Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Halloween in NYC 1974

Monday, October 30, 2017

Classic Mr NYC

Today, in case you missed it, people who worked for Donald Trump's 2016 president campaign were indicted, and another one already pleaded guilty to, money laundering and collusion with the Russian government. It's a big legal and political morass and how it'll play out is anyone's guess: either it'll destroy Trump politically (massive election defeats for the Republican party and Trump in 2020) or legally (impeachment, resignation, etc.) or he and his party will survive it and live to fight another day. Who knows? Only time will tell, it's impossible to make predictions.

That said, the fact that all of this is going on is a tragedy for our nation. This man and this party should never have taken power in the first place and we're all paying the price everyday.

What's hard to remember is that it all started out as a joke!

Back in 2011, more than five years before his Orangeness was elected the 45th POTUS, I blogged about the living reality show that is Donald Trump. I compared him to Charlie Sheen and the cast of the Jersey Shore, and how, like them, all he wants, all he really wants, the only thing he  truly, deeply cares about ... is attention

The only thing he thinks about is: Look at me! Pay attention to me! Love me! Love me! Love me! Sweet lord, my five year old kid is less needy for attention than this 71-year old narcissistic fascist with access to the nuclear codes!

And here we are, laughing yesterday, crying today, scared for tomorrow, all because of this ogre. He got what he wanted, he got the eyes of the world on him, and now we're all paying the price.  

Friday, October 27, 2017

Delight in Rapture

My earlier post about the NYC rock'n'roll scene got me thinking about other times when music in NYC was exciting. 

Specifically, rap music. 

Perhaps no era was more pivotal than 1979-1981, and these two videos show it.

First, 1979: the Sugar Hill Gang produced Rapper's Delight, arguably the first great and popular rap song. Back then, however, rap was viewed as niche or "black music", or not even "music" at all -- and certainly not mainstream. 

But if you ever doubted that rap would go mainstream i.e. that it would conquer white America, then only look at this video for Blondie's great 1981 song "Rapture" in which, halfway thru, the very white Debbie Harry raps. The future of music was obvious from these two songs and the consequences would change American culture. And it started here in NYC.

Interesting trivia: in "Rapture", the famous, short-lived artist Basquiat can be seen playing. Apparently he was a last-minute addition when Grandmaster Flash failed to show up for taping.

NYC's Huddled Masses: Yearning, Breathing, Voting, and Spending to Live Free

In "The New Colossus", the poet Emma Lazarus writes most famously about the "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Specifically, she's referring to immigrants arriving by ship into the "air-bridged" New York harbor, literally huddled on board together, excited by the prospect of freedom in America and life in NYC, the Statue of Liberty looming above, eager for the literal and metaphorical open air of the New World. 

When she wrote this poem, in 1883, the United States was only a century old, a young country still finding its place in the world. NYC represented its literal and figurative entrance, the most welcoming place in the world's most welcoming country. 

Today, much has changed. We are no longer a neophyte country but the world's superpower -- and NYC is its superpower city. We still have "huddled masses" here but life couldn't be more different than almost 140 years ago; and this country and city aren't always, sadly, so welcoming.

Why? Well, you can look at our national political atmosphere to see why the country's not so warmhearted. As for NYC, it's simply the cost of living that bars so many people from living or staying here. 

And yet ... the city thrives. And for one simple reason: there are lots of people here. It remains big and populous. It's a teaming cauldron of humanity. The "huddled masses" of 2017 may be richer and more sophisticated but, like those before them, they are hungry for a better future. In many ways we resemble our immigrant ancestors -- we yearns, oh yes, lots of yearning goin' on -- but with more money.  

Here's a cross section of evidence. 

First, if you want to know how much it costs to live in NYC today, check out this comprehensive breakdown of the 50 most expensive neighborhoods. Here, in cold hard numbers, you get an idea of how and why it's so costly to live here -- although some of the most and least priciest neighborhoods might surprise you (i.e. the Upper East Side isn't anywhere near #1). What's also surprising, as this radio segment indicates, is that many people who can't really afford to live here somehow do. Hence the population boom.

Second, NYC is in election mode right now and, when it comes to voting, New Yorkers have many options. When voters go to the polls on November 7, their ballots will contain more choices than Baskin Robbins. That's because there are lots of political parties in NYC. Here's a history and explanation of the myriad political parties that exist in this town. Don't like either the Democratic or Republican parties? Well, you have an array of choices -- including a political party devoted simply to "diving" (you heard that right, as in diving off diving boards). 

Third, if money and politics isn't your thing, how about the stories of individual New Yorkers? This year marks the 50 Anniversary of New York magazine and their anniversary issue is devoted to the first-person telling of such stories by New Yorkers both famous and not. There's nothing more powerful than personal stories and here is an array of New Yorkers talking about what the city means to them. 

