A Walk from Staten Island to Edison Park, Part Two

EDITOR’S NOTE: On April 5, 2013, I set out on a twenty-three mile “trial walk” from Staten Island, New York to West Orange, New Jersey, to serve as a preview for what I plan to generate on a regular basis with Ed Walks, a 3,000 mile cross-country journey from Brooklyn to San Francisco scheduled to start on May 15, 2013. This was the third of three trial walks for the project. (And this is the second of a two part report. You can read the first part here.) The collected trial walks represent only a small fraction of what will be created during the national walk. And if we don’t make it to our fundraising goal, then a national investigation of the people, places, and sounds of this country won’t happen. But your financial assistance can ensure that we can continue the Ed Walks project across twelve states over six months. We have two weeks left in our Indiegogo campaign to make the national walk happen. If you would like to see more chronicles carried out over the course of six months, please donate to the project. And if you can’t donate, please spread the word to others who can. Thank you!

Other Trial Walks:
1. A Walk from Manhattan to Sleepy Hollow (Full Report)
2. A Walk from Brooklyn to Garden City (Part One and Part Two)
3. A Walk from Staten Island to Edison Park (Part One)

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It is so easy to breeze past the grand landmarks in life that we often fail to note how change sneaks up like a drone hovering above a confused moose. The two photos above capture the same view from the Manhattan Bridge walkway, but are separated by sixty-six years. The left photo was taken by legendary photographer Berenice Abbott (who also captured many iconic images of the 1920s Parisian avant-garde community) as part of her groundbreaking project, Changing New York. More than six decades later, photographer Douglas Levere revisited Abbott’s locations at the same time of day and at the same time of year and shot updated stills for his equally exciting project, New York Changing. The right photo is Levere’s. Through one simple act of visual diligence, we see how the unobstructed panorama of the East River has conceded to concerns for safety.

Who put up the chainlink fence? When was it erected? How many leapt to their deaths before the barrier became necessary? If the fence creates an imposed safety that our grandparents never knew, then how has this affected subsequent generations? Do we take fewer risks? Are we as alive?

If Abbott had not taken the photo and if Levere had not been inspired to follow in her footsteps, it’s possible that we wouldn’t be asking these questions. Yet Abbott’s project couldn’t have happened without the Federal Art Project, which helped countless down-on-their-luck artists to excel at their craft and provide inspiring ways of seeing our nation. Seven decades later, crowdfunding is meant to pick up the slack. And while most don’t feel that these investigations into change are as “entertaining” as a new Veronica Mars movie or a $1.2 million Amanda Palmer vanity project that exploits unpaid musicians, we still have to try. It’s our civil responsibility. It’s the legacy we’ll pass to future generations.

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When Andres and I hit the Bayonne Bridge and began our carefree stroll across the Kill Van Kull, the Abbott-Levere distinction loomed large in my mind. While I had walked across the George Washington Bridge many times (one time, I confess, to recreate Parker’s march into New York in Richard Stark’s The Hunter), the Bayonne’s guardrail felt more fragile because of its junior height. And as I uploaded photos to Twitter while crossing, there was dubiety from some following along:

But I’m here to tell you that walking the Bayonne Bridge is a marvelous way of taking in a vantage point unchanged since 1928. Once you get past your modern notions of minimum acme, you swiftly appreciate the tradeoffs: a clear view of dark boats cutting white wakes across gray water, great turquoise gantries in the distance raising their cranes in salute to the sky, the odd toxic beauty of industrial muck mixing it up with water, and rusted platforms awaiting the next raise of the roadway to accommodate the widening of the Panama Canal.

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It is possible to appreciate the Bayonne Bridge too much. When Andres and I walked up, I became so excited by the toll plaza’s tight steel boxes and bluish green look that I could not resist taking the above photo. But the marvelous bridge doesn’t receive much in the way of pedestrian traffic. The sour collector working the booth did not take kindly to two cheapskates crossing the bridge for free. I waved and smiled and wished the bitter man a great day. It was the least I could do, seeing as how we were separated by cars and diamond mesh. Andres noted that a Bayonne Bridge toll collector had recently confessed to skimming thousands of dollars. I figured that any unpleasant feelings that the man in the booth developed towards us would be quickly mollified by whatever milk he liked to pour in his coffee. What I did not know was that my salutation was dangerous business.

