An Earth Day Postmortem, Spanish Harlem Style

Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a New Yorker. Today’s post No. 39 is an Earth Day Postmortem centered around my neighborhood.

It has recently come to my attention the bodega attached to my apartment building doubles as a late-night convention center where debate clubs square off. That’s code word for people looking to kick the shit out of each other for no discernible reason after buying a soda and chips. These excitable parties often contain two to four members, and they’re never the same from night to night. I am not sure how they afford it but each member seems to have voice training, based on how clear their words are to me five stories above. They use their diaphragm to label each other the n-word and/or slang for the female anatomy, describe sexual acts their opponent’s mother should perform on them, and all other manner of threats designed to make their foes “PAY ME MY DAMN MONEY!!!” What I have described is the soundtrack to my Spanish Harlem nights, every night. I count threats, not sheep, to fall asleep.

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Favorite Songs Of 2014, Way Too Early Edition

Hamilton Leithauser performs during The Walkmen's set at One Eyed Jacks on Sept. 30, 2009. Photo credit: Cajun Tomato.

Hamilton Leithauser performs during The Walkmen’s set at One Eyed Jacks on Sept. 30, 2009. Photo credit: Cajun Tomato.

Some days New York City makes me miss having a car. Not because I miss driving – god knows cabbies make my nerves bad – but because I miss singing, err shouting, in the car with my favorite music. I can’t, in good conscience, do the singing/shouting thing on the subway. I’ve noticed more and more people doing that – mostly aspiring rappers – as the city thaws from a brutal winter. If I tried to rap on the subway people would best-case scenario hand me change to stop. Either that or attempt to physically escort me out at the next stop.

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Prompts: “Covering Gustav, The Storm Of The Century”

Me photographing a sheriff's deputy fixing a roof leak during the height of Hurricane Gustav.

Me photographing a sheriff’s deputy fixing a roof leak during the height of Hurricane Gustav.

Prompts is a joint creative exercise between my friend Matt W. and I. We will choose a different subject at the beginning of each week and post no more than 500 words on said topic on Fridays. This week’s topic: Describe a time you overcame fear.

We slithered south toward the Gulf of Mexico on a deserted two-lane highway – the sheriff’s spokesman, the Washington Post reporter, and I in the spokesman’s cruiser – dodging fallen tree branches crisscrossing the road. Power lines sagged into ditches. Water rested atop yards like sheets of paper. Darkness choked the land. Our headlights might as well have been the last lights in the world. In the backseat the reporter from our nation’s capital peppered the spokesman with questions about our area as he drove. I already knew most of the answers before the spokesman supplied responses, at turns playful and dismissive. We were deep in the heart of bayou country, among the first to lay eyes on the aftermath of the so-called “storm of the century.”

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Prompts: Searching For New York City’s Best Pizza Slice

Koronet, one of the biggest, if not best, slices in NYC.

Koronet, one of the biggest, if not best, slices in NYC.

Prompts is a joint creative exercise between my friend Matt W. and I. We will choose a different subject at the beginning of each week and post no more than 500 words on said topic on Fridays (whoops, today is not Friday). Today I am writing about a project I will embark on for the next three months.

A few weeks ago I re-watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II for the first time in at least 15 years. Doing so reminded me how fortunate I am that the rats congregating in my building’s garbage cans cannot talk or perform karate moves, reintroduced me to Vanilla Ice’s high water mark, and made me ask the question, Why no Rocksteady and Bebop. The movie also proved an outstanding vehicle for the wonders of New York City pizza, as consistently excellent and cost-effective a food item as one could hope to find in this overpriced metropolis.

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Cajun Tomato’s Guide To Jaywalking In New York City

Jaywalk, please.

Jaywalk, please.

Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a New Yorker. Today’s post No. 38 is titled Cajun Tomato’s Guide to Jaywalking in New York City.

On my first visit to New York City in 2012 I noticed people standing five or six feet in the street as taxis and buses whizzed past. The vehicles parked on the street shielded pedestrians from threat of bodily harm. Still, I was skeptical. I stood on the sidewalk, like the child afraid to dip his toe in the deep end of the pool. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City I understood why people camped in the street, and thus started doing it myself. It makes jaywalking easier.

