fantastic concert.  Too bad I missed out on it.

So my girlfriend Michele suggested that, since I missed the show, we should go to Coney Island this past Sunday.  Even though there weren’t any special events, we’d have the entire day to enjoy the place.  Despite the fact that it’s a pretty long train ride from where we live, I do like going to Coney Island.  It’s an interesting area with a lot of sights, a beautiful beach, and a great deal of history to it.  Last August we went for a day, and had a lot of fun, so I was certainly up for another leisurely day trip there.

Since we decided to take our time, we actually got there mid-afternoon.  The area was jam packed with people.  Nathan’s was overflowing with customers, the amusement park rides were busy, and there were a lot of people strolling around on the boardwalk.

One of the first things we did was to ride the Wonder Wheel.  I have to be honest: I am scared of heights.  Until a couple of years ago I had never taken a ride on a Ferris wheel before.  I finally got on one at a local fair in Queens, and that was after much prodding from Michele.  Well, the Wonder Wheel was much bigger (and higher!) than that one, so I wasn’t eager to try it before now.  Last year at Coney Island, I wouldn’t set foot on it.  This time, I agreed to go on it, but I made Michele promise to hold my hand.  Yeah, yeah, I’m a wimp.  It was fun, though, and the view was fantastic.  I took a few awesome pictures while I was on the Wonder Wheel.  Having said that, I will not be going on the Cyclone roller coaster any time soon!

A view of Coney Island from the Wonder Wheel
A view of Coney Island from the Wonder Wheel

We walked around on the boardwalk for a while, doing some people watching.  It was pretty hot out, so afterwards we headed over to a place called Cha Cha’s Bar & Grill.  They used to be on the boardwalk, but they had to relocate.  Fortunately, they found a new location close by on Surf Avenue, across the street from Nathan’s.  We had a nice light dinner there.

Afterwards, we went back to the boardwalk and onto the beach.  We had a good time just relaxing on the sand, dipping our feet in the water.  There were some really aggressive seagulls chasing after food.  I get the impression that they must be well fed, taking scraps from beachgoers.  We had a huge laugh when we spotted this one very plump seagull running along the shoreline with a Tupperware container full of food clasped firmly in its beak!

Finally, the sun started to go down.  After walking along the boardwalk for a bit more, we made our way back to the train and headed home.  For once there weren’t any problems with trains being re-routed or unexpected track work, so we made it home at a reasonable hour.  That said, there was one guy on the F train who was talking very loudly to himself.  And of course he had to sit just a few feet away from us.  It always works out that way, doesn’t it?

Anyway, we had a good day.  Here is a link to the gallery on Flickr where I posted the photos from yesterday, as well as the ones I took last year:

As I mentioned before, there is a lot of history to Coney Island.  There have been some amazing buildings in area in the past that no longer exist, due to fires and demolition.  I realize that time marches on, and progress needs to be made.  But it would be nice if some of the past was able to be preserved.  How cool would it be if the Elephantine Colossus, a hotel actually shaped like an elephant, had survived to the present day?  Fortunately, at least some of Coney Island’s historic structures are still relatively intact and have been designated as landmarks.

Elephantine Colossus
Elephantine Colossus

If you have the opportunity to visit Coney Island, you definitely should.  It is well worth seeing the area now, before it changes beyond recognition.  I read in the newspaper today that some local politicians want to build a casino at Coney Island.  I think that’s a bad idea, and apparently so do a lot of other people.  That would just change the area too much, and bring with it a host of problems.  There has to be other ways to reinvigorate the area while still keeping the character of the neighborhood intact.  But, as I said, change happens.  So take advantage of the present to see Coney Island while it still retains some of its rich history.

The L Train? More like the Hell Train!

I had a heck of a time getting home from my temp job today.  I catch the L Train at Third Avenue and take it into Brooklyn, where I then transfer to the M Train for a couple of stops.  Ordinarily riding the L Train is not too pleasant to begin with.  Due to so many hipsters, yuppies and trust fund kids moving into the Williamsburg area, there are a ton of people who use the L Train to get back and forth to Manhattan.  So it’s normally crowded under the best of circumstances.  Throw in even a little delay, and it can become ridiculously packed.  Make it a larger delay and, well, you have quite a mess.

I don’t know what the MTA was thinking.  Maybe there was some sort of emergency, a broken track that had to be fixed right away.  That’s the only possible explanation I can think of for them deciding to do track work in the middle of rush hour.  As a result, both the Brooklyn and Manhattan-bound trains were running on one track.  Which meant delays.  A lot of delays.  And with delays came lots and lots of angry people.

I wish I’d bought an unlimited Metro Card.  If I had, I could have just left the Third Avenue station, walked to Union Square, and taken a different route home.  But I didn’t have an unlimited card, which would have meant spending another $2.25 just so I could walk a couple of blocks to get into the station there.  So I waited.  And I waited.

After about thirty minutes, a Brooklyn-bound train finally came.  And, yep, it was packed.  Somehow I was one of the few people who managed to squeeze onto it.  And as I was waiting for this sardine can on wheels to pull out of the station, a woman in the subway car suddenly starts yelling at someone.  “No, I can’t get out of the way! There’s no room! Do you see any room! What are you, some sort of idiot!?!”  Oh, no, this was the icing on the cake.

