Friday, March 30, 2018

The Dodgers Connection

Airplane hijackings have an ominous place in American history -- particularly in NYC.

And, if you think about it, hijacking planes is a very recent phenomenon in the annals of crime. For millennia there has been murdering, thievery, pirating, rape, etc., etc. -- but forceably commandeering aircraft in the sky is only as old as the airplane itself. (Hijacking is something the Wright brothers probably didn't consider when they were inventing air flight, just like the creators of the Internet and social media didn't think those inventions would be used to subvert democracy). 

So when was the first airplane hijacking in American history -- and who did it?

Believe it or not, the first such recorded crime was committed by a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers named Len Koeneck. On September 16, 1935, the baseball player had just been released by the team when they were playing in Chicago. Len got on a plane to Detroit where he got good and drunk and attacked the crew. They chained him down and dumped him in Detroit.

Since hijacking had yet to become a feared crime, no one thought it odd that he should then be allowed to get on another flight, this time to Toronto en route to Buffalo (where Len hoped to get back into minor league ball). Again, he got wasted, and this time attacked the pilots and lunged for the controls (apparently hoping to divert the flight directly to Buffalo). A brawl ensued. Len was a big man, hard to fight, and the pilots were frightened that the out of control former Dodger would cause the plane to crash. So one of the pilots slammed him in the head with a fire extinguisher and, due to blunt force trauma, he died. The pilots landed in Toronto and were never charged with a crime.

It's a wild tale: the first hijacking in American history was committed by a professional baseball player -- and was thwarted. And had an NYC connection. 


Thankfully Bobby Thomson was still to come almost sixteen years later. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Last Imus Show

Today was Don Imus's final show.

After almost 50 years on NYC radio he turned off the mike for good. 

You can listen to the very last few minutes of his career here

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Call Me Al (You Need Help)

When I was a kid, Al D'Amato was political giant in New York. A Republican U.S. Senator, he was known as "Senator Pothole" -- the man who "brought home the bacon", "filled the potholes", and was a tireless advocate for his state. Yes, he was conservative and voted that way in the senate, but he was less of an ideologue and more of an old-fashioned retail politician who's main concern was the state he represented and not his party. You don't see a lot of politicians like that any more, especially Republicans. 

Oh, how times have changed.

In 1998, D'Amato lost his senate seat to Chuck Schumer (who's now the Senate Minority Leader and might be, let's hope, the Majority Leader some day). But that wasn't a problem for Al -- he moved to NYC, become a high-priced lobbyist, and appeared to be living La Dolce Alphonse. Who needs a boring old senate seat when you got cash, bling, booze, broads, parties, and influence

I'll take that over being a senator any day. He had a great second act.

Sadly, like so much these days, Al D'Amato has gone wrong. He's no longer Senator Al or living La Dolce Alphonse. Instead, he's an old man going through a nasty divorce and he's better known these days for being kicked off airplanes and being caught yelling at this estranged wife. Apparently, he did just that while she was recovering in a hospital bed.

Poor man. He's clearly troubled. I hope he gets some help and puts this sad chapter behind him.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Classic Mr NYC

Years before he became the darling of Broadway and the culture at large, Alexander Hamilton was still best known as the first Treasury Secretary of the United States. 

And, like so many a public figure since, he had a ... STORMY personal life (pun entirely intended). And he had a temper too.

It got him killed. Insult flew between Hamilton and Vice-President Aaron Burr, leading to their infamous duel over in New Jersey. After "the damn fool" Burr shot him, Hamilton was ferried to Manhattan where he finally died. He was only 47-years old. 

Le sigh. 

Exactly where in Manhattan the great man expired is up too much debate. As I noted in this 2009 post, there's a plaque in Greenwich Village claiming to be the place where he died. Only it's wrong. Hamilton didn't die there! The building or house where he did is long, long gone so no one really know. It's a bit of incorrect history on display in NYC and it was noted here long ago. 


Monday, March 26, 2018

Paul McCartney @ March for Our Lives NYC - March 24, 2018

City of Secrets

It's easy to think that secrets are bad -- but we all have them. We all have things about ourselves and our pasts that we don't want to share with others, even those closest to us. 

