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.

Yankee Stadium – Opening Day


The new Yankee baseball season marks the mental close of another hard winter. The daily temperature plummeted into the twenties, and stayed there until St. Paddy’s Day. There was not even the usual New York City “February Thaw” to melt the sooty old snow that lined our city’s sidewalks for months.

This new season lies ahead like a kid’s summer, full of promise and so much time—unlike the summers of adult life that flick by like a page on an iPad.

The Yankee home openers of my youth were always midweek day games against Detroit. The Opener was an event. The entire neighborhood would make plans to play hooky from work or school. We’d take the number four train down to 161st Street and run down the “el” stairs and down River Avenue to get on the ticket line for our non-reserved upper deck nosebleed seats.

Leader of the pack was Big Larry. Larry, our building superintendant so long ago, died late last year, at eighty-nine. He mumbled when he spoke: my name is Marty—he would call me “Moh.” I think back and remember him swabbing our hallways on Sunday mornings, his hair and white tee-shirt drenched with sweat. I remember the tattoos on his forearms, of faded blue-green anchors.

He was in the Pacific in the Big One, double-ya double-ya two. Sometimes, when we were lucky, he would take time out from his labors, open the door to his rent-free, basement apartment, take out the Japanese sword he “found” during his tour in the Pacific and let us do dangerous things with it. He turned a blind eye to our boisterous behavior when we took the sword outside, waved it over our heads like maniacs, screamed in made-up Japanese words, and scared the bejesus out of neighborhood dogs, little kids and old ladies wheeling their shopping carts home from Gristedes.

My dad had it tough in the European Theater but even he admits that the guys in the Pacific had it even tougher with malaria, booby traps and crazies charging at you, shrieking like banshees. Add Japanese Zeros, kamikazees—no thanks, I’d take The Bulge too, like my dad.

Big Larry’s kids were our best friends. His son, Lawrence, was my buddy. We called him Larry. His sister, Janet, was best friends with my sister. The baby of their family, Colleen, was the hapless tag-along.

Big Larry’s day job was on Forty-Eighth Street, Music Row. He repaired musical instruments. He got his son a full set of Ludwig drums, Johnny Cash style, that is, one piece at a time, “out the back door”—a mismatched set. Across the basement hall from their apartment was an empty stroller storage room. Big Larry would slip Lawrence the pass key and he and I played drums loudly, and badly, along with the radio.

I loved their apartment, and I was there at least as often as I was in my own joyless home, upstairs. There in Lawrence’s place, we played mindlessly, and dreamed of the larger world and of a time when we’d have it all. Money! Girls! Corvettes! We ate sandwiches on the Formica table without plates, we ate spaghetti until our stomachs burst—not boring old pot roast like my mom served us at our home.

We talked sports, we talked about the Yankees and, in time, we talked about girls. Ensconced in Lawrence’s bedroom, we’d worship the poster of Sophia Loren in Boy on a Dolphin, which he taped to the wall.

Time stretched before us and every spring Big Larry would take us all to the Big Ballpark in the Bronx. We were kings high up in the grandstand, surveying the subway, the Bronx County Courthouse, the Concourse Plaza Hotel (which wouldn’t let black ballplayer Elston Howard in, my father would always remind me). In our hands were pennants, pretzels and hot dogs. The grownups tossed back cups of Ballantine beer. We kids looked forward to the day when we, too, could call the beer guy and order a round.

Big Larry was hardly rich—he probably couldn’t afford to take a gang to the new Stadium these days—but he was always generous. Wherever that family went, I was invited along. Peach Lake, Jones Beach, Yankees opening day, I was always invited. I felt proud, and loved, when—finally one year—he knew I was finally strong enough to help push-start his cars, which were always fifty-dollar clunkers.

My friend Lawrence would shrink in shame as we pushed his dad’s bombs down Webb Avenue until we built up enough speed for Big Larry to pop the clutch and turn the ignition key. When the engine caught, plumes of thick black exhaust smoke spiraled up to the Bronx heavens.

Once underway, Big Larry would push the buttons of the radio until he found a song he could snap his fingers to. “Toe-tappers,” he’d call them. He’d lean back, and say to his wife, “Annie…light me up a Lucky.” Annie, my surrogate mother, would light up two in her mouth and pass one up front to her husband. Cool.

