the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Flushing (Page 2 of 2)

Signs of the Times

I wasn’t lying when I said I bought a web-cam.  But maybe I shouldn’t tell you that I got it for 75% off at Radio Shack.   Hey, that’s a great bargain!  Even my mother said so.

OK, so now what do I do with it?   What?!  I’m just asking. 

In other news, my mother dumped me today to go out with her friends to see “Sex and the City,” and didn’t even invite me.  How do I become so co-dependent in my marriage when my mother so easily drops me like the British tea in Boston Harbor (please note the clever American history reference for Independence Day).  Well, whatever.  I’m not going to stick a feather in my cap and call it macaroni over the whole thing.

You know, I haven’t had macaroni and cheese for ages.  I need to buy a box of that Kraft stuff to see if I still like it.

So, how did I become so co-dependent?   It must have been my father.  Yeah, it was him.

So, today is July 4th.  Despite our country’s faults, America is a cool place.   I know July 4th is all about liberty, justice, pursuit of happiness, and other American values — but in my opinion, our greatest gift to the world is free speech. 

May we always protect our right to free speech.

In honor of this important American value, I’d like to bring up the Pelcorp Management Company again.   On my last trip back to my old Queens neighborhood, I reported on how Kissena Boulevard, the street down the block, looked like a slum because 75% of the stores were shuttered, with graffiti everywhere.  Many of the stores have been closed for TEN years, despite a thriving community.  Why?  The plan seems to be to slowly force everyone out when the leases are up, so the management company  could bring in a K-Mart, or something similar.  While this is promising for the future, the entire block has been an eyesore for a decade. 

As I wrote in the previous post —

Despite a history of New York building, the fourth generation of builders now “specializes in the marketing and sale of luxury properties in Palm Beach County. This includes waterfront, country club, and other estate properties.”

The Kissena Boulevard holdings, one of their four retail holdings still in New York, must be their least attractive holding, compared to their shiny new malls in Florida. No wonder they seem so disinterested in the upkeep of Kissena Boulevard!

So, let me once again mention Prescott Lester and his Pelcorp Management Company (why did their website suddenly disappear?) on this July 4th.    Thank you, free speech!   Thank you, America.  Mr. Prescott, you are always welcome to comment here or write me – and give me your side of the story on how your company intends to enhance the community, and why shops like the bakery were left to rot for a decade. 

I wish the best to all the hard-working immigrants who owned these stores and now were forced to move, or give up their businesses.   Of course, I like to look on the positive side of things.   With some of these new Americans out of work –  they can spend more time taking spelling lessons.

The Slummification of Kissena Boulevard


This is where I grew up and where my mother still lives. It may not look like much, but it is one of the nicer apartment buildings in my Queens neighborhood. My grandmother lived a few blocks away, in a lower-income apartment. When I was in elementary school and my mother went back to work, I went to my grandparents after school. My grandmother made an excellent tuna fish sandwich, with chopped celery and dill.


My father was a physical therapist at a city hospital and my mother still works in publishing, so they never made that much money. They worked hard to put me through two very expensive private colleges, just so I could obtain two completely useless degrees — a B.A. in English and an M.F.A. in Film. I was totally spoiled by them.

I had an excellent childhood growing up in the Flushing/Kew Garden Hills area of Queens. The public school was good, the public library was two blocks away, and the neighborhood was incredibly diverse — blacks, Jews, Puerto Ricans, Indians, Chinese. I’m still good friends with guys from the neighborhood who I’ve known all my life. They’re the first people I see every time I fly into New York.


I am so diverse — here I am with my Jewish childhood friend Barry at the Blue Bay Diner in Bayside last week, which looks exactly the same inside as it did when I was in high school.

When I was a child, Queens felt isolated from the excitement of Manhattan, but it was close enough to travel to by subway. (…ok, first you take a bus to get to the subway) My parents took me to museums and concerts all the time, so I was able to participate in the “high culture” of the city. We also lived near Queens College, which had a symphony orchestra. I spent many weekends in the audience with my parents, falling asleep to Schubert.

Although the stores in my neighborhood weren’t very fancy (still no Starbucks!), you could get everything you needed just by walking down the block. There were grocers, a bakery, a Radio Shack, a cleaners, a pharmacy etc. This was perfect for my parents, who didn’t drive a car. It also created entertainment for me. After school, my friend, Rob, and I could pass several hours just stopping in the Kissena Boulevard shops, or reading the comic books in the stationary store.

