NICE SHOES, J.B.

jb

In the winter of 1981-82 I dated a girl named Tegan, who had a sister named Sian. They talked to each other every day, and sometimes I was present. Somewhere in those daily conversations one would inevitably ask the other, “did you read J.B.’s column today?”
One day I asked Tegan, “Who the hell is J.B.?”
“Why J.B. is Jimmy Breslin, the newspaper columnist, of course.”
“And you read his column every day?” I wondered why these two girls fresh out of college and from Washington, D.C. would be so keen on a New York newspaperman. Especially one who was so quintessentially New York. So I asked.
“Why him? Why not Hamill? Or MacAlary?” I was about to mention Liz Smith when Tegan sweetly informed me that Rosemary Breslin; Jimmy’s daughter was a friend of hers. Oh.
I met Rosemary sometime after that, and she told me a funny story about a piece she’d sold to a national magazine.
To me at J.B. was a legend, a man whose column I read with some regularity, when I felt like springing for a quarter or whatever the Daily News cost in the ‘80s or if I found one on the subway.
I loved his book, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, even though I didn’t realize till years after that it was a thinly veiled account of the gangster Crazy Joe Gallo.
I read with great interest his accounting of the Son of Sam case, being a young man dating a young girl in 1977 and knowing the killer’s target was young couples dating. Of course we didn’t have a car, and Berkowitz’s M.O. was shooting young couples making out in parked cars but that didn’t make my girlfriend feel any safer. But for me it was fascinating journalism and I read every last article. Jimmy was a hero, a role model of the kind of writer I would be if I were ever to be a writer. At the time of the Berkowitz case I saw myself as a filmmaker.
So it felt good having this connection to a celebrity no matter how tenuous it may have been.
I finally met him in person a few years later, in the early ‘90s.
At that time I was working in a shoe store on East 55th Street in Manhattan, Yorke Dynamold Shoes. We sold “Fashionable shoes for problem feet” according to our weekly tiny little ad in the New York Times, buried deep in the back pages of I don’t remember which section. We also made orthotics that went into the shoes; you can’t go wrong selling orthotics.

shoemaker

Me in my shoemaker outfit back then.

At that point we’d developed quite a nice upscale clientele, not quite the “carriage trade” my boss aspired to, but close. Jerry Orbach came in with his wife. So did Alan Alda. Our most famous client was Barbara Walters, who bought 20 pairs of shoes and returned half of them the next day, much to the boss’s disappointment.
And we had Ronnie Eldridge, from the city council. She was my customer, and I don’t remember how that happened but whenever she came into the store she’d always ask for me. I knew she was married to Breslin, since I read the papers and keep up with current events. One day I let it drop that I’d met Rosemary and had once dated Tegan.

“Oh, really, Tegan? I just saw her last week.” I hadn’t seen her in a few years, not since she dumped me for Billy the pool shark from D.C. But I had married one of Tegan’s classmates (and friend, I’d guess) from Pratt. So there was still some tenuous connection there.
So a relationship was established, and one day Ronnie brought Jimmy in.
“Fit him in a nice pair of shoes. He’s kind of ornery, but he doesn’t bite. And an orthotic, too. My gift.”
So I was left alone with the great man, who glowered at me from under his big bushy eyebrows.
“Xavier, that’s your name, right?”
“Yessir.”
“Xavier, how much do these shoes cost?” He asked as I was slipping a pair of $150 Allan Edmonds bluchers on his feet.