Midnight Tales #4, by Wayne Howard
Midnight Tales #4, by Wayne Howard

As the L Train trundled towards Brooklyn, packed in amongst my fellow grumpy New Yorkers, the above vintage Charlton Comics image inevitably leaped to mind.  I mean, I’ve joked in the past that the L Train is actually the Hell Train.  But this is the first time it really felt that way.

Actually, I don’t know if that Midnight Tales cover by Wayne Howard is entirely accurate.  Instead of a satanic train conductor and the flames of perdition, what we got was wall-to-wall crowding, with barely any room to even breathe.  I cannot help think that a journey through the infernal realm might almost have been preferable.  As you can see, at least there would be plenty of seating.

Putting the Squeeze on Coney Island

I’ve had this blog for a few months now, and I realized that I haven’t written anything about music.  I actually do listen to a lot of music.  It’s just that I find it a difficult subject to speak about.  If you’ve read my comic book reviews, you may have noticed that I focus on plot and characterization, but not nearly as much on artwork.  I sometimes find it a struggle to intelligently write about the elements of illustration and storytelling.  Likewise, along those lines, it’s very difficult for me to explain precisely why I like or don’t like certain music.  So don’t expect to see too many music reviews here!

Anyway, this summer there’s been the 34th annual Seaside Summer Concert Series going on at Coney Island.  Usually the shows are held on a Thursday night, which is a bit of a problem for me, because it takes a long time to travel to Coney Island from where I live.  So if I have work the next day, it’s not a great thing for me to have to try to make my way home from there after the show, and then be at the job a few hours later.  I just seem to need more sleep than most people.  So I hadn’t gone to any of the concerts this year.

Last week, for some reason, the concert was on a Friday night instead of a Thursday.  Since I didn’t have work the next day and could sleep in, my girlfriend pestered me into going.  I have to admit, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the line-up: Squeeze and The Romantics.  I knew a couple of songs by each band, but I would definitely not classify myself as a fan.

When we got there, I wasn’t too impressed.  It had been raining most of the day, and now the weather was very overcast & breezy.  Hardly any people were there.  Row upon row up empty chairs sat before the stage, looking quite forlorn.  If I had been in either of the bands, I might have taken one look at that scene, gotten back in my trailer, and hit the road.  Yeah, it was that bad.  It was like something out of This Is Spinal Tap, when the band hits rock bottom, and ends up playing to a crowd of a dozen people at an amusement park.

But apparently the show must go on.  The Romantics came on first, and did a decent set.  The only two songs I knew were “Talking in Your Sleep” and “What I Like About You.”  But I enjoyed it.  Like I said, though, I felt bad for the band having to play to a nearly-deserted venue.  People started to slowly trickle in while The Romantics were playing, and even more came during the intermission.

I was half-expecting these new arrivals to be scared off by Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, who took to the stage to talk incessantly, rattling off all sorts of nonsense in between name-checking every single corporate sponsor.  That’s politicians for you; they love the sound of their own voice.  But people stuck around, and by the time Squeeze took to the stage, there was actually a halfway-decent crowd.  Still lots of empty seats, but nowhere near as bad as before.

Okay, I was really impressed by Squeeze.  The thing is, I thought that I only knew a couple of their songs, namely “Black Coffee in Bed” and “Tempted.”  Those are two decent tunes, although “Tempted” has unfortunately become one of those horribly overplayed numbers, so I didn’t think that I’d even want to hear it.  But the band did a really great live version of it.  And, surprisingly, it turned out I knew more of their songs than I thought.

Back in the mid-1990s, I used to hear “Pulling Muscles (From the Shell)” on the radio all the time.  I thought it was by some alternative band whose name I could never find out.  I had no idea that it was actually a 15 year old song by Squeeze.  Even more surprising was when the band launched into “Cool for Cats.”  That was a jaw-dropper.  I love that song.  I had no clue that Squeeze sang it.  My exchange with my girlfriend during the show went something like this:

“Wait, Squeeze did this song?”

“Yes. You never knew that?”

“No, I thought that it was by some British band.”

“Squeeze is from England, Ben.”

“Oh! I thought they were from the South or Midwest or something.”

*Ahem!* Shows how much I know.  Anyway, as I said, I really enjoyed the Squeeze set.  They did a fantastic job, and I’m sorry that they ended up performing to such a sparse audience.  Not sure they were happy about fireworks going off at the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball stadium next door, either!  Hope this whole experience doesn’t dissuade them from returning to New York in the future.  I’d like to see them again.  (I’m actually listening to their greatest hits CD as I type up this blog entry.)

Looking over the concert line-up for the rest of the summer, I saw that there were a couple of other shows I’d like to catch.  But they’re on the regular Thursday dates, though.  Joan Jett and the Blackhearts I saw in Central Park several years ago.  So, if I miss them, at least I was able to catch them in the past.  No, the one that really bummed me out was that next Thursday at Coney Island they’re going to have Dennis DeYoung from Styx, Lou Gramm from Foreigner, and Bobby Kimball from Toto, all on one stage.  When I saw that, I disappointedly cried out “Awwwww, man!”  I would really like to catch that show, but I have work the next day.  What a bummer.

