icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

The Weekly Blague

The Bear in Number 12


"Modernistic, almost avant-garde, all acute angles and big vertical sheets of glass jutting toward the street, the red-brick structure stands in the middle of a row of mid-19th-century Greek Revival townhouses, on a tree-lined Greenwich Village block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. In its mismatched eccentricity, 18 West 11th Street cries out to be noticed, and I noticed it—and the Paddington Bear in the window—right after I moved to the neighborhood. I don't remember what kind of costume the bear had on that summer day in 1991 (probably a bathing suit and sunglasses), just that I stopped to look and wonder why the house was so different from every other house on the block." –from The Village Voice


The above paragraph is the opening of a book I'm working on. Tentatively titled No Future, an excerpt ran in The Village Voice last year. It's about the connection between Observation Post, a radical student newspaper at the City College of New York in the 1970s, and a house that the violent antiwar group known as the Weathermen, or Weather Underground, used as a bomb factory. The Weathermen were not very good bomb makers, and they accidentally blew up the house. Three Weathermen died in the explosion. Eventually, a lavish new house was built on the site, and the owners, metals magnate David Langworthy and his wife, Norma, displayed a Paddington Bear in the window. Every day the bear had on a different costume. If the Yankees were in the World Series, he'd be wearing a Yankees uniform. If a nor'easter was coming in, he'd be wearing a rain hat and slicker. I called him the Paddington Bear of Cognitive Dissonance.


In 2014 the house was sold and the bear disappeared, probably never to be seen again in that particular window.


I wondered about the bear's fate. I missed walking by the house to see what kind of costume he had on. I inquired about the bear on Nextdoor. Nobody knew what happened to him.


One morning last week, I was walking down a block I've walked down many times: West 10th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, one block from where the bear used to be. This time, a beautiful bow window at number 12 caught my eye, and standing on a table in the corner of the window was Paddington Bear, wearing red rubber boots. (It had rained the previous day.) I don't know how long he'd been there, but he's not in any of the Google street view images taken between June 2014, around the time he disappeared, and November 2022. It was the first time I'd seen the bear in nine years.


Several days later I returned to check out his costume. He was still wearing red rubber boots, though it hadn't been raining.


If the Yankees or Mets should miraculously squeak into the playoffs, perhaps the new owners will be moved to dress him in the appropriate uniform, as his previous owners always did. Then again, it's football season, and both New York teams could prove to be interesting this year. Paddington Bear would look just fine in either Giant blue or Jet green.


Please join me for a discussion of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon on Wednesday, October 4, 6 p.m. at Subterranean Books in St. Louis.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on X (the site formerly known as Twitter) or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

Post a comment

The Rents They Are A-Risin'

Every so often I get the urge to write a letter to an editor. It happened the other week when I read an article in The Guardian about Bob Dylan and the Volkswagen van that appeared on the cover of one of his early albums, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. The reporter, Billy Heller, had tracked down the owner of the van, a Greenwich Village butcher whose shop, Florence Prime Meat Market, was (and still is) on Jones Street, where the album cover was shot.


Heller's opening sentence was an outdated cliché that described the Village as a magnet for creative types. I'll let the letter (text below) speak for itself.


Your article (Freewheelin' to fame – the untold story of Bob Dylan's iconic VW van, 24 March) begins: "New York City's Greenwich Village has always been a magnet for outsiders, artists and poets." That sentence cries out for an update. Greenwich Village used to be a magnet for such people.


I'm a writer, my wife is a singer-songwriter, and we've lived in the area for well over 30 years. Yes, some of us have been fortunate enough to weather the changes that have made this neighbourhood (as well as much of Manhattan) unaffordable to most. But I can now report that the Village has become a magnet for bankers, brokers and trust-fund tragedies.


If a young Bob Dylan were coming to New York today, he'd be lucky to find an affordable place in the Bronx or Staten Island.
Robert Rosen
New York City, US


I could have added three more categories of newly arrived Greenwich Village denizens: hedge-fund managers, corporate lawyers, and weathy divorcees. Creative types, of course, still do move here on occasion, usually after they've made their first couple of million.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

Be the first to comment