Annie passed away just weeks after Big Larry.

Big Larry always worked hard, and he knew how to enjoy his money, when he had it. He’d spend a fortune on Christmas presents for the kids. For Easter, they all had spiffy new outfits.

When their relatives came over, the party was on. Big Larry would play Eddie Albert or other popular country crooners on his hi-fi. Everyone would dance and dance, shouting and drinking until early in the morning. I marveled at the magic, as before my very eyes cases and cases of Rheingold would disappear over an afternoon and evening of good cheer.

The real magic, however, was how my sullen demeanor would brighten once I went down to their place, from my joyless, top floor apartment. No matter that it was a dark, dank basement flat. There, I’d join in the merriment with Big Larry, Annie, Lawrence, Janet, Colleen and the rest of their clan. We kids would watch the grownups dance and drink in a swirl of cigarette smoke and raucous laughter. One time, Lawrence’s Aunt Agnes got really drunk and, glass in hand, slowly bent to sit on her chair, only she missed it by a good two feet and ended up plopping down hard on the bare wood floor. We all laughed right along with her, because it was a holiday and we were having good mindless fun. Who cared if she laughed so hard she peed herself, right there on the bare wood floor—which made us all laugh even more.

The new Yankee season has begun. Winter is finally over. Just yesterday, I heard birds chirping across the street and I actually drove with the sunroof open. And, with the temperature finally moderating, I recalled how my mom would yell at me for tramping mud through our old top floor apartment after coming home from the ball fields in early spring. Lawrence’s mom, Annie? She never yelled. She’d just laugh at us, all caked in filth from head to toe, dripping with little kid sweat and grinning from our pleasant exertion. She’d smile, call us jerks, get a broom and a dust pan, ask us to leave our muddy sneakers out in the foyer. Together, we cleaned up our mess.

Goodbye, Big Larry. Goodbye, Annie. I miss you. Rest in peace.



This story is excerpted from my collection of short fiction, “Home Front” published by Sock Monkey Press http://sockmonkeypress.org/wp/?p=142 


I Liked It Better When…

I liked it better when the music came in vinyl, with double albums and plenty of pictures and liner notes by famous rock writers, that you’d read and re-read and re-read because you were high after cleaning your dope and rolling joints on said double albums.

I liked it better when when planes were flown with precision and landed safely, and not into buildings, and there was more to eat on a flight than a salted peanut or two and you could keep your shoes and belt and coat on.

I liked it better when the people with all the money were older well at least 50 or so — or were, maybe, politicians, wheelin and dealin in smoke filled back rooms (who cares what they did I mean they were politicians.)

And when, if you were in a far right wing group like the John Birch Society, or some such, you were roundly pilloried for being a heartless anti-working class scumbag and oddball an outkast an outlier a liar a thief in the night a stealer of dreams not a mainstream hero with actual political clout and a blog a column a tv show.

I liked it better when a wacko’s only hope for notoriety was a soapbox and megaphone on the corner, or mimeographed fliers that you’d smell the chemicals off of and pretend it got you high like when you did for the girls in grammar school when the homework assignments were passed back from the teacher.

I liked it better when you just took the fookin job and when the HR person started talking about benefits about healthcare about sick days about paid holidays you drifted into the twilight zone because hooray hooray you were young and gonna celebrate because you got the job and who cared about all that other malarkey.

And when weekends were free from emails and texts and beeps and boops and noises of all manner that keep you shackled keep you tethered keep you harnessed but good every minute even the mornings with the industrial strength tequila hangovers that threaten to split your skull like a broad sword.

And when kids held doors for their elders because they were told to, that’s why, and when the kids didn’t die from anaphylactic shock from smelling someone ELSE’S peanut butter sandwich at lunch and their idea of fun and mischief was to put green peas on the snap locks of their attaché cases and release the catches so the peas would fly high to the next table and onto the heads of friends during school lunch.

And and and

I liked it better when these same kids played outside with all the pent-up energy that is kid-dom and oh the non-stop screaming and squealing and ball throwing and chasing and grabbing and laughing, oh

it’s the laughing that I miss most.

