One of the things I love most about this city is that it is constantly recycling itself. If you’re a fan of urban hiking, you can walk the same streets day after day and almost always discover something new. Sometimes you notice something old that somehow escaped your attention. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you get yelled at by the police for taking pictures with your iPhone in a public fucking building.


On Friday I had some business at the New York County court house at 60 Centre Street. The subways on the West side don’t get you very close, so when you come up from the station on Chambers Street you have to zig and zag your way North and East for several blocks. I guess I had never taken this particular path before, or at least not for a long time, because I stumbled on something striking: the African Burial Ground National Monument.


It reads:

For all those who were lost
For all those who were stolen
For all those who were left behind
For all those who were not forgotten

From the plaque by the street:

A Place of Remembrance

From the 1690s until 1794, an estimated 15,000 enslaved and free Africans were laid to rest in the African Burial Ground. In 1991, during construction of the Ted Weiss Federal Building, 419 skeletal remains were exhumed. The rediscovery of the cemetery sparked vigorous efforts to preserve this hallowed ground. In 1993 a small portion of the original 6.6 acre cemetery became the first below-ground New York City landmark and a national historic landmark. African Burial Ground National Monument was proclaimed on February 27, 2006. Widely regarded as one of America’s most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century, it is also a place of remembrance and reflection.

Ancestral Reinterment Ground

On October 4, 2003, the exhumed ancestral remains were reburied on this site. The bones and accompanying artifacts were placed in hand-carved wooden coffins made in Ghana and lined with Kente cloth. The coffins were placed in seven crypts as close as possible to the original burial positions with heads facing west. Seven burial mounds mark the locations of the reinterments. If you wish, you may place flowers on top of the burial mounds.

The plaque also gives an overview of the layout:


Circle of the Diaspora

The African Diaspora is the forced removal of Africans from their homeland to different parts of the world. It is also Africans’ unwavering spirit and ability to adapt. This circular wall, ramp, and interior court display cultural and spiritual images from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and other areas throughout the Diaspora.

Ancestral Chamber

The 24-foot-high Ancestral Chamber represents the soaring African spirit and the distance below ground from which the ancestral remains were exhumed. It is made of Verde Fontaine green granite from Africa. The heartlike Sankofa symbol from West Africa means “Learn from the past to prepare for the future.” The interior recalls a ship’s hold and provides a place for individual contemplation and prayer.

I found all of this quite moving.

It was a cool gray day, raining on and off. There was a long line to get inside the visitor center, but the monument itself was practically deserted: I saw only two people, both black, come and go separately. (You will be happy to learn that I waited until they were well out of sight before I started snapping pictures like a maniacal tourist.) The monument’s web site has some interesting resources, but I’d really like to explore the visitor center when I have a little more time. It has a book store, which I’m hoping houses a treasure trove of titles that can rarely be found all in one place.

I love New York City, and I’ve learned over the years that its history has at least as many facets as people. Sometimes its stories are sad or strange, sometimes surprising or even exhilarating. But at the rate this city reinvents itself, it seems unimaginable to me that any one person could learn all that much about it, relatively speaking, even over the course of a lifetime.


A few blocks away, I was standing in line to clear security in the lobby of the court house. It’s pretty much the standard airport security theater setup: x-ray for bags and coats and whatnot, walk-through metal detectors and a phalanx of people in uniform, inside-joking with each other while waiting for someone to set of an alarm. Except unlike TSA agents, these d00ds were armed—NYPD, I think—and I couldn’t help wondering if they were also waiting for an opportunity to pull their guns. You know: to break up the monotony of Keeping Us Safe™ by killing someone.

As I waited my turn, I took in the stunning architecture, not for the first time. Soaring columns, vaulted ceilings, gorgeous details—lit up, unfortunately, by a monstrous chandelier ablaze with fluorescent glare.


“Hey! Hey! You can’t do that!” I heard one of the uniformed gentlemen barking. I ignored it —it couldn’t possibly be directed at me—as I snapped another shot with my iPhone.


“HEY!” Much more emphatic this time.”YOU CAN’T TAKE PICTURES IN HERE!”

“Oh. Really?” I was a bit miffed. What Sooper Seekrit stuff could there possibly be in the lobby of the same building where millions of New Yorkers serve jury duty, FFS.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t know.” It’s not like there was a big sign that said NO CAMERAS or anything. I slipped the phone into my pocket. “Did you want me to delete them?”

“WHAT?” he snapped back.

“The pictures, do you want me to delete them?”

He seemed to think about it for a second or two before shaking his head in exasperation. Or disgust. Hard to tell, really.

Later I wondered if I were black whether he might have opened fire instead.


On my way back to the subway via a different route, I spotted a Lot-Less store. It’s one of those discount/closeout/outlet operations that pepper the city, promising (and often delivering) all kinds of brand-name retail items, from food to shoes to housewares to electronics at, like, 80% off. I’ve always been a sucker for these shops, not least because when I’ve been poor, I could always score a deal there on some necessity. And when I’m not-poor, I take pleasure in paying a small fraction of the retail price for my gym socks and bathroom rug. Another opportunity to stick it to The Man!

