Posts Tagged ‘new york’

Memories are Motionless

June 2, 2016

“Memories are motionless, and the more securely they are fixed in space, the sounder they are.” – Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

tribeca $1900 300sqft

Earlier today, taking a break from painting, I googled studio prices in NYC to check out the going rate. The above studio is on the market in Tribeca. For 300 sq. ft. you will pay $1875.00/month!

Once upon a time, I rented a painting studio of my own. The space was larger than the the space above. For 400 sq. ft. I paid $400.00/month. Situated above a clock store in Williston Park on Long Island, a decidedly unhip but affordable and convenient location at the time,  northern light flooded my studio all day long. I was in heaven.

Excited to have a dedicated workspace I could get as dirty as I wanted, I laid down a roll of cheap linoleum, moved in my work table and supplies and got to work.

One morning as I arrived, the proprietor of the store below me was standing amidst a forest of chiming grandfather clocks, front door open. He introduced himself right away and asked me what I was up to, mentioning he always heard music playing. He then said he enjoyed (rather than objected to) the music and seemed a bit tickled to find out that someone was making art in the space above him instead of preparing tax returns or teaching traffic school.

I fondly recalled my studio days as I stepped back from the easel this afternoon to assess the progress of a new painting. My studio is the second bedroom of the two bedroom apartment we rent in Queens. I never did put down linoleum, but I guess I should have.

It’s fun to fantasize about the days when I painted full time as I spend my days off from a dreadful office job. I’m not complaining, per se, but occasionally on days like these I enjoy torturing myself by thumbing through an artist book I own called Studios by the Sea. 

To refer back to Bachelard in Poetics of Space, he writes: “…even when we no longer have a garret, when the attic room is lost and gone, there remains the fact that we once loved a garret, once lived in an attic. We return to them in our night dreams.”

This is so true. At heart, I’m a romantic. A big part of me loves to dream and yearn. Loves the yearning part more than the actual getting. The aroma of coffee beans in the grinder more delicious than drinking the brew. As I flipped through Studios by the Sea I wished and imagined. Sometimes walking around NYC, I will find myself gazing longingly at a 19th century townhouse on the Upper East Side — yearning to live there. And enjoying every minute of yearning.

During my recovery from a broken ankle last summer, I would pass a particular townhouse on East 63rd St. on the way to physical therapy. A painting hanging on the wall by artist Caio Fonseca was visible through the expansive front window. It held my eye each time I passed by. His work is a favorite of mine. As I stopped to gaze, I conjured an entire fantasy scenario based upon seeing his work hanging in that space. On the landing beneath the painting an elegant ebony grand piano, keyboard exposed, was poised to be played. Above hung a glittering crystal chandelier. Aware Fonseca played the piano, I was convinced it was a Steinway and that Fonseca lived in the townhouse.

But he didn’t live in the townhouse as I would come to find out. The scene – his painting, the piano, the splendor of the decor  – had been staged by a real estate agent, likely another “romantic” like myself. That agent, through his or her design, had gifted me many evenings of yearning and pleasurable wanderings.

Fantasy is better than the reality. I suppose people who invest in their “dream house” spend the rest of their lives “making it even better than they imagined” with continual remodeling because intrinsically they know that dreams are never realized. Otherwise, they would no longer be dreams.

…the house shelters daydreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.” – Bachelard


A Cubicle Is A Cubicle Is A Cubicle

July 13, 2014


My Work Space

“…the room where the walls come together…”

– E..A. Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum

No matter how management attempts to aggrandize their decision to relocate a hardworking, dedicated employee (moi) from 3 long years in a strangulating cubicle; to a 3-month tease in a vast open space; and back again to a strangulating cubicle, the end result is exactly as Bela Lugosi described it, above, in The Raven. 

Torture. Delicious torture.

In a Q&A appearing in the Business Section of the Times today, Paula Antonelli, Sr. Curator at MOMA, is asked about her office. Her response is the best description about life inside a cubicle I have encountered, outside of Poe’s and Lugosi’s.

This is what she says:

“I have my own office, and I am lucky to have it. It is better to have privacy, but if I were to choose between a cubicle and completely open space, I would choose open space.

The illusion of privacy is worse than no privacy. It bothers you; [whereas] a conversation between two people wouldn’t bother you at all.”

This is the 21st Century. You would never know it the majority of offices. Only in New York? Even in New York.


Where have all the employees gone?

Gone to cubicles, everyone.

When will they ever learn?

When will they ever learn?