About a third of the way up the bridge, a Port Authority Police car halted in the middle of the road. There was no siren, but a police officer emerged from the car and called to us. She put her palm into the air, stopping traffic into Staten Island with the strong sovereign touch of a holy man cutting a quirky passage for the Israelites.

She asked who we were, telling me that she was investigating a complaint. I explained who I was and what I was doing with calm éclat. The last thing I wanted was for poor Andres to get arrested. Besides, we hadn’t even hit Jersey yet.

The cars on the bridge couldn’t be held up forever. I provided my name and URL. The police officer seemed satisfied with my explanation. She duly acknowledged that people walk across the George Washington Bridge all the time. All I had to do was vouch for Andres.

I had been holding eye contact with the police officer the whole time. And as I talk up Andres as a dashing young journalist, preparing an exuberant presentation putting forth the thesis that Andres may be the next Gay Talese, I look to my right and see that Andres is smiling, aiming his camera at the police officer.

The police officer did not like this.

I suggested to Andres that he might want to put his camera down. He did this. Andres and I were able to smooth things over, but the police officer kept referring to Andres as a photojournalist.

“Well, he’s really a journalist,” I said.

“He’s got a camera, right? So he’s a photojournalist.”

I figured there were better venues to clarify the distinctions. Several minutes had passed. No car dared beep its horn, although I did see one sullen man waiting for the mess to clear. The officer allowed us to continue our journey across the bridge. A good thing too. Because if Andres and I had been arrested, we would have missed this fantastic boxing mural on the way down to Bayonne:

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* * *

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We arrived in New Jersey, where I swiftly observed the many canted solar panels secured to telephone poles. These were to remain a constant aesthetic companion throughout the walk. I asked one hearty man on his way to work what he knew about the panels, explaining that Andres and I had walked all the way from Staten Island. He was amused by this and told us that the solar panels had been placed on the poles about two years before, intended as a backup power system. I noticed a windmill in the distance.

“Any other questions?” asked the man.

I told him we were fine and thanked him. He directed us to Broadway — Bayonne’s main drag.

We walked past a sign that read “I found Iguana on the street. Please call.” I was curious about the capitalization. Had an actual lizard been located on the street? Or a priapic exhibitionist? Maybe it was someone unimaginative in the sack.

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Perhaps it was all the iguana rumination that led us to set foot inside Barney Stock Hosiery Shops — a business devoted to women’s underwear and many other items for nearly a century. Barney Stock proudly announced Spanx in the window, and Spanx was to form a dominant part of my subsequent conversation. Andres and I met Lois and Melissa, the two very vivacious women behind the counter. But they were a bit on the shy side. They didn’t want to be photographed, but they were nice enough to talk about the store’s history.

