I went to see the David Hockney exhibit the other night at The Met (and if you want to see it, hurry because it’s only on until February 25th). Hockney, if you don’t know, is famous–at least in my book–for his California paintings that are large and vibrant and show off the stunning blue color found in backyard pools in Los Angeles. 

I believe his paintings are popular because they are so accessible. It’s ‘easy art’ in my opinion, not to diminish it. 

Normally at an exhibit like this one, I merely wander from painting to painting, reading the labels and wondering about the food in the restaurant. But on this night, I went on a tour of the Hockney exhibit given by one of The Met’s docents.

She was a pleasant woman and provided a few insights but, as I’ve thought many times before, critiquing an artist’s intentions is sort of like reading tea leaves. It’s a bit of mind-reading. She pointed to one Hockney painting of a fat guy sitting on an art deco sofa and said it was reminiscent of The Annunciation. 

Huh? Maybe in some far away dope-smoking docent universe. 

What struck me, as this woman described some of the actual techniques Hockney used, is how little I know about the physical act of painting. I have never used acrylic paint in my life, never painted anything more than a room. I’ve always wanted to give painting a go but never found the time. 

I used to feel the same way about music. After a brief few months of playing as a teen, I gave up and never picked up a guitar again–until The Beatles’ 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ performance on the Ed Sullivan show. Something clicked and I bought a guitar and began taking lessons. 

Three years later, I’m happy to tell you that–unlike painting–I now at least understand the mechanics of music, song-writing and guitar-playing. It’s not like I’d even classify myself as “good” but learning the chords and various songs has been the most fun I’ve had outside a bedroom. I now understand what Dylan and the Beatles and many others were up to when they wrote the songs of my youth. 

And you know what? The songs themselves are genius but playing them is totally accessible. The idea that I can approximate the sound of a song like “I’m Only Sleeping” by the Beatles is….nothing short of astonishing to me.

I went to a lecture about a Beatles book last year and Beatles fan David Duchovny was on the panel and he told the host in all sincerity, “You can learn how to play the guitar like John Lennon.”

He’s right. No one would dispute John’s brilliance at songwriting but the songs themselves are mostly major and minor chords that anyone can learn with some practice. Practice is the key. As Bruce Springsteen wrote in his autobiography, he at first put down the guitar and stopped playing because it hurt his fingers. It does hurt at first! But those calluses do develop. 

I guess the point of all this is that I now feel like I’ve stepped through a door to understand the physicality of music in a way I never did before I started playing. I feel like I’m on the “inside” of music albeit in a rudimentary way. I know the Beatles, for instance, love the B minor and A minor chords and the way they and George Martin transformed an acoustic song into something grand and layered in the studio. 

I think painting or any creative art is probably very similar. Will I become Hockney in my old age? No but I’m telling you that, someday, if I could even approximate a painting of a bowl of fruit, I’d be delighted! Stay tuned….

I was dreading seeing the newspaper film “The Post” which depicts the historic Vietnam-era battle over the secret and highly classified Pentagon Papers. It features famous journalists from the Washington Post and the New York Times. I figured the film would be exactly like the history I remember and there would be scene after scene of ‘serious’ journalists acting serious about those serious papers. 
 
Well, there was all of that but, at the end of the film, I was tickled and it wasn’t because of the acting of Meryl Streep (truly amazing yet again), Tom Hanks (how anyone can be so likable is beyond me) or the direction of Stephen Spielberg (does this guy know how to milk a scene or what?) 
 
What made the film truly enjoyable for me was the way Spielberg and company captured the honest to God way print newspapers used to be produced. 
 
I started in the newspaper business at The Daily News in 1975 and my first day there, one of my bosses told me I’d be witnessing the end of the hot type era and the introduction of computers. He was 100% correct and I thank my lucky stars I got in under the wire in time to at least see the dying days of hot type era. 
 
The hot type production of newspapers was a Dickensian process that had not changed in nearly 100 years by the time I showed up. (For the whole story, you’ll have to read my memoir.) 
 
In 1975, the composing room floor (where the newspaper pages were physically put together) was home to huge vats of molten lead. That lead was used to feed ancient black Linotype machines (I later saw one in a museum). The Linotype machines were operated by frail-looking men wearing glasses who were taking the typewritten pages of copy produced by reporters and making it into pieces of lead type. 
 
The lead type spit out by those Linotype machines were printed backwards! That’s the way it had to be done because when those backward pages of lead were locked and loaded onto the presses, everything came out correctly. 
 
I watched many times as a “printer” would assemble those backward pieces of metal into a page of the newspaper. That was truly a skill. Then the page was “locked” in place with a border that held thousands of tiny pieces of lead together and the call went out: “One boy with a truck.” A “boy” would run over with a “truck”—essentially a table on wheels—and the printer would slide the page onto the truck. 
 
God help us all if a page fell, as one occasionally did. The editor would rage at everyone in sight and the deadline would be blown. And that’s another thing I like about the film—it depicted in a true sense how rude newspaper people could be on deadline and no one apologized or filed a complaint with HR. It was the stress of deadline and, if you didn’t like it, you could move on. Most just headed downstairs to the bar.
 
Assuming things went well, the boy with the truck would take it to the pressmen and the lead page would undergo another process that would create a flexible page that could then be loaded onto curved presses which would print out the newspaper, thousands at a time. 
 
Somehow, all the pages were put together in the proper order and made into a newspaper which was tied in bundles and loaded onto actual trucks for delivery. It was an amazing physical process that happened several times a night!
 
When the presses started running, you could feel it in your ass as you sat in the newsroom. That’s why in the film, there’s a shot of the actor who plays Post reporter Ben Bagdikian smiling happily as he feels the rumble of the presses. His story–his byline–is being mass produced and soon will fly out into the streets. It’s the greatest feeling in the world! 
 
“The Post” gets all of this right and it’s a marvel even if you aren’t fully aware of what you are seeing. What you do sense is the pride each of the trades had in the paper and how the drivers were as eager as the reporters to get the latest edition onto their trucks and into the hands of the readers. 
 
You had to be there and I’m glad I was. It was an era, now thankfully reproduced in the film “The Post,” a film everyone should go see.

homeless families arriving at a city intake center 2016

It’s not news that there are a lot of homeless individuals and families in New York. The NY Times published an eye-popping statistic the other day that the city spends $575,000 each day to house homeless families in transient hotels for about 7,500 people. 

By coincidence, I happened to be in a city office the same day this report came out and began chatting up a young guy who began telling me about his business–operating transient hotels for homeless families. He has 1,400 rooms scattered across Queens and Brooklyn and charges $200 a night to the city. I’m not great at math so you figure it out. All I know is that’s a lot! 

This fellow said his family never intended to get into the business of sheltering homeless families. The family just happened to own a bunch of cheap hotels, the kind you might see out in the far reaches of Queens as you head to the airport. They’re there but most of us don’t see them. 

“About 4 years ago, the city called and asked us if they could rent five rooms?” he said. 

Four years later, that number is up to 1,400 rooms. He says buses full of homeless families sometimes arrive in the middle of the night. All his hotels are now filled with homeless families. They do not house homeless men because of the drugs and alcohol, he said. Too dangerous. 

“So what do these families get in the way of services?” I asked. 

Turns out, they get daily maid service and three meals delivered each day plus snacks from Fresh Direct. In addition, a third party provider administers to the families helping them through the maze of city-inspired red tape. These third-party providers also help with enrolling the children in schools and making sure the families are getting all the services coming to them. 

“Can they cook in their rooms?”

The answer is no. The city requires hotel owners to take out microwaves and not to allow hot plates because of the potential for fire. 

“How long can families stay?”

The hotel owner said indefinitely but after 28 days, they must formally check out and check back in to avoid the city’s rent stabilization and residency laws. 

“Do any families wind up getting jobs and moving out to apartments?”

“No, they’re lazy,” he said. 