Some secrets are scary, weird, or gross, and we know better than to reveal them. Where do you think the expression "TMI" came from? 

Others are simply very personal, very meaningful in ways that are unique only to us, and letting  people know about them would lessen the inherent value, even magic, they contain for us. 

And, naturally, some secrets are things we're just ashamed of and wish to forget. Hopefully, perhaps, we've also learned something from them. 

Secrets, mysteries, enigmas -- we all have them. They make us, at least in part, for better or worse, who we are.

And yet, sometimes, we'll reveal our secrets although maybe not for years, decades, or even centuries later. Certain secrets need to germinate, grow inside us, become a fuller and more complete truth before they can be shared with the world. They're like old letters we find at the back of a drawer when we're cleaning out the desk of someone who just died. They're like the story someone tells us about our childhoods or families that didn't know, and that change our impressions (again, for better or worse) about ourselves, our upbringings, and those close to us.

A few NYC-related examples made me think of these kinds of secrets, secrets that we keep but eventually reveal. And they made me think.

First, a fun one, about new tours at the Met Museum where we get the lowdown -- the dirty secrets -- about some of the great museum's finest masterpieces. 

Second, a heartfelt conversation with Mike D from the Beastie Boys about the Brooklyn rap group's history. One of the first albums I ever bought was 1987's License to Ill, their classic anthem "You Gotta Fight For Your Right (To Party)" one of the defining songs of my youth. He talks all about growing up in NYC and what influenced the group -- a group whose music influenced me as a kid. 

Third, a memoir, a secret memoir, that the great NYC photographer Bill Cunningham was working on but never published. It was discovered after his death and is about his life, his career, and the power of photography. He was a quiet man who led an amazing life and we'll be learning secrets about him and the city he loved -- and that loved him back in spades.  
When you have a vast old city like NYC there's going to be a secrets around every corner. In the great musical Company, one of the characters sings that "It's a city of strangers." 

Yes, and it's also a City of Secrets -- and always will be. 

Farewell to the I-Man .. I guess ...

Friday, March 23, 2018

Now More than Ever!

When Richard Nixon ran for re-election in 1972 -- in what was then the dirtiest, most crime-ridden campaign before 2016 -- his slogan was "Nixon: Now More than Ever!"

Now, almost half a century later, we find ourselves living with another corrupt, dangerous president who, embarrassingly enough, is also from NYC.

Yet he happens to be just one of the 8.6 million people -- you read that number right -- who call the "Big Apple" home (although he currently doesn't live here, thank the Lord Almighty). 

A new Census Bureau survey indicates that the population of our dear city is bigger than ever.  There are now, literally, more New Yorkers than ever before. In the 400+ history of NYC, never before have this many people lived within the five boroughs. The population has increased by almost 450,000 since 2010. We're now past the halfway point where, pretty soon, this'll be the place where we'll be talking about "nine million stories in the naked city."

But forget the gasbag from NYC who's currently stinking up the White House. Instead, read about this New Yorker, an amazing artist who uses metals and "overlooked materials" in his work. These are the kind of people who make this city great and, in the end, give us hope.

And we need hope -- now more than ever!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Memo from NYC

There are certain cities, at certain points in time, that become legendary, mythic, memorable; that grab the popular imagination for years, decades afterwards.

These cities and their golden eras are usually powered by a unique perfect storm of artistic creativity, cultural exuberance, sexual liberty, and, most of all, lifestyle, something that makes people from far away -- geographically, even temporally -- say, "I want to go there! I want to be there! I want to be part of it! I want to live that way!" 

And, most of all, "I wish I had been there!"   

To whit: Paris in the 1920s (think Midnight in Paris). Berlin in the early 1930s (think Cabaret). London in the 1960s (think Blowout). NYC in the 1970s (think Taxi Driver or early Saturday Night Live). 

And Portland in the 2010s. Think Portlandia

The popular sketch TV show is ending tonight after eight seasons. It's had an amazing run.

Perhaps it's too early to declare this but I will: thanks to this show, thanks to the era it started in (2011) and captured (mostly the Obama era), thanks to the "hipster lifestyle" it both ridiculed and lionized, Portlandia and Portland in the second decade of the 20th century have now gone into the history books as a city and era that will be remembered decades later as a mythic time and place. It defined something uniquely American at the time, something culturally trailblazing, and we'll be studying this place and its era in the future. 