Our Excellent Vacation – Day One

November 2, 2013



Part road trip, part chill out on a farm, at long last we were on vacation.

After a relatively painless exit from NYC (including the initial escape over the Triboro Bridge and traverse through the South Bronx), we reached Suffern in good time, segued to Route 17 and exited at Bethel, NY.

Bethel…? I said to myself. Bethel….why is the name so familiar? Hunger (and curiosity) lured us into the parking lot of Janet Planet’s Kozmic Kitchen. Then, I remembered. The Woodstock festival was actually held in Bethel, NY.  Not in Woodstock. Rendering it, to my mind, tourist-free and pure.

JanetsPlanetChatting with the Kozmic’s owner, Janet Planet, I discovered she grew up in Massapequa, Long Island. I grew up in Hicksville, practically next door.

“Did you hang out at the mall?” she said, dipping her question in irony.

“Of course.”

KoZmicStaffJanet Planet is on the left of this very friendly trio

Eating veggie burgers to the tunes of Janis Joplin, Canned Heat and Santana, brought us back. It was fun.  Janet, who is also the chef, suggested we take Route 97 to Route 17B, instead of Route 17, on our way up to outskirts of Ithaca, for an off-the-beaten-track, unspoiled adventure. Happily, we took her advice.

Before saying goodbye, Mr. Ninth House took the photo of Janet & Co., above. Outside, we paused to check out the lawn sculpture in back of the restaurant.

PeacSignScultpurePeace and Love — the dream is still alive in Bethel

We headed for scenic route 17B.  Before we had landed on on Janet’s Planet, we passed through many little towns. One example is Bloomingburg, a seemingly peaceable village, landscaped with Victorian homes and green lawns. But there were some weird roadside protestors, all middle-aged females, waving signs as we drove through. “Hi y’all Kiryas Denzll” or No sh’tetls in the ‘Burg,” read the signs. Not far from Bloomingburg is Kiryas Joel, a hamlet I had read about in the newspaper, which is exclusively inhabited by Hasidic jews.

C’mon, Bloomingburg. That’s not very nice.

In Monticello, another town we detoured through — which is a few souls minus a ghost town — a shopping mall, circa 1969, named for the eponymous space mission, stood rusted, derelict and abandoned. We ascertained its namesake from two spindly “rockets” — listing warily from their plumb line, aiming tentatively skyward and shedding paint like dandruff. We found them planted side by side in an empty and forgotten section of the lot.

Down on Main St., businesses and shops in Monticello were either: 1) closed because it was Saturday (Heimish Bakery and Glatt Air Technologies, to name two that were not boarded up) ; or 2) boarded up.  With the exception of a single bagel store with a shiny-ish new sign, which was both neither boarded up nor closed nor crowded. ApolloMallApollo, we have a problem…

We didn’t stick around there long. It was creepy. We headed back to Route 97 toward Route 17B.  “Uh oh,” was our reaction when a John Deere combine (I’m guessing that’s what this vehicle is) pulled onto the road ahead of us.


It was the first real “Farm” moment of our vacation retreat. We chilled out and slowed our pace. After all, we could have been back in the city trailing behind an MTA bus or, worse, standing face to face with a coughing passenger on a packed F train. But, we weren’t. We were upstate New York!

The sky overcast and autumn leaves ablaze, we continued on through the towns of Hancock and Callicoon, which overlooked Kenosha Lake.

At this stop sign, we turned left. StopSign

Shortly after we reached Route 67, we arrived in a place called Long Eddy. Route 67 is a snaky, unpaved, narrow road that twists and turns alongside the Delaware River, cutting through woods and grassy fields. This lovely, out of the way road brought us directly to Kellams Bridge. A bridge the width of one car. We climbed out of the car, stood on the bridge and gazed out over the river.

It was so quiet.


We drove over Kellams Bridge and exited onto Bridge Rd. 40, made a U-turn and drove back over the bridge again. In the village of Long Eddy, we encountered this quaint little cemetery.


It began to rain. Great cemetery weather! But it was nearly 5:00 PM. We couldn’t linger. We had promised our hosts, Rita and Don (the Rosenberg and Barber of Rosebarb Farm), we would arrive by 5:30 PM to pick up the keys to our rental cottage. They had tickets to a hockey game at Cornell University and had to leave at 5:30 PM.

We motored on. But then we had to stop again because an authentic “Muffler Man” was peeking/peaking over the bushes alongside of the road:

MufflerManUpstateDo you know the Muffler Man, the Muffler Man, the Muffler Man….

