Posts Tagged ‘brooklyn’

Six Degress of Something

June 16, 2015

As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.

– Proverbs 27:8

IMG_0602

Sky over Keeseville, NY 

If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you probably know about the intense manhunt going on in upstate New York. Specifically, the two escaped convicted murderers on the lam from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora.

The dramatic events at Dannemora cannot help but bring to mind the road trip I took in October 2014 in upstate New York.

A brilliant blue sky and skein of geese dappling the sheer of cirrus clouds is how I would prefer to remember the out-of-time, carefree days of our drive through the Adirondack Park Preserve, Champlain Islands, and state of Vermont.

But my recollections of abundant waterfalls, Slippery Elms and rolling acres of emerald green have been darkened by the you-can-run-but-you-cannot-hide reality of the escapees in upstate N.Y. and sorry fate of the sad-faced woman who aided and abetted them in their escape.

Below is a map pinpointing Keeseville, NY in Clinton County (see the southeast corner of the white area), where I photographed the heavenly sky above in an open field. Notice its proximity to Dannemora.

 clintoncnty

Our itinerant getaway took us all around the Adirondack Park Preserve. Through Elizabethville going north, through Keeseville, Schyler Falls, Eagle Bay, Lake Placid, visiting all the lakes (and there are many), and spending two nights in Saranac Lake, which we used as a departure point. Old school paper map spread across my lap (my favorite way to travel — I’m an explorer/navigator at heart), we covered practically all of the backroads — north, south, east and west inside the park.

AdirondacksField

On one particular day, riding Rte. 3 on the way to Plattsburgh, we passed to our left a sign for Rte. 374, the road that leads to Dannemora. Which, if you’ll notice, rhymes with Gomorra.

I was no stranger Dannemora. Not in memory, anyway. In my 20’s, I worked in a business office in Queens, NY teeming with crazy people. One Friday afternoon, Grace, our supervisor, a gum snapper from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, confided a secret to me, totally unbidden. We were neither office friends nor friends on any level. I didn’t know why she chose me as her confidant. Truth be told, her spidery, lacquered fingernails; formidable presence; jet black, Morticia-like hair (her best feature); and “moldy elbows” kind of spooked me.

She told me that she and her boyfriend, a guy from her neighborhood who was doing a stretch in Dannemora for armed robbery, were getting married that very weekend. In prison. She swore me to secrecy.

Dannemora

How romantic!

During my 4-year employment in that office, her secret spouse had been sprung from prison. Immediately after his release, Grace began planning thei wedding reception, which would be held in Bensonhurst. I was invited.

There would be no redundant ceremony, only a reception. About 100 guests convened at a catering hall (which resembled a reimagined high school auditorium). At one end of the vast space was an elevated stage. The carmine velvet curtains fronting the stage were closed. Tables were set up where rows of auditorium seats used to be.

After cocktails, the guests were seated at their tables. The wedding band played a what passed for fanfare as the curtains slowly parted. The newlyweds, Grace and her shifty-eyed, ants-in-the-pants husband, were seated onstage in separate thrones, kingly and queenly. The house lights dimmed. Pinpricked with theatrical stars, the backlit domed ceiling flickered above our heads.

Grace’s husband looked like a gangster. If you squinted, he sort of resembled the older of the two escaped convicts from Dannemora; namely, Richard Matt, in his younger days — just another James Dean, Clyde Barrow, Pretty Boy Floyd wannabe — except, he was the real thing.

MATT

A couple of weeks after the reception, Grace’s father telephoned her at work. In keeping with the time-honored Italian tradition of families and their offspring living in close proximity, sometimes under the same roof forever and ever, Grace’s father lived right next door to her.

Grace yelled into the phone. She swore into the receiver. “What!” she said. “I’m gonna f*ckin’ kill him!”

We figured out from Grace’s responses that she had been informed by her papa that Mr. Romance had arrived home with another woman on his arm. Both of them were now inside of her house.

“Son if a bitch!” she screamed and slammed down the phone.

She grabbed her enormous purse and brass ring of a hundred keys and a rabbit’s foot and jangled out of the office a muderous rage.

Guess what happened next. D-I-V-O-R-C-E. What a surprise.

Not too long after that, I quit this mind numbing job when our married general manager, who was about 30 years older than I and who, when I was first hired, called me on my office phone and offered to buy me an expensive new wardrobe if I would only go out with him (to which I declined, mortified), was arrested and convicted of mail fraud.

Ha ha.

 

 

I Know Myself So Well, I Finish My Own Sentences

April 28, 2012

My friends call me: Suzy Joad.

My uncle once: sneezed while driving and crashed his car into a tree.

Another uncle once: shot and killed an armed robber fleeing Tiffany’s in Manhattan. He was a traffic cop at Fifth Ave. and 57th Street.

Never in my life: will I answer any unbidden knock on my apartment door — which happened  just minutes ago. That’s a definite no-no, to all  would-be knockers. This isn’t Mayberry RFD. Call, e-mail, leave a note. No knocking! Stop it!

When I was five: I started kindergarten in Brooklyn. My teacher was a pervert.

Those Hallowed Halls…

High School was: a trip. My French teacher called my homeroom teacher a Nazi. It was rumored the drama teacher employed a “casting couch.” My English teacher was frequently drunk.

Billy Joel was in my art class over the summer of my sophomore year. He was a senior making up credits and trying to graduate. I’d say he did all right for himself.