A Real New Yorker Falls

As I write this, the rain falls on a cold and dreary day and that, I suppose, is as it should be, for a Real New Yorker has fallen.

There is no great tragedy when a person dies at 85 — at least that is what some would have you believe.  The common wisdom is that the death of a child, or young adult is, somehow, sadder, because of all the promise that lays ahead in life and because the pain of the parents resonates so fully.  Children should not pre-decease their parents.

But what of the 85 year old who never really “gets old,” who never stops learning, or living?  We know so many who suffer from “Glory Days” syndrome, to borrow the title of the Bruce Springsteen song.  That is to say, those who reached life’s pinnacle in high school, or on the gridiron, oozing with the power and vitality of youth.  Too many of us willingly accept the diminishment of the years and comfortably curtail our ability — and desire — to keep learning, growing, staying in the game — and giving to others.

Not Elaine Katz, though.  

If it’s trite to say she was “one of a kind” then so be it. I never met anyone like her. She was a relentless ball of energy, with a bad eye and a bad back and who knows what else.  She was more than 20 years my senior yet when I was felled by a serious back injury, suddenly a cane appeared at my apartment’s concierge desk, with a note saying it was from Elaine.  She explained later that it had been her husband’s and she described a story involving the cane, a nasty cab driver, and lots of screaming and hitting — directed at said cabbie.

I knew her through the Riverdale Temple, which my wife and I joined in 2010, after 25 years of living in Brooklyn.  Here, we knew not a soul. But in short order, we were taken under the wing of the congregation’s leadership.  Elaine, it was clear, was one of the ringleaders.  She, too, was from Brooklyn, which I could tell from her sharp-elbow verbal approach and salty humor.  A scene with Elaine brandishing a massive horseradish root in a particularly funny way comes to mind.  (Use your imagination.)

At Board meetings, in adult ed classes, and during special events, she was a force of nature.  Her eyes sparkled as she texted away during activities, which were often interrupted by the strange steamship ring tone of her mobile phone.

I guess the technical term for Elaine would be “piece of work.”  Where my own parents eschewed the Internet, and allowed whatever native intelligence they possessed to metastasize, Elaine welcomed today’s technology and reveled in her expertise on multiple communications platforms.  Where my mother-in-law — herself a force of nature back in her prime — descended into a diminished life, compulsively obsessed with the most routine matters, Elaine carried on expertly, well into her 80s.

As her son Rob so aptly said in his poignant eulogy, “even in her advanced years, she never become an ‘old lady.'”

And that, my friends, is the key to life.  We all go sometime and we don’t know when or where.  The key is to keep pushing, every day.  Keep learning, growing, and soaking it all in like a sponge.

I was a late bloomer and I readily admit that I only started to hit my stride in my 30s.  Still, my attitude about the gifts I had been given was that there was always another year to build upon, always another decade to make my mark, always “all the time in the world.”

And then, 9/11 happened.  I ramped it up.  And then, in 2007, I received some abrupt, chilling, and fortunately, incorrect news about my health.  I underwent test after test at Methodist Hospital and, then, Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, and was enrolled in a cancer treatment unit and given a blue wallet card embossed with vital information.

When, ultimately, I was deemed fit and my problem resolved, I kept the card.  Now, to some that might seem strange.  But, it is there, in my wallet, to this very day. I keep it as a reminder: life is precious.  Life is short. “Cut the crap,” the card tells me every day, “and keep pushing ahead.  DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME.”

Yes, it is raining today, and cold, and dreary.  The pelting rain will knock the leaves to the ground below, where they will enrich the soil and allow new growth in the months ahead.  We need the rain, for nourishment, for sustenance.  And as for the cold, and the shorter days, well, this is what it is, here in the northeast United States.  It gets cold, and then colder, and then warmer, and then hot.  Finally, it will cool again.

We will miss Elaine and feel sad about her loss.  But I can’t mourn her life.  Not really. She lived it to the fullest, and overcame the horrors and challenges — and welcomed the joys — that a long life surely brings. A life force like hers lives on, in the memories of all those she has touched.

