I was visiting the Museum of the City of New York this past weekend and drifted into the exhibit on Affordable Housing. There, amidst all the information about rent stabilization, rezoning of neighborhoods and vintage pamphlets on public housing, was a curious letter signed by Bob Dylan.

dylan letter 1

“Could that be THE Bob Dylan?” I asked my wife, not that I’ve ever heard of another.

The letter was dated November 16, 1970 and addressed to the city’s first deputy commissioner for the department of Housing, Preservation and Development and sent by one of the developers of the Bay Towers, a Mitchell-Lama Development being built on Beach 98th Street in the Rockaways.

The letter reads: “I enclose herewith Certificates of Interest duly executed by the following limited partners of Bay Towers Company.”

Bob Dylan is the first name listed, following by Neil Diamond at No. 2. The only other recognizable name is that of Oscar Dystel, a legendary publisher credited with saving Bantam Books. The second page of the letter was signed twice by none other than Bob Dylan.

dylan letter 2

There was no other information on this letter so I got in touch with Thomas Mellins, the guest curator of the exhibit. What gives? I asked and Mellins had the answers.

“When the Michell-Lama program began [which, in a nutshell, is state subsidized housing for the middle class], it was difficult to get big developers interested so they allowed small investors to invest,” Mellins said. “Small investors got certain tax advantages that were appealing.”

“Small” investors like Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond? Yes, Mellins said, the famous singers had bought in to an otherwise nondescript housing development way out in Queens, New York.

“Someone at HPD told me they probably had the same accountant,” Mellins said. “It’s doubtful Dylan was aware of this specific investment.”

In other words, Dylan probably signed whatever his accountant put in front of him. He most likely had other things on his mind since, just a few months earlier, he had released his Self Portrait LP.

Mellins chuckled when he noted that investors at that time tended to be “not very wealthy investors.” By 1970, both Dylan and Diamond surely had boatloads of money flowing their way. Mellins did not know how much each man contributed but he said both had cashed out long ago.

So if you live out in that development and one day find yourself “seeking shelter from the storm,” you can “be a believer” — your landlords were once Dylan and Diamond. Sorry 🙂

 

The year of living mindfully…

Posted: 27th December 2015 in Life
Tags: , , ,

IMG_20151227_092030-01One of my favorite gifts this Christmas was an old school datebook for the year 2016.

Truth is, I asked for this gift because I’m determined to remember this coming year. I don’t know about you but I forget a lot of things that go on during the year, like what I had for lunch yesterday.

I don’t really care about lunch but I do care about the books I’ve read, the people I’ve seen, the places I’ve been. I remember some of them of course but I don’t know what I’ve forgotten. Once in a while I look over the books I’ve reviewed on Amazon, books that I’ve forgotten I’ve even read, and yet there’s the proof–a pretty cogent review of that very book.

Does this matter? I think so, and I think the more we live in an online world, the more likely we are to forget. There are books in my library I’ll never forget reading, perhaps mainly because the physical books are still there as a reminder. That doesn’t happen with an e-reader. There, the books almost seem to exist in the ether.

It’s the same reason I want to physically write down what I’m going to be doing this next year. Writing reminders on online calendars just doesn’t work for me. My “To Do” list exists on a piece of paper on my desk. I’ve tried using those online post-it notes, or what have you, but they never work. Maybe I’m old fashioned. That could be but I want to remember.

In any year, I read dozens of books, most of them on the Kindle app on my smartphone. This year, I want to know how many books I’ve read and I want to remember something about each of them even the bad ones.

The good books always jump out at you. For instance, the best non-fiction books I read last year were “One of Us” about the Norwigian killer who killed 77 people in and around Oslo in 2011, many of them teenagers and immigrants. I also loved “A House In The Sky” by Amanda Lindhout who was held captive for a year and a half by radical jihadists in Somalia. Both books are deadly serious but don’t let that stop you.

As for places I’ve been, well, I remember going to the Motown Museum–Hitsville USA–in Detroit and a trip to the transcendent Adirondacks but I’m not sure which movies I saw or what meals were particularly memorable. This year, I hope to change all that and I hope that by living more mindfully, the year will also feel fuller, slower, and not as amorphous as years tend to do, especially as you get older.

Cheers and Happy New Year!

This week marks the 35th year since John Lennon’s murder, the day the true voice of a generation was silenced forever. If you’re of a certain age, the day was one of the worst in your life. It was for me. Photos like this bring all the memories back.

