Wednesday, June 21, 2017

THE GREAT GATSBY - F. SCOTT FITZGERALD

Original Dust Jacket Cover

I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it—overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands(Jordan - The Great Gatsby)

That's a great sentence, and I love New York on summer afternoons, but that was a long while ago because nowadays on summer afternoons, New York is full of tourists. Ironically, the place where you might feel that lethargy would be where the Fitzgerald's were living - at Great Neck on the North Shore of Long Island - when Scott Fitzgerald started writing The Great Gatsby. To economize, the Fitzgerald's rented a house at 6 Gateway Drive for $300 a month (they had been paying $200 a week to live at the Plaza).

Fitzgerald Home 1922-1924

Fitzgerald wrote the first 3 chapters of Gatsby at Great Neck (the house is still there) and finished the manuscript when they moved to the French Riviera - which was a cheaper place to live than Great Neck. At that time.

Unlike Hemingway and Wolfe, Fitzgerald didn't swear. The worst he might call someone was a "colossal egg." So, his attitude about the neighborhood was evident in calling it West Egg. When he and Zelda lived there, 1922-1924, the neighbors were a mixture of old and new money - Groucho Marx and Samuel Goldwyn had houses in that part of Long Island along with Jock Whitney, William K. Vanderbilt (now Eagle's Nest Museum) and Otto Kahn (now Oheka Castle Hotel. Kahn's Manhattan house/castle is now a private school right across the street from the Carnegie Museum).

There's a Great Gatsby boat tour: http://greatgatsbyboattour.org/ so you can see the houses along the Gold Coast. Some of the houses from the book have been torn down - most notably Lands End which could have been the Buchanan's or Gatsby's house.  And although many people guess which houses on the Gold Coast were used in the movie, there weren't any, because the movie was filmed in Australia.
Lands End Estate
For me, the most memorable scenes in The Great Gatsby are not at the houses, but are the ones involving the creepy sign with the eyes.

The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic—their retinas are one yard high. They look out of no face, but instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. (The Great Gatsby)


I imagined a pair of eyes and round spectacles swinging from a pole extended from a building. And I thought the sign was in Red Hook, believing that the drive Gatsby and the Buchanans took from Long Island to the City was through Brooklyn because I thought East Egg was East Hampton.


But the book was really so clear about them driving through Queens.


The city seen from Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world…. ‘Anything can happen now that we’ve slid across this bridge,’ I thought. ‘Anything at all. (Nick - The Great Gatsby)

The place where the creepy sign was supposedly located is now the site of Shea Stadium.


.

[NOTE: The Great Gatsby is not my favorite Fitzgerald book. My favorite is a book of short stories set on a studio lot in Los Angeles - The Pat Hobby Stories. They are hilarious.]


Thursday, June 8, 2017

RED HOOK - From Shipping Center to Shopping Center

In my opinion, Red Hook, is the best name of any of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn and had a romantic and daring history. Red Hook was known for being the center of the shipping industry in New York and for crime, violent crime, murderous crime. The Gallo family lived here. Lately, it was where you could visit to buy drugs easily on a street corner. So, to distract from that legacy, there's a new name. The realtors have taken to calling parts of Red Hook the "Columbia Street Waterfront District." Doesn't have quite the same ring to it and takes much longer to say. But Red Hook is so up-and-coming that Tesla, the motor car company, has a showroom there.

Red Hook was a working class and low-income area at a Southwest point of Brooklyn. The mouth of the Gowanus Canal is at the edge of Red Hook. It's surrounded by water on three sides, and when I first visited Red Hook, it felt like more like the sea than anywhere in Brooklyn - like sailors and people who understood how to build and repair ships and sails and net. It used to be a site of shipping commerce, but the people of commerce lived in Brooklyn Heights. The people who moved commerce lived in Red Hook.

Near the waterfront, there were two-story wooden houses paint fading from blues and greens, some had portholes in the front doors, some had life preservers hanging the front walls. They are being torn down for the sake of development. Farther into the neighborhood were 2-story red brick houses and some made of limestone.

Red Hook still has the oldest warehouse in Brooklyn (called "stores" when they were built) now turned into an arts complex, Brooklyn Waterfront Artists. Nearby, there's another warehouse turned into Fairway Market - a very nice supermarket right at water's edge with a place where you can eat the sandwiches you buy inside. And next to that is the Waterfront Barge Museum - not much to see, but fun to be inside an old barge.

