From The New York Shitty Inbox: Reader Op Ed

December 13, 2009 by
Filed under: 11222, Greenpoint, Greenpoint Brooklyn, Greenpoint Magic 

Manhattan Avenue at Norman Avenue, 11222

Manhattan & Norman

Nassau Avenue at McGuinness Boulevard, 11222

Nassau & McGuinness

Driggs Avenue at Russell Street, 11222

Driggs & Russell

Tony (who took the above photographs) writes:

Heather,

If there’s ever been a moment in my time in Greenpoint, where I have said to myself, “This is not good” it would be the recent home-made advertisements going up in the windows of several (too many!!) liquors stores for a vodka that is sure to do bad things to the already very  alcoholic masses in Little Poland. Attached are three (of many more) adverts for “Spirytus Vodka”, which is an alcohol equivalent to Ethanol. My girlfriend & I bought a bottle of it as a gag gift last week because it was very cheap and the bottle itself looks less like a beverage and more like something found in someone’s garage or basement next to the paint strippers and gas can.

If you go to an alcohol distributor website they say this: “At a full 95% alcohol by volume, this is the strongest spirit on the commercial market. Alcohol at this strength can be very dangerous if consumed to excess – this should never be drunk neat, but rather used very sparingly as a ‘float’ to give cocktails an extra kick.”  I’m going to guess that our fellow alcohol-addicted neighbors will not be using this as an “extra kick” and a product like this will only increase alcohol-related sickness and death in Greenpoint, not to mention increased compromises to our emergency care services.

I realize there’s a million other vodkas to choose from and yes, it is totally legal, but I am kind of disgusted with the obvious attempt by local liquor stores to shamelessly promote using ethanol as the best way to get from standing to half-dead on the sidewalk with this nasty stuff. All the soup kitchens and outreach have nothing on cheap deadly spirits available and advertised on every other block in our hood.

Tony makes a very salient point: while perfectly legal, is it ethical to sell such products in a neighborhood with one of the highest rates of alcoholism in the city? I also agree with Tony that while this product is intended to give cocktails an added “kick” it is all too likely some will see fit to drink this product “straight” with potentially fatal results.

While I do not want to sound like I am placing the responsibility for the alcoholism problem in this community squarely on the the providers of this product and others like it— there is without argument a measure of personal responsibility at play. However, when dealing with individuals who have a bona fide problem and as such cannot act in their own best interests at what point (if ever) does it become the responsibility of the community to do so (in this case, by not selling such products)? I do not profess to know the answer to this question— but I want each and every one of you to give it some thought nonetheless.

This is not simply the matter of a handful of afflicted individuals; it is a community problem.

Miss Heather

Comments

13 Comments on From The New York Shitty Inbox: Reader Op Ed

  1. SGI on Mon, 14th Dec 2009 12:29 am
  2. Firstly, I would hazard a guess and say that neither Tony nor his girlfriend are Polish. No Pole in his right mind would even attempt to down a shot of spirytus straight up. Poles use various fruit syrups such as courant, cherry, rasberry, etc., to mix with the spirytus to dilute it. Usually, it’s in a ratio of 3:1 fruit syrup to spirytus. If you walk into any store on Manhattan Ave, like Pol-Am, W-Nassau Meat Market and other such shops, you’ll see one liter bottles of these fruit syrups for sale. These are imported by Adamba, Wawel and Marco Polo. These syrups aren’t something one would normally use on pancakes or waffles.

    There is no need to get preachy about the alcoholism problem which afflicts some Polish residents of Greenpoint. The same could be said of hipsters/yuppies who think it’s cool to do shots of Bacardi 151, Wray & Nephew Overproof (150 Proof), Stroh Austrian Rum (160 Proof). Does anyone question the ethics of selling those brands? How about bars that serve alcohol cocktails like Long Island Iced Tea?

    All i’m saying to people like Tony is, don’t assume you know what you’re doing or talking about just because you think so.

  3. SGI on Mon, 14th Dec 2009 1:02 am
  4. Additionally, I take umbrage at the condescending tone of the entire article. Missheather, as a lifelong ‘Pointer, I truly enjoy this blog. But, when you start to sound like one of the preachers from the Five Points mission, it really irks me. What makes you feel that you know what’s in the best interests of these purported wretches? You want to curb the alcoholism problem in Greenpoint, pressure CB 1 from issuing any more permits for lounges in the area. For a long time, the number of bars and saloons was steadily declining. Then came the 1990s, and the influx of yuppies, hipsters and trust fund babies, who reversed that trend by opening “lounges” with clever (only to the owners) names by the dozens. Now we’re back to having a bucket shop on every corner with the attendant problems associated with them. I don’t care for drunken members of the aforementioned new residents using my stoop as a disposal area for their empty designer beer bottles or, vomiting and urinating on the same. I’ve encountered more of these folks, loaded on liquid stupid, than I have of the Polish variety.

    Just to let you know where I’m coming from, I’m Polish.