I only felt embarrassed about “Queens” once I went to Columbia, and met rich kids from the Upper East Side, Beverly Hills, Boston, etc. They had actually gone skiing in Aspen and visited museums in Florence. All of a sudden, Kissena Boulevard was very small time. I began to feel ashamed of my background, like a Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, moving from the steelmill to the hoity-toity ballet studio. It felt as if the entire borough of Manhattan looked down on Queens. The only reason to visit Queens was to go to the airports or see a sporting event. There was even talk about building a new stadium in Manhattan, so there would even be less reason to travel to Queens. Queens was the home of misfits, from Archie Bunker to Ugly Betty. During snowstorms, Manhattan was quickly shoveled by the plows since it is the center of the business and tourism worlds. Queens was always plowed last. Queens had her big moment in 1963-64 when the World’s Fair was in Flushing Meadows Park, but then most of the fair buildings was just left behind to decay.

“Sorry, we don’t have enough money in the budget to fix the NYS Pavilion.” – Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Eventually, I learned to embrace my Queens neighborhood. There was a cool mix of people on the street, and it felt more “New York authentic” than many of the streets of Manhattan. Today, “Sesame Street” reminds me of Queens, not Manhattan. Big Bird could never afford Manhattan. Sadly, whenever Sophia comes with me to visit my mother, I’m always disappointed that she can’t see the area in the same positive way I do.

“It looks like a slum,” she said recently, as we walked down Kissena Boulevard. This hurt my feelings, especially because, in my heart, despite my romantic view of the neighborhood, I believed the same. At one time, the street was lively, with all sorts of shops and ethnic food. Gene Simmons, who grew up nearby, even named his group KISS, after Kissena Boulevard. Now, the neighborhood has deteriorated almost beyond recognition.

Half of the stores on the block are gated and closed — some stores have been empty for five years! Can’t the management company find any tenants? What happened to the bakery, the pharmacy, the seafood store, the stationery store, the women’s clothing store? Surely some business can make a profit here? People are afraid to walk outside at night because everything looks so abandoned. Why has this happened?

Perhaps the answer can be found on the website of the management company, Pelcorp. On the site, they advertise the entire block, not as available individual stores catering to a community, but only as a 240,000 sq. ft. shopping center. There had been rumors that the landlord isn’t renting out the stores because it’s interested in selling the entire block to a big-box entity like Kmart. This might explain why no stores never seem to be rented, despite having “For Rent” signs plastered on the gates of shuttered stores. Is the management company waiting for the opportunity to unload the entire property at once?

A view of Kissena Boulevard at noon, a far cry from what this busy street used to look like.

The management company has every right to sell the entire complex if they want to, but should they be allowed to thrust the entire neighborhood into a downward spiral? Who wants to live in an area where more than half the stores have been closed for years?

It is pretty sad state of affairs. I remember how The Garden Bakery made the best onion rolls I’ve ever tasted. There was “Sweet Donut,” a little coffee shop/donut store. Dr. Sakow, the friendly optometrist, fitted me with my first pair of dorky eyeglasses in the third grade. All of these stores are now gone, with no replacements.

Even if the management company does want to sell the entire property, shouldn’t they at least be responsible for its upkeep? What about all the garbage and graffiti everywhere? Why should I be embarrassed to show my wife the “old neighborhood?” Why should my mother have to walk past the junk in the parking lot? People still LIVE in the neighborhood.

At one time, the landlord/management company was a local one, headed by a New York builder. He was always seen around the area because he also created middle-income housing across the street. After his passing, his son took over the real estate property, and it didn’t surprise me at all that his management company is based in Palm Beach, Florida! Out of sight, out of mind.

From their website:

Our President, Prescott Lester, is the fourth generation of Builder Developers. He is responsible for building and developing nearly 3,000 residential units in Palm Beach County, Florida. Projects included Lakes of Laguna in West Palm Beach with 2,204 residential units and Cascade Lakes in Boynton Beach having 556 dwelling units.

Mr. Lester’s Greatgrandfather began building in Brooklyn, New York around the turn of the century. He was followed by his son David Minkin who became one of New York City’s Master Builders. Mr. Lester assisted and succeeds his great uncle, David Minkin, in running the family’s building, management and brokerage operations.

Here is a promotional photo of the late David Minkin, Prescott Lester, and former NY Mets (yeah, Queens!) pitching great Tom Seaver, who has apparently sold his New York baby boomer appeal for some hard cash.


Despite a history of New York building, the fourth generation of builders now “specializes in the marketing and sale of luxury properties in Palm Beach County. This includes waterfront, country club, and other estate properties.”