Just down the street, there was for a while an old abandoned Revere Sugar Refinery. I saw it was decaying, but historic and worth restoring. The refinery was last owned by a Philippine investor and once there was a drug bust netting 307 pounds of cocaine - which I guess they were exporting or importing as powdered sugar. Anyway, the sugar mill is gone and currently, there are plans to build a hi-tech complex on that site that will "bring jobs" into the area (and will also bring the people to work those jobs who will drive out the current residents).



Home Depot and Ikea are already in Red Hook, and right in between those two megastore lies a large public housing unit - Red Hook East and Red Hook West. In getting permission from the City to build the Ikea and Home Depot, the claim was that they would create jobs for people living in the nearby public housing. So I ask, how many people have you ever found to help you at Ikea? Or at Home Depot? Can you imagine the musical chairs that went on in applying for those 15 or 20 jobs?

Not sure if it is still there, but one of the Red Hook schools used an old playground to build planters for a raised garden and taught children how to grow vegetables and learn about nutrition.

There's also a 3-acre community garden near the public housing project in Red Hook where local residents grow and sell produce.  How long before realtors discover this "waste" of land?

Since Brooklyn is now an uber-expensive place to live, I suggest you visit Red Hook before everything historic and local is wiped away.



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

BROOKLYN TERMINAL MARKET

Brooklyn Terminal Market, Carnarsie
April showers brought May flowers. And that meant a trip to Brooklyn Terminal Market. It's in Carnasie, but now that Brooklyn has surpassed Manhattan as the most expensive place to live in the US, who knows how long it will be there before moving to the Bronx - maybe next door to the Fulton Fish Market. I haven't traveled to the Bronx to see the "New" Fulton Fish Market, as it is called, but I did visit it when it was on the Lower East Side of Manhattan near the Brooklyn Bridge. It opened in 1822 and was exiled in 2005 when real estate developers pushed it out.

But, in the meantime, you can still visit the Brooklyn Terminal Market, which is a bit newer. It was opened during World War II (1942) by Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia (for whom the airport is named in case you haven't figured that out.) Food rationing started in 1940, but rationingn didn't apply to produce (only meat and dairy). There were still farms on Long Island so New Yorkers had a source of fresh food during the war. Currently, there are 33 vendors open every day 4 a.m. to 6 p.m.selling produce and plants. I have no idea where they come from. Could be some from upstate, maybe Pennsylvania. Where do we still have produce grown in the US? ***

Hard to believe this is the middle of Brooklyn
I went to the Terminal Market a couple of times on a Sunday morning with my landlord. You can get there by bus or taxi (subway isn't nearby), but we rode bikes. There isn't much traffic on Sunday morning in Brooklyn, so we rode down Flatbush Avenue to Clarendon Road and headed east. At the corner of Clarendon and Ralph Avenue, he pointed out the Wyckoff House Museum, telling me that was the oldest house in the United States. He got that wrong. It is the second-oldest house in the US and was built in 1650, amazingly. The oldest house is in Plymouth, Mass. [the oldest building is in Taos, New Mexico - 1000 years old]. The Wyckoff House is a one-room house that sits back from the street on 1-1/2 acres of land.

Anyway, our purpose in going to Terminal Market was that my landlord wanted to buy garden plants. I never bought any plants because he wouldn't let anyone touch his garden let alone plant in it. However, without asking, he didn't mind jumping the back fences and planting in a neighbor's backyard or pruning their trees. [Not kidding.] There were also little square plots of garden in front of our row of houses, then a little wall, then the 10-foot wide sidewalk. My landlord planted flowers in other people's front plots as well as his own. That way, he could still buy plants when his garden was completely full, which it pretty much was at all times.

The plants at Terminal Market were in rows and rows mainly in the sun, like you find at Home Depot, but somehow different. Partly, it's the choices - the chain stores have to buy the same plants, whereas the vendors at Terminal Market get to make choices. And partly it's the people - Terminal Market is made up of 33 different small stores, some wholesale and some retail, and they are more vested in their work and more knowledgeable than the hourly workers at the chain nurseries.

Some plants were in stores inside the building, alongside aside the produce vendors who sold by the pound and in bulk. You could get a 50-pound bag of potatoes. I didn't. I don't recall buying anything, actually, but it was really nice walking around all the flowers and plants and the mounds and mounds of fresh fruit and vegetables. Vendors also had flower-shop supplies - vases, florist wire, green tape, that sort of thing - and holiday decorations (all holidays).