So what's NYC all about? Well, like the Declaration of Independence declares, it's about "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." But, as "The New Colossus" also indicates, that's only possible if we can "breath free" -- after all, you need air to breath and you need to breath in order to ... live. But if the air isn't there, if it's choked off, then it's hard to live. That's why we try hard to breath and, although it's never easy, when we do, we thrive!   

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The NYC Rock Life: 2001-2011

The heyday of rock'n'roll in NYC is, without question, the 1970s. That's when CBGB's opened, when punk rock hit, when bands like Talking Heads, the Ramones, Television, and Blondie exploded the city's rock scene, and when the Police and Elvis Costello made their American debuts. This was when rock became dirty and dangerous, loud and crazy, and 1970s NYC served as the perfect ecosystem for it.

But that ended. Those bands when mainstream, or broke up, and eventually clubs like CBGB's closed.

And yet ...

According to writer Lizzy Goodman, author of a new book called Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock'n'Roll in New York City 2001-2011, the first decade of the 21st Century was another great time for rock in NYC. That's when bands like The Strokes and Vampire Weekend arose out of the ashes and depression of post-9/11 NYC to create a new era in music. And, like their ancestors, today those once funky bands are mainstream. 

I remember going to see some rock shows during that time and, to be honest, it didn't feel like the rock scene was undergoing some great renaissance. But, if Ms. Goodman felt the need to write a book about it, there probably was something cool going on and, typically, I missed it completely.

My memories of music in that time here in NYC was mostly going to shows at Irving Plaza and the Bowery Ballroom. I remember seeing the Drive-By Truckers a few times with a young Jason Isbell captivating audiences. Honestly I can't remember all the bands I saw but I do remember one: a joke rock metal band like Spinal Tap called Satanicide that was easily the funniest show I've ever seen in my life. I'm sure Satanicide does not rate high in Ms. Goodman's favorite bands in NYC 2001-2011 but, for me, they were the best. Here is the their tribute song to Dungeons and Dragons "20 Sided Die":

And here are the Drive-BY Truckers.

I can't wait to read this book and learn more about what was going on all around me and that, as usual, I was too uncool to be a part of. Listen to the author's WTF interview here

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Seinfeld's "The Contest" @ 25

Twenty-five years ago the TV show Seinfeld was riding high, conquering the ratings and, more importantly, the culture. 

People from all over America were falling in love with the distinctly New York neurosis of this show, quoting it endlessly, and finding in it a mirror to their own non-New York lives.

Perhaps the most famous episode is "The Contest" where the four frenemies bet on who can or who cannot remain "Master of their Domain." What made this episode and, indeed, the whole series, so beloved was the in-joke quality of it, the you-have-to-read-between-the-lines-to-get-it attitude. This was a show that respected its audience intelligence, viewed its fans as smart and sophisticated -- and, in the long-run, changed TV for the better.

Want to know the inside story behind the most famous episode of the one of TV's greatest shows? Read this

Monday, October 23, 2017

Never Sleeping ...

Several years ago I interviewed the authors of a book called Nightshift NYC about the city's overnight workers. This was in follow-up to another post I wrote about the romantic allure of NYC in the dead of night. It's such a beautiful idea: the big, crazy, multitudinous city becoming, for several hours, a kind of ghost town -- a calm, mysterious, lightly-populated dreamscape. 

New York City at night ... it's a subculture all its own. Not only was a book written about it but even the great Martin Scorsese himself made a movie about it! 

And speaking of movies, I recently recorded a movie off Turner Classic Movies that aired at four in the morning (having a full-time job and being a full-time dad makes staying up that late to watch a movie rather impossible). But while the movie itself was "eh" I LOVED the intro that TCM played just before it started. The intro even has a its own name: "Open All Night."

This intro perfectly captures what I love about NYC at night: the jazzy, funky, romantic, mellow vibe and mood; the soft visuals, the casual attitude -- everything about it is just right. If you want to know what NYC overnight feels like to me, this perfectly (in an almost cliched way) brings it to life:

Oh, and speaking about NYC at night, recently the Jimmy Kimmel show was taping in Brooklyn, and the always entertaining Howard Stern made a memorable appearance. Late night NYC isn't always so quiet:

NYC at night ... it's always interesting. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Interview: Ross Barkan, State Senate Candidate for District 22

Well, this is interesting. 

Back in September, I interviewed political reporter Ross Barkan for this blog. He's a well-respected scribe on New York City and State politics, and he gave Mr NYC some great insights about the upcoming mayor's race. His interview has quickly become a popular and widely-read post. 

Little did I know but apparently Ross had something in the works and now it's official: he's throwing off his reporter's mantle and running for the NY State Senate. He's vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican State Senator Marty Golden in 2018. According to Barkan, he plans to focus on the issues of "Single-payer [healthcare], transit, fixing Albany, and a lot of other things."

