Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Category: New York City (page 1 of 24)

Women’s March in NYC 1/21/17

Losing Things

So far, in 2017, I’ve been losing things

I lost the close relationship of a woman.

I lost the comfort of looking up to a President who beamed with decency and intelligence, as a new administration takes shape, in the likeness of a serpent.

Three days ago, I lost my umbrella, leaving it on a bus.

Two days ago, I lost my hat, leaving it on a train.

Yesterday, I lost my identity, or at least my wallet, pickpocketed in the Times Square subway station. In my wallet were my credit cards, my library card, my insurance card, and my driver’s license.  

Today, I took a break to see a matinée of the award-winning film, Moonlight.

Later, I discovered that I lost my second hat of the week, this time leaving it in the movie theater.   When I called the theater’s lost and found office, they said it was gone.  Was I losing my mind?

“There is nothing wrong with me,” I told myself.  “I am distracted.  Between the personal and the political, I feel lost.   I’m not ready for the new year yet, and my mind is rebelling against its existence.   

I grabbed a  strong cup of coffee, then went to the New York Public Library to get a replacement library card.  I glanced around at all the books on the shelves. Thousands of books stood silently, lined up like Napoleon’s soldiers waiting for action. From Knitting for Dummies to A Guide to Authoritarian Governments to the Kama Sutra.  So much to learn, so much to do, so much to fight against, so much to love and protect.

The librarian handed me my new library card. My name was written on it.  It was my first new proof of my identity in 2017 since my wallet was stolen.

I was now ready for the new year.  I had no choice.  With only my library card and twenty bucks in my pocket, I stepped outside into the winter cold to buy a new hat and umbrella.

Sixth Grade Mind

At the end of sixth grade, we all received an autograph album so we can sign our goodbyes to our classmates before we headed off to the great dark and dangerous unknown — junior high.  I found my “autograph album” yesterday  in my closet, and it was fun reading again, especially the page where I listed my favorites.  

I can only imagine my sixth grade mind’s thoughts as I scribbled in my answers.

My Favorite Author: Agatha Christie

“I don’t read children’s books like the other kids. I read adult books like my mom. I read Agatha Christie. She is an adult writer.   I am an adult reader.”

My Favorite Book: Murder on the Orient Express

“My favorite book is “Murder on the Orient Express.” Of course it is. I love trains. I have a train set, and when I am on the subway, I imagine myself on some really fancy train, like the Orient Express. The Orient Express is as fancy as they come. You can sleep on the train and they serve you steak and lobster, like at that fancy restaurant in Long Island where the waitresses dress as pilgrims. The Orient Express goes from Egypt to Europe, and all types of fancy people go on it, Dukes and Duchesses, and millionaires. Hercule Poirot is also on the train.   He  is a famous detective.  He is way smarter than even Columbo. This is his hardest case ever! But he watches, and listens, and puts two plus two together, and he figures it all out. You will never guess whodunit. If you’ve ever played Clue, this is a book you HAVE to read.

The novel is also educational.   It teaches us an important life lesson that I will remember forever. If you think logically, using your little grey cells in your brain like a detective, you will be able to figure out anything. Nothing is too complicated for the human brain to understand if you think hard enough. Life is like math, 2+2=4. I will always remember that. Think hard enough and you can figure out the answer, so everything will always be perfect.”

My Favorite College: Harvard

I have never seen Harvard in real life because I have never been to Boston.   I have only seen Harvard  in that movie that my mom likes where the college students fall in love. But I know that I must attend Harvard for college. It is the best. Even though I am only in sixth grade now, I must prepare myself to get into Harvard now, no matter if I have no fun until then. Because once you get into Harvard, you have everything. The rest of your life is pure happiness. You sit on the lawn and read books with smart guys in glasses and play Frisbee with pretty girls with long hair.  If you go to Harvard, your parents are so proud that they tell all their friends, “My son is in Harvard.”  Over and over again.   And when I come back from Harvard to Queens and go back to my sixth grade class, Sharon will want to be my partner in the dance festival. “Oh, Neil, you are back from Harvard!” she will say. “I would love it if you will be my partner for the dance festival this year. I wish I knew you were going to Harvard in sixth grade, I would have become your partner and we would be married by now. But now we can get married because you went to Harvard.”

