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


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:]

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.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


New York City is politically passionate. In Manhattan, rallies, marches, protests, and political scandals are fairly constant. The local newspapers consistently print controversial political stories with big front-page photos.

I am not much interested in politics and only ever attended one political event in Manhattan and that was by accident. I was about to enter the subway at Union Square when my attention was arrested by a small rally for undocumented workers/illegal aliens however you wish to see it. The group was chanting illegal aliens are people too. There weren't many in attendance, so the voice was weak, and the chant was not at all catchy. It was not slick either, though. I let out a little laugh while I tried to think of a better slogan, something to rhyme with the word alien.

There was a 30ish woman standing next to me selling socialist newspapers. When she heard me snicker, she turned to me with a nasty look and said, You need to move away from me. I asked her, Why's that? She said, Because you are arrogant. I asked her, Why would you think I'm arrogant? She responded, You just look arrogant. I admit it, I was annoyed when I said, You know, Hitler was a socialist and you look a bit like him. And, by the way, this is a public park and you can move away from me. She did move away and I left to catch the train.

I am not sure what arrogant looks like, but I think it had something to do with the fact that I was wearing an $800 suede coat. It was brand new and I had purchased it for the price of exactly $1.50 (yes, $1.50) at a thrift store where it was donated by the manufacturer because the zipper didn't work. The snaps did work and that suited me fine. I still have it. I still wear it. I presume I still look arrogant. Maybe that's what arrogant is - having something nice to wear that keeps you warm and feels nice when you smooth your hand over it. Or maybe arrogant is looking at someone, presuming they have had more favor in life than you have, and hating them because you hate your own life and don't know how to change it. Or maybe arrogant is looking at someone, presuming they have had less favor in life than you have or are simply less worthy of favor, and therefore deserve to be mistreated, misinformed or denied entry.

The recent presidential campaign was so very effective in showing how easily we light up our hatreds and how dreadfully easy it is to form a mob by aiming them toward that group that is to blame. Carl Jung would call it exposure of the shadow side. The sad news is that we all have a shadow side and if you see something in someone else that you don't like, it's also in your own psyche. Otherwise, instead of anger or hatred, you'd feel compassion.

I got angry just before the election when I read the spun headline, "Donald Trump, Jr. says women who can't handle sexual harassment should go teach kindergarten." I delved into this a few weeks later (yesterday) to find out the real truth of what was said. First of all Trump Jr. never said harassment or sexual harassment. He said, ...if you can’t handle some of the basic stuff that’s become a problem in the workforce today, like you don’t belong in the workforce. Like, you should go maybe teach kindergarten. Basic stuff. I think he did mean sexual stuff.

After pondering Trump Jr.'s dialogue, particularly his suggesting that women who don't want to deal with basic stuff in the workplace should go teach kindergarten, I realized he is right. Because those women who can't handle harassment or simply think men should avoid being vulgar in the workplace could teach little girls and boys how to honor themselves and each other in the school at all times no matter what the situation and that would carry into the workplace later. Now that would be respectable basic stuff.