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Lois: Now this one son owns the store. Mel.
Me: Mel.
Lois: Mel Stock. And his father was Barney Stock.
Me: Uh huh. How often do you see Mel?
Lois and Melissa: (together) Every day!
Me: Every day!
All: (laughter)
Me: Wow.
Lois: He comes in every day.
Me: Is he a tough guy?
Lois: Nah. Not really. Well, he has to be to put up with it.
Melissa: To run a business, you’ve got to be tough.
Lois: I’m here 38 years. It will be 39…
Me: Wow!
Lois: It will be 39 next year.
Me: And I didn’t catch your name. What’s your name?
Lois: I’m Lois.
Me: Lois. And you’re Melissa, right?
Melissa: Melissa. Yeah.
Me: So Lois. So you’ve been here for 38 years.
Lois: Yes.
Me: What was your first day like?
Lois: I was in high school.
Me: Oh wow! You were here since high school.
Lois: Well…I left. Got a good job.
Me: You don’t look a day over 35.
Lois: Oh! Yeah.
Melissa: Right! Right! That’s what I say!
Lois: (muttering) I wish I felt a day over 35.
Me: (laughs)
Lois: Anyway, I started when I was in Bayonne High School. I worked here as a junior and a senior. Then I left and got a good job in New York. On Wall Street. Worked there. Then I left there and worked in Western Electric in Newark. Got married. Had three children. And then came back here when my children were in Mount Carmel down the block. And I’ve been here since.
Me: (to Melissa) How about you?
Melissa: Me? Six years.
Me: Six years.
Melissa: I’m not a vet.
Lois: Ha, like Lois is the vet.
Melissa: I’m not a vet at all.
Lois: But it’s a unique store.
Melissa: Very.
Lois: We have everything that you can’t get in any other store.
Me: What’s the most exotic item you have?
Lois: Just bras.
Melissa: Bras and girdles.
Lois: Girdles.
Melissa: Cobblers that nobody can get.
Me: Cobblers?
Lois: Full slips.
Me: You really do have a peach cobbler.
Lois: Eh.
Me: Sorry.
Lois: It sounds good. Anyway, we carry some men’s things too.
Me: A lot of men come in here wanting girdles?
Lois: Some! We can tell who they’re for. But we have to be polite and we do wait on them.
Me: How many units do you move a day, would you say?
Lois: I can’t even ima…every day, it’s different. Now business is slow. Because I think Broadway has changed.
Me: Really?
Lois: We used to have stores from one end to the other. Now it’s all empty.
Me: When did this change or really start to hit? Was it after 2008?
Lois: Yeah. Because they opened a mall over the bridge.
Me: Ah.
Lois: A shopping center. So a lot of stores went down there.
Me: And you guys — are you guys getting by okay?
Lois: Yeah. He owns the building.
Me: Oh, I see. So because he owns, he’s able to…
Lois: Right. He has offices. All upstairs. Yeah.
Me: What do you do to keep a newer set of customers coming in?
Lois: Well, we put in the paper ads, of course. With coupons and, you know, it’s just…Barney Stock is just — we sell Spanx!
Me: Yeah. Spanx is big.
Lois: He sells a lot of Spanx.
Me: (laughs)
Lois: Yes. A lot. And like I say, it’s all the old timers coming back here. People. We do mail orders. Because people move with their children. They’re either down the shore, out-of-state. So they’re so used to what we have that they can’t get any other place. Pantyhose. The end. We do mastectomy bras for women who have had cancer.
Me: Is there a lot of that in this area?
Lois: We get a lot of that too.
Me: I mean, it’s one of the most underdiscussed topics. The fact that there’s just so much cancer.
Lois: Yes.
Me: It really needs to be discussed.
Lois: We specialize in that. We have certified, you know, girls. So we really — if you want something, we have it. Or he’ll find it for you. (laughs)
Me: But Spanx is the big seller.
Lois: Now? Yes.
Me: Has it dropped off at any point?
Lois: No, I think it’s even more.
Me: It’s more.
Lois: So it’s a…I wish you could have met Mel.
Me: You know, I may come back another time. Just to meet Mel at some point.
Lois: Yeah. He’s the sole owner. He had a brother that worked here too. But his brother passed away. So he does it all.
Me: And he’s been here the entire 38 years that you’ve been here?
Lois: Yes. He’s been..
Me: He’s been busting your chops for 38 years? (laughs)
Lois: Right. Nah. He’s a big guy. I get along. I don’t let him bother me. I think that’s why I stay. So I open the store. And he comes in in the afternoon. And then I leave. See ya! (laughs)
Me: Well, thanks very much!

* * *

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As we continued to walk up Broadway, there were more signs of the economic hits Lois had described. I was saddened to find a rent sign in the window of the Globe Delicatessen. I felt it important to tell Andres that my interest in places like Barney Stock and the Globe Delicatessen wasn’t rooted in nostalgia. I worried about the disappearing connections sustaining community.

Andres and I made efforts to find the To the Struggle Against World Terrorism monument, called one of the world’s ugliest statues by Foreign Policy. But all roads leading to this apparent eyesore were blocked. After a bold nine miles of walking, Andres called it quits. This was a remarkable tally for a man who had never walked across a New York bridge in his life. I saluted him. We said our goodbyes. I headed into Jersey City for lunch.

I regretted skipping over much of Jersey City, but I had no choice. I was behind schedule. It was noon and I was still eleven miles away from West Orange, New Jersey. I had five hours to get to Edison Park before the gates closed.

I did not count on getting screwed by Google Maps.

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Google Maps claimed that I could simply make a left onto the Lincoln Highway Bridge. But this was a goddam lie. There was nothing at that intersection but asphalt leading up to the bridge. Moreover, despite recent hoopla over an alleged bicycle pathway between Jersey City and Newark, there weren’t any clear signs. I considered asking one of the countless auto dealerships along Communipaw Avenue if they knew anything about this, but I feared that these men would force me to test drive a Hyundai before giving me a straight answer. I wandered around. I discovered a pedestrian overpass which led me over Highway 9 into the western section of Lincoln Park.