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times/Redux

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times/Redux

I was a newspaper reporter for The Daily News and wound up speeding to the scene within an hour of shooting. I stayed there all night, calling my notes in to the city desk about the hundreds of people descending onto W. 72nd Street, home to the Dakota apartment building and John’s home with Yoko.

Of course, many people were crying but they were also singing. Guitars were produced and there was a never-ending chorus of “Give Peace A Chance” and “All You Need is Love.”

Everything about John’s death has been said many times over so let me tell you a story about how John & Yoko wound up living in the Dakota to begin with. The story was told to me by Peter Brown, the onetime Beatles’ right hand man (mentioned in “The Ballad of John & Yoko.) Brown still lives in the Langham, an apartment building one block north of the Dakota on Central Park West.

I was doing research for a book and was meeting with Brown at his apartment overlooking the park. It was a fall afternoon and the sun was coming through the golden leaves of Central Park. I remarked on how beautiful and peaceful it was and Brown said that John had said the same thing as he sat having lunch there back in the ’70s.

“John asked if there were any apartments available and there were none,” Brown said, “so he walked down to the next building (the Dakota) and asked there.”

Of course, there was an apartment available there. John and Yoko bought that one and then several others as they expanded their homestead. John came to love the block and the park and the surrounding neighborhood. Many merchants used to have his photo in their store windows before he was killed because he was a regular customer.

A few days after John’s murder, there was a memorial in Central Park. I covered that one as well. It was a bright, sunny day but, at one point, a snow squall came blowing in from out of nowhere.  It was gone almost as soon as it began. I always thought that was John saying goodbye or hello one more time.

Here’s a photo from that memorial. Peace.

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times/Redux

Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times/Redux

 

New York City SubwayAs long as I’ve lived in NYC–forever–I’ve known some people who refuse to set foot inside the subway. They’ll take buses, drive cars, walk–do anything except ride what really is the most convenient way to get around this burg.

But I get it! The subways, for all their convenience, are intense. They’re also a daily exercise in getting along with others in very close and cramped quarters. I can’t tell you how often I have to grit my teeth as I ride in from Brooklyn to the west side of Manhattan.

Like this morning for instance….

A nicely-dressed woman sitting next to me was blasting loud music through her earbuds to the point where I could not concentrate on the book I was reading. And it was loud, crashing music, not easy listening. First of all, I can’t understand why anyone would subject themselves to that level of noise in the morning but…that’s not my business. Still, whenever this happens–and it happens with regularity–I have a fantasy of taking out a tiny pair of scissors and cutting the cord so to speak, cutting the wire leading to the ear buds so that suddenly all is quiet.

It’s just a fantasy. What I do instead is either move my seat or put my finger in my ear as I did this morning.

While all of this was going on, a homeless guy announced his presence with the usual spiel about being a military veteran down on his luck. If you don’t live in NYC, you have no idea how often this happens to let me spell it out for you–it happens every single day on every subway ride I take, sometimes multiple times. And….I am not exaggerating.

Now I’m pretty good at tuning these guys out but it’s not so easy to tune out the scary-looking panhandlers roaming the subway cars and, as luck would have it, I encountered one of those this morning as well. The kind of guy who smells just a bit, is murmuring something incomprehensible and half-falling against other bodies. Such a pleasant ride for $2.75!

Today, I could feel my blood pressure go up as this guy sauntered back and forth in the moving train but, after a couple of stops, he stumbled out just as quickly as he appeared. I swear, you could feel everyone exhale and the crowd’s blood pressure drop back to normal.

Other than that, my ride was fine. I’m used to it but I get why people avoid it. Too bad for them–they are missing out on an exercise in getting along with their fellow man, as tough as that is sometimes.

 

IMG_20151115_110434Every weekend for years now, I’ve passed the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company Store. It’s been on 5th Avenue in Park Slope since 2004 and, when my kids were younger, we went in to browse the aisles and look around. It’s become such a part of the neighborhood that it’s easy to lose sight of how unique this store truly is. Yesterday, I took this photo of the window where some of the supplies for sale are proudly displayed. Obviously, you can’t get a ten gallon can of Immortality just anywhere.

IMG_20151115_110459

So what is this place? Essentially it’s a non-profit study center founded by writer Dave Eggers, author of “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and many other notable books.

