04/12/17 9:10pm

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The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city and its inhabitants in the hours between dusk and dawn.

How often do we pass a place and remember someone from our history? It’s a curious bit of personal tradition for me to swing through Philadelphia and think of Shannon; Washington, D.C., to bow myself against the memory of Amy; Miami resonates with Evan; in Delaware I think of my lost friend Hilary; Trenton is for Dakota; Charleston is for Hannah; and Savannah is for Georgia, a girl named for the state I once called home.

Here I find myself between them again, traveling on a train with stops along the northeastern corridor, a place scattered with memories.

This corridor and these women stay connected in my mind; the electric charge that once existed between us persists against the erosion of time on memory. And on a 10:10pm northbound Amtrak late last winter, after a weary month of traveling with stops in D.C. and Richmond, the Carolinas and New Jersey, I realized that some places remain shallow reliefs of the people with whom you experienced them. (more…)

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12/22/16 10:51am

We asked our contributors, friends and notable Brooklynites to share their favorite New Year’s in NYC. Here, Pizza Moto co-owner Anna Viertel shares hers. In case you’d like one of their phenomenal pizzas or addictive smoked trout caesar over the holidays, note the staff is taking a much-needed break between Dec. 24 and Jan. 2. 

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New Year’s Eve has never been my favorite holiday—New Yorkers especially seem to go bananas in an arbitrary way that clogs up the town and sets expectations so high one can only end the night disappointed. (I prefer the quiet, guilty reflection of a secular Rosh Hashanah for ritualizing the turn from the year past to the year to come.)

In 2011 I moved back to New York having left 11 years prior to go to college at the University of Chicago. I spent New Year’s Eve that year with two old friends at the Bell House in Gowanus, not far from where I would eventually open my restaurant and put down roots in Red Hook. (more…)

12/22/16 9:26am
Illustration: Laura Davies

Illustration: Laura Davies

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city at night.

There are roughly three different modes for subway cars, in my experience. There is, first and most familiar, the crowded commuter car in morning and early evening, where mere inches of personal space segregate straphangers into parcels of remorse or happiness or anger, based primarily on the day ahead, and its promise, or the day behind, and how those promises were either met or denied.

Second, there is the alarmingly vacant car, found in summer when the air conditioning succumbs to underground heat, or in winter when a homeless person claims a third of a car, cordoned off by garbage bags.


“It’s Saturday night,” he shouts, “get your head right.”


Third, there are subway cars that are sparsely populated, something dangerously close to pleasant in the early afternoon before school lets out, and downright sleepy at night, when passengers find themselves traveling underground, for any number of reasons, past the hour of midnight.

No matter which variety of car I find myself in, I am nearly always self-conscious.

My time underground is delegated to baseless fear and anxiety. It’s existential dread about being too close to someone, or unknowingly breaking one of the many unspoken subway laws–manspreading, pole hogging, staring. Sometimes I’m simply flustered about my appearance–the blemish on my face, the tear in my pants, the stain on my shirt, and I believe everyone is looking at me. This rarely happens above ground, outside of confined spaces. These fears surface most acutely in autumn for me. Call it subterranean affective disorder.

I once missed an express A train, the last one departs at about 11pm from Times Square, and found myself inside a later, local-bound car not quite like any of the ones I’ve described, or like any car I’d ridden in before. This was something different. It was not the first type of subway car, nor was it the second or third. It was not a distinct fourth type either—it was a car in transition. (more…)

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12/15/16 10:22am
Illustration: Laura Davies

Illustration: Laura Davies

“Bully” is a word I’ve never really used until recently. It felt juvenile, like children are bullies and adults are jerks, assholes, nemeses or perhaps enemies. I’ve always found other words more pointed, but now bully feels relevant.

I have been thinking about bullies a lot since the election. The past months have produced video footage that illustrates the mood in this country–a man standing in the aisle of an airplane, clapping his hands and hollering “we got some Hillary bitches on here… hey baby, Donald Trump is your president, every goddamn one of you, if you don’t like it, too bad.” Another cell phone video shows a white woman in the craft store Michaels in Chicago yelling at the staff that they are discriminating against her and that she voted for Trump. Another man in a Starbucks also claims he is being discriminated against and that he also voted for Trump. On the flip side there is no shortage of people being harassed for being black, for being Muslim, for being queer, for being female, for being.


While it feels like this is a singular moment for un-reason, there has long been plenty of shouting in American culture.
Bullies are nothing new.


This is the new world we live in and now it is time to deal. We cannot keep our heads down and hope to ride it out. There has to be a plan of action. Reason won’t work. “No ma’am, that cashier is not discriminating against you,” you may want to calmly explain. “She is working at the exact pace that her hourly wage dictates.” But this person who picks a fight in a store, or on a plane, or waiting for a dessert masquerading as a coffee drink doesn’t want to work anything out; her only desire it to dominate. Discussion has no place here.

