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Long Story Short: Garden or wasteland—you decide


A new book defines the Buffalo garden

Courtesy of St. Lynn's Press


Homer’s Upstate Odyssey

You may know that while most of the nation was watching Game of Thrones last Sunday, The Simpsons aired episode 660, titled "D'oh Canada" (mostly satirizing our neighbors to the north).


It took thirty seasons, but the show finally got around to poking fun at “the one place that can never decline because it was never that great: Upstate New York.” The Simpsons’ writers seem to embrace the “anything north or west of Yonkers” definition of the term, so they lampooned several cities and towns, including Buffalo. The next day, the short segment was all over the news and social media. 


A list of visuals occurring as Homer sang a satirical song to the tune of "New York, New York":

It starts with crumbling infrastructure: signals falling, a collapsing overpass, a semi-trailer falls into a pothole, the Niskayuna Water tower springs a leak, big box stores are shuttered. Homer drives past a cop car, clinks beer mugs with the officer, then eats chicken wings at the Anchor Bar. A digital sign outside Utica shows its population rapidly dropping, then Homer attends a near-empty Bills game. He clinks beer mugs again, this time with the Headless Horseman, and graduates from Mohawk Valley Community College. Moments later the Kodak factory implodes as people take selfies on their smartphone cameras. Homer hangs a disabled tag on his mirror, as a high-kicking chorus line passes, comprising a dancing opioid pill, Lotto card, jar of borscht, Syracuse University Otto the Orange mascot, and the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics Roni Racoon. Homer is confronted by the words “Beat it, Get out, Scram,” and then becomes Mayor of Oriskany. The segment ends with a Welcome to Buffalo sign against our skyline, as the lights blink off and an enormous deposit of snow envelops the city.


You can see the clip and read the lyrics here.


Reactions ran the gamut

BuzzFeed relished it, posting the full text of a Republican Party memo that used the episode to attack Governor Cuomo.   


Cuomo didn’t comment, saying he has NEVER seen the show, but an aide to the governor issued a statement: “There always remains work to be done but—dumb cheap shots aside—facts are facts.” He talked about millennials and declining unemployment, then displayed his Simpsons trivia chops with, “it’s clear that Poochie was an uncredited writer on that episode. However, I still want a Fighting Hellfish tattoo.”


CNN focused on the political fallout; so did the Albany TimesUnion.com.  Syracuse.com shifted attention to Canada, saying residents there were offended by a line about “Newfies”—a slur against Newfoundlanders—as Ralph Wiggum beats a baby seal and says, “I’m a Newfie.” Later they posted an interview with an Upstate-born-and-raised Simpsons’ writer who said he was proud of the piece. 


To its credit, NYup.com got into the spirit: “’The Simpsons’ just burned Upstate New York so badly, we're considering universal health care.” They went on to show their pride in being included, with detailed coverage and numerous stills. Niskayuna Supervisor Yasmine Syed was less pleased, saying they “likely missed our splendid open spaces like Blatnick and River Road Park, the scenic Mohawk Hudson bike trail, our gorgeous and safe neighborhoods,” and he went on with other attractions, ending by saying that fictional characters Bart and Lisa would get a better education there than in fictional Springville.


Several sources, including the Utica Observer-Dispatch, reported that the Great New York State Fair is sending admission and parking passes, and a basket of Taste NY food and beverage products to the Simpsons writers. “We know it’s just a TV show; we can certainly take a joke and we love The Simpsons,” said Fair Director Troy Waffner, “but there’s so much that’s great about the region.” Then he listed the great things, including the half-moon cookie and tomato pie, and star pitcher Patrick Corbin having attended Mohawk Valley Community College.


Mohawk valley Channel 2 News asked online readers if they were offended. Short answer: no. Alan Pergament, of the Buffalo News, suggested that local viewers were offended, and went on to discuss the Simpsons ratings. Local news station WIVB said the Erie County Sheriff's Office is wondering whether their Air-1 helicopter made it into the episode. Rochester’s 13WHAM news aired film of the real Kodak factory implosion, and an interviewee lamented that the garbage plate wasn’t mentioned.


WXXI, Rochester’s public radio station quoted Don Jeffries, who heads up Visit Rochester, as saying, “You know, we’ve got Hamilton in town, we go right into the Lilac Festival with half-a-million people, then right into the Senior PGA, so they picked a funny time to mock us. They didn't have an opportunity to enjoy any carousels or balloon launches in the Southern Tier.”