The store “front” is exactly what it says — a place where you can buy capes, gloves, masks and other material that would neatly into the wardrobe of any superhero. But it’s in the back of the store where the true superheroes display their powers. That’s where a group of volunteers help kids 6 to 18 improve their writing skills. It’s such a cool idea that it’s amazing it hasn’t been widely copied. The original store is in San Francisco and that has a pirate theme.

Ah but superheroes. I’ve long thought the notion of comic books and superheroes is very underrated in our educational system. When I was a young bookworm growing up in a Bronx housing project, I read comics non-stop and so did all my friends. There was always something magically alluring about the idea that you could have two identities — one ordinary and seemingly weak and the other big and all powerful. When you grow up miles away from the epicenter of power and don’t know anyway in to all those skyscrapers in Manhattan, the idea that you can someday transform yourself into a superhero and leap tall buildings is a powerful lure indeed.

 

The issue of race relations in America is awfully depressing and I’m not talking about police or riots or murders or choke holds. I’m talking about simple interactions between two people. I spotted one this past week and was amazed at how quickly (in less than a minute), a normal, everyday exchange between two people devolved.

I was online at a supermarket checkout.

checkout line

As I put my purchases on the conveyor belt, I noticed in the blink of an eye that there was something slightly “off” about the kid behind the register. He was white but seemed more simple than your average kid behind the register. Maybe it was the way he held his hand but my first thought was “this kid is disabled in some way.” Now if you think I’m judging too quickly, I want to point out that countless studies have concluded that the way one sizes up another person in a split-second is often very accurate.

At the end of my transaction, as I was spacing out, the kid nearly put into one of my bags some food from the woman on line behind me. She was a senior and African-American. She put her arm out to stop Checkout Kid from putting some zucchini into my bag (thank God) and, in the next few seconds, the conversation went like this:

Woman: No, that’s mine.

Checkout Kid: Okay (he then lifted up one of those plastic things that separate customer’s items from each other) Next time, please use one of these.

Woman: I didn’t see it.

Checkout Kid: Well, it’s right here next time.

Woman: (now with an edge in her voice) I know where it is. I just didn’t see it.

Checkout Kid: Well, I’m just pointing it out for next time. It’s right here.

Woman: (now very pissed off) I said, I know what it is but I didn’t see it.

You didn’t need to be a genius to know that the woman was about to blow. She was clearly angry at the kid. I don’t know whether it’s because she felt he was speaking down to her (I don’t think he was) or because she felt he was treating her differently because of age or race, all I know is that everyone in the immediate area was very uncomfortable, including me.

Now this kid might have been a bit off but he was savvy enough not to push the point any longer. He said, “Okay” and went into his standard rap (which he had used on me). “Did you find everything you were looking for?”

I kept thinking about that exchange for a number of reasons. First off, it went from zero to 60 in seconds and was about to get ugly. I think it had something to do with the woman and the kid being black and white. I think she felt dissed by a young white pup whereas I don’t think he especially meant anything by what he said because, like I said initially, I think he was a bit off and I don’t think the woman was quick enough to spot that.

So who was wrong here? Who was right? And must race affect everything we do? And is that ageless conflict inevitable?

pix of john with long hair

Imagine…if John Lennon were alive to celebrate his 75th birthday tomorrow! It’s a tantalizing thought, isn’t it? What would life have been life for the ex-Beatles if only…

You don’t need to be a Beatles expert to have your own thoughts on the matter. While his murder in 1980 was a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, there is nothing to be gained by dwelling on it.

So instead, this week – when John would have turned 75 years old – I’ve been thinking about what might have been.

Thinking about John’s life and what might have been, there are three topics of conjecture:

Would the Beatles have reunited?

Would John have stayed married to Yoko?

If not, who would he have married?

 I think it’s unlikely the Beatles ever would have reunited despite their brief affair in the mid-90s for their “anthology.” That’s a good thing – there’s no way to recapture magic like that once it’s gone. But I’m positive he and Paul would have written songs again.

He and Paul were mates as he often said in interview after interview even when talking about their bitter split. The thing is, John died too soon for them to write together again. They were like a long-married couple, still bitter after the divorce. They each were dealing with the other’s “affair” if you will – John with Yoko and Paul with Linda.

But I feel certain time would have healed the hard feelings. Paul wanted to write with John again. Like a puppy dog, he’d show up at the Dakota practically begging for John to come to the door. When John turned him away for the last time in 1976, it’s likely because the wounds of their breakup were still too fresh. In a few years, they’d have been back or so I like to imagine.