shoes

“Ah, these are $150. And the orthotic I will be making for you will be an additional $350.”
“Xavier, do you know how much I pay for a pair of shoes? $25. That’s what a decent pair of shoes should cost.”
I wanted to say it wasn’t 1969 anymore, and he wasn’t going to find a decent pair of leather shoes for under $75 anywhere in Manhattan. But I kept my mouth shut.
I found it interesting that he thought that about shoes, because there is a scene in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight where he describes the very expensive footwear on the feet of the gangsters, and all of those shoes were a lot more than $25 in 1969.
Instead I told him about how I was measuring his feet properly and how the Allan Edmonds shoes would last him for the rest of his life if he took good care of them and had them re-soled every few years. He grunted to indicate he’d heard, but didn’t believe a word I’d said.
After fitting him I took an impression of his feet in some foam so I could make a plaster cast and make the orthotic for him. He put his shoes back on and left.
I made the orthotic in record time and called him a few days later to let him know the shoes and orthotic were ready. To my surprise he answered the phone himself and we had a nice conversation about the shoes.
The next day my co-worker Jerry came storming into the store waving a copy of New York Newsday, the long Island paper. Coincidentally that was the paper Breslin was writing for at the time.
“Look at this, you made the papers,” Jerry said as he folded open the paper to Breslin’s column. Everyone else in the store gathered around to read over my shoulder.
In it he recounted verbatim our first encounter in the store, and then the phone conversation we’d had just the day before. He went on to complain about the cost of shoes, and the shoe industry in general. He pretty much accused my boss of being a crook. But I was just a guy trying to make a living, I wasn’t the crook.
I kept that paper for a long time, but it got lost in one of the may times my then wife and I moved.
When I first started writing about ten years ago, having an idea for a book I often toyed with writing a letter to him in hopes of getting some help to getting my book published. I always wondered if I could write, “Dear Jimmy, I’m the guy who sold you the most expensive shoes you ever bought, you must remember me…” Or something to that effect.
In 2004, Rosemary passed away and I went to the funeral. It was at the St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street. I wondered if Tegan or Sian would be there, and maybe I’d run into them, talk about old times. But there were hundreds of people there, and I wasn’t getting anywhere near Ronnie or Jimmy to express my condolences.
And now Jimmy is gone too. If you read this, Ronnie, you have my sincerest condolences. Jimmy was a man that on occasion brought both tears of joy and tears of grief to my eyes. He was a true writer and will always be in my heart.

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CALL THE WATER DEPARTMENT

water department

Actually I called 311, to report a leak. That was Saturday, after spotting a leak in the street on my way to do the laundry very early in the morning. I like to get there early so I don’t have to fight for a machine, or worse yet, for the single folding table my local laundry has.
I’ve seen this leak before, and it’s really only obvious when the temperature is below freezing and the water on it’s way down 152nd Street to the sewer grate on the corner starts to freeze and expand.
The first time I remember seeing it was a month ago, the last time it was below freezing on a Saturday morning, and I wondered if there had been a fire or something overnight, as there was a hell of a lot of frozen water in the gutter.

leak4

I followed the frozen stream up the block where it petered out, but there was no fire hydrant there or evidence of a fire and I lost interest.
But seeing it again this Saturday I was determined to get to the source of the mysterious ice stream.
I walked up the block from the southeast corner of Broadway and 152nd with my eye glued to the gutter, observing the ice that had formed around all the candy wrappers, cans, cigarette buts and whatever else ends up in our gutters. The ice petered out just short of the front entrance to 584 West 152nd.
And that’s when I noticed that here the ice had water around it, and I followed the wetness to a spot in the street a car’s width from the curb. There it was, a wet puddle, and I could actually see water actively flowing from a crack in the asphalt.

leak 1

On closer observation I noticed that there was a trough of different colored asphalt a couple of feet wide that went up and down the street.
It looked like the street had been torn up at some point in the past few months, and either a pipe or cable had been laid or repaired, and then repaved.
It was my ah-ha moment, I felt like a real detective, and I took a picture.
Then I went back down the block to the corner, snapping more photos on the way. One way or the other I was going to let the world know about the leak I’d discovered. Maybe I could get it named after me.
While folding my clothes at the laundry I decided on a course of action. I would call 311; I was pretty sure reporting a leak is a civic duty. I envisioned Mayor Bill shaking my hand and handing me a plaque declaring me a civic hero for saving the city hundreds of thousands of gallons of water.

leak3
When I got home I found the 311 website and looked until I found the report a leak category. I filled out all the info, name, address, etc., and then I filled out all of the details, the location (a car’s width north of the curb 7 feet west of the front entrance of 584 West 152nd Street.) and whatever else I could think of, like my estimated rate of flow (at least hundreds of gallons per hour!)
Feeling very satisfied with myself I set off to our first meeting of the local community garden, The Garden Of Hope on 152nd between Amsterdam and St. Nicholas Avenues.