We love Muffler Men.

Picking up our speed once again, we soon reached Landon Road, which would lead us to Rosebarb Farm. But then the Wat Lao Samakhitham Inc. Buddhist Temple (2040 Rt. 11) came into view. Curiosity was killing us. Mr. Ninth House wanted to stop. We squelched the urge and moved on. By this time, it was pouring rain. We needed to get to the farm. Besides, I’m leery of any religious temple with INC. in it’s name.

At 5:20 PM, we arrived at the beautiful, peaceful, scenic refuge that is Rosebarb Farm in Caroline, New York. Our retreat had officially begun.

Stay tuned for Day 2:  SUNDAY at Rosebarb Farm…

Books and Reading and Commuting in 2010

January 17, 2011


Last October, when I moved back to New York, I looked forward to doing lots of reading on my morning and evening commute to and from work.

In less than 15 months — mid-October through this past December — I’ve read 54 books, both fiction and non-fiction. That’s approximately 4 books per month (or 1-a-week). Not that I’m counting, but 2010 was the first year I’d actually kept a list.

Because I love talking about and sharing the names of books I’ve enjoyed with like-minded readers, I’ve taken the liberty of  listing my favorites of 2010.

Honorable mentions are also included, as are would-have-been-favorites, if not for their disappointing endings. There were also some real clunkers. But, I’ve left the clunkers off the list. I don’t have the heart to pan a novel outright, because I’m more than aware of the blood, sweat and tears that are part of the novel-writing process.

Anyway, here are my lists.

My Favorite Books of 2010 — in no particular order of importance or release date — (these are books I continue to think about long after I’ve finished them; books that changed my way of thinking on some level; books that are deftly written).

1) Must You Go? My Life With Harold Pinter (Antonia Fraser) – Diary entries, excerpted from Fraser’s own, beginning the moment these two eloquent writers first meet, at a party. Fraser, about to leave, walks over to Pinter, who is seated. He looks up at her and says: “Must you go?” A true love story and literary delight.

2) Brooklyn (Colm Toibin) – A pithy story, heartfelt, poignant, surprising, with such beautifully drawn characters. A twist of fate, misreading of intentions, wrong assumptions, alter the lives of the characters forever.

3)  Olive Kitteridge (Elizabeth Strout) – A series of stories linked by the formidable character of Olive Kitteridge, a retired school teacher. Warmly crafted, elegantly written, with an ending so perfectly rendered, you’ll rejoice.

4)  The First Family – The Birth of the American Mafia (Mike Dash) – A fascinating, obsessive factual account of the beginnings of the Mafia in this country, grandfathered by a fiercely murderous individual nicknamed “The Clutch Hand.”

5) Mattahorn – (Karl Marlantes) – A tour de force fictionalized account of Marlantes’ harrowing tour of Vietnam as a Marine. Unputdownable.

6)  Bright-Sided – How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Underminded America (Barbara Ehrenreich) – A breath of fresh air. Smart, trenchant and honest exploration of America’s penchant for denial.

7) Into the Wild (John Krakauer) – A fantastic book, which I’ve just gotten around to reading. Maybe you’ve seen the film adaptation. As good as that was, read the book.

8) Parallel Play: Growing Up With Undiagnosed Asperger’s (Tim Page) – A funny, astonishing, emotionally educational and heartbreaking account of living with this Asperger’s, by a brilliant writer and music critic.

9) The Sea (John Banville) – Lovely prose, witty, atmospheric, it’s a book I didn’t want to end. Highly recommended.

10) Tree of Life (Hugh Nisseson) – Haunting, unique, unlike any other book I’ve read before. I will never view Johnny Appleseed in the same way again. Nisseson is an amazing writer.

11) Just Kids (Patti Smith) – Very entertaining, great writing.  A loving, revealing chronicle of her relationship with Mapplethorpe, full of juicy tidbits, characters and anecdotes of the time period.

12) Suite Française (Iréne Némirovsky) – Set in Paris during the Nazi occupation — a novel that resurfaced years after the author’s death at the hands of the occupiers. Enough said. Don’t miss it.

13) The Night Stalker (Philip Carlo) – A masterpiece of the genre of true crime (my guilty pleasure reading).

14) Abide With Me (Elizabeth Strout) – Stunning in its irreverence, emotional depth and spare writing. An eccentric minister and his young, motherless daughter endure the small-mindedness of a small town, with grace and strength of character. A spiritual triumph.

