"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Memoir

New York Minute


My Dad died on this day 7 years ago. I just learned that today is also National Hot Pastrami Day.


Million Dollar Movie


My father was a Sid Caesar man. Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour trumped Benny, Berle, and Gleason.

So when My Favorite Year came out, Dad was eager to take his children to see it. I was eleven years old and we went one Saturday afternoon to the Paramount. I always loved that theater because it was underground. Dad fell asleep during the movie but my brother, sister and I enjoyed ourselves. It didn’t matter that Dad passed out (he was still boozin’ then). The subject meant something to him. The movie was funny and sentimental. And O’Toole was nominated for an  Oscar.

And Dad woke up for the finale:

[Photo Via: Cinema Treasures]

Where & When: Game 17

Well, well, well; welcome back to the exciting and intriguing Where & When. Did you miss us? We missed you… holidays are always the toughest days to come back from.  How about we help refocus your brain matter so the rest of your day can be a piece of cake (insert favorite flavor here _________)…

And for your pleasure, how about another piece of cake:

Where & When Game 17

Nice day for a stroll, it seems.  Crazy nice, in fact.  Maybe more than crazy… maybe it was that time of the year, or maybe it was that year.  Well, don’t lose your mind trying to figure out the date; you’ll be really mad when you figure that part of it out.  But if you do… well... (yep, if you understand this one, you and I are on a wavelength that deserves much pity.)

Post your answers below in the comments and feel free to help out and discuss.  I’ll will be peeking in now and again (work work work) and offering some thoughts throughout if I can.

How about some of Dad’s stash if you are the first with the answers, and some Hansen’s Natural for the rest of us, butterfly included.  Now run along and sleuth, chop-chop! (Bonus if you know what all these awful puns are referring to… >;)

Oh Lucky Man


At the risk of making her slightly uneasy by the attention I feel compelled to let y’all know that I sure do love The Wife.

She is one great lady.

For reals, as the kids like to say.

(And as far as attention goes this is certainly less embarrassing for her than when I loudly declare my love for her in a crowded store or when we’re walking down the street.)

New York Minute


My grandparents lived across the street from the Museum of Natural History. They were older grandparents, not the kind to get down on the floor and play with my sister, brother and me. When in doubt, they took us to the Museum. We went so often that for years I never returned. It just reminded me of being bored out of my skull. But when I was in my twenties I went back and remembered just how cool the place is. I haven’t been in awhile but am down to go again.

[Picture by Bags]

New York Minute


Occasionally I see a big kid on the subway platform in the morning. He has a full head of dark hair and he gets on the subway at the same door as me. One morning I established position as the train arrived. When it stopped and the doors opened, the kid slid past me and got in first. He tapped on the side of the train twice before he got on.

No manners. So I began to play a little game every time I saw him, getting position like I was boxing someone out on the basketball court. But still he moved past me, knocked on the side of the train and got on.

Finally I realized that I was being ridiculous. The kid could be autistic and here I was getting offended. Or maybe he didn’t have autism. Anyhow, what’s it my business?

Yesterday, I saw him again. Made eye contact. He looked away. When the train came I stayed back, watched him knock twice on the side of car then get on. I was happy to let him go first.

[Image By Nacho Ormaechea via Ghost in the Machine]

New York Minute


This past July the Times had a story on the future of the Brill Building:

If ghosts paid the rent, Eric Hadar would have an all-star tenancy: Freddy Bienstock, Johnny Burke, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Van Heusen, to name a few. Not to mention J.J. Hunsecker and Danny Rose.

But ghosts do not pay the rent. Neither do fictional characters. Their onetime home, the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway, at West 49th Street, now stands more than half empty, after the closing last year of Colony Records and the Sound One postproduction studio.

I worked for Sound One when I was in high school and college and then later as a freelancer. That building is where I came of age in many ways. Bummer what’s going on there now.

[Photo Via: The Brill Building Documentary]

September 11

I lived in Brooklyn from the fall of ’95 to the summer of 2000 and was in my Bronx apartment on the morning of September 11, 2001. But I still had a lot of friends in Brooklyn like my pal who was in his Carroll Gardens apartment. When the second plane hit he walked to his roof to see what was happening.

A few hours later the roof and the streets were covered in white like a ticker tape parade. Only it wasn’t ticker tape but paper from the twin towers that had blown across the East River.

This one that still gives me the chills all these years later.

Love and respect to everyone who lost someone that day.

What is Success?


