Welcome to Issue #26 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Last week’s story about Bingers Bargain Bins, the crazy Queens store selling truckloads of Amazon returns, had readers asking if I’d bought anything there myself. The answer is no. My policy when it comes to shopping: Never Buy Anything.
That was actually my second visit to Bingers. I first went last summer, on a Tuesday when everything in the store was priced at 99 cents. I didn’t buy anything then, either, but here is a list of items that, according to my notes, I managed to pass on: beard wash, acid-wash jeans, an open box of protein bars, camouflage boxer shorts, an antibacterial microphone cover, pizza-pattern sox, an Atlanta Falcons pet bandana, a package of pink pipe cleaners and “Demonic” by Ann Coulter.
In other news, I am planning to launch a new reoccurring item, “Senior Citizen Roulette,” in which I stop random oldsters on the street to get their response to a question of the week. What would you like me to ask New York’s Most Venerable? Please send your ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org.
No big feature this week, just a lot of nonsense. Please enjoy! And stay tuned for next issue which will include an interview with my friend Adriana in the Bronx who lived for more than year in a secret room in a mall!
IN THIS WEEK’S ISSUE
• Weird Trash Photo #18
• Eric Adams Update
• One-Star Reviews: NY Botanical Garden
• Department of Fun Facts: Leo Tolstoy
• Quote of the Week
WEIRD TRASH PHOTO #18
What is going on in the city of Brotherly Love? Reader Ashley B., who previously submitted several disturbing trash photos from her fair city, sent another dispatch last week with the subject line, “More Beautiful Garbage From South Philly.”
“I loved this display right on the corner of South 5th Street and Little Sigel Street,” she wrote. “Have a great day!”
I asked for some context and did not immediately hear back, so I forwarded the photo to a “friend,” Aharon in Flatbush. His response: “Seems like whatever holiday this celebrates comes earlier every year.”
ERIC ADAMS WATCH
On Homeless Accountants, Baseball and Nose Piercing Plans
I’m still enjoying the exploits of New York City’s new mayor, Eric Adams. As a recent profile in Politico put it, “In a city of weird people and weird mayors, Adams is maybe the most idiosyncratic figure to ever hold the office.”
Here, round-up #3 of the mayor’s doings:
April 8: The mayor’s latest TikTok shows him hanging with the NY Yankees on opening day. Guardian Angels founder and former mayoral race rival Curtis Sliwa comments, “Do you actually work during the day?”
April 18 After first declining to disclose his IRS returns, Mr. Adams announces on Tax Day that he has changed his mind, but there will be a delay. He blames his former accountant, whom he says is now homeless and living in a shelter. The mayor adds that he has hired a new accountant.
April 23: Promises to accomplish two things before he leaves office: he’s going to get his nose pierced, and he’s going to get a dog.
April 25: In a budget address to the city announcing several funding increases, compares himself to FDR and crows, “It’s going to be hard for people to hate me!”
April 25: Following the address, the Mayor tweets: “There are only two types of Americans: those who live in New York, and those who wish they could.” A commenter replies: “What about Fort Lee?”
The New York Botanical Garden: “Like, Super Boring”
Is there anything more fun than a one-star review? In previous issues, we’ve looked at the single-star indictments left online for Central Park, War and Peace and the Grand Canyon. This week, we return to NYC for a look at what critics say about the 250-acre New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. The spread, which includes a 50-acre old growth forest, a 650-variety rose garden and more than a million plants, is a bitter, bitter disappointment for some.
“Just feels like Central Park with plant labels.”
—Ria Kim, Google
“You will see the exact same plants in Central Park.”
—Ani Osborne, Google
“Want to see a garden? Go to Home Depot and see one for free.”
—Dimitri M, Yelp
“My god what a waste of a day.”
—Jillian Rivera, Google
“They never NEVER answer phones.”
—Irene Gemelos, Google
“We were rudely received by an employee at the entrance.”
“$3.50 for hot tea on a freezing winter day. Seriously?”
—Christopher Bogard, Google
“Probably the worst sandwich I've ever eaten in 75 years!”
—Martin Wells, Google
“If you’re a tourist and you drive, forget about being able to find reasonable parking.”
“I went on a member night. It was so crowded that parking was inconvenient and we were directed to a multilevel garage.”
“The azaleas, daffodils, lilacs were all just green plant life because the flowers had bloomed and fallen.”
—Janice Cook, Google
“There is nothing to see in winter, leaves are gone, no flowers, all we saw were piles of snow.”
Marianlea R, Tripadvisor
“This place is boring. Like super boring.”
—Chaz Bick, Google
‘It was difficult to walk without stepping on so many rocks.”
—Angel Noboa, Google
“What's the point of the botanical garden if we see nature everyday????”
—Joshua Remirez, Google
DEPARTMENT OF FUN FACTS
Leo Tolstoy: “A Weird F—ing Guy”
Phew! I just finished reading Tolstoy’s last novel, “Resurrection.” He wrote it late in life, so it’s super preachy. But it’s still Tolstoy, so it’s pretty good! In fact, I’ll stand by what I’ve always said—Tolstoy is the best writer ever. His literary talent combined with his deep understanding, sympathy and love for his fellow man puts him in a league of his own. Perhaps Chekov said it best:
“When literature possesses a Tolstoy, it is easy and pleasant to be a writer; even when you know you have achieved nothing yourself and are still achieving nothing, this is not as terrible as it might otherwise be, because Tolstoy achieves for everyone. What he does serves to justify all the hopes and aspirations invested in literature.”
