Goodbye to Jimmy Breslin, a Hero

Until I read “The World of Jimmy Breslin”, everything I owned was second-rate.

My clothes were either cheap, used, or “irregulars.”  My apartment was a dump. Sporting goods? Used.  Someone else’s football cleats and ice skates were good enough, so what if they were a size too big, or too small. My first used car, an eight-year old VW, was more rust than road warrior.

When, at sixteen, I began my college studies at CUNY – Hunter, I got a clunky, stuck-keyed Royal manual typewriter discarded by my dad’s company. My teeth would gnash with each clash of the dirty keys, every effort a labor of hate.

But then came a part-time job at the very company that provided this massive metal machine, which thrust me into the world of my office-boy co-workers in what was called the Bursting Room.  My department was crammed with deafening machines that de-collated and then separated carbon-smeared, multi-part reports for the various departments of this financial services company.

And the operators of these dirty, rackety machines were life-hardened guys in their late teens and early twenties.  Some were of Polish and Italian descent, but most were Black and Puerto Rican.  They were either just back from Viet Nam or, at age nineteen and with the draft in full bore, about to be inducted.  These were guys who carried knives and handguns, skin-popped smack in the men’s room, and smoked nibs of hash while at their machines, curls of smoke burning seductively off the lit tips of their Kools.

All drank during work hours and at liquid lunch, Ballantine Ale, Colt 45, Schaefer, Olde English 800, Night Train, Bali Hai, Gallo Paisano, Ripple, and Bacardi and Coke being the beverages of choice.

And then, back in that Woodstock year, 1969, there was the sixteen-year old me, quietly reading “The World of Jimmy Breslin” during break time, as Sly Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime” blasted across the 77WABC airwaves twice an hour, taxing the Bursting Room’s cheesy plastic AM radio.

the world of jimmy breslin 1969

I read Breslin’s 1963 piece, about the guy who dug JFK’s grave.  Here’s a snippet of what Breslin wrote:

“Pollard is 42. He is a slim man with a mustache who was born in Pittsburgh and served as a private in the 352nd Engineers battalion in Burma in World War II. He is an equipment operator, grade 10, which means he gets $3.01 an hour. One of the last to serve John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who was the thirty-fifth President of this country, was a working man who earns $3.01 an hour and said it was an honor to dig the grave.”

And, as I read, tears streamed down my face. “Break’s over.  Get back to work,” my supervisor screamed.  Then he looked at me.  “What the fuck are you crying about?”

What I couldn’t tell him was that I was crying for our collective loss of innocence, when JFK was murdered.  I was crying about how that loss would explode as the body bags in southeast Asia piled up.  I was crying about how the good vibrations from Woodstock — for me, seen only from afar — curdled into the counterculture crisis at Altamont.

All that year, the ear-splitting Bursting Room machines screamed in righteous indignation, as did Jimi’s guitar jimi cavettwhen he debuted “Machine Gun” on the Cavett Show. Cavett fished for laughs when he asked Hendrix about his sleep habits.  “I try to get up every day,” Jimi answered, prompting the audience’s raucous response.

I kept reading Breslin, and followed him from paper to paper.  Finally, in the seventies, I moved to Jackson Heights.  There, I discovered the perfect pints of Liffey Tavern on 75th Street and Broadway, poured by bartenders Tommy and Joe.  “You just missed Breslin last night,” Tommy once said to me.  This was back when Breslin’s wife was very sick, and Jimmy, I was told, descended into hell.

Then the serial killer summer of Sam happened, 1977, and Breslin was the linchpin in son of sam photosthat lunacy.  The financially strapped city circled the toilet, and the madness reached new heights with each murder.  Joe the Bartender cried whenever someone played Paddy Reilly’s “The Town I Loved So Well” over the jukebox.  But there was a lot to cry about that year.

In time, a new generation of Real New Yorkers, city-guys all, picked up the call and began to write for my hometown papers, guys like Lupica, Daly and Flynn, Dwyer, Kilgannon and LeDuff.  Ruiz, Torres, and Gonzalez.

For me, all roads point back to Hamill and Jimmy Breslin, who died today at the age of 88.  Here is my tribute to Jimmy Breslin:

In 1969, when I picked up “The World of Jimmy Breslin,” I cried.  Which I admitted earlier.  But I never told anyone that I also cried from the excitement of knowing that a guy from the outer boroughs — A Real New Yorker — could put words together in such a brute force, powerful way.  On-deadline.