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Prompts: “You Will Go Far, Restless Ginger”

Prompts is a joint creative exercise between my friend Matt W. and I. We will choose a different subject at the beginning of each week and post no more than 500 words on said topic on Fridays. This week’s prompt: write a letter to yourself from five years ago.

Ray From What Seems Like Forever Ago aka T-Ray Bay Bay,
One day you will escape Retirement City with its glut of pink slime-slinging fast food chains, shit-stained bayou and mutation-causing tap water, fort-like civic center that looks like the architect thought attack was imminent, and downtown intersection of “Altercation and Confrontation” which guarantees free entertainment and greasy pizza. You will work up the nerve to quit your job – a development many say will never happen – and pick a spot on the map far from your ancestral home of swamps and bayous and just go. You will dip your toes in the two oceans (brrrr!), make wonderful new friends, and revel in experiences that leave your head spinning a la David Byrne in the Talking Heads classic “Once In a Lifetime”. The restlessness you wrestle – that feeling your life is evaporating quicker than the wetlands with nothing to show for your troubles – might seem like a curse most days, hanging like an albatross around your neck, but it is your fuel, your ticket out.

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Angel Olsen Lights Up Le Poisson Rouge

Angel Olsen, she of the elusive smiles.

Angel Olsen, she of the elusive smiles.

Full disclosure: This concert happened Feb. 20, which is almost a month ago. I might rename this site Cajun Tomato Monthly.

I entered Angel Olsen’s sold-out Le Poisson Rouge show with two misconceptions. One, her performance’s power would hinge almost entirely on her garage girl band gone old-timey country voice. The live clips I’d seen showed her gently strumming her guitar without a backing band. Two, like a sullen mime the St. Louis born alt-folk/alt-country/alt-heartbreak artist never broke her stone-faced glare while singing. In both areas a revelation awaited.

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Prompts: Ode To My Garage Sale-Loving Mom

Prompts is a joint creative exercise between my friend Matt W. and I. We will choose a different subject at the beginning of each week and post no more than 500 words on said topic on Fridays (or Wednesdays … wink, wink). Here’s a prompt detailing something my parents were right about that I didn’t realize until later.

Me, in more delusional times.

Me, in more delusional times.

One of my enduring childhood memories revolves around my mom hopping in her Ford Escort on Saturday mornings to go garage sale’n. She would highlight the upcoming sales in the local newspaper the night before then drive up and down the bayou eyeing discarded treasures for quarters on the dollar. I did not value her hobby then. I barely tolerated it. I called her prized takeaways “junk” on more than one occasion. I equated frugality and thriftiness as poor people’s concerns, distant from my fantasy world of Saturday morning cartoons. My mom laughed at my immaturity and continued her Saturday morning routine.

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Reflections On The East Harlem Explosion

NYFD sprays water on building carcass moments after explosion Wednesday morning in Spanish Harlem.

NYFD sprays water on building carcass moments after explosion Wednesday morning in Spanish Harlem.

The mysterious boom lasted two, maybe three seconds Wednesday morning then disappeared, like a jarring apparition. I had pressed the snooze button on my phone minutes before, eager for more sleep on my first day back from vacation. The massive sound stirred me to attention. I asked one of my roommates what she heard. “Sounded like thunder,” she replied. Thunder, in my experience, is a rarity in New York City. No, it sounded like an explosion, I said. For all I knew, the blast, if it was a blast, could have happened a block away or 20 blocks away. The noise came and went and the magnitude of what had just happened in East Harlem, which I will heretofore refer to as Spanish Harlem, escaped me. I checked Twitter, found a lone tweet about a boom, then posted my own missive into cyberspace, wondering, for lack of a better phrase, what the hell had just happened.

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Mas Ysa Fails To Launch During Record Release Show

Thomas Arseneault (nee Mas Ysa) at Glasslands. Photo credit: Brooklyn Vegan

Thomas Arseneault (nee Mas Ysa) at Glasslands. Photo credit: Brooklyn Vegan

His stage name could conceivably be pronounced three or four ways. His backstory reads like a person playing hopscotch over the western hemisphere. His vocals on the Pitchfork-approved cut “Shame” recall Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu howling for help in vain as he tumbles down a sinkhole. And the song’s words, well they are anyone’s guess. Yes, Montreal via New York City via Brazil performer Thomas Arseneault (nee Mas Ysa pronounced maas ee-sa) has oodles of intrigue.

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Observations of a Cajun living in NYC