KRAZY! Cosplay

These days, My Favorite 15 Year Old is all about everything Japanese: mochi and daifuku, anime, J-pop delivered by pretty guy-liner eyed boys whose clothing dips deep into cross-dressing. She totes around the yellow and black Japanese for Dummies and by my untrained ear, her accent sounds quite impressive.

Thanks to her, we recently had our first Cosplay experience as part of Japan Society‘s current anime, manga and video games exhibit. I imagine that this is what a Star Trek Convention must be like but with more satin bows. We saw wigs in every hue and height, shiny intergalactic impenetrable fabrics, red contact lenses, seven foot swords, knee socks and samurai, hoop skirts and bustles, even a cascade of LED lights with a battery pack tucked away in a skirt bustle. (Very cool, literally, the tiny lightbulbs weren’t hot at all. I made a note for my next dress up moment.)

I was struck by the number of girls dressed as male characters and by the number of scullery maid get-ups with floppy caps and lacy aprons. “Lolitas” My FF15YO said, adding they’re usually licking giant lollipops or carrying palm sized plushy critters.  “Oh.” I replied.

The party was sold out. Reni, a Cosplay singer, in bunny ears and coquetteish dance moves sang to us in Japanese. I asked around if anyone hailed from the Bronx. Other than us three I didn’t find anyone else.

The costumes were great. The best were the original ones. A few were sewn by the Cosplayer themselves. The mood was upbeat and full of teen (and 20s something) spirit. We had a great time.


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Four Bronx Women

In recent weeks, I have turned my lens and my ears toward a few Bronx women whose talents and community projects have impressed me.

Emily Rodriguez, Soprano and Bronx student, performs with the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet.
Emily Rodriguez, Soprano and Bronx student, performs with the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet.

Emily Rodriguez
Soprano / Student at Celia Cruz High School of Music

Ms. Rodriguez performed Mozart’s “Alleluia” accompanied by the Bronx Arts Ensemble String Quartet earlier this year.  We went to the Ensemble’s January concert and it was really lovely, held in a private home in Riverdale.  The Bronx Arts Ensemble often features young Bronx musicians in their concerts. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to expose My Favorite 15 Year Old to chamber music.  And it was — she enjoyed hearing and seeing someone close to her own age. Ms. Rodriguez appeared quite at ease singing to a packed room, which included her school’s principal.  Sitting next to us, a young man wearing a badge that read “Press — Celia Cruz High School” commented to his friend, “She gave me goose bumps.”

Last month, I attended the discussion, “Civil Rights in the Bronx: Past and Present”, as part of The Bronx is Building lecture series presented by the Bronx African-American History Project at Fordham University. The panel happened to be an all women line up, with two women from local chapters of the NAACP (which celebrates its 100th Anniversary this year) and South Bronx community activist Majora Carter.  I was especially excited to hear Ms. Carter as I’ve followed her story shortly after she was awarded the “genius” prize — a MacArthur fellowship in 2005, for her work in her Hunts Point community.

Beverly Roberts, Shirley Fearon and Majora Carter, panelists at the lecture "Civil Rights Activism in the Bronx: Past and Present."
Beverly Roberts, Shirley Fearon and Majora Carter, panelists at the lecture "Civil Rights Activism in the Bronx: Past and Present."

Beverly Roberts
President / NAACP, Parkchester Branch

From the time it was built in 1938 until the early 1970s, the Parkchester housing complex had no residents of color.  Ms. Roberts noted that it was the National Urban League who sued the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Parkchester’s owner, for their “whites only” policy.  The NAACP Parkchester branch, established in 1974, provided support to families with integration of schools in the area.  Ms. Roberts said further, “All people of color, newly arrived in the United States, have benefited from the NAACP.”

Shirley Fearon
President / NAACP, Williamsbridge Branch

Ms. Fearon recalled her first act of defending civil rights as a young girl in her Williamsbridge neighborhood. She joined her father and other blacks in the community in picketing the five and dime store on 216th Street.  It was 1959 and no black women were working there. The moderator Professor Mark Naison, noted this with particular interest commenting that demonstrations and picketing by black Bronxites is not readily known.  Today the Williamsbridge chapter brings programs into local schools that teach students about Black History.

Majora Carter
President and CEO / Marjora Carter Group

Ms. Carter started off by commenting on the name of the lecture series, “The Bronx is Building”.  She said, “As someone who lived in the South Bronx when it was burning, I am so happy to see the word ‘building’ in reference to the Bronx.” Ms. Carter has built bold strategies to improve the quality of life in her Hunts Point, South Bronx community, where residents are saddled with high asthma rates and live side by side with the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center which brings semi trucks into the area on a daily basis. In the late 1990’s, Ms. Carter placed herself front and center in opposition of the city’s plan to bring a waste treatment plant into her community’s back yard.  Her efforts have brought “green” jobs into the South Bronx and she secured a $1.25M federal grant to design a South Bronx Greenway along the Bronx River for parks and recreational use.  Ms. Carter, said during the lecture that “Environmental justice is the civil rights of the 20th century.”

