Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Naked City

It's been raining quite heavily in New York these last few days. I’d put raincoats over the poor naked men statues, but when the wind blows, that will probably only create another illusion.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Naked Men Up Ahead

New York City is a very contradictory place. Recent efforts have been strenuous to try and eliminate as many vehicles from the city as possible. But while they try and cut down on autos, the city thinks nothing of putting naked men in your path.

They are statues, of course, so art is involved. And when art is involved, it is always in the eye of the beholder. And when they cement the naked men statues to the sidewalk, it's hard for the eye not to behold.

New York is an artsy town. We know this. The latest outside manifestation of that is to ring the Madison Square Park area with full-size statues of naked men that all supposedly resemble the artist, Antony Gormley. I suppose in some circles this is reason enough to exult.

Some of the statues are placed high up on buildings that face the park. This has led to speculation that people would start calling en masse that there are potential suicides on every ledge. The preposterousness of this is evident when it is realized that New Yorkers do not look up. The last time I ever saw a body of New Yorkers look up was when two 767s aimed themselves at the World Trade Center on 9/11 and made solid contact.

And if New Yorkers do look out of their windows and straight ahead and think someone is going to jump they would likely do little to intercede. It might mean a better apartment will soon be available and they know exactly where to start making inquiries.

I work in the Madison Square Park area and have been coming in and out of Manhattan nearly every day of my life since I was 11. I’ve lived there for a spell. I’m over 60. Tree houses in the trees, objects on the lawn, all seem okay. But I don’t see why I need to go from one block to another by way of a urologist’s office without making an appointment.

You see, the statues offer full frontal nudity. The artist is either very proud of himself, or exaggerates. Aside from being on building ledges (and some ledges and rooftops are VERY high up) the statues can be found freshly cemented to the sidewalk.

Now in New York, cement has no more permanence than a Post-It note. The exhibit of exhibitionism is not running that long. By the time any momentum of discontent takes shape the statues will have been jackhammered up and taken away.

You do wonder about what the city allows. But you always wonder about that. If these figures had a pulse and protoplasm and were showing off their rears and cast-iron ding dongs as they are the police would zap them with stun guns and arrest them as sex-offenders.

And what about kids going to the park playground who might be strollered past a set of goodies at their eye-level? Well, I guess the museum argument prevails. Of course the kids aren't being taken to a museum, they're passing by one on their way to the slide. Where else can you achieve such efficiency?

Even the Naked Cowboy in Times Square is not naked.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Census and Taxes

Every time there's a Census I can't help but think of growing up, and therefore of my mother and father, particularly my father.

I don't know how old I was when they came around for the 1950 census. That sounds like I don't know when I was born. I do know. But I have a memory of someone coming to the door one evening when we lived in Flushing and asking my mother and father questions about who was in the house, what was in the house, and spending a little time with them as he recorded answers on I guess a clip board.

I was young, I know that. And my mother and father weren't always home together in the evening when I was awake. He generally came in after I had gone to bed. So, add a few things up, and we have something that sticks in your mind. Why can't I tell how old I was?

Well, if they came by in 1950 I think I would have definitely been too young to remember anything so specific. But if they came by, in say, 1951, another year could make a big difference. And here's where that comes in.

For a man that was a World War II veteran and worked for Uncle Sam as a project engineer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, my father was very non-compliant with anything official. The Census was one, and taxes were another.

My guess is they would have sent a Census form in 1950 to all the households they could. I'm sure we got one. The house was built in 1923, and therefore would have showed up on any property registry at the time. What I now think is that even in 1950my father didn't answer his mail. So, with no answer, the Census people probably got around to sending someone "out to the house" to get a first hand answer. In my home, that was their only chance. When they might have done this, I don't know, so therefore, I don't really know how old I was when our 1950 census answers became officially recorded.

1950 wasn't my father's only omission. I remember what might have been the 1980 Census when my family and I lived in the other half of the two-family home and someone came walking onto the block with a suit and tie carrying papers and wearing a big button that told anyone with eyesight that he was with the Census. Sure enough, he headed for my father's door looking for answers. My own form had long before been mailed back. I wasn't surprised. In fact, we let the guy into our downstairs half of the house because that's where my father was anyway, killing time, and no doubt drinking scotch.