Hey Don, Nelson Muntz has a message: “Haha.”



If only The Simpsons' writers had seen this…

As Buffalonians know, the annual spring melt unearths all sorts of unpleasant stuff. At our house we cram an enormous number of things—a multi-faceted pond, numerous planters, grill, patio set, hot tub, and a multitude of plants—into a thirty-by-fifteen-foot yard, so the transition from winter to garden is not a pretty sight. Between wet leaves, fragments of the neighbor’s roof, branches (there was a lot of wind), pond muck, and stacked tarped planters, things can look pretty ugly as May begins. But by June, disorder gives way to splendor, and our private oasis, as people often refer to it, becomes a showplace.


If that sounds surprising, maybe you’re not aware that Buffalo is “Ground Zero for free-spirited garden innovation.” So say the authors of a new book called Buffalo Style Gardens. They make a good case that Buffalo, and the surrounding region, has its own unique approach to small-space gardening. The fun-to-read book is packed with pictures, tips, and ideas—you can start your own Buffalo-style garden.


What is the Buffalo style?

We’re talking “highly livable small urban gardens that celebrate the personalities of their owners.” Quirky originality is Buffalo’s stock in trade, and we know how to think outside the box where it comes to design. From treehouses to putting greens, yard curtains to penny-surfaced tables, unique sculptures to colorful gazebos, Buffalo gardens range from offbeat and hip to elegant and Zen. 


Where it started

It all seems to have grown out of  Garden Walk Buffalo, which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. Over the years, as more people entered their gardens into this free public event—the largest garden walk in the nation—a friendly spirit of competition has evolved, wherein gardeners strive annually to outdo themselves—and their neighbors. Gradually, people have incorporated bolder and more innovative ideas into their small urban yards.     


The authors:

If you pay even passing attention to gardening in Buffalo, you’ve heard of Sally Cunningham. She is the respected garden columnist for the Buffalo News and monthly garden writer for Buffalo Spree. She’s also a Certified Nursery and Landscape Professional and a consultant and designer for private home landscapes.


Jim Charlier was president of Garden Walk Buffalo, and is current Vice President of Gardens Buffalo Niagara, which coordinates horticultural experiences including twenty community garden tours (with nearly 1,000 gardens on show), bus tours, an art sale, tours of seventy-plus regional Open Gardens, and local beautification efforts.



Over the winter, our hot tub sprang a leak, necessitating the deconstruction of its pavestone enclosure for repair work, causing even more of a mess than usual. And, as always, there’s work to be done on the thirteen-foot stream that runs from its subterranean-fed pool, along the fence, down three mini-falls, and into the lower pond. And I have a basement full of plants that are struggling to hang on a few more weeks. 


Come July, though, watch out.



Paint the town

Niagara Falls has is Third Street Alley, where walls of murals beckon visitors away from the cataracts and into a world of graphic inspiration. Now, starting June 1, Buffalo street artists will dazzle onlookers in a two-day spray-a-thon, henceforth to be known as the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival (HASAF).


Public art murals, such as those sponsored by the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, tend to be time-intensive projects. However, most of the HASAF action will take place in a single day, Saturday, June 1, with touch-ups and picture-taking on Sunday, making this ideal for spectators. 


Street art

“I call myself a street artist because I have a graffiti background,” says Vinny Alejandro, who is organizing the event, “Most street artists started with that and still use aerosols as their main medium.” Alejandro traveled around the country for a few years, to events like Paint Louis in St. Louis and Mr. Rusto Fest in Chicago. He laments the fact that there is nothing similar in Buffalo.


Back home, he met with Delaware District Councilman Joel Feroleto through Buffalo Rising editor, Newell Nussbaumer, and Feroleto brought Alejandro to a graffiti-prone alley off Hertel, between Traymore and Colvin. It was perfect. After securing permission to from the building owners, Alejandro set out to recruit artists.



“Everyone has been extremely excited to be a part of this,” Alejandro says, “Artists Chuck Tingley, Tom Holt, Yames Moffitt and many others have expressed enthusiasm about how fun this will be.”  The main event happens Saturday, June 1, with vendors and about twenty artists doing their thing (we recommend sitting upwind). The festival is sponsored by the Hertel Business Association.


Councilman Feroleto is a proponent of public murals, which have been embraced by the Hertel Avenue business community. It’s Alejandro’s hope that HASAF will become an annual event, which presumably means that just about when the public begins to tire of this year’s murals, they’ll be painted over with fresh new ones. Not a bad idea. A Hertel Alley Street Art Festival Facebook page includes artist profiles and event details.  