To be more charitable, these families are living under difficult conditions. No one would want to live in one room with their multiple young children with a minimum of services. Still, our tax dollars are paying $6,000 per month for each family, not to mention the cost of food. You would think the city could figure out a way to make this formula work better but so far, under Mayor de Blasio, they have not. 

Homelessness is such an intractable problem. I do not believe it’s just a matter of affordable housing although that would help. Let’s face it, these families are incapable of providing for themselves so it’s our duty as responsible citizens to help them out. At what point, we’re being played for taxpaying fools, I leave that up to you. 

I heard a startling statistic today. Since 2010, the USA has created 18 million new jobs, far more than were lost in the great recession. I told my wife that and she said, “Yes but what kind of jobs? They probably don’t pay much.”

She’s right and that’s what a lot of people say but, unlike the 1960s, these jobs may never pay enough. That’s why you cannot depend on a paycheck alone.

Let me tell you a story. One of my wife’s relatives–a single, never-married woman in her 80s–came to a realization back when she was working. She was a public school teacher in NYC and realized her paycheck would never give the opportunity to retire early and live independently.

So she did something about it. She bought some books and began studying the stock market, something she knew nothing about. She had a feeling it would be the key to making her into the independent woman she wanted aspired to be.

She did research and read a lot and began to carefully buy stocks. She wasn’t rich, didn’t come from money and, as I said, was a public school teacher. But she had the gumption and nerve and smarts to take control of her own life. The result? She became a millionaire a couple of times thanks to her investments, retired early and has been doing what she wants for the past 30 years.

When I was in my 30s, I did pretty much the same thing. No one in my family ever owned stocks but I decided when my children were young that I would learn about the stock market. I bought “The Wall Street Journal’s Guide to Understanding Money and Investments” and studied it. I slowly began to buy stocks and mutual funds and contribute more to my IRA and 401K. I lived through some major market corrections and crazy times but I stayed in the market and today I’m happy I did.

What I’m trying to say is this: a paycheck will never provide enough to make you independent of your employer but the stock market may do just that. And it’s available to every American but only about half are invested in any way.

I’m sure many people, like me when I was young, find the market a confusing place. Others no doubt have little money and not enough to invest. But you don’t have to invest great sums. You can start small and invest a little each week. You don’t even have to be a great stock picker. Buy a mutual fund that mimics the S & P stock index and there you go. Almost anyone will tell you that’s the best investment.

It’s unconscionable that schools do not teach kids about the market and finance. Few of us will use geometry but almost everyone can benefit from even a cursory knowledge of the market. We graduate from high school, even college, as a nation of financial illiterates. (And as my wife points out–you don’t even have to be good at math, something I suck at.)

There is a lot of socio-economic inequity here. My father never owned a single stock and he and I never exchanged one word about stocks. Compare that to my son and I. I’ve been advising him about the market since he was a teenager and he told me that he’s up 30% from when he started investing.

You might say, yeah, but the market has been great for awhile now and that’s true. It is overdue for a correction but you know what? That’s the time to jump in! When the markets go down, you should buy. Buy low, sell high is rock solid advice.

Don’t be afraid. Jump in, albeit a little at a time. Just don’t be the half of American workers that ignore the market completely. A paycheck alone is not going to cut it. You need to take your financial future into your own hands.

The powerful men are falling like dominoes, seemingly every day, from accusations by women who were very young and very vulnerable but are not any longer. To me, this feels like a new wave of feminism, one that might even be more powerful than the waves that have washed over us for decades.

What’s different this time is social media. Facebook, Twitter and social media in general take a lot of abuse (and they certainly have their flaws) but has any other medium given these sexually abused women such a powerful forum? Today, any woman who was sexually abused or harassed by these men decades ago, is now able to make the accusations public in a way that was simply unthinkable before. 

It’s true that most of the allegations (hello Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein & Louis CK) have surfaced first in fine publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the New Yorker, but the way the stories have spread and been added to would not have been possible without social media. And that goes for the publications themselves. Would they have been able to get those stories out and read by so many without Twitter’s help?

A side note here about Twitter. It feels to me like it’s the most powerful social medium there is. Not only does it have the President of the United States in its thrall but by facilitating hashtags like #metoo, it is responsible for this latest cultural revolution. I can see how Facebook might someday be passe and I can certainly live without it, but I would dearly miss Twitter. It’s all the more amazing that the company cannot figure out a way to make money. It is akin to the creation of broadcast television and there would be a giant hole in our culture without Twitter. The days when people made fun of it because some posted their morning meals is long gone. 

What is going on today with the endless charges of sexual abuse, harassment and yes, rape, is breathtaking. This may actually have lasting repercussions because, thanks to social media, any young woman can reach out and grab her abuser/harasser by the throat and bring him to his knees. Maybe this is what it took to teach men how to behave but fear and shame are powerful inducements and it feels like this revolution is for real.

Can anyone doubt the accusers are telling the truth? We’ve come a long way from the days when President Clinton’s paramours were met with scorn. To that end, I spotted a tweet by Juanita Broaddrick, who claims she was raped by Clinton, in which Broaddrick says that NBC withheld an interview with her until after Clinton’s impeachment hearings. The gatekeepers are now gone and the gates are wide open. 

subwayThe MTA has a new boss–Joe Lhota–and the guy has a plan to fix the subways. That’s a good thing.

I’ve been riding the subways my entire life and it’s true–they’ve become more crowded, less civil and full of panhandlers. It’s pretty intense down there and I wouldn’t blame anyone for embracing the handlebars of a Citibike and hanging on with all their might. Of course, as rough as the subways are now, the ride is nothing compared to the late ’70s and early ’80s when they were covered with graffiti and had no air conditioning. Now THAT was rough. 

(As an aside, it reminds me of the time then-Mayor Ed Koch, who used to be considered an outrageous politician in the pre-Donald Trump era, suggested he would have wolves guard the train yards to keep out the graffiti taggers. Wolves!! He settled on dogs and razor ribbon but I digress.)

One of Lhota’s ideas is to take out some of the seats and stuff more commuters into each car. As someone who often does not get a seat, I can’t say I’m opposed to this idea. While I’ve been mostly standing, I’ve become a student of how commuters find seats, give up seats and where they sit. 

Here are a few observations: 

— A woman will never sit next to a man if she has a choice. 

— Certain ethnic groups will pretty much kill you for a seat. (I know, I know, it’s not very PC of me but, hey, I’ve been watching you!) The same ethnic groups do not respect the right of commuters to exit the subway car first and rush in like an angry herd of cattle late to the trough.

— No one wants to get up if they have a seat–not for a pregnant woman, an old man or a kids on crutches–but they will, grudgingly. Why do you think so many sitting commuters ride the subways with their eyes closed? They do not want to see anything that might force them to give up their seat.

— The only group guaranteed a seat are children. Now this makes me a little crazy. I can understand rising for babies and toddlers but I do not stand for anyone above the age of five. They can stand and build up that New York toughness.

— I don’t know why but older people do not ride the subways. I often play this game where I look around the subway car and count how many people I think are older than me. I’ve never gotten to five.

Fifty years ago this summer, the baby boomer generation went through its infamous Summer of Love. It was 1967 and anything seemed possible. Minds were being expanded with the use of LSD and Sgt. Pepper was in the air, along with a slew of other great music from the most classic of the classic rock bands. People advocated loving one another, not just physically but mentally and emotionally and anyway that was possible. 

Part of the happy, blissed-out crowd at the Human Be-In in 1967, the event that kicked off the Summer of Love

Part of the happy, blissed-out crowd at the Human Be-In in 1967, the event that kicked off the Summer of Love

It sounds naive now but it felt possible in that long ago summer. I was a bit too young at 14 to appreciate it all but I was aware of it. In the words of Stephen Stills, “there’s something happenin’ here.” Really, there was. 

I’ve been reading a lot about that year in a new book “In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea” by Danny Goldberg who argues the legacy of 1967 lives on today.  I’m not so sure. 