My Favorite Profession: Lawyer or Author

I would like to be a lawyer and fight for civil rights and against those who try to ban books and say there is no evolution. I’m always in social studies coming up with a question where the teacher goes, “Good question, Neil.” I can do that in court. I will be logical as a lawyer, like Hercule Poirot as a detective. I will say, “You say blacks and whites should not go to the same schools, but WHY do you believe that? Do you have any proof why it is bad? Aren’t all children just children?  Do you know the words of Martin Luther King?  Don’t we all bleed and laugh and cry and learn? Why shouldn’t we go to the same schools?” And everyone will stand and cheer.

Maybe I’d rather be an author instead of a lawyer.  My uncle is a lawyer and is divorced, and my dad says he drinks too much. I’m not sure I would want to go to court everyday or wear a suit.  I don’t want to get divorced or drink too much.   An author may be better because he sits at home all day and writes stories, like Agatha Christie, and everyone just loves you all the time. And as an author, you can make A LOT OF MONEY!! Girls will want to be with me because I will have so much money.

My favorite motto: Do Onto Others as You Want Others To Do To You

This is my favorite saying. A famous rabbi once said that the entire Torah can be summarized by this saying. You don’t like being beaten up or mugged, so you shouldn’t do it to someone else. If someone is sick, bring them the homework. That is exactly what you want, right? If everyone follows this plan, then everyone is nice and happy. Of course, just to be logical, I might not want to beat you up because I follow my motto, but you might still beat me up, because you don’t follow the motto. Then, I’m not sure what to do. That screws up everything. But I think eventually, as society advances, we all will be good to each other. It is the way of history, like landing on the moon — progress!

Orange is the New Autumn

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Boyhood

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The Oculus at the World Trade Center

The World Trade Center Transportation Hub’s concourse will ultimately connect visitors to 11 different subway lines; the PATH rail system; the Battery Park City Ferry Terminal; the National September 11 Memorial & Museum; World Trade Center Towers 1, 2, 3, and 4; and Brookfield Place (formerly known as the World Financial Center), which houses the Winter Garden. It represents the most integrated network of underground pedestrian connections in New York City.

The “Oculus” serves as the centerpiece of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, incorporating 78,000 square feet of multi level state-of-the-art retail and dining. The concourses emanating from the Oculus link the entirety of the site above and below grade. With an additional 290,000 square feet of exciting, multi-level retail and dining space, the World Trade Center site is the focal point of Lower Manhattan.   (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey site)

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The Bus Driver in Queens

There are two MTA city buses that go from Flushing, Queens to Jamaica,  Queens.  They are named the 25 and the 34.  One bus goes the local route, making all the stops, and the other is  the express, skipping a few.  I usually get onto whatever comes first, because the amount of time saved using the express is negligible.  But today, I ended up on the express bus, heading towards Jamaica. There were ten passengers on board.  The only passenger standing was a mop-headed middle-aged white man who was carrying six plastic Key Food bags filled with grocery items.

“I want to get off here,” he yelled as we passed his stop.

“I can’t.  You can get off at  the next stop,” said the bus driver, a portly black man.

“But I want to get off here!” repeated the passenger.  “This is my stop!”

“I don’t stop here.”

“How can you not stop here? I always get off here.”

“This is the express bus.  This is a local stop.   I don’t stop here.”

“I demand that you stop!”

“I cannot stop. There are RULES.”

The passenger edged towards the front of the bus, his foot hovering over the white line separating him from the space of the driver.

“I know you,” he said to the driver.  “You’re a control freak. You’re always like this. You get pleasure from sticking it to others. You’re a cruel man. A cruel, cruel man.”

Another passenger, an African-American woman in a short dress, stood up, hoping to ease the tension.

“It’s an express bus, mister.. Chill out.  He doesn’t make the same stops. You must be used to being on the  local bus.”

“Fuck that,” spewed the man.  “He could stop if he really wanted. He just loves the power. I know his type.”

The rest of the passengers nervously glanced at each other, preparing for the worst. They turned towards me. I assumed that since I was the only other white passenger on the bus, and they wanted to see if I was to be an ally in case things turned racial.