If my father had been a low-level Mafioso he surely could have earned a nickname as "Ducks," because he was always ducking people,and process servers. Teddy Ducks. Generally, these were people who wanted money or information. He often owed money, only occasionally to unsavory types. He owed money for the lights, the phone, the grocer, the butcher, the hardware store, anyone who took a check from him, or extended him credit. He always paid. Eventually.

As a young lad I distinctly remember acquiring a piece of legal information from my father. At the time, he had been transferred to Washington, D.C. after the Brooklyn Navy Yard closed and we generally saw him on weekends. Saturdays and Sundays. Well, he owed someone money who was serious enough about getting it that there was a summons out for him. He told us we might only get to see him on Sundays since they couldn't serve him with a summons on Sundays.

How true this was, I don't know. Blue laws were still somewhat common. I've always treasured that piece of information. I've never had any excuse to test it myself, but I've often wondered if when the bounty hunter Dog is chasing someone around the shopping carts in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Arizona, if it's Sunday, and if it is, the guy shouldn't really be running. I don't really know if this would be true for whatever guys are running away from Dog for, or, if it applies to Arizona.

Taxes were a whole other story to themselves. Money was withheld from his paycheck, like it was withheld from anyone's paycheck. When I was old enough to ask a question like, "are you getting any money back this year" he'd generally say,"I have to get to that." He'd generally add that they already had his money, so there was no real rush.

Toward the end of his life and he was sick, I took over, and made him whole with as many branches of the government that were finally catching up to him. So, when I delayed answering my own Census form this year by a week, I thought of my father and Ogden Nash.

Ogden Nash, the great American light verse humorist has always been a favorite of mine and I distinctly remember reading a poem of his in the late 1960s in The New Yorker that had to do with the IRS, paying taxes, and that the least they could do was provide him with a prepaid postage return envelope in which to remit what was owed.

It was a typical Nash poem, and right now, I can't locate it. But it ended with something like "the IRS could at least blow me to the cost of a stamp." In my search for the poem's text I saw something on the Web that Nash was in tax trouble toward the end of his life. He passed away in 1971. So, like Willie Nelson, he made something creative out of owing the government money.

When I delayed sending back the Census form I wondered for a week if it contained at least a prepaid postage envelope. It did. (Taxes still don't.)

And wouldn't you know it. I guess it crossed in the mail, but I got a post card this week that reminded me that completing the Census form was important.

The sins of the father are trying to get me. I only let them get close.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Back to Work

I think I saw it as one of those AOL pieces of news you get when you log on. There was a picture of Rosie O'Donnell with the caption that she was trying to get back on daytime television to fill the slot that will be vacated by Oprah.

The White House announced at the same time that they were favoring that as a cure for unemployment. Surely if Rosie was going to be available on daytime television, more people would seek work and try and leave the house.

Stay tuned.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

It's Coming...It's Here

It's a year evenly divisible by 10, and that means one thing in the United States: they're taking the census.

The MTV generation is not necessarily young, but they must be running the 2010 Census. Two weeks or so ago we got a letter that told us the census form was coming! Be on the lookout for it! Your reply is important to us, something like that. Just like my call on hold.

To get a notice that told me something was coming reminded me of the magnets that still haven't been taken off the refrigerator, reminding my daughter that a wedding invitation was on its way. Well, it got here, the couple got married, even have children by now, but the Save-the-Date magnet still adorns the icebox door, just below the ALCATRAZ magnet. I wouldn't make this up.

The census form sat on my desk for a week, but I just completed it. It looked more imposing than it turned out to be. Also, the memory of Census Past kept me from opening it up right away.

Knowing the government, there might be long-form and a short-form. I guess maybe we got a short-form because it only asked seven questions about each person who lived at our address. There must have been something on file about our address when they did the 2000 census because they kept contacting us, and coming back because they had someone living at 33 1/2, supposedly another building on our property. It finally got straightened out when I wearily offered to take them to the backyard and point to two nearly collapsing sheds that held the usual stuff, but no people.

Since then though we've had a nice shed built that resembles a small building, complete with a full size door, window and electricity. In my whimsical nature I even put up house numbers:
33 1/2. God, I hope they come by again.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Things We Learn

Because of the somewhat convincing urgings of a contemporary, I've lately been using libraries again. Basically the use has been of the reference sources, but use them I have been. I've even become a "Friend of NYPL." I attained this status by contributing $40. There are a few perks, and the money sent to them is far better than sending it to Channel Thirteen, a group of people I've been able not to send money to for nearly 40 years now.