As for John & Yoko, it does seem like a union for the ages but maybe that’s because it’s frozen in time and only seems that way. John was notoriously mercurial and might well have bristled at Yoko’s control over him. He needed her to separate from Paul and the boys but it might have gotten old after a time. (Even when he was alive, John left Yoko for a time to have an affair with May Pang.)

The final question is: If John had left Yoko and married again, who would his next wife have been? Madonna? Who knows? They’d have been neighbors on Central Park West and John may well have liked her style.

Alas…if only. Sometimes, it’s nice to imagine but sad as well.

Happy Birthday John….and Sean too, turning 40 years old on the same day his old man was born.

[Note: If you want to explore more, check out this new book about a trip back in time to meet John and the Beatles.] 

Where are the teams?

Where are the teams?

It’s not that I don’t like Staten Island. Wait, that’s not true. I don’t like Staten Island.

Okay, well, it’s not that nothing good happens in Staten Island. Wait, that’s not true either. Every time I’ve ever gone to this poor excuse for a borough, I’ve been disappointed. I always go thinking, there must be something good about this burg and then….there’s not. It’s just as isolated, run-down and lacking in good taste as I remembered.

But then, I give it one more chance, as I did last night. I decided to go to a Staten Island Yankee game because I’d never been there and it was just steps from the Staten Island terminus of the ferry. How bad could it be, right? Wrong! I was about to experience the most surreal time I’ve ever had at a professional baseball stadium (let’s include Little League in that).

I was excited because I had seats in the second row behind the Yankees dugout and they were only $20 each — full price. It rained hard all day in NYC and most of my friends bailed but Larry and I are made of sturdier stock and we persevered. The sun actually came out at 5 and the game was at 7 and, according to the Yankees’ website, it was on. A game against the Muckdogs! I was just hoping to buy a Muckdog hat.

We took the ferry and it was a beautiful night. The stadium was beautiful too. The men at the door took our tickets and waved us in. Easy peasy. But then, I said to Larry, “How come there’s no noise.” We looked out onto the field — no teams on the field, no teams in the dugout. We asked some guy what was going on. “They’re trying to get the field dry,” he said. “They said no earlier than 7:30.”

Okay, well, it was already 7:20 so Larry and I took our seats and admired the stadium with its gorgeous view of the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Now mind you, the concession stands were open and we bought a dog and a beer along with some peanuts. Take me out to the ballgame, y’all!

We chatted for about 20 minutes and then noticed the lights were not on and the grounds crew (three teenagers) seemed to be practicing how to fold the tarp out in the outfield. STill no sign of the ballplayers. No one was warming up, stretching or mingling with the 200 or son fans in the stands. It felt oddly intimate, like seeing your sister’s lingerie.

There were a bunch of teenagers from a Christian camp near us chanting and trying desperately to get a wave started. I waved back at them. “What are they chanting?” I asked Larry. “I love Jeter?” I was thinking, that’s weird — he retired last year.

“No, they’re chanting I love Jesus!” he said. Ah, Jesus is not retired!

That was one of the few things on this night that made sense.

Soon, we and the teenagers were the only people left in the stadium. We kept waiting for some type of announcement or message on the giant television. Nothing. I was throwing peanut shells all over the place. It’s one of the reasons I go to baseball games — so I can throw peanut shells wherever I damn please! But I did feel kind of bad for the teen girl trying to clean up my mess. It seems I was the only person in the entire stadium leaving such a mess. Finally I said to her, “Have they called the game?”
“They called it a long time ago,” she said.

“Say what?! You mean a team called the Muckdogs can’t play on a wet field?”

Larry and I left our seats to see what was going on. The concession stands were closed. Everything was closed. Rod Serling was nowhere in sight. The box office was open and they had a deal for us — we could exchange our seats for another game in August. I’m embarrassed to say I jumped at the chance. Staten Island is bound to have one good day….one of these days.

red notebookI read a lot of fiction — a lot! Blame it on endless subway delays and plane trips. And I love to make book recommendations but, over time, I’ve come to realize that you’ve got to know your audience. Some fiction requires patience and some books are not so easy to read even if, in the end, they’re great.

I could tell you, for instance, that “Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami in a wonderful book that blew me away but you might hate it. Why? Because, like most Murakami books (and right now, he’s my favorite author), “Kafka” is a surreal adventure story that does not play by the rules of logic. And that, I’ve discovered, does not appeal to a lot of people. For different reasons, I feel I cannot recommend another series of books I’m reading — “My Struggle” by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I’m on the fourth book of his fictional memoirs with two more to go. All are about Karl Ove’s life in Sweden and Norway. There are a lot of tough names of towns and people that are very strange to Americans. I find it fascinating — sort of a look into someone’s brain — but a lot of people say, who cares about this guy’s life? Well, I do but you either do or you don’t.

