This is the post I dreaded writing. The final post. The one where the doors close shut, and you put the book back on the shelf. This is the scene where the camera pans large, and the heroes are seen driving off into an idyllic sunset. I am not so sure about that last simile, but I can stick with it.
When I started this blog, I was hoping that I could get at least 50 interviews with the many interesting folks who hung out at Vox Pop. But yesterday, I watched along with others, as the iconic Statue of Liberty was loaded onto the back of a truck and driven away. There was no idyllic sunset. There was just this vacant spot in my heart where our neighborhood cafe used to be.
Vox Pop was not a perfect place to say the least. But it served more functions than any business I have ever encountered. Churches, Synagogues, social clubs and ashrams all strive to serve some aspect of what Vox Pop stood for. But where the aforementioned do not encourage diversity of color or thought, VP opened its arms to those who walked on many paths. On any given afternoon you would see gathered at VP, Asians, Haitians, Jews both orthodox and secular, Nepalese young men, hipsters, gays of all kinds, lawyers, accountants, artists, musicians, poets and writers of all kinds, cartoonists, ministers, tarot readers and just everyday folk from around our streets, hanging out together and just nestling up to neighborly company.
Howard Zinn mentions in his book “The Peoples History of the United States” that the purpose of racism is to divide the people. Well then, VP represented the opposite. Maybe this is what annoyed the government powers that brought the hammer down so hard and fast, experienced auctioneers commented on the hasty expedition of the court order.
For me though, it goes way beyond politics or taxes. When my wife and I moved here, I had a dream that this was the area I needed to come to. I did not know that a Ditmas Park renaissance was going on. I just felt a deep calling to come to this area. I was very unhappy living in Bay Ridge, where I hardly found any good company. Our realtor brought us into VP to sign the papers saying “and this is YOUR coffee house.” Inside me was a resounding “Yes!”
Within the first 6 months of living here, I had made 5 times as many friends as I had in 6 years of Bay Ridge. Also, I had been playing my guitar for about 30 years in private, when I finally played in public at Vox Pop’s open mic. There I received the encouragement and support to play more often in public. Now I am lined up for my first paying gig. For this I owe a debt to VP.
As to the people I will miss, it is almost too hard to name. I am sure I will see many of them passing in the street, or sipping coffee or beer at one of the other establishments. But it won’t be the same. Somehow Vox Pop was free of many of the conditions you find in other establishments. You never felt obligated to do anything. If I was broke, it was okay to hang out without buying anything. But mostly, I would get a coffee or sangria and just place myself, with my son, at one of the outdoor tables, and people would come to me. I was never alone at Vox Pop.
This blog was created because the people I encountered there were some of the most interesting and creative people I have met anywhere. There were no upper class snobs. Just creative individuals struggling along like everyone else. I will miss my conversations on film with Ric Menello, or listening to Lashonda describing her latest exploits. I will miss the revelry of open mic and the witty host, Mr. Punxsutawney Jesus, a.k.a. Chris Garay. There were the Sustainable Flatbush meetings, the Stitch and Bitch, the spoken word open mic, the art openings, the various business meetings Sheryll and I would have there and of course the Brooklyn Free School parties where we took over the place and filled it with families and musicians. Causes supporting causes. This was community at its best.
But alas, we were over taken by capitalism. We were defeated by the fact that everything has to serve a profit motive. And social conditions are deemed socialism. The legacy of neglect left by the founder, Sander Hicks, could no longer be avoided. And the axe of retribution fell on the current state of affairs.
For now, when I walk by the corner of Cortelyou and Stratford, I will feel a bit of pain for what was lost. I know in my heart that nothing is forever. And certainly VP, with the fiscal problems that were following it, could not sustain. But I need my time of mourning. In the Jewish tradition, the period of observance after a death is 7 days, but the spirit lingers for 30 days. Some may mourn for longer than that. But there is a need to move on. And move on we must. It is okay to mourn. It is part of the natural cycle of life. As I said in my previous post, “may something positive arise from the ashes.” What that is we cannot say. With that I will close the book on our beloved cafe. Place it back on the shelf. And refer back to it on a later date.
Regards and Peace