I’m looking at the rain now, and the window is wide open.  It is cold in here.  The rain splashes the sill.  I feel it on my hands as I type.  It feels good.

Really good.

Taylor Swift, Global Superstar, Is Our Global New York Brand Ambassador

We Real New Yorkers are lucky to have Taylor Swift as our city’s global brand ambassador.  This seven-time Grammy winner, a cross between Gwyneth Paltrow, Gomer Pyle and Olive Oyl, will now represent us to the global travel and tourism community and entice travelers the world over to come here, buy stuff, stand on line for Grimaldi pizza and Shake Shack burgers, drink Bulleit rye in Williamsburg and, ultimately, move here.

Why not?  Since the days of the Dutch West India Company, New York (formerly New Amsterdam) has always been about making money.  We’re a trading post.  Always have been.  Always will be.  And Tay Tay is hot hot hot, arguably the world’s biggest pop star (for now).  The 25-year old New Yorker (yep, she lives in an eight-figure Tribeca condo) can move the merchandise.

So if she can get more suckers, er, tourists, to come here and part with their sheckels, why should you, or I, care one whit?  I mean, come on, don’t we Real New Yorkers have more important things to worry our pretty little heads about.  Ebola.  Joblessness.  ISIS.  Midterm elections.  Eurozone stability.  Global warming.  Crumbling infrastructure.  God-awful professional sports teams.

Excuse me while I channel my inner Lewis Black.

Taylor Swift is the sugary, artificially colored, maraschino cherry on top of the whipped cream confection that has become our beloved New York City.

Taylor Swift has NOTHING to do with New York, or the life Real New Yorkers live.  Does she take the subway?  Has she ever had to work the system to get a kid a seat in the local school?Or been gentrified out of an apartment? Or lived through a blackout (or two?  or three?) or a sanitation strike?  Or been stopped-and-frisked?  Or been stuck in an ER for 10 hours, waiting for a simple X-Ray?  Has she stepped outside of Manhattan, fer crissakes?

IMHO, she is even too frothy, too lightweight for our new millennium city, which has methodically been transformed into a Disneyfied, shrink-wrapped luxury product, filled with three-quarters empty zombie condos owned by offshore interests, a Broadway laced with jukebox musicals and theaters filled with Velveeta-eating lard butts in cargo shorts and newly-purchased “New York: We’re Not In Kansas Anymore” tank tops and a Brownstone Brooklyn that has become a caricature of what it was just a few short years ago.

It is said that Taylor Swift’s new single, “Welcome to New York,” is infectious.  Less so than ebola, folks.  The tea bag that started with Sinatra’s version of “New York New York,” and that was dunked again with Alicia Keys’ “New York,” has been dunked to death with Swift’s weak tea of a paean to her adopted city.  Question: can a person adopt a city if the city does not want to adopt that person?

Unless…maybe today’s New York City and Taylor Swift actually DESERVE each other. Have we come to the point where the craven commercialism that underlies all we do here finally has hit rock bottom?  Have we really become that bland?  That boring?  Are we such weak tea that even a born-and-bred NY’er such as Lena Dunham (ugh, I shudder to utter the name) is passed over by NYCgo.com?

Taylor Swift, in her nycgo.com video, teaches the world how to properly pronounce Houston Street.  She dutifully and earnestly explains that “bodegas are our friend.”

What pops into my head?  The old Wayans Brothers skit, “mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money.”  Check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7AL44keDZw

Because a huckster is a huckster is a huckster, right Tay Tay?  To quote George Orwell, from his classic, “Animal Farm“: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”


1970: The Year It All Went Wrong

Fall and, in particular, Rosh Hashanah, is a time of quiet contemplation.  As I creakily lurch from middle age to late middle age, to old age, I think about things.  Kind of like Michael Corleone in Godfather III, in his chair, pensive, dead leaves skittering across the yard, thinking about the past.

What do I think about, as I stare at the ceiling, 3 o’clock in the morning?

  • Would the world be better off without the Internet?
  • Who’s better: the Stones or the Beatles?
  • Is there such thing as Unconditional Parental love?
  • When did it all go wrong, here in this country?  When did it REALLY start to metastasize?