The Kissena Boulevard holdings, one of their four retail holdings still in New York, must be their least attractive holding, compared to their shiny new malls in Florida. No wonder they seem so disinterested in the upkeep of Kissena Boulevard!

I talked to a few people in my mother’s building and they are very unhappy with the way Kissena Boulevard looks. Some say they would even move away, if they could afford it. The shopping area is pretty disgraceful, and much of the blame must go to the management company. They have played a major role in making the area look like a slum. Of course, since Pelcorp is in Palm Beach, and the executives don’t get to come to Queens very often, I’ve included some photographs of Kissena Boulevard for Prescott Lester and his partners to see.

The Pharmacy, now closed, the letters falling from the sign

The Laudromat, closed

The shoe store, closed

The graffiti along the “Wholesale Liquidators” wall

The garbage along the wall, opposite the closed shoe store

The kosher deli, closed

The Rainbow Women’s Clothing Store, closed

The pharmacy, closed, is now a haven for pigeons

The Bakery, closed for years

The fish market, closed

Ugly graffiti and disrepair along the property walls

Neilochka from the Block


Neil’s Mother:  Why are you taking your camera with you just to walk down the block?

Neil:  Maybe I’ll take photos of Valentino’s.

Neil’s Mother:  Who wants to see photos of Valentino’s?

Neil:  You’d be surprised at what crazy stuff people find interesting.  Besides, it’s my blog.  I can do what I want.

Neil’s Mother:  Wouldn’t you rather wait and take photos at the museum tomorrow?

Neil:  The museum?!  Boring!  EVERYBODY takes photos at the museum!

1)  Here is Valentino’s, the best pizza in Queens —





2)  Sophia likes to make fun of Flushing as a big nothing, but look at this — 


— the crappy little local liquor store next to Valentino’s has Le Beaulolais Nouveau 2006!  Hah, Sophia!  I don’t see that sign in REDONDO BEACH, home of the ubiquitous fish taco.

3)  At the famous “National Wholesale Liquidators” —  


— I saw this perfect Christmas toy for a neighborhood where 3/4 of the residents speak another language.

This is the local police precinct — 


— the 107th Precinct of the NYPD, which moved to this location when I was younger. 

I remember there being a big uproar over the structure on the roof, because local residents thought it was a huge satellite antenna.  Residents stormed a community council meeting because some crackpots thought the police were spying on them or the government was doing some top-secret experiment in Flushing.  Others worried about getting cancer from the high voltage of the electricity. 

Eventually, it turned out that the structure was none of the above — but an incredibly ugly SCULPTURE foisted on the precinct because the City had begun forcing new municipal buildings to include shitty pieces of art by out-of-work New York artists.  After it was learned that this was just an awful piece of modern art, there were protests to get rid of the eyesore, but like the old adage goes — you can’t fight City Hall. 

Today, most current residents take a weird pride in the monstrosity, like it is their Eiffel Tower.

A Tour of my Childhood Bedroom in Queens


I know the photo is awful.  Give me a break.  I just got off a plane from LA. 

This is the room I grew up in.  I lived here until college.  Behind me, is where my old, comfy bed used to be.  Now it is a “convertible bed” that my father put in several years ago  to make my room “more adult.”  You can actually feel the metal coils sticking into your back.

The clock in the background has not worked in twenty years, but no one has ever thought about taking it down.

The poster at the top right has changed throughout the years, from that of the New York Mets to long-forgotten rock groups.  The current poster is of Sophia acting in a children’s play she directed in Israel. 

My pants belonged to my father, but I don’t think he ever wore them.  My t-shirt is from a Target in Los Angeles.  I’m using an old digital camera that works so-so.

After taking the photos, my mother made me a turkey sandwich and we watched “What Not to Wear,” which is pretty much the same thing I would have done if I was sitting on the couch with Sophia.  

Name Changes: I Now Live In Blogosphere Estates

1)  My Favorite Cereal


I was walking down "aisle 10" in Ralph’s Supermarket today to buy my usual healthy, but cardboard-tasting "high-fiber" cereal, when I started reminiscing about the sugar-high cereals of my youth:  Lucky Charms, Trix, Frosted Flakes, and my all time favorite — Sugar Pops — or Sugar Corn Pops, depending on what year you started eating them.  I used to love those bright yellow crunchy bits of sugar that somehow were related to "wholesome corn" and kept their crunch quite well, unlike the wimpy and soggy Rice Krispies.   