Brooklyn Terminal Market, a bit of Old Brooklyn. Visit it. Before it's gone.


*** [The area around Redlands, California where my aunt lived used to be a heaven of scent in April because it was covered in orange trees in bloom. Now it's covered in houses and cement]

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

GRAND CENTRAL STATION

There are several entrances to Grand Central Station. If you enter on the east, you can pass through a market filled with fresh loaves of bread, cheese that can be sliced to your order, jams, jellies, caviar, fruit, vegetables arrayed like they are ready for their close-up. If you enter from Vanderbilt Avenue on the west side across the street from the Yale Club, you'll find restaurants and shops. The north entrance seems the least interesting, but has some fine restaurants.

Photo by R_Murphy

But, really, the best way to enter the station is from 42nd Street, especially if you can walk north a few blocks toward it and see the old Pan Am building behind the station like a backdrop. Above the entrance is the Tiffany clock surrounded by Roman gods - Mercury, Minerva, and Hercules. You begin to expect something grand from this viewpoint.
You'll pass through heavy oak and glass doors into a room that houses the photography and art exhibitions whenever they are held. Then you pass into the main terminal with it's vaulted, and exalted, ceiling painted with the constellations of the zodiac. The old ticket windows are still there along the wall, and the four-faced clock is the above the information booth. Across the way are the numbered entrances for the tracks for the trains heading out to Westchester County or Connecticut. And there are people many people, crisscrossing the room, going somewhere, coming from somewhere.

...the million tongues of the unceasing, the fabulous, the million-footed city...(Thomas Wolfe)  

This is New York.

Most of the station's 49 acres is underground. Beside the Metro North trains, you can get subway trains 4, 5 to the Bronx or Brooklyn, the 6 train north to the Bronx, the 7 train to Queens, or S train to Times Square. There's also a special underground line - no longer used nor available for public view - from Grand Central to the Waldorf Astoria. This was so that Franklin D. Roosevelt would not be seen by the public as traveled to and from the hotel and was helped in and out of the train due to his physical disabilities.

T
The Oyster Bar, which opened in 1913 along with the Station, is also underground.  You can still sit at the bar, or a table if you prefer, under the vaulted ceilings and think about all the people who have eaten here before you.  Since almost a million people a day pass through the station on a daily basis, that would be a lot.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MRS. LESLIE TAKES A VACAy

The Talent Agent

This is an 11-minute film I made in Brooklyn.  It started with getting a new camera and wanting to play around with it - so I asked Cameron Cash to just make up a monologue and start talking (he plays "Chaz Grant" in the movie.  I then built the rest of the movie around that.

https://youtu.be/oqmCVcKGTlE 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

THE EASTER DAY HAT PARADE


The Easter Day Parade of fashion started in the 1880s. Easter, being the holiest day of Christianity, required even the least devout to attend services and look their best. Everyone got a new set of clothes, and of course, wanted to show them off.

The Easter Parade started as an after-church event that allowed Catholics and Protestants to compete in style and be seen fashionably. Although the current parade is limited - at least by police barriers - to 49th Street, the original parade probably extended down to 29th Street, the location of the Marble Collegiate Church (Dutch Reform).


The church parishioners involved in the early parades were from, of course, St. Patrick's Cathedral (50th-51st Streets), St. Thomas's Episcopal (53rd St.), Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church (55th St.), and most likely the "off-Fifth Avenue" churches, like St. Bartholomew's Episcopal on Park Avenue and 50th. 

At the time the Easter Parade began, these churches were surrounded by the mansions of the New York elite and robber barrons. St. Thomas Episcopal was the church of the Astors and Vanderbilts. Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church was Carnegie's church.

The modern-day parade has parameters running from 49th Street to 57th Street during the hours 10a - 4p. Fifth Avenue is blocked off so although it is crowded it isn't impassable. Everyone is encouraged to "dress up" (meaning, at least wear some kind of gaudy hat). There are a lot of really inventive hats, even on pets.

I took part in the Easter Parade once with a friend. I didn't make much of an effort - I wore my dad's golf hat - because I really just wanted to watch. My friend, who worked in fashion, didn't wear a hat at all. We spent about an hour on the sidewalk near St. Patrick's Cathedral and then went to lunch.