It’s not “fair” for me to recommend these two books but I do have two books I think you’ll really love and they’re perfect for summer. They are both by the same French author and have been translated into English. They’re very short — easy to carry around — and they are romantic and very clever. That’s what gets me about them — their ingeniousness. The basic stories could have been mush in someone else’s hands but this Antoine Laurain guy really knows what he’s doing.

First up is “The Red Notebook.” A woman is mugged and the thief takes out all her ID and money and tosses the expensive bag away where it’s found by a bookstore owner. Inside is the woman’s red notebook or journal. The bookseller reads it and becomes obsessed with finding her and returning the bag to her. Simple story but it’s tres romantique and, as I said, very clever.

I enjoyed “The Red Notebook” so much that I read “The President’s Hat” another Laurain book in the same format — short, clever and romantic. Here’s the basic plot. A businessman going nowhere fast winds up sitting next to President Mitterrand (back in the 1980s) and picks up the president’s hat when Mitterrand leaves without it. The hat brings him great luck as it does to everyone who touches it. Does that sound like a gimmick? Maybe but read the book and you’ll be enchanted.

These books are beach reads but so much better than anything out there, particularly those endless chick lit books with neurotic heroines. Both of these Laurain books are set in Paris and, for my money, you can’t find a more satisfying, easy read.

Want one more suggestion? Read “Leaving Story Avenue; my journey from the projects to the front page” by some guy named LaRosa. 🙂

 

This being New York City and the Lower East Side specifically, today the Museum at Eldridge Street held a street fair smack in the middle of Chinatown which is of course precisely where the Eldridge Street Synagogue and Museum happens to be located. Side by side, Jews, Chinese and many other ethnic groups poured into the street (kindly closed to cars) on a gorgeous day to watch how pickles are brined, to take part in a make-your-own yarmulke demonstration and to drink egg creams. Nearby, Chinese seniors faced off over a table of Mahjong tiles. Music ranged from traditional Chinese to Latino dancing. At one point, a group of Chinese musicians were playing inside the Eldridge Street Synagogue. I think God was smiling. It was New York all the way…and my wife was part of the festivities, demonstrating the fine art of making kreplach to the crowd.

Susan busily demonstrating how to make kreplach which she calls Jewish ravioli

Susan busily demonstrating how to make kreplach which she calls Jewish ravioli

Rolling out the kreplach dough

Rolling out the kreplach dough

Stuffed with cheese, these kreplach look almost good enough to eat but no one did because there was no way to cook them

Stuffed with cheese, these kreplach look almost good enough to eat but no one did because there was no way to cook them

Meanwhile, I amused myself by taking photos of the faces in the crowd.

Kreplach is dandy but egg creams are better

Kreplach is dandy but egg creams are better

 

Huh?

Huh?

 

She lives in Shanghai and speaks fluent Mandarin or so she said

She lives in Shanghai and speaks fluent Mandarin or so she said

Enjoying his smoke, street fair or not

Enjoying his smoke, street fair or not

 

I told this guy I liked his flying hair and he asked if he could take a photo with me

I told this guy I liked his flying hair and he asked if he could take a photo with me

The happy face of a Mahjong winner

The happy face of a Mahjong winner

IMG_9833

The mark of a beauty

IMG_9967

He was really getting into the festivities

He was really getting into the festivities

She sang a rendition of Empire State of Mind, I kid you not. She was from Iowa and says she loves New York

She sang a rendition of Empire State of Mind, I kid you not. She was from Iowa and says she loves New York

What street fair? Where's the free wi-fi?

What street fair? Where’s the free wi-fi?

A peek inside a Chinatown building, always very mysterious

A peek inside a Chinatown building, always very mysterious

Anyone ready for an egg cream?

Anyone ready for an egg cream?

The answer is 'yes!'

The answer is ‘yes!’

Pickled to perfection

Pickled to perfection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yours truly with a Car2Go. They are tiny but easy to park!

Yours truly with a Car2Go. They are tiny but easy to park!