Ross is certainly a smart and courageous person. I just hope he knows what he's in for. Politics is brutal. I mean brutal. Remember the famous Game of Thrones line? "You win -- or die." Well, in 21st century American politics, maybe you don't literally die, it's still really, really tough. Ever the gentleman, Ross was kind enough to give Mr NYC another interview -- this time as a candidate:

Lots of aspiring politicians talk about the "sacrifice" of running for office but, let's face it, for most, it's a business, a career plan, and no sacrifice at all. But you're a successful, talented journalist who doesn't need to do this. Why?

I felt motivated to do it because I’ve been repeatedly disappointed by the political class. There are good people in politics and some very talented individuals, don’t get me wrong, and I don’t think the pols of yesteryear (with few exceptions) were particularly impressive. But we’re facing several crises here in Brooklyn and across the state and I saw that few were standing up to offer solutions or call out the bad actors who’ve screwed us. In the past, I had mused privately about running for office, and got serious about it a few months ago. When I announced this campaign, I said to myself I wanted to run a race on the values I care about, like Medicare for All, fixing our failing transit system, and cleaning up corruption. I want to run a campaign I would be proud of. In my corner of Southwest Brooklyn, a retrograde Republican state senator named Marty Golden represents me. He’s a nice enough guy and my grudge against him isn’t personal—it’s grounded in policy. He doesn’t care about public transportation or a woman’s right to choose or the discrimination faced by the Arab-American community. It’s time for him to go. And I plan to chase him out. On a personal level, this was a good time to run a campaign. I’m young enough. I don’t have children. In a decade from now, I probably won’t have this kind of time. I didn’t want to look back with any regrets.

Politics is ugly for a reason: it's the battle for power. You're trying to take power away from people who already have it or who think they deserve it more. Are you ready for people saying hateful things about you in the media, investigating your life, perhaps attacking your family, perhaps having people following you around recording you, all sorts of nightmarish stuff. Are you ready for the onslaught? (You realize that the Brooklyn Democratic machine might have other ideas of who should go up against Marty Golden and, if you win the primary, the GOP machine is going to fight like hell for a State Senate seat that pads their tiny, basically non-existent majority)?

Politics is a very rough business. I know it well. Am I ready? I hope. I’ve done my fair share of digging on other people and now I expect people out there to return the favor. I’m not naïve about the process. It will be a tough but exhilarating time, and I think ultimately it will be worth it. Not enough people take risks in politics. They hew to the conventional wisdom, play it safe, slink into the shadows. That’s not really my way. I intend to speak my mind. Maybe I’ll make some people uncomfortable. More often than not, though, I’ve found people don’t want to hear bullshit. Let the GOP cash machine come after me. I’ll have the truth on my side.

You said on Twitter that you'll never join the IDC. That's good to hear! Is there anything more you want to add about that?

The IDC needs to go. In an ideal world, the conference would be destroyed, never to return. All members of the IDC would lose and go home. Of course, that will be hard to achieve. Jeff Klein sits on millions of dollars and is a known quantity in his district. Diane Savino is good at constituent work. Defeating all eight is going to be very challenging. Do I hope it happens? Yes. I don’t want a scenario where I have to cast a vote for co-leader Klein. I really don’t. I will never vote for him. What galls me most about the IDC is the deception. To pose as progressives and literally keep conservatives in power. It’s disingenuous and wrong and I’m glad people are speaking up and fighting back.

Any more thoughts or things we should know about your State Senate run?

I said somewhere I am going to be unapologetically myself, no matter what. I won’t morph into an android politician. I won’t be Jon Ossoff. Win or lose, I will battle on the issues and values that matter most to me and my supporters.

Sounds good. I wish Ross luck. People are always complaining that good people don't run for office so here's a chance for the people in Brooklyn. It'll be interesting. If you want to know more about his campaign, you can go to his website here

Self-Driving Cars in Lower Manhattan = Insanity

Self-driving cars are, like the Internet and most technology we use these days, probably inevitable. After all, who wouldn't like to have a car that can drive and park itself, freeing its riders from the hassles behind the wheel? I'm an awful driver so this is a technological development I welcome!

So the world turns.

That said, there's a long way to go before self-driving cars become an every-day reality and it'll require lots and lots and lots of testing. What does testing means? It means that these test cars will have to drive around and crash before they can become safe for regular drivers. So, if you were a company developing these cars, where would you test them? Perhaps in a place where they couldn't do much structural damage or stall or, you know, kill people. Perhaps a low-population, low-density area like ... Lower Manhattan???

Yes, it turns out that GM -- you know, that car company that almost went out of business until taxpayers bailed them out? -- is planing to do just that. They want to start testing their self-driving prototypes in Lower Manhattan next year. This is dumb and dangerous and Mayor De Blasio is, rightly, strongly against the idea. Testing these cars in that environment is madness and he's vowing the stop it.