My current supermarket had many cereals on sale, almost too many, and there was a whole section devoted just to Kellogg’s products.  But when I saw the familiar yellow box, I was quite surprised to learn that Sugar Pops were not called Sugar Pops anymore.  No.  Now, they are just called Pops.  The word "Pops" was written in some pseudo-graffiti font and there was some sort of promotion going on for snowboarding.  This was obviously a Sugar Pops for a new generation.   But are parents so stupid to think that Pops are any healthier than the Sugar Pops they used to eat, just because Kellogg’s dropped the "Sugar" from the name?

Maybe Sugar Pops are more successful nowadays as just Pops.  Changing names can be a powerful illusion, like changing Kentucky Fried Chicken to the heart-healthy KFC.

2)  Real Estate


When I was growing up in Flushing, there was a housing project across the street.  The residents were mostly those on welfare and other federal assistance programs.   While it was a noble idea in principle, it was a nightmare for the neighborhood.   The crime rate zoomed, and women were frequently attacked walking the streets.  After a few years, there was so much community uproar about "the projects," that they were closed down.  A few months later, they were taken over by a private company, quickly painted over, and renamed "Georgetown Mews."   My friends and I always joked about this, as if this ultra-pretentious name somehow transformed this ugly complex into something sophisticated.

With real estate so hot, I see this type of "naming" used all the time.   For instance, on the way to Palm Springs recently, I noticed what used to be an empty lot in a god-forsaken desert area between LA and Palm Springs.  Now, it has been transformed into "Rawhide Ranch," as if any actual horse wouldn’t immediately drop dead in the area’s 120 degree heat. 

New York and San Francisco have always been very successful in turning a rundown part of the city into some hip enclave.  Step one:  promote the area with some cool name like Tribeca, Soho, DUMBO, etc.  Los Angeles is now getting into the game by "trying to trick hipsters into leasing Skid Row lofts: the Old Bank District."

Why not?  It works.

3)  Concentration Camps


Changing your name is frequently a way of hiding your past.  When a company does something illegal, they often come back with a changed name — and a fresh start.  Sometimes a name is associated with a disaster. That’s why after ValuJet crashed in the Florida Everglades, they changed their name to AirTran.  It’s not surprising that Poland even wants to to rename Auschwitz.

"Poland is trying to change the name of Auschwitz concentration camp to emphasize that Nazi Germans, not Poles, were responsible for the most murderous center of the Holocaust.

The government has asked the United Nations to change the name of its World Heritage site from "Auschwitz Concentration Camp" to "the Former Nazi German Concentration Camp of Auschwitz.""

Who’s going to say that mouthful?  I think most people remember that the Nazis were the bad guys.   Name changing is a powerful instrument.  What do you think Poland is trying to forget about it’s own past?

I understand that living in Auschwitz might be a drag.  But, hey, why not just build a Six Flags there so Auschwitz can change its reputation from the "place with a death camp" to a "place for fun?"

Friends and Bloggers

(not a photo of anyone I know!)

The relationships you begin to develop with fellow bloggers reminds me a lot of those you have with "real" friends.  With some people, you grow closer.  With others, you lose touch completely or simply grow apart.

I’ve always considered my friendships important.  When I got married, I lost a few friends.  This was very upsetting to me, although I understand that it is a normal occurence when a couple falls in love.   Suddenly, there’s a new person mixing it up with your buddies.  And this person is not just a "another buddy."  This person gets a lot more of your time than a usual friend.   Think of Yoko Ono and the Beatles. 

Is there an equivalent to this in blogging relationships?  Recently, my blogging-friend Modigli moved from Cleveland to San Diego to be with her new boyfriend, another blogger named Dating Dummy.  This posed a problem for me.   Do I need to become the blog-friend of her boyfriend?  Should I say hello in his comments so he knows I exist — or does that make me look like I’m butting in?  What if her boyfriend hates my blog?  Will Modigli abandon me as well?  What is the proper online etiquette, Emily Blogpost?

(Look, I know this sounds a bit neurotic.  But give me some slack.  I’m an emotional Pisces).

I consider myself "sort of" friends with some of you.   But lately, I’ve been wondering if becoming too friendly is bad for your blogging. 

One of my first blog crushes was with Brooke.  Every day, I would write a flirtatious, sexy comment on her blog.  Then, a month ago, she invited me to IM with her.  You can imagine how excited I was to do this.  But you know what? … something terrible happened — we became friends, which completely de-fanged me as a sexy stud.  We talked about family and work and blogging.   After all that, talking about her boobs just seemed sleazy, even for me.   She’s a really nice woman — and a dedicated teacher.  Getting to know her turned me from guy in heat to the "gay friend" who she feels comfortable with to gossip and talk about her new shoes. 

So much for friendship! 