It was too cold to meet in the Garden, so we all retired to Wimpey’s Hamburger Heaven on Amsterdam Avenue. In the middle of the meeting I got a phone call that I declined, and when I looked at the number it said, “Water Department.”
Wow that was quick, I thought.
When I listened to the message, though, I was a little confused.
“We’re downstairs. Can you let us in?”
After the meeting I called the number back where I got a strange message, where a woman says, Hello? So I said, “Hello.” She said hello again and I started to say the leak is in the street. Then there was a third hello, followed by “I can’t answer right now, leave a message. Strangest voicemail greeting I’ve ever heard. So I repeated my “the leak is in the street” message and hung up.
There was a text as well, the one you can see at the top of this post, and I wrote, “The leak is in the street.”
I forgot all about it till Monday morning, when my phone rang as I was on a C train headed to the Whole Foods at 59th Street. I was somewhere between 103rd Street and 96th. I looked at my phone and it said WATER DEPARTMENT so I answered. It was the three-hello woman.
“Yes, we’re in front of the building, can you let us in?” I had no idea why they wanted to come in my building, but I knew I was going to lose her when the train left the 96th Street station.
“Listen, I’m on the subway and I’m going to lose you. Let me call you back.” Then I heard the beep-beep-beep of a dropped call.
As the train pulled into 86th Street the phone rang again.
“We need to get in and blah, blah, blah.” She was breaking up and I couldn’t understand a word she was saying.
“Look, I’m on the subway and I can’t understand a word you’re saying. Let me call you back when I get off.” Beep-beep-beep again.
At 72nd street I answer the phone again.
“Why you keep hanging up on me? I’m gonna hang up on you!” Beep-beep-beep.
Desperate to straighten this thing out and explain I had not hung up on her I willed the train to get to 59th Street as fast as possible. It slowed down for the lumbering entrance to the Columbus Circle station.
From the safety and relative comfort of the Time Warner building’s lobby I called back. The woman answered.
“We need to get into the building, why won’t you let us in?”
I had no idea why they wanted to get in the building.
“The leak is in the street, a car’s width north of…” There was a strangled cry of frustration on the other end of the line, some scratching noise, and then a man’s voice.
“Hello, this is the water department. Can you let us in?”
“Well, I’m not home, for starters. You haven’t found the leak yet? It’s a car’s width…”
“Sir, we found the leak, we just need to inspect your basement.”
“But the leak is down the block, in front of 584. I live on Amsterdam.”
“Oh. You’re not the building super?”
“NO.”
“But you reported the leak.”
“I’m just a concerned citizen.” I said.
“Oh, ok.”
“So you don’t need me anymore, do you?” Then in the background I heard voices, and the man I was speaking to said, “are you the super?” to someone.
Getting back to me he said, “No sir, we don’t need you anymore.” Finally.
Well, I’m impressed that the water department is on top of things. No so impressed with their communication skills. I deserve a plaque just for dealing with the three-hello woman, who raised my blood pressure to no end several times for nothing.