Fifty years after that glorious summer, the United States is about to go through what can only be described as the Summer of Hate. We’ve never been so polarized in this country. The president hates the press and the press hates him back. The left hates the right and the right hates the left. On and on it goes. I don’t have to tell you because, chances are, no matter what side you’re on, you are convinced you’re right and the other side is a bunch of numbskulls. There’s no room for compromise in anyone’s eyes. 

To run a country, I heard someone say, you need to be elitist and intellectual but you also need to be populist, to be aware of what the working class cares about. I think that was true when this country was founded and for much of its history. 

The elites cared about the working man. Today, that notion, it seems to me, has flown out the window. Sure the elite class cares about the poor but the working class? Fuck ’em, they voted for Trump. They’re ignorant. They’re racist. They deserve what they get. 

I can’t say it’s a one way street. The working man (and yes, I’m using vast generalizations here to make a point), think the elites are full of hot air and feel their disregard. Ask Hillary if you don’t think that’s true. They knew all too well what she was saying when she called them “deplorables.”

Bottom line: it’s terribly sad and terrible for this country. What happened to the ideals of the Summer of Love? I’d rather be naive than cynical. How and why did we devolve into this Summer of Hate? 

IMG_9794 (3)A couple of my friends recently mentioned to me that I hadn’t been blogging as much lately and that’s true. 

So why is that, I ask myself. I often talk to myself as I’m assured only the most intelligent people do. The main reason I find myself blogging less and not on Facebook as much is not because you know who is president although, truth be told, I don’t want to add my opinions to the zillions out there. And besides, you know what you think. I’m not going to change your mind. I also don’t want to give someone like that space in my brain–it’s crowded enough in there. So I skip pretty much every story about him and still know way more than I’d like. 

I think the main reason I’m blogging less is because I’m playing guitar more. I took up guitar about three years ago. I’m not really sure why. It just happened and, since then, I’ve been taking lessons, watching Youtube videos and strumming away. I practice every day. I’m far from good but I’m getting better and now find myself with a set list of about 15 songs. (And no, kumbaya is not on there.)

I find it relaxing, playing and singing to myself. I do sometimes imagine a giant hook coming to yank me by the neck and out of the room but so far, my wife has resisted 🙂

I’ve also been taking swimming lessons for the first time in my life, trying to get beyond the one lap I can (barely) swim. I’m going for two. That’s my rather modest goal although I’d love to be able to go back and forth like some of you can. 

Between swimming and playing guitar and yoga and, oh yeah, work, I find myself with less time to blog. But I do still enjoy it and interacting with all of you so I thought I’d let you know where I’m at these days. You’ll be hearing more of me although, hopefully, not when I’m singing. 

breslineRest In Peace Jimmy Breslin.

I saw him first-hand at his best during the days when Son of Sam was writing Jimmy those crazy letters. I was then a copy boy scouring all incoming mail for yet another letter from the serial killer. Opening mail was never as exciting again.

Breslin was in his prime in the days reporters smoked cigars, drank whiskey (and just about everything else) and cursed a blue streak. I miss those days but I am so fucking grateful I was there to work in the same newsroom as Breslin and the great Pete Hamill.

It’s funny what you remember. Mine is a tiny silly detail. One night, the great Breslin was hungry and the only game in town was the 4th floor cafeteria which defined the term greasy spoon. Breslin didn’t care what he ate. He sent me down for his favorite sandwich–grilled cheese with tomatoes. I thought it sounded decent and began eating them myself and, whenever I do, I think of Breslin.

The thing about Breslin is that he never broke character, at least not around me. He growled, he cursed, and made mysterious references. But he was always Breslin and that was more than enough. A Pulitzer Prize winning columnist who owned this city. God bless….maybe I’ll have a grilled cheese with tomatoes today.

One final note. When writing about Breslin, everyone mentions his early column about JKF’s gravedigger but I always thought Breslin’s most affecting piece of writing was about his dear daughter Rosemary Breslin who died of a rare blood disease at the age of 47. I also knew Rosemary a little, met her in Los Angeles when she worked out there….check out Jimmy’s column below about his daughter’s death. 

As it was with the mother who went before her, the last breath for the daughter was made before an onlooker with frightened eyes.
 
First, there were several labored breaths.
 
And here in the hospital room, in a sight not distorted by passion, was the mother sitting on the end of her bed, as the daughter once had sat on the mother’s in Forest Hills for a year unto death. They both were named Rosemary. When the mother’s last breath told her to go, the daughter reached in fear, but her hand could not stay the mother’s leaving.
 
By now, Rosemary, the younger, is married to Tony Dunne. He knew she was sick when he married her. He then went through 15 years of hospital visits, stays, emergencies and illness at home and all he wanted was for her to be at his side, day and night. His love does not run. And now, in the daughter’s hospital room, as it always does, fear and deep love brought forth visions of childhood.
 
The daughter is maybe 4, sitting on the beach. She wants money for ice cream. The mother’s purse had money to pay the carpenter at day’s end. Earlier, the mother had tried to pay a carpenter by check and he leaped away, as if the check was flaming. The daughter plunged into the purse and found no change for ice cream. With the determination that was to mark every day of her life, she went through that purse, tossing large bills, the carpenter’s money, into the air, digging for ice cream change. She sat there infuriated, throwing money into the sea wind. The mother was flying over the sand trying to retrieve it.
 
Another labored breath.
 
Then I could see her later, and with even more determination. Typing a script with tubes in her arms. Writing, rewriting, using hours. Clearly, being attacked by her own blood. She said that she felt great. She said that for 15 years.
 
I don’t know of any power that could match the power of Rosemary Breslin when sick.
 
Suddenly, the last breath came in quiet.
 
The young and beautiful face stared into the silence she had created. Gone was the sound of her words.
 
The mother took her hand, and walked her away, as if to the first day of school.

laura nyroTrapped inside a very crowded subway car, I was feeling cranky, annoyed and even a bit nauseous. I was ass-bumping the person behind me (which is, I believe, a felony when one is below ground), and could smell what the person next to me had for breakfast.   

It was impossible to hold a book and read so i plugged in my earphones, hit shuffle, closed my eyes and out came the sublime voice of Laura Nyro singing “Stoned Soul Picnic.” 

“Can you surry, can you picnic?”

And just like that, I was transported out of that cramped subway car to a hot summer’s day when I was teenager, back on the bench with my friends in the projects where we spent a ton of time waiting for our favorite songs to play on small transistor radios. 

I never knew what “surry down” meant, never mind “sassafrass and moonshine” so, when I had time, I did a little research. Turns out that Laura Nyro, who was born in the Bronx, made up the word because she liked the sound of it. She could have changed ‘surry’ to ‘hurry’ but that wasn’t the way Laura rolled. 

She had a complicated history as a singer/songwriter/person and was very much a shooting star. She scored big time when, at the age of 17, she sold “And When I Die” to Peter, Paul and Mary for $5,000.            

She then released several albums with a host of classic songs covered by other artists like The 5th Dimension. “Stoned Soul Picnic” was one of the group’s biggest songs and they were astonished it was written by a white girl. Other songs like “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Eli’s Coming” were covered by…just about everyone. But Nyro was a unique artist. By the age of 24, she retired but five years later, unretired and released a couple of other albums.

Her personal life was no picnic. She lived with Jackson Browne for a year, married, divorced, had a son and, when she died at the age of 49 from ovarian cancer (same age and disease as her mother), she was a committed lesbian and had lived for years with another woman.     

When Nyro’s lover died soon after, the singer’s estate fell into the hands of a friend, not Nyro’s son. The two feuded over the singer’s estate and, for a time, he was not invited when his mother was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Using the name Gil T, Nyro’s son became a rap artist…perhaps echoing Nyro’s prescient lyric “And when I die, they’ll be one child left to carry on.”