I will never forget: when I saw The Cramps at Max’s Kansas City. They headlined. The opening act was Blondie, before she was famous:

I once met: David Byrne at the Mudd Club and grubbed a Tareyton from him.

Shades of Mad Men

There’s this girl I know who: went into mourning when Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols died.

Her old-school Italian mother (I’m talking, all dressed in black-, rolled-down stockings-, crossing herself every second-old-school) called me up begging that I talk to her despondent daughter, who refused to come out of her bedroom. Back in my 20s, the two of us worked together in a shrink’s office in midtown; that is, until she quit one day and started working as a hostess in a floating crap game, which operated out of the back of a tractor trailer, downtown. The last time I saw her was at a Devo concert. She and her groupie girlfriend went backstage, never to be seen (by me) again.

Once, at a bar: in Queens, I was sitting at a table during an attempted robbery. The bartender, a man in his 60s, grabbed a baseball bat from behind the bar and chased the robber out onto the street.

By noon, I’m usually: roaming the streets of midtown Manhattan, Monday through Fridays.

Last night: at 10:00 pm., the tenants upstairs were responsible for the horrible brain-numbing noise vibrating through the ceiling of our living room. It sounded like a compressor or power tool. “What is wrong with you people!” I shouted. Of course, they couldn’t hear me…with all the sirens and car stereos and honking going on outside.

If only I had: a place in the country.

Next time I go to church: it’ll probably be an a early morning, pre-work stop-over in St. Thomas’s on Fifth. I’ll be sitting in a pew, chilling, and gazing at the stunning gothic altar and electric blue stained glass windows.

Jonathan Frid: was someone I never watched on T.V. I wasn’t a Dark Shadows fan. I’ve read but a single vampire book in my entire life: Interview of a Vampire by Ann Rice. It was a fascinating book. But, I ask you. How many vampire books does it take to feel satisfied? In my case? Only one.

What worries me most: is that April is almost over and how did that happen so fast?

When I turn my head left, I see: a sombrero.

When I turn my head right, I see: an Elvis mousepad.

You know I’m lying when: when I’m on my back on the couch.

What I miss most about the 80s: is big hair. I loved big hair.

If I were a character in Shakespeare, I’d be:

Ophelia in Hamlet

By this time next year: I want to be out of this apartment!

We Three

April 8, 2012

Me, Mom, Connie – Brooklyn

Last night, I had finally gotten around to watching last Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, which was downloaded last Monday from iTunes.

If you’re a fan of the show, you were probably as shocked as we were at Betty’s weight gain (January Jones’s character). It was a déjà vu moment for me, reminiscent of Robert De Niro’s weight gain for his role as Jack LaMotta in Raging Bull — and also of my childhood.

The same thing happened to my mother. Uprooted from Brooklyn, from her network of friends, from her roots, along with the diaspora of other Brooklynites fleeing to the suburbs of Long Island, the radical change in lifestyle initiated by my father took a big a toll on her.

Pregnant with my brother and, I imagine, feeling like a fish out of water, it was a struggle for her to find something or someone she could relate to. One of her main complaints was a lack of transportation. She had never learned to drive. There hadn’t been a need.

In Brooklyn, we either walked (she, pushing my sister in the stroller, and me, walking alongside) or we took the subway.

My father, meanwhile, commuted from Hicksville to Brooklyn every Monday through Friday to go to work. He also worked a second job on weekends. He never complained. But he must have been stressed. He was always angry about something.

After my brother was born, my mother was never able to take off all the weight she gained. She went the route of diet pills, just like Betty. Although her doctor wasn’t as cautious as Betty’s. He just handed my mother a prescription, basically, for speed.

Wired, she’d stay up all night watching T.V., then get up at 6:30 a.m. to prepare breakfast for all of us. In the afternoon, she’d nap. In the end, the pills didn’t work. She didn’t lose the weight.

From the moment we moved to Long Island, it seemed my parents fought all the time. I remember one day, my mother, sister and I were standing by the front door of our house, about to go grocery shopping. Suddenly, my mother began to cry.

I was very young, about 6 or 7. Alarmed, and somehow sensing why she was sad, I said, “I’m never talking to Daddy again.”

It was her turn to show alarm. “Oh, no,” she said, dabbing her eyes with a tissue. “Please don’t ever say that again.” I sensed fear in her voice.

It’s an incident I will never forget. When I referred to Raging Bull at the beginning of this post…well, my father, at times, behaved like Jake LaMotta. He was a jealous man and my mother was a beautiful woman.

One of her greatest qualities, in spite of all her tribulations in life, was that she never lost her sense of humor.

My fondest memories are of the holidays — my mother, sister (also hilarious) and me, kidding around, wisecracks flying, the music playing from her boom box on top of the refrigerator, and the three of us gathered around the stove laughing our heads off.

Miss you, Mom.