Want to understand what hipster culture in general and the city of Portland were like at this time? Watch Portlandia. And understand Portland. It's that simple.

Remember Girls? The ultimate NYC hipster show of the 2010s started a year after Portlandia and ended a year earlier. It existed in the shadows of this show, almost like a satellite. Girls wouldn't have made sense without Portlandia.  

I take a little bit of pride that I was onto this show and its influence at the time. In 2010, a year before Portlandia premiered, I visited the city itself and had a great, memorable time. I saw it then as a special place, a city just bursting with culture and creativity, a place where people wanted to live and thrive (or retire, as the joke goes). 

Then, a year later, along came the show. I thought it would be good. I didn't realize it would become so popular and last almost a decade!

But eras end -- they have to or otherwise they aren't special, unique. Paris in the 1920s and Berlin in the 1930s were destroyed by Depression and War. London in the 1960s petered out. NYC in the 1970s went from crazy to boring. And Portland in the 2010s ... well Trump.

Great as it was, Portlandia these days seems more dated and a little less relevant. We can no longer laugh at the hipster lifestyle in quite the same way when the cloud of fascism hangs over it. And Portland, apparently, is no longer the same city that the TV show first parodied. 

You can't fully appreciate an era until it's long over and another era has come and gone. It doesn't come into clear, mental relief until the biases of its day are gone. So twenty-years from now we'll look back at Portlandia and laugh again. 

For now, however, we bid it adieu. From a grateful New Yorker, thanks for the laughs! 

Is Nixon the One?

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A #MeToo Manhattan Rhapsody

For a long time, Manhattan was considered Woody Allen's quintessential movie.

Released in 1979, it tells the story of Isaac Davis (played by Woody), a New York writer who is caught at the intersection of romantic, professional, and personal struggles. He's 42, twice divorced, and has recently quit his miserable but high-paying TV writing job to work on a novel. Also, his best friend is having an affair, one that Isaac gets drawn into. Ultimately, he realizes that his friend is not really his friend, the woman he thinks he loves is not who he thinks she is, and that he hasn't really valued the people and things in his life that give him real happiness.

Yes, one of those people includes his 17-year old girlfriend. 

To me this movie has always been about what and who we value, about what we do with our lives, and who we let into them. It asks the question "Who and what makes us happy?" -- and why? And it says that, in order to do this, we must embrace optimism, no matter how hard it is. The final line of the movies says it all: "You just have to have a little faith in people."

None of the matters today. The themes and messages of Manhattan are no longer cared about. They've been lost completely. This amazing movie is now viewed as something criminal. 

Why? Because of the 17 year old -- or, as one character says in the movie, "the little girl."

Needless to say, I take a slight umbrage with this blunt dismissal of this classic film. I have two daughters, and wouldn't (and will not!) brook such a relationship with them. But I think a few things should be kept in mind when evaluating this movie, this relationship, and the ensuing broo-haha in light of the #MeToo movement.  

First point: the idea that Isaac is exploiting the 17-year old is, in fact, clearly refuted in the film. Issac is constantly agonizing over the relationship, realizes it’s inappropriate, and eventually ends it. He adores this girl but realizes that she’s just too young.

So, you might ask, why does this relationship even exist in Manhattan in the first place? Isn't Woody still a perve anyway?

That gets to my second point: Woody Allen was born in 1935 and got married in the mid-1950s when he was 19. He came from a generation when many people got married and started families right out of high school, meaning they had begun their courtship before graduation Back then, childhoods were short, adulthoods began once school (not college, not grad school, not your twenties) was over. The idea that a 17-year old was still a "child" was not, up until recently, a real concept. These days, society has extended childhood -- and all the protection it demands -- well into what was once considered (and legally still is) adulthood. But this is a recent, very recent, phenomenon. So a woman (or girl, depending on your view) dating an older man was not the scandal in 1979 that it is in 2018. 