The parade had ended by the time we finished eating and crowds of people were headed for the subway. The sidewalk was jammed and I was ambling with my friend as fast as the foot traffic in front of us would allow me. A large man behind me thought I was walking too slowly and said so a few times before he came around me huffily and accidentally knocking me about a little. My friend, who was (and continues to be) over 6 feet tall, made a rather impolite suggestion to the man. Instead of confronting my friend, the man turned around and confronted me - telling me to go back to Ohio.

"But I live in Brooklyn," I said.

More perplexed than ever, he rushed away.

At any rate, at least once in a lifetime, everyone should make a hat and attend the Easter Parade in New York or somewhere.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

CREATIVE NEW YORK

The other day I did a virtual tightrope walk across from one of the Twin Towers in New York toward the other. I was 100 stories above New York and it was really fun to step off the tightrope and walk on air, looking down. This was my view.


I was not in New York when Philippe Petit made that unbelievable walk - try to imagine it - but it is the sort of extraordinary event that happens in New York regularly. Of course, it takes bravery to express your art form anywhere, and Petit was arrested for his feat, but these sorts of things renew the heart. The bravery, the skill, the expression and not for money.

It's wasn't as exciting as the tightrope walk, but in a grimy, loud, coarse city like New York, there's an element of magic in seeing Christo's series of door frames built from 2x4s with orange half curtains set up in Central Park. On a dreary day, it was a bit of cheer as well, and visceral because you could touch them.



There are art openings, music events, live artistic expressions of all sorts in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and I presume, the other boroughs, but one event that stays riveted in my memory is Gregory Colbert's "container museum" that was docked on the west side of Manhattan for an extended stay. It was a structure made from old metal shipping containers. Long and wide, it was 45,000 square feet and the exhibition in it was called "Ashes and Snow."



Enlarged photographs were hung from the ceiling on two sides, creating an aisle with plenty of room to walk behind artwork. The photographs were still frames from a movie that was showing at the far end of the museum. The photographs were stunning, but the film was the most beautiful I have ever seen. You can see some of it here: https://gregorycolbert.com/ And on that website you can find out where you can now see Colbert's extraordinary work - it's gone from New York a long time now.
                                               


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

THE ST. PATRICK'S DAY PARADE

I have never been to Boston on March 17th, but I think New York does a pretty good job of celebrating Saint Patrick's Day. Of course the pubs are jammed, and there are shamrocks and all sorts of sparkly green googahs in the store windows and on people's bodies. It's the biggest holiday alongside Christmas. Even strangers on the subway will ask, "where's your green?" A traditional job for the Irish was on the police force and they are out in full, participating in the giant parade down Fifth Avenue.

About 150,000 people march in the parade, so if you want to join in, here are couple of suggestions for how to do that. If you have time, you can find a group that's committed to march and contact them before parade day and ask to join them. Or you can find a group that are not wearing uniforms and mingle in where they are congregated before the parade starts - meaning, talk to them. Once their group gets the signal to join the parade, jump in and start marching with them. One year, I did that. I only marched a few blocks with police detectives, but it was really fun to be a part of it.

The parade starts at a decent hour, 11 a.m., in midtown around 44th Street near St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.  From there, it proceeds north up Fifth Avenue to 79th Street. A few zillion people line the parade route - all wearing green hats or sunglasses or shirts, coats, shoes. All loud and cheerful. It's a green day. And this year, it will be a green day against a background of slushy snow.

New York has a law that you can't drink outside - not even on your own front porch - so there's no beer bottles to get broken and hurt someone, but there are plenty of bars along the parade route and they will be rocking. Also, no animals allowed, so you won't trip over a dog leash when you come back outside from the pub.


Of course, if it's your birthday and you live in sunny Los Angeles well...that's a different story.
Happy Birthday, Cameron!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

LADY RANDOLPH CHURCHILL, BROOKLYNITE

If you watched Downton Abbey, then you know that many of the great British estates were saved from the auction block and the lords who owned them were saved from bankruptcy by fortuitous marriages to American heiresses. Not just any old American heiresses, but the cream of the crop. Daughter of William K. Vanderbilt, Consuelo Vanderbilt, married Charles Churchill to become the Duchess of Marlboro, and her friend, Jeanette (Jennie) Jerome, married Charles' younger brother Lord Randolph Churchill.