I decided to take a quick swing through. And lo, it came to pass that I did scoreth The Deals.

For myself, I found an amazing dress for $20.


It fits me really well, which is a small miracle because there are no fitting rooms at Lot-Less and also because NOTHING EVER DOES GODDAMMIT. I almost didn’t buy it. But then I figured what the hell: worst case, I donate it to Housing Works with the tags still on it. (They’d probably get more than $20 for it too.) It seems well made, of 97% cotton 3% spandex, and it has deep pockets. WIN.

But this dress? This dress is nothing compared to what I scored for My Amazing Lover™. That’s right, people: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles boxer underwear—with a detachable cape! As I’m sure you can imagine there were precious few of them left, so I breathlessly pawed through the racks hoping to find a pair in his size. And find them I did.


L-R: front view, back view, back view with cape. 

I cannot fathom how one could possibly experience more joy for $3.99. Unless it’s happy hour, obviously. And yes, he loves them and will wear them to work under his business suit.

Possibly sans cape.


Speaking of happy hour, I was shortly back in my neighborhood, treasures in tow, and headed for one of my local watering holes for a late lunch and some very good Rosé. The weather here this winter has been all kinds of fucked-up, but somehow the Bradford pear trees have rallied to put on their annual show of snowy white blossoms.


The streets of the West Village never look more magical than they do in the spring, even on a dreary day. Soon all the white petals will fall to the sidewalks, and everything will seem snow-covered for a day or two. But the breezes will be warmer. And then I’ll get to wear my new dress, with open-toed shoes.


[cross-posted from perry street palace.]


  1. Onamission5 says

    Functional pockets in a warm weather dress? Did you also find a unicorn where are the photos of the unicorn.

  2. says

    You’re making me miss NYC. I grew up with parents whose idea of a family expedition was to hike from Columbia down to Canal St on saturdays or sundays, stopping along the way to experience what we encountered. I mostly remember being sore and overstimulated but now whenever I catch myself falling into my loose-hipped pavement stride, I smile.

  3. Menyambal says

    It’s been a long time since I used to wander through NYC. Thanks for this.

    That memorial is lovely. A place to weep for humanity, and to remember the mother land, and to be aware of what we have done.

    The dome was lovely, and the florescent lights were sacrilege.

    Love the dress. Wouldn’t have the nerve to wear the underwear.

    Bradford pears kind of bother me. I live in dogwood and redbud country, and the Bradfords come first and so extreme. Thanks for making me think how they must look in a city. (The trees were lovely here today.)

  4. chigau (違う) says

    Some part of me would ♥ to visit there.
    Other parts will pay many Canadian Dollars on airline tickets to

  5. dianne says

    Chigau, as a former and possibly future New Yorker, I resent that! NYC is not the US. It’s an occupied offshore island that is too polite and worried about missing business opportunities to actually rebel or anything crazy like that so it just humors whatever overlord shows up. Invading Canadians will be greeted with flowers. $5 apiece. What, you didn’t think we’d be throwing them to you for free, did you?

  6. says

    Onamission5: I didn’t see any unicorns on Friday, but I saw one at Gay Pride once. Not sure about the preferred gender pronouns of this particular unicorn, but they were adorned with the telltale pearly horn on the forehead, painted white skin, hoof-like shoes and a butt plug with a long, silky white tail.

    Marcus Ranum: Sounds like an amazing childhood, if a bit exhausting. I often envy the kids I see growing up here. They seem more kind and tolerant toward all sorts of diversity, and they are able to find and pursue an enormous variety of interests that thrill them.

    Menyambal: This d00d hates Bradford pear trees as much as I hate squirrels. Apparently they are an environmental menace. (And nobody would know you’re wearing the underwear—unless you forget to tuck in the cape.)

    chigau (違う) & dianne: In some ways, NYC still represents the very best of the USA, a fact that is brought home, hard, every time I leave the metropolis. I love that it’s still a haven for immigrants from all over the world, and so many ethnic communities thrive here while contributing something unique from their culture to the patchwork of the broader one (especially food!). Just yesterday I had a cab driver from Bangladesh: okay, he was kind of a douche, and spent the ride expounding upon the merits of patriarchy, gender essentialism and god, so maybe not a great example. But he is by far the exception. And NYC’s still a magnet for the arts, from highbrow to low. But yeah, with the exception of New Orleans and San Francisco, stepping foot nearly anywhere else in the US is not recommended. And I’d pay many American dollars to escape to Canada or Costa Rica if Trump gets elected.

    It also represents the very worst of the USA too, but generally speaking the kings of the Lizard People don’t actually live here: those d00ds (and they are all d00ds) commute daily via helicopter or whatever to their sprawling estates in the Hamptons, Westchester and Connecticut.

  7. dianne says

    NYC certainly does have its more…unfortunate element. Trump’s a Queens boy, for example. But most New Yorkers know that immigrants saved NYC when it was falling into ruin and immigrants and tourists are what keep it healthy and interesting. And, yeah, some of them are total douchecanoes.