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PLUMBING PROBLEMS

kitchen faucet

A couple of weeks ago my friend Joyce called me about the dripping faucet in her kitchen. I told her that would be no problem, I could take care of it and I’d come over. I’ve fixed dozens of dripping faucets. Well, actually more than a dozen but less than 24, I don’t know for sure.
I’ve done a dozen or so full faucet replacements as well; I guess that’s what adds to the number confusion. A new faucet does stop the drip.
I collected my big Channel Lock pliers, some Teflon tape and a little box of washers and headed down to Joyce’s Soho loft.
The first bad news was that the plumbing had been installed sometime in the ‘70s, meaning the faucet and all its attending valves are forty plus years old. Old valves, especially the screw-type gate valves are never fun. Give me a ball valve any day.
I took all the stuff out from beneath the sink and turned off the water, careful not to over-tighten it. There was still a little water coming from the faucet, so one or both of the valves wasn’t holding. But it was enough to be able to take the stems out of the faucet and not have water shooting everywhere.
I used my trusty Channel Lock to take the cap nuts off of the stems and pull them out. Both had worn-out washers. The washers in the caps were worn out as well, that’s why there was also water seeping from them before I took everything apart.
It would have been best to replace the whole faucet, but we wanted to save money. Washers are the cheapest solution.
I didn’t have the right size washer, that’s the problem with not being a professional plumber- you’re not as well equipped. It was off to the hardware store.
The washers I got were ok, but I wasn’t too successful in scraping out the old washer from the retaining cap, and this hardware store did not carry the caps.
Thankfully I only did it to the hot water, which now dripped even worse when I turned the water back on. I called Joyce and suggested that we replace both stems. She agreed and I took pictures of the stems.

stems
When I turned the water back on I discovered that the hot water supply valve was leaking badly in the open position. The loft has no inlet shut off valves; only these old screw valves beneath both the bathroom and kitchen sinks. I was going to have to shut off the water from the basement to re-pack the valve.
I looked up the faucet on line, the Chicago Faucet Company. Luckily they are still in business, and my favorite plumbing supply, New York Replacement Parts on Lexington Ave. had the stems. I made the trip to 94th Street the next morning and got the stems and some graphite packing string to fix the valve.
I made it to the loft, shut off the water in the basement, replace both stems, re-packed both the stem caps and the wonky valve and turned on the water.
The valve under the sink was no longer dripping and both the hot and cold water were working fine, and the repacked hot water supply valve under the sink no linger dripped. I cleaned up; feeling very satisfied with myself and left the loft (I had the keys) after texting Joyce a picture.
The next night Danusia and I went to see a show at the Preforming Garage, just down the block from Joyce’s loft. It was the show I wrote about in my last blog. After the show we were on the C train somewhere north of 72nd Street when my phone rang. It’s still a little disconcerting to hear your phone ring god knows how many feet underground while you are between stations. It was Joyce but when I answered, the call dropped. I waited and when we pulled into the next station I played the message, where Joyce was frantically screaming “IT EXPLODED! THE WATER EXPLODED!”
My heart sank. Did I fuck it up? Always the first thought, I fucked it up.
But I’d done everything right. It’s like riding a bike, you learn how to do it and you know how to do it forever.
We got off the train at 96th Street and I got her on the phone. She was a little calmer but not by much.
“I got the downstairs neighbor to come and turn off the valves, but there’s still water dripping from the spigot.” I looked at the picture she’d sent me and listened to the drip on the phone as Joyce held the phone to the sink.
“Listen, It’s under control, you’ll be fine until the morning,” I assured her. Danusia was urging me to go back down, but there was nothing I could do without the proper tools.
“I’ll leave my phone on in case you need me,” I added.
The next day I saw that the cap to the cold water had loosened, and I had no idea how it had happened. I tightened everything up and turned on the water, but now the cold wouldn’t shut off. Either the stem had gotten damaged or it was faulty.
I took it back to New York Replacement parts, where the big guy with the shaved head that exchanged it for me said, “If it happens again it’s not the stem.”
When I got back I figured the packing string I used might have had something to do with it. I used a washer that seemed to fit the cap instead. But now when I turned the handle it was very tight. I turned off the water and started all over again. I didn’t want any more calls in the middle of a subway ride.
I found an O-ring that fit and didn’t rub against the smaller O-ring on the top of the stem. This time the tap handle moved freely and everything held.
There was still a little dripping from the stop valve underneath, but there was nothing I could do until we get some shut-off valves put in. I tightened the packing nut as much as I dared and emptied out the little cake pan Joyce’s dad had put under the sink for this singular purpose, the valve has been dripping for years, it seems.

red valve

You can see by that light spot on top of the P-trap in the lower left hand part of the photo that the drip has been going on awhile…

The apartment downstairs is being renovated, and they are installing new valves, so when they do theirs I’ll be able to take care of that drip.
Out of all the things a handyman gets to do plumbing is the scariest and hairiest. If you fuck it up there can be a lot of property damage. I keep that foremost in my mind every time I start a plumbing project.
Next blog- hair in the drain.