Having finally read all of Tolstoy’s novels (I only finished War and Peace on the fourth try), I wanted to get a better sense of who he was. I already knew he was a big influence on social and educational reform in 19th-century Russia, pen-pals with Gandhi and started his own religion. But until I read Rosemund Bartlett’s super-fun biography, “Tolstoy: A Russian Life” last week, I had no idea just how bonkers he was. Below—all from Ms. Bartlett’s 544-page book—21 fun facts about Tolstoy. Please enjoy!
1. He grew up in a super rich noble family. When Tolstoy’s dad was 15, his aunt gifted him a serf to be his personal assistant. The next year, his parents gave him a peasant girl for his “health.” According to Bartlett, they enjoyed oysters imported from Holland, asparagus and pineapples grown in their own greenhouse and likely sent their linens to Amsterdam for laundering.
2. Tolstoy had a crazy, globe-trotting sailor uncle, Fyodor Tolstoy, who was covered with bird and snake tattoos and always getting into trouble. Fyodor was forced to eat his own pet monkey after being abandoned by a ship crew on the Aleutian Islands. He went on to marry a gypsy singer and had twelve kids.
3. When Tolstoy was two years old, his mom died. When his dad died a few years later, he had to go live with his aunt. On the plus side, he inherited his own country estate which included 300 serfs and several neighboring villages.
4. As a teen, Tolstoy experimented with different looks including shaving off his eyebrows.
5. As a young man, he also loved to hunt, as did his brother Sergey, who shot so many wolves they used the bones to make a fence.
6. When he was 20, Tolstoy left his country estate for St. Petersburg, where he developed a massive gambling addiction. Every so often, he had to sell off a village to pay his debts. In 1854, to cover another loss, he sold the middle section of his house to a neighbor, who dismantled it and rebuilt it on his own land. Only the two wings remained; Tolstoy occupied one and let the second crumble.
7. He later became a sort of Russian Ben Franklin, keeping a journal tracking his resolutions to wake at 5 a.m., avoid sweets, read Gogol and visit the brothel no more than twice a month.
8. In 1862, when he was 34, he married 18-year-old Countess Sophia Behrs, whom he sometimes referred to as his “eldest daughter.” Haha! Things were different then!
9. Before writing “War and Peace,” he started a novel, “Strider,” a tale told from the point of view of a horse named Strider.
10. The original title for “War and Peace” was “All’s Well That Ends Well.”
11. “War and Peace” was a huge best seller! But according to Bartlett, that didn’t stop one publisher from selling an abridged version billed as “Twice as short and five times more interesting…Almost no philosophical digressions…A hundred times easier to read…Much more ‘peace’ and less ‘war.’”
13. In another marketing ploy, people who bought the first four volumes of “War and Peace” got the fifth volume free!
14. When Sophia got pregnant a sixth time, she begged Tolstoy to make this child the last. Her duties, after all, included not only raising the kids and managing the estate, but serving as her husband’s full-time copiest and editor. They went on to have seven more children.
15. Tolstoy was super sensitive and always getting into fights with his pals, including Turgenev.
16. His second big novel, “Anna Karenina” famously starts, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” But the original first line was, “There was a cattle exhibition in Moscow.”
17. In mid-life, Tolstoy decided that writing novels was a waste of time and devoted several years to writing a grade-school primer for peasant children. It was adopted in schools across the land and sold a million copies. He was a lot more proud of this than “War and Peace.”
18. He next got super interested in the economic plight of Russian peasants. After freeing his own serfs, he decided he’d like to throw off his rich-man ways and take up the peasant life himself. His wife, who was understandably concerned about the 13 kids they had to support, wasn’t having it. They fought a lot.
19. His next adventure: a spiritual crisis. He became a devout Russian Orthodox Christian, then came to view the church as corrupt and hypocritical, and wouldn’t shut up about it. He was excommunicated, wrote his own version of the New Testament and started his own religion, Tolstoyism, a sort of pacifist, communist, Christian-based anarchy, which got him in trouble with the Tzar. He was super popular with the Russian people, however, so everyone was afraid to throw him in jail or send him to the concentration camp. Instead, they sent his followers to the concentration camp.
20. Later in life, he studied Buddhism, became a vegetarian and took to wearing homemade onsies. An English journalist who visited him in 1888 remarked, “He not only thinks strange things, and says them with rugged force and vivid utterance—he does strange things; and what is more, he induces others to do the same.”
21. In 1910, when he was 82 years old, he ran away from home with the idea of becoming a wandering mendicant. He made it as far as the train station, where he dropped dead.
Wow! As one Goodreads reviewer noted in her summary of Ms. Bartlett’s biography, “Tolstoy was a weird f—ing guy.”
Knowing all this about Tolstoy just makes me love him more, of course, and reaffirms an essential point: people who accomplish great things are often quite unpleasant, and just as often very odd. WHY? Please post your thoughts.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“I might have to go back to meeting people in Microsoft Excel.”
—Michael Hollander, Brooklyn
CAFÉ ANNE is a weekly publication from Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. If you’re enjoying the newsletter, please consider a $5-a-month paid subscription.