Friday, May 18, 2007

Spark-filled memories

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Sir, sir, please back away slowly from the sparkler. Haven’t you heard about the kid who burned his eye out with one of those things?

True story — I heard it from a man who knew a guy growing up who saw it happen — and now he is on a mission to spread the truth about the evil of sparklers to every man, woman and child in Brooklyn.

I first confronted the fire evangelist about a year ago as I was searching Bay Ridge for a few sparklers to give to the neighborhood kids (I’m that kind of guy, what can I say?). The fire evangelist overheard me asking the counter-girl at Associated Supermarket on Third Avenue, and he dutifully leapt into action.

“Why the hell are you looking for firecrackers?” the old man said. “You looking to get someone killed?”

I thought he must have misheard me, and I calmly explained that I wasn’t looking for any sticks of dynamite, only some kiddie sparklers.

“That is what I said, firecrackers,” the old man growled. “Are you looking to burn your child’s eye out?”

Burn my child’s eye out, with a sparkler? This guy is a freak.

Freak, perhaps, but on the right side of the law. Every store I went into, I was told the same thing: sparklers are illegal and dangerous. I began to think that maybe I was the freak. I mean, how could nine counter-girls and one cranky old man all be wrong?

But what exactly is so bad about sparklers? Everything, say our local cops.

“Sparklers are harmful and illegal,” said Officer Steve Agosta of the 62nd Precinct. “Sparklers are very dangerous. They burn hands and start major fires, so we advise that you don’t go near them.”

It isn’t even June, but Officer Agosta wants to get the word out early that she and her comrades are going to war against fireworks — and that means “zero tolerance” (even for sparklers).

This means heavy fines, or even possibly jail time, for possession of any fireworks.

At a recent 62nd Precinct Community Council meeting, a couple of officers said that if the public doesn’t get its appetite for destruction under control, the cops plan on inviting themselves to our barbeques and cuffing people who violate the prohibition.

“If you store fireworks in a private house, a small spark could ignite the flames and the whole house could go up,” said Agosta.

Exploding houses in Brooklyn? Am I being put on here?

Yes, says Bill Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks, one of the largest retail sellers of incendiary devices in America. He believes the city’s laws are outdated.

“Truth is, these aren’t your father’s fireworks,” said Weimer. “Today’s fireworks are tested in 20 different ways and are safer than they ever were.”

Weimer says the vast majority of injuries come from “drunken Uncle Charlie showing off in the backyard,” but says that when used responsibly, “Fireworks are all about good-old-fashioned family fun.”

It isn’t just family fun, it is a tradition, and one that Yellow Hooker doesn’t plan on giving up any time soon. Heck, I don’t even have an Uncle Charlie!

A source pointed me in the direction of at least one guy in Bay Ridge who still sells the fiery freedom sticks, and sure enough, I found him. No, there was no shiny display case, but the goods were stashed in the back.

Of course, I protect my sources — of information and of fireworks — so I’m not going to reveal the location.

And don’t try to stop me. The risk of jail is well worth taking for a few pleasurable hours making sparkler circles in the back yard as it get dark. But for those less-adventurous souls out there still looking to celebrate Independence Day with a little boom, there remains one government-sanctioned firework alternative left in Brooklyn, according to Agosta.

You know those little white snappers that you throw at the ground and they make that pop?

“All fireworks are illegal,” Agosta repeated. “But if you are only using little snappers, that might be all right.”