So who gave these cars the metaphorical and literal green light? Governor Cuomo -- oh, and the state Department of Motor Vehicles didn't alert the city Department of Transportation before approving this. Instead, they sent out this nasty, self-defensive missive when De Blasio vowed to stop this: "The mayor can do whatever he wants but the city is subject to state jurisdiction ... We understand that the mayor's taxi industry donors don't like it, but it is the future and all states are exploring it.” So instead of addressing the concern the state attacks the mayor personally and throw its authority in our face. Oh, and GM contributed to Cuomo's campaign funds. Yeah, the statement didn't mention that. 

Something is rotten about this -- it's all corrupt. This must be stopped! No self-driving car tests in Lower Manhattan! Or else the state, and not the city, will literally have blood on its hands. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

October 19, 1987 - Black Monday

Today is Thursday but thirty years ago on this date -- October 19, 1987 -- the New York Stock experienced its biggest crash in history. The Dow Jones Industrial Index, something you might call "the stock market of the stock market", plunged by 508-points or 22% of the "index." 

Imagine that the value of your house evaporated by almost a quarter in a single day and you can imagine why it was a dark, dark day on The Street, recorded by history as Black Monday.

What caused it? Many explanations: a weak dollar, investor fears of inflation, conflicts in the Middle East (i.e. unpredictable oil prices), and the vagaries computer trading. News reports, like the one above, assaulted viewers with terms like "S&P 500", "market capitalization", "index funds", blah blah blah, trying to make sense of the madness. But the market quickly recovered and the Go-Go '80s soon became the Go-Go '90s.

Of course, 21 years later, in the fall of 2008, the market would yet again crash due to the collapse of the housing market and nonsense of the the big banks. This would lead to the Great Recession that we are still, almost a decade later, recovering from.

So October 19, 1987, Black Monday, was a sad one indeed but, ultimately, one of the good ol' days. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Cow in Prospect Park

Ai Weiwei: Good Fences, Good Neighbors

Ever since the amazing The Gates in Central Park exhibition in 2005, I've become a lover of public art. There's nothing cooler than seeing the streets and parks of NYC turned into a canvass for a creative vision. NYC is always interesting but is made only more so when parts of it are re-imagined, temporarily, as something else. That's the glory of art, one of the things that makes NYC great.

The famous Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei has just mounted one of the most ambitious public arts projects in NYC history. It's called Good Fences, Good Neighbors and it's a multi-borough exhibit of fences -- yes, fences -- that highlight the plight of refugees and migrants who are fleeing wartorn countries and natural catastropheos. Fences can protect but they can also exclude -- something that refugees are keenly aware of but that most of cannot really appreciate 
-- and this exhibit drives that point home.

What makes this exhibit so particularly interesting is how is both grand and small. Some of the installations are tourist heavy, obvious places like Washington Square Park and Flushing Corona Park -- and others are on bus stops in Brooklyn and shelters in The Bronx. There is also an audio visual component to this exhibit too, with videos showing the plight of refugees in many far-flung parts of the world.

This project seems like a once-in-a-lifetime, you-were-there, blink-of-you'll-miss-it experience so, if you're in NYC, try to find it and check it out.

It runs until February, 2018. For a comprehensive list of locations, go here

Monday, October 16, 2017

Cy Vance and the Fear of Power

Why aren't Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump's daughter and husband in jail?

After all, there's overwhelming evidence that both committed crimes (in Harvey Weinstein's case, against women; in Donald Trump's kids case, for fraud, since they mislead buyers of the Trump Soho building about how many units were actually sold). 

Thanks Manhattan DA Cy Vance for not prosecuting these miscreants. Not only did the lawyers of these people contribute heavily to his campaign, but Vance apparently has an MO for vigorously prosecuting low level offenses committed by poor and powerless people but letting the rich and powerful skate. 

The reason is easy to see: it's scary to prosecute people who have money and connections. They will fight you with everything they have, they will smear you in the press, they will sue you personally and try to get you disbarred, they will prevent family members and people who work for you from getting jobs, they will hire private investigators to terrorize your life, they will do whatever it takes to stop you and stay out of jail. So why bother? The fear of that is enough.

Part of me is angry at Vance for letting these people get away with their crimes but another part of me understands. It's all about power. That's what power is, after all -- literally getting people to do, or not do, what you want. This is something that the Harvey Weinsteins and the Trumps of this world fully understand. 

Like the character Varys says in Game of Thrones: "Power is a trick, a shadow on the wall." And the big question is, where does the power come from? Who performs the trick, who casts the shadow? Every few years we go to the polls and elect to give certain people "power" over our lives for certain periods of time. But let's face it -- when people have power over those people, when the supposedly powerful and accountable are at the mercy, perceived or real, of the even more powerful and unaccountable, what hope is there for the rest of us? How can justice truly prevail?

In the case of Cy Vance, not often. The fear of power, the real power, is too great. 