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When you cross this overpass, you see the Pulaski Skyway in the distance, but there isn’t a single sign suggesting a route for the carless along the Lincoln Highway.

I ended up wasting an hour wandering around the park, looking for the secret passage that would lead me across the bridge. I asked a Jersey City local, but he led me the wrong way north.

I feared that my journey would reach a premature end. I could not find it within me to cheat by thumbing a ride along the Lincoln Highway. I had developed a very clear code of walking ethics. The walking route had to be done completely on foot. I was also worried that I wouldn’t make it to West Orange on time.

Fortunately, I found the way to the bridge. It turns out that you can walk from Jersey City to Newark once you cross the pedestrian overpass. You have to turn left, walk close to the Lincoln Highway, and follow the path that leads you to the eastern edge of Joseph J. Jaroschak Field. Once you reach the field’s fence, look to your left. You’ll see a modest and unmarked opening leading to a guardrail. Walk through, take a right, and you’ll hug the southwestern edge of the field. You will see this view:

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I was so overjoyed to find the way west across the Shawn Carson and Robert Nguyen Memorial Bridge that I considered dancing a jig. Then I realized that the path was more of a consolation prize than a walkway.

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Believe it or not, this thin strip on the first of two bridges into Newark is meant to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians. It’s not too bad. You get a good view of the Pulaski and emerge close to a Jersey truckstop on the other side.

It’s the second bridge that is more problematic.

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Between the two bridges, there’s a small sign that directs you to cross to the other side. So you end up walking west on the southbound side, where endless streams of semis bombard you not only with great gusts, but cause a recurrent rattle along this isthmus leading into Newark.

This was easily the shakiest bridge I have ever crossed as a walker. And I don’t recommend it for people who have a fear of heights. Frankly I’m not sure how many people actually use this passage. I didn’t see a single pedestrian or bicyclist along this route. But I did encounter three geese who were wading in sticky industrial mud. I watched a helicopter take off. Construction workers winced at me in bewilderment as I walked the little-tread path. But I made it into Newark, albeit an area of Newark that wasn’t designed for pedestrians.

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I walked under overpasses with foul detritus strewn along any surface that was not road and passed trucks lodged into deep dirt beds. I walked by an abandoned movie multiplex, where a mysterious man on a yellow motorcycle swirled around a parking lot in disrepair. After two or three miles of this, I discovered civilization in the form of streets named after presidents.

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I had developed a theory that a strawberry ice cream cone would carry me into Edison Park. I made it to Nasto’s, but there wasn’t a place to sit. This was just as well, because there was very little time. I had only a few hours to huff it through Newark into the Oranges. Six miles in two hours and much of it uphill. There was a great deal I had to pass over. So I offer considerable contrition to Newark. Alas, the U.S. National Park Service keeps very strict hours.

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I got to Edison Park at 4:40 PM. Twenty minutes to spare. The mighty water tower loomed above me. Now it was a question of getting into the lab.

I walked to the door. It was locked. So were all the surrounding buildings. I circled around the lab and peered into foggy windows, wondering if I had a chance to visit it after a twenty-three mile walk. That’s when I saw the ranger.

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Not only was Carmen kind enough to unlock the chemistry lab and permit me to see the test tubes and beakers and surfaces that haven’t shifted their position in decades, but he also agreed to a quick interview.

Carmen has worked as a ranger for three years and very much enjoys the job. Edison Park is the only place he’s ever toiled as a ranger. Before he was a ranger, Carmen worked for the military for 21 years performing aircraft maintenance.

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To my great astonishment, one doesn’t have to pull any strings to get a job at Edison Park. If a job becomes available, one simply applies. There’s no need to dredge up esoteric facts, such as the mysterious five dot tattoo on Edison’s left forearm, to get the job. Carmen says he knew a bit about Edison in advance, but Edison Park’s crackerjack staff has been doling out biographical details for quite some time.

“It’s amazing how much you learn as soon as you come here,” says Carmen. “The books you read, the interaction with the other park rangers that are here, the curators, the archivists. You really start to learn an awful lot. I was by no means an expert at Mr. Edison. But as you work here and you are ingrained in this and immersed in this, you start to pick up and learn a whole lot about what’s going on.”

