Friday, April 16, 2021

Remembering Paula Gloria

If you ever want to understand the true subconcious of NYC, then public access television is where you'll find it. Ordinary people -- by which I mean the bizarre characters who not only live amongst us but are us -- get the chance to create and host their own shows and allow their imaginations to connect the public.

The results are often, uh, unconventional. 

Perhaps no one was more successful in the history of NYC public access than Paula Gloria who was part mystic, part spiritual healer, part conspiracy theorist, part commentator, and total eccentric. She appeared on public access for years, hosting a show called "Farther Down the Rabbit Hole", doing both live call-ins shows and recorded interviews and talks. She also had a lively presence on YouTube and even appeared several times on Howard Stern. They loved to goof on her common refrain, "Mantra and tantra creates yantra", an expression of the yogi-like power she wanted to share with her audience.

Apparently Paula has died from undisclosed reasons at the age of 68 but I hope she has not gone down the rabbit hole but gone to find her permanent inner bliss. 

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Art Blooms in the Bronx

In this time, where death is literally in the air, it's always gratifying to find something that is very much alive -- something not only living but thriving, bursting with vitality ... blooming.

As the second Spring of our COVID discontent unfolds, some contentment can be found in the Bronx. The New York Botanical Garden is unveiling a huge new exhibition by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama called Cosmic Nature. A series of sculptures, some old and new, are set around the gardens and are "twists", multi-dimensional interpretations of the natural world -- pumpkins, lakes, and other parts of nature are re-imagined, intertwined with the real thing. The imaginative scale of this exhibit is ... cosmic!

If you ever wonder if NYC and art are worht it, this is it!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Big "What Ifs": "Popeye Doyle" & Peter Manso RIP

In 1981 New York City Mayor Ed Koch was overwhelming re-elected to a second term. He was so popular that he received the nomination of both the Republican and Democratic parties. His landslide win established him as a formidable political figure and higher office called. 

Koch answered it by running for Governor of New York State -- and failed spectacularly. 

He gave an interview to a journalist named Peter Manso -- who has just died at the age of 84 -- in Playboy magazine. With his deft interviewing skills, Manso got Koch to admit what he thought about upstate New York, and the same thing that made Koch so popular in NYC -- his brashness, his "tell-it-like-it-is", no-holds-barred instinct to speak his mind -- terminated his campaign for governor. Koch told Manso about upstate, "It's sterile. It's nothing. It's wasting your life … a joke … you have to drive 20 miles to buy a gingham dress or a Sears Roebuck suit … [Albany is] small town life at its worst.”

Even in an age before social media, these comments sparked widespread outrage -- and Koch ended up losing the Democratic primary to then-Lieutenant Governor Mario Cuomo. The history speaks for itself -- Cuomo wound up serving as governor for three terms, from 1983 to 1995, and now his son Andrew Cuomo is governor, having been in office since 2011 (whether he'll make it to the end of his term in 2022 remains to be seen). 

So Peter Manso changed the course of New York City and New York State history. But for him -- and it's a big "what if" -- Ed Koch might have wound up as governor and the Cuomo dynasty that has ruled New York off-and-on for 40 years might never have gotten off the ground. 

Then there's Doyle, Popeye Doyle.

You might recognize the name if you've ever seen the 1971 classic The French Connection and the 1975 sequel. Doyle is the quintessential OG rough-and-gruff police detective, a sort of NYC Dirty Harry -- he doesn't play-by-the-rules or conform in order to deliver justice to his benighted city. In the mid-1980s, a decade of so after the second movie, someone got the idea that a TV show about Popeye Doyle might be a idea -- so a pilot was made starring Ed O'Neill called, quite brilliantly, Popeye Doyle. The plot is fairly basic -- a model is murdered, and Doyle tracks the case which gets him involved with a drug cartel and terrorists. 