Friday, October 13, 2017

Sinovision and NYC Chinese Media

At least once a week I pick up food from this small Chinese joint in my neighborhood. Very often they have a flatscreen on the wall playing a Chinese language station called Sinovision

I've become fascinated by it. Sinovision is beautifully produced and super local with shows and commercials that distinctly target a NYC audience. I only wish that I understood so I could actually watch it, and I only wish there were more local TV stations like it. 


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Memo from NYC

The news roaring around NYC and Hollywood and the interwebs these days is about the fall from grace of Harvey Weinstein, whose companies Miramax and The Weinstein Company produced some of the best movies of the last quarter century. 

Surprise, surprise, it turns out Mr Weinstein is a nasty creep who used his power in the movie business to harass and coerce women into unwanted sexual activity. This has become a familiar pattern as of late: a story breaks about, or a lawsuit is filed against, a rich, famous, and powerful man (like Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, or Bill O'Reilly, etc.) and then more stories surface, and then even more stories surface, about how they used their positions to force women to submit to them (and then paid off or made them sign agreements to stay quiet). These men then lose their careers and become pariahs, and much hand-ringing ensues about why such men were able to thrive and get away with their behavior for so long.

Unless, of course, you're Donald Trump -- then you not only get away with it, you become president.

Wait ... perhaps that explains it!

Perhaps the fact that Trump is president shows us why these other guys got away with it for so long: there's something in American culture that actually approves of this kind of behavior, there's some demon within ourselves that wants this kind of alpha-male, "grab 'em by the ..." mentality to be okay. That's why, in part, men overwhelmingly voted for Trump. They want his kind of gross behavior to be condoned, to be mainstream, and what better way to make predatory behavior seem normal than to make a predator president? 

Let's face it: many men, if they had the money and power of these guys, would be doing the same thing. "Man!" a lot of them think, "If I was them, it'd be broads 24/7!" After all, they wonder, what's the point of money, power, and fame if it can't get you laid? 
I know men. I am one. This is how a lot of us think: women are a prize to be won or a commodity to be acquired. They're the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Like Tony Montana said in Scarface: "In America, first you get the money, then you get the power, then you get the wo-man." 

And let's not entirely absolve women from this whole nightmare either. While I don't blame the victims, I also wonder if, sometimes, some women (please let me emphasize only some women) unintentionally contribute to this sick culture of exploitation. After all, there are dating websites for "sugerbabies" looking or "sugardaddies." There are shows like The Bachelor where women literally compete to attract a guy. Oh, and let us not forget this depressing fact: a majority of white women voted for Donald Trump in 2016 even after his notorious "grab 'em tape" was leaked. Trump, a raging narcissistic misogynist pig (among other offenses), is sitting in the Oval Office instead of the first woman president because women put him there! That said, that doesn't let us guys off the hook: men should not tolerate the crap that guys like Weinstein and Trump perpetuate. We have to be as loud against it as any woman, because it reflects on all of us, all men. 

Power is not carte blanch to sexually dominate women -- or anyone. Period. 

Final thoughts: I'm not rich, not famous, never been powerful, and probably never will be. But I've been a working stiff for almost my entire adult life. And it amazes me to see guys, even those who are nowhere near as rich and powerful as the aforementioned villains, hit on and creep on women at work, creating an uncomfortable environment for them and everyone in their place of business.  Guys, listen up: a place of business is not a singles bars, it's not a dating app, it's not frat party, it's not pick up joint -- it's a place where people go to earn a living, advance their careers, and build towards their futures. It's also a place where, let's face it, you're only there to help someone else make money. Wanna score chicks? Do it on your own time, somewhere else. But at work, work, and only use your big head. Or you may wind up like Harvey Weinstein.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

NYC Mayor's Debate #1

Last night the three major candidates for NYC Mayor debated and it was a disaster. 

First, the audience as raucous and rude, always interrupting with cheers and boos that often made it impossible to hear what anyone was saying. The moderators seemed unable to do anything about it.

Second, Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis and independent candidate Bo Dietl spent most of their time playing to the crowd, yelling and bloviating and lying, that it only made it worse. At one point Dietl's mic got cut off because he was interrupting so much and Malliotakis  (in a Trump-like manner) attacked one of the questioners of "carrying water" for De Blasio. That's the level of intellect that aspires to run this city. Dear God.  

Third, Mayor De Blasio didn't bring his A-Game. He didn't attack his opponents that hard and just repeated standard defenses of his record. He was playing it safe which, when compared to his two vile opponents, made him look better but also made him look a little overwhelmed.

If you want a recap of this debate, listen to this

However, the good news is that De Blasio is currently pulverizing Tweedledee and Tweedledumber in the polls, and seems safe bet for reelection. I can't imagine this debate will "move the needle" on those polls in anyway. There's one more debate scheduled and let's hope it's a little more civil.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Kevin Smith @ LaGuardia: A Celebrity Sighting and a Thought

On Friday morning I was at LaGuardia airport, waiting outside for my traveling companion to arrive (turned out I was at the wrong terminal, but that's another story) when a big black SUV pulled up and out popped a man in a hockey jersey. 

