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Where No Man

Has Gone Before

A few nights ago, while driving east on Atlantic Avenue, I heard some strains of live jazz that were so sweet I almost ran right off the road.  The shock was compounded when I parked and discovered the sounds were floating from somewhere between the various shuttered auto-repair garages (we’re talking about Atlantic between Washington and Grand Avenues, an industrial area that is all but dead at night).
Lo and behold, I followed the music and stepped into a cafe with classy hardwood floors, a fully stocked bar, an outdoor patio and a jazz trio earnestly bouncing through a set of Miles Davis classics.  It reminded me of the Dean Street Café back in 1991, before all the crowds showed up.
The new place is called Pork-Knockers and no, they don’t have swine on the menu.  Apparently, in Guyana, “Pork Knockers” was what they called adventurous miners who set off into the wild, unmapped regions of the country in search of diamonds and gold.  The new restaurant, according to the owners, “was built on that same spirit and drive.”
At night, that stretch of Atlantic is pretty much a wilderness, so the name is well chosen: Pork-Knockers is in uncharted territory.  But these Guyanese adventurers have come well-prepared, with a Caribbean cuisine that includes curried goat, jerk chicken, snapper, ox-tail, ital stew, ackee and cod fish.  Side dishes include sweet plantains and salmon cakes. The rice and peas were spiced so perfectly I forgot to ask for the hot sauce. Dinner and drinks for two came in around $40, which is real bargain when you throw in the music.
Pork-Knockers is open from 4 pm to 1 am on Sunday through Thursday, and 4 pm to 4 am on the weekend.  The address is 956 Atlantic Avenue (between Washington and Grand) and the number is (718) 638-0727.
Safety First
It was with great sorrow and great anger that I read about  the murder of a Wendy’s manager in New Jersey in the course of a robbery.  The victim, Tanyi Benedicta, was an African immigrant who, after 13 years of hard work, was still opening the place at 4:30 in the morning, alone.  Early reports suggest that a push-in robber surprised Ms. Benedicta as she unlocked the door, then stabbed her to death and robbed the restaurant.
To all managers and owners of cash-based establishments: please get yourself a partner and a cell phone and set up a system to save your life.  Here’s a basic security procedure that I have seen work at banks and check cashing stores:  have one person unlock the door, while the other acts as a lookout, safely parked across the street with the cell phone turned on and ready to call for help at the first sign of trouble.
You should stagger the arrival time and change your travel route at random, so that nobody can detect a pattern.  Once in a while, ask a nearby cop to watch you open up.  And obviously, if you arrive and sense anything wrong at all, call the whole thing off and just keep driving.
This won’t ward off all robbers, but it definitely makes their job harder.  Remember that criminals spend as much time planning crimes as you spend making an honest living.  Stay alert, and keep them guessing!

How You Gonna Win?
Even when safety is taken care of, the nightmares and problems of a small business owner don’t end.  One of my favorite Bed-Stuy merchants recently had a very public encounter with an irrational, obscenity-spewing landlord who decided to barge in and deliver verbal abuse and illegal threats of eviction in full view of customers.  Mind you, this attack was on a small business that had already paid several months of rent in advance and honored every letter of its lease agreement.
The dispute was over how to complete an upgrade to a storefront. The landlord had failed to supply the place with air conditioning or electrical outlets, then threw a public tantrum out when the small business completed the needed repairs on its own.  The landlord is not based in Bed-Stuy, but appears to have decided that gaining control of vacant parcels of land from the city carries with it the right to threaten and disrespect Central Brooklyn merchants at will.

The bright note in this story is the grace and patience with which the small business handled the situation.  Instead of “going there” and answering the landlord’s obscenities in kind, the merchant quietly asserted its rights under the lease and politely told the landlord to go fly a kite.  The whole incident-which is fast making the rounds of Bed-Stuy business and political circles-reminds me of the new Lauryn Hill song, where Miss L. sweetly asks the local gangster: how you gonna win, when you ain’t right within?
Hostile forces-from push-in criminals to bullying landlords-threaten small businesses at every turn.  The incident underlines the need for every small business to have the name of a good attorney on file and ready for use when people try to interfere with the basic right to make a living.

Where the Jobs Are
Here’s how to get a job for $3.50.  First, get The Chief, a newspaper which lists tons of jobs openings and examination dates for city, state and federal jobs.  According to a recent edition, the U.S. Customs Service is looking to fill hundreds of Customs Inspector positions in New York, Florida, Texas and California.  These are the people who check anyone entering or leaving the U.S. 
The starting pay ranges from $21,000 to $27,000 and you need three years of work experience (unless you already have a college degree).  The test date has not been announced yet, but you have to sign up for the test between Oct. 1 and Oct. 31.  Call 800-944-7725 for more information and a test application.
After you’re finished reading The Chief, take the train or bus to the Central Brooklyn Neighborhood Employment Center (718-573-9197), our community’s one-stop source of training and job placement.  In just over three years, CBNEC has placed more than 200 people in jobs, including public assistance recipients.  The service is free, and walk-ins are accepted.  The storefront office is at 796A Putnam Avenue, between Malcolm X Blvd. and Stuvesant Ave.
Errol T. Louis can be reached at (718) 623-9027 or via email:

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