The first thing you should know is that I have a car in my home base of Brooklyn, but I’ve always been intrigued by alternate means of transportation. I opened a ZipCar account a couple of years ago so I’d have a second car on hand in case I needed it and I sometimes did. But I was always frustrated by ZipCar because you have to return it to the spot you rented it from. I found that cumbersome and thought, “Someday, someone will figure out a way so you can rent a car and drop it off someplace else.” (Yes, I know rent a car companies do this all the time but I’m talking short term rentals.)

Enter Car2Go which has a fleet of snappy little Smart Cars zipping around Brooklyn. They are everywhere or at least they’re everywhere I go in Brooklyn. Again, I opened an account because there are times in the this crazy city when you have a “good” spot (meaning you don’t have to move it for days) and you still need to run an errand somewhere. So I opened a Car2Go account which is $35 for life! Cars rent for 41 cents a minute or $15 an hour. I began taking small trips here and there when I had a “good” spot and it was cool but I didn’t use it all that much. But then I went to a west coast city on business.

I spotted Car2Go cars all over the place so I left my rental in the hotel garage and started tooling around in a Car2Go whenever I needed to make a short hop. It was way easier than looking for and paying for parking. In this city, Car2Go had worked out a deal with the city so parking was free! And the cost of an average trip was cheaper than any cab. AND I could drive myself. I’m one of those people who hate to be a passenger — ever. I feel I’m the best driver around and love driving, especially in cities where I consider myself something of an expert.

In four days, I never took my car out of the hotel garage and never rode in a cab. I just looked at the Car2Go app, found a vehicle nearby, reserved it for 30 minutes ahead and walked over and took it. When I was finished, I left it at my destination and never thought about it again. Making a reservation 30 minutes ahead (which you can cancel anytime during that window) is a thing of beauty. I would check if a car was nearby while I was getting dressed, spot one and reserve it, knowing I’d have a ride. If there were no cars around the general vicinity, I’d wait a few minutes and one would pop up.

Finally, do I have to point out that Smart Cars are tiny and fit into almost any spot? I often get frustrated with my own car because there are so many half-spots but with Car2Go, I’m looking for those half-spots and, when I park in spots my own car could only dream about, I just smile. I’m just hoping Car2Go expands throughout New York. Someday, I may actually ditch my car. This is the perfect car-sharing idea put into practice and it works beautifully. If you live in Brooklyn, you’d be a fool not to try, especially with the subways more crowded than I’ve even seen them.

It’s also kind of fun to drive a Smart Car around the city streets but I’m not eager to try the BQE — I have a feeling I’d get blown off the Gowanus by the first tractor trailer that passed by.

draperYou can’t please all the people all the time, right? It would have been nearly impossible for Matthew Weiner to approach the perfect ending of “Six Feet Under.” Now there was a brilliant series finale. A series all about death showed us how each character met their timely or untimely end. It was beautiful. It had pathos, tied everything up once and for all in six minutes, and did it with a great song playing in the background — “Breathe Me” by Sia. (In my opinion, it made Sia the star she is today.)

So Weiner had his work cut out for him. He did manage to pay homage to his mentor David Chase of “The Sopranos” by giving us an ambiguous ending. I want to believe that the final Coke commercial was NOT the result of Don Draper rushing back to New York. Maybe he thought of it, maybe he told Peggy about it but, if I’m reading the last episode’s tea leaves correctly (and let’s face it, they were forced down our throats), Don found enlightenment and embraced Stan’s mantra — “there is more to life than work.”

That phrase sums up the entire final season. Don was through with advertising, especially the loathsome folks at McCann-Erickson and was looking for more out of life. Weiner hit that bell over and over again which is why it would have undercut his entire last season to have the camera pull back after the Coke commercial aired to have the ad boys congratulating Don. Weiner left it ambiguous but, for me, that little bell and smile signified enlightenment, not the sound of an idea bell going off in Don’s head.

I heard an interview with Weiner over the weekend where he said he always knew what would happen to Don Draper in the series finale but he did not know how it was going to happen. I believe that because the series really was about a person’s search for identity and meaning in life.

Don Draper, a child of misfortune, was always searching. He was the ultimate restless male, never happy no matter how perfect the family, how beautiful his bedmate, or how much money he made. Nothing mattered because he did not “feel it” inside his soul.

I like to believe poor Don finally “felt it” up on that California cliff. He got it at long last because, as cliched as it may be, you can never be happy with material things if you’re not happy with yourself. I think the tortured journey west finally gave Don Draper what he was looking for — inner peace that all the money in the world cannot buy. And no matter what advertising tells us, products will never deliver the one quality that will truly make us happy.