And this raises my third point: The idea that 17 year-olds were then, or are now, these precious little flowers, these innocent creatures who must in protected at all costs, is a relatively new one in our society. I remember being 17 back in the 1990s and many of my peers that age were living fast and hard (with all that implies). They were not "innocent" creatures -- hardly. They had fake IDs, they snuck into bars and clubs, they stayed out all night, they smoked weed (and did harder drugs), they partied, and yes, they had sex with people, lots of people, including older people. Again, they were hardly innocents -- they were agents of their own destinies, masters of their own fates, in control of what they did with their bodies. Perhaps they lacked maturity but if you look at our president -- the oldest one we've had in history -- maturity is not necessarily tied to age.

Should a movie with a relationship like the one in Manhattan be made today? Probably not. If she was in grad school, around the age of 25, it might be better -- although some might still consider that creepy. Which also begs the question: where's the line where the age difference between a man and woman in love isn't creepy? When it is okay? Who's the arbiter of this? Who's to say? 

Fourth point: if you reject Manhattan because you find this relationship offensive, then you must also reject, well, A LOT of stuff. Why is Manhattan more scandalous than say Revenge of the Nerds, where a woman is raped and is played for laughs? Cultural revisionism needs to have some standards otherwise its just everyone’s separate opinion and ultimately means nothing.

I don't think Manhattan should be rejected or not watched today. After all, if it wasn't such a great movie, why would The New York Times be running long, agonizing "think pieces" about a movie that came out 40 years ago, when Jimmy Carter was still president and disco was still popular? Instead, we should take a "mature" or "woke" approach: watch the movie, appreciate what a great work of cinematic art it is, and also recognize that the central relationship in the film, while not entirely appropriate, was more appropriate at the time even though it's outrageous by today's standards. We call that "context." #MeToo. 

First Day o'Spring Nor'Eastern!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Fake MTA

When getting around NYC, it's best to have a sense of humor. Delays, frustrations, etc. with the subway and buses is part of the deal and one has to deal with the best we can.

That's why I love the Fake MTA Twitter account that makes "announcements" that'll make you chuckle.

You can also find fake MTA signs in the subways that look disturbingly real until you actually take the time to read them. They'll give a second of reprieve from the travel blues. 

Humor and MTA -- not exactly birds of a feather but they do flock together. 

Ignoble Rot

If you like wine and consider yourself a connoisseur, then you learn all the lingo (the wine "breaths", it has "body", etc.). And if you're really knowledgeable, then you know what a "noble rot" is: "a gray mold that is deliberately cultivated on grapes to enhance the making of certain sweet wines." Without the rot, the thinking goes, the wine wouldn't taste so good. The rot makes the wine.

Perhaps we've underestimated the appeal of rot. Certainly we've underestimated the power of it. 

Rot ... the process of decay. Decomposition. Something valuable turning into trash. 

You see it in our justice system, particularly in the case of Harvey Weinstein. Three years ago a young woman that he assaulted went to the NYPD to get him charged. The police worked with her, got Weinstein to admit what he'd done in a secret recording, then referred the case to the District Attorney. And this is where the rot comes in: instead of prosecuting Weinstein and protecting the victim, the opposite happened. The victim was victimized again, terrorized by the DA's office, asked to answer totally irrelevant questions about her past, distracting her and the case away from the assailant and the crime. The police had to protect her, not only from Weinstein, but from  the DA's office! The case was twisted around and eventually dropped by the very people who should have prosecuted it. This was power protecting power, money controlling the justice system to perpetrate injustice. This was rot, plain and simple.

And that's not the only case close to home. The Kushner Company, the family business of the current president's son-in-law, apparently lied to city agencies about having rent-stabilized tenants in their buildings in order to kick them out and sell the buildings at a huge price. The city agencies responsible for uncovering this didn't -- for years! Again, rot -- the system meant to protect us victimizes us.

That's what rot is: the transmutation of something into something. Protection into threat. Justice into injustice. Something solid becoming something weak.

This is what's happening in our country right now, under the Trump presidency. A strong country being weakened by a bad man and his accomplices. Can it be stopped? Even if it is, how much damage will have been done?

Weinstein eventually faced justice of a kind, fired and shamed into professional exile but, as of now, he remains free. Trump's political, and that of his family, is in free fall, but they remain in the power. That's part of the rot: the delay of consequences. The powerful protected, always protected. 