The driver came out, helped the man in the hockey jersey take his bags out of the trunk, and then the man in the hockey jersey gave the driver a hefty tip, a "bro" handshake, said "Thanks Man", and ambled into the terminal. As I was waiting there, noticing this, I thought, "Is that Kevin Smith, the famous director, who made Clerks and Chasing Amy, two of my favorite movies ever?" 

Turned out it was: besides his recognizable voice and beard, his hockey jersey said "SMITH" on the back so I safely determined that it was the great man himself. 

I was impressed. Here was a big celebrity being kind and respectful to a humble driver when he didn't think or know that anyone else was looking. I've noticed people a lot less successful than Kevin Smith treat such workers like dirt but there was Kevin Smith being a decent guy just because ... well, that's who he is.

As you probably know, there's a huge storm swirling right now about Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul, who was responsible for producing lots of great movies and boosting many careers (turns out Mr. Weinstein isn't such a kind, decent guy). One of those careers he boosted was Kevin Smith's who has express grief at the situation. But I don't believe in guilt by association, people should be judged by their actions alone, and the kind, decent behavior I saw from Mr. Smith, in my opinion, speaks for itself. 

In this age of "Grab 'em" Trump and "toxic masculinity", there's an understandable, cynical urge to look at all famous and powerful men as potential monsters. Many of them doubtless are. So that's why it was so great to see a famous, powerful guy act like a mensch and decent human being -- and it gave me a sliver of hope for humanity.  

Btw, Kevin Smith has a great Twitter which you might enjoy. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Remember, it's Chinatown

One of the greatest movies ever made is Chinatown, the 1974 crime thriller about the corrupt  political machinations that built Los Angeles. Funnily enough, the actual neighborhood of Chinatown appears only once at the very end of the movie. But, as it proves, Chinatown the place isn't as important as Chinatown the idea -- the idea of foreignness, mystery, scandal, and excitement. It's a ready made place for the movies, a cinematic treasure trove.

Chinatown, like any and all foreign language urban enclaves (think Greeks in Astoria, Russians in Brighton Beach, Orthodox Jews in Borough Park, Italians in Little Italy) is like a little world within a world, a satellite of the country its residents come from. The people there live insular lives, their families and communities are more important to them than the city as a whole, and they operate by their own rules, dictated more by their home country's customs and traditions then by their new country's laws. They speak their native language, the signs for their stores are in those languages' alphabets, and they read newspapers, watch TVs show, and listen to radio programs about their home counties.  

And woe unto those outsiders who dare intrude and seek to change them! These neighborhoods live in perpetual conflict with the outside (i.e. mostly white and English-speaking) world. Sometimes these two worlds come into conflict -- and drama obviously ensures. As mentioned, this makes great material for the movies.     

No movie as great as Chinatown has been made about NYC's own Chinatown but, over the years, several movies have been set in that little area of Lower Manhattan. Until Monday, at the Metrograph on Ludlow Street, several New York Chinatown movies will be playing in a festival called Imaginary Chinatown. Some of them, as this article indicates, perpetuate ugly racist stereotypes of Chinese people and that shouldn't be ignored. But what's interesting about these movies is how when outsiders (i.e. white people) go into Chinatown, they are entering a new world within their own city, a world they don't understand, and a world where they don't rule. For most, it's a rude awakening, and their arrogance, their sense of superiority, is quickly extinguished. 

My favorite NYC Chinatown movie is the 1985 Michael Cimino flick The Year of the Dragon. It's a fun, pulpy, violent movie starring Mickey Rourke as an NYPD detective trying to take down a Chinatown drug gang and the great John Lone as his arch-nemesis. It's dives deep into the culture of Chinatown and it explains, as few other Chinatown movies do, that this a world few white people and outsiders will ever understand. 

And that's, ultimately, what it's all about: understanding. Understanding the "other", the mysteries in our midst. The classic line "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown" is all about how people who meddle in places they don't understand are headed to certain ruin. So before you go into Chinatown or any other place and try to change it, either understand it first -- or forget it.   

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tom Petty @ Forest Hills Stadium, July 27, 2017

The last couple of weeks have certainly been "bad news" weeks -- the hurricane in Puerto Rico, the shootings in Las Vegas, the fact that Donald Trump is still president. And, as you probably know, Hugh Hefner died. So did Tom Petty.

I'm a massive Tom Petty fan. He had so many hits that it's hard to remember them all ("Learning to Fly", "Don't Come Around Here No More", "Kings Highway", "I Won't Back Down", "Even the Losers" are just some of them). I remember during my freshman year of college playing his greatest hits album over and over again. His songs were comforting. You felt he was the friend saying, "Hey, I'm here to help. What can I do?" His music was relaxed, cool, humble and yet also artistic, complex, and durable. 