  5. missheather on Mon, 14th Dec 2009 11:23 am
  6. As it would happen, SGI, I am (among many other things— this is a melting pot, after all) of Polish-Lithuanian derivation. I was not in the least bit offended by what I wrote. I imagine this is some part because I know Tony rather well. Perhaps it didn’t come across but what he is voicing is disgust. This is not directed at the Polish population per se— although it is impossible to overlook the fact that a number of the people we see in our parks and streets passed out drunk clearly are Polish—- but at “enablers”. One need not look very hard to see that alcoholism is a problem here: just go to McCarren Park, the American Playground or the intersection of Greenpoint and Manhattan Avenue and you’ll see it. What angers Tony and troubles me is the fact some businesses are knowingly selling this product to these individuals. Not only is this ethically questionable, but knowingly selling spirits to an intoxicated person is illegal.

    That said, you wrote: You want to curb the alcoholism problem in Greenpoint, pressure CB 1 from issuing any more permits for lounges in the area. For a long time, the number of bars and saloons was steadily declining. Then came the 1990s, and the influx of yuppies, hipsters and trust fund babies, who reversed that trend by opening “lounges” with clever (only to the owners) names by the dozens. Now we’re back to having a bucket shop on every corner with the attendant problems associated with them. I don’t care for drunken members of the aforementioned new residents using my stoop as a disposal area for their empty designer beer bottles or, vomiting and urinating on the same. I’ve encountered more of these folks, loaded on liquid stupid, than I have of the Polish variety.

    You are spot-on about pressuring CB1 against recommending so many liquor licenses. I too have seen the garbage, the public urination, and heard the NOISE that have come from the proliferation of bars here. However, you should be mindful that these are symptoms of a larger problem. The real problem (in my opinion, anyway) is two-fold:

    1. Yes, the Community Board seems to be pretty generous when it comes to handing out liquor licenses but
    2. when push comes to shove the SLA (a state entity) makes the final call. The Community Board can only give recommendations and these are non-binding. The SLA can and has overruled them on occasion.

    The first thing that (in my opinion) should happen is the community board be given more “teeth” when it comes to the approval or rejection of liquor licenses. This is a local issue and should be handled locally. To carry this logic over to liquor stores (and let’s face facts, a number of them are also responsible for the quality of life issues you bring up), they too should be scrutinized on a local level. If an establishment has a standard operating procedure of selling alcohol to visibly intoxicated people and/or is a public nuisance they shouldn’t have their license renewed. Simple as that.

  7. deda on Mon, 14th Dec 2009 11:53 am
  8. Spirytus is traditionally used for making egg nog from scratch for the holidays – I think that’s why it’s being featured now. The recipe is too sweet and egg heavy for vodka.

  9. mikki on Mon, 14th Dec 2009 12:02 pm
  10. It’s also “enabling” to deny the problem and attempt to distract others from it.Yes the community board is overly generous with approving bars and lounges (though I rarely see anyone at the meetings speaking out against them). Yes people drink in them.

    But that does not make me easy in my mind about the horrible toll alcoholism is taking on the older (and often Polish) members of our community. Seeing the drunks in the park, or in the corners of some of our bars, is very sad. Let’s not forget that it was just a few years ago that two Polish men froze to death because they got drunk and passed out at a construction site. Two years ago friends of mine found a man dead in McCarren Park–he was one of the men we all see every day sitting in the benches, with his bottle.

    It is a serious problem and pointing your finger at “hipsters” won’t make it go away.

  11. missheather on Mon, 14th Dec 2009 12:10 pm
  12. Well said, Mikki… but I’d like you to disambiguate something.

    You wrote: …Yes the community board is overly generous with approving bars and lounges (though I rarely see anyone at the meetings speaking out against them). Yes people drink in them.

    In the bars or at the meetings? If it is the latter methinks I might know what the problem is! (Sorry, I had to make light of this given the grimness of the subject matter/comments.) 🙂

  13. Tony From Kent Street on Mon, 14th Dec 2009 3:33 pm
  14. I will be the first to admit that I do not know everything about Polish life and I am not Polish, but this is my permanent neighborhood and I will always be interested in the health and safety of our citizens.
    Do I need to be Polish to see obvious addiction problems that no one wants to talk about? Not when you’ve seen it first-hand for multiple generations in your own family. SGI, you wrote, “No Pole in his right mind would even attempt to down a shot of spirytus straight up.” It’s not those in their right mind that I’m concerned with. The guys in McGolrick Park are not making cocktails with raspberry or cherry fruit syrups. C’mon!

  15. mikki on Mon, 14th Dec 2009 5:18 pm
  16. Oh sure Heather criticize my poor usage of pronouns and antecedents! TYPICAL.

  17. missheather on Mon, 14th Dec 2009 5:32 pm
  18. I’m just teasing you. I for one think having an open bar at these hearings would definitely boost attendance. Granted, I doubt little work would get done!

    You wrote: …Oh sure Heather criticize my poor usage of pronouns and antecedents.

    The fact you KNOW what pronouns and antecedents are endears you to me in ways you cannot begin to imagine, Mikki!