Rot is never noble when it comes to the public good. It's always bad. But until we the people create a system where it cannot and will never be tolerated, it'll be the rot that makes us. It is us. And it's ignoble. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Banksy's Back!

In 2013, the world's most famous street artist, Banksy, hit NYC like a tidal wave. His politically-tinged, social-critique pictures appeared all over the city, causing quite the stir, and there was even a documentary about it that came out a year later. 

At the time, along with the rest of the media, Mr NYC gave this "residency" lots of coverage. Its has, in its way, gone down in history. 

And now he's back! 

A huge Banksy mural appeared late last week down on the Bowery, a protest against the imprisonment of a political activist in Turkey. Smaller pictures have also popped up on 14th Street and 6th Avenue and couple more in Brooklyn, in Midwood and Coney Island. 

Banksy's Back Baby!   

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It's a little cold but otherwise the weather is perfect for a wild St. Patrick's Day. Take one of the craziest party days of the year and have it fall on a Saturday and, well, it's gonna be one big day!

The parade kicks off on Fifth Avenue and I'm sure it'll be one of the best attended parades in recent memory. Also, several LGBT groups will be marching which is a great thing (there's been a LOT of controversy about this over the years, nay decades).

So, if you're Irish (like me!) let all debauchery begin! (Don't get too drunk.)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Will Weinstein walk -- or go away?

It's been several months since Harvey Weinstein fell from grace, exposed as a sexual predator. This begs the question: will he go to jail?

He probably should have been charged several years ago but, for various reasons, wasn't. But rumor has it that the Manhattan DA is poised to arrest him soon. How soon? We shall see. 

This saga will, apparently, just go on and on and on ...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A (Very, Very, Very, Very) Short History of Eatin', Drinkin', Partyin', and Crashin' in NYC

Several years ago a friend of mine and I were walking around Soho with a girl he was briefly dating. We walked passed a restaurant (don't remember the name now) and she pointed at it, noting, "My friend used to work there. She had sex with the chef on a table."

My immature reaction was, naturally, "Cool! (And can I get her number?)"

Of course, that kind of "hanky-panky" goes on in restaurants (and lots of other businesses) all the time; as we've learned, frighteningly, it isn't always consensual. It's never appropriate. But, for a long time, it was normal.

And yet ... there's always been a romantic allure to the high-end NYC restaurant world. While it's always been a exhausting, poor-paying, and incredibly insecure profession, it's also full of glamour, celebrity, and, yes, sex appeal. That's why people are trying to break into this business more than ever before.  

Interestingly enough, the high-end hotel industry doesn't have quite the same allure of restaurants (how many celebrity hoteliers can you think of, besides Ian Shrager?) but, it goes without saying, there are many hotels in NYC where "if these walls could talk ..." Take, for instance, the Gramercy Hotel, the crash pad of choice for numerous rock stars like David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, and Lou Reed, just to name a few. Needless to say, back in the day, pure bedlam ensued at the Gramercy when these rock gods and their entourages crashed there. 

That said, you can still seem some bedlam -- more to the point, dancing female bartenders -- at the infamous Coyote Ugly saloon. Yes, it's same place that a movie was made about several years back and it's still going strong. It recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. I have yet to go and should (after all, I've meet to the real Mystic Pizza that's in Connecticut!). In this #MeToo era, a long-lasting business in NYC that was established and run by women should be celebrated.
Eating, drinking, partying, and crashing in NYC -- you can't beat it. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Nathan Lane: Broadway Legend

I've seen the great Nathan Lane on stage more than any other actor, in both musicals and plays, over the course of 20+ years -- Laughter on the 23rd Floor, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Producers, It's Only a Play, The Front Page

He's amazing stage presence, he electrifies the audience and makes any material he's working with even better. He's the best.

I hope to see him soon in the revival of Angels in America where he'll play the loathsome lawyer (and Trump mentor) Roy Cohn. Meanwhile, I enjoyed, and you will too, this big interview he did where he reflected on his career and the life of Roy Cohn -- and how he's more like us than we care to admit. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Last of the Beats

I don't want to be rich, famous, or even that good-looking. I just want to be remembered -- fondly. 

Fondly remembered by those who knew me -- and perhaps by some who wish they had.