That said, if the Pet Shop Boys ever end up playing at Coney Island, I don’t care what day of the week it is, I am so there!

Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor

Last week, for my birthday, my girlfriend and I went to Jahn’s, a restaurant & ice cream parlor located in Jackson Heights, Queens.

The original Jahn’s opened up way back in 1897.  By the mid-20th Century, Jahn’s had locations all over New York City, as well as Long Island, New Jersey, and Florida.  Unfortunately, within recent years, only two Jahn’s ice cream parlors remained, the Jackson Heights one, and a location in Richmond Hill.  And in 2007, the Richmond Hill Jahn’s closed.  All of the old fashioned period décor was bought up by a collector in the Midwest.

So the last remaining Jahn’s is the one in Jackson Heights.  There was a fire at that location a few decades back, so regrettably the look of the place is more 1970s than turn-of-the-century.  Putting aside the minor issue of appearance, Jahn’s is a fabulous place to visit.  The food is, I will admit, your typical diner fare, i.e. good but nothing especially outstanding.  No, really, the reason to visit Jahn’s is the ice cream.  They have a huge menu of delicious sundaes.  And the serving sizes for the ice cream are huge.

My girlfriend, who grew up in Queens, introduced me to Jahn’s a couple of years ago.  We’ve been there a few times.  Usually we go for a light lunch or dinner, followed by ice cream sundaes.  This time around, I got a pizza burger, and my girlfriend had a quiche.  Then it was time to dig in to the ice cream.  Afterwards, we were stuffed.  It was a nice way to spend my birthday, having sundaes with my girlfriend.

I didn’t bring my camera along with me, but below are a few photos from a prior visit.  My girlfriend took a few pics with her cell phone camera, so I’ll probably post those later on Facebook.

Jahn’s is located at 81-04 37th Avenue, Jackson Heights NY 11372.  It is well worth a visit, especially on hot summer days like these.  The ice cream sundaes are the perfect way to beat the heat.

Jahn's Ice Cream Parlor
Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor


Ice cream sundae menu
Ice cream sundae menu


Ice cream and french fries
Ice cream and french fries

Liberty versus Security

If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear
If you’ve something to hide, you shouldn’t even be here
You’ve had your chance, now we’ve got the mandate
If you’ve changed your mind, I’m afraid it’s too late
We’re concerned you’re a threat
You’re not integral to the project

Pet Shop Boys, “Integral”

In the last decade, as the “War on Terror” has been raged, first by the Bush and then the Obama administrations, the question of the balance between liberty and security has been a fierce one.  This is not a new debate, though.  The questions and controversies surrounding increased governmental powers and limitations on civil rights date back to the early years of our nation.

In 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed into law as a reaction to the French Revolution’s bloody Reign of Terror.  During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus.  Although Lincoln is regarded as one of the greatest of the U.S. Presidents, this is an action that a century and a half later is still hotly debated among historians.  And during World War II, Franklin Roosevelt ordered the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans on the West Coast within internment camps.

So the continuing reactionary policies of certain politicians in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, although disheartening, are anything but unprecedented.  On December 31, 2011, Barack Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act.  One provision of the law is that it affirmed the ability of the federal government to indefinitely imprison without trial any individuals, including American citizens.  Many have regarded this as just the latest trampling of the Bill of Rights by an increasingly unchecked government.  Myself, I was very disappointed that Obama signed this into law.  Disappointed, but not surprised.  It is an election year, after all, and he obviously did not want to appear weak on national security.  Whatever else he is, Obama is a shrewd individual who wants to gain a second term as President.  He is certainly not the first politician to forsake his stated principles in order to court votes.

More recently, here in New York City, it has been revealed that the NY Police Department has been conducting extensive surveillance of Muslim-American businesses and students, even going so far as to follow them out-of-state.  There are concerns that the NYPD is not acting on any legitimate leads or suspicions, but rather engaging in racial profiling.  The Associated Press’s revelation of these actions has resulted in criticism not just from the Muslim community, but from officials in New Jersey and Washington DC.  The FBI seems to be regarding the NYPD’s lone wolf tactics as having both damaged several of their own investigations, as well as harming relations between the government and the Muslim community.  Unsurprisingly, despite all of the criticism, NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have imperiously refused to back down, retorting that their actions were both legal and necessary to save lives from possible terrorist threats.

It appears that it is within our nature to all-to-quickly give in to fear, to be ready to forsake our liberty for a comforting feeling of security.  We should do well to remember the words often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, namely that those who would trade liberty for security deserve neither.

Please keep in mind that I am not claiming that legitimate threats to our security do not exist.  They do, and we need to safeguard against them.  But in the process, it is crucial that we do not destroy the very freedoms we are fighting to safeguard.  There must ever be a balance between liberty and security.  Too much of one extreme or the other can lead to devastating consequences.