The tension dissipated when the bus pulled into the next stop.  The angry white passenger stepped off,  two blocks from his usual stop,

“I know who you are,” he snipped once more at the driver.  “All of us know who you are. You enjoy it. The way you stick to your rules. You’re a sick man. You’re crazy!”

The bus driver remained silent, ignoring his insults. The moment he left the bus and the door was closed, we all erupted in laughter.

“That guy was nuts!” said the woman across from me, sitting with his young son.

We all looked out the window as the man struggled with his bags, walking in the opposite direction.

There was a red light at the intersection where the stop was located, so the bus needed to wait at the curb until the light turned green.  We sighed; our ride had reverted to normalcy.  Just then, an elderly black man, a cane in his hand, knocked on the closed door of the bus, wanting to come inside. He was relieved to not miss the bus.

“I can’t let you in,” said the bus driver.

“Why not?” asked the man. “You’re still here.”

“I closed the doors already. There are RULES.”

The light turned green, and the bus sped away, spewing smoke in the elderly man’s face.

The bus passengers bonded again in secretive looks, but this time, you could see in our eyes that our opinion of the bus driver had  forever changed.

Fictional Characters of New York — #52

 

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In my twenties, I would never have slept with a married man. I’m too moralistic. The granddaughter of a preacher.  But now, I don’t consider it a moral failing.  it just IS.  I see him, despite his marital status. I love him, despite his marital status. I caress him in my bed, despite his marital status.

It’s not the big bad city that changed me.  I’m still the goody-two-shoes Wisconsin girl.  It’s just getting older.  It  means the stripping the body and mind clean of what constricts  us, the old black and white thinking, and embracing complexity.  Don’t overthink it. See the world with an open mind. We are all flawed.  Brene Brown tells me to not feel shame.   My love for him is not shameful.  Yes, our relationship is complicated, like they say on Facebook.  But I understand it.   I understand that he has kids, and his wife who’s  crazy, so he needs more time. What I can give him is patience. I can wait. That’s true love. Like in Shakespeare.

He treats me well, better than any other man.  He brings me gifts and tells me I’m beautiful.   I so want to meet his kids. Some day.   And we will be a family.  Or else, we can have our own kids. Yeah, imagine that!  What am I talking about? I’m not going to turn into my sister, stuck at home with kids, getting fatter by the day. No kids right now! That time will come.  Just enjoy what you have.  With no shame.  Thank you, Brene Brown.

I bought a steak for tonight. He loves steak.  I wish we would skip dinner completely and  fall into bed, so I can feel his strong hands grab me from behind. I love when he says my name. I wait for that.  He says that I make him feel like a man again.   That his wife is aloof and makes him feel that he never makes enough money.

It’s 7:30. He said he would meet me here a half hour ago. But it’s OK. He must be stuck somewhere. I know Tuesday night his daughters have Girl Scouts. I wish he would text and tell me where he is.  He needs to be discreet.  I understand that.   Until he can divorce her,  it has to be this way.  It’s all good.  What can I do?  All I can to do now is wait.  True love requires patience.

The Election

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Democracy requires compromise. We cannot survive in a world where ideological splits, gender politics, and vicious accusations of corruption are the daily norm. The 2016 Campaign has brought out the worst in everyone, and I’m not talking about the primary season, but the Board of Directors election in my apartment building in Queens.

There are two political camps in my building — Team Murray and Team Sylvia, which I’ve named in honor of their leaders. Each team has differing views on hot issues such as the efficiency of the new dryers in the laundry room, the wisdom of hiring a new management company, and the acceptable amount of electricity used in the yearly Christmas/Hanukkah decorations. Five new members of the Board are elected each year, and each side want to stack the Board with those loyal to their agenda.

This year’s trouble began a few weeks ago when tenants started to receive homemade “campaign” fliers slid under their door. At first, they were innocent enough — typical campaign promises of more parking spots — but the situation quickly deteriorated as more and more fliers showed up, usually at 3AM, unsigned and with vague accusations of corruption and abuse of power.

Team Murray and Team Sylvia went to war.

“Is there anything lower than sending around anonymous letters accusing good people of profiting from the new laundry machines?” screamed a new notice received under the door, written in a size 15 font.

“Only cowards write anonymously!” the person continued on, anonymously.

The day of the big election quickly arrived. I remembered that Jana was flying in from Atlanta that same night.