Snappers “might” be all right? Have you heard of the kid who lost a toe when he stepped on two snappers at the same time? It’s true. I heard it from a guy who knew a guy …

The Kitchen Sink
Leif Ericson Day School at 1037 72nd St., where Juan Amendano died last Friday, is raising funds to aid Amendano’s family. Just stop by the school or call (718) 748-9023 for more information. …

The much ballyhooed Viking ship that was scheduled to land at Owls Head Park for this year’s Viking Festival on May 19 has, unfortunately, been lost at sea. Sources tell The Stoop that the mighty vessel’s captain was in a car accident and won’t be able to make the trip to Bay Ridge. …

Bay Ridge Cheesesteak Factory at 8407 Third Ave. is offering a 20-percent discount to union employees. …

Stop the Asian Longhorned Beetle! The scourge of the northern parts of Brooklyn may be spreading to our area. All residents are now required to call 311 to arrange a pick up time when discarding any woody debris. In this great effort to save the trees, the Parks Department has mailed out thick paper instructions. …

Spring may have just sprung, but the crowded basketball courts in Shore Road Park at 79th Street and Shore Road have been heated for some time — too bad the same can’t be said for Alex’s jump shot. Yeah, you know who I’m talkin’ about! …

Overheard last week while in line in Bagel Boy at 8002 Third Ave.: “Park Slope is full of hypocrites,” a woman said. “They pretend like they are so tolerant and evolved, but the minute some Muslims wanted to build a school there, they act like their hair is on fire.”

Ridge heavyweight wants to be big loser

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

A larger-than-life local figure is about to lower his profile — by a few hundred pounds, hopefully.

Bay Ridge resident Will Millender, 26, is embarking on a 10-week, 550-mile walk from Boston to Washington as part of a new reality show in which 12 super-sized contestants lose weight to win cash.

“I can’t tell you much about it now, but I am hoping the next time you see me, that you will be seeing a lot less,” Millender said last Thursday, the day before he left to begin filming of ABC’s six-episode series, “Fat March,” which is based on the British reality show, “Too Fat to Walk.”

It is the latest variation among TV weight-loss shows, but unlike “The Biggest Loser” and “Celebrity Fit Club” — where contestants battle each other — the goal of the “Fat March” is to become one big band of brothers.

If they stay together by the end of the walk, they share the $1.2-million pot — but every time someone drops out, or is voted out for slowing the others down, the pot is reduced by $100,000.

But the rippling Ridge resident is looking for more than big money and his 15-minutes of fame; Millender (pictured) is looking to change his life.

“I know I need to do something about my weight,” said Millender, who tips the scales at, well, he wouldn’t say. “You just don’t see a lot of older people my size walking around, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.”

The show, which will be broadcast in August, has already taken a toll on Millender. During a pre-show taping, he fainted and was sent to the hospital. After seriously considering dropping out, Millender, a Kingsborough Community College student, was convinced to keep going by the show’s physical trainers, who are also the hosts. (Turns out, it was just a low-blood-sugar thing. After Millender was checked out, he was cleared to continue.)

Surviving “Fat March” isn’t the first step to changing his life, only the latest, according to Millender’s girlfriend of two years Erin O’Keefe.

“Over the past two years he’s gone from working retail with no ambition to going to college, making the Dean’s List,” said O’Keefe. “It has been a tremendous life-changing few years for him.”

Trial, tribulations, and even a slice of celebrity are nothing new for Millender, who has battled his weight for several years, and whose image can still be found on storefront posters across Ridge for his first place showing at the Fifth Avenue pizza-eating contest last June at Rocco’s Pizzeria (Millender was cheered to victory by a huge crowd that included a once-legendary, now slimmed-down, eater, Borough President Markowitz).

He ate 10 slices in the regulation 12 minutes. The performance made him a legend.

“We had about 2,000 people cheering him on,” said contest host Joseph Loccisano. “If he can walk as well as he eats pizza, he should win that contest, too.”

O’Keefe says that Millender’s march is bigger than any one man, and could set a healthy example for millions.

“This is a once in a lifetime experience — he is going to get healthy and win cash,” said O’Keefe.

The dead speak at Ridge’s doomed ‘Green Church’

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Another voice has jumped into the debate over the so-called “Green Church” — this one from the grave.

When the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church building was built almost 100 years ago, it was consecrated with a ceremony for the dead who were reinterred from the original church — the very same dead who will now be dug up when the Green Church is torn down for condos.

It’s almost certainly not how those former congregants would have wanted to be treated, says local historian David Elligers.