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PROTEST AND A SHOW

protest

For Valentine’s day Danusia and I were going to a show. The Wooster Group’s production of “The Town Hall Affair,” an irreverent look at Norman Mailer’s raucous 1971 confrontation with leading feminists at New York City’s Town Hall. The event was filmed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker; who released it as Town Bloody Hall in 1979.
The film is the basis for the play, in which Maura Tierney plays Germaine Greer, Kate Valk does Jill Johnston of the Village Voice, and Diana Trilling is played to fun effect by a man, Greg Mehrten.
Norman Mailer’s tremendous ego required two actors, Ari Fliakos and Scott Shepherd.

11townhall-master768

Maura Tierney, Scott Shepherd, and Ari Fialkos in The Town Hall Affair.

But first, a protest!
It was announced on Facebook Monday that there would be a protest in Foley Square at 6 PM Valentine’s day against Trump’s anti-immigration stance. Danusia said she wanted to go, and as an immigrant myself, I was interested too. But I pointed out that though close by, probably a mile or so, the protest would overlap with our show, which Danusia said was to start at 7.
We got to the Performing Garage at 6:30, and after looking at the poster for the show we realized it wouldn’t start till 7:30. I know from experience that the doors wouldn’t be opened till 15 minutes before the show time. I wasn’t happy.
“Why don’t we go to the protest?” Danusia asked enthusiastically. Less enthusiastically I agreed. It was better than standing on Wooster Street for 45 minutes. We caught a downtown R train on Broadway and rode it one stop to City Hall. We walked the remaining five or so blocks to Foley Square where we found the demonstration.
There were probably three hundred people there, plus a hundred or so law enforcement types. There was no major media, no speakers, and no real organization. Just clumps of people with signs. There were a few people with tubas and assorted brass instruments trying to fire up the crowd. Every once and a while a chant would flare up and die down. Luckily it wasn’t too cold.
A girl in all white makeup and a white outfit portraying the blindfolded statue of justice got most of the media attention.

justice

As close to 7 PM as I dared I suggested we start making our way back to Wooster Street. It was a 20-minute walk.
The best part of the play was when the two Normans wrestle on stage after one bops the other over the head with a hammer. It looked pretty real and it was loud when Scott Shepherd hit Ari Fliakos over the head. They were re-enacting a scene from the Norman Mailer directed (and written by also, I’m afraid) Maidstone, from 1970. In the movie it’s Rip Torn hitting Mailer over the head. I wonder how different history would be if it had been a real hammer and some real elbow grease put into that strike. Why we’d have no Executioner’s Song! And no Town Hall Affair, either. You can’t have everything, I guess.
Anyway, the on-stage scuffle combined with the on screen inadvertent hilarity was the high point of the evening.
Not that the rest of the play was no fun, it was, but for me that was the best part.
We also had the good fortune to spot the actor Bill Camp in the audience, Danusia thought at first that he was one of the actors in Animal Kingdom but I could tell he was no Australian. With a little brainstorming we determined that he was the cop Detective Box in The Night Of on HBO last summer.
Danusia went up to him after the show, and it turned out that the striking woman with him (in an equally striking Carhart one piece canvas coverall) was none other than Elizabeth Marvel, Madame President on Showtime’s Homeland. I knew there was something familiar about her…
Yesterday we went to another protest/demonstration in Washington Square Park. It was billed as a general strike, and we were promised speakers for this one. But by 2 PM the promised first speaker hadn’t shown up.
This one was a little bigger, maybe 400 people. There were bullhorns and chants, and some semblance of organization, albeit a little flaky.

bullhorn

This woman was having a hard time with the bullhorn.