The lightning round (in brief)


HouHou in the Hoosegow; Buffalo stuck holding the bag

Real estate agent AbdulAziz HouHou ran a lucrative Ponzi scheme from Kuwait, which included buying and selling at least 160 rundown houses in Buffalo’s Black Rock/Riverside, West Side, South Buffalo, and East Side. “The sales pitch was effective: High returns on low-risk, low-maintenance ‘attractive investment properties’ on tree-lined streets in Buffalo and other US cities,” says the Buffalo News. Most are now vacant, dilapidated, and/or foreclosed on. HouHou is in a Kuwaiti prison. Victims want to know if anyone in Buffalo was involved.


Industry needs workers

Moog Inc. asks: where are all the good engineers and machinists? Certainly not in Western New York. The company can’t fill jobs in those fields. The reasons: an aging workforce, and negative perceptions of the manufacturing business. Timothy Glass, the regional economist for the state Labor Department, says this lack of workers is one reason why area job growth is so sluggish. Moog is cautious about taking on new projects because it can’t get the necessary workers.


A report released Monday by the Jobs With Justice Education Fund suggests we need to do the following:
•improve public transportation
•allow drug re-testing, and educate about drug use
•increase wages
•invest in on on-the-job-training
•recruit minorities


For more, read the report.



Leave the gun. Take the pizza.

Suspected Hamilton Ontario mob leader Pasquale "Pat" Musitano was recently shot dead, following three earlier Canadian mob-related murders. Hamilton detectives are investigating, and everyone they encounter mentions Buffalo. The FBI thought the Mafia was gone from Buffalo, but it’s hard to keep a made man down. Is the Mafia is making a comeback here? Some experts doubt it ever left. The Todaro family gets mentioned a lot, but though they have long been suspected of leading the local Mafia, they deny any involvement, which, either way, is what you’d expect. Mob work is time consuming, we hear. You can’t run a proper organized crime syndicate when you’re making pizza all day, says the La Nova Pizza family. You can read more and see a picture of the Musitano murder suspect by clicking here.



Cellino & Cellino?

As we all know, Ross Cellino has been locked in a protracted lawsuit with his partner Stephen Barnes, as he tries to dissolve the Cellino & Barnes partnership and start his own firm. Now, his wife and daughter are starting a law firm of their own called Cellino & Cellino, which adds a whole new wrinkle to the ongoing saga. There’s nothing anyone can do to prevent them from using the family name, as long as Ross Cellino has no involvement. He does not, the family says. They won’t even discuss their competing firms over dinner. Maybe they should all merge into Cellino & Cellino & Cellino & Barnes, or C3 & B for short.



One week, two master plans

Thanks to the generosity of the late Ralph Wilson, who donated $50 million through the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, LaSalle Park (soon to be renamed Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park) will be getting a complete makeover (details here). It will have a lagoon, playground, sports fields, and a sledding hill—plus, much more. It will go from flat and barren to hilly and dynamic. A model of the design will be on view at the Central Library through Wednesday. Very cool.


A day or so later, we got our first look at the $125 million master plan for the Outer Harbor. Amazingly, the land was not sold for development of condos and high-end apartments, retail, or commercial entertainment. It’s being preserved for public access as a “passive recreation area in contrast to the more built-up Canalside, where development is expected to accelerate over the next several years.” You can read all about it in the Buffalo News. Also, very cool.


In case you’re confused:

Canalside, the Outer Harbor, bike parks, bell slips, the central Wharf, the Children’s Museum—how do you make sense of it all? It may seem a little daunting. Well now one source has it all: buffalowaterfront.com/. This site combines the whole shebang into one brand, “the waterfront.” It’s neatly laid out, with maps, descriptions, and directions, plus a calendar of events. And, hot damn, doesn’t our city look great?



Delaying the inevitable

It’s never successful as a defense, but plenty of Congressmembers have attempted and failed to invoke the obscure “Speech or Debate Clause” in the Constitution to avoid jail for various crimes. It does, however, often delay justice, sometimes for years. Congressman Chris Collins appears to be planning a defense for his insider trading case built around this ambiguous provision. So, we might not see the end of his trial for quite some time. In fact, (as previously predicted here) it’s unlikely to even start in February as announced. Here are more details.



For more, read the report.


Long Story Short is an opinion column by artist and educator Bruce Adams, a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.


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