It was only after Tom Petty died the other day that I realized that I knew nothing about Tom Petty the Man because, for him and us, it was the music that mattered. He was just a vessel for it. And that's one of the things that made him so cool: he didn't call attention to himself, he just wanted to give us the gift of his genius, his work. And, oh man, did he ever.       

One of Tom Petty's greatest songs is "American Girl. You might remember it from The Silence of the Lambs. It's also the last song he ever performed here in NYC, this past July at Forest Hills Stadium. You can see if here, a great artist saying goodbye to a great city that loved him -- although he would insist that it was the music we loved, not him. I would say, we loved both. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Interview: Eva Salzman, Poet & Performer

Eva Salzman is that rare thing: a successful poet. Strike that -- a very successful poet, and in-demand. She has published and been published in multiple books, she teaches, and she performs. She's even gone on tour! I recently became acquainted with some of her poetry and was amazed at how lyrical but also earthy and raw it was. It's a powerful kind of writing that I hadn't encountered before and really loved. 

Eva is a native New Yorker who has also lived and worked in England. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for Mr NYC readers about her career and experiences in both countries which has given her a great perspective on poetry, art, and life. Also, you can see Eva perform live tomorrow night, October 4, at The Cell (338 West 23rd Street, New York, NY 10011). 

What inspired you to pursue a career as a poet and why do you think you've been so successful?

It’s always struck me as strange when the word “career” is used to describe a poet’s life. It’s not a career, nor a living. Not sure what it is. In any case, I never had the idea to pursue or become anything. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t writing: in class when I was meant to be paying attention, in the car during long family trips. Also, success is relative. There’s so little money or glory in poetry. I tell my students how tough the life is, that much of it entails figuring out how to pay bills and doing boring secretarial stuff, never mind actually writing. Few could live in a permanent state of financial insecurity. I paint a really bleak depressing picture about the life figuring that any student serious about it will just ignore me. After all, I ignored me.

Your publications and works are almost too numerous to count. What are some of the poems, books, collections, shows, or other works that you're most proud of?

Someone once said that one is lucky to average maybe 2 or 3 really good poems in a single book. I don’t feel too proud. There are breakthroughs that thrill. I wrote a poem about the Holocaust called The Refinery which I didn’t count as among my best but that it holds up and lasts tells me it’s much better than I’d thought originally. I don’t know about being proud. Living in England has knocked out of me some of that NYC tendency to blow one’s own trumpet. It’s just SO not English. Because I’m fond of slender poetry volumes, I’m fond of second slender collection "Bargain with the Watchman", partly because of the lighthouse on the cover. It was published by Oxford University Press which a few years later killed its eminent hundred year old poetry list, despite widespread outcry poets and Oxford Dons, this widely reported in the media. That they carried on publishing dead poets only affirms my suspicion that generally people prefer their poets dead. Anyway, that book of mine is out-of-print but still available on Amazon. Most of its poems appear in "Double Crossing: New & Selected" published by Bloodaxe.

And, ok, I’m proud of my anthology "Women’s Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English"(Seren) which was recently reprinted. One reason for my pride is that it was a mammoth project that took three years. Furthermore, it’s an excellent resource for courses with the long biography section and my in-depth footnoted introductory essay that is half quick sketch of the modern period and half rant, albeit a controlled and reasoned one. I do think it’s damn good. I can say this because many others have hailed it and you’re inviting me to be proud.

I’m proud of a two year Arts Council-funded residency in a UK prison because it was both the best and worst thing I’ve ever done. I’m also proud that the Royal Literary Fund thought me worth an extended residency in Warwick University and Ruskin College, Oxford. I’m proud of a piece I wrote for my composer father, Eric Salzman. Finally, I’m proud to have lyrics on CDs of singer/composer Christine Tobin with whom I’m performing this Wednesday. And I’m not just saying this because of that!

I was going to ask you "Do you have to be a romantic in order to be a poet?" But then I thought "What does being a romantic even mean?" So what is your definition of a "romantic", and are you one, and is that important to your poetry?

I think I am and it is but my definition of that word may not match others’. I’m also deeply cynical and wonder if this is the opposite side of the same coin.

On your tumblr page, I noticed that the poems you highlight ("After Verlaine", "The Buddhas of Bamiyan" and "Brooklyn Bridge") are lyrically intense and have what I'd call a sensual (but not a sexual) vibe. Is that a correct interpretation or is there something more to your work that I'm missing?

Oh let’s be honest. After Verlaine is filth (which fact, come to think of it, I’m proud of too). Given a Valentine’s Day commission that could be based on Shakespeare or Verlaine, I chose the latter precisely because women don’t write like this. Verlaine’s poem on which mine is ever so slightly based is even filthier. It goes on for pages too.