Recently, I saw “The Roosevelts” on PBS.  And President Obama was right, although it was not expressed particularly gracefully.  “Messy stuff always happens.”  No matter when you look in history, bad stuff was going on.

So what was the tipping point, for me? I think about it and think about it, determined to find fault, point my finger in blame.  Here’s what I come up with: 1970.

Yeah, 1970 was the real pivot point.

Here’s a snapshot of life in 1970:

  • Air travel was glamorous
  • David Crosby sang “Almost Cut My Hair” — and we took it seriously, with nary a trace of irony
  • Organized labor was a force – and had to be, since the go-go economy of the 60s started to sputter, as the cost of prosecuting the Viet Nam war fueled inflation, which put pressure on buying power
  • Unions came under tremendous pressure, blue-collar buying power began to erode
  • Social mores in the 60s changed.  The so-called greatest generation, and younger blue-collar workers, got their knickers in a twist and their frustration escalated to “acting out.”

Unions wielded great power.  Here is a brief list of labor strikes nationally and right here in New York:

  • NYC Teachers Strike ‘68
  • U.S. Post Office ‘70
  • GM ‘70
  • NYC Police ‘71
  • Longshoremen ‘71
  • UAW Lordstown – Chevy ‘72

That year, 1970:

  • Nixon was president
  • The Viet Nam war dragged on.  It was a war we saw in our living rooms, every night.  Body bags, body bags, body bags, on evening news.
  • Here in NYC, white flight and block-busting took off. White ethnics fled to the first ring suburbs: Long Island, NJ, Westchester.  Blockbusting was rampant, as brokers bought a couple of houses, sold them to blacks, and BAM! It was a race of the whites as to who could get out the fastest. There were moving vans in the area every day.
  • Crime and drugs in the inner city became more prevalent
  • Panic in Needle Park came out in ’71.  Pacino’s second picture.  Where was Needle Park?  Picture 72nd and Broadway – that was “needle park.” An open air smack bazaar.
  • The first draft lottery had just been conducted in December of ‘69
  • Yes, we had a military draft: only for men.  If you were 19 years, 2 months and 1A status, you got a letter from your Uncle Sam.  When you passed your induction physical, you were in, for two years.  Drafted.
    • For some, your country has called.  You go.
    • For others, you worked the system.
      • American Friends on Rutherford Place
      • School draft counselors
      • Canada
      • National Guard
      • Labor was for Nixon’s Viet Nam war, even as Republican support of labor eroded
      • George Meany and his AFL-CIO were vehemently anti-communist and supported US involvement in southeast Asia.
  • Rank and file was split; their sons were the ones going; not those who had student deferments
    • Here, locally, Peter Brennan was president of the Greater NY building and construction trades council.  A strong supporter of the war.  He had been a strong Democratic supporter and fund raiser and now supported Republican candidates, as support for skilled labor unions ebbed.  The deal was, Brennan helps Nixon and, come ’72, he’d become Secretary of Labor
  • U.S. military deaths in Viet Nam
    • 17,000 in ‘68
    • 12,000 in ‘69
  • In 1970, the rift between the left and right exploded
  • May 1: U.S. Troops invade Cambodia
  • May 4: Students at Kent State Protest Incursion into Cambodia – 4 students shot dead by National Guardsmen
  • May 8: New York City Hardhat Riots

The hard hat riots.  Right here in NYC.  “Bloody Friday.”

I was too young for college (16) and had flunked out after two years, and reclassified 1A, from 2S.  My draft lottery number was 86.  Very bad number.  I remember I wanted to buy my first car.  A four year old, ’66 VW Karmann Ghia, $635 dollars.  I saved up the money from working in the Mount Vernon sectional center of the Post Office, from 3  p.m. to 11 p.m. (after classes, which ended at 1:30 p.m.). I was making big money, $170/week, but it was no wonder I flunked out.  I was exhausted and could care less about my studies.

My father, a WWII vet, said, in his typically sensitive way – sensitive as a toilet seat — “Whatta gonna buy the car for?  You’re gonna be drafted.”

He was almost right.  Given my 1A classification, I got a letter to report at 7 a.m. on, you guessed it, May 8th, 1970, for my pre-induction physical  I felt like this was a death warrant.