15) Morphus Eugenia (A.S. Byatt) – a.k.a. “Angels and Insects.” Nothing short of fantastic. The “underside of the tapestry,” to quote Joan Didion.

16)  Stitches (David Small) – A graphic memoir focusing on a horrific truth withheld from Small in his childhood. Starkly rendered illustrations. Beautifully done.

17)  Fierce Attachments (Vivan Gornick) – Exemplary memoir. Superbly written.

Honorable Mention (more than worthy reads):

1) This Is Where I Leave You (Jonathan Tropper) – Very funny – Tropper has a great sense of humor – it’s his heartfelt account of the confusion, sorrow and attempts to move on after a breakup of his marriage.

2) The Privileges (Jonathan Dee) – Witty, erudite, sharply written – I admired the writing, but disliked all the characters, which made it difficult, in the end, to like the book.

3) Sag Harbor (Colson Whitehead) – A coming of age novel about what it was like to spend your summers growing up as a young black man in one of the black communities of Sag Harbor, Long Island, in the 1980s. Add a star if you’ve lived in or are familiar with the area.

4) The Signal (Ron Carlson) – Haunting, in the way only Ron Carlson can be haunting. Suspenseful story of a once-happy marriage, now over, and the erstwhile couple’s final, annual, camping trip in a forest teeming with danger.

5) Invisible (Paul Auster) – A story within a story, what you’d expect from an Auster novel, this time venturing into deeper psychological territory than some of his others, centering around an incestuous relationship — and, then again, maybe not.  Not my favorite Auster novel, but, I’m a longtime fan of his writing.

6) The Possessed (Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them) (Elif Bauman) – Liked it, especially when she mentioned Russian authors I’d actually read. Not as enjoyable when she wrote about those I hadn’t. Bauman’s mind is perceptively keen and she’s so damn smart — I just loved what she had to say about writers’ groups and workshops.

7) Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia (Chris Stewart) – An armchair traveler’s delight, written by the former drummer of “Genesis” and talented sheep-shearer, who leaves England and buys a broken down farm in Anadalucia, where he and his wife put down roots and befriend one of the colorful locals.

8) Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (Wells Tower) – Read this collection, so you won’t miss his unforgettable story, “The Leopard,” which, when it first appeared in The New Yorker magazine, just thrilled me. It’s that good. I’d read the story twice at the time, back to back, and was delighted to encounter it again in this collection. All the stories are well worth your time.

9) Bitter Harvest (Ann Rule) – An insane, brilliant physician in Kansas slowly poisons her husband. One of Rule’s better true crime thrillers.

10) Lay of the Land (R. Ford) – I began this book shortly after it was released. Got about 2/3 of the way through. Put it aside. Picked it up a few years later, in 2010, and finished it. The fact that I had been stalled, well, I supposed the story had slowed down a bit. But — I did remember everything I had read up to that point, when I picked it up again, so that says a lot. I’m a fan of Ford’s writing, and have a soft spot for his novels (not to mention that I’d met him at a reading and he’d signed this very book, so I was obliged to finish it). I’ve read the first two novels in this trilogy, “The Sportswriter” and “Independence Day,” and also his short story collection, “A Multitude of Sins” – which I loved. This last novel is not his best, perhaps, but I feel as if I have come to know Frank Bascombe intimately (the main character that appears in all three novels). And, in the end, I was satisfied to have finished it.

11) Backing into Forward (Jules Feiffer) – For years, I was a fan of Feiffer’s cartoon strip in The Village Voice, which led me to this memoir. It’s one of the few books I actually “purchased” in 2010 – some of his strips (which I actually remembered – this was a plus, too) are reprinted in the book.

12) Lost and Found (Essays about N.Y.) (Various) – Just plain enjoyable. Add some stars if you live in N.Y.

13) Diary of a Mad Housewife (Sue Kaufman) – A reread of an old favorite. Still enjoyable, but a bit dated, this time around. By the way, the novel was made into a very entertaining movie, starring Richard Benjamin, Carrie Snodgrass and a very young and handsome Frank Langella (playing the part of one of the most cold-hearted, miserable, nasty, egotistical writers you’d ever want to meet, let alone sleep with). Still waiting for it to come out on DVD…

14) Dear Husband (Joyce Carol Oates) – A collection of stories. I loved “Death by Fitness Center,”  which made me laugh out loud. Most of the collection is on the grim side, which I don’t mind, such as her fictionalized story about Andrea Yates, the born-again mother who had a psychotic break and killed her kids. I’ve always admired Oates’ writing and compassion for abused women and how she keeps them in the collective consciousness by writing about them.