Growing up we had a two family house, and rented the upstairs apartment. Fifty percent of the time this worked out well when my father selected good people. When he didn't, it was hell.

There was one particular "good" family that became our extended family. And I guess we became theirs. Their son was only a little older than I and we played well together. We didn't go to the same school, since George went to Catholic school and actually learned Latin. I was luckier.

George's paternal grandfather lived with them. I don't know what he retired from, but it was always believed by us that he had been a musician. A concert pianist. In their upstairs apartment their living room was taken over by a grand piano. They used the dining room as their living room. How someone ever got that piano up those stairs and into that living room is still a mystery to me. I was too little when they moved in, and not home when they moved out, so I never saw the piano movers. I wish there was video of that one.

I remember hearing the grandfather, also named George, play the piano. "Finger exercises," my mother said. There was always tons of sheet music all over the place. Despite my later learning to play the accordion and read simple music, I could never understand how someone could look at those notes and turn them into pleasant sound. I still don't.

Their last name was Trampler. So, when I would see the name Walter Trampler associated with classical music I always thought there was a family connection. It's not that common a name. But there was never anyone left to ask.

So I finally explored the world of library databases and found there was a book, not yet digitized, that listed the classical musicians of the 20th century. Baker's Biographical Dictionary. Surely I'd hit pay dirt.

A trip to the NYPL at Lincoln Center, the only library that had this book, was finally made the other day. They've nearly finished re-doing the plaza area, but the place to me never looks good. The opening scenes for the movie 'West Side Story' were shot on the cleared site before construction of the complex took place. That's the last time I thought the place looked good.

Anyway, Trampler was found. But only Walter, the famous violist. No George. No other Tramplers either. I did notice an entry nearby for 'Tony Orlando and Dawn.' How, or why this qualified for a classical directory is beyond me, but there it was.

I learned last year that Tony Orlando was of Greek heritage. This explained why he was a mucky-muck in last year's Greek Independence Day parade. A co-worker knew that his mother was Puerto Rican, and the father was Greek. I hadn't known that.

And there is was, in Baker's Biographical Dictionary. Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis, born 1944, New York, NY.

The entry on Walter Trampler gave no family tree clues. I guess I'd have to work with Genealogy.com to keep up the search. That would likely cost some money, and since the interest is only nostalgic, I'll pass.

After all, I'd probably only find out about Elvis.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Oxford Don

Sunday's can be great. Because of what I imagine to be her work schedule, Margalit Fox of the NYT can be counted on to usually have a by-lined obituary appear in Sunday's paper (or online) that is informative as well as entertaining.

Take today's take on the death of Kenneth Dover, a highly opinionated scholar of Greek literature who passed away at 89.

Apparently Mr. Dover so disliked a colleague of his at Oxford that he bluntly wished the guy dead, put it in writing, and basically sought legal advice if his wishes came true, even if they weren't through any of his own direct efforts. When the chap finally did succeed at committing suicide, Mr. Dover did not hold back on his joy.

Colin Dexter's Morse and Sergeant Lewis were thus denied a case. But who knows, Mr. Dexter might have taken license with the emotion to kill and turned it into a great story. I've read a good deal of the Morse mysteries, but can't specifically remember a Don whacking a Don. (You wonder if they need permission from the other Dons.) More careful readers of the books might identify the one that might have been turned into a murder.

Regardless, Mr. Dover reminds me of an actress I read about who I can never remember who said of another actress who just passed away: "Don't expect me to say something nice just because she's now dead." Something like that. And it's not Tallulah Bankhead. On either side of the quote.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Unsolved Mysteries

There are people of a certain demographic group that still wonder who Carly Simon's song 'You're So Vain' is about. Up until a few years ago I classified it as one of the three things that were part of the greatest mysteries in life. The first, and still the first: is there life on other planets? Next, who is Deep Throat? And third, who is Carly singing about?

I completely lost interest in Carly's inspiration a few years ago. Mark Felt, once the No. 2 man in command at the FBI, revealed himself to be Deep Throat, then passed away soon after. He was in his 90s at that point.