Lady Randolph Churchill née Jeanette Jerome (aka Jennie) was born in Brooklyn, more precisely, at 426 Henry Street. There's a plaque commemorating her birth there, although that was not her family's home. The mythology is that her uncle lived at Henry Street and the Jerome's were visiting when Clara Jerome went into labor. The Jerome's, at that time lived nearby in a brick row house at 8 Amity Street which has been renumbered as 197 Amity Street. It's bit confusing, and there is also some confusion as to the spelling of her name - Jenny or Jennie?

Jennie's father, Leonard Jerome, lost and made several fortunes in his career and must have been between fortunes at the time of Jennie was born. He became a speculator in railroads and whatnot with Cornelius Vanderbilt and became rich again so that a few years after Jennie's birth, Jerome moved his wife and daughters to a house in Manhattan at the corner of 26th St. and Madison Avenue. It was a very big house. The breakfast room could hold 70 people. My. That house was torn down in 1967, lasting over 100 years. [William K. Vanderbilt had a similarly-sized house at the corner of 5th Avenue and 51st Street]

Jerome loved horses and partnered with the Commodore's son, William K. Vanderbilt (Consuelo's father), to start the American Jockey Club, the Coney Island Jockey Club, and build a racetrack in Brooklyn. The Sheepshead Bay Race Track is now disappeared into real estateville although Jerome Street in still runs between 16th St. and 22nd St. Jerome and August Belmont also built a race track in the Bronx where they held the first Belmont Stakes in 1867 (Belmont Stakes is now held at Belmont Park on Long Island).

Jerome was lavishly generous with his wife and daughters and encouraged them to enjoy life, something Jennie would take to heart. Along with her mother and sisters, Jennie spent summers in France, which is where Jennie met Lord Randolph Churchill. The story is that they got engaged three days after they met, but the dowry settlement took months to a negotiate because Randolph's mother disliked Jennie and wasn't about to sell her son into marriage for a pittance. As soon as the dowry contract was signed, Randolph and Jennie married quietly, and their son Winston Churchill was born prematurely 7 months later.

After the Lord Randolph Churchill's had two children, Randolph became ill (it isn't proven, but claimed that he died of syphilis - could have been a brain tumor). Jennie began to take after her philandering father. She had affairs with the German Kaiser, the future king of England and other powerful men who woud later help further Winston's career.

After Randolph died, forty-one year old Jennie remained in England and married George Cornwallis-West, a man 20 years younger than she. They divorced and a few years later, she married Montagu Phippen Porch, a civil servant 23 years younger than she.

Her young husband was in Africa when Jennie had a fall that broke her anke. She was wearing high heeled shoes and slipped on the stairs at a friend's home. The break was tremendous and the ankle gangrened. Jennie's leg was amputated above the knee, apparently not in a skilled manner, because shortly after the surgery an artery in her thigh hemorrhaged and she died in 1821 at 67 years of age.

Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill was buried in the Churchill family plot in Oxforshire.


[Leonard Jerome, by the way, was interred at Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.]


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

VALENTINE'S DAY IN NEW YORK

There are paper hearts and candy hearts and all sorts of other hearts in the store windows and multitudes of flowers in buckets set on the sidewalks outside the bodegas and grocery stores. Bakery windows display heart-shaped cakes and all sorts of creamy desserts. Manicure salons grab your attention with heart-shaped balloons tied to their metal stands propped on the sidewalk advertising specials. Restaurants hire people to hand out flyers with their Valentine's dinner menus printed on them. There is no way to forget Valentine's Day in New York.

And, it's like New Year's Eve, you feel left out if you don't have a date. Buying yourself a heart-shaped box of candy isn't going to make up for that. And you can buy yourself flowers any old day. For me and some of my friends, the best way to feel pampered is to have high tea at an elegant establishment. And there is no more elegant establishment for that than Lady Mendl's Tea Room.

Lady Mendl's is inside the INN located at 56 Irving Place right in the midst of the Irving Place Historical District in Manhattan, just a block away from Union Square. Irving Place is lined with row houses built in the mid-19th Century that are designated by New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission and are saved from real estate developers. Already, you feel like you are stepping back in time as you leave the glass and steel City behind for Edith Wharton's era.