Good books with disappointing endings:

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery) – At the end, the main characters weepy breakdown in a restaurant, of all places, seemed totally out of character. Kind of ruined the book for me.

– This Book Could Save Your Life (A.M. Homes) – Very enjoyable, until it’s Hollywood ending.

– The Three Weissmanns (Cathleen Shine) – Compulsively readable and funny, but the ending was a letdown, too Hallmark. I felt cheated.

Should have taken a pass:

Nothing Was the Same (Key Redfield Jamison) –  Jamison’s memoir, The Unquiet Mind, about her bipolar disorder, was piercing, powerful and poetic, and infinitely better.

– The Hilleker Curse (James Ellroy) – Yes, we know that Ellroy is a flamboyant egomaniac and self-promoter. In keeping with that reputation, he shares the details of his romantic conquests and so-called relationships in a decidedly unromantic, rather emotionless way. Frankly, he comes across as an idiot in his behavior, but without a fulcrum of irony or humor. Why would these women choose to live with him, I continually asked myself as I read? Worst of all, he blames his bad behavior and relationship failures on the “Hilleker Curse” (i.e., his lifelong hangup on his mother and her shocking murder). So why did I BUY this book? Because Ellroy’s “My Dark History,” a memoir of his mother’s murder, is a masterpiece.

Sh*t My Dad Says (Justin Halpern) – A subtitle to this book might be: Sh*t His Son Writes. Sorry, I had to include this clunker – it’s on the N.Y.T. bestseller list (!)  Come on, America.

Last, but not least: Some Good Books About the Craft of Writing:

– Writing About Your Life (William Zinsser) – A memoir-writing classic.

– Don’t Quit Your Day Job (edited by Sonny Brewer) – A terrific collection of essays by Southern writers.

– My Reading Life (Pat Conroy) – I’ve never read any of Conroy’s novels (have opened one or two in a bookstore and flipped through them). I did enjoy this memoir, however, and read it obsessively on my commute. The opening chapter dedicated to mother is really beautiful. My eyes teared up twice on the F train.

The Art and Craft of Fiction (Victoria Mixon) – I recently ordered this book from Mixon’s website (she’s an editor) and have just begun reading. Not at all like the usual how-to writing books that are on the market. It’s so much more than that. Chocked with vital, well thought out suggestions, specifics you won’t find elsewhere. You can read excerpts and buy the book on her site Highly recommended.

As always, your comments and book suggestions are most welcome. Happy Reading…

Merry Christmas and Random Peace in the New Year

December 24, 2010

Poor guy

There’s an awful lot on this snowman’s plate. Carrying off the holiday window in a Jackson Heights pharmacy is challenging, to say the least, especially when competing with, say, the decorating budget of a Manhattan establishment:

Van Cleef & Arpels


Still, it’s the intention that counts. For instance, I ran across this subliminal message on the subway station floor at my stop in Queens:

I like to call it “Peace Glove”

Fallen from someone’s pocket, intentionally dropped there, who knows? But a message is there if you want to look for it.

The Mitzvah Mobile

Around Hanukkah a few weeks ago, a Mitzvah Mobile was parked at 5th and 57th, right outside the building in which my office is located. Its formidable presence (klezmer music, rabbis on loudspeakers, waving hands beckoning you inside) may have rubbed off on the attorney I work for. Above and beyond the Christmas bonus and pair of gloves he gave me, he did a mitzvah for the military (and for me, because, I must admit, it did my heart good).

He donated an undisclosed sum of money in my name so that soldiers serving in the Middle East could phone home for the holidays. A nice thing to do. (You’d think the government would fund those calls, but that’s another post, for another time…)

We have been, and still are, freezing here in New York, as many are everywhere else (well, except for my former stomping grounds in L.A. — but they are getting very wet, at the moment, so let’s wish them a swift return to non-stop sunshine and blazing heat).

The cold has not affected the fun of Christmas week from expressing itself here in the city.

One of the perks of working in Manhattan is witnessing an imaginative parade of costumes and fashion on a daily basis.

Courtesy of The N.Y. Times, click the following link for a fun peak of N.Y. style. You’ll see lots of red and, of course, the ubiquitous black — the color most New Yorkers cannot live without:

Here’s wishing one and all random peace, many cease-fires, fewer suicide bombers, and no more “my religion is better that your religion” (atheists included here, who are becoming as evangelical as, well, the evangelicals).