Aside from the first mystery, the other two had been around so long that there were huge clumps of the population that knew nothing about them. Carly who? Deep Throat? Who was Richard Nixon?

I was reminded of some of this when I recently saw something that said Carly would tell one person who the song was written about. This announcement coincided with the release of her latest album, so, need we say more? Publicity. It's been said she really needs the money.

There's a series of entries on a Web page that chronicle what Carly has said about the song. In 2005, for a USA interview, she even joked that the song was about Mark Felt! That would have been a mystery answering a mystery. There must be word for that.

I always appreciate outside-the-box thinking, so when I read Marilyn Johnson's Dead Beat a few years ago I was surprised to read that Ms. Johnson offered that Carly wrote the song about William Donaldson, a "dissipated eccentric" who ran through several fortunes and enjoyed as many women and controlled substances as possible. He needed video replays to prove to himself he had a good time. I remember reading his obituary and he reminded me of another playboy, Jorge Guinle, whose lifespan outlasted his fortune by several decades. He died fairly poor, but he could at least recall his conquests.

William Donaldson is never mentioned amongst Carly's usual suspects. Ms. Johnson doesn't offer anything more that her speculation, but what a lovely speculation it is. Soon after reading that theory I shared it in the elevator where I sometimes try and do my best work. Some Starbucks toting youngster thought Carly had written about James Taylor.

Silly girl.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Never Too Soon

My 28 year-old daughter got an AARP card mailed to her yesterday. Similarly aged people in my wife's office also got a mailing.

My only thought is that they are starting a Cub Scout troop.


Monday, March 8, 2010

What Are They Thinking?

We know that women really dress for themselves, and other women. Perhaps there is a fraction of their fashion thinking devoted to what the male might like, but it can't be much. Females know all about males. And males know this. Take Sandra Bullock's endearing reminder about what her mother told her about riding in cars with boys until she was 18. Mom knows all. They all know all.

My sense of fashion is therefore likely parochial. I am invited by no one to go anywhere, at anytime. Sometimes I do have tickets to go somewhere, but generally the rest of the attendees seem to be there to test the latest in surgical supplies. Somebody's getting Medicare to pay for something.

I’m never in the company of women who are wearing floor length anything, and the men I see are never in tuxedos. I ride public transportation and use interstate rest areas. The closest I get to fashion is to see how many colors North Face comes in.

The only reason I happened to pay any attention to the above picture is that 'Up in the Air' was the only movie I saw in the movies in the year between Oscar ceremonies. So, the name and face of Vera Farmiga (also of 'The Departed', the only picture I saw the previous year) was familiar to me. Well, not really familiar. Someone had to tell me who she was in 'The Departed.'

Given all these qualifiers and my narrow vision caused by my gender, I still can harbor an opinion.

As pictured above, she is the only person I've ever seen that reminds me of the Guggenheim Museum.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Open the Paper

And there's Christopher Buckley telling the world about his first awareness of a political joke in today's WSJ.

Chris is a little younger than I am, so I too remember the joke. I have also freshly told it to the coming generation. Even recently. Like maybe last week.

If you haven't read or linked up to the joke in Mr. Buckley's story, then a quick synopsis will do. Sex.

The prostitutes of the Prime Minister John Profumo scandal period were Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler. They were certainly my idea of who I'd like to share a hotel room with in 1963. Nearly 50 years later and without Goggle, I correctly remembered how to spell their names. Even the hyphen. All times we live in are educational.

To impress someone with how much news this was at the time consider that my friend today told me that 'Profumo' was the Jeopardy answer for all the marbles at the end of a recent show. My friend tells me, only he and Alex knew the answer. Everyone else was too young.

Billy Joel includes the event in his song 'We Didn't Start the Fire' when his rhymed narrative of news events since 1949 gets to the part 'British politician sex.' 'Malcolm X' follows.

Somewhat around the same time there was another scandal, this one much more local when it was revealed that a firehouse in New York City was the site of house calls by prostitutes. Confronted with this allegation, the firemen replied that they, and the women were "just friends." As kids, we went round and all told each other we were "just friends." I cannot, to this day, ever stop smirking when someone says, "just friends."

There was a firehouse around the corner from where I grew up in Flushing. I passed it every day on my way to grammar school. If it wasn't winter the doors were open and I always remember looking in and trying to see if I'd ever see a fireman come sliding down a pole. Never did.