He recently unearthed a news article from 1901 that made it clear that those early Methodist congregants felt that the church ground was sacred.

“The present generation did not desire the bones of their ancestors scattered to the four winds of heaven,” the article reported.

The relocation of the congregants’ remains became necessary in 1900, when the city purchased the site of Grace’s Methodist Church — including its cemetery — in order to expand roads around what is now Sixth Avenue and 67th Street.

At that time, community members were invited to watch as workers sifted the dirt “to make sure that not a single bone was left behind,” said the church’s then-Pastor W.L. Davidson.

The bones were dug up and moved to their current resting place in front of the Green Church at the corner of Fourth and Ovington avenues in 1901 (see photo).

“It is clear that this was very important to the community of that day,” said Elligers. “It looks like they really wanted to ensure a proper resting place for these people.”

The engraving says that “211 bodies were transferred July, 1901 from the old cemetery of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of the town of New Utrecht at Cowenhoven Lane and Sixth Avenue. Ninety of the persons were unidentified. The names of the others were on church records.”

The newspaper article also reported that some remains were of communal and historical importance, including church elder Adrian Bogart. “His body was held in high regards by all Methodists,” the article said.

Today’s congregation does not feel the same obligation to allow the community to observe the re-interment — and it isn’t afraid to say it.

“It is none of your business, or anyone else’s” said Pastor Robert Emerick. “We are a competent religious organization and we know how to handle human remains.”

Community members looking for information on the current fate of the remains have run into a stone wall sturdier than the Pennsylvania limestone that gives Bay Ridge United Methodist its green hue. But this contentious relationship wasn’t created in six nights and seven days.

The trouble began shortly after reports of the sale of the Methodist cathedral, when Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) hosted a community meeting in hopes of opening up a dialogue with the sale-minded congregants. But the congregants fought back, claiming that the councilman was trying to infringe on the separation of church and state.

Emerick was later quoted as referring to the remains as “only dust,” much to the chagrin of community activists hoping to preserve a piece of Bay Ridge past. Afterwards the pastor decided it would be best to tune-out the media entirely.

“I have decided that I am not going to dignify this process with a response any longer,” Emerick said. “I am not happy with how the media has handled this, so I am not going to answer any more questions.”

More steroid news

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

One week after drug enforcement authorities raided Lowen’s, the popular mom-and-pop pharmacy at the corner of Third Avenue and 69th Street, new details emerged about the store’s alleged steroid sales.

The Daily News reported this week that the drugstore was using its pharmacy to mix stanozolol, a powerful anabolic steroid — and that the store received 100 requests for steroids and human growth hormone from all over the country while the agents were conducting their May 9 raid.

More than $100,000 in steroids and growth hormones were seized in the raid.

This week, it was business as usual at Lowen’s. A manager refused to comment.

A plunderers paradise

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

If only Norwegian explorer Leif Ericson were alive to see this.

Leif Ericson Park, located between 66th and 67th Street on Eighth Avenue, will undergo a $1.4-million renovation that would make any Viking proud.

The new makeover will include new play equipment with a Viking ship theme, new swings, a synthetic turf volleyball area, basketball half-courts, game tables, and benches, a picnic area with accessible seating, and lush perimeter gardens.

Officials got downright poetic at the prospect of a new park.

“Youngsters will delight in the new playground,” said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe at Tuesday’s groundbreaking (elected officials and agency heads donned horned helmets for the occasion, and Swedish fish, Danish cookies, and Icelandic water were handed out to the kids).

“Just as the park’s namesake explored North America, children can make their own discoveries while playing in this state-of-the-art playground.”

Indeed, the youngest Vikings are already looking forward to seeing the barren playground transformed into a plunderers paradise.

“It could be really cool,” said one young boy, though he quickly added a cynical aside: “Anything would be better than how it is now.”

Almost all of the rehab costs were finagled by Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge).

The park is named for Leif Ericson, the first millennial Viking best known as the first European to set foot on North America (he did it nearly 500 years before Columbus, that copycat).

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