To me, being fondly remembered is the only measure of a life well-lived. Everything else is puffery, nonsense. A person's real legacy exists in the hearts and minds of those who remember.

I never knew or heard of a man named Hassan Heiserman during his lifetime, but I wish I had. He was one of the last people to come of age during the "Beat Generation" and he knew them all -- he was Allan Ginsburg's roommate, Jack Kerouac created a character in his novel Big Sur after him, and he was Miles Davis' drug dealer. More than that, Hassan was a man on the move, living (squatting really) mostly in NYC but also wandering the country, meeting interesting people, having adventures, and experiencing life to the fullest. He was a man of his times who observed and lived them, he was a walking chronicler of his age. He was "groovy", a real "beat", in the very best meaning of the terms. And, after his recent death, he was very fondly remembered.

Hassan wasn't rich -- far, far from it. Most of his life he was homeless, crashing on people's couches, he never really had a real career except for driving a cab, he lived on the edge, on the fringe, in perpetual movement. Up until the end of his life. 

And even though I and many of the people I know have many more material, earthly goods than he did, I envy him. He saw and experienced it all. He lived a full life. Nothing groovier. 

I probably won't be remembered. This blog will probably won't be remembered. But I'll try to live a full life -- and maybe, like Hassan, be remembered a little bit fondly by someone.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Meet the First NYC Night Mayor

Finally! After this new job was created by the city government in September, 2017, people were wondering when NYC would get its first "night mayor."

Now we got one. It's a lady!

Her name is Ariel Palitz, a former nightclub owner. She will be a liaison between the city and the nightlife world. I'm sure it'll be a fun -- and exhausting -- job.

Good luck!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Elaine Chao is a B%@#$

Pacino's Way

Al Pacino is one of the greatest actors in history and still going strong -- he has a new movie where he plays Joe Paterno premiering on HBO in April, and he's making his third movie with Robert De Niro -- also his first with Martin Scorsese -- due out in the next year or so. But he has made so many great movies over the last almost 50 years that the time has come for "retrospectives."

And there's going to be a huge one in NYC starting next week! 

If you love movies, love Pacino's acting, then you must go the Quad Cinema from March 14 to 30 where over 30 of his films -- from his 1970s classics to much more recent ones -- will be playing. All the greats, and some of the not so greats, are playing in it, and what's so cool is that Pacino himself was involved in putting this together!

All the movies you love him from are in this: The Godfathers, Scarface, Dog Day Afternoon, and Heat, among many, many others. Even better, a new movie and -- a documentary about the movie -- called Salome and Wilde Salome are premiering on March 30 to conclude this event.

Needless to say, many of Pacino's best movies are set in NYC (again, The Godfathers, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Panic in Needle Park, Sea of Love, The Devil's Advocate, and Carlito's Way). But the Boy from the Bronx also made other cities look cool, bringing his tremendous talent and New York attitude to Los Angeles in Heat, to Baltimore in ... And Justice for All, Miami in Scarface and Any Given Sunday, and Alaska in Insomnia. The man just oozes this city.

No actor I can think of has ever uttered so many memorable lines in film. Among them:

"I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!"
"Attica! Attica! Attica!"
"You're out of order!"
"Say hello to ma' lil' friend!"
"You want big time? You gonna die big time!"
"'Cause she's got a greeeattttttt ass!" 

And many more. Pacino is an interesting cat, always discovering himself in the characters he plays. You gotta read this interview he gave about this retrospective -- he really is Wild Pacino. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Bad Cop, Good Job

Every so often a police officer who commits a crime will go on trial -- and inevitably be acquitted. Juries and judges have shown that they just don't have the internal fortitude to send criminal cops to jail.

And that's just for the cases that go to trial -- as we know, in the case of Eric Garner, the cop who murdered him didn't even face charges.

Very often, after the bad cops beat the legal rap, we hear that they'll face "internal discipline" or "possible termination." The idea being peddled to the public is: Okay, bad cops won't go to jail -- can't do that, it'll kill police morale and harm law enforcement moving forward, cops in jail will be living prey, it's just too dangerous -- but they'll get fired so they won't menace in a badge anymore so we can all -- pun intended -- breath easier

But that almost never happens. Bad cops very often stay on the job for a long, long time. Eric Garner's murdered remains on the force nearly four years later.  