I also felt quite conflicted.  At 19, my father was fighting in the frozen snow of Belgium, in the Battle of the Bulge.  At 19, I was petrified of getting shot to death in some rice paddy in southeast Asia.  On some level, I wondered: what the fuck was wrong with me?  If my dad could do it, why couldn’t I?

I was at the famous 39 Whitehall Street induction center, a joyless old building in the financial district.  It even looked mean.  The windows on the ground floor had slits, like mean eyes staring at you.  It was designed that way, to prevent attacks from angry mobs.

Being a mature and responsible young adult, I closed the Teepee Inn, a bar on Jerome Avenue and Kingsbridge Road, the night before.  I overslept my 7 a.m. appearance time for my physical and la-dee-daa’d in at around 8:45 a.m.  I figured my goose was cooked so, you know, WTF.

I sat and watched tv in the waiting room.  Cartoons were playing, Looney Tunes.  So there I sat, still totally drunk, awaiting the inevitable, as the Porky Pig “that’s all folks!!” sign-off mocked me.

As instructed by the soldiers there, I stripped down to “shorts, shoes and socks…” and went from station to station, from inspector to inspector.  Imagine lines and lines of draft-age men snaking through an interior of pea green paint, each one at some point being instructed, “Turn your head and cough.” Cough. “Again.”

At some point, later in the morning, I heared loud chanting from outside, screaming and chanting.  It seemed to get louder and louder, even as the southern sergeant drawled, “Mr. Kleinman, I am sorry to inform you that you are unfit for duty in the armed forces of the United states of America.”

I got a 4-F form and two subway tokens.

I went outside, into a maelstrom.  It was a whirlwind.  Like the ending of the novel “Day of the Locusts.” Just frenzy.

These construction workers were US!!!  They were union guys, the little guy!!! How did they get so bamboozled? Why did they want to physically hurt us?

These guys were like the older brothers of friends of mine, in NY’s City College.  We were hardly elites.  We were strivers, trying to get just a bit more up the rung than our parents, who were first generation Americans.  All our grandparents, whether from Italy, Ireland, Greece or, in my case, Lithuania, were non-native English speakers, self-taught, with funny accents.  We all wanted desperately to assimilate fully.  In retrospect, this may have accounted for the passion of our elders to be “American” and embrace the flag.

What I remember most, was the feeling of terror.  The beating given out by the construction workers, as the cops just stood there.  The horses, all in a line.  Sooo big.  The screaming.

The mob headed east, towards Wall Street and the Treasury building.  I actually walked back into 39 Whitehall to wait a while.  Then, I went out again and hopped onto the uptown 1 train, and hoped no one came after me.  The train came, up from South Ferry.  I took it all the way up to 207th street and walked all the way across the bridge, up the steep hill, to my Bronx apartment.

First thing I did was call the cute nurse who was selling the VW and told her I was ready to seal the deal.  Then, that very afternoon, I filed for re-matriculation and registered, late, for two summer school courses.  I aced them both, got my ass in gear, and got re-matriculated and, ultimately, graduated.

I stay up at night, thinking about these things. And more.  To wit:

  • Greatest Generation: were they really?  Discuss…
    • Yes, they survived the Depression
    • They beat Hitler, that bastard
    • And then, any critical thinking skills they may have had seemed to have stopped
      • America, love it or leave it: that’s what they had to offer
      • No flexibility, no desire for change
      • They turned on their own sons and daughters, so easily, so handily
      • And social issues carried the day with them to the point where, to this day, they voted against their own best interests: union guys, rust belters in declining industrial areas, family farmers

So this, for me, was the marking point of where America went off the track: the Hard Hat riots of May 1970.

And what I’m saddest about, on a personal and a macro level, is that I saw upfront and personal, that Unconditional Parental love was not a given.  Not by a longshot.

The good news of all this: I learned the value of respect, kindness and open-mindedness towards opposing points of view and, when I did become a parent 17 years later, I made damn sure that I remembered those 1A days, when generation was pitted against generation, and class warfare ruled the day, fueled by crafty politicians making lucrative backroom deals.