In any case, you’re description is accurate. However I do get frustrated that critics entirely overlook that I write frequently about nature. Many of my poems are political, albeit it often in an indirect way. The UK likes to pigeon-hole. Many critics latched onto the sex, while ignoring much else. As a country, the UK often doesn’t know what to do with me. Once I was put on tour with three writers, from non-English speaking countries: Africa, Egypt and India. Knowing what I do of the English I believe they needed to find this Brooklyn girls a fitting ethnic spot. To be honest, I do often feel less comfortable among the English than I do among writers caught in-between places, whose lives are defined by immigration, exile, otherness, despite my first passionate love being English literature, especially the 19th century novel.

I’m often pigeon-holed as a formalist too despite my never having exclusively written in form. The poets I rate most highly don’t identify with any particular school. They don’t write out of ideology. Academics are often the ones who feel compelled to create tags that quantify and categorize poets. Poets are particularly averse to being quantified or categorized.

Does a successful poem need to appeal to both the intellect and emotions (or more!) or should each poem be judged purely on its own merits?

One reason I love Louise Gluck is her writing out of a seamless confluence of the intellect and emotions. I’d be lying if I said I don’t like too cerebral writing. I’m too indiscriminate. The exception is the rule for me, if that makes sense.

You were a student as Stuyvesant High School in the 1970s with Frank McCourt, the author of "Angela's Ashes." What was he like as a teacher and was he a mentor to you?

Even to those who never studied with them he’s a legend. He’d taught his way through several tough schools before Stuyvesant, the last school where he taught. Since the students were math and science nerds they were motivated enough on their own. Even those who took his class as an easy ride – since he gave everyone 96% - were probably busing their asses in all other classes where, believe me, you had to bust your ass to survive.

Frank barely taught us, or that’s my (romanticized?) recollection. He told us stories about Ireland. It turned out we were his guinea pigs for his first book. He rehearsed on us the stories about Ireland which would later appear in Angela’s Ashes. On Fridays, he saved himself trouble but asking us to read our own writing. While many classes included other aspiring writers, mine did not. Much of the time when asked for volunteers only my hand shot up What a tiresome teen I was. A few years ago I interviewed him for the Guardian newspaper in the UK.

We're living in tumultuous political times, both in America and the UK. How do you, a resident of both countries, feel about Trump and Brexit and how are they affecting your work?

Because I’m in the USA Trump is my focus. In fact it’s nearly an obsession. I’m one of those casualties in need of a Trump therapy group. His loathsomeness repeatedly amazes me. My anxiety is redoubled by the number of people who simply don’t see the danger, nor saw him as enough of a threat to vote against him. I think many people can’t admit they were wrong. They have to defend him, or pretend it’s not all that serious. For anyone to rub it in makes them redouble down. They have to defend their decision at all costs. It’s incredible to me that the threat he poses wasn’t blindingly obvious. The idea of voting in a way that opened the door to him was unthinkable. But there he is and here we are, living out a dystopian story or movie which, if someone had written it, people would probably slam for being unbelievable.

You're from NYC and it appears that you visit a lot but what do you miss most about living here full time?

I miss England when I’m not there and miss here when I’m there. The way I describe it is that, although I’m a dual citizen, I’m not really either. One plus one, rather than adding up to two, makes zero. Instead one is part of another nation defined not by land but by the LACK of nation, by the feeling of exile and Otherness which, for the writer may be more of a blessing than a curse.

Has the city inspired your poetry at all? If so, how?

My first book came out of displacement and culture shock. My first years in the UK were spent in Tunbridge Wells which is almost a cliché of the ex-major stockbroker belt middle class southeast. It couldn’t have been more foreign to this born and bred Brooklyn girls. I remember South African ex-patriots despondent they no longer had servants or swimming pools. The longer I was absent from NYC the more I became a New Yorker. Distance allowed me to identify most profoundly with that which was furthest away. I am unmistakenly a New Yorker, with some British icing perhaps. I love Paris more than London but NYC is the center of the world. At a certain point, I just began to say this unashamedly, partly just to piss people off who think of Americans and New Yorkers as arrogant. Which we are a lot of the time.

Tell us about your upcoming event on October 4 at The Cell (338 West 23rd Street, New York, NY 10011) and anything else you'd like us to know.

I’m joining forces with Dublin-born vocalist/composer Christine for a mix of readings and music. Christine is known for setting poetry: for example, poems by W.B. Yeats and Paul Mulddon….so I’m in good company! She’s won many awards, including Best Vocalist at the BBC Jazz awards. Phil has led bands featuring jazz legends David Liebman, Mark Turner, Billy Hart and has also worked as sideman with Barbra Streisand and others. The evening will also feature the young UK bassist, already an established figure on the London scene, who has been awarded a full scholarship to attend Julliard.

But never mind all the accolades and awards. The venue is The Cell, a really great little theatre in Chelsea that’s worth checking out. Those guys are great musicians and we’re going to have fun because we always do. Plus the ticket includes wine.

Sounds great. Thanks Eva. Good luck!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Farewell, Kosciuszko Bridge

August 23, 1939 to October 1, 2017. By the way, if you're wondering who this bridge was named after, go here.