Meme Girl

March 30, 2012
This describes me, at the office…
*   *   *
(Thanks to Sunday Stealing for the meme and The New Yorker for the ‘toon)
*   *   *
  • Which TV character do you think you are most like?
Peggy Olsen of Mad Men
  •  What time do you go to bed?
When I’m tired – that’s usually around 10:00 p.m., like clockwork.
  •  What was the last meal you made from scratch?
Spaghetti with garlic, olive oil, parsley and red pepper flakes. A relatively quick and delicious meal, especially with lots of locatelli romano cheese, and easy to prepare after work.
  •  What is your favorite type of music?
Savoy Family Band
I like ALL types of music. I especially love cajun (Savoy Family Band) and zydeco (Beausoleil), classical (Beethoven), swing (Benny Goodman), Doo Wop, Led Zeppelin and  the Blues (Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, old Stones, John Lee Hooker).
  •  In what position do you sleep?
Lying down.
  •  What is your first memory?
My two-year old birthday party in Brooklyn when I fell in the toilet bowl (I was a very skinny kid) and had to scream for my grandmother to get me out.
  •  What is your least favorite smell?
Bad breath. Makes me gag. I once worked with this woman named Gert who had denture breath. It was beyond horrible. Like dead body smell.
  • It’s your round at the pub and your friends asked you to surprise them. What drink would you buy and why?
Adult Hot Chocolate
1 1/2 oz peppermint schnapps
6 oz hot chocolate
1/2 – 1 oz whipped cream
Warm your mug first. Put the schnapps into your mug, and fill it with hot chocolate. Top with whipped cream, and chocolate shavings.
(I’m not a big drinker; I’m satisfied with one drink of whatever – wine, beer or a cocktail. Besides, I love hot chocolate or coffee — with a kick).
  •  What was the last thing you read/watched that made you cry?
Sad-eyed, timid, listless doggies that were bred in a puppy mill and up for adoption on CBS news this morning.
  •  They say that you learn something new every day. What was the last thing you have learned?
This morning, I began reading “New York Diaries (1609 to 2009),” a birthday gift from a good friend. It’s a compilation of random diary excerpts from famous and not so famous individuals, ranging from 9/11/1609 to 9/11/2009, and it’s just fascinating. This morning, I read this particular entry:
*   *   *
January 17, 1934: Went to that Gypsy Tea Room for lunch at Fifth Ave. and 38th…They sit with their teacups already overturned waiting for a gypsy to sit down at their table…A cat roams about and a kettle hangs on three sticks.
*  *  *
I was intrigued to learn that this Gypsy Tea Room, which I remember exactly as described above and which I frequented in the 1980s to have my tarot cards read, had been around as far back as 1934! (Not there anymore but I found a listing for a Gypsy Tea Room on 20th Street in Chelsea!)
  •  Which Literary love interests would you snog, marry and avoid.
Snog: Heathcliff
Marry: Atticus Finch
Avoid: Howard Roark
  •  What is your oldest memory?
Back in Brooklyn again. In the bedroom I shared with my sister. One night, my mother draped a piece of red cloth over our lamp to dim the glow and create a sort of nightlight. It caught fire. Somehow, I awoke in time to see the flames and called out for my mother, who came to the rescue.
  •  Paperback, Hardback or Kindle? Which of these is your favorite reading format and why?
Mostly paperback (trade fiction size), easier to hold on the subway. But I have been thinking of the Kindle lately. A foreign associate we use at work (from England) just published an e-book through Amazon – a political thriller with dry British humor (called The Schmetterling Effect). One of the characters (like the author) is a patent attorney. I read a few short chapters this morning, free of charge. It’s pretty darn good! I’d like to read the entire book. It’s for sale for 99 cents on Amazon–but only if you own  a Kindle.
  • If you could bring back any canceled TV series for another run what would you pick and why?
I’m afraid one of my favorites, Southland,
a great police drama, strong characters, excellent writing — which we download on iTunes — might be canceled! It’s highly rated by the critics, but it doesn’t make enough millions of dollars, apparently, for TNT’s very hungry coffers.
Hey, TNT: Life is short; Art is long.
*  *  *
What T.V. character are you like? I’d love to know…

The Ninth House Blog: Then and Now

September 3, 2011

This afternoon, I revisited my very first post on this blog, published on April 23, 2009 at 1:57 P.M., and erected its astrological chart. I’m somewhat chagrined, given how wrapped up I am in astrology, that it had never occurred to me to calculate the blog’s horoscope; that is, until today:

I won’t bore you with a lot of esoteric astrological humdrum. Suffice it to say that this blog’s horoscope chart is not only auspicious, but synchronous.

Guess where the Sun, the most important luminary in the chart, is posited? In The Ninth House — the “astrological house” that rules “publishing.” Hard to deny that prescience was at play when I named this blog.

This is the kind of corroboration that excites astrology geeks like me.

Way back then…

My first post back in April 2009 happened to be a meme. I thought it would be interesting to see just how much I’ve changed in these past 2 and 1/2 years (2009 in L.A.; 2011 in NYC):

1. Morning routine:

2009: Tazo Awake tea with a little rice milk; muffin or granola; fruit;  sharing the newspaper with JC.

2011: Twinings English Breakfast tea with honey; English muffin and peanut butter; fruit; Today Show on T.V.

2. Job Description:

2009: freelance writer always looking for the next job.

2011: overworked legal administrative asst.

3. Bad Trip:

2009: way back in high school, smoked some pot laced with something and hallucinated on the “late bus” during the ride home. Haven’t smoked any since – if you don’t count the night John Lennon died – which made for a doubly bad trip. I should have just said no.

2011: one morning, I waited on the subway platform for the F train to Manhattan, entered a crowded car and quickly snagged a vacant seat. Then I smelled something bad. I looked down and saw my feet sitting in a pool of vomit. No wonder no one was sitting there.

4. Good Trip:

2009: driving down the staggeringly gorgeous coast of Oregon, which beats CA’s coast by a mile.