Now when I write a comment on her blog, I’m as dull as dishwater.  Since I now respect her as an individual, my comments are pretty much, "Great, Brooke!   Keep at it, my new friend… and I mean, a friend in a non-sexual way, of course."  Boring.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I soon find myself erased from her blogroll.

While I love my online acquaintances, I sometimes have to remind myself that you’re NOT my friends, despite all the time we spend together.  

A couple of weeks ago, I learned that two of my real-life friends from New York, Rob and Barry, read my blog every day.  That’s exciting to know, and a little scary.  I hope they don’t think I turned too crazy out here in California.  I haven’t  become a Scientologist… yet.

I know both Rob and Barry pretty much since birth.  We all grew up in the same Flushing neighborhood, and attended the same schools until college.

I’ve written about Rob a couple of times (here, here, and here).  Of the three of us in school, he was the least studious in his classes — which means, naturally, that he is now the one who makes the most money and works for a prestigious company in Manhattan.   Which only goes to show that school isn’t everything.  I’m sure Rob learned more about ambition and work skills from being a paper boy and a hot dog vendor at Shea Stadium than I did studying algebra night after night.  Rob has a beautiful wife, a son, and another child on the way.

Barry is married with two children, and just got a new sales job that is going to take him around the country.  He lives on Long Island.  His two sons are turning into little athletes, taking karate, soccer, and every sport in the book.  This amuses us to no end, since Barry and I were awful athletes.  We used to sneak out of gym just to avoid "climbing the rope."  I think the myth of the non-athletic Jewish man is ending with his kids.  Barry is also the funniest person I know.   Seriously.  I can sit in a diner for hours with him and listen to his bullshit.  There is a bit of Barry’s personality in my "penis" character, something I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear.

You know how you get nervous when you introduce different groups of friends?  Will they like each other?

Regular readers, may I introduce you to Rob and Barry, who I know are lurking.  Whatever I learned about friendship, I learned through them.

Rob and Barry, may I introduce you to this weird assortment of people, most who I don’t know, who come to visit here.  They are the reason I haven’t called you as often lately.   I’ve been too busy "blogging."  I know you understand why I’m doing this  (Yes, I do think some of the women are really hot in real life). 

See you soon on my next trip to New York! 

Flushing, Queens

(the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Park)

Have you ever been in some unfamiliar city or town and you meet someone from your hometown and you’re all excited?

“Hey, do you know Susie Weintraub?  How about Joel Ledger?   Did you used to eat at the Rusty Crab-ery on Pleasant Drive?”

I haven’t lived in Flushing, Queens for years, but I still feel guilty rooting for the Dodgers when the Mets have their home in Flushing Meadows Park.   And God Forbid someone from Flushing roots for the Yankees!

I was even excited when Billy Graham spoke last weekend in Flushing Meadows Park.  I don’t know what he said and I don’t really care, but Billy Graham was in Flushing!

On Kissena Blvd, near the apartment building where I grew up in, is Valentino’s Pizza.  They have great pizza there, worth the long trip from Manhattan.  OK, maybe not… but if you’re ever in the area, stop by.

(via Albert’s World)

Valentino’s was also a favorite of The Nanny’s Fran Drescher, who attended my junior high, Parsons Junior High, in the early 1970’s.


Simon and Garfunkle also attended Parsons Junior High in the 1950’s.



All these kids must have moved somewhere else because when I went to Parsons, the school had mostly black students.   It was still a great school, except for the time they showed “Roots” in class and my friend Barry and I had to run home from school.

“My grandparents lived in South Russia, not South Carolina!” Barry yelled as we ran across Parsons Blvd, away from big Jake, this thug from our gym class, who was accusing our families of being slave owners.

I think a lot of the students from my generation left town also, because now the area is Chinese and Pakistani.

A few days ago, I was reading through the blog of some woman here in Los Angeles, when I noticed that in her post she wrote about being from Flushing.  All of a sudden, I got all happy.  I started talking to the monitor, as if the former Flushing Girl was in the room with me.

“Hey, me too!  Where did you live?  Where did you go to school?”  I said to the Samsung 19 inch SyncMaster.

I quickly typed out a rambling comment to her blog, telling her all about myself.  I felt we were bonding immediately, even though I was doing all of the writing.

So far, she hasn’t written back.  Either she thought I was a crackpot looking for a date or she really hated living in Flushing.

Or maybe it was what Flushing’s own Simon and Garfunkel were referring to when they wrote “The Sound of Silence.”

UPDATE:  Marissa, the Flushing girl, wrote back.  (see comments)

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