Buzzfeed has just published a long, bombshell report on how the NYPD protects its worst actors. It has designed internal systems and processes to make sure that no bad cops suffer consequences for their actions. 

It's the kind of thing that, depending where you sit, you either find infuriating or reassuring. But it shows that accountability in law enforcement and NYPD practices remain, even in the late second decade of the 21st century, very much stuck in the past. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

What a Tool

So Mayor De Blasio found someone he thought would be great new chancellor for the NYC Public School System -- a man named Alberto Carvalho, who apparently did a great job running the Miami Public School System. De Blasio interviewed him, got to know him, was impressed with his record, and hired him to run the biggest public school system in America.

And then, a day after accepting the job, Mr. Carvalho, live on TV in Miami, announced that he wasn't going to take the job at all and would stay in Miami! He didn't inform the mayor or anyone about this decision -- he just did it spur on the moment, in order to garner kudos from Miami.

What a tool. As the father of the public school student, this man wasted the time of the mayor, the city, and its children by saying he would take this job -- and then backing out. Not cool.

Sex, Lies, and Harvey: The Dark Side of Success

America worships success -- money, power, fame, the ultimate three-legged stool of achievement.

More than that, we love "success stories", people born into humble circumstances who, through hard work and smarts, through good ol' fashioned grit, gain that aforementioned stool. ("Jenny from the Block", etc.)

Nobody in NYC personified that success story more than Harvey Weinstein.

Born to the children of Jewish immigrants escaping European anti-semitism, Harvey grew up in a housing project in Queens. He went to college in Buffalo and did something brilliant: in the 1970s, he got into the music scene there and brought acts like the Rolling Stones to perform. He learned the nitty-gritty of show business, how to market, how to promote, how to woo talent, how to produce, how to get stuff done. He then moved back to NYC in the early 1980s and got into the movie business with his brother Bob. Their company, MiraMax (sweetly named after their parents, Miriam and Max) became a powerhouse of independent cinema. Harvey was a genius at recognizing talent, cultivating it, and getting the world to see and reward it.

Remember all those great movies? sex, lies, and videotape? My Left Foot? The Crying Game? The Piano? Pulp Fiction? The English Patient? Good Will Hunting? Chicago? The King's Speech? (Among many others.) Harvey Weinstein made them happen.

He built the careers of great directors and actors (there'd be no Quentin Tarantino or Gwenyth Paltrow without him), his movies won Oscars, and, of course, he made money -- tons of money. At a time when the movie business was becoming more corporate, more boring, more "safe", more about sequels and franchises and figuring out how to generate theme park rides or toys to be included with fast food deals, Weinstein was saying "No! We stand for quality! Originality! Artistry! Groundbreaking films! And we can get rich at the same time!" In many ways, Harvey Weinstein saved the commercial viability and artistic integrity of cinema at a time when it was under threat. He made movies matter again. For that, we owe him a debt.

Of course, now we all know that it came at a price -- a horrible one. While Harvey was producing great movies, he was also terrorizing women. He harassed them, raped them, demeaned them, and, if they didn't submit to his desires, he ruined their lives. He used his power and wealth to shield himself from the consequences of his behavior for decades. His awfulness was an "open secret" but it didn't matter -- his success let him get away with it. (I know someone who worked at MiraMax in the 1990s, and Harvey's yelling and screaming was, like Trump's daily Tweet awfulness, such a daily occurrence that it became normal. Harvey would explode at people for the simplest, smallest things -- things most normal people wouldn't even get upset about it).

Harvey Weinstein epitomized the success that America worships and that NYC facilitates. And he personified its dark side. The grandson of people escaping terror became a terrorist himself.

One of the reasons people strongly desire success -- and will go to great lengths to achieve it -- is because they believe that success means, "I can do anything I want! I can have anyone I want! Nothing will stop me! I am invincible!" It is, they believe, the ultimate freedom, the ultimate promise of America.

Sex and revenge have always been the phantom legs of the three-legged success stool. Yes, money means a wonderful material quality of life, fame means getting invited to any party, and power means getting stuff done -- but what's the point of all that, a lot of people (i.e. men) think, "If I don't also get laid? A lot! With lots of people! Lots of different hot people! And if I can't get even with the people who done me wrong?"