 Laura Nyro was a true New Yorker who sang doo-wop on the streets as a teenager so I know that somewhere she’s smiling at having made my subway commute just a little bit sweeter.

 

 
Vanessa Kirby plays Princess Margaret in "The Crown" Season 1

Vanessa Kirby plays Princess Margaret in “The Crown” Season 1

I love end of the year lists and I have a lot of opinions and I have a blog so here is my ‘Best of..” list for 2016. Feel free to disagree or tell me your favorites. 

Best books: 

“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman — I haven’t finished this novel yet but, unless it completely falls apart, it’s my favorite book of the year. Unique style and a lot of heart–a lot of heart! A Swedish bestseller that is not a crime procedural. Just the story of a grumpy but lovable widower trying to kill himself who keeps getting interrupted by his neighbors. Ove is hard to love until you realize why he acts the way he does. Brilliant storytelling. 

“Ways to Disappear” by Idra Novey — Describing this novel will probably not want to make you rush out and read it but it is magical and fun and exceptionally well written. It starts off with an eccentric Brazilian writer climbing a tree to enjoy a cigar. From there, she vanishes and the entire country–especially her children, publisher and translator–are captivated with trying to find her. Rather than say more, you can read my ‘official’ review

“The Girls” by Emma Cline– It’s rare that a book lives up to the hype of a $2 million advance but this one certainly does. The story is as strong as the writing and Emma Cline has come up with a relatively new way to take a peek inside the Manson cult and see what it operates the way it does. Along the way (actually on nearly every page), we are treated to a fascinating look into the mind of a 14 year old girl who sees the cult as dark, dangerous and exciting. Why? Read the book. The writing is blow away.

“Beatles ’66” by Steve Turner — The only non-fiction book that made my list this year. I’d agree it’s mainly for Beatles fans but even if you’re a casual fan, this book is primer on how the Beatles went from being great pop singer/songwriters to true artists It was so smart of the author to take one pivotal year and examine it in microscopic detail. I ate it up and here’s the official review

Best TV programs/series: 

“Good Girls Revolt” — This series about girl researchers at News of the Week, a fictitious weekly magazine, takes place in 1969/70 and is a period piece with overtones of “Mad Men.” It’s not done as well as “Mad Men” but it is more episodic. It ties up stories together in a way that “Mad Men” never did. Basically, the story is about how the girls want to be reporters as well as researchers, something that was prohibited in those days, at least at this magazine. I worked at a newspaper around the same time and recognized a lot of the male behavior to be dead on. Amazon has already cancelled this series but the producers are trying to get someone else to pick it up. In any case, it’s worth watching. 

“The Crown” — I did not think I would like this series about Queen Elizabeth’s rise to the English throne back in the 1950s but it won me over. The series is clever in how it pulls you into the royal family until you care about the little things they care about. Fascinating to see the backbiting and deal-making that goes on between the Crown and the English government. As many have written, John Lithgow as Churchill is fabulous but for my money, the series was stolen by Vanessa Kirby who plays Princess Margaret like a wild vixen. I can’t wait for the next five seasons. By that time, Charles may finally be king. 

“Search Party” — This ten-part series on TBS sneaks up on you. Essentially, it’s about four millennials in Brooklyn who are trying to find their own way through their shallow 20s. The only one who has a clue about how empty their lives are is Dory who becomes obsessed with trying to locate a missing college acquaintance. You get the idea her search is more to give meaning to her own life than to actually find the missing girl. What develops is fun to watch and I hope they’ll be another season. Alia Shawkat as Dory is the breakout star. 

“Insecure” — Issa Rae plays a 29-year-old black woman trying to make sense of her life and loves in contemporary Los Angeles. A rarity in that the series is an honest portrayal of black woman’s search for love and meaning. It’s funny but also has a lot of heart and Issa Rae is perfect in the lead role. Definitely worth watching. 

[For more discussion, please visit my Facebook blog group and please share this A LOT! 🙂 And read my memoir if you haven’t already. Thanks! ]

There once was a bodega on my Brooklyn corner but then it closed more than a year ago and the windows were papered over. Someone was in the process of a very serious renovation but none of us could see inside. Rumor had it that an Italian caffe was opening there but it was just a rumor. The rehab was taking so long–well over a year–that I began to suspect the storefront was some kind of artistic performance piece. That or a crazy money laundering scheme. But then–almost on cue–the New York Times ran yet another story on the demise of the city’s bodegas and voila, the little caffe on the corner opened its doors. 

the new place

the new place on my corner

Bodegas, for anyone not from New York, are the Latino equivalent of the 7/11. They are ubiquitous here; you can barely walk two blocks in Brooklyn in any direction without running into one. So the opening of an elegant caffe on my corner was fine with me but, as usual, there were a few grumblings from the permanently disgruntled among us who mumbled about gentrification and all that. I’m not one of those people. I like having a new caffe on my corner. Aesthetically, it looks a lot better than the bodega it replaced and there’s another bodega right across the street.

Besides, the gentrification wave hit Park Slope a very long time ago. Gone are the people who gave the block some of its character and by that, I mean the drug sellers, alcoholics and former inmates. They were amusing–I like watching a fistfight in the middle of the street as much as the next guy–but they cashed in to relocate. And they were not complaining when given hundreds of thousands of dollars to move on. They gladly accepted. (I admit here to missing some of the older ladies whose full time job it was to sweep the leaves off the sidewalk. There was, for instance, Louise and Little Louise, both in matching housecoats, sweeping away. Sometimes I see them in my dreams. If there is a Heaven, the streets will be leaf-free, I can tell you that.)

My view of New York City is that change is a constant. Stores come, stores go and sometimes people do too. New York was founded on commerce, not religion, and I think it will always be that way. For now, I’m happy with this fancy Italian caffe on the corner but someday it too may go, only to be replaced with who know what?. And that’s fine with me, so long as its not a real estate office. 

As a young reporter, I remember city council members (Hello, Ruth Messinger) actually proposing commercial rent controls with a straight face. The proposals were taken seriously and debated and then roundly rejected. These days, no one dares even raise that idea–they’d be laughed out of City Hall even with our progressive leaders in charge. 

Personally, I get a bit excited when a new store or restaurant opens in my neighborhood. (A cute little bookstore also opened up, replacing an old video store and that too was a nice addition.) The only thing I don’t like is when blocks grow stale. Let’s mix it up and let the best stores win. My approach is best summed up by a recent Q & A with comedian Sarah Silverman in Manhattan magazine. Here it is: 

Do you prefer old New York or new New York?
Sarah Silverman: I have a story for this. … I love staying at The Bowery Hotel—which most people don’t realize used to be a Chevron station—because it’s in my old neighborhood. I was staying there not long ago, and [musician] Chrissie Hynde was also staying there and we had tea. I asked her, ‘Can you believe that CBGB is now a John Varvatos store?’ And she said, ‘I don’t give a f*ck. New York is always turning over. That’s what makes it New York.’ She was so right. We love New York, but it’s always going to turn over and change. You have to embrace it.

Amen sister. 

[BTW, most of the comments about this blog happen on Facebook. Please ask to join my group if you’re interested in more discussion. Thanks.]

living-on-sunshineI know, I know. You’re sick of hearing the word ‘wellness’ or maybe it’s the phrase ‘wellness lifestyle’ that makes you grind your teeth. But it’s a real thing and, as I get older and perhaps wiser, I find myself trying to surround myself with more good than bad.

That includes food, exercise and what I watch and listen to. More and more, when it’s time for the local news just before bedtime, I find myself watching the umpteenth re-run of “Seinfeld” instead. That show unfailingly makes me laugh and feel good and that’s a priceless gift. Seinfeld and Larry David deserve all that money.

I realize this may sound out of character coming from a television producer who works on a crime/murder broadcast but that’s just my point. I do enjoy what I do but, as I write and produce these stories, I try to concentrate on the relationships of those involved in crimes rather than the murders themselves. What drives a person to murder another is something I still find fascinating. And you’ll perhaps be heartened to know that, for every killer out there, there are tons more noble cops, lawyers and family members trying to do the right thing.