But only the pilot was made -- the TV show, to quote Pulp Fiction, "became nothing." It was broadcast in the fall of 1986 and shortly thereafter Ed O'Neill went on to star in Married ... with Children for a decade and then, years later, the great Modern Family for another decade. So another big "what if" is that had Popeye Doyle been picked up and run for even one season, O'Neill probably would never have done Married ... or Modern Family and the history of television would be very different. 

Both "what ifs" are reminders that the course of history -- whether political or cultural -- is made by the decisions we make, by seemingly random choices and transient events or desires, or by unforced errors (like Koch's) or aesthetic judgments (like Popeye Doyle). We live with the results, for better or worse, of the decisions that we and others make that affect our lives and those of us around us. 

Life in NYC and everywhere is determined and altered by people's choices, and everything else lives on in the realm of the "what ifs." 

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

A Monument for Our Time

This morning I heard what may be one of the best pieces of radio commentary I've ever heard. It's by the WNYC reporter Beth Fertig recounting her experience getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Javits Center. 

I won't try to summarize or explain it because that would ruin it -- you must simply listen to or read it to appreciate its power.

What happily surprises me, however, is how much it reverberates with my previous blog post about how, in these seemingly nihilistic times, we must look to and celebrate the helpers, the healers, the creators, the builders, people who seek to improve and enrich our world in time when so many others seems determined to ruin it. How the vaccines and their distribution is, in many ways, a monument to humanity's great ability to hope for a better future.

And that this is why NYC has changed and thrived for over 400 years --- and will for another 400 years. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Remembering "Teddy & Alice"

I recently watched the 1955 movie The Night of the Hunter, a gothic thriller directed by the great actor Charles Laughton, about a psycho preacher terrorizing two kids. At the time of its release it was a critical and commercial failure but, since then, it has come to be regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made -- and highly influential on directors like David Lynch, Spike Lee, and the Coen Brothers.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies. Produced between his signature hits Company in 1970 and A Little Night Music in 1973, Follies was an odd and unconventional show about old-school entertainers reflecting on their broken lives. It was so unusual that, at the time, the critics hated it and audiences ignored it. But, in the intervening fifty years, Follies it has come to be seen as a classic, a proud entry in the Sondheim canon, with some brilliant songs like "I'm Still Here."

Sometimes something or someone is a failure in its or the person's time but becomes a great success later on. (Hopefully this blog will enjoy that same trajectory!)

This unusual fate has not befallen the Broadway musical Teddy & Alice. Produced in late 1987, it ran for two months before closing, an utter failure. Unlike some shows -- i.e. Chicago -- that failed in its original run but then was restaged to great success decades later, Teddy & Alice has never been revived on Broadway and remains totally forgotten.

So the ever-contrarian Mr NYC is going to remember it.

Recently I was strolling through Times Square and passed by the Minskoff Theater. I strained to remember that I saw a show there once, a long time ago, but couldn't remember it and then ... LIGHT BULB. I remembered the show! Teddy & Alice! It's a silly musical about President Theodore Roosevelt and his wild daughter Alice. The songs were adapted from John Philip Sousa and most of them are, well, forgettable. I don't really remember anything about the show itself but I remember that I saw it for two reasons: 1) A kid in my class was in it, playing one of Teddy's many children. He was telling everyone the show was about to close, and the tickets were super cheap, so my mom got two tickets and we went the night before it cloesd. 2) It was the first time I had ever heard of President Teddy Roosevelt and my impression of him was actually formed by this show. 

While the show itself was forgettable, the star of it was not -- Teddy was played by Len Cariou, a veteran stage and TV actor who was in the original run of Sweeney Todd. These days he's best known for being on the show Blue Bloods that's been running for about a decade. He was amazing as Teddy, he carried the show brilliantly, and it's too bad that he never got the recognition for it that he deserved. 