Notes from Under the Radar

September 17, 2010

Angel of Provincetown

In early September, during our much-too-brief sojourn with dear friends in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, I found myself caught in the thrall of this boy angel (as you can see, I wasn’t the only one) and snapped a picture.

I’d forgotten all about him until last evening when a monstrous thunderstorm raged through Jackson Heights. Just as I alighted from a city bus into the enervating warmth and humidity, lightning struck. In a radiant, booming flash, deafening and savage — and close enough to rattle my eardrums and nerves — a fierce, fiery torch touched down a mere block away. Frightened to the quick  — I’ve never been so near to a lightning strike — I ducked and scrambled in the pelting rain and fled into the lobby of my building.

It was not until this morning — after I’d called in sick to work, felled by a cold, sinus infection, ear problem — that I thought about the boy angel.

It was as if the constraints on my imagination had been loosed by the singular fact of making that phone call. I was free — free to be me — at least for a day.

Unencumbered by the tiresome admonitions of a particular self-important pair of creepy coworkers mired in pedantry that have the power to absolutely ruin your day from the get-go — I suddenly felt like me again.

What a feeling.

I continued to mull over the weather incident a bit more, suddenly having precious free time on my hands. It did cross my mind that the lightning strike was the reappearance of my guardian boy angel, as I’ve come to regard him, paying a visit to New York in a different guise. Behaving in a similar fashion to that of the Tower card in the Tarot: deploying the shock of the unexpected to rattle me.

It so happens that the novel I am — was, will get back to soon, oh, the remorse of not working, the sorrow of day jobs — writing, has quite a bit to do with lightning. The inference of this lightning strike as it relates to my novel also “struck” me this morning.

N.B.: to the menaces from my day job who might happen click into my blog — unlikely, since the Queen of Tedium who reigns over my section of the office, ominously coined “The Cave,” once uttered: Why would anyone write a blog? — bugger off!

This is the same wet horse blanket who proclaimed for all to hear: I hate art museums. They’re so boring. I can’t be in one for more than ten minutes.

Good — then, please keep away. More room for the rest of us.

That inane comment begs a quote from the brilliant critic Arthur Danto, who wrote, when blogging about the artist Marina Abramovic:  “A work of art and a mere shipping carton can look exactly alike. What explains the difference? What is the difference between sitting down with someone in a performance and merely sitting down with someone? The work of art has meaning; it is about something. And it embodies that meaning.”

(Shipping cartons of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your strapping tape.)

There’s always more than meets the eye.


Swan Pond

April 17, 2010











Joyous Spring on Dosoris Island!

Click on the photos to make them larger!

The Countdown Begins

September 22, 2009

The POD is coming to our driveway this Saturday, 9/26!

After we’ve loaded it with our stuff, the Podzilla will return the following Monday and haul it away. That’s when we’ll embark, unencumbered, on our cross-country drive to N.Y.

The waiting is finally coming to an end.

Time dragged for all of July, August and  into September, even more than it usually does in summertime’s hazy malaise. Back in July, when we’d committed ourselves (mentally, at least) to making the BIG CHANGE — the move to New York — we thought it best to defer that change to the fall — another sixty to seventy days.

Maybe that’s not exactly correct. I have been using the pronoun “we.” Actually, it was mostly “me.”

I thought that pushing back the date would give us more than ample time to stage a yard sale, pore through our stuff, sell some of it on Craig’s List and then pack in an unhurried, stress-free manner.

Also, I believed that pacing ourselves in tandem with the slowly recovering economy seemed wise. And, it was, as it turns out. But, what I hadn’t anticipated was being seized by the grip of stop-time.

That is, time that goes forward, and, yet, doesn’t go forward — for two and a half months.

Eventually, September rolled around, and with nothing but the computers wiring us to the outside world (T.V. disconnected), I’d taken to watching B/W episodes of The Twilight Zone on my iMac — which I’d found for free on the CBS-TV website.

The shows were just the right length (twenty-five minutes, apiece) and provided a welcome diversion at the end of an exhausting day of packing and sweating and packing and sweating in the L.A. heat.

What has happened now, though, with only one week left until until our departure, is that time has sped up. There are just not enough hours in the day and not enough sleep to be had at night.

But Rod Serling already knew that, didn’t he, with all his talk about time and dimensions — which is rather interesting, given that he’s become, of late, a significant presence in my home, after hours.

Is there a lesson to be learned from all of this? Yes, I think so.

