BIRDMAN

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You half expect Lamont Sanford’s red truck to pull up any minute to Ada’s Washer and Repair Shop on Rogers Avenue.

The paint on the store’s sign has curled into near incoherence. Abandoned appliances and rusting sundries that may or may not be for sale stand sentry around the perimeter like dozing security guards.

With its stacks of sick monitors, VCRs, CD players and televisions, Ada’s is an elegy to planned obsolescence. Tools are still put to use well past their reasonable retirement age like elderly McDonald’s workers.  It is a hospice for the electronic.

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The vintage disarray is  presided over by a Druid like man who has run Ada’s and lived directly above it for the last three decades. With his woolen icicle of a beard and oaken hands, Winston exudes preternatural calm.

He is the sort of man whose origins seem inaccessible to the point of myth. The Grenadian’s  words waft like an intermittent Caribbean breeze. He is frugal with his speech, lending his laments and truisms additional depth and import.

Winston’s gaze is invariably tilted downward in order to properly assess whatever mechanical riddle he is attempting to solve at the moment. The focus is so complete that his head remains still when something outside his immediate range of vision requires attention – only his eyes move, giving him the look of a preoccupied owl.

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Winston took over Ada’s from a former mentor who imparted his knowledge of basic electronic repair. He had fiddled with appliances in the small town of his youth and expanded on those skills at various stores across Brooklyn after a relocation to America.
“I’ve been here in this place since 1986,” he told Flatbushed.com of his Rogers Avenue cavern. “It was different then, you know. But similar too. Maybe more activity in those days. Drug activity. But other than that, the same, you know.”
Back then, people actually used to repair their ailing possessions rather than discard them. Business at Ada’s alternated between steady and brisk.
The sight of a sweating father bear-hugging a hulking television set into the store was commonplace. Knick games were being missed. Saturday morning cartoon and pajama rituals were suspended indefinitely. Someone’s birthday was nearing – and the party speakers were crackling.
Unless the malady had spread to the vital organs, customers would usually struggle back home with the same Zenith or Panasonic or Hitachi  a week or two later – fully cured.

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But as technology advanced, business retreated. By the time an item had stopped functioning, a new model had already appeared with seductive new features. Repairing that old AIWA that kept skipping the EPMD CD  now seemed pointless. Unseemly, almost.  Appliance rehabilitation was going the way of shoe repair.
Once brimming with customers, Ada’s ER waiting area was now becoming increasingly quiet. Invoice books yellowed. The store was beginning to feel like an orphanage of the inanimate.
But Winston’s respect for his patients – and the notion that they could one day be made relevant again – made putting them out on the curb impossible. Hence his indoor mountain range of metal and plastic.
Like any entrenched local shop, palaver was a constant. Phillips heads were twisted to the accompaniment of tunes and banter. Maybe even a few cold tall cans on a hot summer day.
But the proportion of labor to languor was slowly warping in the wrong direction as work slowed.
Winston still provided an essential service on Rogers Avenue, that of the reliable neighborhood conversationalist. The inquirer. The voice that asked about the kids and the wife. But spiritual remuneration, can’t be converted into dollars.

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So Winston turns to his birds.

For several hours each day, he shaves down raw cow horns. He then bends, manipulates, cuts and lacquers them until they’re reincarnated as miniature aquiline sculptures. Each bird, he estimated, requires roughly 80 hours of labor to complete.

The origins of his self-created niche are not entirely clear. Winston said he recalls sculpting cow horns as a child and slowly perfecting his technique over the years. But he declined to explain why he only fashioned birds. Or why he selected cow horns as a lifelong medium.

The creatures are normally frozen in mid-squawk. They are perched throughout the chaos of his store, silently screaming next to tape decks and tangles of wire.

His most prized examples are showcased in Ada’s crowded windows, sharing space with an assortment of rocks and gemstones that Winston has collected and traded and sold over the years.

The birds are sold at small craft shows around the area. Sales are sporadic. Rarely, a fascinated passer by will notice the semi-crazed creatures peering out at them from the window. An even smaller percentage actually penetrate Ada’s inner sanctum to inquire about a price. Actual purchases are so rare that they elevate from basic retail transaction to memorable event, seared into Winston’s bald head.

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“One woman – I think she was just walking by – she saw a bird and stopped,” Winston recalled. “She told me her daughter was a ballerina and that the shape and the movement of the bird reminded her of her daughter who was away in another city. She bought it to remind her.”

The recollection brought a delicate smile to Winston’s face as he busily abraded a horn with a shard of glass. “I remember that one,” he said. “But it doesn’t happen much, you know.”

“The main thing is that this keeps me calm,” he said as the mirth began to fade. “It’s therapy.”

Darkening circumstances have forced Winston to call upon his frozen flock more than ever in recent days.

A “man from the bank” came by the other day, Winston said.  He brought grim tidings. The building’s owner – his longtime landlord – wasn’t paying his mortgage.

A few more missed payments and the old Rogers building could go into foreclosure.

“I haven’t been myself since then,” Winston said as he held up a still faceless bird to the sun to consider his work. “This is it for me, this store and my home here. So it makes it hard to sleep. But we will get through it.”

“Always have, you know.”

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Photos by Byron Smith for Flatbushed.com

8 Comments

  • Anonymous
    6.8.2015

    Fucking bravo man.

  • The Snob
    6.9.2015

    YES! I have been too lazy to write about Winston and the hornsmithing despite a daily fascination with his shop. So glad you did. And really, well done. Updates, please. I smell a kickstarted campaign in the offing…..

  • Vlack3Bos
    6.9.2015

    Flatbushed, your portraits of neighborhood regulars (among other subjects) are fascinating and well written. Thanks for opening my eyes to their stories. They are worth telling.

  • flatbushed
    6.9.2015

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. We humbly appreciate the support and hope to begin serving up fresh daily content in the near future. Also, If there are any characters or businesses or subjects in the area that intrigue you let us know and we’ll dutifully investigate.

    For additional chatter, follow us @flatbushed. Peace!

  • david
    6.9.2015

    Touching story well told.

  • Erika Bogner
    10.23.2016

    It’s closing end of the month …

  • J Perez
    11.17.2016

    Hey. I love your blog. I recently moved around here and I think its a great primer for the area. What happened? Why did you stop? I know how life gets, but we need a blog like this up and running, fully functional. I keep toying with the idea of starting one myself. I’m a documentarist by trade (a video editor and producer). I could make pieces for your blog in my spare time. We could combine forces and really examine Flatbush from the inside out. Maybe contact me…Just an idea…

    Thanks,
    Joaquin

  • admin
    1.2.2017

    I really appreciate the sentiment, Joaquin. Your note roused me from a scurrilous malaise. Stay tuned, and I’ll be in touch. -Flatbushed

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