    New Orleans, thanks to Katrina and, more importantly, Bush, is now NewOrleansLand, the theme park. At least, that was my impression the last time I was there. Seriously a ghost of its former self.

    I have 3 separate and distinct plans for getting out of the US if Trump is elected. Possibly because I have an overplanning problem.

  8. Raucous Indignation says

    Iris, you would not have been shot for taking pictures if you were black. C’mon, he was a NYC police officer. You would have been tasered. Or put in a choke hold. Or both.

  9. freemage says

    The no-photo policy isn’t all that uncommon in courthouses. Sadly, taking pictures of witnesses and jurors in order to find out their identities is one of the many dirty tricks used by allies of the more violent sort of offender. You might be able to get permission to do it at a time when there’s no foot traffic, but during the day, it’s one of those common irritants we get for living in a highly imperfect society.

    Also, I object to you leaving Chicago off of the list of acceptable locations in the U.S. It’s true that our cops are easily as bad as the NYC variety (we’re still fighting for change), but our upsides are about as good, too. I’ll hold any of our cultural institutions, architecture and immigrant society to anyplace in the U.S. Tip for Canadian visitors; if you’re not flying in, just take a boat across the Great Lakes until you get here–don’t get off in Michigan or Wisconsin, no matter how pretty they look. Lizard people abound in both states. Same goes for Indiana, of course, but the only dangerous lure there is the Indiana Dunes, and I think the Lizard People managed to let them get so devastated by erosion that they’ve been closed..

  10. grumpyoldfart says


    “Did you want me to delete them?”

    He seemed to think about it for a second or two before shaking his head in exasperation.

    Sounds like he was making it up as he went along. At his next break he probably asked his co-workers what the rules said about taking photographs.

  11. says


    I have 3 separate and distinct plans for getting out of the US if Trump is elected.

    I’ve lately been thinking we need to focus on places least likely to be affected by the nuclear fallout. Perhaps a nice ice cave in Antarctica? Ooh! Ooh! Let’s have the people who make the ice hotels build us something amazing!

    Raucous Indignation: We have plenty of shooter cops too, but yeah it’s always a toss-up how they prefer to kill unarmed black New Yorkers on any given day. It’s almost as if light skin were…bulletproof. :|

    freemage: I meant no disrespect to Chicago! But your winters are…fucking terrible. :p

    grumpyoldfart: freemage is correct about court houses generally prohibiting photography to prevent witness and jury tampering. But (1) high profile witnesses and litigants (this is the civil court, not criminal or family court) are usually brought into the building through other entrances, (2) it’s a constitutional right to photograph or film anything that is plainly visible in public spaces where you are legally allowed to be, and—specifically and unequivocally—to photograph or film police or other government officials performing their duties, and (3) surreptitiously taking photos (or video) with an iPhone is just too easy. If I had known photography in the lobby was off-limits, I’d have gotten those shots anyway and no one would be the wiser. I doubt the no cameras policy puts even the slightest dent in the problem it is (allegedly) intended to address.

  12. freemage says

    Iris: Oh, I would agree with that statement for any non-native. (My dear wife, who moved out here from California to be with me, in the last week of December, took two years to go native; she now can manage the chill quite handily.) Really, Chicago winters are a sort of a perverse local pride, like the Cubs and corrupt aldermen. The summers can be pretty brutal, too, with lots of humidity pushing the heat index to absurd levels.

    Autumn is much better–late September or early October can be lovely and brisk without being numbingly cold, and the forest preserves in the near suburbs become a riot of color; you just have to make sure you have a jacket handy that’s one notch up from whatever you left the building wearing.

    The best time to visit Chicago is the spring. Sadly, prospective tourists missed this year’s, which was on April 2nd, between the hours of 9:15 AM and 6:20 PM, CST. We’re now in the post-spring cold snap, which should be replaced with the first heat wave sometime in May. (I really wish I were kidding….)


    On courthouse photos: I know some courthouses deal with the issue by banning cellphones, cameras and tablets entirely. They don’t ban photographs, just any tool that might be used to take them!

    And I agree that the rule is pretty specious outside of set circumstances–but blanket rules are easier for courthouse employees to enforce, because then they don’t have to memorize a list of trigger conditions. So that’s the usual preference.

  13. dianne says

    I’ve lately been thinking we need to focus on places least likely to be affected by the nuclear fallout. Perhaps a nice ice cave in Antarctica?

    I was thinking Namibia. It’s relatively out of the way, everyone won’t be moving there, and it has a large enough middle/upper class to support the usual immigrant start up activities, like starting a restaurant. I was planning to start an exotic US-American foods restaurant. Bring your squirrel recipes.

    Also, I always thought NYC cops preferred alternatives to shooting because they’re lousy shots. Wasn’t there the one case where something like 200 shots were fired, none of which hit the actual suspect? (IIRC, they somehow managed to avoid killing any bystanders, despite this all happening in midtown.)

  14. freemage says

    Iris: If I have to sell the weather, it’s not gonna happen. We endure our weather in order to get everything else that comes with it, then brag about doing so. If I was gonna sell you on something, it’d be the food (and no, I don’t mean the pizza,) and the museums and the blues.