That said, in my quieter moments or reflection, I try to live a more healthy lifestyle. I don’t instantly read my email the moment I wake up and I certainly do not listen to all news radio or watch any of the morning shows. I also don’t want to read a newspaper immediately.

What I do instead is look at my overnight Instagram feed which, thanks to those I follow, is filled with beautiful photos of people and landscapes from all over the world.

It’s a quiet and refreshing way to ease into the day. I also listen to nature sounds radio on Pandora and then, at some point, I begin to read the New York Times and listen to NPR radio. Most days, I find a lot of it fascinating but, on other days, the news from around the world is so depressing that I just turn the page or turn it off.

I contribute money to worthy causes but, other than that, there’s not much I personally can do about the bombing of Aleppo or the hurricane that hit Haiti. I feel for those people but I find myself not wanting to dwell on all that suffering. It’s mentally draining and, well, not too healthy to gorge on, in my opinion.

If that makes me shallow, so be it. We all need to find a way to survive that feeds our souls and, after a lifetime of being on the front lines of news, I find myself turning away. Besides, I live in New York so I get all the reality I need on my subway commute each morning.

In case you missed the 14 million stories written about it, the Broadway musical “Hamilton” is a hot ticket.

pix h

 

 

New York scalpers are making a nice living out of reselling tickets to the show. In fact, an article in this week’s New York Times claims that scalpers are making $60 million annually in the re-sale market. Not too shabby.

Earlier this summer, I found myself sitting in the proverbial catbird’s seat, seeing that I was the lucky holder of two tickets to “Hamilton” which I bought last December. Back then, the show wasn’t quite as hot as it is now–after all those Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize–so I was able to get two seats in the middle of the orchestra on a Friday night at face value which means I paid around $550 for both tickets.

I should pause here to mention that I am not a Broadway fan. My standard line is: “They killed vaudeville; what’s taking them so long with Broadway?” I see my share of shows on the Great White Way but here’s what it’s like from my perspective. I go into a theater, sit there for two hours, go to the bathroom halfway through and come out mildly entertained. Then I never think of that experience again. I’ve never knowingly hummed a show tune in my life.

I can still recall the day I saw “Five Easy Pieces” or hum the theme song from “Rocky” but Broadway? Nada. There is one exception to this–“Jersey Boys”–but that’s because I know all the songs from my youth.

I don’t hate Broadway; it just does nothing for me.

So last June, those two “Hamilton” tickets for August 5th began throbbing in a way that said, “Hey I’m worth a shitload of money.”

My wife and I were about to take an extravagant trip to Bali, Indonesia so I suggested to my wife that we cash in our “Hamilton” tickets. She agreed. I put them on Stubhub for $2,500 each!! I’m normally opposed to scalping and will always sell tickets at face value but, as I said to my wife, “if some hedge fund guy wants to give me $5,000, who am I to say ‘no?'”

I forgot about the tickets until the week before August 5th. They were still on sale and I could tell from other tickets still on sale, that I’d have to lower my price. On August 5th, they were still on sale and I decided if I could not sell them for $900 each, we were going. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

And then, after noon on the day of the performance, I got a congratulatory email from Stubhub. Sold!! I wound up getting $1,620, not the $5,000 I envisioned but I was happy. It was a tidy profit and I did not have to go to Broadway where I’ve taken some of the most expensive naps of my life.

So what’s Bali like?

Posted: 16th July 2016 in Travel
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been asked that question a lot since I returned from a two-week vacation in Bali so let me try and put my thoughts in order. For openers, Bali is exotic, beautiful and exciting with a fascinating culture and very friendly people. Not bad…

At top of the world...with sarongs!

Picture 1 of 65

I confess to knowing so little about Bali before I went I actually thought it was a city but….no. It’s an island–part of Indonesia–and when one decides to go, one has to pick which cities one will visit. Since I outsource all my travel decisions to my wife, it was her trip. I didn’t focus on the individual cities until we got there.

We first went to Ubud which is where the last part of the memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” takes place. Sad to say that the book and the film have done the town in. The rice terraces have been sold off to make room for hotels and restaurants; the whole place feels a bit from the Indonesian version of Lake George. There are still charming parts and it’s still a yoga mecca but overall, the town is very crowded with bad traffic and way too many motorbikes. I’d skip it. But I did love our hotel– the Komaneka Bisma where we had our own private infinity pool facing the jungle. In Ubud–reportedly at the top spa–we paid $12 for one-hour high quality massages and a local told us we were paying the Western price, that locals paid about $4. No matter, it was still a great deal.

Lest I make too little of Ubud, it does feature traditional dancing a few times a week, has interesting public temples and nearby towns filled with silver and woods smiths so there is culture to be had. It’s just crowded!

Next we made our way to Amed, a tiny fishing village where we had a cottage on the beach. The hotel–Life in Amed–was cute and small; the opposite of our first hotel but it was one-quarter of the price. The beach was packed with local fishing boats and the fishermen families who lived there. We chatted with them constantly whether we wanted to or not. The Balinese are very friendly and will try to sell you pretty much anything to bring in a few rupiah.

Speaking of the Indonesian Rupiah, I should mention how jarring it is to routinely be talking in terms of 100,000 rupiah which is all of $7.50. I once withdrew two million rupiah from an ATM. That’s $150 to you Uncle Sam. It’s so weird to hand someone 20,000 rupiah for a tip. I thought it was a handsome sum until I realized I was tipping someone $1.50 for a six hour guided tour!

Our last stop was Sanur which, for me, was the best stop. We stayed in the Maya Sanur, only a year old and it was a beautifully designed modern hotel that I embraced. For the first time in our stay, I felt I could actually see things in our hotel room (the others had very poor lighting). The hotel also featured–as part of the cost of the room–a breakfast buffet and there are few things in life I like more than a breakfast buffet. The hotel was also right on the beach which featured a stone boardwalk dotted with dozens of small restaurants where you could sit at the best table right on the beach and get the freshest fish, no problem.

Our trip was a mix of sightseeing and relaxing by the pool. We visited ancient holy temples, took a Balinese cooking class, did a lot of yoga at outdoor studios, went snorkeling and swimming but the highlight for me was eating at the home of one of our drivers. (If you’re interested, his name is Gede Mardika)

His family was very poor but seemingly quite happy. As the only son, it was his obligation to care for his parents and bring in money. The vast majority of Balinese–no matter how poor–live in family compounds, literally walled spaces that feature a cooking area, a living area, a sleeping area and a temple. Even our very poor driver lived in a compound and had a mini-temple in the northeast corner.

Generally, the youngest male cares for the parents and lives with them his entire life. His wife will move into the family compound and she’d better get along with his mother because she’ll be living with her until one of them dies.

The Balinese–who don’t often emigrate for reasons stated above–don’t have a concept of meals the way Westerners do. There is no breakfast, lunch and dinner. A pot of food–generally rice and vegetables–is prepared early and it’s enough for the day. When you’re hungry, you grab a plate and that’s that.

Our driver’s parents were rice farmers and had never learned to drive a motorized vehicle. They walked each day, every day to the rice fields where they worked about 15 minutes away. They were able to keep 40% of the rice they harvested but received no money. The boss kept 60%. The boss got 60% of everything from the pigs on the compound to the money our driver earned. It was his van after all although the whole thing struck me as very medieval.

There was no electricity at this family compound. Food was cooked on two fires, one of which was fed by bamboo and the other fed by coconut husks. EVERYTHING was recyclable. Our plates were the broad leaves of the banana plant and we ate with our hands. The meal was fish satay (mackerel), long beans with coconut, rice of course and watermelon for dessert. It was all delicious and, the entire time, I was just marveling at our driver’s four year old son and nine year old sister. New York City parents would have had multiple heart attacks had they been there and watched as the kids danced around the open fires. At one point, our driver handed a very sharp machete to his nine year old sister who skipped away, holding it gingerly.