“Have any exciting plans for us?” she asked me on the phone on the night before her arrival.

“Very exciting plans,” I said. “I’m taking you to my apartment building’s Board of Director’s election night. This will be more dramatic than any Broadway show.”

The General Election was held in the apartment building’s large wood-grained “community room,” located near the lobby. The room, with a full kitchen and a full set of tables and chairs, has been home to countless meetings for the tenants, sweet sixteen parties and retirement dinners. It was in this room where, many years ago, I had my bris, the traditional Jewish circumcision ceremony.  Can we get any more symbolic than that?

But tonight the room was a shelter for Democracy in Action. The candidates sat at the dais in the front, nervously fidgeting as the tenants placed their filled-out ballets into the makeshift cardboard ballot box, then sat down at one of the rows of chairs set up for the general meeting  before the vote counting.  My mother came early with her friends to get “good seats” up front. I arrived late with Jana since she had just arrived from La Guardia Airport. We found two open seats in the back, directly behind a group of supporters of Team Murray, including Murray himself. Whispers were passing between them; there was a last minute plot afoot.

The meeting started off peacefully. As we waited for late-comers to show up and vote, the President of the Board convened an open meeting to discuss some minor issues involving the building. And that’s when the shit hit the fan. One female tenant stood up to publicly accuse some long time resident on the fifth floor as the mysterious “anonymous letter writer.” The accused fought back, insinuating that she was cheating on her husband, and stealing The New York Times from other tenants. Things only go worse.

Much has been made of the lack of decorum on the internet, with all the insults, hate, and trolls being a product of modern-day forums such as Twitter and Reddit. This makes the assumption that in the days before the Internet, the human race was kind and respectful, lovingly listening to the needs of the others. I can guarantee that Jana and I were the only ones in this room who have ever used Twitter, and there was enough “shaming” going on in this room to fill ten timelines.  Humans have been hitting each over the head with clubs since we were cavemen

After much loud drama, a tenant shouted everyone down, suggesting that we keep our personal issues saved for another day, and focus on the purpose of the evening — the election. All the ballots were now sitting in the box and it was time for the count. But first, as required by “the bylaws,” the President of the Board, a plumber by profession,  had to read some legal document written back in 1960 to validate the legitimacy election.  It was a ritual done in every Board Election since then.

The tenants of the building half-listened to the legalese until he reached the President reached the last paragraph of the bylaws, which went, “According to the bylaws, as written in June of the year 1960, if anyone so chooses to be included on the ballot as a write-in candidate, now is the last moment to do so, or else forfeit your chance.  Would anyone else like to be added to the list of candidates?”

This was read without emotion, much in the same way that a pastor might ask those attending a wedding if anyone present has a reason to oppose the marriage.  No one is supposed to yell out, “Yes,” except maybe a character in a romantic comedy from the 1990s.

But here is where Team Murray executed their shock and awe plot. They earlier had convinced Rashida, a friend of Murray’s wife, Allison, to add her name as a last-minute write-in candidate, hoping to stack the Board with supporters of the Team Murray agenda.

“I’d like to add my name,” said the woman, a middle school teacher named Rashida.

“Uh, OK…” said the Board President, unsure of the next move. In the fifty years of Board Elections, no one had ever added their name on the night of the election.

“You have to add her,” said Murray. “It’s in the bylaws.”

“I suppose it is. We’ll have to add her,” he said, facing the crowd, showing his first true sign of leadership during his five years as Board president. “So now if anyone wants to vote for Rashida, you can vote for her.”

Rose, one of the members of my mother’s weekly mahjongg group, stood up with an objection. Although now frail, the eighty-five year old Rose once worked at a large advertising firm and was considered intelligent and street savvy by the other tenants.

“I think we might have a little problem with this plan,” she said.

“What’s that?” asked the Board President/Plumber.

“We voted all already and our ballots are in the box.”

Pandemonium broke out, and even King Solomon himself couldn’t find a compromise between Team Murray and team Sulvia, a precursor of what is going to happen when Bernie Sanders makes a play for Hillary Clinton’s super-delegates at the Democratic Convention this summer.  Politics is an ugly business

The Board President consulted with a tenant from the fifth floor who used to work as a court stenographer, and a decision was reached

“We will take all the ballots out of the box and return them to you, and then you can cross out someone and add Rashida instead.”

