Mapping Gowanus: Hoyt st. b/w 4th st. and the Canal


Gowanus Sonnet

by Adam Reid Sexton


Post-Carroll Street, when you are Brooklyn-bound

On what my father called the IND,

The F emerges from beneath the ground,

And fills with light (by day) and you can see.


And what you see, if you look to the left:

Scratchiti; the reflection of your face;

A moonscape, blocks wide, edifice-bereft,

Within the tracks’ Erector Set embrace.


Perusal at Hoyt’s terminus reveals

Cement mixers, rotating, marked FB,

A Sheeler painting, all blue sky and steel:

Ferrara Brothers’ concrete factory —


The swan song of Kings County’s smokestack past,

As out of reach as Whole Foods’ lot is vast.






Mapping Gowanus: Sackett st. b/w Bond & the Canal

Homage to crud

On my way to Sackett St. between Bond and the Gowanus Canal, I may have passed a dozen construction sites, where luxury housing is slated to fill any and every crevice of my hyper-gentrifying neighborhood, Cobble Hill. Gowanus, too, is now home to luxury “waterfront” properties situated on the Canal, which is, never mind, a highly polluted, odiferous Superfund site. The block I was mapping is a piece of pre-gentrified Brooklyn that will no doubt soon be another astronomically expensive enclave, after all there are some large empty lots on this block that simply cannot survive the low interest, cheap money that is fueling the latest frenzy of development.

There was evidence of impending change – a surveyor was there, and a construction site sign that warned visitors not to enter. Nothing was actually getting built, and the block was quiet, save for a few stragglers like myself. I felt like I was documenting some last remains of industry, poverty, detritus, vandalism, and even art.

I was touched by the deconstructed air conditioners that had been slaughtered for their copper, the residue of a meal, a puddle of broken glass, cracked sidewalks, patched cobblestone, a shredded plastic bag, graffiti (even a pathetic “Trump” stencil), and all the crud that left traces of transient activity – a few Bud Lights, an abandoned work glove, a no parking sign for a film shoot called “Cyclops” that I’m guessing was a flop. The block reminds me of the kinds of decayed places I sought out in my teens to kick around and smoke cigarettes or get high. I will miss this block when it becomes sanitized by the encroaching money, eager to smooth out its edges and discard the trash.

Joan Grossman, Feb. 28, 2017






Facebook’s End-of-Year Video: What If I Don’t Like It?

If you’re on Facebook, you have no doubt been served up a year-end video that wraps 2016 up in a tidy little animated package, complete with soundtrack. I have to admit I’m a sucker for an animated slide show that I didn’t have to assemble myself. It’s like having Ken Burns as your personal scrapbooker and archivist. When FB made a slideshow of photos and videos I took of my husband handing out tissues at the marathon, I couldn’t stop watching it. It was a genius piece of ironic conceptual art that completely captured his wacky personality and made me and everyone who knows him want to laugh and cry at the same time. How was it so possible for an app to do this? AI has arrived.

But now Facebook’s end-of-year video is sending me into an existential crisis and threatening to un-do years of therapy. Because I *only* liked 1727 things this year.

This sounds like a lot, right? I mean, that means I liked an average of 4.73 things a day, every day for a year. And that’s in a year that, on average, had a lot of unlikeable things happen – at least in my opinion. So this should seem heartening. Maybe things aren’t so bad. Maybe Facebook is like a gratitude generator making us step outside ourselves and like things. (This is ignoring that a lot of the things I liked were probably posts complaining about current affairs.)

But the problem is, my friend Martha M. liked 37, 114 things.

Now, I am not at all surprised that Martha M. liked more things than I did. She is one of the most positive people I know, always quick with a compliment and a donation; an avid supporter of the arts and politically active. But are you seriously telling me she likes an average of 101.68 things per day? She is 20 times more positive than I am?

I was certain there was a clear mistake in the like-counter at Facebook.

But then other people started posting their like-numbers. Marian liked 18,078 things. An average 49.52 likes a day. And she’s pretty snarky. In fact a good portion of my sparing likes are probably bestowed on her posts about Sutton Foster’s outfits on ‘Younger.’