There is a malady suffered by westerners called Bali belly but, as we winged home (25 hours in the air), we congratulated each other on not getting sick. Well, turns out I got terribly sick the day after I returned. It was a bacterial infection–the most common type of bacteria associated with food poisoning–and for three days it knocked me flat.

But at least I didn’t get sick while there or on the plane and for that, I am thankful. It was a eye-opening experience and I would go again. I hope you enjoy these photos.

I was in a local Key Food supermarket the other day when the ’60s classic “Different Drum” featuring Linda Ronstadt came blasting through the store’s sound system. I stopped right there in the produce aisle and just listened with wonder, yes, and admiration. The song has always been a favorite of mine and I had completely forgotten about it.

Singer Linda Ronstadt rests beside a fence.  She became a major singing star in the seventies with a mix of country and rock backed by The Eagles. Ronstadt gained further attention for her romance with Jerry Brown, then the governor of California.

Singer Linda Ronstadt rests beside a fence. She became a major singing star in the seventies with a mix of country and rock backed by The Eagles. Ronstadt gained further attention for her romance with Jerry Brown, then the governor of California.

The moment I got home, I went to add it to my Spotify list but it was nowhere to be found. Of course! Because it was not a Linda Ronstadt song–it was released when she was the lead singer of the Stone Poneys.

As I listened again and again, I gained more and more respect for whomever wrote this gem. It’s a minor masterpiece, not just the melody but the lyrics and pretty much everything about it. Like Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows,” “Different Drum” is a perfect song.

I began to wonder who wrote it and if he or she had written anything else. I knew it probably was not Ronstadt who was more an interpreter of songs. As an aside, it’s always bothered me that, while we go overboard in our critiques of novels and films, we rarely give the same treatment to pop songs (outside of the Beatles), songs that hit us on a visceral level and still do.

Thanks to the internet, I didn’t have to look too far to learn that “Different Drum” was written by Mike Nesmith of The Monkees. In fact, he offered it to the producers of the TV show who sniffed that it was not a Monkees’ song.

Instead, he gave it to a group called the Greenbriar Boys whose slowed-down, folk-style recording doesn’t have any of the magic that Ronstadt brought to the song. Actually, it was producer Nik Venet–credited with discovering the Beach Boys–who heard the song and thought it should be arranged differently and made more commercial.

linda r

When Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys arrived to record the song, Venet had a surprise in store. Not only the new arrangement but he told the rest of the Poneys, very much a folk group, that they would not be playing on the record. Venet had studio musicians standing by and ready. Ronstadt had only minutes to figure out the way she would sing it.

Let’s just say, she nailed it. Incredibly, the song only made it to No. 13 on the Billboard charts but it made Ronstadt a star. The Stone Poneys wound up not appearing on the group’s biggest hit and Mike Nesmith stuck with the Monkees although he wrong many other songs, many quite good.

Even he has acknowledged that Ronstadt gave the song something special because she was singing from the female perspective. The rest is rock history.

pulse shootingPeople across the country have expressed shock and/or outrage that Omar Mateen was able to murder 49 patrons of a gay nightclub even though the FBI conducted a 10-month investigation of him in 2013 after he reportedly told co-workers he was connected to terrorists. To quote the New York Times story:

“First he claimed family connections to Al Qaeda,” which, like the Islamic State, is a Sunni Muslim terrorist group, James Comey, the F.B.I. director, said Monday. “He also said he was a member of Hezbollah,” a Shiite group in conflict with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

“He said he hoped that law enforcement would raid his apartment and assault his wife and child so that he could martyr himself,” Mr. Comey said.

“Our investigation involved introducing confidential sources to him, recording conversations with him, following him, reviewing transactional records from his communications,” and searching government records for mentions of him, the director said. “We then interviewed him twice. He admitted making the statements his co-workers reported, but explained that he did it in anger because he thought his co-workers were discriminating against him and teasing him because he was Muslim.”

If you’re tempted to say “Wow, how can the FBI be so inept?” a history lesson is in order. Consider that this is the same agency (along with the CIA) that allowed Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate President John F. Kennedy after interviewing Oswald and keeping tabs on him for years.

First off, the FBI did not have nearly as many home-grown terrorists to keep track of back in the early 1960’s when most Americans sought stability after the horrors of WW II. Secondly, how could the agency not be aware of Oswald? The guy practically walked around with a neon sign around his neck that said, “Kick me, I’m a Communist.”

In the Cold War era, Oswald traveled to the Soviet Union, tried to defect and, when refused, married a Soviet citizen. Oswald also traveled to Mexico and visited the Soviet and Cuban Embassies. When he was refused a Visa, Oswald reportedly stormed out saying, “I’m going to kill Kennedy for this.” Know who wrote the memo relating this story? Um, J. Edgar Hoover, the uber boss of the FBI. All this information, by the way, comes from the book “A Cruel and Shocking History: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination” by former New York Times reporter Philip Shenon. The book came out in 2013 and largely relates all that the FBI and CIA hid from the Warren Commission, the body that looked into the Kennedy Assassination.

 The book also recounts the story of how Oswald reacted to the FBI trying to interview his wife Marina. Oswald reportedly wrote a note to the FBI agent involved telling him he would blow up the FBI headquarters in Dallas. The agent later told reputable sources that he was ordered to destroy that note after JFK’s assassination.

It’s no comfort to know that the FBI has been screwing up as long as it’s been interviewing potential terrorists but it is instructive.

nightclubAs security experts have gotten smarter and better at protecting government, corporate and military facilities from being attacked, Islamic radicals and others have turned their attention on the rest of us–the so-called “soft targets” like the patrons of the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, site of the latest unspeakable tragedy. No use mentioning the shooter’s name. You know who he is but, as of this writing, I don’t know a single name of any victim. That’s life in the 21st century. As horrible as this mass murder was, we’ve sadly seen it all before.

It’s only the latest example–terrorists, foreign and domestic, have attacked coffee shops and theaters in Paris, day care clinics in Colorado, and an airport terminal in Belgium. It’s easy to spot and pick out “soft targets” because they are everywhere crowds of people congregate.

So what are we to do? The easy answer is don’t go out, avoid anywhere crowds of people congregate, from concerts to nightclubs to subways. But that’s unreasonable, right? It is getting harder and harder and the lines are getting longer and longer at concerts, sporting events but it’s the price we pay for safety. Probably the longest line I’ve ever stood in for a concert was for Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam who wrote the song “Peacetrain.” How’s that for irony? But because he’s a Muslim, he’d gotten threats. I’ve never had a more expansive pat down than at the Cat’s Philadelphia concert in 2014.

It seems to me that no amount of security will stop a determined radical with an automatic weapon. I don’t know what the security was in Orlando but, even if it is was the best in the world, you cannot stop a crazy man with an AK-47.

I guess that leaves it to the rest of us and, for an example, we can look to the brother of singer Christina Grimmie, coincidentally gunned down and murdered Friday night in Orlando. Christina’s brother charged the gunman and is being hailed as a hero for preventing further carnage. He’s an example to the rest of us. Our lives are now in our hands and, if you happen to be unfortunate enough to be present when someone attacks, the best course of action may be to charge the gunman. I’m no security expert but, unless you’re standing next to the exit door, what other choice do we have?

This new documentary about the former Congressman from New York is downright frightening in its intensity for Anthony Weiner and his-wife-who-deserves-so-much-better Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s right hand woman. She’s so close to the Clintons that Bill once referred to her as his second daughter.

huma

The film documents Weiner’s run to become mayor of New York City following his sexting/Twitter scandal with a bevy of like-minded and willing young women. Of course, we all know what happened once selfies of Weiner’s bulging-through-his-underpants weiner surfaced on the internet.

