Tuesday, September 25, 2007

If you're round my way.

If you're 'round my way & hungry, check these spots out:

Dominican Food Truck - Rockaway and Strauss

Fried pork or chicken with rice and peas, plantains, and tostones for $4 or $5 (Small or Large). I check this spot out if I'm decidedly not eating healthy that day. They set up at around 8am and are still there when I'm leaving at around 3;30. The truck says JJ Snack Bar on 181 Dean St, so I imagine that there are a few others around the city. Have you seen one?

Napoli Pizza - 1712 Rockaway Ave

You can get a $1.75 slice and it's the best in the neighborhood. They don't have paper plates! They only serve slices on a tray with a piece of waxpaper on there. It's also the only place to grab a Cherry Coke 'round there.

It's also the sanctuary for some cops in the neighborhood. Around lunchtime, you can see them playing PSPs or reading the Daily News. If you're lucky, you might get to listen to them talk about all the "animals" in the neighborhood, which they call the "zoo."

Monday, September 24, 2007

So you can actually find milk:

Family Dollar on Mother Gaston between Belmont and Pitkin. They Got it:

Family D got Milk!

I've been spending my lunch breaks here:

Brownsville Bike Shop

Hoping to record a whole CD by January there. More info to follow. Brownsville stay high ^ ^ ^

Friday, September 21, 2007


My health class in high school was taught by a woman with a whole mouthful of false teeth. I guess that’s not so odd considering the existence of husky gym teachers and brutal irony, but it still lead me to believe that she didn’t know what she was talking about. She gave us the basic food pyramid thing and lamented about the importance of a good breakfast, but no real insight one would expect from a health class.

Before taking the class the class I knew that brown rice was better than white rice, fruit punch was not fruit juice and that candy at 7:30 am is not the breakfast of champs. Why? I come from a middle-class family and I learned these things from my nutrition savvy mother. It’s not common sense -- healthy eating is a learned lifestyle.

I relied on neighborhood coffee when I first started teaching here to give me that perk a teacher needs from 7:30-3:10. I wasn’t surprised that I couldn’t get it with skim milk, but was surprised at the bodega at 7am: kids buying every type of sugary candy they could pick up for a buck.

It seemed like a woebegone Wall Street where, instead of traders frantically trying to buy stocks of Intel or Apple, kids were frantically calling for x amount of Now-and-Laters or Swedish Fish. It’s quite a scene.


A co-worker and I once had a chat on how wrong this was and attributed it to why our kids were so wild in the morning. Of course! They get that initial rush of sugar and then crash at around 10 a.m. I don’t need some toothless health teacher to help me out with that one. It’s common sense.

But this oppressive cycle makes sense to me now. It’s easy to blame the kids or parents for this, but the NYC schools are poor models of healthy eating.

Every now and again, I’m exiled from my room (one of the more sizable rooms in the school) for parent teacher conferences. We recently had our first one of the year and I helped with the planning, which mostly involved setting up a few rows of chairs.

At the conference, the parents were served a platter of Twinkies, cupcakes, cookies and doughnuts. There was also orange juice, but the fruit platter apparently cost too much. Twinkies at 10am? SURE! Everything was gone by noon except for a bit of cranberry apple juice that I managed to swipe. Trickle down ignorance at its best.

I can give a few more vignettes about how bad it can get. If I don’t have a coffee by around 10 am, I usually wander to the vending machine to get something to keep me going. Ya know, a bag of peanuts or a diet cola or whatev.

Co-worker: Diet soda, Francis? You’re so healthy!
Francis: Not at all - just need that lil perk. It’s still bad for you. Nahmean?
Co-worker: I hear you
Francis: Truth.
Co-worker: Truth.

But once you have the knowledge of how to eat from the tree of life, come to Brownsville for some of the local cuisine.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

You can take the C or the 3 to Rockaway Ave

Between the two Rockaway Avenue stops in Brooklyn exists a stretch of road that fuses the marketplace feel of Chinatown with Dinkins era NYC, when crack wasn't understood to be so whack. Coming down the steps from the above ground 3 train, you're immediately beckoned by vendors selling $5 belts, bracelets bearing the names of Caribbean countries and untold amounts of nontraditional Yankees fitteds.

Further down on Rockaway Ave, you'll find one of the best shopping areas in Brooklyn: Pitkin Ave. Here you can get a beef patty, a weave, and a pair of Jordans all on the same block. But seeking out a place to get fresh veggies or a jug of milk might send you wandering into some uncharted Brownsville territory. Despite this unusual shortage, anyone who walks down the street will be asked if they have health insurance or not. Free Health Plus is a mainstay on the corner of Pitkin and Rockaway and there's usually a someone in a haggard looking bunny costume (the Free Health mascot) handing out free info on the policies.

may 9 011
Free Health Plus van

A friend of mine who likes conjuring up arcane and hard-to-prove statistics told me once that Brownsville/East New York had the highest AIDS rate per capita in the world -- even more than sub-Saharan Africa. I thought about it for a while and had to say "That dude's crazy," but a little research shows that it's still pretty severe. In 1996 there were 1,769 reported cases of HIV/AIDS per 100,000 adults -- the highest in Brooklyn, but not in Africa. (1)

I knew a bit about Brownsville before I started working here. I knew M.O.P. was from here and there's also a line in a Biggie song that goes "Remember them nggggs from the hill up in Brownsville?" I think that's what most people who are into hip-hop associate with Brownsville. Otherwise, people generally acknowledge that it's a pretty rough place and say "Damn, you work in Brownsville!" when I tell them what I do.

I've been teaching at a public school here for a little over three years now. Which, in teacher-speak, means that I'm a tenured professional. YEAHHH BOYYYY. Maybe that's why I didn't start this blog until now -- I am posting this at a time when I should be "on the clock" or "doing work," but my next class doesn't come in for another twelve minutes or so.

Next time I'm going to touch upon the food issue here in Brownsville. I wasn't kidding about the milk! If you want a quart of it (probably not skim milk), you better lace up those Jordans and get ta steppin'.

(1) http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/press_archive96/pr32-696.shtml