It was a mess. Many tenants never signed their name to the ballot the first time, so no one was quite sure which ballot belonged to which person, except if they used a special colored marker

Rashida, fearful of utter chaos, made the announcement that she was pulling out of the election, much to the dismay of Team Murray.   She realized that it was just too complicated, and also wanted to go home before nine o’clock to watch some TV show.   The ballots were returned to the box, and a trio of supposedly unbiased tenants from the building, an accountant, a retired NYPD officer, and a stay-at-home mom, took the box behind closed doors into the “kitchen area” to count the ballots by hand.

As the rest of us waited for the “results,” calmness fell over the room, and tenants socialized with each other, asking each other about their health and families.  My mother took Jana over to meet her friends, introducing her as my “girlfriend.” Not that I minded my mother saying it, but it did feel weird hearing her say it, especially since I never described her as such.  But women know these things.

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Jana meeting the neighbors.

The cocktail party atmosphere faded as the kitchen door swung open, and the election committee returned with results. The crowd returned to their seats. It was time. Call Wolf Blitzer.

The election results were a surprise.   Despite the maneuvering of the Machiavellian Team Murray, it was a clean sweep by Team Sylvia.   All five of the Team Sylvia candidates were elected to the Board.

Murray himself stood up and announced the entire election a fraud.

“It’s an illegal election.”

“Why’s that?” asked the Board President, who was re-elected for a second term.

“Because the ballot box was opened, making it null and void!”

“But we only did that because your own candidate decided to run at the last moment before she changed her mind!”

“I demand a new election.”

“We’re not having a new election!”

“Then I’ll take this entire apartment building and the Board of Directors to court!”

Insults were flung. Someone’s wife was called a whore. Arguing was heard for hours as most of the tenants shrugged, and went upstairs to their apartments. Rashida went home to watch her TV show.

“So what did you think?” I asked Jana as we took the elevator upstairs.

“That was the best time I’ve ever had in New York.”

A week later, all parties agreed to accept the results, as long as it goes down in the history books with an asterisk, much like the contested election of George W. Bush.

Politics as usual.

The Other Side of Kissena Boulevard

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Since neither of my parents drove a car, they moved to a neighborhood in Flushing, Queens where it was easy to walk to stores to shop.   The two block strip of Kissena Boulevard near their apartment building was home to a vibrant melange of shops that catered to the needs of the lower and middle-class neighborhood that circled around it – two “five and ten cents” stores, a pizzeria, a Chinese restaurant, a kosher deli, a bakery, a butcher, a fish store, a stationery store selling newspapers and comic books, a supermarket, a clothing store, a shoe store, a pharmacy, a cleaners, a barber shop — all the basic staples that any family would need. Behind these stores was a large parking lot which catered to the shoppers visiting from other neighborhoods, but the action happened on Kissena Boulevard herself.

The street is where the teenage Fran Drescher would grab a slice of pizza, or Gene Simmons would leave his job at the butcher before practicing with his band “Kiss,” named, of course, after Kissena Boulevard.  On Sunday morning, I would stroll with my father to the Garden Bakery to buy their famed onion rolls, freshly baked, a Sunday morning staple as important as the New York Times. During the week, after school, I would head to Wainrite’s, checking out the latest K-tel records in their tiny “Record Section.” If not for the diversity of the neighborhood, black, white, Asian, and Puerto Rican, you would think you were visiting small town Main Street.

During the 1970s, crime and homelessness grew in the outer boroughs, and by the 1980s, the Golden Age of Kissena Boulevard had come to an end.  One by one, each store closed, until only the pizzeria, Valentino’s, Fran Drescher’s favorite hangout, was left thriving. The owner of the shopping area went from being local landlord to a company headquartered in Palm Beach, Florida. The rumor was that the owner wanted to demolish the whole complex and bring in a Target or Kmart. The ample parking lot behind the stores became the big selling point for the future development, not the needs of the neighborhood.

The big plans never blossomed, and the facade of the two block structure started to deteriorate. The awnings became havens for pigeons. Graffiti covered the locked metal shutters of forgotten enterprises, prisons of past commerce. I left the neighborhood and went to college, grad school, and California.

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The famous Garden Bakery in 2008, closed for thirty years.