Not so long ago a friend asked me if I thought I was a success. I didn’t know what to say and when I did manage an answer it was “No.” I was thinking in terms of not just professional success but financial success. Where I want to be not how far I’ve come. I didn’t think about success as a person, about emotional or creative success, about success in my marriage or in my relationships with people. My initial reaction was to think of success in narrow terms. And because of the way I replied I became aware of how limited my idea of success often is.P

I thought about this when I read “The Third Man,” Lauren Collin’s profile of Novak Djokovic in the New Yorker. Djokovic told Collins this story:P

It’s important to be humble, and important to be very open-minded toward all the people in the world. It doesn’t matter who it is, really, or how much amount of success that person has made, because you don’t measure the person through the success the person has made, but through his behavior. There is one actually great quote from Pavle, our Orthodox priest—we are not Catholic, so we don’t have apapa. He’s our spiritual leader, in a way. He passed away in 2009, and he’s actually one of the greatest people that, really, Serbia ever had. Because he was a very modest man—his sister was very ill, so he would go every day with the public transport to visit her. He never used cars; he always talked to the people. So, one great quote—he says to one kid that was saying to him that he has the best grades and so much success in the school. So Patriarch Pavle said, “That’s all great, I congratulate you, but it’s not the grades that make you a man, but your behavior.” So that’s what I try to implement in my life.P

Behavior, how you treat people, showing up when things are difficult, over achievement. That’s cool, man and rings true to me.

Here’s an example of success:

[Photo Via: Clutter and Chaos]

Borough to Borough

Around this time 13 years ago I got together with my friend Alan to make a mix cd of the rap records that has been released that year. A rash of good hip hop records came out in 2000, from major label and underground artists alike. There were joints from name brands like Jay Z, Snoop, Dre, Eminem, Ghostface, MOP, Common, Xzibit, Wu, Outkast, and De La Soul. The veterans were still heard–Biz, Phife and Sadat X. But some of the records I liked most were from so-called underground artists like J-Live, Quasimoto, Dialated Peoples, Kid Koala, Slum Village, Cali Agents, Rah Digga, Encore, and The Nextmen.

Alan and I had known each other for a few years and always talked about doing something together. Alan was a record nut and an engineer. He’d programmed drums for Tori Amos, Madonna, and C&C Music Factory. Worked with Francois Kevorkian and Steinski.

Alan was a whiz at Pro Tools, a professional audio editing program. It was a chance for me to make a dream mix because of what Alan could do technically. I figured we’d make a little cd that I could give to friends for the holidays.

Alan lived in Midwood, Brooklyn, I lived in Carroll Gardens. I’d go over to his place with my records and video tapes. What started as a quick project turned into something more substantial. Four months and more than 120 studio hours later we produced an album-length mix cd we called “Borough to Borough.” (By the time we finished I’d moved to the Bronx.)

After each session, Alan burned a cd of what we’d done. I’d take it with me, listen to it for days, make notes, and the next time we saw each other, we’d make corrections before moving on to the next track. We shared similar sensibilities so there was an easy shorthand between us–remember that Bugs Bunny cartoon when?, what about that George Carlin line? Still, it was the first time I ever truly collaborated with someone. I learned that I couldn’t always have my way. Sometimes, I had to let Alan show off like when he reprogrammed the drum pattern on a Jurassic 5 record because there was no place on the instrumental where the drums were in the clear. And I was always happy to let him do his thing because it sounded great but also because I admire watching a craftsman at work.

If the project was a fantasy come true for me, it was liberating for Alan. He could play and do anything he wanted to do; he wasn’t just a hired hand. So we played and played, and honed the sombitch until we were satisfied. Then we packaged it and sold it and even got reviewed in a few British music magazines.

So here you have it. An audio collage, featuring rhymes, scratching, dope production and a host of spoken word and movie clips. You’ll recognize the voices of Fred Gwynne, Jack Nicholson, Elliott Gould, George Carlin, Marv Albert, Bill Murray, Frank Oz, Holly Hunter, Steve Martin, Elaine May, Walter Matthau, Al Pacino, Jack Palance, Joe Pesci, Goose Gossage, Richard Pryor, Mel Blanc, John Sterling, Mel Brooks, Bill Cosby, Earl Weaver, Nicholas Cage, Jackie Gleason, Chris Russo, Mark Rydell, Albert Brooks, Michelle Pfieffer, Gabe Kaplan, Mike Tyson, Robert De Niro, Orson Welles, John Turturro, Art Carney and Fat Clemenza.


Track Listing:

Intro. Beat by DJ Desue (Barber Shop Emcess…”Music, Money and Women”)

Yes. J-Live, produced by Emmai Allaqueva

Hotshit. Nextman

Tour Guide. People Under the Stairs

I Don’t Know. Slum Village

Crookie Monster. Produced by the Alchemist

Oooh. De La Soul

Dew It. Biz Markie. Produced by Ill Chemist/Al D

What’s Up Fatlip? Fatlip

Microphone Mathmatics. Madlib

Lyrical Fluctuation. Jigmastas, beat by DJ Spinna

Service. Dialated Peoples. Cuts by Babu

Take Over. Joey Chavez. Cuts by DJ Revolution

Any Champion. Pacewon. Cuts by DJ Revolution.

Worldwide. Defari. Beats by Joey Chavez

Love/Hate. Encore. Beat by Nextmen

Rhymes. Get Open featuring Sadat X

Nasty or Nice. Beat by Y@k Ballz

Lesson of Today. Rah Digga. Produced by DJ Premier

Rockaparty. J B Lee. Produced by Ill Chemist, Al D

Loop Diggin’. Madlib

Ass Finish First. Beat by DJ Nu-Mark

J-Liveness: Produced by Pete Rock

Players/Fall in Love. Slum Village

Barhopper. Kid Koala

Just One More Thing. People Under the Stairs

Them That’s Not. J-Live

Nighty Night. Beat by Madlib

Picture of me in Gravesend, Brooklyn with Sammy’s 62 Dominican Republic shirt from the ’98 season and Nathan’s cup of soda. Picture by Alan Friedman.

Round the Outside, Round the Outside


I contributed a short essay on “Buffalo Gals” to Herc Your Enthusiam, HiLoBrow’s series on old school (pre-1983) rap records:

There wasn’t anything like “Buffalo Gals” before, nor after. Though you could categorize it as an early sample record, in the vein of “Pump Up the Volume,” it’s really a novelty record, the brainchild of British trendsetter and former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.

For McLaren, style was substance. After a trip to New York where he saw Afrika Bambaataa spin, McLaren co-opted New York’s hip hop scene for his next record — the dancing, record scratching, the fashion (all of which are on display in the “Buffalo Gals” video). He flew New York DJs The Supreme Team to London to provide scratches, and got Trevor Horn, a successful young British producer — he had been part of The Buggles, whose version of “Video Killed the Radio Star” was in 1981 the first video ever played on MTV — to make the record.

“Buffalo Gals” is a culture clash of stuff — samples of phone calls, breaks, a synth bass and pads, the catchy “duck, duck, duck” refrain, the title chorus taken from a Piute Pete record, the scratching: “Oh, that scratching is making me itch.” It sounds like a bunch of stuff cobbled together but it works — and for DJs it goes with other records, because there’s so much in it.

Check out the rest of the series here.

Made in the Shades

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I visited my mom recently and she showed me photographs from her trip to Africa in 1966. It was on this trip that she met my dad. She didn’t only have pictures, she still had the sunglasses she rocked that summer. They were in a plastic case stored in a box along with letters and photos.

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Pretty cool, right?

New York Minute


My father did some work for CTW in the 1970s. He’d bring us home Sesame Street albums and once we cleaned our rooms were allowed to listen to them. One time, Dad took my sister and me to visit the set of Sesame Street. We sat on this stoop and looked into Mr. Hooper’s store. Nobody was filming. The crew was busy. I remember a kid riding a bike around. We sat there, next to Oscar’s garbage can, quietly, and wondered where Mr. Hooper was.

[Pictures via: Loosetooningaround]

Mugging as a Way of Life

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Mugged, mugging. I remember hearing those words all the time growing up. Always aware that it could happen, that it would happen. When it did, getting mugged didn’t mean you’d be killed, just that someone would take your shit.

That is mind, here’s David Freeman’s 1970 New York magazine story, “Mugging as a Way of Life”:

Twelve years ago, when the moon was made of paper and a pleasant old man was the President, Hector Diaz moved with his mother, his grandmother and a platoon of assorted relatives from the slums of North San Juan to El Barrio in the slums of North Manhattan. None of the Diazes spoke English and there were 10 people in three rooms, but the rooms were big, the plumbing was inside and the older Diazes took strength in little Hector, who was 9 and had eyes the color of ripe olives and who seemed to learn English faster than he grew. On Hector’s 11th birthday the family moved to Simpson Street in the South Bronx and Hector moved to the streets, where along with more English he learned the ways of the IRT and of airplane glue.

Two years ago Hector moved from Simpson Street to Avenue C on the Lower East Side, where he changed his ecstasy from glue to red wine in brown paper bags and then to heroin in glassine envelopes. Hector is still the only Diaz who can speak English and his eyes still look like olives, but green ones now, stuffed with red pimento. The Diazes, or what’s left of them, still live on Simpson Street and Hector visits them occasionally. But Hector spends his days on the streets of the Lower East Side, where he and a friend named Louise share their nights in burnt-out buildings and support themselves by mugging their neighbors.