I doubt that Teddy & Alice will ever be revived -- it's one of those shows that came and went so quickly, that failed so quietly, that was not a "notorious" or controversial failure (like the musical version of Carrie that closed after one night), that it's just slipped out of the collective Broadway memory. So, in a way, having seen the show, puts me in a small and select circle of people who had an experience that was unique, a brief moment in time, and that will never be repeated. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

New York City's Next Steps

The COVID-19 pandemic has raged for a year. While we're by no means out of the tunnel yet, the light at the end of it is getting brighter. Vaccination rates are soaring and infection rates are dropping (although, here in NYC we've seen some regression in infection rates which will hopefully end soon). But one day, if all goes right, in the next year or so, this thing will be over and we'll all go back to -- well, no ... we won't -- we won't go back to "normal." First, "normal" was never normal to begin with. Second, whatever comes next will be a "new normal", an aftermath, as we deal with the social, economic, political, and human impact fallout of the pandemic.

Here in NYC this is already happening -- we're already thinking about the city's future and the next steps it will be taking to get there.

For many, as this heartrendering article demonstrates in several personal stories, the city will never be the same. There lives have changed and their place in the city has changed, both personally and professionally. Jobs are lost and gone forever, some still have jobs but the nature and demands of them have changed, friends and family members have died, and relationships have been permanently altered, for better or worse. Their NYC is not the old one and never will be again.

Then there's the city's economic future. The pandemic hammered businesses and the tourism industry that the city depends on for tax revenue. The fiscal situation is dire. But two things will improve this -- and soon. First, as more people get vaccinated, more businesses will open up and more tourists will visit and tax collections will increase. Second, the last election yielded a president and a congress that, unusually, actually cares about NYC. Lots of stimulus money is headed our way! So the city's economy will recover but it will take almost five years until the city gets back to the employment and economic level it had before the pandemic. We're working hard to get back simply to where we were.

Finally, there's the matter of who will actually be overseeing the city's recovery from COVID-19. This is a big election year in NYC, with a new mayor, comptroller, several borough presidents, and a city council to be chosen. The class of '21 taking control of NYC will have a big, tough job ahead of it -- sorting out the finances and managing a strained and exhausted government. Much like Michael Bloomberg was elected twenty-years ago on the heels of 9/11, with this first term defined by handling the fallout from it, the new mayor's term will be defined by how the city recovers from the pandemic. There are some good candidates running -- former Housing and Sanitation Commissioners Shaun Donovan and Kathryn Garcia, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and City Comptroller Scott Stinger. There are also some really lousy ones ...

... and this is where I get scared. Andrew Yang, for reasons that defy logic, is currently leading in the polls and has a good (certainly not bulletproof, but good enough) chance of getting elected mayor. As I've blogged about before, he is totally unqualified to be mayor -- not only has he never served in government, either in elected or appointed office, but he hasn't even voted in past mayoral elections! Unlike Bloomberg, who built a Fortune 500 company, Yang's biggest acoomplishment was running a non-profit. That's it. His policy ideas are shallow and meaningless -- like a $1,000 basic universal income and a casino on Governor's Island, totally unserious proposals. Appparently, his lack of seriousness is what's charming the press into giving him good coverage and getting him ahead in the polls. He plays basketball with the press! He releaeses rap videos! He performs stunts when handing in his petitions! He knows how to play the PR game but HE. IS. NOT. QUALIFIED. TO. BE. MAYOR. I'm scared that this totally unqualified guy will wind up as mayor at a time when we need a very smart, very competent, and very skilled political and governmental operator to help the city recover. We had an unqualified and unserious president for the last four years -- and we saw how that turned out. Just because Yang isn't as personally vile as Trump doesn't mean he'd be a much better as mayor as Trump was as president. 

Please, NYC, choose wisely. The next steps into the future for a better city depends on it!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Classic Mr NYC

A few years ago I blogged about my trip to Denver, Colorado and what a great town it is. Included was a description, and pictures, of the glorious Rocky Mountain National Park that we visited as a side-trip. 

Recently I was contacted by someone who has created an online guide to the park with detailed information about various hikes you can take there. Check it out!