Confessions of a Man with a Guitar — and a Dream

Park Slope resident Winslow Browning was able to teach this writer a thing or two about classical Spanish guitar.

How Brooklyn resident Winslow Browning, above, managed to teach this writer a thing or two about classical Spanish guitar. (Photo by Goodman/Van Riper Photography)

GROWING UP IN A SMALL KANSAS TOWN, I wanted to learn to play an instrument because all the smart kids knew how to play an instrument. My parents ignored me, but they let me get a car instead. I really didn’t do anything about the whole music thing until one Saturday morning here in the big city when I walked into a music store in midtown Manhattan and bought the cheapest guitar possible (“You can pay more,” a college friend said, “but you can’t pay less”) and toted it back to my apartment. Then I sat on my couch and stared at it for a while and realized I might’ve made a mistake since I didn’t have a clue how to play it, but I refused to accept that idea.

That’s when I found Park-Slope-based Winslow Browning on the internet. We talked and he asked me what style I wanted to learn—Rock? Classical? Country? Um, Easy Listening?

Gee, I hadn’t thought about that. “I like the Beatles?” I said, except it did sound more like a question.

“Okay,” he said.

“Yeah. I have a T-shirt with their drum logo on it and everything.”

“Okay,” he said.

TWO DAYS LATER HE SHOWED UP AT MY APARTMENT at the appointed hour with his guitar, which looked to me like the most beautiful instrument this side of Spain. He examined my guitar critically, then he showed me how to sit properly, how to hold it, and how to play the notes of a scale — you know, Every Good Boy Does Fine. He showed me flats and sharps. Then he told me to pick up a music stand and First Lessons for Guitar (Las Primeras Lecciones de Guitarra) by Julio Sagreras.

We never spoke of Rock, Country, Easy Listening or The Beatles again, but he did do his best to teach me how to play Spanish classical guitar.

AND 15 YEARS LATER BROWNING IS STILL AT IT, as he has been all his life. “When I was growing up, my parents had a string guitar lying around my house,” he says, “and I learned chords and stuff playing with my friends, then I had a chance to take classical guitar lessons and it made my heart flutter.”

Browning went on to study music with renowned classical guitarists Fred Nance and Juan Mercadal, the latter a Cuban master. “I was so totally steeped in the classic music field and so hungry to reel that all in and take all these classical classes, all this pop music stuff got tossed out on the other side,” he told me.

SO THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED TO MY LEARNING TO PLAY “DAY TRIPPER” AND “I FEEL FINE.”  I wouldn’t say I was an abject, miserable failure at classical guitar (although the pieces Winslow did manage to teach me sounded nothing like they did when he played them) because he taught me how to play scales and tune it and change strings when I had to. And I can still do all that stuff when forced to at knifepoint. He also taught me that it was a good thing my parents didn’t waste money on music lessons for me and let me waste it on a car instead. But in his hands even my cheapo axe sounded beautiful.

IT’S A GREAT THING THAT WINSLOW’S STILL AT IT, sometimes giving lessons in his five-floor walkup, or anywhere around the city really — he comes to you. Also, he and his wife, accomplished flautist Suzanne Gilchrest, present a limited concert series with their group Guitar Among Others. Like Paul McCartney’s later career, or Steely Dan’s, GAO’s lineup always changes. And each summer they travel to Summerkeys, a summer camp for classical musicians in Lubec, Maine, where he’s the only guitarist who teaches solo playing.

“In the Brooklyn Eagle a few years ago there was an article that talked about how Brooklyn was made up of a bunch of small towns and villages,” he says. “I love telling the story in Lubec because it really is a small town;  it’s very comfortable, and you’ll walk up the street and someone will say ‘Hey, that was a great concert last night.’” No wonder they say that to him: Like I said, the guy really knows how to play a mean Spanish classical guitar.

Today, Executive Editor Phil Scott plays a mean keyboard  — of the qwerty sort — and  as you can read for yourself here he also knows how to twirl a dial.

Rinken’s Wrench N’ Ride Gets ‘Em on the Road Again

"The Wild Ones" with Marlon Brando imprinted the American imagination  with the sexy biker image.

The Wild One: Marlon Brando didn’t need no fancy ‘lectronics on his bike.