It’s far better to fret, pack and perspire under the pressure of a time constraint than it is to extend the deadline too far ahead. The latter provides too much opportunity for losing sleep as you toss and turn and mull over all the what-ifs.

On the other hand, when it came to deciding on the place we wanted to settle into, we did that in a single day. It was a snap.

We chose Sunnyside, in Queens. We picked it because JC liked the name. It was that simple.

Before moving to L.A., it had always been just plain, ole Sunnyside to me — I’d never once stopped to consider the inherent optimism in its name. Until now.

L.A. encourages you to look on the bright side of life. Maybe because L.A. is so — bright.

Still, I must have mended some of my ways while living here, because I haven’t jaywalked since 1996 — the year I left N.Y. (Of course, the fine for jaywalking is more than $250, so that might have something to do with it).

Anyway, Sunnyside appealed to me because it’s a melting pot and leafy and a mere 15-minute subway ride to midtown Manhattan.

The relatively short commute does have its good and bad points, though. The subway had always been a favorite place for me to get some reading done. In anticipation of my new commute, I’ve gone so far as to plan the first novel I’d like to read: Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin.

But I wonder, how many pages could I possibly cover in fifteen minutes? Not that many. Unless, of course, I just happened to become so engrossed in the book that I miss my stop…

Transistor Radio

August 17, 2009

It’s always been my nature, as it were, to get to the bottom of things. To find out what drives the strong, yet, on the surface, inscrutable, emotions — emotions erupting without any apparent provocation — that frequently threaten to swallow me up.

Most of my life I’ve told myself, well, you’re just moody — which I guess is partially true. But, I knew there was more to it.

For example, in the past couple of weeks, and because we are planning to move, I’ve found myself riddled with angst about taking or leaving behind our one-of-a-kind, industrial-iron dining room table and six mahogany chairs — the only items of furniture both JC and I truly love — because the table, being heavy, is difficult to carry. It was a purely rational decision.

Even though the dining room set was a wedding gift we’d made to ourselves, still, I had resigned myself to never seeing it again. As if I didn’t deserve to keep it.

But, as is frequently the case with me, a trigger — the prospect of having to hand over the set to someone else — threw me into a bout of self-analysis. Why would I just divorce myself from something to which I’d grown so attached, I asked myself, if I didn’t want to let it go?

Then, out of the blue (from where most epiphanies derive), a memory resurfaced from my past. Something to do with a transistor radio I’d owned as a kid had drifted into my consciousness.

The unsentimental, no-nonsense, cool approach I’d adopted in my adult years toward my most meaningful possessions I was suddenly able to trace back to a birthday present I’d received when I was twelve.

Back then, I had been longing for a transistor radio in the worst possible way. Receiving one of my very own was beyond elation. Compact and blue, it came with its own buttery-soft “genuine leather,” black, perforated carrying case. A looped strap for carrying it around was attached at the upper corner.

Sometimes, at night, I’d place the radio beneath my pillow, turn the volume low and the dial to WABC-AM to listen to the top ten Billboard countdown, which was announced around midnight.

Saving up my allowance, I eventually bought myself an earplug, which made listening at night all the more easy. And, having an earplug meant I could also bring the radio to school.

In class, I would feed the cord of the earphone up the long sleeve of my blouse so that the earbud would emerge from my collar. My hair was long enough for me to disguise its presence pretty easily. During boring lectures, I’d flip on the switch and listen to WABC.

One Saturday, I did what every tween did back then. Met my friends at the mall and brought along my transistor radio. About an hour later, I broke away from them to use the bathroom. I locked myself in and hung the radio by its strap on a hook on the door.

Not until I’d rejoined my friends did I realize that I’d forgotten the radio. I dashed back to the restroom — but I was too late.

I was devastated. When I got home, I tried to explain to my mother what had happened. I begged her for another chance. Swore that I would never take another radio to the mall. Promised I’d be so careful if she would only, please, buy me another one.

The pain of loss was so great, I could feel it all the way down in the pit of my stomach.

Predictably, and in that no-nonsense way of hers, my mother said, no. That you only got one chance in life and I had blown mine.

It was a heavy lesson in the responsibility of ownership — about as heavy as my dining room table.


Nine Years Later

July 30, 2009


July 24th was the nine-year anniversary of my father’s death.

Where did the time go?

The photo above (I’m on the left, my younger sister is on the right) was taken, possibly by my mother, at the beach in Coney Island, Brooklyn:


Some of our best times as kids were spent at the beach.