“Any rumors about Kissena Boulevard?” I would ask my mother when I would speak to her on the phone from Los Angeles.

“Nope. Still waiting.”

By 2008, the Garden Bakery and many of the other stores had been empty shells for 30 years. A whole new generation grew up seeing the two blocks as nothing more than a corroding antiquity from ancient times. That year,  I wrote a blog  post titled, “The Slummification of Kissena Boulevard,” where I talked about the decline of the street’s shopping district. I couldn’t understand the logic behind all these stores left empty. The neighborhood wasn’t fancy, but it wasn’t impoverished. Surely a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise would do OK. Was it possible that a landlord could make more money NOT renting the property, under some sort of tax loophole reminiscent of “The Producers?”  To this day,  I still get comments on that post from people who used to live in the neighborhood.

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Kissena Boulevard, 2008.

I’m glad to say that a lot has changed since then. Not long after I wrote that post, there was movement on the street, and workmen began making repairs to the infrastructure. Rather than the structure being demolished, it was strengthened, and smaller storefronts were consolidated. While no Target or Kmart ever moved in, new stores DID arrive. Today, 95% of the original Kissena Boulevard shopping area is back in use, the centerpieces being a supermarket, a National Wholesale Liquidators, and an established electronics/computer store.  I enjoy each store and shop there often.

One aspect of this neighborhood revival disappoints me, and that is the suburban mentality that is foisted on our urban folk.   While the once empty parking lot is now busy with shoppers filling up the trunks with purchases,  Kissena Boulevard is still a ghost town.   All entrances that were once directly on Kissena Boulevard have been locked, boarded over, or bricked over.   The only way to enter the stores is through the parking lot.  It feels as if the stores have open arms to visitors driving in from other parts of Queens, while sending a message of distrust to the actual residents of the neighborhood.

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Liquidators from the parking lot, 2016.

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Liquidators from Kissena Boulevard, with locked entrance.

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Liquidators from Kissena Boulevard, with no entrance.

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Electronics Store from parking lot, 2016.

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Electronics store from Kissena Boulevard, with locked entrance.

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Supermarket from parking lot, 2016.

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Supermarket from Kissena Boulevard, with no entrance.

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Supermarket from Kissena Boulevard, with bricked in former entrance.

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Supermarket from Kissena Boulevard, with locked doors.  Dirty recycling bins are on the street.

Now to be fair to these establishments, I’m the only one I know who seems to care about this issue.   I mentioned it to my mother and a few of her friends and they supported the stores!

“If they had an entrance in the front AND the back, they would have to hire more security!” said one woman.

“There would be so much shoplifting, the stores would go out of business.”

“We should be happy that we have stores back!” said my mother.

Apparently no one trusts the neighborhood, even the people who live here.

I don’t buy it.   It is not our problem  to worry about a store hiring more security.   If a store is going to move into a neighborhood, they have an obligation to add beauty to the neighborhood, not throw up a two block wall to alienate those who live here.  The stores are a great addition to the local economy, but Kissena Boulevard remains as dark and uninviting as it has for the last thirty years.  Only Valentino’s pizzeria continues to face the street, catering to the locals, not those visiting by car.

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Valentino’s on Kissena Boulevard, the one constant since the 1950s.

Bernie Sanders talks a lot about income inequality, but wealth and lack of wealth also affect self-image.   The rich learn to expect more from their neighborhoods.  I’ve been in some upscale towns in California where a homeowner can’t change the color of his roof without it passing some local ordinance.  I’ll tell you one thing.  No one living in Beverly Hills would accept a two block wall on Wilshire Boulevard, and if they did, it would be a very pretty wall, with footprints of movie stars.

The reaction from my mother and her friends:  Eh.

I might not have won them over with aesthetics, but I’m hoping someone out there is thinking about the safety of the community. There are some days when there are hundreds of cars going back and forth into this parking lot.  There are no lights or stop signs.    These stores cater to thousands of locals who walk to their shopping, and without entrances on Kissena Boulevard, they are forced to cut through through a busy parking lot.  There is an accident waiting to happen.

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Walking through the parking lot to go shopping.

I am very grateful that these fabulous stores are now in the neighborhood.  I just wish the owners turned away from the parking lot every once in a while and said hello to the street.

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