MY 1979 KZ 750 WASN’T MUCH TO LOOK AT BUT it was clean with no major dents or scratches and nice chrome fenders and a seat in fine shape. Some days I’d ridden longer than 12 hours at a stretch. The bike always made it better than me. Besides burning oil it was mechanically sound. Except the irreplaceable mechanical ignition points—which lasted a decade. The bike’s book value was $70. One final time I file the points and barely made it to the nearest shop that would deign to take it.

That was 13 years ago. I still have the manual.

 Now Chris Rinken tells me $30 would put it back on the highway.

The author sitting atophis ex-motorcycle, a '79 Kowasaki KZ-750, Blue Book value $70.

The author sitting atop his ex-motorcycle, a ’79 Kawasaki KZ-750, Blue Book value $70.

“[Expletive deleted],” I say.

“I’m sorry,” he replies.

Rinken, owner of Wrench N’ Ride Motorcycle Repair, a small garage beside his home on the corner of Seigel and Bogart streets, works exclusively on pre-electronic, vintage motorcycles—anything ’81 and older. He tells stories that start out like mine.

“One guy kinda had no idea what to do to get his ‘72 CV 350 running. It was in storage for six years and he paid $600 for it and owned it for two years but it never ran. He was pushing it around from apartment to apartment, and—a total fluke—luckily for him there happened to be motorcycle shop,” Rinken says. “He was super pumped about it.”

Rinken didn’t replace a part, he just cleaned the carb. “The bike just needed some care,” he shrugs. And that’s all he does. Rinken stays away from body work or welding, but he can recommend someone.

“If it runs I completely leave it at that,” he says. Rinken first started riding at 11 and learned to work on bikes from his dad. Basic, simple stuff. “Nobody knew how to do vintage maintenance,” he says. “They weren’t raised with a dad who knew all that stuff.”

After graduating from law school in ’12, into the worst economy this side of the Depression, he opened Wrench ‘N Ride. Today he has eight vintage bikes in the garage. One ‘64 Honda 90 cc that he laid hands on is worth $2,500 dollars now.

A shop like Wrench N’ Ride is rare, unique even, considering the sheer number of motorcycles in Brooklyn. To help people buying vintage bikes make sure they weren’t being scammed, Rinken offered a second set of eyes. “A couple of customers wanted to learn basic maintenance, basic inspection stuff,” he says, “just as a way to make sure to get it on the road and avoid really expensive bills from the repair shop.” He’s starting classes now. “We have motorcycles in the shop, and we have extra tools. We get people here who want to learn about bikes, who maybe want to get into it, try it to see if they like doing it. It’s all about getting people into the community.

“I’d rather have a bike that’s worthy,” he says. “The last bike the shop sold was an old Honda 360 that had flames on it. It does a hundred miles an hour if it needs to.”

Wrench N’ Ride Motorcycle Repair

315 Seigel Street

Bushwick, Brooklyn NY 11206

608 695-8392

 Phil Scott is an executive editor of Brooklyn Artisan, a former managing editor of Omni magazine, and the author of seven books, mostly about the history of aviation. He lives in Rockaway.

Top Off Your Style like Bogey or Sinatra. Or Walter White.

Founded in 1895 but not locally. It's a chain with more than two dozen stores in the US and two in Canada.

Founded in 1895 but not locally. There are more than two dozen stores in the US and two in Canada. (Large photo: Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool)

WHAT COLOR WAS BOGEY’S FEDORA? Bogart in fedoraTough question. Brown? Gray? I’ve always envisioned Humphrey Bogart wearing a brown fedora in any of his fedora-wearing good-guy movies like Casablanca. The movie was released in black-and-white, but in the scandalously colorized version from the ‘80s his suit is muddy brown, Ingrid Bergman’s silky dress is muddy yellow, and so is Bogey’s pocket square. The characters’ faces are muddy pink. Except Sam, the piano player. So that’s no help.

If anyone knows, it would be the Goorin Bros.