A few years later, after the "just friends" story I could never go past that firehouse, or any toher one, without wondering if I'd see anyone making house calls. Never did.

Mr. Buckley's piece is about the wayward ways of politicians, generally made wayward because of that short word "sex," three letters, that unless someone is very sloppy, will never be part of a license plate.

I imagine myself someday meeting Christopher and telling him that I always liked his father Bill, and liked Bill even more when he ran for mayor of New York and answered a reporter's question about what he might do if he won the election: "Demand a recount." I'd also tell the current Mr. Buckley that when I sometimes think I might be "witty" I remember his writing that James Carville was conceived during the love scene in the movie "Deliverance." And that he reminded the world that Dorothy Parker said of the girls who attended Bennington College, that if they were laid end-to-end, she wouldn't be at all be surprised. If you can't top that, just live long enough to quote them.

Mr. Buckley's piece in the WSJ is titled "What Were They Thinking." It recounts several fairly recent missteps by politicians, in this case, all male. The biggest picture of the transgressors is that of New York's governor, David Patterson, who is currently having more things land on his head than someone in Times Square at 12:01.01 A.M., January 1. He is du jour. All the other pictures are smaller, and surround his larger one.

Missing from the piece is any mention of women. Of course, there are far fewer women in high public office, but as a gender, they are equally capable of getting themselves in "trouble."

Just recently, the grandson of Winston Churchill passed away and it was recounted in the obituary how his own affairs stalled his political career. But the obituary also mentioned his mother, Pamela, who became Pamela Harriman and who traveled in the highest of circles, bedding the best of the guys who get themselves in trouble.

Mr. Buckley attributes the male politician's woes to testosterone. This of course is the easy explanation, but doesn't really account for women, or all those males who also have testosterone, but seem to behave themselves.

Recently I took the opportunity to write a book review for a title that just came out. I did this on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but in signing on to do it on Amazon the site said that I was already registered, and did I want to read this person's other reviews? Sure, I'd like to be reminded what I'd completely forgotten.

And there is was, a book review I'd written about someone's book who I know. It's a bit of a self-help book, and fairly simply describes the inner and outer bullies in all of us: the voices that we listen to that "tell us" things. Of course, that voice in males might be completely sustained by testosterone.

Mr. Buckley's piece is not meant to be a scientific explanation for the male politician behavior. Someone will have to approve funding for that study. Is Ms. Pelosi in the House?


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Green, Green Grass of Home

If Bruce Springsteen was Born to Run, then members of my family were born to offer condolences and sympathy.

How else to explain the building excitement at the oldest daughter, and her husband in buying a house that's within a wreath toss of a famous cemetery.

Gate of Heaven is well known because of the cemetery itself, and by the notables buried there. It is located in Westchester County, just north of the Bronx, which is one of NYC's five boroughs. Thus, the place is full of New Yorkers.

Gate of Heaven has something for every member of my family, including myself. My wife is most excited by the proposed house purchase because a drive to it will take her through some very familiar parts of her growing up in the Bronx. It will also allow her to finally "visit the Hanleys." They are contemporaries of her own parents, who she of course was fond of as a kid. If you passed away after living in the Bronx and were not Jewish, you were either buried in Woodlawn, or Gate of Heaven. My wife's own parents are buried in St. Rose of Lima, Freehold, New Jersey, which is a subject for an entirely different entry. I remember my father-in-law saying something to the effect that tax-free land is tax-free land, no matter where you are. And tax-free land in New Jersey was cheaper than in New York.

My daughter, who has already patrolled Maspeth's Mt. Olivet in search of her paternal grandparents, will enjoy the proximity to Gate of Heaven. Her husband's grandmother is buried there, as well as Babe Ruth and Billy Martin, two figures that will guarantee her husband's attention--after grandma.

My own interest will be peeked by the fact that Jimmy Cagney is buried there. Cagney, my father and I went to the same high school in Manhattan. I was reminded of Cagney's attendance there when on Day One the home room teacher told us that Cagney might have sat in "that seat over there." And well he might have. The desks were the same as when the place was new, and that was 1904.

Jimmy Walker, New York's graft-plagued carousing mayor with the tin box is buried there. The list goes on. Notables, and hardly notables.

Home Sweet Home.