My dad was one of the few senior citizens who, when visiting the casinos in Atlantic City, brought along his swim trunks. He liked to take a restorative dip in the gray waters of the Atlantic before heading back home to Long Island. Beached hypodermic needles and used condoms notwithstanding, he swore by the magical healing properties he’d attributed to the sea.

One of his favorite poems was Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Maybe that’s part of the reason he revered salt water. On any given hot summer’s day during my childhood, or if he was particularly thirsty, he might spontaneously recite a few lines from it (which, long ago, he had memorized in grade school):

All in a hot and copper sky,

The bloody Sun, at noon,

Right up above the mast did stand,

No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,

We struck, nor breath nor motion;

As idle as a painted ship

Upon a painted ocean.

Those were the salad days for our family. Days of reciting poetry, of weekends at the beach, dancing in the kitchen or committing our imagination to a good book. Both of my parents were big readers back then. A few years after this picture was taken, I would also share in their passion.

Perhaps, to guide us through the troubled times that would eventually overtake our family, the bedtime stories he told us each night changed from tales of chocolate soda fountains and enchanted forests to poetry recitations. Invictus (Henley) was one of his favorite poems. These last two lines have stayed with me all my life:

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

In raising us, he did his best with what he had to work with, which wasn’t a lot. His own father was a brute. So, for that, I thank him.

Right before he died, he was diligently at work, emailing Italy and Canada and copying us kids, as he cobbled together his family tree. He never was able to finish it. Death would claim him rapidly and unexpectedly, in just three months’ time.

While wading through the things he left behind, I came across an essay he had written in his forties, around the time he’d returned to school to get his bachelors degree. He had saved the essay for thirty years.

It’s a wonderful glimpse into the past, particularly, as it relates to the Italian immigrant experience in Brooklyn, N.Y. For me, it’s another piece to the puzzle that was my father.

The Old Neighborhood

by Frank Ambrico


When I think of the old neighborhood, I feel as though I were raised in Italy.

Most of the people in our neighborhood were Italian either by birth of descent. When you heard two people speaking to each other, it was almost always in Italian. As a child, it was a wonder to me that they could understand each other’s rapid conversation. The dialects were so different. As I grew older, however, I too learned to understand most dialects, Northern Italian and Sicilian being the most difficult to learn. The other dialects that were spoken by most of the other neighbors were only slight variations form the Neapolitan my parents spoke.

The music that was heard in our neighborhood, as would be expected, was Italian, too. Radios were always turned to stations VOV, WLIB or WEVD. Tulio Carmanarde, Nino Martino and Carol Butti were the favorite singers.

In the summer, all the religious societies held “feasts” in honor of their patron saint. There, you would find all kinds of favorite foods sold at stands where they were cooked or baked.

The “feast” that was held in honor of Saint Rocco seemed to be everyone’s favorite. This celebration always included a grease pole. This pole was as tall and round as a lamppost. At the top of the pole was a crosspiece loaded with fine foods and a ten-dollar bill. The pole was then covered with a thick layer of grease. Whoever could reach the top would take all that was there. Long lines of young boys would form to get a chance to climb the pole, some, as two-man teams, some as singles using a rope with a slipknot. This sport would go on for hours attracting hundreds of people.

There were many summer evenings that I enjoyed in a neighbor’s front yard singing Italian folksongs or just listening to the conversation of the adults. The singing would usually begin when some of the musicians from our block brought their instruments over and played a few tunes. All of the would-be “Caruso’s” would immediately join in and so the sing-along began.

There never was a shortage of singers; the problem was to get some of them to stop singing. Absolute quiet and undivided attention was expected when someone performed individually, even if he was unpopular. The custom was to show enthusiastic applause, and a spokesman would beg the performer to honor the group with another song even if the first one was terrible. Sometimes when the music went on past midnight and the children were in their homes asleep, the celebration would take on a quieter air.

At this point, the enthusiasm for music would taper off and the neighborhood comedians would take center stage. An Italian, it seems, cannot tell a joke the way an American does, with just a few lines. A three-line American joke becomes no less than a fifteen-minute production. The gestures and pantomime intermingled with the story make for an incredibly funny performance.

The comedy would eventually give way to the more serious or sentimental talk by the old folks about Italy or their youth. Occasionally, I was able to escape my mother’s eye and sit there with my eyelids at half-mast trying to fight off sleep so that I could listen to the stories the old folks would tell. They always enchanted us youngsters.

Whenever I happen to overhear a familiar Italian dialect or detect an aroma of Italian cooking, I can’t help but think of the old neighborhood.