Goorin Bros. is pronounced like Gorn, that sluggish green lizard man that Captain Kirk battles to the death in Star Trek, the original series. The Brooklyn store at 195 Fifth Avenue isn’t like the team cap wall at your local Modell’s sporting goods, or the cheapo hat pile at the open-air bodega up the avenue, the place where you can buy an emergency stocking cap or a cheapo stingy-brim Justin Timberlake knockoff fedora resting in a pile on a folding table, all colors and patterns, in all sizes from small, medium, large, and X-large. This is a real hat shop, with expansive plate-glass windows with Goorin Bros. Est. 1895 in gold-leaf lettering, and shelves inside brimming (Get it? Brimming?) with hats. Though the store has just opened for the day, it’s already brimming (Again! Hah!) with customers. In front, helping a couple, assistant shopkeeper Nicky Culter, wears a Homestead Grays baseball cap sideways while showing a customer straw boaters, perfect for the summer season. In back, near the cash register, shopkeeper Alex Mroz finishes ringing up three others. He wears a Mahi Mahi, a light brown straw fedora that goes with his sharp suit.

”Why do you keep your hat on indoors?” I ask him straight off. It’s an insulting question, but my dad used to slap my head when I wore my baseball cap at the dinner table.

“This is a hat store. People expect it,” Mroz says. “Or I just tell people I’m religious.” After all, Goorin Bros. does carry black fedoras for the Hasidic set.

While baseball caps are always fashionable, felt hats began dying off in the late 60s as men grew their hair longer and stopped slathering it with Brylcreem. But lately real hats have begun a resurgence. You see bowlers, fedoras, even the occasional boater on the streets of Brooklyn or in the subways or buses. Like everything, you want to point to television; personally, I attribute it to Mad Men. And Justin Timberlake.

“There are a lot of cultural emotions going on. Not only Mad Men, but Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey,” Mroz says. “It’s partly the neighborhood,” he adds. People here have so much style.”

I tell him that I’m looking for a brown Bogey fedora, vintage Casablanca or The Big Sleep. He says they don’t have any in brown, but offers a gray fedora, the type Bogey wears when he plays the villain, like The Roaring Twenties. I try one on, but I need a double-breasted suit and a gat (that’s 30’s gangster-speak for a revolver) to pull it off.

Mroz thinks I might be interested in something with a narrower brim, a “stingy brim” measuring between an inch and an inch and three-quarters. After all, they have a wide selection. Again, I think Timberlake.

“You can just imagine Sinatra wearing one, hanging at the Sands with Dino and Sammy,” he says. “Sinatra is one of our hat heroes.” And no doubt: There’s a picture of Sinatra, with a feather stuck in his hat band. Which reminds Mroz: “We have a Feather Bar, where you can customize you hat to make a unique statement,” he says.

You get this guy talking about hats and there’s no stopping him. “This is a genuine panama hat, woven in Ecuador,” he turns to the display on a middle table and searches for my size and fits it on my head. Nah. I’m not the cigar smoking type.

I discover a stack on the shelf. “Now this looks like one Buster Keaton wore in his movies,” I say.

“It’s called The Buster. Keaton used to make his own hats.” Talk about small-batch artisanal. Except for the band, The Buster is barely discernable from the one Harold Lloyd wore while hanging off a clock in Safety Last.

“It’s a classic men’s summer hat—men wore them with the bands in their school colors,” he explains. And there’s a framed photo of a crowd of young men, apparently well dressed college men, though all you can really see is the tops of their straw boaters.

Goorin’s is not just about men’s hats: There are women’s in all shapes and sizes, the types that gals would wear in the Easter Parade on the Avenue, Fifth Avenue, when a photographer would snap them and they’d find themselves in the rotogravure. There are cloches and pillboxes, though nothing outrageously weird that Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice wore to Wills and Kate’s wedding.

Still, it’s a store where guys are happy to shop. There are top hats like Lincoln wore, though his measured a foot and a half high. Here they’re around half that height. And plenty of flat caps, which started as aristocracy wear, when the landed gentry would ride off with their shotguns and dogs chasing some poor fox. It usually ended badly for the fox. Within a few years they were co-opted by the city’s lower classes, like cabbies and newsies. Maybe flat caps should be renamed “The foxes revenge.”

Mroz shows me one last hat, a dark, wide-brimmed porkpie. “In Breaking Bad, Walter White wears one to be intimidating when he’s trying to collect money,” he says. I put it on and just look goofy. “You have to wear it with gusto,” he says.