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I asked Carmen if the public ever asked him unusual questions. He told me that many people ask if Edison’s house and lab are haunted: an unusual inquiry, given Edison’s commitment to science. People also want to know about Edison’s height. It turns out that Edison stood five foot seven, which matches Carmen’s height. Part of me wonders if there’s some subconscious employment requirement among the National Park Service to hire Edison Park employees who stand as tall as the namesake.

I challenge Carmen’s commitment to Edison by pointing out how the inventor ripped off people like Nikola Tesla and Joseph Swan.

“Well, that’s more of a misconception,” he replies.

“You’re going to defend the man.”

“I’m definitely going to defend the man.”

“Well, you work for Edison Park.”

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Carmen points out that Thomas Edison had 1,093 patents, more than any other figure in U.S. history.

“You think about all these 1,093. The incandescent lightbulb and the rechargeable battery. Movies. I mean, other people have all worked on that before. But his really true invention, the only invention that he really came up with, was really the phonograph. Nobody had ever recorded voices before. So you gotta look at Mr. Edison not so much as this great inventor, but as a great innovator.”

* * *

This is my final trial walk for this project. I have traveled north to Sleepy Hollow, east to Garden City, and west to West Orange. I hope that these trial walks have demonstrated my good faith, my endurance, and my limitless curiosity.

There is now one long stretch for me to walk. And I cannot do it without your support. It will take six months. It will help create a portrait of this country. This is an all-or-nothing proposition. But I believe we can do it. If you have enjoyed these reports, please donate to the project today. Thank you.

A Walk from Staten Island to Edison Park, Part One

EDITOR’S NOTE: On April 5, 2013, I set out on a twenty-three mile “trial walk” from Staten Island, New York to West Orange, New Jersey, to serve as a preview for what I plan to generate on a regular basis with Ed Walks, a 3,000 mile cross-country journey from Brooklyn to San Francisco scheduled to start on May 15, 2013. This was the third of three trial walks for the project. (This is part one of a two part report.) The collected trial walks represent only a small fraction of what will be created during the national walk. And if we don’t make it to our fundraising goal, then a national investigation of the people, places, and sounds of this country won’t happen. But your financial assistance can ensure that we can continue the Ed Walks project across twelve states over six months. We have 15 days left in our Indiegogo campaign to make the national walk happen. If you would like to see more adventures carried out over the course of six months, please donate to the project. And if you can’t donate, please spread the word to others who can. Thank you!

Other Trial Walks:
1. A Walk from Manhattan to Sleepy Hollow (Full Report)
2. A Walk from Brooklyn to Garden City (Part One and Part Two)
3. A Walk from Staten Island to Edison Park (Part Two)

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The Staten Island Ferry is the only real free ride you can catch out of Manhattan and it has stayed this way because too many people feel contrite about the way New York was designed. The city once had the happy idea of extending the BMT Fourth Avenue Line from Bay Ridge to The Narrows. The tunnel got as far as 45 meters before Mayor John Hylan, a principled man who fought against “invisible government” and interests and damn near anyone who stood against the people, put the kibosh on interborough interconnection just before the Great Depression. Despite the Verrazano-Narrows’s long span and double deck suspension, Robert Moses never considered the people when conceiving the bridge. The cars mattered first.

In 1954, The New Yorker‘s Paul Brodeur was able to cross the bridge on foot before it opened. He described the Coney Island parachute jump as “a tower of only miniscule proportions,” Staten Island’s “rickety wooden piers, stretched for miles,” and “a gray sea that was becoming grayer in the fading light.” But these days, you can’t walk the bridge outside of marathons and bike tours and, despite vociferous demand, there won’t be a southwest pedestrian passage anytime soon.

So if you have two legs and you burn with an insatiable fire that could take you to the ends of the earth under the right circumstances, then the only way into Staten Island from Manhattan or Brooklyn is to board a 3,335 ton, triple-deck boat ping-ponging from one terminal to another all day at a speed of 16 knots.