A guy offered us a placard on a stick, and when I took it he asked for a donation.
“For printing costs,” he said. Danusia gave him two bucks. There were a few people selling buttons. Some good homemade posters and people dressed up weird. This was Greenwich Village, after all, the capital of dressing weird.

d and sign

There was a guy in the 70s who looked and dressed just like William Shakespeare and wandered around McDougall Street all day long. There were also really big protests against the Vietnam War that I attended back then. I guess people today aren’t mad enough yet.

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LIGHTS OF PERVERTED SCIENCE

.11The title comes from Winston Churchill’s speech to the House of Commons on June 18, 1940 in anticipation of The Battle of Britain. Also known as the “Finest Hour” speech.

The lead up to that phrase is about sinking into the abyss of a new dark age, in the event that Germany won the war. I thought about calling this post that, The New Dark Age, but reading the full speech yielded lights of perverted science, and that makes more sense when talking about a person who invents his own reality.
My wife Danusia has taken Mr. Trump’s presidency very hard. So have a lot of my friends, judging by the Facebook and Twitter traffic I’ve seen the past couple of months. And yes, it’s bad. It will be bad for us and bad for the country as a whole, and it will be bad for those people who voted for Mr. Trump and gleefully reveled in his surprising win. More on that later.
I just watched a documentary about Mr. Trump made in 1991 called Trump: What’s The Deal? It is said that Mr. Trump found it so unflattering that he sued to try and stop its release. It was very revealing, and in it out of Mr. Trump’s mouth he actually talks about his addiction, “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink or do drugs, there are some things I don’t want to talk about, but I have to say, addiction can be positive.” Well, if addiction can be positive I must have missed something along the way.

trmp
Mr. Trump did a lot of real estate deals in the 80s where he basically lied and bullied his way through, in terms of getting financing and convincing investors to invest. He never uses his own money in case everything goes south. Only his investors lose.
He famously bought the Commodore Hotel directly east of Grand Central Station in 1980 by claiming he already possessed the rights to the investor, the Hyatt Corporation. They put up the money and Mr. Trump made a lot of money on a lie. He later called it “truthful hyperbole.”
Which brings us to the present, to Kelly-Ann Conway’s “alternate facts.”
“Truthful hyperbole”, and “alternate facts”, is what normal people call lies.
But these are not normal people.
Why is Kelly-Ann Conway not out of a job? Where’s the famous “you’re fired?” After all, her Bowling Green Massacre fiasco makes her, and by extension her boss look stupid. And Mr. Trump does not like to look stupid.

Mr. Trump is the epitome of the insecure, thin-skinned bully in constant need of the spotlight. He can dish it out but he can’t take it.

The other night I watched a show on PBS, Hunting ISIS. In it a reporter (Iraqi) is embedded in a unit clearing out Mosul house to house in recent months. There is a scene in which the Iraqi government forces storm a home, which contains a couple of older men, a few women of various ages, and a bunch of children. They are all herded into a big room, presumably the family room. The men and a couple of the women hold white flags, and they are all cowering in fear.
The eldest of the woman, a middle aged woman in a traditional Habib addresses the soldiers. “There is no ISIS here”, she declares, hands shaking. That was what I couldn’t stop watching. The white flag in her hands shaking uncontrollably, thinking she may be killed any moment.
I described the scene to Danusia as we lay in bed later that night, after she spoke of her fear and loathing of the Trump Presidency.
“He thrives on fear, chaos, and hatred”; I said. If you give into his menace, he wins. This is what he wants, to live in the hearts of the people that hate him, to make us cower and shake. Because it is attention, and we know how he craves attention. I will not live in fear, and I will not cower. I may suffer some, but I know I will not have to shake like that woman in the video, because we have a long way to go to outright civil war in this country.
I will do what I have been doing, making the phone calls, writing about it, encouraging my friends in despair.
There is strength in numbers, and we have to stick together. But we cannot be afraid, and we need to use dialogue, rather than hatred to get out of this. Because if we hate, we become just like him and he wins. He will point and say, “I told you so.”
Back to what I said before, referring to that other man who gleefully took over a country. He was a man prone to truthful hyperbole too, and he had his own Kelly Ann.