No matter whether I have gusto or not, the prices are pretty reasonable. The lowest is $21, and handmades start at $79.

Handmade? That’s why I ordered a handcrafted brown fedora, just like Bogey wore in Casablanca. It’ll probably go great with my blue jeans, running shoes, and my Steely Dan t-shirt.

Executive Editor Phil Scott is the author of seven books and numerous magazine articles on travel, aviation, science, humor and brain health. He is teaching a journalism class at John Jay High School in Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Aerodrome: Taking to the Skies of North Brooklyn

Forget Area 51, this is North Brooklyn's mystery aircraft, built from Kit 145.

Forget Area 51, this is North Brooklyn’s mystery aircraft, built from Brooklyn Aerodrome’s Kit 145 ($250.).

BROOKLYN HARDLY SEEMS THE PLACE TO TAKE FLYING LESSONS, given the utter and complete dearth of airports in the borough. But that hasn’t stopped computer scientist Breck Baldwin and schoolteacher Andrew Woodbridge from starting the Brooklyn Aerodrome Flight School. It offers training, clocks hours of flight time and then issues pilot licenses – to middle-schoolers.

The program began in 2010 with 15 students. Most of the curriculum is online, and the textbook can be bought online for $30. In complete and utter contrast with No Child Left Behind, the law of the land in which students study for nothing but the exam, the new Brooklyn Aerodrome Flight School actually teaches real-world applications for science and technology in a context that interests these students: making and flying planes. Brooklyn Aerodrome showed at last fall’s World Maker Faire in Queens and got a lot of attention, including from Wired Magazine. But a failed Kickstarter campaign in the first quarter of this year was a setback. Despite that they’re still up and running; for more info go to brooklynaerodrome.com.

Okay, there’s no functional Brooklyn airport, which goes to say no full-size airplanes either. So the kids go to the other most logical site, Brooklyn’s own McCarren Park in Williamsburg, and fly their own easy-to-build model called Flack, for Flying Hack. “It’s an electric-powered remote-control airplane built out of recycled trash,” Baldwin says. “Kids can build one in three to four hours.”

“It’s about aeronautics, that’s the core of it,” says Baldwin. “But the whole thing is trying to get kids to think about math, science and engineering  and make it fun and play—not sit in a room and be lectured, but to go outside and do it.” In other words it’s not rote book learning, but real-world, hands-on knowledge and experience.

“Solving workbook math problems is not how the world works, but students might have to do a lot of math to get something to work,” Baldwin adds, the “something” being their airplanes.  The program is not ignoring the liberal arts either: the students write reports, too, technical ones, not a “My Favorite Superhero Is…” essay.

And what do the kids get out of it? Not only math and science (and lots of fun), but they learn how general aviation really works, along with its rules and regulations. That last part may not be glamorous but it is essential, Baldwin says: “It makes it more real, adds depth to it, but it also provides structure. You have to have permission to enter the ‘runway,’ then you have to get permission to take off, and then the next plane goes.

“There’s a lot of necessary structure to flying,” Baldwin says, before he pauses and adds, “Imagine 30 kids with powered airplanes.”

Executive Editor Phil Scott has clocked some air time himself, not only in airplanes but also a replica of a Wright Brothers glider at Kitty Hawk, N.C.,.

The Town’s Biggest Cigar Booster Since Fiorello LaGuardia?

Cigar entrepreneur David Diamante, creator of the Brooklyn Cigar Lounge a few blocks from the Barclays Center, is a fifth generation Ft. Greene resident. (Photo-illustration for Brooklyn Artisan by Mollie Ann Smith)

Cigar entrepreneur David Diamante, creator of the Brooklyn Cigar Lounge just a few blocks (some say “crawling distance”) from the Barclays Center, is a fifth generation Ft. Greene resident. (Photo-illustration for Brooklyn Artisan by Mollie Ann Smith)

Cigar in hand: Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in his famously messy office.

Cigars and the City: Three-term NYC Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in his cluttered office. A Republican, the former congressman (6 terms) was mayor from 1934-1945, and during a newspaper strike, famously went on the radio to read the Sunday comics. Only five feet tall, and sometimes called “The Little Flower,” he had a personality larger than life. He defeated the Tammany Hall political machine, united the transit system, built parks and public housing, reorganized the police and – an advocate of employment on the basis of merit – overcame the patronage system.