If you have not seen it already, Ms. Carter’s talk at the TED conference (Technology , Entertainment, Design) is brilliant.  She is passionate, she is bold and she is honest. And she puts a challenge directly to Vice President Gore that is so daring but necessary.

Onward and Upward!

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In Case of an Emergency

BxM6 Express Bus on Metropolitan Avenue.
BxM6 Express Bus on Metropolitan Ave.

My Favorite 15 Year Old stepped off the BxM6 Express Bus last Friday afternoon with a garment bag draped over one arm holding a party dress and an ivory trench coat.  Saturday night she was going to a Hollywood glam Sweet 16 party of an old grade school chum she hadn’t seen since “for years”.  I held the umbrella over her head, so that her party hair would keep.

But it wasn’t until a half an hour later, with me standing in the kitchen over a pot of water waiting for it to boil, {of course it was not} that she came to me saying, “Uhh…I think I forgot my wallet on the bus.”

— Anything of value in it? I asked her.
— No, just my student metro card, another regular metro card and twenty bucks.
— No ID? I asked.
— No ID.
She was carrying her school ID separately.

I’ll just narrate over the montage: in the next hour we would make two round trip trips, on foot in the rain, to Hugh Grant Circle up Metropolitan Avenue to the Oval and then back home with the hopes of catching the bus driver making his return trip to Parkchester.
No such luck.
One Manhattan bound driver gave me an apologetic look and the bus schedule, instructing me to call the number on the back for the MTA lost and found.

On the way home we walked in silence, our minds fixed in thought, mine on something warm and drinkable.
My cell phone rang.
Here was my F15YO’s grandmother, reporting that she’d just received a call from a driver of the BxM6 Express Bus and that a wallet had been found with her name to call in case of an emergency. And could we make arrangements with the driver to get the wallet back as he really didn’t want to leave it with the MTA lost and found?

I asked my F15YO what was this emergency card?
She was already laughing and told me how it got in her wallet:
When we went to the Obama Inauguration, we each carried a card with an emergency contact person and the name of the nearest DC Metro subway stop where we’d meet in case we got separated, pulled apart or left behind while taking too many photos (that would almost be me).
Absolutely nothing grave happened to us that day.
It was a glorious day and our Inauguration Emergency Cards were never tried out.
Until now, over a month later, back home in the Bronx.

In the next hour, the Big Guy drove out to Coop City where the MTA driver proffered the wallet before taking the bus back to the depot for the night.

Happy Ending!

Yesterday, I was buying Happy Birthday balloons at the corner 99 cents store.
As the guy tied the ends, I noticed on the the countertop, a heap of keys with several store discount badges on its ring.
— Someone forgot their keys?, I asked.
— Yes! For three days they’ve been there.  I don’t know who to call, there’s no information, no number there.

Ah ha, no emergency contact card, but plenty of opportunities to get a dollar off a half gallon of Häagen-Dazs or 79 cents off the 32 oz Spic N Span.

So I’m sending a Big Bronx Thank You! to the BxM6 passenger who found our F15YO’s wallet and turned it over to the driver, to the MTA driver of the BxM6 with the foresight to not turn over the wallet to the MTA’s Lost and {Never to be} Found, but for making the effort to contact us directly.
And to the guy at the 99 cents store, for his expressed intent to get the keys back to their owner, if only he knew who to contact.

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What do Graffiti Artists do When They Grow Up?

Ezo showing his work on exhibit at Longwood Art Gallery.

Ezo with his work at the Longwood Art Gallery in the Bronx.

I love to hear artists talk about their work.  Yes, the work should stand on its own. Commentary from the artist should not be necessary.  That’s one school.  But I saw the exhibit Graffiti Spirit of an Age @ 40 x 10 * without it.  And I was really confused.  I got that this was a kind of “where are they now” for these former graffiti writers from the mid-80s.  But the work–metal sculpture, collage, prints, paintings–all together didn’t have a binding theme.  The work I liked the least didn’t resemble any of the other work in that it looked most like graffiti.  And a couple of canvasses looked unfinished.  So we went back for the Artists Talk. Three of the ten showed.  (“Graf artists are shy and don’t like to come out,” Ezo explained.)  They talked honestly and openly. They have a love/hate view of their graffiti period–they recognize it as a vital part of their past, but one they’re not often eager to ‘fess up to.  The afternoon turned into a bit of a love fest. Mainly teenage guys in attendance, a few taking photos. One guy was filming with his point & shoot camera, ran out of space and then started recording with his iPhone. (He’d hacked it. I asked.) Others came with their black sketchbooks asking the old school writers for their tags.