2011: sneaking into the grounds of the shuttered Kings Park Mental Asylum on Long Island to shoot photographs:

Creepy Mattress

5. Drug of Choice:

2009: a good book (presently, it’s The Periodic Table by Primo Levi).

2011:  two good books (presently, it’s Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter [reading at home — to heavy to hold in one hand on the subway]; and Composed: a memoir by Roseanne Cash).

6. Pets:

2009: as an adult, my beloved English bulldog, Roxy, born under the sign of Cancer, who died prematurely of kidney failure; her companion, a pit bull-bulldog mixture named Flash, the Virgo that outlived her; my darling Jack Russell Terrier, Quark, another Cancerian who also died tragically. Sadness aside, dogs have never been a bad trip for me.

2011: a basil plant.

7. Controversial Stand:

2009: I’m an astrologer but I shy away from squishy New Age-y stuff.

2011: I’m an artist but I shy away from the art scene.

8. Exercise Routine:

2009: morning sessions from a yoga show called “Inhale” that I record from the OXY network. Soooo good for my office-chair induced backaches.

2011: fast walking everywhere in NYC; Masala Bhangra dancing Indian hip-hop DVD-watcher/participant.

9. Evening Routine:

2009: when not reading, I’m watching In Treatment. I’m a closet (but not after this post) American Idol junkie. I like The Office too.

2011: just re-watched all 4 seasons of Mad Men on Netflix.

10. Favorite Gadget:

2009: my garlic press. It’s a Kuhn – it’s amazing. I no longer mince – a time consuming chore I’d rather avoid.

2011: now I use the Cuisinart to mince garlic. Same chore, different gadget.

11. Obsession:

2009: astrology, for over 20 years.

2011: astrology, for over 22 years.

12. Art Collection:

2009: mostly my own stuff — my paintings –but also a couple of Haitian pieces (gifts from a good friend), a great little ink drawing of a donkey doing a handstand, which was purchased off the wall at a café in Los Feliz.

2011: my newest paintings and J.C.’s newest photos.

13. Native American Memorabilia:

2009: a traditional tomahawk we bought from a Navajo woman near the Grand Canyon. Instead of a sharpened steel blade, there’s a large flat river stone and eagle feather laced to the handle with rawhide. It’s tucked away in a corner in case of emergency — like a home invasion robbery (my deepest fear out here in L.A.).

2011: tomahawk still on the premises.

14. Favorite Vacation:

2009: the Grand Canyon in early October. I can never get enough of it.

2011: I miss the Grand Canyon.

15. Always in the fridge:

2009: apples, yogurt, Trader Joe’s chocolate covered mini-grahams or some such chocolate treat.

2011: apples, strawberries, lemons, something to heat up, Locatelli romano cheese, salsa.

16. Next big purchase:

2009: probably a computer. My Mac is dying a slow death.

2011: we’re aiming for a vacation in 2012.

17. At age 5, I wanted to be:

2009: a garbage collector. Every morning, I’d watch with fascination as the men in blue hopped on and off the moving truck emptying garbage cans. I honestly believed that after the truck left our block, their route included cities like Paris and Rome, and that their mission was to travel and collect the world’s trash.

2011: a Brooklynite forever. We moved to Long Island when I was 6, and I left all my friends behind:

893 Schenk Avenue – I’m in the middle with the wrist watch

18. Current project:

2009: reading, making notes and psyching myself up to finally begin that novel…

2011: painting, painting, painting, painting…

Out To Lunch

May 8, 2010

Noon-time nap at the Central Park Zoo

Which reminds me of that old joke.

“What do you like best about your job?”

“Lunch.”

Yet, it is glorious being outdoors for that precious hour between noon and one o’clock, soaking up the greenery inside this splendid park, a mere two-minute walk from my job.

Each Monday through Friday, it’s just me and the polar bears, my cheese sandwich and a book. Seated on an oak bench enveloped in the shade a flowering crabapple tree, I nibble on the cheddar, sip my complementary workplace coffee, and read.

Recently, the book was The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Shine. I’d hitched onto a library queue of considerable length — 157 readers long — and waited over a month or so before it arrived at my library.

For the most part, it was worth the wait. Big-hearteded and warm, it’s the story of a 70-something, well-heeled Jewish woman (as in: multi-room co-op on Central Park West) whose husband leaves her for a younger woman. As a result of the divorce, she is forced out of the apartment. The trophy wife moves in with her wizened better half.

But, all is not lost. She is offered a place to stay by an avuncular close relation. Accompanied by two adult daughters, who are going through life changes of their own, they all move into this family “cottage” in Westport, CT. A protracted slumber party ensues.

Yes, Wesport, CT, you heard right. So…don’t cry for me, Argentina. We should all be so miserable.

For about three-quarters of the book, I was thoroughly engaged. The writing is funny, heartfelt, smart. But, then, my interest began to wane. Primarily because I saw the ending coming from a mile away and prayed the author wouldn’t go there, or there, or there.

What a disappointment when she did, she did, she did. Tying up all the characters’ lives into a neat little bow, just so. A shame, because Shine is a good writer. A shame for me, anyway. Maybe you don’t agree.

The Strand outpost on Fifth Ave.

Shine’s book notwithstanding, all most definitely was not lost. Near the entrance to Central Park, The Strand bookstore has had this little outpost here for decades. In case you don’t know it, their main store is downtown on Broadway near 12th Street. 18 miles of books, claims their slogan. Worth a visit, definitely.

