Village Voice: Best of NY 2005

October 12-18, 2005


Best Halloween Doggie Costume Contest - GREAT PUPKIN
Big Bird. Yoda. Spider-Dog? You'll see these costumes and more at the annual GREAT PUPKIN in Fort Greene Park, where hip dog-owners clothe their canines in witty costumes and vie for prizes. Last year, a little pug dressed as Neo was a crowd pleaser as he gobbled gruel from a dish. Warning: There is a high potential for cuteness overload at this event, so bring your camera.

Best Place to Sit on Library Books - BRYANT PARK
Next time you lounge on BRYANT PARK's grass, consider that 1.5 million books are less than six feet below your butt. Thirty-seven miles of the New York Public Library stacks run beneath the esplanade, in a storage facility added in the '80s. With books below, trees can't put down sufficient roots on the lawn, which is one reason for the open space. And you thought it was so you could see the big screen.
42nd Street and Sixth Avenue, Manhattan

Best Place to Do Tobacco-Related Research - GEORGE ARENTS COLLECTION
George Arents would have been pissed about the smoking ban. He bought his first book about tobacco at 17, and 60 years later, he owned almost every important tobacco-related work, plus many literary works that refer to tobacco only incidentally (Jack Kerouac is in good standing here). The New York Public Library now houses the GEORGE ARENTS COLLECTION, where researchers browse while being watched by two cigar-store wooden Indians. No smoking in the room, please.
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, Manhattan 212-642-0110

Best Place for a Morbid Yet Scenic Picnic - PRISON SHIP MARTYR'S MONUMENT
Taking your gloomy girlfriend on a date? Settle into the grass beside the 143-foot-tall PRISON SHIP MARTYR'S MONUMENT. The nearby crypt holds the bones of 11,500 people dumped off British prison ships during the Revolutionary War. Thoughtful (and weird) Brooklynites saved the bones that washed up on the shore and eventually housed them here. Cast your eyes over a lovely view of downtown Manhattan while you enjoy the creep-out factor.
85 South Portland Avenue, Brooklyn


Best Place to Avoid Farting - QUIET PARTY
The QUIET PARTY's creators bill their Silent Dating as a unique scene and cultural phenomenon. Guests use paper and pens to scribble notes to each other in absolute silence. This quirky way of meeting people is a great way to break the ice, but what happens if you need to, uh, break wind? Best to skip that heavy meal at Mama Mexico before socializing silently.

Best Place to Get Aroused by Writing Instruments - FOUNTAIN PEN HOSPITAL
Pen perverts have been hitting the FOUNTAIN PEN HOSPITAL for a quick fix since 1946. Their shiny glass cases house hundreds of sexy fountain pens from Aurora to Waterman, and they don't mind (too much) if you salivate over the curvy bodies and rich lacquers. For a strangely sensual experience, check out the Namiki-Pilot Vanishing Point Collection, which features fountain pens with delicate nibs that retract into the hard metal body. Oh, ecstasy!
10 Warren Street, Manhattan 212-964-0580

They're naive, nubile, and approaching a quarter-life crisis. Recent graduates are perfect for a sexy summer fling! Disregard the Barney-purple robes carpeting WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK ON NYU GRADUATION DAY; underneath, the youngsters hunger for life experience. One drawback: You can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone deep in debt, but face it--you're not looking for a sugar daddy. You want a sweet-faced baby boy who'll be good to his new hot mama.


Best Anarchist Political Folk-Punk Singer - MISCHIEF BREW
Erik Petersen, a/k/a MISCHIEF BREW, has the face of a sweet teenage boy about to get into some serious trouble. His music is a gypsy mix of folk, punk, and swing. The androgynous characters in his foot-tapping tunes lament the current condition of these United States and blaze alternative paths. And did I mention he's also a cutie?

Best Open-Air Opera Singer - SCOTT REIBURN
On warm summer nights, you might hear SCOTT REIBURN's rich baritone voice floating through Fort Greene Park. The jolly Juilliard grad says it's the best practice space in the city, so when he wants to let loose those golden pipes, he serenades the neighborhood with everything from Mozart to Donizetti, making Cumberland Street feel like Piazza della Signoria. His arias have another benefit: When they hear opera, creeps scurry away.
Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn


Best Scent Indulgence for Your Inner Goth - BLACK PHOENIX ALCHEMY LAB
The liquor may be illegal, but you can buy a vial of Absinthe fragrance from the BLACK PHOENIX ALCHEMY LAB website for 20 bucks. The brainchild of Coney Island native Elizabeth Moriarty, this online perfumery specializes in wicked scents like Embalming Fluid, Kali, Dragon's Blood, and Danse Macabre. BPAL (its name among friends) has a diehard following that waits upwards of 30 days to receive these olfactory delights.