But Huma gave Weiner a second chance and New Yorkers were about to as well (he was leading in the mayoral polls) when it was revealed that Weiner was still up to his old tricks, exchanging provocative emails and phone calls with a 23-year-old woman named Sydney Leathers. As if Weiner’s name wasn’t bad enough–he had to chose a paramour who could compete.

What’s worse is when Ms. Leathers (who cashes in on her notoriety by, what else, making a porn flick) comes to New York ready to confront Weiner and Huma. In one of the only times Weiner shows an ounce of good judgment, he tells Huma to get out of his car and go home on Election Night as Ms. Leathers waits for the both of them with cameras rolling.

Watching Weiner and his wife suffer through the onslaught of the New York media after Ms. Leathers goes public is painful and makes you wonder why anyone would want to run for mayor. But what’s worse is when Weiner decides to go toe-to-toe with an Orthodox Jew who tells him he ought to hide his face in shame. Let’s just say Weiner picked the wrong guy to confront because this fellow gives as good as he gets.

Sitting through this movie is only fun if you like watching someone’s head get squeezed tighter and tighter in a vise. It’s not that there’s any sympathy here for Weiner but it’s still quite uncomfortable to watch.

Two questions come immediately to mind. Well actually three.

  1. What was Weiner thinking when he allowed the cameras to follow him everywhere, even in his private moments with Huma?
  2. Why did he allow this movie to be made and continue to cooperate with it after his new sexting scandal was revealed?
  3. What the fuck is wrong with Huma?

It’s obvious that Weiner has no judgment but what about Huma? You have to wonder about the advice she gives Hillary if she’s standing by (and she’s still married to him) her man as Hillary herself once famously did. Still, Bill wasn’t dumb enough to get caught twice with his hand in the cookie jar (you can certainly choose your own, much more graphic analogy) and he wasn’t so silly as to allow cameras to follow him around in the private moments between he and Hillary.

Aside from the sad display of seeing a man fall apart (and Weiner seems to physically become more and more of a cartoon-looking figure as the film unfolds), this documentary is fascinating because it gives the public its first detailed look at Huma Abedin who had been something of a mythical creature…mentioned but never actually seen.

Huma is glamorous for sure but she’s also the master of the eye roll in this flick. She almost never bashes Weiner directly in front of the camera (even though he takes a few shots at her) but her eyes tell the tale and, to directly quote what one interviewer, they seem to be asking her husband, “What is wrong with you?”

I feel very safe in saying that Anthony Weiner is one public figure who is not going to make a comeback. And it’s not because the public won’t forgive him again (they might) but because his name is catnip squared to the city’s headline writers. The Daily News and the New York Post vied gleefully for the best front pages, things like “Weiner Sticks It Out” and “Obama to Weiner: Beat It.”

Let’s put it this way–he can come back but his name is kaput.

Nixon at his upper east side townhouse

Nixon at his upper east side townhouse

Just to be clear, I’m not voting for Donald Trump BUT, if he were to become president, he would be the 4th president I’ve met one on one.

I’m not rooting for him but I like to keep track of my close encounters of a presidential kind. Here they are in order:

  • Richard Nixon — The year was 1980. Ronald Reagan had just won the presidency and, the day after Election Day, one of my editors at the Daily News sent me up to former President Richard Nixon’s townhouse on the upper east side to get his thoughts. It was a different time. Today, there would probably be a lot of press there but, back then, it was me, one other reporter and a few secret service agents. It was early in the morning and Nixon came outside on his way somewhere and stopped to shake hands and chat with me and the other reporter. We got his thoughts about the election and off he went.
  • Jimmy Carter — Again, it was the 1980s. I can’t remember the year but I was covering the lower east side and housing and I wound up going to an tenement just off Tompkins Square Park that former President Jimmy Carter was helping rebuild via his Habitat for Humanity program. I climbed a half-finished staircase where I found former President Carter in work clothes and protective glasses hammering some nails. We chatted for a few moments about Habitat and off I went.
  • Bill Clinton — This one was a total fluke. It was 1992 and I was coming out of a subway station at 47th/50th Street on Sixth Avenue. As I ascended to the street, candidate Bill Clinton was coming down Sixth Avenue accompanied by Ruth Messinger and a gaggle of reporters. I exited at the perfect time to intersect with him and, as a candidate, he was happy to see me. We shook hands. I said hello to Ruth who I knew from the time I covered City Hall for the Daily News and off he went.
  • Donald Trump — You couldn’t cover housing in the 1980s without running into Donald Trump and indeed I did. I was working on a magazine story about former city Housing Commissioner Anthony Gliedman who had gone to work for Trump. I interviewed him in the Trump Tower as I recall and then he showed me into the office of the future presidential candidate. I admired Trump’s view of Central Park and we talked about Gliedman and housing and away I went.

So The Donald, as we used to call him, would be the 4th President I’ve met one on one and shook hands with. Do I hope for that reason he makes it? Let’s just say, I think my record is going to stand at 3….unless of course I happen to meet Hilary between now and then.

On the inside of a song…

Posted: 23rd March 2016 in Life
Tags: , , ,

Bob_Dylan_-_The_Freewheelin'_Bob_DylanA couple of years ago, I bought a guitar. Aside from the very few lessons I took as a teenager, I never played but I’ve listened to music forever so I thought why not? I knew it would be tough (and it is) but I hoped I’d get some enjoyment out of trying to play a few simple tunes.

I think my decision had something to do with the 50th anniversary of The Beatles playing Ed Sullivan. Better late than never, right?

At first, I tried to learn via Youtube and online lessons but it wasn’t really happening so I screwed up my courage to take some group guitar lessons. I say ‘screwed up my courage’ because I was picturing that episode of “Seinfeld” where Kramer takes up karate and he’s in a class of 12-year-olds. Luckily, my fellow students were above drinking age. A couple were even in their 30s.

The group classes are fun and don’t have the pressure of private lessons. I’m not going out on the road; I just want to perform a few songs in my room and someday in front of a campfire. These days, I’m able to play a handful of songs and I get great enjoyment out of singing along in the privacy of my home-office where even my wife can’t necessarily hear me.

But here’s something I did not anticipate when I started taking lessons….the magic of getting inside a song, of understanding how the original artists picked the perfect chords to make the emotion of the song come to life. Sometimes it’s just that perfect chord, sometimes it’s the words, sometimes it’s both.

twice

I’m thinking today of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” a song I’ve probably heard 1,000 times or more. Of course, it’s a classic but I never thought much about it until I started playing it. I know it’s based upon another song but, as usual, Dylan brought his own style to it. As a writer, I can only imagine how pleased he was when he wrote the line, “I once loved a woman, a child I’m told/I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul,” or “I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind/you could have done better but I don’t mind/you just kinda wasted my precious time…”

There’s a chord in the song–C7–that is just so perfect for the phrase that it’s magic or genius or what makes Dylan Dylan. But I never would have understood that unless I took up the guitar. It’s an unintended benefit, a lightbulb that never would have been lit otherwise.

I miss record stores….

Posted: 4th March 2016 in music
Tags: , , , ,

Remember record stores?

albums 2

The scene at Urban Outfitters…today!

As a baby boomer, record stores were a permanent part of my youth. I spent hours, days, weeks of my teenage years wandering through the aisles of stand-alone shops as well as the record departments at E. J. Korvettes and Alexander’s, browsing and reading liner notes before making my choice. I cannot tell you how many times I read the words to the songs on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club” band. Record covers allowed us to absorb the music into our souls.

I have vivid memories of going to Alexander’s Lexington Avenue store to buy “Abbey Road” on the day it was released. Every person on line was buying the very same album.

Aside from selling records, the stores were also the places to go to get the hot ticket to the hot concert in town. Before the internet, if you wanted to buy tickets to a concert, you could go to the venue OR line up at your local record store and wait for one of those Ticketmaster machines to spit out a couple of “hard” tickets.