Women, and lots of them, are the ultimate prize, the ultimate accomplishment, the ultimate fuel for ambition, the ultimate reward for great success  -- especially for guys like Harvey who couldn't get them based on their looks or personality alone.

But here's the catch: women still don't want these guys. These guys may have scaled the heights, they may have transcended their humble origins into great success, they may have "made it" -- but not really. They're still ugly and gross, they're still "Jennys from the block", the kids who got bullied in the schoolyard.

These guys know it -- and it fills them with rage. It fills them with hatred towards women. Everything's worthless if all their success can't buy them genuine desirability. And the dark side in them, their demons, are unleashed to horrifying effect. They want revenge, they want to hurt these women who will never want them. And everyone suffers for it.

It's so sad that it's come to this. Harvey Weinstein is, in many ways, an extreme and high-profile example of this problem. Success means everything but it's nothing if it doesn't make you the kind of person you always wanted to be. And that's a humbleness you can never transcend or buy your way out of. You never stop being who you really are, no matter how much you achieve.

There are so many interrelated tragedies to this whole thing. There's Harvey's victims, first and foremost. There's Harvey, the man, a man who reached the heights only to fall back down to earth hard. There's the movies, the great movies he brought into the world, forever tainted now by their association with him. And this man, once upon a time one of NYC's favorite sons, is now its greatest villain since Bernie Madoff.

So often we like to say that successful people's lives have had "fairy tales endings" -- but it's never that simple. It never ends until, you know, the end. And sometimes the fairy tale is very, very dark.

Harvey Weinstein's story would make a good movie that he probably would've produced.

Postscript: I remember the summer of 1998. I was spending the summer at college, far from NYC, dreaming about coming home as soon as I graduated the next year. Fortuitously I found a copy of New York magazine at the place I was working, a special 30 anniversary issue, that featured interviews with prominent New Yorkers. One of the interviews was with Bob and Harvey Weinstein. They recounted their humble origins, what made them become such big successes, their love of movies, and why they'd never leave NYC. Their short interview was memorable because it reminded me of why I desperately wanted to come home and what the city was all about.

Harvey said in the interview: "I love New York. We can go to the grocery store and not bump into guys who want to do a three-picture deal." That's what I loved about NYC too, then and now: we can be anyone and do anything and yet have another life completely. (Harvey had another life, as we discovered, another scary one). So perhaps it's not surprising that Harvey also said, "there are no limits. If you follow your heart instead of your head, you can do incredible things."

 Harvey didn't believe in limits, as we know all too well now, but he did incredible things and horrible things at the same time (thus the duality of man). And the humble kid from Queens has been humbled once again.  

Nasty Nor'easter NYC

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hudson Yards, the Vessel, and the Future of NYC

The far west side of Manhattan has always been the ugly ducking of the mighty borough: it doesn't have the cosmopolitan grace of Uptown, the funky hipster cred of Downtown, or the commercial excitement of Midtown. The far west side is just ... there ... In the past it was mostly home to car dealerships, ugly buildings, and strip clubs. It was ... ugh ...

That's changing, of course. 

What used to be one of the most forgettable parts of an otherwise unforgettable borough is being rapidly developed into a massive project called Hudson Yards: it'll contain huge apartment buildings, stores, restaurants, parks, and public spaces, the whole deal. It'll essentially be a brand-new neighborhood, a whole new town, within the big city itself. It'll be expensive, of course, not just to build but also to patronize.

One thing will be free, however. 

The developers of Hudson Yards are also, to quote The Big Lebowski, "gonna pull the room together." At the heart of this new neighborhood will be the Vessel, designed by British star architeht Thomas Heatherwick. The Vessel is an "interactive" sculpture that resembles an upside-down honeycomb. By "interactive" it means that it's just a massive bunch of interconnected staircases that descend in the shape of an inverted triangle and, if I understand correctly, it'll connect to the Highline. Doubtless it'll be the next big tourist trap and place to be seen.

The far west side used to get, to quote Rodney, "no respect." Soon it'll be the new center of excitement in NYC. I'm sure Robert Moses would approve.