And so, the young me saved part of my Bursting Room salary — $2 an hour, at first — went to 23rd Street (Typewriter Row, at the time) and bought my very first top-shelf possession: olympia typewriterthe Olympia typewriter you see right here.  Jimmy Breslin, you helped me dream.  Bless you, Jimmy.  Slainte.

 

 

 

I’m Coming Back

So much has happened since my last post, and not all of it is good.  We are in unchartered waters now, with a weak-minded electorate and a complicit news media establishment.

We carry on.  I am pledging to share several posts a week on where we are, as Real New Yorkers living in a post-truth world.

Let’s make this a virtual water cooler.  Please chime in with comments, questions and ideas for upcoming posts.

My best wishes for a safe, healthy and reasonably sane 2017.  See you again, in the days ahead.

Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood

La Lupe

 

The great writer Tom Beller curates tales of Real New Yorkers.  La Lupe hailed from Cuba, but she was a Real New Yorker and plays a pivotal role in my new story, “The Tape.”  It appears here, as the featured story on www.mrbellersneighborhood.com. Please read, share and “Like” it (if, of course, you do!).

I think the story will resonate with you, and here’s the link: http://mrbellersneighborhood.com/2016/04/the-tape

Who’s the Real New Yorker: Trump, Clinton, or Sanders?

inwood 207th street subwayI hate his guts, but stylistically the REAL NEW YORKER is Trump. He’s fast on his feet, dismissive, sarcastic and comes off like the asinine uncle your family loves to hate every Thanksgiving. Sanders has the accent, but he’s no NY’er, having fled to lily white Vermont in 1970.

Sure, he wraps himself in pastrami (metaphorically) for political points, but his decades in Vermont disqualify him from Real New Yorker status.  Bernie, doll, you’re not landed gentry. Your people didn’t come over on the Mayflower. Your doppelganger, Larry David, is the RNY’er, not you, bro.

As for Hillary, she is the sharpest knife in the drawer, but as a NY’er, her persona reads as “successful A-lister from a toney suburb.” To her credit, she doesn’t do the gratuitous NY’er political shtick, so I give her style points for keeping it real and not trying to be someone she’s not.

Of the three, I’d have to say that Bernie is the real poser. He looks like he walked out of a Malamud novel, but he thinks like Gene McCarthy. No wonder he resonates with a good number of millennials in Brooklyn, the crowd that has come here in the years after 9/11 and now think they’re dyed-in-the-wool NY’ers.oh god tribeca

And, by the way, I’m a native NY’er, PS 86, 143, De Witt Clinton and Lehman, and I’ve lived in 4 of the five boroughs. Staten Island? No chance.

Kumbaya? Please?

Marian Fontana is a Real New Yorker, through and through.  Believe me, this author/performer knows of what she speaks.  Here is her latest plea, in response to social media vitriol spewing throughout the Interwebs:

“An uncharacteristically serious post:

“Overwhelmed by the divisiveness of social media, I never post anything political. I have friends to the left, to the right and in between and know that WHATEVER I post would be like throwing meat into a pack of wolves.
It all makes me sad.

“We live in a place called The United States and yet, we have not been united since 9-11.
How sad that it took nearly 3,000 people to die in the worst terror attack on our country for us to finally hold hands and join together against extremism, terrorism and hate.

“It was a moment short lived.

“How quickly 9-11 became politicized and used as an excuse to attack countries, marginalize immigrants and achieve personal power.

“The ripple effect of 9-11 continues as Vets return home injured and traumatized, Muslims are discriminated against and firefighters die of 9-11 related cancers.

“So, as this endless stream of negativity fills my newsfeed , I will choose to remember how so many of you reached out to my son and I after Dave died. I will recall that unique moment in history where the best of humanity was revealed and I will hold out hope that in spite of our differences and the issues that divide us that we have the capacity to be the United States.”

Right on, Marian!  (FYI, the photo here was taken on Isham Street, just west of Broadway, in Inwood, NY.  The cross is made of structural material from the World Trade Center.) Crucifix Inwood

 

Paris of the Mind

So much has happened since my last post in August of 2015.  The U.S. presidential race has gone from disappointing, to outlandish, to disgusting.  Racism has taken center stage, along with income disparity.  And with racism has come xenophobia.