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At six in the morning, the MV Andrew J. Barberi is a flouncing platform sashaying across the Upper Bay, ideal for the soporific. Brave bodies flatten their forms across plentiful seats. They use backpacks for pillows and ignore the soft squares shooting flickering light from above: the squares reminding them of white billowy rectangles beckoning from bedrooms, awaiting them on shore. Half the passengers who remain awake grip paper cups like asthmatics clasping onto inhalers just before an attack. It’s too early in the day to call or text or chat. So those who peer down at their phones guide virtual cars along digital raceways or maneuver hepping sprinters through tropical obstacles in Treasure Run 2. The stunning view outside is now too rote. The phoneless stretch the ends of newspapers and tighten magazines the way their mothers and fathers did. Crepuscular readers on the Barberi tend to stick with paper. And it’s good to know that a few 20th century traditions remain alive.

I see a thirtysomething’s frizzy chignon burst wild and unrepentant with flaxen highlights from a slick brown jungle, her front curls dangling like fine wires along the left side of her face. As she talks with her friend, I know this is the end of a happening evening.

This is near perfect acclimation before Saint George Terminal, where I am to meet a young reporter named Andres David Lopez, who has heard about the walk and has driven all the way out from Harlem to meet me at an ungodly hour. This is merely the beginning of an unanticipated adventure.

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Andres is a young man from South Florida: the first in his family to attend Columbia University and the first reporter to accompany me on one of my long walks. What neither of us know as the sun purrs into the promising expanse of a bluing sky is that we will spend most of the next nine miles walking together.

There’s a brief break just before eight when Andres, who has budgeted a few hours to talk with me but who ends up spending a few more, realizes that he has to reclaim his car before the baleful Staten Island parking meters begin their profitable drain on reticules and wallets. He has to hike back to Saint George to advance his car to a safe spot. He does this. And we triangulate by text and he stays on the trail with me. I see immediately that Andres is a highly dedicated reporter in the making: one that any outlet would be proud to have on its roster. “Just don’t become an aggregator, man,” I implore him. “That way is the way of demons.”

He assures me that aggregation isn’t in the cards, although I do hope that robust outlets will be around to ensure that thorough guys like Andres can deepen their craft.

Andres has worked very hard to get where he is today. He’s hanging with me because he’s writing a piece on people who walk across the country. And he’s really going above and beyond the call of duty. I very much hope that the Indiegogo campaign will be fully funded, if only so that Andres can get that happy ending securing a grand narrative arc for his piece. He’s easygoing enough to get me to gush about Guy Debord and John Steinbeck and Will Self, in large part because he makes me feel responsible in confessing all antecedents for this project. He impresses the hell out of me when he tells me that he’s chatted with Peter Jenkins, the mack daddy of long walks.

I ask Andres why he went into journalism.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to be coming out of high school,” he said.

He had a lost period for a bit, but always enjoyed reading and writing. So he joined the Navy.

“I thought I’d get some adventure and see the world. And I got accepted into the Nuclear Power Program.”

This was a rather colossal commitment: a six year contract that was especially intense. Andres spent two years living in South Carolina in a college setting taking essay exams on the basics of radiation, electricity, submarines, and other lightweight topics along these lines. The program gave Andres much-needed discipline, but he didn’t quite see a future in nuclear power.

“I had to decide, ‘Well, if you don’t want to be in the Navy for the rest of your life, what do you want to do for the rest of your life?’ And I decided that I wanted to be a journalist for a lot of reasons. Because it allows me to write and improve my writing every day. I’m constantly finding stories and trying to share them. I love the idea that I’m going to have deadlines every day.”

Andres was also drawn to the public service component. He sees journalism as a noble calling, as a way of changing the world for the better and an essential part of democracy. But the big question I had was why Andres was interested in walkers. Part of this has to do with Andres taking a class which deals in human interest stories, that involves learning how to synthesize a massive story for a national wire service. He’s very well aware, like most reporters, that ever diminishing budgets prevent journalists from flying out to necessary places. But maybe if the two of us keep walking, we’ll end up running into a story. This is precisely what happens several times on Friday.

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I have never set foot inside a live poultry market in my life, but something emboldens me in Staten Island.