So leave Don up there on the mountaintop. For me, he never went back to Madison Avenue, never again was a Mad Man. And I’m more than okay with that.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in court

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in court

The day a Boston jury decided 21-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev deserved the death penalty for his part in the Boston Marathon bombing was the same day I finished reading the searing new book “One of Us” by Asne Seierstad which details in brutal fashion Andres Breivik’s 2011 slaughter of 77 Norwegians, 69 of them teenagers at a summer camp.

Breivik, a political terrorist and to some a madman (interestedly some of the families involved balk at calling him a madman, preferring he take responsibility for his horrible deeds), set off a truck bomb at a government building in Oslo and then made his way to an isolated island summer camp where he calmly shot dozens of teenagers at point blank range. Many of them begged for their lives but Breivik marched on, killing one at a time. He showed no mercy except for one boy he deemed too young to kill. When some teenagers swam to escape his bullets, he continued firing at them in the water.

For those murders, Breivik got the maximum sentence under the law in Norway — 21 years total. Not 21 years for each death — 21 years for 77 murders. There is no death penalty in Norway but it’s likely Breivik will never get out because the judges can extend his sentence five years at a time ad infinitum. The prisons in Norway are notoriously humane but Breivik when last heard from was suing authorities for better video games.

Whatever you think of the death penalty, it’s fascinating to witness how our country and Norway treated these two mass murderers. There were several times when I was reading “One of Us” that I was nearly brought to tears because Breivik was so cruel. Believe me, if anyone deserves a good beating, it’s this out of control narcissist. And yet, the Norwegian police treated him with kid gloves in the hours after the murder. Far from beating Breivik, the police provided him with food and drink on demand and actually began negotiating with him when he asked for for a computer in prison complete with specific software like Photoshop. Think about that — the afternoon he slaughtered dozens of innocents, he had the nerve to negotiate for better treatment and the police went along with it!!! It makes me long for the days of L.A. Confidential.

And now we have a Boston jury imposing the death penalty on impressionable 21-year-old Tsarnaev who was likely a stooge of his older murderous brother. That may be but the jurors deciding his fate were treated to day after day of his own inhumanity and decided to treat him in kind. Their opinion is the only one that matters. After reading “One of Us,” I came away thinking the Norwegian judges treated Breivik too humanely. He will go on living for years in his prison cell, playing video games, reading about his own exploits and enjoying them no doubt. In the end, I thought the Norwegian system of justice was far too humane for the likes of him but the judges hands were tied — he got the maximum. He deserves so much more.

And that brings me to the ultimate question — which country got it right?

J.P. Morgan's library

J.P. Morgan’s library

Wow, right? That’s the usual reaction to this space, the masterpiece that is the library of the financier J.P. Morgan. The room (open to the public most of the week) is part of his incredible mansion that exists to this day — sitting like a mirage in a sea of commercialism — at Madison Avenue and 36th Street.

The Morgan has any number of permanent and revolving exhibits that are worth seeing but, to me, nothing compares to the library room that is a sacred space. Stepping into it is very much like stepping into one of the many churches that dot Manhattan. The traffic and noise outside fall away and there is an immediate sense of peace inside this glorious room.

In a church, I’d like a candle and sit quietly. Here, I just look up with my dropped jaw at the way one man lived and the passionate love he had for books.

Well worth a visit if you’re in NYC.

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cynthia lCynthia Lennon actually wrote two memoirs during her lifetime, the one when John was alive and the real memoir, written after John’s death and published in 2005. That’s the one to read — titled just “John.” She wrote the first one in fear of legal action from John & Yoko; the second memoir was written from the heart and brain and took guts.

Yes, Yoko comes in for a bit of a bashing but can you blame Cynthia? Yoko was every celebrity wife’s worst nightmare — the determined stalker who wins your husband’s heart and tears him away from you. I love John and his music but there’s no denying that John was cruel to Cynthia and Julian during most of his life. He tried to reconcile with Julian toward the end but it was probably too late.

In “John,” Cynthia tells one heartbreaking story after another but the one that sticks with me is John yelling at a young Julian for smiling too much. Cynthia related that Julian never again smiled as much as had as a young lad.

