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.
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.
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.
“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.”
Photos by Byron Smith for Flatbushed.com