Best Clothing-Style Names - JILL ANDERSON
Where else can you buy a slinky gown called the "Get Lucky Dress"? (Devotees swear that it really works.) What about an "Italian Widow's Dress," "Sunday Cinema Pants"? Word nerds and clothes-horses alike are extended family at JILL ANDERSON's boutique. She offers well-cut wear and timeless designs, and her rea-woman sizes make everyone happy. Check out the discounted Green Garb – gently used pieces that have been "recycled" by previous owners. 331 East 9th Street, 212-253-1747


Best Automated Voice - U-SCAN LADY
The U-SCAN LADY guides you step-by-step through the oh-so-difficult process of scanning your own groceries in the express lanes at large supermarkets. She seems nice enough, but it's hard to engage her in conversation, perhaps because she's so damn insistent that you "please place the item in the bag." She sounds tipsy when she asks, "Do you have any coooopons?" but cut her some slack--she has to entertain herself somehow.


Best NYC Contributor to Bush's "Healthy Forest Initiative" - ASIAN LONG-HORNED BEETLE
This creepy crawly isn't on the Bush Administration payroll, but it should be. Introduced into the area in 1996, the ASIAN LONG-HORNED BEETLE is a lean, mean, tree-killing machine. Its one-inch-long body packs a punch: Once it tunnels into the trunk, the tree is dead. If the parasite spreads, it could devastate our national forests. Luckily, the infestation is still limited, so it's possible to eradicate the critter before it teams up with the Bushies.

Time Out New York: Give 'em Hill

TONY Cover

August 25-31, 2005

Give 'em Hill

An obsessive collector and eccentric sisters share stories from their Brooklyn neighborhood.

Frank Cassa leans against his refrigerator and tries to push it aside, saying, "I want to show you this wall." The wall in question holds part of the world's largest spoon-rest collection (680 and counting), currently housed in his kitchen. Cassa's obsessive collecting has earned the energetic 88-year-old a day in the spotlight as part of Clinton Hill Art Gallery's "Summer Sizzle Series." On Sunday 28, Cassa – along with two other Clinton Hill characters, Joan and Margaret Vincent – will share firsthand accounts of the neighborhood's history.

"These chats are another form of art that we're bringing to the community," says gallery owner Lurita LB Brown. She began the series as a complement to her permanent exhibit of Brooklyn-based artists. "Older folks can chat it up for a long time," she says. The vivacious storytelling style of Cassa and the Vincent Sisters impressed her, inspiring an event called "I Remember When..."

The talk will take new residents and old-timers alike back to the time before Clinton Hill was an "it" neighborhood. What was once "Brooklyn's Gold Coast" because of its wealthy industrialist residents – most notably oil baron and Pratt Institute founder Charles Pratt – changed into a vibrant working- and middle-class neighborhood in the first half of the 20th century. Like neighboring Fort Greene, Clinton Hill lost much of its sparkle in the '70s and '80s. But as anyone who's tried to rent an apartment on DeKalb Avenue in the last few years will attest, the neighborhood is back in a big way.

Frank CassaAnd Cassa has been witness to Clinton Hill's evolution since he moved there in 1940. "My life has been very historical," he says, perhaps referring to his spoon rests, or perhaps his birthplace ("Union Street -- where Al Capone came from"). The spoon rest collection started in 1970, when Cassa's wife Katie – whom he met at a dance in Fort Greene Park in 1940 – brought home a sky-blue spoon rest from the couple's cruise to the Bahamas. After her death in 1992, Cassa continued Katie's collection to honor her memory. Friends and family brought home spoon rests from far-flung vacation spots – enough to garner Cassa a place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1998. But he shares the glory with the woman who started it all, saying, "When I get to 700, I'm going to inscribe on Katie's tombstone – GUINNESS BOOK WORLD RECORD HOLDER."

The event's other speakers, Joan and Margaret Vincent, first met Brown when they came to her shop to have their baby pictures framed. The sisters – who always dress in color-coordinated outfits -- coyly eluded questions about the age of the photos, saying, "They've been around – well, since we were one."

Joan, who is about four years older than her sister, and Margie (with a "g" like "Fergie") have been turning heads in Clinton Hill since the 1930s, when their family moved to Brooklyn. "They love the diversity of the neighborhood -- they've never considered moving," says Peggy Sammis, Margie's goddaughter. They'll strike up a conversation with anyone, and have only one off-limits subject: baseball. Margie roots for the Mets, while Joan is a die-hard Yankees fan. Though they're Brooklyn gals at heart, the sisters are also world travelers. At press time, they were cruising to England on the Queen Mary 2.

For his part, Cassa has been starting a new adventure right at home. He recently fed $30 into the stamp machine at the post office just to collect the change. "The 2005 dollar coins were coming out. They'll be worth money! Let me tell you, I got the stamps for nothing." He pauses. "I called up Coin World and told them about me, and they're looking into it."


