Keeping It Really Local
By Danielle Beurteaux, Photograph by William Hereford
Anyone who reads the blog New York Shitty knows about El Blablazo. And anyone who reads the blog knows that the blog’s owner and writer, Miss Heather, loves El Blablazo. Which is why, on a windy, wet Saturday in early December, I found myself heading to El Blablazo, in the company of Miss Heather, carrying a Ziploc bag filled with Christmas tree lights.
We enter the store.
“We left you a donation,” she tells the store owner, and hands him the bag.
“Thank you. Merry Christmas,” he replies.
“Right back at ya.”
Okay, well, maybe you don’t know. El Blablazo is a sturdy sidewalk tree protector/bench that has been built around the tree in front of the Francesca Mini Market at 1074 Manhattan Avenue, and christened El Blablazo — as in, someone who talks a lot. And last Christmas, it evolved into a community Christmas tree where anyone could bring and hang a decoration. And Miss Heather loves Christmas decorations. Oh, does she love decorations. The brightest, the oddest, the most imaginative, and eccentric visual expressions of the neighborhood — be they Christmas lights, graffiti, street art, signs — find their way to New York Shitty via Miss Heather’s photographs.
Which is one of the most endearing aspects of the blog. Started in April of 2006 to document, through photos, commentary, and mapping, the blight of pet waste on the sidewalks of her neighborhood, it has developed into a guide to everything Greenpoint and Williamsburg, and a little bit of Bushwick, Long Island City, and the occasional trip to parts far afield like the Bronx. Miss Heather’s photographs of anything she finds interesting, sometimes with a comment, sometimes just a location, sometimes with the tip of her sneakers visible in the frame, form the bulk of New York Shitty’s content. But the site has also become something of a virtual community center. Notices about local events, issues with housing, and questions about construction sites or store openings and closings are all in the mix, and there’s a kind of conversation that often happens in the comments section. It has won fame outside the neighborhood, too, including winning the Village Voice’s Best Neighborhood Blog in October 2009.
Miss Heather is a self-described smartass. Her moniker, she explains, was forced upon her by her colleagues at not one, but two, jobs, and it was not meant as flattery. But it stuck, and, says Miss Heather, “I’ll be 80 and I’ll just be a crazy old lady called Miss Heather.”
Miss Heather hails from Texas and arrived in the city to attend Parsons School of Design, where she studied sculpture. She’s lived in Greenpoint for ten years and has no plans to leave.
Anyhoo (a favorite word of Miss Heather’s which often punctuates her conversation), I wanted to know how it all began. But before I can ask my first question, Miss Heather rushes out the door of the store on Manhattan Avenue where she works and where this interview was conducted, to check out a passing lady’s outfit.
“One of my hobbies is documenting the love women here have for leopard and animal print clothing,” she told me. “You’ve got your Fifth Avenue fashion and you’ve got your Manhattan Avenue fashion. I prefer the Manhattan Avenue fashion.”
What was the spark that made you think doggy poo is a blog subject?
My block had a serious problem. It was February and I was walking down to the Franklin corner store to get sandwiches, and the weather was pretty bad. So on top of having to negotiate ice, sleet —there was shit! Shit! Shit! It pissed me off. So then I had this idea I would just document it. And I created the crap maps, which I really enjoyed. You could see where the concentrations were.
So you were walking around the neighborhood and the blog morphed into taking pictures of whatever was out there?
Yeah. It would segue into writing about things that I thought were interesting.
How often do you walk around?
As far as taking walks, about three days a week. I always take my camera with me. Because when I don’t, that’s when I see something really, really good.
What are your favorite things about Greenpoint?
I think this was my first favorite thing. There’s a beautiful sign for the Russian People’s Home of Greenpoint. It’s an artifact of previous waves of immigration.
There’s the Astral apartments in Greenpoint, though in my mind that’s probably second to the old bank that’s located at Franklin and Greenpoint. There’s the Pencil Factory, which I adore with the big terracotta pencils. I love that. It’s so kitschy.
In terms of architecture, there are blocks upon blocks of great things. How can I forget 218 Beadle Street, the house of leopard print?
The Newtown Creek Waste Treatment Plant. In terms of architecture, I love it. I wish the new housing here was built with as much care to appearances. What’s more, the fact that you have a sewage treatment plant, that’s also public art.
Did they intend that?
That was part of the plan. There’s something delightfully absurd about that…They didn’t mean it to be funny but it is funny. It’s a poster child for this neighborhood. I mean that in the best, nicest kind of way.
What are things you don’t like or think need improvement?
It seems like this rezoning was passed and there was not a lot of planning as to what was going to happen when you started putting more high density housing. The ramifications for the G-train, which was already starting to have problems and now you’ve got the prospect of a 40-story tower going up at the end of India Street.
This is becoming a really big bee in my bonnet—schools. I know a lot of people my age or a little younger who are starting to have children. So in about five years you’re going to see a lot of children trying to get into the school systems. And the schools here are very, very good. I don’t know how that’s going to be maintained if they’re hit with a glut of children.
We were promised park space. For all intents and purposes, we haven’t gotten diddlysquat. Don’t get me wrong, the park at the end of Manhattan Avenue is nice, but it took them two years to do it and it’s not that big.
Have you ever thought of getting involved in politics?
I don’t have the moral flexibility to be in politics. Although I think it would fun to run for City Council. Just for fun.
The way I look at it is, everybody can make their contributions in different ways. I can make my contribution via my site. I can raise awareness with things on there and they will get attention.
Like the time I walked down West Street and there were these two derelict construction sites. The fences were rotted and they had fallen over. People started throwing garbage in them. I was furious. So I took pictures, posted it. Got fixed very quickly.
Did you ever think the blog would be as popular as it is?
Not in my wildest imagination. Just like I didn’t think a post about a hamster would get so much attention it would crash my site, but it did. Repeatedly for about three days on and off.
When did you first notice attention was being paid to your blog?
I’m going to be a bit of a wiseass here. I noticed attention was being paid to my blog when certain newspapers were ripping off my stories! When I started noticing that stuff I was writing about was beginning to pop up in the mainstream press. That led me to believe that people were paying attention. Not just readers, but I’m used as a source.
You have lots of lost animal signs on the site, and you have cats. How many do you have?
Five. That wasn’t planned.
A final word on Greenpoint?
There is a sense of community here. People talk to each other. We help each other out. That’s what I find endearing. And this neighborhood is a hothouse of eccentricity. You can be eccentric here and people won’t care.