Could it be that I am a withholding like-r? And if so, what does it mean? Has Facebook stumbled upon a way to determine a positivity quotient? And mine is LOW? Could this be the reason for everything wrong in my life? How do I fix this? Maybe if I like more things on Facebook, I’ll finally sell that TV pilot or land that dream gig. Should I be giving the old thumbs up more generously to everything I read? I mean, I THOUGHT I pretty much clicked a thumbs up for most of my friends’ posts. Maybe I wasn’t on Facebook enough. Maybe I needed to devote more time to scrolling through my feed to like stuff. How many things could I like in a minute if I tried? I’d have to be careful about carpel tunnel, but I bet with minimal effort, I could add a zero to my like #. I mean, if rats in a cage can hit a lever….

And then it hit me. Mark Zuckerberg has built a giant Skinner box and we are all in it. Facebook is a giant behavioral economics experiment and we are being conditioned to like things. I am not the first to figure out that social media uses Skinnerian marketing to engage users. But seeing these numbers and the competitiveness it brought out really brought it home for me.

What is Facebook doing to us with this end of year tally? On the one hand, it points out how much time we must be spending in this Skinner box, and makes us vow to put “quit Facebook” on our 2017 resolution list. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with liking things.

Is there?



One-Minute Vacation: Culver Lake, NJ

We have been lucky enough to enjoy some special weekends at Culver Lake with the extended Turco clan – the family of our pal Louie, owner of our local Gowanus watering hole, Canal bar. (Or “Louis,” as his family calls him.)  I couldn’t help myself, I had to go a bit over on this one. Too much to choose from. I wish my camera work lived up to the quality of the soundtrack.


I Think Women Are Filled with Self-Doubt and Should Pretend We Aren’t

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me explain.

I’ve been writing a lot about women and entertainment lately and quite frankly it starts to get a little depressing to see our culture – and my social media feed – as a constant source of stories about gender bias. Even when I focus on stories about “powerful” women, there’s something about viewing the world through gender as limiting.

Which, of course, is the problem.

People talk a lot about unconscious bias when they talk about overcoming gender discrimination. Most of us who consider ourselves feminists assume we are immune.

Imagine my surprise when I came face to face with my own “unconscious” bias.

I was reading an interview with two TV showrunners in Variety, Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) and Alex Gansa (Homeland). I had stumbled on the article online and didn’t read the opening and didn’t know what Gansa looked like. In reading the Q & A, I assumed “Alex” was a woman. You might think this was very evolved of me, given that Homeland is a heavily plotted show about the CIA. But the reason I thought Gansa was female was that in the profile “Alex” talked a lot about how stressful the job was:

On the third, fourth episode of the first season, I was in the middle of a major nervous breakdown. I didn’t know how I was possibly going to do all the stuff I had to do. There’s a hill I walk up behind my house every morning and I just was clearly in bad shape. Jason Katims, who lives down the street from me, happened to be walking his dog. I just grabbed him, and said, “Jason, how am I going to do this job? I honestly don’t think I can do it.”

As I read this, I thought – I can’t believe the woman showrunner is talking so much about self-doubt! I started to get angry and debated whether to blame Gansa for not pretending to be more confident, or the writer for portraying a woman showrunner in this way.

Then I saw the photo and realized Gansa was male.

I was immediately impressed with his honesty.

So I had to confront several things:

  • I assume someone who expresses self-doubt is female.
  • I expect women in powerful positions to go out of their way not to express self-doubt, so as not to feed into this stereotype.
  • When I hear men express self-doubt, I think – wow, he must be confident to be able to express his vulnerability like that.

What a sexist hypocrite I am.

Another powerful showrunner, Jill Soloway (Transparent) got a lot of attention for comments recently about there being an “all-out attack” on the female voice. In it she admitted:

“I just want to make sure you know I’m always plagued by insecurities. The insecurities are always going to be there. Notice them when you’re there writing, when you’re trying to get your thing out there, when you’re setting up your night where you’re showing your films.

This is really no different from Gansa’s admission. The difference is in how I (and I assume some others) hear it: Men who voice insecurities are self-deprecating and brave; women who voice it are in danger of being viewed as weak or incapable. This is likely some combo of my own sexism, my own insecurity and self-doubt, and overcompensation for how I fear (know) women are judged compared to men.

Change will come from recognizing our own unconscious biases and starting to question them.