While it feels like this is a singular moment for un-reason, there has long been plenty of shouting in American culture. Bullies are nothing new. Standing up to them isn’t either.

In 1996 I lived in Chicago and trained to become an escort for women’s clinics. The escort’s role is to create a shield between the patients and the picketers while maintaining the legally sanctioned buffer zone intact. (Buffer zones mark a specific distance from the clinic door that protesters may not come within. Their distance varied from state to state, but in 2014 the Supreme Court declared them an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.) Some moments required us to form a human shield around the patient to keep her safe and out of reach. (more…)

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11/10/16 9:29am
Write a thank you note to Hillary Clinton.

Write a thank you note to Hillary Clinton.

Yesterday was a difficult day. Many of us went to bed too late on Tuesday night, after drinking too much, and woke up to a political reality that we find personally terrifying and morally appalling. One friend told me that her college students, many of whom are minorities, are actively scared. Many friends worried about the state of women’s health care. I personally wonder if my family’s health insurance will be taken away, or become even more expensive if our subsidy is reduced or eliminated. I worry about families who receive food stamps and non-profits who receive government funding. I worry about my son growing up with a president who rates women on looks and compliance alone.

At the same time, we can and must move forward.

Racism, xenophobia and misogyny are factors in how we got here, yes, and we must stand against their enduring legacy in our country, but there is no one answer. As compassionate, curious citizens in a democracy we must also concern ourselves with how to improve life for everyone, yes, including those who just elected Donald Trump as our next president, while upholding the values of inclusivity and diversity.

There are a few smart lists of how to do this circling the internet. This open letter from 100 national leaders who are women of color is a good place to start. Jake Dobkin at Gothamist and Anil Dash both managed to clear their heads yesterday and write reflections and calls to action. If you need permission to step back for a bit, I’m troubled by this Garrison Keillor piece from the Washington Post, but there’s a place for it. And, after staring at my screen, reading everything on the internet until it felt like my eyes were bleeding, I talked to a few kind people in Brooklyn about their advice for this difficult time, compiled below.  I also think step one is taking a media break for a few days–including social media–to eat dinner with people you love, hug your kids and be thankful for all we have and the opportunity to stand up for it. After you read this, of course.

Join a new community

I wasn’t happy when George W. Bush won in 2000, or 2004, but the way I feel about this election has a deep sense of moral crisis for me. I’m not religious, but in search of spiritual guidance, I reached out to Reverend Vince Anderson, who you may know from his Monday night services at Union Pool with his band, The Love Choir. Anderson is serious about music and faith, beauty and art in a way that is expansive, inclusive and profound. Maybe you’re repelled by anything that smacks of religion, or maybe there’s something comforting and positive about connecting to community in a different way than you’re used to–which is something we will all need to embrace in the years to come.

I emailed him yesterday morning to ask his thoughts and this is what he wrote back:
(more…)

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11/08/16 11:48am

Hillary Clinton may be the latest woman from New York to seek an office in the White House, but she is not the first. Shirley Chisholm and Geraldine Ferraro, both New Yorkers, made their own cracks in the political glass ceiling. As we head to the polls today, fingers crossed and nails bitten, some wearing white in suffragette solidarity, let’s take a moment to look back at the powerful women who came before Clinton.

Chisholm and Ferraro were as different as two Democrats from New York City could be. “As fierce of a progressive and critic of the system as Shirley Chisholm was, Geraldine Ferraro was a total apparatchik. She made her way up by being a machine pol,” Amy Schiller, a political commentator and CUNY doctoral student teaching a class on women in American politics at Brooklyn College this semester, told me in a phone call.

Shirley Chisholm, 1972 

In 1968 Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress. She was a progressive Brooklynite who championed expansion of social services, education, and immigrant rights and used that momentum to make a presidential run in 1972. She focused on housing as the key to confronting economic inequality and championed bills to expand childcare for families, for immigrant rights, quality education, free school lunches, and consumer protection. She was, as her brilliantly direct campaign put it, “Unbought and Unbossed.” (Her memoir and a documentary about her run for president both use the slogan as a title–consider watching the latter if the returns get to be too much tonight.)

As Smithsonian Magazine pointed out in an article from last spring, “She was one of only 19 Representatives willing to hold hearings on the Vietnam War. And she was a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Women’s Caucus.” She sounds like everything serious progressives want in a candidate. So why don’t we remember her? (more…)

11/04/16 1:14pm

My Facebook feed tends to display the same five stories framed in slightly different ways–the winner of the big game, the latest political outrage, Game of Thrones reactions, something Louis C.K. said, plus a few photos of babies and dogs. I scroll through it and take the temperature of my little slice of America each morning.