  19. SGI on Tue, 15th Dec 2009 2:41 pm
  20. This is not directed at the Polish population per se— although it is impossible to overlook the fact that a number of the people we see in our parks and streets passed out drunk clearly are Polish—- but at “enablers”. One need not look very hard to see that alcoholism is a problem here: just go to McCarren Park, the American Playground or the intersection of Greenpoint and Manhattan Avenue and you’ll see it.

    And, as recently as twenty years ago, The people one saw in our parks and street passed out drunk clearly were good ole, Greenpoint born and bred Americans of Irish ancestry. The deli located on the norhtwest corner of Greenpoint and Manhattan was formerly a dive bar which existed for years. A good number of the roaring drunks which inhabited that particular corner were customers of that establishment. That still doesn’t excuse their condition. Neither does blaming liquor stores for selling liquor. You could close all the liquor stores in Greenpoint, and the same situation would exist because there is a bar on every corner. Just like bad “good old days”. And, like during Prohibition, if you really want something to drink, you’ll know where to find it.

  21. SGI on Tue, 15th Dec 2009 3:59 pm
  22. Just thirty years ago, there were only four liquor stores in the whole of Greenpoint:

    1. What we dazed and confused yoots called “Rodriguez’s”, on Manhattan near Eagle Street.
    2. The one on Manhattan near Greenpoint. Under different ownership at the time.
    3. Dunne’s Polemost, Norman and Manhattan. Also, under different ownership.
    4. Nassau Wine and Liquor on Nassau between Manhattan Ave. and Leonard Street.

    Turning the sale of an highly alcoholic liquor into a debate on the ethics of the retailer is meritless. The liquor store owners, just like bartenders, will refuse to sell anything to someone who is obviously drunk. They’re held accountable in the same way that a bartender who sold beverages to a visibly drunk individual who was later involved in a fatal auto accident. Like anything directed at an adult market, the onus of responsibility falls on the consumer.

  23. mikki on Wed, 16th Dec 2009 1:04 am
  24. SGI wrote “Turning the sale of an highly alcoholic liquor into a debate on the ethics of the retailer is meritless.The liquor store owners, just like bartenders, will refuse to sell anything to someone who is obviously drunk. They’re held accountable in the same way that a bartender who sold beverages to a visibly drunk individual who was later involved in a fatal auto accident.”

    I agree with this for the most part, although I think there are plenty of liquor stores in the neighborhood who maybe don’t technically sell to someone who is flat-out inebriated, but who certainly do sell alcohol to “regulars” who clearly have a problem. I mean, where are the guys on the benches getting their bottles. Also, you are the one who previously said the problem could be stopped if we had fewer bars and placed blame on both the bars and the community board.

    However, the point you seem to be making now, and the point Miss Heather and I (if I read what she wrote correctly) are making is that this is a community problem and needs to be dealt with by the community. We have the hardworking folks of the various food pantries and soup kitchens, and we have some (inadequate) homeless resources, but what more could we do?

    I personally struggle with this all the time. There is someone in my building who has a severe drinking problem and I worry about him and his cats. Sure, he is keeping it together enough to stay off the park bench for now, but who knows where it could go? Then again, when an adult chooses to live that way, I think we are limited.

    If there is any kind of outreach program for the folks in the parks and on the corners, I’d like to know about it so I can support it. I don’t think that population is likely to head to a 12-step meeting any time soon.

    (Heather you should hear me explaining em-dashes and en-dashes sometime, it is super fascinating.)

  25. martininbk on Thu, 17th Dec 2009 11:11 am
  26. Wow, this was an unexpected post I must say.

    It’s one thing to live in a neighborhood with a large ethnic group that you know very little about (even if it’s technically in your heritage) but quite another to pass off fear-mongering as community-building. Heather, I’ve read the blog long enough to give you a pass for printing this without doing your due dilligence, since your civic-mindedness is appreciated and needed in this hood, but I’m gonna tear Tony a new one.

    Simply put, if he bothered to take his head out of his ass for a moment and actually inquire if there is a spirytus problem in Greenpoint it should probably have taken him all of 2 seconds to realize there’s nothing to see here, so move along. As SGI explained to you, the signs are up now because of the approaching holiday season where the spirit (which is NOT a variety of vodka btw, google rectified spirit) is used more often. Nobody drinks this stuff straight in quantity, bench-drunks included. Don’t take my word for it Tony – check the parks for empty spirytus bottles. There isn’t a Pole on the planet that is unaware of the existence of this stuff and these new signs aren’t creating any converts among alcoholics.

    Selling alcohol to inebriated people has nothing to do with spyritus, the alcoholism problems in Greenpoint have nothing to do with spirytus, there is no “enabling” on the part of retailers who carry a product that is NOT being used as has been assumed by those who haven’t bothered to do the bare minimum of research to avoid this red herring of a post. Let’s adjust your rant from spirytus to vodka and see if any of your arguments hold water – should we consider banning vodka sales in Greenpoint?

    Wesołych Świąt

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