(*The 40 x 10 in the show title refers to the size of a subway car…Thanx Kool Spin for making me sound like I knew all along!)

Here are what Ezo, Klass and Cey had to say about their graffiti artist days:

Ezo's tagEzo today = painter…uses pre-columbian imagery and saints in his paintings, influenced by war and the US involvement in the Middle East, working on a series of canvasses on the Seven Deadly Sins.

Ezo: “Graffiti is vandalism…There should be a way to channel this energy into another art form…keep art school programs…the city politicians should have been taking care of their business…how could they blame 13 and 14 year kids for what was happening in New York?…New York City doesn’t embrace graffiti as art like Europe or even as some other cities in the U.S.”

Cey speaking on his work at Longwood Art Gallery.
Cey speaking on his work at Longwood Art Gallery.

Cey today = graphic artist and art director…influenced by pop art and superheroes, Warhol and Lichtenstein…learned screenprinting from one of Warhol’s Factory printers…uses Diamond Dust (tiny fragments of ground diamonds) on his work.

Cey: “Kids are always going to look for a way to get into trouble…part of doing the graffiti was the thrill of it, falling down, getting cut, sneaking into the train yard–you always had a good story to tell afterward…but today, I try to convince the young guys not to do it.”

Klass in front of his work at the Longwood Art Gallery.
Klass in front of his work at the Longwood Art Gallery.

Klass today — experiments a lot with materials…his pieces are layered and textured and explore a trip to Cuba to explore his heritage…trained to be an art teacher, three times up for the job, each time cancelled due to budget cuts…works as a graphic and commercial artist…

Klass: “Back then there were not a lot choices, you could either do this thing, or do that thing and hang with those kids who got arrested the week before, or hang out with the other kids and paint…my work is therapy, a way of dealing with the internal demons…I’m through with painting letters.  It’s time to move on.”


Juanita Lanzó, Program Coordinator, at Longwood Art Gallery

Juanita Lanzó, Program Coordinator, at Longwood Art Gallery.


Filmmaker Charlie Ahearn in orange parka listening in.

Wildstyle filmmaker, Charlie Ahearn, in orange parka listening in.


Kool Spin tagging a sketch book.

Kool Spin tagging a sketchbook.

Hardcore at Hunts Point

The Bride Wore Black Drummer
Drummer from band The Bride Wore Black at the Bronx Underground party.

Jumping Crowd at Bronx Underground concertOne of the dancers in the mosh pit lost a tooth.  A guy in a red “Staff” T-shirt made an announcement in the middle of the band’s set:  “Could you guys in the mosh please look around?  We’re looking for a tooth.”  Then lead singer of Queens band, Endwell,  announced their next song, “Single and Loathing It.”   Somewhere in his rough and raw vocal stream were the words single, and, loathing, it. He swallowed the mic whole, I’m sure of it, pushing it up to his epiglottis. The mosh pit was a maelstrom of rapidly over arcing arms and feet punching the air at eye level. They weren’t purposely slamming into each other (that would come later as the “Wall of Death”) but taking turns stepping into the circle to thrash dance and then step back. They were clearly following some method for entering and exiting the pit. I was truly fascinated. I asked My Favorite 14 Year Old, now My Favorite 15 Year Old, are they called dancers?  Moshers? What?  She shrugged and said she’d never seen such dancing. It was Saturday night and we were at The Hunts Point Community Center at one of Bronx Underground‘s “all ages” dance parties. They host concerts featuring local indie / emo / hard rock / punk / metal bands.  All concerts are in the Bronx, alcohol free and open to tweens, teens and adults.  We were searched at the door with a metal detector by a very apologetic staff member.

It’s tricky trying to find stuff for our Favorite 15 Year Old to do — only so many times can we go to the zoo or the botanical garden or a movie. We’re always up from something fresh.  The party had a good vibe overall.  The music was a deafening cool. The Big Guy said this could be the next CBGB.

Between sets, some of the crowd mingled in the neighboring room to eat french fries or a burger. To pose. Or peruse the fan merch of T-shirts. Later we saw a kid holding a big plastic bag of ice to his face bobbing his head with the beat. He was standing at a safe distance of the mosh pit where someone was surely dancing on his tooth.

The Day Before performing at Bronx Underground concert.Bronx band The Day Before. Justin Melendez, lead guitarist, at left. And Oscar Fernandez, lead vocalist, on the right.
Thanx P. Ramirez for id’ing these guys! (That’s him, their manager, with the ghoulish eyes, standing next to the guy in the Thrash sweater.)

Lead vocalist of The Bride Wore Black at Bronx Underground concert.

Lead vocalist of The Bride Wore Black, another band from Queens.

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Here’s how we came to know about Bronx Underground.

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