For a time, in the fifties, the streets that run east of Avenue A to the river and below Houston Street to the Brooklyn Bridge on New York’s Lower East Side were almost a shrine, praised as the breeding ground of armies of doctors and lawyers all of whom looked like Harry Golden. Praising the tenements of their youth (“Sure it was tough, but we had love and desire . . .”), Lower East Side alumni sounded like Nixon talking about his astronauts. Today the incipient Jewish judges are gone, and the hippies of a few years ago are mostly gone, departed for communes or the suburbs. The streets and the buildings, exhausted from generations of bright, aggressive youngsters followed by stoned hippies, look tired, as if they need a rest after 65 years of social ferment. Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall are gone; the streets are lined with garbage now—human and automotive—and the people are mostly Puerto Rican. The billboards are in Spanish and in every store window a red sign screams “How do you know you don’t have V.D.?/ ¿Cómo sabe Ud. que no tiene enfermedad venérea?” The old-law tenements are crumbling, collapsing, burnt-out hulks. Their windows are covered with tin and plywood and their roofs are ripped away so that the sunlight floods into the upper stories like shrapnel.


[Photo Credit: Steven Siegel]

New York Minute


Check out what I found over at Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York–man, this is so dope–Roy Colmer’s photo collection of New York City doors. Three thousand pictures taken in 1976.

Here’s the front of my grandparents apartment building:

Man, this brings back memories. I was five when this picture was taken. Sometimes, the Internet is cool in unexpected ways.


New York Minute

Crowded and muggy on the subway platform during rush hour yesterday when a train rolled into the station so I decided to wait for the next one. I stood back from the open doors and let people jam their way into the car. I looked inside the open door and saw Seth Gilliam, an actor I know as Ellis Carver from “The Wire.” He was looking at the ground, just another guy sweating in a crowded subway car.  When he looked up we made eye contact. I mouthed “Thank You” to him, pressed my palms together and bowed my head. When I opened my eyes and looked back at him he smiled and nodded. The doors closed and the train pulled out of the station.

When you are on a show like “The Wire” I’m sure you never really escape it. Anyhow, I didn’t say a word to him but I know he knew what why I was thanking him.

Put the Needle to the Groove


In the spring of 1996, my friend Mike took me to A-1, a record shop in the East Village. I looked through a couple of crates of records and then started a conversation with a blond-haired kid who was hanging out talking music. An hour later we were still talking.

Mike had been looking through the $2 dollar bins on the floor and he came up with two steals: Ice Cube’s Kill at Will ep and BDP’s By All Means Necessary.

Right there, I knew the difference between a dedicated beat digger and me. I liked the music but didn’t have the stamina to go through the entire store for a bargain.

That fall, the Yanks won the World Series and I went to Los Angeles for four months on a job. The next time I went to A-1 the blond-haired kid, Jared Boxx, was working there.

It wasn’t long before he left with two co-workers to open their own record store, The Sound Library. And when the partners there split up, Jared co-ran Big City Records.

Now, The Sound Library and Big City are history but A-1 is still around.

And wouldn’t you know it but my friend Mike works there. Seventeen years after he first brought me in I stopped by to say hello. Bags came along with me and took some pictures.

DJ’s aren’t buying vinyl like they used to. And now A-1 sells a lot of rock albums. Mike said they can’t keep records by Blondie, The Talking Heads of Led Zeppelin on the shelf. He blames the video game Guitar Hero.

It was great catching up, hearing some music, and seeing my old friend.


New York Minute

Whadda ya want from me?

The Wife on 34th street last night. (It’s gotta be the shoes.)

Forgotten Bookmark

I e-mailed with a friend yesterday about James Agee so I went to my bookshelf this morning and picked out an old paperback copy of Letters of James Agee to Father Flye. The pages are yellow and brittle–I think I got it in high school–and I haven’t looked at it in a long time. I read through the book on my subway ride to work. After about twenty minutes I noticed something lodged in between the pages–a personalized bookmark that my father had made for me when I was a little kid. It features a drawing by my uncle Fred.

Dad had stickers with his name that he put in all of his books and he was proud to make stickers for my brother, sister, and me. I remember having a stack of them, held together with a rubber band, like they were baseball cards. I loved peeling off the back and sticking them on things, not just books, and I quickly depleted my stock.

I have no idea how one of them–an original, with the backing still attached–found its way into the Agee book, but it was like finding a tiny, intimate treasure.

New York Minute

I saw a pregnant woman on the subway this morning. I was standing and tried to make eye-contact with her. If she looked at me I’d ask if she wanted to sit and then I’d see if someone would give up their seat for her.  There was something girlish about her though her hair was completely gray, cut right around her shoulders and she dressed like a woman not a girl. In one hand she held a cup of coffee, in the other, she gripped a bagel with jelly. I wondered if she’d be embarrassed if I asked someone to get up for her.

She ate the bagel like she was mad at it. But she didn’t look annoyed just ravenous. It was amusing, even arousing, and I imagined making a video of her. It would be a family joke for years to come.

But I didn’t know her so I just admired her eating the fuck out of that bagel.

[Photo Credit: jkingsz]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver