Posts Tagged ‘hotel st. george’

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

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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.

 

 

Writing the Hotel St. George

April 27, 2009

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Stumbling out of bed this morning, I flipped on the radio and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7—my absolute favorite—exploded into the room like Niagara. Three-quarters into the Allegro con brio, as the orchestra’s engine roared toward the ecstatic fortississimo, I pumped up the volume, rapture-ready.

The stunning final three measures—BOOM, bada BOOM, bada BOOM—and the irrepressible punch of its phrasing, as always, brought tears to my eyes.

When the radio announcer read the credits: Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic from a 1958 concert at the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn Heights, I rejoiced at the serendipity of those words.

In the 1940s, my father worked at the St. George, at one time the largest hotel in NYC. It was his first job. Growing up, I remember him mentioning it frequently and never without commenting on its luxuriousness. “It had the largest indoor saltwater pool in the world,” he’d say, in awe. The son of struggling Italian immigrants, working at the hotel must have offered him his first—and, perhaps, only—taste of genuine extravagance.

So it was astounding to hear that the entire N.Y. Philharmonic had played Beethoven within its walls. He had not been exaggerating, after all.

My father died in the year 2000. While going through some of his things, I came across his employee picture I.D. from the hotel, which he’d held onto for over sixty years. It’s one of the few mementoes of him that I have—and I cherish it.

Whenever I look at that picture, I feel closer to the man I’d like to imagine he was back then. A man in his twenties, handsome, smiling and full of promise. If he were still alive, I’d thank him for sticking around to take care of me, when many a man in his situation might have run for the hills.

Over the years, I’ve googled information on the hotel, even queried a good friend who remembered using the Clark Street station, the subway stop that operated inside the hotel itself—all in an effort to help me better understand my father and preserve my memory of him.

Although the subway stop still remains, the hotel has undergone many metamorphoses. In the 70s, part of The Godfather (my father’s favorite movie—and, no, our family was not in the mob) was filmed inside the hotel—(remember the scene where Luca Brasi’s hand is impaled by an ice pick?). In the 90s it suffered a bad fire. Currently, it houses college students and cooperative apartments.

I keep promising myself that I will ride that subway line the next time I’m in NYC. Clark Street is only one stop outside of lower Manhattan, right after Wall Street. But until I get around to doing that, writing about it definitely helps.