lil-joered-white-and-blueAnd he eventually lost. And so did the German people. Hitler said the German people deserved to suffer because they hadn’t fought hard enough. They were weak. Sound familiar?

After he lost all of those people who supported him suddenly denied him, but since he was dead by then it didn’t hurt his easily hurt feelings. World War Two came about basically because of the hurt feelings of an entire nation and a man who was able to harness that.
There are a lot of people in this country who had hurt feelings, the people who felt they’d gotten the shit end of the stick from the liberal “elites” in Washington, and there is something to that.
I voted for Hillary, but I can never get away from the fact that she is one of the elites. What the people who voted for Mr. Trump will one day come to see is that he too is one of the elites, and they will always be on the bottom, getting the “shit end of the stick.”
Hopefully by the time that happens this social experiment will be over, and some of the elites will find a way to include the “disenfranchised” in a way that doesn’t require a healthy dose of fear and hatred

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ONLY CASTLES BURNING

balloons

So I am not watching the inauguration, for what it’s worth. That’s something to think about, what it’s worth.
Is it worth it to me to live with a sick feeling in my stomach, to live in fear and hatred? No. I won’t even name it, because attaching a name gives it power.
Years ago, when I was first getting clean, I heard a woman talk about her sudden ex-boyfriend, and was exasperated that she was giving him her “power.” It was a new concept for me, and I was going through a divorce at the time so I identified with her sudden sense of betrayal (she’d discovered he’d been cheating on her) and I too wished I could let go of thinking about how I’d been betrayed for every waking moment.
I took her statement to heart and realized there was nothing I could do about my situation, only about what my thoughts and feelings about it were.
It took some time, and a lot of crying and whining and feeling sorry for myself, but I got there. I took my power and spirit back. And I vowed to keep it.
So today, despite however vile and despicable the utterances of the said unnamed person I will not let it poison my heart. I will go on with my life and continue to be true to myself, and not let the pain fester in my heart.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

fdr-martini

While true as a concept, it is hard to separate the actual visceral fear I feel when a part of me is threatened. I can understand how undocumented immigrants; women in need of Planned Parenthood and Muslims must feel at the moment.
I myself fear what will happen to my social security now that I am close to the right age to benefit from the years of working and paying into it.
But what ever happens I will persevere, I will keep my perspective and take whatever steps there are in my power to take, and I will not let it turn me into an angry, emotionally crippled bowl of jelly.
I will march, write letters, make phone calls, express solidarity.
But I am done with name calling, hatred and disparaging.
The only way to get through anything in the end is through dialogue, and I have to be the bigger guy, because if I revert to ridicule and name calling I become just like the man whose entire grip on self-esteem is based on the ridicule and disparagement of those who don’t agree with him.

neil-young

I won’t let it bring me down. You know the rest.

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PILGRIMAGE

lou2

 

I wanted to ride the new subway the day it opened. I wanted to ride on that noon Q train that would leave from 96th street heading south for the first time. I also don’t want to pay rent for the rest of my life. Some things just never seem to work out.
But I knew I’d get around to it sometime. After all, I grew up hearing about the Second Avenue subway, and when I lived on East Houston Street and Clinton in the 80s I would dream about a Second Avenue subway, so I could go uptown without first heading further west if I need to get to somewhere on the Upper East Side. And now it is here, albeit not all the way to Houston Street.
In the week leading up to the opening, there were dozens of spots on the local news about it, most of them featuring our intrepid Governor, Cuomo. Every time I saw him promising that the line would open on schedule I thought of the poor working bastards that were on the receiving end of the Governor’s whip. Andrew don’t take no shit, as Mayor Bill has discovered much to his dismay.