Those were the good old days–when scalpers actually had to bribe the ticket sellers to lay aside a few good seats. Now all they need is that devilish software that allows them to beat everyone to the punch the millisecond seats go on sale.

And it wasn’t only my youth but but my middle age too. It feels like just a few years ago, I was driving down the Sunset Strip when I stopped at a Tower Records to buy the first Coldplay CD. I know, I know but it feels like yesterday. I can remember going to London a few years back and stopping in their version of Tower Records during lunch hour. The place was packed and Dido’s latest was blasting from the speakers. It was so very English.

That was like….can it really be nearly 20 years ago? How can places so vibrant just…disappear?

What I wouldn’t do to have them back and that’s exactly what happened the other day as I walked down Fifth Avenue. I was just a little north of 42nd Street–not too far from where The Record Hunter once was–when in the window of Urban Outfitters was….a full-fledged record shop (except the store calls it a “Vinyl Shop.” Rows and rows of vinyl just sitting there waiting to be flipped through. I walked in and it was like going back in time.

albums

Yes, they had the latest Taylor Swift and Adele records but they also had The Beatles and Led Zeppelin II. I happily browsed through the LPs, once again taking my to read the liner notes. And I have a new record player so I wasn’t just play acting. One of the great things about the times we live in now is that record companies are actually pressing vinyl again.

In the end, I couldn’t decide which record to buy but it doesn’t matter. I know I’ll be back; it’s great to know it exists.

I know you’ll be shocked to hear this but I don’t get invited to all that many open houses where the price tag for a condo is a gaudy $17.5 million. The word must be out that I’m a journalist.

ballerina

But Thursday night was different. Suddenly, instead of sitting on my sofa eating popcorn and watching one of those shows like “Million Dollar Listing,” I was on the inside looking out.

Let me tell you, it’s not a bad place to be.

My wife–a leftist of expensive tastes–has always been a fan of pricey real estate shows so there was no way I could attend this “staging” party without her by my side. “Staging” is the art of dressing up an apartment (lived-in or, in this case, not occupied) with someone else’s well-appointed furniture, artworks etc. It seems one’s imagination only goes so far and the staging helps potential buyers imagine what the apartment could be.

The staging here was being presented by Meredith Baer, who operates one of the country’s premiere home staging companies. The building in question was One Vandam, otherwise known as 180 Avenue of the Americas in SoHo, and the apartment up for grabs was Penthouse C, which has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, two fireplaces and a partridge in a pear tree (not really but it does weigh in at an impressive 5,000 square feet.)

The party was co-hosted by Morgan Stanley Private Bank services so there was a full complement of friendly bankers attending. The idea was to get them to take a look and recommend the apartment to a client who might be on the lookout for such a deal.

The place was packed which you might expect given the open bar, free food and bourbon room. A mysterious ballerina, twirling around the guests, completed the picture. Everything was perfect until I went to take in the view from one of the apartments’ balconies.

skyline

There I was high up over Manhattan. There were about a dozen of us outside when I heard someone say, “I hope this holds. We put it in last week.”

What?!?!? I reached for the glass door to head back inside but….it was locked. I asked someone if he could open it. No luck. We were stuck outside on a balcony that I’m sure was secure but..you know. The inside looked even more secure.

After some inspired pantomime (shivering, shouting ‘Help,’ peeing in pants), we convinced one of the guests to let us back in. The “entertainment” included a live staging of an empty room that was assembled before our very eyes, and a piece of performance art whereby two actors pretended they were getting dressed for a party in one of the bedrooms. I didn’t actually understand what was happening although the female actor was wearing very little but when she asked me to help pick out her dress, I caught on.

Either that or I’d had too much Black and Bow bourbon and imagined the whole thing.

moving

Yes, it’s winter and it snowed…

Posted: 24th January 2016 in winter
Tags: , , ,

 

This is why true New Yorkers know never park on the right side of a one-way street because all snow plows in this burg plow to the right!

This is why true New Yorkers know never to park on the right side of a one-way street because all snow plows in this burg plow to the right!

If there’s one thing social media and technology has NOT improved, it’s our coverage of a snowstorm. Why oh why does every storm have to be the ‘storm of the century?’

You can pretty much take it to the bank that, if you live in the Northeast, it’s going to snow at some point during the winter. It’s not the end of the world, it’s not a reason to panic and, generally, it’s kind of a nice break from the rush-rush-rush nature of New York City. I tune in to TV weathermen and weather gals to hear how much snow is expected and that’s about it. Then I turn off my television and look out the window.

Snow in winter is not a big deal except, it seems, if it happens in New York, the media/hysterical capital of the world. If it snows here, it’s a SUPER-HUMUNGOUS big deal!!!

But not really. It snowed yesterday. Today it’s pretty nice outside. Life goes on. Despite media headlines, the city is not paralyzed and has not come to a standstill. If I wanted, I could drive my car all around the five boroughs. I could take a subway into Manhattan and visit museums, Broadway, whatever. Within a five block radius, I can purchase a meal of cuisines from around the world.

Don’t believe the hype. It’s winter…that’s it. Enjoy the photos. It’s nice outside, really!

IMG_0549

IMG_0604

IMG_0551

IMG_0567

Back in the 1980’s, when I was a young reporter at the New York Daily News, an excited fisherman called the city desk one day to report on a mysterious island he’d come across up near the Bronx. There was no one living on the island, the man said. All he could see were wooden coffins. It was unreal and, if I were interested, he’d take me over.

Hart-Island-Adult-mass-burial-February-1992

The next day was drab and dreary. Rain threatened but I met this guy in the Bronx and we shoved off in his little boat for this island I was sure he’d imagined. He mentioned something about the tide being high and we had better make sure to get back in time or we’d be stuck there for nightfall.

If what he was saying was true, this was the last place I’d want to be stuck for the night. I already had a sense of foreboding since the island seemed so cold and lifeless.

But we set off anyway to explore the interior and I quickly saw that everything he said was true. I felt I had stumbled into a real life horror movie. There were long open trenches half filled with wooden coffins. Hundreds of other coffins were piled high next to the trench awaiting their ultimate fate.

A silent bulldozer stood idle, as did dozens of shovels. Looming above us was a giant cross and all around were abandoned buildings, some with no roofs, others missing walls. We were all alone. What was this place?

I looked at the papers stapled to sides of nearly every coffins. There were descriptions of the bodies–many of them babies–and dates and hospital names. I later learned I had stumbled across New York’s Potter’s Field. It was called Hart Island and it’s where the unclaimed dead go to be buried.

Burials then and now are done by a crew of inmates from Rikers Island, weather permitting. It is considered a perk because the inmates get a boat ride and a trip off their own island.

There were restricted signs all over the island that I ignored as I went around doing my research. Believe me, I kept one eye on the tide so we were not get stranded there overnight.

With some checking back at the office, I discovered that two city agencies were fighting over the burials and they were backing up. Hundreds of coffins were left out in the open air and half filled trenches remained unopened.

Not a lot has changed on Hart Island in the past 30 years. Two public agencies are still fighting over the island and the wooden coffins are still placed in trenches by inmates from Rikers Island.

What I didn’t know then is that no one is allowed to visit the island although a lawsuit resulted in the city being forced to allow some family to visit irregularly. (For the curious, it seems some family members have been able to track down loved ones well after the fact and do want to spend a few moments with their remains.)

“It seems so 19th century,” Councilman Brad Lander, told the NY Times this week. “It’s ghoulish to think of Rikers inmates being trucked over to bury infants who have been abandoned.”

That’s a pretty good way of describing the island that some think would be better used as a park although that sounds like a different horror flick. If you want to know more, be sure to visit this site run by filmmaker Melissa Hunt who has been trying for along time to allow the public to have more open access to the island. The eerie images and music remind me of the day I set foot there.

No one was there when I visited all those years ago. If someone is posted there to stand guard now, well, all I know is that’s a job I would not want.