BUST Magazine: Saving Face

BUST Magazine CoverAugust/September 2005

Saving Face

California teens expose the ugly side of the beauty biz

Teenagers hate being lied to. So when some teen girls in Marin, California, learned they weren’t getting the whole story from the cosmetics industry, they made up their minds—instead of their faces—to form Safe Cosmetics Campaign: Marin, the first teen-led branch of the national organization. The Marin activist coalition, which now boasts over 50 girls, launched in January to educate consumers about harmful chemical cosmetic ingredients linked to cancer and birth defects while advocating for healthier alternatives that will keep their insides as beautiful as their outsides.

Sasha Hoffman, an 18-year-old who has worn her share of makeup, says, "I assumed that the FDA regulated and tested cosmetics.” She was surprised to learn, however, that they do not. "One company was caught saying that their products are ‘crap in a jar,’” says 15-year-old Jessica Assaf. “How do they sleep at night?”

Saving FaceSince January, the teens have spearheaded five major actions, including Operation Beauty Drop, a program that asked women to drop used cosmetic containers into bins around Marin. With those items, they created Safe Face, a five-foot-tall collage of a female face, with mascara tubes for eyelashes and shampoo bottles for hair. The collage travels locally to teach consumers about products to trust and to avoid. Members also lobbied for – and helped to pass – the California Safe Cosmetics Act of 2005, which now requires cosmetic manufacturers to inform the State Department of Health Services of any ingredients in their products known or suspected of causing cancer or birth defects. “The kids who went to [lobby in] Sacramento came back feeling 10 feet tall,” says Safe Cosmetics Campaign director Judi Shils, who notes that the teens are already bursting with other ideas for future events. “We can travel with makeup artists and teach teens how to go organic,” imagines Hoffman. “Changing things overnight isn’t easy, but it’s possible.” To learn more about the campaign, and to see a list of conscientious companies who have signed the Compact With America Safe Cosmetics Pledge, check out


Time Out New York: The aud ball

June 16-22, 2005

The aud ball

"Audio is a different experience from print," says Karen Huyser, president of audiobook publisher Bolinda Audio. For example, you might actually finish Ulysses if you listened to the abridged CD. Skillful narrators and music make Joyce's notoriously difficult classic easier to digest. Huyser promises: "It's not cheating."

Just ask everyone else at the Audies held June 3 at Tavern on the Green. The awards for the audiobook industry were handed out at a black-tie dinner hosted by postmodern writer and narrator Neil Gaiman. "It's the moment of intersection between theater and the publishing world," he says, "where the Tonys meet the National Book Awards." Maybe. It's certainly true no one was watching. Audies were given out in 31 categories, including Audiobook of the Year, which went President Bill Clinton's self-narrated My Life.

Authors often record their own books, says Gaiman (whose reading of his own work Coraline was nominated last year), and when outside narrators are used, the author approves them. This year's winner Johnny Heller says he "goo-goo-ga-ga-ed on the phone to the author for 45 minutes" to win the title role in The Happiest Toddler in the World. What does the Audie mean to Heller? "It validates my decision to wear a tux tonight."

Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva of The Kitchen Sisters flew in from San Francisco for the ceremony. "I consider myself a siren luring people into the world of sound," says Nelson. Their Audie-winning Lost and Found Sound and Beyond was adapted from a book adapted from their radio program on NPR's All Things Considered, a circle that makes them laugh.

Gaiman envisions an exciting future for this genre. He recently ripped several audiobooks onto his iPod and then played it on shuffle. "One minute you're listening to Seamus Heaney reading Beowulf and the next it's Jim Broadbent reading Winnie the Pooh. It's brilliant."


Time Out New York: Dumpster Diving 2.0

Time Out New York CoverMay 12-18, 2005

Dumpster Diving 2.0

Freecycle NYC lets you give as good as you get

Tired of watching dogs pee on that sofa you put out on the curb? Join Freecycle, a national online movement that reduces waste by gifting. "New Yorkers produce 13,000 tons of garbage daily, nearly one ton per Freecycler," says Christina Salvi, who founded a local chapter, Freecycle NYC, in 2003. The group, which now has 14,000 members, connects givers with getters via e-mail. Just join their free Yahoo group and start giving (sign up at I easily gifted a printer and a suitcase in 24 hours. Posts must be legal, G-rated and, above all, free. It beats Craigslist's "Free" board because "it's more like a community with a cause," says Salvi.

TONYAlastair Ong, an e-commerce entrepreneur whose prize "get" is an industrial microwave, loves Freecycle's e-mails because "you never know what's going to pop up." He's not kidding—daily posts range from Baywatch Barbies to bicycles. Sandrine, a 32-year-old recycling enthusiast ("even my toothbrush is recycled plastic!") who didn't want to give her last name, recently scored an ice-cream maker. Yolanda Brooks is a die-hard Freecycler. She's given and gotten almost 300 items, including her favorite score: a bag of designer shoes.
On Saturday 14, the group hosts its third Freemeet, which is like a spring-cleaning love-in. "You bring what you have, and take what you need," Salvi explains. "Everyone's really friendly."

The strangest offer Salvi has seen? An antique dentist's drill. Still, it found a home: "It was turned into someone's Halloween display."

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