96st
I was amused when I heard that he’d been invited (and attended) the special New Year’s Eve party the Governor threw at the new stations. There was a special train (the one featured on the news with the nifty new SUBWAY logo) that went back and forth between 96th and 72nd Streets. And more, all for a specially invited 500 people who were involved in getting the project done. I’m sure none of the sand hogs were invited.
On watching one of the videos, I sat up straighter on the couch when I saw that on the wall of one of the stations, they didn’t indicate which one, there was a huge photograph of Lou Reed’s face that had been transferred to tiles and affixed to the wall. I recognized the photo, one taken not long before he died three years ago.
In the photo where Lou seriously stares straight at the camera you can see his age, the face worn and creased and wizened. The tile portrait is from a Chuck Close painting done from a photograph. I’d seen the painting before.
Now I had to go. I had to make the pilgrimage to see Lou.
I first heard Rock and Roll by the Velvet Underground when I was 15, on WNEW FM radio. The next day I went to Korvette’s in Union Square and bought my first Velvet Underground album. I would eventually buy all of them, and most Lou Reed solo records. I was smitten, not just by the Velvet underground, but by Lou Reed. He was the person I most wanted to be like in the world when I was a teenager.
I saw him for the first time at Alice Tully Hall in 1973. I went by myself, not having a girlfriend at the time. That was the Transformer tour, and when the album was released RCA records actually promoted it. One of the promotional tools was a huge poster:

transformer

The poster was plastered at subway stations all over the city. There were a couple of them at the Clinton-Washington G train station near Pratt, where I was studying at the time. One night I went down to the station with a mat knife in hand, and managed to free most of one of the posters from the wall. That poster was taped to the wall of every bedroom I had until I lost track of it somehow. Life back then was pretty fuzzy so I forget what happened to the poster.
Later in the year, in July to be exact, I came face to face with Lou one night at a party for the Stooges at Max’s Kansas City. They say never meet your heroes, you might be disappointed, and disappointed I was when he refused to talk to me. But I never stopped loving Lou or his music.

I saw him many times after that, the last time I think in 2009 when he was part of a tribute to the “Freedom Riders” put together by Hal Wilner at the Highline ballroom. He did two songs I did not recognize but it was wonderful to see him up on stage doing what he does best. Tim Robbins the actor and Pete Seeger’s grandson Tao also performed. I am lucky to have seen so many iconic performances.
So after going through all of that I had to go and see this tribute to Lou Reed, for to be made part of a subway wall is certainly a special tribute.
There were other tile portraits, including a huge baby face, but I have no idea who they are. I only know Lou, and that was all that mattered to me, and the trip was worth it.
I caught the Q train at 34th Street heading north and was amazed that when the train entered the new tunnel you could actually see the concrete walls. I guess all subway tunnel walls are bare concrete, and as such are pale grey in color, but the new ones aren’t covered with 80 plus years of grime and steel dust.
I didn’t know where the Lou Reed piece was, so I took the train to 96th Street and went up to look. I was determined to find it, and was going to visit each station till I found it and took a picture of it.

up

96th was a bust, the walls were all blue with these white arrowhead things all over the place like snowflakes. I snapped a couple of pictures and went downstairs to take the next downtown train to 86th Street.
86th Street has special cache for me because I worked on 86th Street for many years and my ex-wife used to work at the 92nd Street Y when our son was small so I spent a lot of time on 86th Street. I got off the train and got on the up escalator. Just as my eyes cleared the deck of the upper level there he was, my man Lou Reed permanently pasted to a concrete wall on a New York City subway station. My heart filled with joy, I’d made it.

lou

One of the thoughts that came to me was the line “words of a prophet written on a subway wall” from Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of silence. Now, not just the words, but the man himself. You can’t get any more New York than Lou Reed, and I think he’s getting a kick out of it in Rock and Roll heaven.

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