Around the world, humankind has reverted to a pagan-era tribalism.  We cower in our caves, afraid of “The Other” — that about whom we know little, other than that they “aren’t like us.”

Paris of the Mind

Paris of the Mind

Fanning the flames are nihilistic maniacs, without regard to the blessing of life.

Paris happened, since my last post.

Domestic mass murders have happened.  Here, it still remains easier to obtain a firearm in Arizona, than it is to vote in a primary election.

Now, Brussels has happened.

I’ve seen the posters: “Je suis sick of this s***.”  Me too.  Because our simple human minds search for easy solutions to complex geopolitical problems.

There are those who point fingers at the other party.  Then, there are those who point fingers at the other generation.  The other country.  The other religion.

What to blame?  Easy.  It’s humankind’s fault.  We have fouled ourselves with hatred, stupidity, greed, since time immemorial. We have smart phones, but we are dumb.  We do not think.  We do not WANT to think.  And so we get snookered by crooked politicians and cut-throat business people.  And that makes us madder still.

So we lash out again, like a whining drunken toddler, without focus, without a plan.  The adults in the room, those with measured and rational answers, are derided as “elites.”

In the Paris of the Mind, innocents die at dinner, couples perish at concerts, kids cry for their lost parents.  How long will this go on?  When will it come to Real New Yorkers (again)?

Maybe the better question is: when will humans use the gift of reason we are blessed with, but rarely use?

 

Nipple Gate In Perspective

News Item: Times Square street hustlers now include “desnudas” — nearly nude women with body paint, posing with tourists for money.

What is it about the desnudas that has suddenly made them a New York City cause celebre? With so many other issues on the table — under-performing schools, crime, lack of affordable housing to name just, oh, a few — how did Nipple Gate capture and hold Page One?

IMHO, the desnudas’ arrival is the straw that broke The Real New Yorkers’ backs, in terms of nakedly communicating that NYC has become a city catering first for outsiders — tourists and non-residents — rather than the tax base. That is, those who actually live and work here 365/24/7.

Under the reign of Bloomberg,who said from the outset that his legacy would be based upon how the public schools were at the end of his tenure (they still stunk) developer deals flourished.  His city was marketed and transformed into a “luxury product” designed to attract the world’s 1% and, in addition, separate ever-greater hordes of tourists from their money.

“Regular” NY’ers?  We were told to “see a Broadway show” when a blizzard shut down the city, and to move our cars or be ticketed, even as they were frozen in place on unplowed outer-borough side streets.

Meantime, buildings such as One57 (http://www.one57.com/#!)  rose like a giant middle-finger to the rest of the city.  This building casts its vulgar shadow across the populist Central Park, both metaphorically and literally.  Who lives there?  Assuredly, not your dry cleaning guy.

And part of the plan was to create pedestrian malls for the Velveeta-butts in tank tops and cutoffs.  Yes, the throngs who gorge at Bubba Gump and thrill to “Momma Mia!”  Who cares that the entire pedestrian and vehicular flow of midtown was disrupted? That would only fuel desire for His Highness’ congestion pricing plan, which was templated off London’s (where Bloomberg has a residence and — who knows — may run for mayor).

Once the pedestrian mall in Times Square was created, the aggressive costumed characters came, sleazily sidling up to tourists, posing for photos, their hairy hands out for money.  Ersatz Elmo, Spiderman, Batman, Hello Kitty, the Penguin, the Joker, Buzz Lightyear and Cookie Monster shoved sisters, cursed cousins, and groped grannies.

All as traffic sizzled on side streets, diverted from the already slow Times Square flow, and hopping mad midtown office workers wound through the throngs, late for appointments.

And now, we have the desnudas, the icing on this hot mess of this Times Square cataclysm.

Wonderful.  Just wonderful.

Now, our new mayor and his police commissioner are being pilloried for being ballsy enough to even consider a return to the Times Square of yesteryear.  That is, pre-mall.

Surely there is a way to design a public space in this so-called “crossroad of the world” that simultaneously

  • protects pedestrians
  • creates a reasonable traffic flow
  • considers the needs of local citizens

Tourist money is great.  And the world’s tourists will visit a fun, safe, inviting New York.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think tourists come to New York to pose with a flea-bitten Minnie Mouse character.