ON A RECENT FRIDAY NIGHT IN FORT GREENE, I sat in a leather lounge chair with David Diamante in his comfy Brooklyn Cigar Lounge and got a few pointers on rolling cigars. Diamante’s traveled to Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic to master the fine art of rolling. “It’s one of those things that you need to know the nuts and bolts to talk about it from an educated perspective,” he explains. And here’s what I learned:

1. Shred the tobacco into a uniform size. Spread it on a clean, flat surface, lightly mist it with filtered water.

2. After removing the center vein of the binder leaf, lay that on the same clean, flat surface, and sprinkle the shredded tobacco on it.

3. Wrap the binder leaf around the shredded tobacco and check it for consistent density. With thumb and index finger, squeeze it at one end and work your way to the other.

4. Spread a light coat of a binder such as bermacol, tragacanth, guar gum or egg white along one edge of the binder leaf, and ever so gently press against the rest of the cigar.

5. Trim off the excess leaf.

6. Roll the wrapper leaf around the binder leaf and seal it with bermacol, Tragacanth, Guar Gum or egg white, just like the binder leaf.

7. Overlap the ends of the wrapper leaf.

Using the Cigar Former

Place the cigar inside a former of the same size, which retains the cigar’s shape while its tobacco dries. (The former is made by nailing wooden strips onto a board. The former is  covered with a top and clamped down.) Wait for about 30 minutes, unclamp the top of the former, turn the cigars over, reclamp the top for another 30 minutes. Then place the former inside an oven just hot enough to warm the former, and bake for 30 to 45 minutes. When the cigar is dry, trim the ends. Store the finished cigar inside a humidor for a few weeks.

Diamante's Brooklyn Cigar Lounge on Oxford Street in Ft. Greene

You’ll have no trouble spotting Diamante’s Brooklyn Cigar Lounge on Oxford Street.

Diamante, who imports his own special blends for the lounge,  is not giving away trade secrets here. Rolling takes hours of practice, and seriously, where are you going to find good leaf tobacco in Brooklyn? It’s really better to just head over to Brooklyn Cigar Lounge and talk about the process with David — he’s the tall, skinny, well-dressed guy with dreadlocks down to his back pockets—while toking on one of his selection. As for the lounge, it’s in a restored brownstone at 108 Oxford Street, Brooklyn, 11217. (Call 646 MADURO, for Brooklynites who prefer dialing letters to numbers, or 646 462-3876, for out-of-boroughers.)

Executive Editor Phil Scott has previously written for Brooklyn Artisan about canning, shaving, glider-flying, and other manly pursuits.

In Kandahar, No Pantyhose with Combat Boots

HALF OF THE AMERICAN SOLDIERS IN AFGHANISTAN will be coming home this year, the President says. But the other 34,000 will still be there next year. Knowing that folks at home support them matters. After my two trips to Afghanistan, some Brooklyn Artisan readers have contacted me in the apparent belief that I’m some sort of expert on what US troops need while they’re still over there. Well, personally, I forgot my dental floss, and my shampoo and deodorant were wrestled to the ground, beaten, and confiscated at the airport. As for the people in uniform, I quizzed a couple of recently-returned Brooklyn warriors about the soldiers’ needs, and here are their answers.

While some infantry troops wear ankle high nylons as an extra, inner layer of protection against blisters, The Rumor Doctor reports, "no servicemember will admit to wearing pantyhose."

While some infantry troops wear ankle high nylons as an extra, inner layer of protection against blisters, The Rumor Doctor reports, “no servicemember will admit to wearing pantyhose.”

Good things to send:
Movies (DVDs! VHS is obsolete, and BetaMax tapes are only found in museums)
Gamebooks
New magazines—especially sports magazines
Individual tissue packets
Disposable razors
Body wash
Lotion (that’s some seriously dry climate over there)
Oh, and female soldiers like body sprays. Maybe some of the males like it too. Since no one’s shooting at me, I’m not going to judge.

Now for some of the weirder stuff they’ve received:
Pantyhose
Gardening gloves
A Chubb pack of socks
And an Unrated American Pie sent in a church care package. (Sheesh! Keep it clean, churchgoers!)

So maybe keep these items off your list, along with pornography and booze. Afghans just aren’t into that stuff, and even if we don’t agree with them we’re supposed to respect their culture.

Here’s the address to send it to:

Public Affairs Officer
451 AEW/PA
APO AE 09347

To quote M*A*S*H, That is all.

Executive Editor Phil Scott is the author of seven books and numerous magazine pieces.

Desktop 3D Replicators? Wow,This Is the 21st Century

“STEP INTO THE 3D PHOTOBOOTH AND IMMORTALIZE YOURSELF!”, the MakerBot store on Mulberry Street in Outer Brooklyn/Manhattan says on its website. That sounds like “Beam me up, Scotty” come true, with a dash of  The Immortals. The reality is a little bit different, but still pretty cool. This is not a clone machine, but a copier. A 3D copier.

Retailing for $2200 and up, The Replicator could make lots of models or household objects for you.

Retailing for $2200 and up, The Replicator could make lots of models or household objects for you.

If you want to make a photocopy of something as large as your house or as tiny as a penny, just use a Xerox copier. Take a picture of your house, or just toss the penny on the copier’s glass, and hit Copy. Or Start. That’s the way it’s been done since, well, before I was born. If you want a 3D copy, that presents a problem—or it did until recently. Brooklyn’s Madagascar Institute—a place that teaches mostly shop classes like welding and operating power tools, and also some crafty stuff like sewing—actually offers a class on 3D copying, using, in Star Trekian parlance, a Replicator.

3D printing is harder to master than your average 2D Xerox—at least according to people who’ve never tried to operate a worn office copier—which is why the Institute holds three-hour-long classes taught by Colin Butgereit. Butgereit, who’s been a member of Madagascar Institute for more than a year now, also works for MakerBot Industries, which manufactures the MakerBot Replicator.

“I provide people with the knowledge to generate the files so that the printer can essentially make or build the object,” he says. “It’s a three-hour class, and you can do a fair amount of printing in three hours. The bigger it is, the longer it will take, so we stick with the smaller stuff.”

He usually has four students a class, which works out to one printer per person.

Let’s talk quality. Say I want a copy of my right hand. The printer’s output will be “pretty close to an exact replica,” Butgereit says. “You’re still going to see that it’s for the most part printed; you’re going to see lines, you might get some polygons or different shapes that you would never see on a hand because it’s been computer generated. It also depends on the software—with high-end stuff it could almost look exactly like it.”

Okay, but what about scars? I have a great one on my right index finger dating back to my sophomore year in college, when I was helping a guy work on his ancient, oil-soaked car engine. The wrench broke, I shoved my hand into the dirt-caked starter mount, and after a trip to the ER I ended up with an inch-long scar full of stitches and black grease. Oh, yeah, I stuck my thumb in a table saw. And also, my, um, wrinkles? (I’m, uh, older, so they should be self-explanatory.) “Only if it’s a sort of geographic,” he says. “If it stood out, either from convex or concave form, that’s where you might see it. So far as color it will never show up.” So no black grease, but you’ll see stitches and veins.

For the home hobbyist or designer, this Solidoodle makes up to 6x6x6" objects and sells for around $500.

For the home hobbyist or designer, this Solidoodle makes up to 6x6x6″ objects and sells for around $500.

What about size? The penny, no problem. But the house? He has an answer to that one.

“Fly all the way around your house until you’ve taken enough photos so you could see every part of your house,” he explains. “When you have that, download the Autodesk application [Autodesk manufactures CAD software] on your computer or iPad, and process it and email it to Autodesk. They will essentially send you back another email of the image compiled from the data.” Load it into the Replicator and voila. As for the house’s square footage, “Technically it could be to size,” he says, “but I’m guessing there’s no 3D printer to handle a house. You’ll have to scale it down.”

If you’re interested in the 3D printing class at Madagascar Institute, go to eventbrite.com. The class runs $65.

Executive Editor Phil Scott writes about science, travel and aviation. 

>For a glimpse of the future, where you don’t worry about losing your keys, you just print up a new set before you leave the house, or don’t keep a toolbox, you just print what gadget you need when you need it, and instead of putting it away, you just toss the used one into the materials recycler.

Amazing 3D Printer – YouTube.

%d bloggers like this: