The Long Kiss Goodnight

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.

The Vultures gather for the public auction

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.

Me at Open Mic. Photo by Tom Martinez

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

Bruce Zeines

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About bzeines

I am an artist, musician and founding parent at Brooklyn Free School in Clinton Hill. The Free School Apparent was originally started in 2009 to focus on Free School philosophy as a venue for parents to voice doubt or accolades on free school philosophy and conversations about education in general. It also ventures into the territory of how industrialized education has impacted our lives, and the possible steps we may take to obtain control.
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9 Responses to The Long Kiss Goodnight

  1. Withheld says:

    Bruce-
    Some wheeler dealer…… you don’t even know me, who I am, or or my intentions.

    Many disparaging comments were made at and after the auction concerning my purchase of “the community’s beloved statue”. Frankly, I find it incredible that for all the comments, snide remarks, and hateful comments (from a group that purports to be transfixed in community, Democracy, freedom, friendship, fellowship, and all that is “good”) not one person challenged my bid.

    If the statue really was of value to, and an icon of the community, why then were there no bids? Perhaps it was just another symbol used for publicity. Used as a tool like the empty speeches of “the community” who stood around like gore seekers at the scene of an auto accident- waiting to see the blood…

    Rest assured, Lady Liberty has a good home. She need not fear being stolen, vandalized, or sold to offset the debts of a mismanaged enterprise.

    • bzeines says:

      I apologize if you are offended. But this article really is not about you. The fact is we do not know you. when I asked someone I did know, who bought the statue, they described you and said you were “a bit of a dick.” That said, not knowing you or ever having spoken with you, I cannot verify the comment.

      All said, I do not feel any of these comments are hateful. This is just a sad time for the neighborhood, and folks are over reactive. But we will move on. Sorry we never got to have a beer together. Maybe the response to your purchase would have been different.

  2. Withheld says:

    I’m sure the “bit of a dick” comment came from one of the two people who told me I had no right to buy the statue… Why anyone would speak as to my rights to bid at a state held public auction mystifies me. Or possibly the comment was from the woman (I believe the former operator) who tried to convince me that my bid was not valid, and that she would be getting the statue at the auction’s end. My guess is she wasn’t fully cognizant of what occurred with the seizure and auction. At one point the State Tax people (nothing to do with my purchase) had to warn her to stop harassing bidders, or she would be ejected from the auction. Her daughter however, looked as if she was having fun bidding on quite a few of the items…. Despite all the comments about my purchase, not a single person stood up and placed a bid.

    When I was leaving I spoke with the gentleman (I don’t recall his name) who apparently refurbished the statue after it was donated by One If By Land, Two if By Sea. He was kind enough to describe the work he had done, which will help our finishing the refurbishing.

    It is sad to see any neighborhood gathering place close it’s doors for the last time. Communities need places like Vox Pop for communication, sharing, fellowship, and entertainment among other things. Unless the space, labor, and utilities are donated, the establishment must be run fully as a business, by competent and responsible people whose primary goal is to keep the doors open for the community- which means running a profitable enterprise. It takes quite a bit to run a business to any measure of success. Employees, bills, vendors, services, utilies, and YES TAXES among other things must be paid to keep the doors open.

    Unfortunately, “broke customers” (an oxymoron) who contribute to the color and atmosphere while taking up space and not spending, all too often contribute to the demise of otherwise viable businesses.

    I had been to the cafe twice, once last year after it reopened from a prior tax problem and again this past spring. There is no doubt that it served many a good purpose, provided service to the community, and had value in its stated principles. It is obviously a loss for the community.

    As I said in my first post: Rest assured, Lady Liberty has a good home. She need not fear being stolen, vandalized, or sold to offset the debts of a mismanaged enterprise.

    Not withstanding any of the foregoing, I leave you with the following. Should your community find another location, open a gathering place, and have it run by a competent and responsible staff, I would be amenable to discussing the statue.

    • bzeines says:

      I have removed the “wheeler-dealer” comment. Based on your lucid and heartfelt comments, I will apologize on behalf of the others.

  3. Andy Laties says:

    Thank you Bruce for this beautiful essay.

    Andy Laties

  4. John Webber says:

    Thanks Bruce, I’m glad we’re friends.

  5. cath says:

    Sander Hicks created the model that you so loved; that provided friends, a musical career, and a sense of community – all this in a coffee shop/cafe/book store. Vox Pop = Voice of the People. His name, his vision. Yes, he made mistakes, he wasn’t the perfect person, but he had a vision and he put it into place. A lot of that was replaced in ways I didn’t care for when he left but enough remained in place and carried over that people cared deeply, as you did about the place. The Tea Lounge on 7th Avenue in Park Slope closed and no one said a word, lifted a finger. This kind of support for a coffee shop does not happen every day and it was carefully crafted and deserved. Debi Ryan made decisions to pay for things that those of us who bought shares had no idea that that’s how the money was being allocated. She chose not to pay the state back first and then lapsed payments to the state and Con Ed. Those were not her decisions to make. The board trusted her passion about Vox Pop and it seems did not keep a close enough eye on what was happening – when they tried, she skirted them. I’m sorry to say this but that appears to be what happened and it didn’t have to end that way. Transparency was lost. Maybe she felt the place wasn’t going to make it but those decisions were not hers to make. She has gotten off fairly easily and without criticism towards her for the most part because people like her. But Vox Pop did not have to close that way and to place endless blame on Sander is missing a large piece of what actually went down. It would have been nice to at least say good-bye.

    What did the statue sell for, by the way?

  6. bzeines says:

    The Statue, now this is hearsay, sold for $75. I am sure if that is incorrect we will hear about it soon.

    As for my brief comment on Mr. Hicks, I am not one to put endless blame on someone. People do make mistakes, as I have made more than my share. The only difference that I can see is that I have been careful not to load some of my mistakes onto the shoulders of someone else. And yes I agree that there was a lack of transparency. I was not a share holder. Only a supportive participant in some of the happenings at the cafe, under both Sander and Debi.

    Hopefully the sense of community will continue. There is already stirrings on how to keep that sense going. Some of it is organic. Some of it will have to be organized. Either way, life goes on. Thank you for your post.

  7. Mitchel Cohen says:

    Would someone please post a list of the items auctioned and how much they went for?

    Thanx.

    Mitchel

    PS — The difference with what occurred under Sander Hicks and what came later is that we did not own shares under Sander, and so we had no right to an expectation of transparency. That changed once we in the community bought shares in order to save VoxPop, and we did not receive accurate reports.

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