Here’s the deal: THIS IS NEW YORK CITY, PEOPLE! This is not Vegas, Orlando, Asbury Park or Branson, Missouri.  All are fine tourist destinations.  But they are not New York City.

This doesn’t have to do with being anti-fun.  Or with being prudish.

This has to do with realizing that our hard working citizens need to get to where they are going without bumping into detours, four-abreast tourists from Tulsa, or Batman’s behind.

We are a hard-working world capital.  Not Wildwood, New Jersey.

 

 

 

New York Music: Never Let Go

 

Flash Picking an Electric Guitar

Real New Yorkers” is a term I use to describe those who have New York City in their hearts.  One does not have to be born here, to be a Real New Yorker.  You just have to have that “NYC” groove in your heart.

That is, the New Yorker’s ability to stay true to oneself.  Real New Yorkers know who they are and what they want to achieve.  And they pursue their dreams and make it work, somehow, in the face of the impossible odds that life puts before each of us.

In the realm of Real New Yorkers, there are some commonalities.  One is the lifelong maker of music.  New York is a great, global gumbo of a music scene.  Here you will find men and women who love making music and refuse to let go of this passion.

One such Real New Yorker is Sal Cataldi, owner of the eponymous, award winning public relations agency.  Since 1988, he has managed to juggle client service, child rearing, writing music and gigging.  Always gigging.

Add recording to that list.  Days ago, he released “Sketches of Spam,” his 16-track, 69-minute, genre-surfing debut release from Spaghetti Eastern Music (Bad Egg Records, 30003, www.soundcloud.com/spaghetti-eastern-music).

While he and his team orchestrated PR for the recent PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction Gala, in the midst of the Charlie Hebdo fury earlier this year, Cataldi finalized his debut album, which evokes 70’s Miles, Ennio Morricone, Fripp & Eno and includes a brilliantly re-imagined DADGAD version of The Beatles’ “Ticket To Ride.”

This is a native New Yorker from Flushing who, like a lot of local kids here in the mid-60s, clipped Borden milk container coupons to exchange for nosebleed Mets tickets.  While some kids are bitten by the sports bug, it was always music for Cataldi.

And, while most folks leave their dreams at some point in their lives, Cataldi’s passion for music was actually woven tightly into the fabric of his work life as the years passed.

“I worked for Bigelow Pharmacy in the Village when I was in college, and delivered prescription drugs to Electric Ladyland Studios on 8th Street,” Cataldi said.  “Once in the public relations profession, I created events like the LA Rock-N- Roll Trivia Tour, the Dewar’s Bagpipe Festival, even a national air guitarist search for the best ‘Guitar Face.’  Finally, I’ve been proud to promote the annual John Lennon Tribute concert.

At work, Cataldi’s guitar is always at the ready, never far from his phone.  When inspiration strikes, music wafts through his agency’s 29th Street headquarters.

“I’m a professional person who just refused to give up on my love for the craft, for music,” he said.  “Today’s technology makes it possible, but it is important for all of us here in the New York City pressure cooker to express ourselves through our art.  Never let go.”

 

 

What Is the Bronx? Are You Kidding Me?

OK, I read the article in New York Magazine. Let me help the writer, Wallace-Wells, out.

The Bronx represents the essential goodness of the TRUE New York City experience. You come here, from wherever. You gain employment. You raise a family. You aspire to better things and yet stay true to yourself. You live in a real community.  You toil — often in obscurity — with pride and quiet dignity.

The Bronx is more like what New York City USED TO BE. That is, before the creation of massive, half-empty condos that blot out the sun. Before poseurs from Podunk, subsidized by parental funds, drove up rents and co-op prices, in their search for the optimal artisinal pickle. Before tacky bridge chairs littered Times Square, so Velveeta-eating lard butts from Butte can rest after shaking the shkeevy hand of Cookie Monster.

Here in the Bronx, a writer creates a borough-wide writing program, open to all, without fanfare. Here in the Bronx, the daughter of a cop invents a walking tour company, and brings people to The Real New York. Here in the Bronx, a guy digs into the core of the city, and creates a powerful blog that is being quoted by “mainstream media” far and wide.

The difference? Here, it’s done with quiet dignity, grace, humility.

The Bronx? It’s the last vestige of the Real New York, the steward of true NYC values. The bogus do not survive here. For that alone, the rest of the city should bow down and kiss our feet.