There are outliers though, and that’s the best thing about Facebook as a news aggregator, the weird stuff. I have friends in my feed who consistently post stories I haven’t seen yet and would not have seen otherwise, like this article from GOOD about how important pets can be to people who are homeless.


I called up a few experts, and also took an informal poll of friends to see if other minds out there were a-changing and if so, how and why.


It completely changed my mind. It reversed what I thought about homeless people with animals, and slightly widened lens through which I view the world. That’s unusual. I engage in just as much pleasurable confirmation bias as the next reader. It feels good to read something that states what I already think, but in a more organized way with quotes and a few facts I didn’t know. I was surprised by how nice it felt to change my mind about something, especially in a way that allowed for a more compassionate world view (the takeaway is that these relationships are mutually beneficial, yes, even for the animals).

Not long after I read that, a friend who is also an editor posted a link to this story, which embraces using “they” in place of “he or she” saying, “I’ve really come around to this.” That got me thinking, in the midst of a very contentious, polarizing election, about how we go about changing our own minds, and why it’s so hard to change how others think.

So I called up a few experts, and also took an informal poll of friends to see if other minds out there were a-changing and if so, how and why. (more…)

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11/03/16 9:52am
Jessica Jones in the Court Square Diner.

Jessica Jones in the Court Square Diner.

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city at night.

There is just one spot in the five boroughs suitable for a psycho-prism support group meeting and for hatching a plot to take on the Yakuza. That’s Court Square Diner in Long Island City.

Located near the former 5 Pointz graffit mecca, and the junction of 7, G, M and E trains, the diner is a mainstay in the modern noir universe of Marvel. It is the go-to haunt for Matt (Daredevil) and Jessica (Jessica Jones). Scenes from CBS’s Person of Interest and FOX’s Gotham were also filmed at the stand-alone diner, one of the last in New York City.

Tucked beneath the elevated 7 train, it beckons after-hours mischief with its neon signs and slick, aluminum train-car interior. Silhouette etchings of the Queensboro Bridge and the Silvercup Studio sign line the mirrored walls. Across the street, an adult viewing booth sits incongruously tucked between Vietnamese and Thai take-out restaurants, in a neighborhood with high-rise, high-rent condos.

Absent from this scene on a recent Monday night, but not unimaginable given the atmosphere: an orange and white smokestack puffing clouds of baleful steam, suffusing the street with mood. (more…)

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10/13/16 1:49pm

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There’s a pair of swans in Prospect Park. And I love them.

Every time I walk through the park–which is fairly often, once or twice a week in the summer – I make sure to find my swans. I love watching their long, graceful necks twist and turn, how they duck underwater to catch some sort of food, and then shake off, flat-footed, along the shore.

One day a few summers back, my dog, Buckley, spotted one of these swans floating on the lake. I could see his tiny dog-brain working: “Oh. My. God,” he was thinking. “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. I must catch it.”


A person’s spirit animal is an essential distillation of selfhood.


I wanted to see what would happen. I was pretty sure the dog wouldn’t actually harm the swan (nor the swan the dog)–I knew that swans were fierce, and my dog was a coward. I was confident he wouldn’t even get close. So I let go of Buckley’s leash and watched him charge at the bird.

When it saw the dog, the swan reared up, spreading its wings to their full span–at least six feet–and hissed the fiercest hiss at him. Buckley immediately retreated, racing back to me, away from the huge animal. Swans are killers. Swans are ferocious. Even my dumb dog knew better than to mess with them.

When I saw the huge, beautiful animal hissing, I immediately identified. I, too, seem unthreatening, even charming. But, like the swan, I throw down. I’m not afraid to hiss at anyone–or whatever the human equivalent of spreading my wings and hissing would be.

On our walk back home, I texted my dad.

“I realized that if I were an animal I’d be a swan,” I wrote.

“Excellent,” he responded. (more…)

09/09/16 11:39am
Illustration: Vinnie Neuberg

Illustration: Vinnie Neuberg

My goal was to get my phone upgraded and walk home. I no longer took subways. I was too afraid. I saw a brown-skinned man turn around and look at me. He crooked his head and tilted his body closer to mine. I felt nervous. Why was he coming toward me?

If you were in New York during 9/11 you remember the eerie days that followed the horrific attack. The smell of burned ashes still wafted in the wind. No one yelled. No sirens blared, just the deafeningly loud footsteps of people passing by. It was on those days I felt the most anxious.

I was in downtown Brooklyn during the aftermath. I joined the mobs of people desperate to get new cell phones. We wanted to ensure that we’d always have a way to connect with our loved ones, to never be out of touch or reliant on the long lines for pay phones again. (more…)