The Inn is a combination of two row houses creating one hotel. From the sidewalk, you climb the stone stairs and enter the lobby through a tall, heavy mahogany door. The tea salon is off the lobby to the left. This is the front parlor of a house and has windows looking onto Irving Place. The front parlor flows into a back parlor through pocket doors. The windows in the back room overlook a small garden. The oak floors, that creak in places, are covered in Persian carpets.

I was at Lady Mendl's on a misty, winter day with my friend Christine who was visiting from Texas. The fireplace was lit and we sat looking onto the wet street and watched the cars and people passing by without hearing them at all. We could hear the fire crackling, the clink of porcelain china and glass, and people in soft conversation around us. Tables are laid with floor-length white cloths. Silverware and glasses gleam and shimmers with the candlelight on each table. There are flowers on the table at Lady Mendl's every day, not just February 14.

Guests choose from a multitude of teas on the menu. Each patron gets a full pot of their own tea, but taste-testing each others choice is encouraged. High tea begins with a salad and moves on to quartered sandwiches, tea cakes, and of course, scones with clotted cream and fruit.


There is no rush. It's like you're visiting a friend and perhaps should leave a calling card when you leave.   

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

THERE ARE LOTS OF WAYS TO BE A VALENTINE

I was always trying to meet new people and try new things and that's how I got myself involved in a "volunteer" group. I found the notice and called Brianna. We talked for a while about what she intended to get going and I agreed to meet with the startup group in a community center gymnasium in Bath Beach.

photo by Dave Golland


Bath Beach is a small Brooklyn neighborhood between Bay Ridge and Gravesend on the water. It's one of the first African American neighborhoods in New York - freed slaves were given a parcel of land here in the mid-19th century. Nowadays, it's small row houses and apartment building.

Although it was about five miles from where I was living and I could probably have driven there in 10 or 15 minutes. Instead, I took two trains to get there, and in the evening when the trains are running slower, it took about an hour.

I guess there were about a dozen women who were interested in somehow contributing to the community. At that first meeting we just talked and arranged to meet at Brianna's apartment after that and she would cook for everyone. The next meeting there were only six women, which was good because Brianna's apartment was about 300 square feet. We didn't get anything accomplished as to setting up a goal for the group, but the food was great, and Brianna had found a volunteering job in Manhattan which I offered to fill. That's how I met Jeet.

Jeet was a middle aged doctor, an Indian from the Brahma class, who had lost his eyesight in a car accident. He needed someone to read for him. Read his mail, magazine articles he was interested, advertising flyers from the grocery store, etc. I went into Manhattan, and on that first Saturday morning, we met in a downstairs meeting room in the apartment building where he lived. After about three Saturdays, he invited me to come up to his apartment to read to him there.

It got to be really fun because he made tea with boiled milk (instead of water) and we started watching Indian movies on TV. These were movies about the Indian gods and goddesses and their battles and machinations. Jeet knew them by heart and he explained the relationships of all the people and the deities. After a while, we started going out to run errands. Jeet was prolific on his computer, which not only had a keyboard, but used voice command and he liked to get the latest gadgets.

Jeet was starting an online health food business with a partner, and eventually he started breaking our commitment time to work on that, and I faded out of his life as an assistant. But I learned a lot from being around him. First of all, that there is no excuse not to move forward. He never seemed depressed.

I continued to attend Brianna's group for the few months they met. The group just didn't gel on a goal and it fell apartment and we lost touch. She helped me learn that there is always a place to love.


Meantime, the big day is coming and I remind myself that there are lots of ways to be a Valentine. Just a smile will do it.    

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

TRUE LOVE AT BARBÈS

Lovers of Teruel

February, being a month of love, I begin with a story that happened at Barbès, a music and arts venue located near the corner of 9th Street and 6th Avenue in Park Slope. Barbès runs the full length of the ground floor of a converted brownstone house - so it's long and thin. There a bar running half the length of the front room as well as tables and chairs. An archway/door leads into the back part where the musicians perform and there are chairs in rows. There is live jazz/world music every night at Barbès. You can check their calendar here:


http://www.barbesbrooklyn.com/calendar.html ).

Early in the evening on some nights, before the musicians set up, there are (or were, I haven't been in a while) other types of artistic presentations which I think are arranged by the hosts of those events. The night I am writing about, I was there with a friend to listen to his friend, an author, reading from her newly-published book.

After the reading and Q&A, my friend Sergio and I went into the front section of Barbès and were lucky enough to get a table. We ordered something to drink and were talking and looking around at the people. That's when I spotted a couple across the room standing at the wall.