Me: Adam, nice to meet you. So how long have you been in the poultry market business? How does one get into this line?
Adam: Well, right now, I’ve been here for about two months.
Me: Two months? Oh wow. So you’ve been an experienced butcher?
Adam: Well, just a little bit, yeah.
Me: Okay.
Adam: I’m not really up at the top. But I’m not planning on staying here long. This is just a part-time job.
Me: A part-time job.
Adam: Yeah.
Me: Could you do this full-time or it is just…?
Adam: Not really. No.
Me: So what’s it like on a day-to-day basis to do this job?
Adam: Well, I mean, it’s not bad. It’s good money and it’s — I mean, it’s hard work. You gotta be here in the morning. You gotta clean. And then, you know, you work — it’s ten hour shifts. But it’s got to be an hour of cleaning from before and an hour of cleaning after. So it’s very hard.
Me: Wow. Cleaning is the hardest part?
Adam: No, no. Cleaning is the easiest part. Killing is the hardest part.
Me: Killing is the hardest part. But do you get used to the killing after a while? I mean…
Adam: Yeah, you get used to it.
Me: What? How do you deal with that? Do you have nightmares at all?
[A chicken flutters in its cage.]
Me: Whoa!
Adam: No, no nightmares.
Me: No nightmares?
Adam: No, not really.
Me: No guilty conscience?
Adam: I mean, it’s not like I’m killing humans or anything. It’s chickens. But it’s food.
Me: It’s food. So have you had any kind of moral qualms out of curiosity?
Adam: Nah.
Me: Nothing?
Adam: Nothing. It’s not bad. You get used to it. Sometimes it’s fun. And you get to meet a lot of people. You get to talk with them. You get to chill with them. It’s cool.
Me: Do people ever crack on this job?
Adam: Uh, some people do, yeah. Some people even go and kill. Themselves. They try it out.
Me: So this is like a testing before they came a real homicidal maniac?
Adam: Yeah. Some people do actually test it, yeah. And they’re like — well, some people like it actually. They’re like, “Oh, this is fun.”

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Me: So what actually happens? What is the process of killing a chicken?
Adam: Well, when you kill it, you’ve got to let the drain blood — I mean, the blood drain out. And then after that, you’ve got to clean it. You’ve got to take the feathers out. So we have a machine for that. That takes the feathers out. And after that, it’s — you know, it’s just just kind of from the inside. And if people want it cut up and whole, we just give it to them. Whatever they want. And it’s a lot better than what they sell in the supermarket. Cause it’s all fresh here. It’s not like what they sell in the supermarket. Different taste. Plus, it’s cheap too.
Me: Do you get any special requests? Any particular parts? Or any special butchering techniques or anything?
Adam: No. Well, like I said, some people, they have their own style of cutting in pieces. Some people want it in four pieces. It all depends on how they cook it. I’m not much of a cooking expert. But, you know, I do whatever they tell me to do. So some people want to cut it small. I think they use it for curry or stew. That’s how I give it to them. Four pieces. Grilled. Baked. That’s how I do it for them.
Me: How many clients do you have? How many people actually rely on this place?
Adam: Well, about a day, I’d say there’s over a hundred maybe.
Me: Oh, a hundred a day.
Adam: Yeah.
Me: Like a hundred chickens? Or a hundred orders?
Adam: No. Over a hundred people that come in.
Me: Oh, I see.
Adam: Chickens. This is how many chickens we kill and we have trucks coming in later.
Me: So all the chickens that are here are going to be dead by the end of the day.
Adam: Well, hopefully, yeah…
Me: Hopefully!
Adam: Well, I mean, usually — about three quarters of this is gone, yeah.
Me: What kind of trouble do the chickens give you?
Adam: You see my arms?
[Adam rolls up his sleeve. There are several scratch marks he has received from the chickens. I ask Adam later if I can photograph these marks, but he says he doesn’t want to. But he is kind enough to let me photograph him in front of the chickens.]
Me: Oh my.
Adam: That’s the only trouble.
Me: Yeah. Scrapes on the arm here.
Adam: Only scratches. Other than that, they are no trouble at all. But, you know, it’s work. You’ve got to make money one way or the other.

Read Part Two! Adventures across the Bayonne Bridge, a women’s underwear shop, New Jersey solar panels, and Edison Park!

The Bat Segundo Show: Chazz Palminteri & Robert Celestino

Chazz Palminteri and Robert Celestino both appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #259.

Chazz Palminteri is the star of Yonkers Joe. Robert Celestino is the writer and director of Yonkers Joe. The film opens in theaters on January 9, 2009.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Fleeing the scene to avoid “coming together” with the imposing Mr. Palminteri.

