"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Life in New York

New York Minute

peteseeger

My father’s best friend Marty died yesterday. I found out this morning from his daughter who sent me a message on Facebook.

I thought of Marty on my way to work, and the unabiding loyalty he shard with Dad for more than 50 years.

A melancholy song by Guy Clark played on my iPhone:

At a 145th Street, a young man walked onto the train holding a cardboard box. I removed one earbud after he started to talk. His voice was bright and clear. I thought he was selling candy. Instead, he said that he was Pete Seeger’s grandson. He moved through the car and handed out pamphlets for something called Seegerfest. I took a pamphlet and told him that I admired his grandfather. He said that both of his grandparents died in the past year and that he missed them very much.

At the next stop he left the car and went to the next one. His grandparents would be proud.

seeger2

New York Minute

union square

The Wife and I sat on a bench in Union Square on Saturday evening and watched the world go by. A group of kids performed acrobatics on the grass not far away. Here’s a shot of one of those dudes diving through a hoop. He made it look easy when it is anything but.

Million Dollar Movie

large

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]

New York Minute

tumblr_mv69mawX9q1qbmgeto5_500

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]

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?

tumblr_ms0wl96YKP1ro46rko1_500

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]

Round the Outside, Round the Outside

tumblr_inline_mkxcx71zxd1qz4rgp

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.

Mugging as a Way of Life

Screen Shot 2013-07-22 at 8.39.34 AM

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.

4-times-square-circa-1980

[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]

New York Minute

I was in a cab last week. The driver was from Afghanistan and we got to talking. He told me about the political history of his country since the early part of the 20th century. Sometimes it was hard to hear him so I leaned forward in my seat. After awhile, I asked how long he’s been here and he said twelve years. Then I asked him what he likes most about America.

“Freedom of speech,” he said. “Where I am from you look but you cannot see,” he covered his eye with his left hand. Then he put his hand over his ear, “You listen but you cannot hear.” He touched his forehead. “You think but you cannot speak.” He looked at me in the rear view mirror.

“I am a passionate man. Here, I can speak my mind and not be afraid of going to prison.”

I felt aware of how I take the freedom of speech for granted. But in that moment, I appreciated it like never before.

New York Minute

I was standing on the uptown platform of the 7th Avenue line at 42nd street last night with a friend when we heard a young woman’s voice. It was clear and also annoyed. She was climbing up the stairs from the 7 train. “We’ve been in New York for a couple of hours and we’ve already walked five miles.” She was holding a McDonald’s cup and she stomped up the steps, looking ready for a fight.

Not everyone from New York enjoys walking. But it sounded so strange to hear someone bitching about it. I just take it for granted that this is a place for walkers. Then again, when my sister and I were little we complained about having to walk all the way from 103rd Street to 96th to McDonalds. Our babysitter used to make fun of us. But we were four-years-old, so I’ll give us a pass.

New York Minute

Waiting to cross the street last night in my neighborhood, guy walks up next to me, late forties, early fifties. We see a car nearby looking to park. Guy says to me, “He’s not going to find a spot. I just came around the block, nothing, drove around again and found one. I always have luck since I came here.”

I ask where he’s from and he says California.

“I always find a spot and after the hurricane people would be waiting hours for gas, I went, twenty minutes I was done.”

He was bragging. The light turns and we cross the street.

“Well, it’ll come around and even out,” I say. “Karma does that.” I don’t mean to use to word Karma but that’s how it comes out.

“No, I’m a good person so I’ve got nothing but good Karma. That can never touch me in a bad way. Just remember if you are a good person you’ll always have Karma on your side”

I thought of saying something else but let it and him go.

[Photo Via: Eye Heart New York]

Par Avion

I got a package in the mail a few days ago from my friend in London. He sent books. And a letter.

I mean, talk about making my week. How cool is it to get an actual letter never mind British editions of American books? Hot damn.

The MET, Revisited

The first date I had with The Wife was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in January, 2002. Home field advantage I figured. Little did I know that painting and drawing don’t move her. So I took her on a tour and she smiled as I talked and talked. She was probably bored silly and finally she was hungry. Still, she was too polite to stop me and I was so nervous I kept talking.

As she tells it, “You talked until I was limp.”

She has not been back to the MET since. Until this past Saturday. This time we didn’t look at paintings or drawings but we went through the Japanese collection–The Wife loves the Japanese aesthetic. She wasn’t bored and we left before she was starving.

Progress.

A Heppy Ket.

Cloud City at the Roof Garden.

 

New York Minute

My twin sister loved Marilyn when we were growing up. As much as I loved David Bowie or the Stones or Woody or anyone else I ever loved.

Sam had Marilyn posters on her wall, had Marilyn books, and of course, saw all of her movies, or at least the ones we could find on videotape. I remember going with her to a double feature of Gentleman Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire  at the old Regency Theater on 67th Street and Broadway. This must have been in the mid-80s sometime. I pretended not to care about Marilyn or worse, put her down because Sam dug her, but I remember that day, sitting in the balcony watching those two movies and enjoying Marilyn just fine.

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of Monroe’s death.

feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via email
"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver