Today was a hot day in New York. At about 82 degrees and higher I wilt, and the animal in me was set on seeking out harbor breezes and shade. Subsequently, I found my way onto the Staten Island Ferry with Jamie, to go on An Adventure Walk, which to him means to wander aimlessly for a time until we stumble on a destination of his choice. We've wound up on Avenue D in a community garden, in Chinatown at a bubble tea joint, and at the cemetery around the corner from us where the raven Jackson lives. Today's Adventure was steered by me; I'd visited this place once before.
Several years ago I wrote a piece for Time International, A Thrift Store in Every Borough. Finding these was no problem in Manhattan or Brooklyn; was a bit trickier in Queens; and was downright difficult in the Bronx. My favorite, Everything Goes Around on Staten Island, is run by a commune community on Staten Island who call themselves Ganas. They were founded in 1979.
When I first located and visited the Staten Island store, located on the main drag about a five minute walk from the Ferry, I had no idea that there was a commune behind its operation. As I made my way through the racks and floors of clothing, I questioned the employee. "How long have you been here?"; "Who owns it?", etc. The guy, who looked a lot like Moby, told me how it's run by this community of people who live and work together. I was sort of creeped out by him (he had that vague gray vegan pallor). I picked out a couple of random items and asked him where I could find a decent cup of coffee. Despite its near-waterfront status and closeness to the Ferry, there's not much in the way of restaurants or cafes on this road. But lo and behold, just another two minutes by foot around the bend, was a Bookstore Cafe run by his community.
It was lovely back then, and held up well today. When Jamie and I piled out of the Ferry today we inadvertently found ourselves greeted by hundreds and hundreds of cyclists completing the annual 5 Boro Bike Tour. I asked him whether he wanted to turn around and ride back to Manhattan, which is usually what the tourists do, or take an Adventure Walk. He opted for the latter, and after making our way around the hectic finish line we found ourselves in the Ganas bookstore. In the cafe room is a stage where readings and performances are held. Its walls are covered with "Doors From Haiti", paintings done on doors whose sale "will directly benefit the earthquake victims". The bookstore portion of the cafe is formidable; there's a vintage book section, an impressively stocked children's corner, a room that holds a ton of vinyl, and naturally loads of spiritual and self-help books.
The first time I was there I was aggressively invited to attend a drumming circle later that week (I said maybe, and um, got too busy). This time, with kid in tow, I was happy for the children's corner, iced coffee, and the gingersnap cookie and fresh Fuji apple juice that kept Jamie satisfied for an hour or two. The people watching was as interesting to me this time as the last.
A German woman, accompanied by a dwarf, sauntered in with her seven- month- old baby, took him out of her Batik sling, and laid him face down on the floor while she sat down and rolled herself a cigarette. Jamie offered up loud stage whispers about the man who was "growing tiny". A cute-ish bald guy in his early 30's with a tattoo on his skull that spelled out the word Arette or something was chatty after he poured our drinks. All in all, it was a nice pitstop-- better than the crappy littered median park across the way that yielded no pleasure beyond a dandelion or two. I can't say that I want to throw it all over for a stab at this lifestyle, but it fascinates me and disturbs me. I'll be back.