They were about the same height. She was in heels and he was about an inch taller than her - maybe 5'7". Both of them were blond - dusky blond and 28 years old, maybe. His hair was short and wavy. Hers was curled and shoulder length. I presumed, rightly or wrongly, from his tan work boots that he worked in construction. He certainly seemed to have strength. She wore a dress, a dark red wraparound dress. It wasn't seductive, not low cut or too tight, just very feminine. Her shoes were black, with thick heels, not spiky. He wore a t-shirt, jacket, and jeans. None of this matters.

He reminded me of a humble farmer, confused by women, and loving this one.  A man so in love that I couldn't stop watching him. How did I know? I'm not sure I can explain. It was his body language. His one arm holding a beer bottle, but not in front of his body to defend himself, but rather, straight out from his elbow. His other arm hung at his side - no hand in his pocket. His chest was open, his heart available to her. He didn't shuffle his feet nervously. And he never took his eyes away from her. She so obviously knew he was smitten and that may have given her confidence because she was animated and did most of the talking, none of which I could hear. But she wasn't playing with him. I could see by the way she looked away every once in a while for a millisecond, that she just didn't know what to do about this man who looked at her so intently.

Then something happened to break my heart.


She took his empty beer bottle and walked away to get them another drink. And then, he looked at the floor. Yes, in a room full of distraction, pretty women, conversations, the sound of the music that had begun playing, he looked at the floor. Waiting. Waiting for her to return. And when she did, he didn't smile, he just looked at her again. The sun had gone away behind a cloud and now it was back and he turned his face toward it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzZ_urpj4As


Thursday, January 26, 2017

QUEENS - Jackson Heights

My friend Phil introduced me to the Indian cultural enclave in Jackson Heights one Sunday afternoon when he drove me there for lunch. I can't tell you how to get to Jackson Heights by car, but from Manhattan you can take the 7-train to 82nd Street stop. This is one of those above-ground train station with a descending staircase covered with awning that you see in movies. I guess this keeps the stairs from icing over in the winter.

The Indian restaurants and stores begin right next to the subway station and spread generally within the radius of 71st to 76th Streets between 37th and Roosevelt Streets. There are a lot to choose from, but you really can't miss in picking a restaurant there. Manhattan has a lot of Indian restaurants, especially in the East Village, but the restaurants in Jackson Heights have a much more space and are able to offer a larger assortment of food at their buffets. Phil and I ate at Indian Taj several times, but another time on the way to a Mets game, I ate with friends at Samudra, which bills itself as a "humble locale for vegetarian Indian fare."

Most of Jackson Heights is listed as a National Register Historic District as well a New York Register Historic District, so the buildings are old-school New York architecture. In this section of Jackson Heights, thought, you don't notice the buildings because they are taken over by the colorful expression of Hindu culture. After your meal, there's a feast for the eyes as you wander through the Indian stores selling beautiful sari fabrics, gold jewelry, incense and Hindu statues. There are women on the street in elegant and colorful saris, too. The best time for wandering around is in warmer weather when the smaller stores open onto the sidewalk and your eye gets drawn to the sparkly cushion covers in peacock colors and the lanterns blowing in the breeze above them.

After all that wandering and sight-seeing, if you haven't had enough feasting, you can explore the rest of Jackson Heights and see the historic architecture that has been preserved. Or you can come back another time.



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

THE MAN WHO THREATENED TO KILL ME

One evening I was riding home from Manhattan to Brooklyn and there was a man sitting on a seat at the very end of the train. Everyone who entered the train moved away from him quickly. Along with fidgeting and mumbling, he was wiping yogurt out of a container with his fingers and licking them.

Homeless people ride the trains. Some of them are cleanish - meaning they looked weathered but don't smell. They just want a place to sleep. Less often, you find someone who hasn't bathed in a year, and the smell of urine and body odor and goodness knows what else is overpowering. Those people get a car all to themselves.

This particular man was very unusual. There was something beautiful about him. He looked to be in his 30s. His face was tanned, but not leathery, and his thick, black beard reached to his chest.. He was barefoot, but his feet hadn't calloused. His hands were gentle looking, the nails were dirty, but not ridged or discolored. His hair was long, curly, and shiny. His clothes weren't mismatched and raggedy. They were stained, but looked a bit preppy. I figured him to be off his meds.