Looking for something new to read as I awaited the arrival of the next book on my library queue, I stopped at the outpost to browse their sidewalk tables, which were crammed with an eclectic, literary selection of used and discounted books. Many posts ago, I think I mentioned how enchanted I was with Colm Toibin’s latest novel Brooklyn. I’m still haunted by the story and its characters. I find myself thinking about it when I least expect it.

For me, that’s a measure of a good book.

Anyway, during my browsing I happened to come across, of all things, a copy of Toibin’s very first novel, titled The South. He wrote it while in his thirties.

I snatched it up for a couple of dollars. He’s a marvelous writer. The prose is sensitively wrought, spare yet dense, compassionate and warm without being treacly, which I’ve found to be so characteristic of the Irish, as a people. In both novels, he is writing from a woman’s POV — and he’s astoundingly good at it.

Toibin is becoming my new favorite writer. I can’t wait to read more of him.

Coincidentally, during that same browse fest at The Strand, I came across a book I’d not heard of by my old favorite writer, Paul Auster, called A Man in the Dark. Bought it, too.

And how could I leave without picking up the essay collection I found stacked next to it, by Joan Didion (it’s called After Henry). It’s an older volume of hers, but it is new to me.

Last but not least, a slim vintage paperback by James M. Cain (of The Postman Always Rings Twice fame) caught my eye. Particularly its hand-painted cover. The title? Jealous Woman.

And it reads just like a Bogey and Bacall movie, Sweetheart. Fabulous.

The R (is for retro) Train

April 15, 2010

This morning, when the R train thundered into my stop in Jackson Heights, I noticed that the train’s digital readout said the it’s final destination was Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

I’ve been riding that train every day to work and had never noticed that before.

It triggered some reminiscing. At that hour of the day, I’m ripe for getting lost in fantasy  — open to anything that will take my mind off the eight-hour grinding drudgery that lies in wait across the East River (i.e., “The Office”).

In the late 1970s, I spent a lot of time in Bay Ridge. Disco was popular, of course, though not so much with most New Wavers I knew and hung around with, who pretty much boycotted everything “disco.”

I’ve always liked to remain open to all kinds of music, as long as it’s good. Back then, I was listening to Pere Ubu, The Cars, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Devo, Lou Reed, The Cramps, Leonard Cohen — but also Donna Summers, The BeeGees, Sylvester, The Tramps….and Verdi and Beethoven and Bob Wills…you know, good stuff.

I’d frequent the  Met and The Mudd Club and the disco with equal alacrity. Why not.

Anyway, getting back to Bay Ridge…

On a main drag in Bay Ridge was a bar called Scarlett’s, which I believe might have been on 86th Street (or maybe was it Third Ave.? I don’t quite remember.) Possibly, it was on that same street where John Travolta is strutting his stuff to “Stayin’ Alive” in the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever.

One of my favorite memories of Bay Ridge (for the kitsch factor, alone) was the art show that Scarlett’s sponsored one Sunday afternoon. The theme of the exhibit? Frank Sinatra.

Neighborhood artists, most of them Italian-American, showed up to exhibit their portraits of Old Blue Eyes. His wildly interpreted visage could be found propped up on shelves, makeshift easels, barstools, basically, on every available space in Scarlett’s.

It was hilariously memorable show of art that’s so bad it’s good and an all around great day. Beer helped.

There’s something about sitting in a bar mid-afternoon during summertime, bluish light carpeting the floor, street noise filtering in through the open door, that I’ve always found inviting.

I think it’s because my dad used to moonlight (or sunlight, if you will) on weekends in my uncle’s bar in Brooklyn. He was so young then, in his thirties, and tended bar in a white dress shirt, sleeves rolled up, his thick black hair slicked back with some kind of tonic.

My uncle stocked the juke box with all the latest rock and roll 45 rpm records. My dad loved the song, “Black Denim Trousers.”

.”

Wow, I found a version of it on youtube!

Whenever Rock Around the Clock would come on, he’d put down his bar rag, swing my mom around by the waist, and the two of them would break into a fast lindy hop.

Those were happy times.

My sister and I loved that we were allowed to hang out in the bar. We felt so grown up, even if we did spend our time skipping the length of the room spinning bar stools.

The movie Saturday Night Fever seemed to put Bay Ridge on the map overnight. A group of artist friends (some Bay Ridgers and a few Queens-ites, like me) had gathered together and gone to see the movie when it premiered — in Bay Ridge!

The theater audience was filled with locals. There were lots of knowing hoots and laughs and ad-libbing throughout. The screening took place at one of the King’s (Loew’s) Theaters a grand, elaborate movie house with a balcony, velvet seats and carved gilded moldings. The works. It was gorgeous.

We just loved the film — including the anti-disco faction among us. The opening scene of SNF is one of my favorites  of all time, for its excellent use of music — second only to “Raging Bull” (and one notch above “The Sound of Music.”)

Shortly before moving back to New York last autumn, I was lucky to have seen a remastered print of the film on the big screen in Los Angeles. It was fantastic, and funnier than I remembered.

On my commute home this evening, after disembarking from the R train in Jackson Heights and climbing the stairs to the second level, I noticed a trio of South American musicians playing on the second level of the station.

But it wasn’t the usual  “El Condor Pasa.” To my surprise,  they were playing, “If I Can’t Have You,” a song from the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever.

On a pan flute, no less!!

It was very weird. But — in the best possible way.