Guests: Chazz Palminteri and Robert Celestino

Subjects Discussed: Robert Mitchum’s theory of the actor merging into the landscape, cinematic tempo, research for Yonkers Joe, eye contact, the script as the authoritative text, script embellishments from actors, overpreparation, performance in relation to camera placement, “artistic differences” with directors, the thespic advantages of wardrobe, playing an entire scene with a newspaper under your arm, the national revival of A Bronx Tour, the future of theater in an economic crisis, wasted talent, whether the casino heist genre now requires an unusual secondary plot, balancing intuitive insights about human behavior and cinematic reality, the inability for most people to observe mechanics in action, the distinctions between con men and mechanics, how Celestino was able to film in casinos, advancing the narrative while sacrificing believability, concocting the big score, the qualities of casino dice, the eleventh-hour casting of Christine Lahti, keeping symbols in the background, symmetrical semiotics, layering visual elements, and establishing the tell signs among the actors.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

chazz-4Correspondent: Going back to the issue of preparation, perhaps you can talk about it in light of this particular movie. I’m curious if there is such a thing as overpreparation for you. For a performance like this, for a performance elsewhere. Where if you plan something too much, then you’re going to lose the spontaneity, you’re going to lose the naturalness of human behavior, and the like.

Palminteri: Right.

Correspondent: Has this been a scenario with you? Have you had to…?

Palminteri: That never happened to me. Because I don’t overplan things. I plan it. I know where I’m going. I have a road map. Okay, and then I’m able to change that roadmap if I have to. You have to. Because you meet with the director, and you meet with the other actors. And all of a sudden, you get on the set and it’s not like you thought what it was going to be. It changes. For some reason, an actor does something else and it doesn’t match what you felt what you should do. Alright, now we got to talk about this now. Is this going to work? Maybe it works better or maybe it works worse. So if you think that your way might still be better, that’s when you have to talk with the director, and say, “Well, I’m feeling this way.” And that’s why sometimes people leave movies. There are artistic differences. It doesn’t work. I usually try and make it work. I hope I can.

Correspondent: Are there such situations in which you’ve felt hamstrung by a particular director’s decision? Or do you simply work within those particular confines?

Palminteri: I’ve always been able to work with directors who respect my opinion. And no director wants an actor to be uncomfortable.

Correspondent: Sure.

Palminteri: “To be uncomfortable.” I mean, once you say those words to a director, “I’m just not feeling comfortable here,” then he’s willing to listen to anything you’ve got to say. I mean, one thing, I’m a director. You know, I’m directing movies. If an actor’s telling me he’s uncomfortable, I’ve got to make him comfortable. No matter what.

* * *

Celestino: I don’t know of too many filmmakers who get to shoot in casinos. Because casinos are not in the business of making movies. They’re in the business of making money. So we were very fortunate, as some of our investors were casino owners. So not only did we get to shoot in the casinos, but we got to shoot it during the day. And they would rope off a section to us. And they really opened up everything to us. There’s five people who work in a casino, who are allowed into the surveillance rooms. So we were allowed to go into the surveillance rooms just to look around. We didn’t actually shoot in there. We built that set. But we did match it identical to what we’d seen. And also, they’re not ever going to bring a suspected mechanic up into the surveillance room. So what they do have is an outer room, where they would show somebody something in case there was a question. Like they did in Yonkers Joe. But the surveillance room was actually in another room where Yonkers Joe got to take a peek at.

Correspondent: Some suspension here to move the plot. Again, this goes back to the other question about how much you stray from reality. In this case, certainly, you had to in service of the narrative. But perhaps when you were writing the script, were there questions that you were asking? “Well, okay, I need to move the narrative along. So there’s a tradeoff here.” I mean, what criteria was here? Okay, I have to advance the narrative. But there’s this tradeoff in believability. Was this an issue when you were writing the script?

Celestino: Well, that’s always a balancing act. Ironically, in this script and movie, it really didn’t come about that much. Pretty much, everything that happens in the movie pretty much can happen. You know, the thing at the end and all that. That all can really happen. In fact, when the security people — the surveillance people — were reading the script, they said that when this movie comes out, casinos will probably start putting blacklight gel in their dice. And that was where I had to reinvent a bit. Because loaded dice are very easy to see. That’s why they make the dice clear. So you can see the loads in them. But if you have something in them where you don’t have to look at the dice, like blacklight gel, then there’s no reason to even look.

BSS #259: Chazz Palminteri and Robert Celestino (Download MP3)

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