I knew a woman in New York who took psychotropic drugs. She found it hard to concentrate and impossible to write while she was taking the correct dosages. Sometimes she stopped so she could write something and then she'd get manic, ending up in the psych ward for evaluation. It seemed like a hellish way to live. Feel nothing or feel crazy.

I don't know how long it takes to grow a beard down to your chest, but I expect it would take a few weeks. But he just couldn't be that clean if he'd been sleeping on the street that long. In fact, I now realize that he surely had an apartment where that he could shower, change clothes, and walk out barefoot. If I had realized that at the time, I wouldn't have done what I did. Which was to take a few dollars out of my wallet and drop them on the seat next to him when I exited the train.

Oh boy.

He jumped up and started screaming at me DON'T YOU DARE GIVE ME MONEY as he tore the money and threw it out the door onto the train platform not far from where I was standing. Other people hurried away. I stood there anchored, watching him. He screamed, I'LL KILL YOU!

He didn't move toward me, and oddly, the look on his face was not anger or malice, but defeat. I knew he was living a drama that had nothing to do with me and felt very sad for him. The train door closed and he was gone. I picked up the money (of course) and went upstairs to the booth to report that a mentally ill man was having an episode on the train, gave the car number, and went home.

Three months or so later, I saw him again. He was on the street in Manhattan. Clean shaved, hair cut, clean clothes and a pinched look on his gray face. Gone was the beauty. He saw me and looked ashamed. Again, I felt sad.

There's a point to this story and it's not that you should be afraid to ride the subway. That's not a common episode and is only scary if you decide to jump into a drama and escalate it the wrong way. But something brought this event to my mind recently and I thought, that man was perfectly fine sitting there licking his fingers until I decided what he needed. He didn't ask me or anyone else for money. Even so, when he got upset, I didn't take it personally, not one bit. I was neither angry with him, judgmental, nor afraid. Not for one minute did I think at the time that he was going to hurt me nor did his ranting effect me except for a little embarrassment in front of others.

Why can't I see all provocative situations and people that way - whether family, friends, or strangers? Why can I not just see them as sad, instead of seeing them as rude, arrogant, or mean? Why do I take it personally and get my feelings hurt, get angry, or become afraid over silly things? Why try to prove a point or make them wrong and myself right even if it's only in my own mind? They are just projecting, expressing, manifesting their own feelings and until I take it personally, it's not about me.

Maybe this week, I'll practice the Four Agreements -

be impeccable with your word
don't take anything personally
don't make assumptions
do your best

Maybe next week I'll practice them again.


[The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz: http://ow.ly/pz5V30888Bw]


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

JOLIE IS SOMEWHERE, a novel set in New York's Nolita

Jolie has a list. There are 4 names on it. How can she take revenge on the cop who put her in jail for something she didn't do, the roommate who could have saved her and didn't, the inmate who smashed her face against a jailhouse wall, or the high-priced attorney who did nothing for her?
Maybe she doesn't have to.

That's the blurb to my new nove, Jolie Is Somewhere,l which is based on true events.


I sat in on the trial of three young men accused of assault on a police officer. It was a 45-second fight outside a bar, and they were sentenced to 15 years which is the minimum
mandatory sentence for gang assault. Except they weren't a gang. They were just some kids who went to Catholic school together who met up outside a bar at 3 a.m. to wish each other Happy New Year. But New York law says if three people are involved in a crime, that constitutes a gang. One of the three didn't even touch anyone - he was just standing there when the altercation started.

I was at the trial was because I was writing a novel with Louis Scarcella, a retired NYPD homicide detective. You may read more about Det. Scarcella in an earlier blog post (several of the convictions for his murder cases were reversed and so far that has cost the City of New York $31,000,000 in damages).

I combined what I knew from sitting in on the gang-assault trial with what I learned from Louis Scarcella as well as research on the jail culture at Rikers Island to write this novel asking myself, how does anyone get over their traumas in life.

Somehow you have to figure out a way to heal.

Here the author bio on the book: Multiple award-winning author & filmmaker Alana Cash is an adventurer. She trekked alone through war-torn Serbia and slept in a KGB interrogation room in Prague. She's been to a gypsy fair in England, a bullfight in Laredo, and parasailing in Acapulco. She wore a bulletproof vest on a ride-along in a New York City patrol car and kissed a man inside the Norman Bates Psycho house at Universal Studios.