More Snow! More Reading!

February 17, 2010

Peering down into  the “backyard” from my bedroom window

A week or so ago, I clipped this Robert Bly poem out of The New Yorker and taped it to my computer monitor. He’s always been a favorite poet of mine. Reading this poem each morning — especially when it’s snowing — just makes me feel kind of good.

SUNDAY AFTERNOON

The snow is falling, and the world is calm.

The flakes are light, but they cool the world

As they fall, and add to the calm of the house.

It’s Sunday afternoon. I am reading

Longinus while the Super Bowl is on.

The snow is falling, and the world is calm.

What else makes me feel good? Books.

I’ve been reading a lot of them in the last few months. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Brooklyn (fiction) by Colm Toíbín: I loved this novel. Intimate, deeply affective and bittersweet, it tells the story of a young Irish girl who emigrates to New York City in the early 1950s. The characters are rich and unforgettable.
  • Olive Kitteridge (fiction) by Elizabeth Strout: Marvelous. Un-put-downable. A string of short stories stitched together with the formidable, complex character of Olive as its thread. A seventh grade teacher in Maine who is married to a pharmacist, Olive is the type of person that changes the weather of a room just by entering it. I’ve read Strout’s other two beautiful novels, Amy and Isabelle and Abide With Me. My one regret is that she has only written three. OK has one of the most spot-on, completely satisfying endings I’ve read since Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.
  • Stitches (memoir) by David Small: Writer and illustrator (and Caldecott Medal-winner) of this jaw-dropping, deeply moving graphic memoir, Small manages, though the artistry of his sketches and prose, to portray the story of his bizarre, traumatic childhood with unusual insight and surprising compassion.
  • This is Where I Leave You (fiction) by Jonathan Tropper: obsessively readable, crack-you-up funny, with some of the sharpest and most original metaphors I’ve had the pleasure of reading. He’s a splendid writer.
  • The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder, and the Birth of the American Mafia (non-fiction) by Mike Dash: I’m a mafia junkie. I like the movies, the books, the newspaper articles. This book differs from most in that it is assiduously researched and sharply written by a brilliant Ph.D. journalist. The first page will knock you out. Beginning around 1890, it tells the story of Guiseppe Morello, a.k.a. “The Clutch Hand” (so-named because of his deformed left arm and hand — missing all fingers save for the pinky.) The first true “capo,” he was a ruthless monster from Sicily responsible for bringing the Mafia to America. Thanks, Clutch Hand. Compulsively readable. Dash is a superb writer.
  • Invisible (fiction) by Paul Auster: I’ve said it in other posts. I’m a Paul Auster fan. I’ve read a lot of his books. I think you either like him, or you don’t. I do. Very much.
  • My Faith As a Writer: Life, Craft, Art (essay collection) by Joyce Carol Oates: In this slim volume, the anecdotes she supplies to describe the successes and failures, trials and tribulations, influences and self-doubts experienced by herself and other writers make for enjoyable reading and provide enlightenment as to process.
  • Fierce Attachments (memoir) by Vivian Gornick: I may have alluded to this book in another post, but I’ll mention again how much I enjoyed it. I love the way it’s structured. Also not to be missed by Gornick: The Situation and the Story, her brilliant book on the craft of writing.
  • Tree of Life (a fictionalized journal of the life of lapsed minister Thomas Keene) by Hugh Nisseson: Deftly written in diary form, a fascinating glimpse into American life of both settlers and Indians around the time of the the War of 1812. Johnny Appleseed, who appears throughout these pages, is quite an interesting fellow, and, arguably, America’s first “hippie.” Original, disturbing, powerful and haunting.

Others I’ve read, which I’ve enjoyed, but not with the same intensity as those mentioned above:

  • Nothing Was the Same (memoir) by Kate Redfield Jamison: In this memoir, Jamison (a clinical psychologist with manic-depressive illness) writes about coping with her grief after the death of her husband (a leader in schizophrenic research.) It’s impossible not to compare this book with her brilliantly written first memoir about her manic-depressive illness, The Unquiet Mind. This new book is just not as compelling.
  • Lit (memoir) by Mary Karr: After page 145, when Karr gives birth to her son, the book finally becomes interesting. Up until that point, however, the writing felt rushed, as if she were trying to encapsulate the earlier events of her life (which, perhaps, she’d written about in other books) so she could arrive more quickly to the moment of her son’s birth — a pivotal point in the book (and, in retrospect, maybe a better starting point for it). Admittedly, I haven’t read The Liar’s Club or any of her other books, so this is speculation on my part. Even so, regarding the relationship with her poet-husband, the father of her son, I felt similarly frustrated by her lack of detail. The juxtaposition of his wealthy birth family vs. her not-so-wealthy family is played out in stereotypes and contributes little to perceiving them as three-dimensional people. Puzzling, too, is that the writing process, itself, is barely mentioned, except to say that her husband is kind of a poet workaholic. Overall, this book brings nothing new to the table regarding alcohol abuse. It reiterates the familiar path of joining AA and, alas, becoming born-again. Yet, this memoir was wildly praised by the press before it was even released. Makes me a little suspicious.

Slab City, CA

  • The English Major (fiction) by Jim Harrison: Engaging, yes, but I sense that it is more of a “guy’s” book. The main character, a 60 year-old retired teacher who has just lost his farm, wife and dog, decides to drive around aimlessly through several mountain states motivated by a half-baked idea to rename each one (N.B., the names he chooses are not witty.) Along the way, meets up with a former student (now married and in her 40s). They have a fling. He then spends the remainder of the novel daydreaming about her incredible ass. Really. Maybe if I were a guy… Nah.
  • The Sugarless Plum (memoir) by Zippora Karz: As much as I enjoy reading about ballet (I was a dancer once, see photo, below), Karz’s memoir about dancing while battling diabetes amounted to a little too much diabetes and not enough dance to sustain my interest.

  • This Book Could Save Your Life (fiction) by A.M. Homes: if you’ve ever lived in Los Angeles, this book will evoke from you frequent, knowing chuckles (and a few guffaws.) It was definitely a fun read — even if the ending is a bit farfetched.
  • Mafia Son (non-fiction) by Sandra Harmon: I managed to get through the entire book, but Harmon had lost her credibility early on when, for reasons unknown, she opted to portray the murderous moronic thug of the title in a sympathetic way — as a victim of an unfair system of justice (even though he viciously murdered 25 people.) Please. The lunatic mobsters inhabiting these pages and their capacity for bloodbaths and violence will curl your hair. Most of them are lower echelon mobsters, meaning they live in middle class houses in Bensonhurst and Staten Island, and prefer not to delegate. They do the murders themselves because they simply like to kill.
  • Omega Point (fiction) by Don DeLillo: a relatively short novel that I did enjoy, but at the same time found thin. The opening chapter, a literary replication, if you will, of an art installation in NYC — a slowed down, frame-by-frame screening of the film “Psycho” was recounted in a mesmerizing way. It was the best part of the book. What followed never matched the power of the opening chapter. As always, DeLillo has interesting things to say about the state of the world, but, for me, he just never delves deeply enough.
  • Falling Man (fiction) by Don De Lillo: Same problem as in Omega Man. The first half of the novel captured my interest. Set right after 9/11, the events, scenes and references were skillfully portrayed. Some were quite poignant. Half-way through, though, I lost interest. I just didn’t feel like finishing the book. I’ve read White Noise by DeLillo and did enjoy it. But these two books somehow felt unfocused and missed the mark, at least, for me.

Next on my list? Shadow Tag (fiction) by Louise Erdrich.

Happy Reading!

Bye Bye Brooklyn – Part 3

January 20, 2010

It’s hard to leave your friends.

My dad was an amateur photographer and shot this picture of me and my friends in front of 893 Schenck Ave. I was three years old when it was taken.

I’m fourth from the left in the bottom row — the girl with the precision-cut bangs (my mom must have used a slide caliper) and Hopalong Cassidy wristwatch, a gift from my parents after I’d learned how to tell time.

For those next couple of years, if someone were to ask: “Do you have the time?” I could answer, “Yes.” Life was good.

But not long after I turned five, my dad announced that he was set to join the diaspora of Brooklynites fleeing to the suburbs. That our neighborhood was changing (How so? From worse to worser?). Every weekend, we began taking family car rides to Long Island just to look around.

Over my mom’s protests, my dad put a downpayment on a house in Hicksville. Before we knew it, moving day was scheduled for early March, right smack in the middle of kindergarten.

Admittedly, there were some things about Brooklyn I didn’t mind leaving behind. For example:

1) PS 137.

In my kindergarten class, when it was your birthday, you had to lie face down over the teacher Mrs. Gosden’s lap in front of the whole class. First, they’d sing “Happy Birthday.” Then she would lift up your dress and slap you on the tush, tallying her slap-count to match your years of age.

That wasn’t all. The next words out of her mouth were: “and a pinch to grow an inch…” — after which she’d make good her promise by targeting the same anatomical area.

Ever since I had entered kindergarten, I’d dreaded the arrival of my birthday but was too ashamed to tell my parents.

But fate, as it would turn out, was on my side. To my enormous relief, I would be spared the mortification of having my underpants exposed to everyone in my class because my birthday fell on a national holiday. On Lincoln’s birthday, school was closed.

2) The scary smoke stacks across the street from where I lived.

At last, I could release my fear of being stuffed into the smokestacks by a “stranger.”

3) Polio shots or shots of any kind in the school cafeteria.

I was not going to miss the gun-metal, prison-issue cafeteria tables and benches — which folded out of the walls like Murphy Beds and provided seating for the tear-stained throng of wailing, drooling, post-vacinated kids and our respective collection of sticky lollipops matted with hair.

4) Sandy, the scourge of  kindergarten, who insisted on throwing my coat on the floor every single day so he could hang his own on hook #1.

Hooks were assigned alphabetically. I didn’t care where I hung my coat, but Sandy did, and, apparently, so did my perverted teacher, who insisted on punishing him daily — thereby prolonging our vicious little cycle of misery.

5) Peeing contests staged by boys who lived in my building.

They’d line up at the curb, unzip their flies and enthusiastically expel golden arcs of urine into the air just to see whose would splash down the farthermost.

But other things, irreplaceable things, would be lost in the move, and that made me sad:

1) My vibrant network of friends.

2) Our neighbors (and honorary godparents), Aunt Eva and Uncle Hal.

Eva was drop dead glamorous and smoked her Pall Malls in a cigarette holder. Hal was a mensch who worked as a sales manager for Mattel. The night before they would hit the toy stores, my sister and I each received a pair of Mickey Mouse ears from Hal — not the cheap, plastic headband-style ears, but the genuine article:  black felt cap with Mouse Club insignia and ears sewn on, just like the Mouseketeers wore on T.V. Talk about bliss.

3) Knish runs to Pitkin Ave.

Every type of knish you could imagine was sold on Pitkin Ave. My mom’s favorite was the cabbage knish. My sister and I liked potato. My dad, not a knish man, would always go for a Hebrew National hot dog smothered in sauerkraut and mustard.

4) The carousel at Coney Island.

My sister, Connie, riding the carousel

This carousel had a brass ring you could grab for — which is something of a rarity as far as carousels go. My arms were too short to reach the brass ring, but I loved wrapping them around the horse’s neck and running my fingers inside its flaring nostrils. I also liked sitting on the benches because that’s what the adults did.

In the picture above, I’m standing on the carousel platform next to my sister. I’m holding onto a pole. Check out the guy in the fedora behind her. He looks like he hangs out around smokestacks.

Which is probably why I was not in the saddle. I wanted to keep an eye on him.

5) The subway.

When we weren’t on foot, and for lack of a better choice (i.e., being chauffeured around by my dad), we rode the subway. We were always able to get where we wanted to go with a token.

The subway cars were not silver then, but black. The seats were actually caned. Yellow in color, they looked just like corn on the cob. And the fare was only 15 cents.

Although my mom had never learned how to drive a car, she’d always loved riding in one. For another type of person, moving to the suburbs sans drivers license — where subways were non-existent — might have proven to be an insurmountable obstacle. But not for her.

Yes, she would deign to ride buses, when necessary, but her preferred mode of transportation was the automobile. This inclination of hers would lead her in pursuit of a rather unconventional means — at least, when it came to most mothers of the 1960s — for getting around town.

Thumbing her nose at convention, and in the interest of expedience, she would take up hitchhiking.

The Streets Where I Lived – Part 2

January 14, 2010

339 (not 334) Bainbridge St., Brooklyn, NY

Departing the site of the former St. Peter’s Hospital in Cobble Hill — edifice of my birth — we headed for East New York. I think we were driving down Fulton St. The massive steel structure of an elevated train (could be the C train) loomed above, dividing the road down the middle — as in the film The French Connection — remember the famous car chase beneath the El ?

Anyway, we made a left on Utica and drove to Bainbridge St.

Turning the corner, we noticed at once that the odd-numbered houses were on the right side of the street — but that the even numbered houses were gone!

Directly across the street — where number 334 should have been — loomed  a vast complex of brick apartment buildings that are generally referred to as “The Projects.”

Therefore, I had to assume that: A) the insurance company must have made a typo when it recorded the address on my dad’s old policy or; B) the houses across the street had been demolished to make room for “The Projects.”

I went ahead and shot a photo of number 339 Bainbridge St. My reasoning was that the number 9 sometimes can be mistaken for the number 4. Case in point, please indulge me as I flashback to grade school:

Scene: Kitchen table in my parents’ home, circa the 1960s. Under the overhead light of our wagon wheel chandelier, a frustrated young student (me) is struggling with her math homework. Her father is hovering beside her in the guise of “helping.”

Father (growing more impatient by the minute): “Is that a nine or a four?”

Daughter: “A four.”

Father: “Then why can’t you make it look like a goddam four!”

(What can I say? Even back then, I was arty. I drew elaborate fours.)

Anyway, here’s proof that we did, in fact, live on Bainbridge St. — me and my mom, home from the hospital, hanging out in the kitchen of the phantom apartment.

Our next stop was 893 Schenck Ave. — “The Projects” in the East New York section of Brooklyn, lying midway between Flatlands Ave. and Linden Blvd. We moved there a couple of years later, either before or right after the birth of my sister, Connie.

When we drove up to the front of the building, J.C. took one look at the old homestead and remarked, with a touch of alarm in his voice, “I didn’t know you grew up in such a poor area.”

Neither did I.  At the time, Apt. 1E had seemed palatial. I must admit, though, that living on a street whose name sounds like “skank” tends to conjure up all kinds of nasty images…

Still, I was so happy there. I had a new little sister, lots of friends and all of them lived in my building. Visiting them was effortless and merely required a push of the elevator button.

I’m on the trike.

Our playground, the scene of one of the most dramatic events of my Brooklyn childhood, was located in the back of the building. On that day, my mom’s friend and her daughter were visiting us. Her daughter and I went out back to play on the monkey bars. Mid-twirl, she suddenly lost her footing and smashed her face against the steel. She literally screamed bloody murder. I helped her up, quickly grabbed her hand and we raced back to my apartment as a crimson river gushed from her mouth.

Her mom freaked out when she saw her daughter, so my mom took over, immediately going into Red Cross mode. She moistened a towel with warm water and began to clean the whimpering girl’s wound, which wasn’t as bad as it had looked once the blood was washed away.

“I’m now going to apply a butterfly bandage,” my mom announced, pausing for effect. “That way, she won’t have a scar.”

Always one step ahead of potential danger, my mom was prepared for anything. She wanted us to be, too. Which, at times, was rather a double-edge sword.

For instance, her all too frequent references to those scary smoke stacks right across the street from our apartment building.

“Never, ever talk to strangers!” my mom would continually warn my sister and me. Then, one day, she added, “If you talk to strangers, they’ll kidnap you and take you away from me and throw you in those smoke stacks.”
“How?” I asked. “They’re too tall.”
“They have very big ladders,” she said.
Aren’t mothers smart?