But “John” the memoir is not a bitter tome by an ex-wife; I consider it one of the best Beatles books I’ve read because Cynthia had a very unique vantage, having met and fallen in love with John when they were both teenagers. She was also with him through the height of Beatlemania and was the target of many crazed girls who hated her for being married to a Beatle. (By the way, the best book I’ve read about The Beatles is “Here, There and Everywhere” written by sound engineer Geoff Emerick — simply brilliant and tells you everything you want to know about how they created their music.)

I’ve thought and written a lot about kindness in recent years and it’s clear Cynthia did too. She remembers with fondness two people in particular who treated her with great kindness after John ran off with Yoko. Most of those in The Beatles inner circle were too afraid to have anything to do with her after the breakup, Cynthia recalls. Even Ringo’s wife Maureen (who later became friends again with Cynthia) kept her distance for awhile.

The exception was Paul. Say what you want about Paul (he has a massive ego, he doesn’t tip, he goes through assistants like water, he’s a bit of a dick — all things I’ve heard from behind the scenes people) but he came through for Cynthia. He famously wrote “Hey Jude” on his way to visit young Julian after the breakup.

Paul, it seems, always came through for Cynthia. John had written young Julian a letter expressing his love. Cynthia had to sell that letter years later when she was desperate for money. Much later, the letter came up for auction and Paul bought it for her, framed it and presented it to her, a gesture that Cynthia never forgot.

The other person who showed great kindness toward Cynthia was Ray Cooper, who played in Elton John’s band for years (Elton is Sean Lennon’s godfather). Cooper happened to meet Cynthia at a cafe and told her that, if she ever needed anything, to let him know.

In 1981, when John’s death was still fresh and Julian had just turned 18 years old, the boy was at a loss but wanted to break into the music business. Cynthia contacted Ray Cooper for help and Cooper came through, introducing him to people and putting him up at a flat. That’s true kindness, the kind you don’t forget, the kind Cynthia never forgot.

Bravo to Cooper and Sir Paul. Rest in peace Cynthia.

IMG_0268I had a revelation recently. It wasn’t exactly the awakening of Buddha but it surprised me nonetheless.

I was staying in a chain hotel in one of those corporate nowhere-villes that dot America and I was in the mood for a coffee. In New York, I’d just walk down the block and find any number of indie and chain coffee places but, being where I was, I knew Starbucks would be the only game in town. So I asked the hotel doorman about the nearest outlet. “Right across the street,” he said.

Now “right across the street” did not have the same meaning for him that it does for me. For starters, the “street” in this case was a eight-lane boulevard. There was no way to jaywalk — my preferred method of crossing any street — without getting flattened by an SUV. So I actually waited for the light and, when I got to the other side, I realized I had left my cell phone back in my room. Since I was working and technically “on the clock,” I thought for a second about fetching it but that meant another trip across the boulevard of nowhere dreams and up an elevator to my 10th floor hotel room.

Screw it, I thought. The valet said the Starbucks was right here. But it wasn’t. It was “right across the street” if you happened to be driving but walking, well, it was a long ten-minute walk (20 minutes round trip). And so I began and, as I did, I realized that, for the first time in a long time, no one knew where I was and there was no way to reach me. Fact is, I barely knew where I was, and the thought of being off the grid, even for 20 minutes or so, was blissful.

I felt completely free. I didn’t have to answer to anyone. If someone had a question, it would just have to wait. I didn’t have to answer any dumb, cover-your-ass emails and no GPS program could track me.

Yes, I wouldn’t be able to post a photo but, guess what? The world can live without another picture of a heart-shaped foamed cappuccino. Man, I was FREE!

And that’s when I realized what slaves we all are to our smartphones. They provide so much but they also suck so much out of us. I mean, I’ve lived most of my life WITHOUT a smartphone but I’d forgotten what it was like. When I was a kid, I left my apartment in the morning and my parents had no way of reaching me until dinner. When I was in high school, I could get in as much trouble as I wanted, wander anywhere I wanted to go, and no one would know where I’d been. Same for when I was a young adult.

I never thought of that as freedom back then because there were no smartphones tracking our every move. We’ve all become techno-slaves and, being without one even temporarily, felt like I had all the freedom in the world.

I vowed from then on to go tech-commando more often, to leave my cell phone at home. (“Going commando” in case you don’t know is what women call not wearing underwear under a particularly tight dress so I dubbed leaving my cell phone at home “techo-commando.”) But here’s the strange thing — my being with a cell phone makes everyone else nervous. If I say, “Look, I’m not going to take my cell phone but I’ll be back after lunch,” my colleagues say, “But how are we going to reach you? What if we have a question?”

Well, I say, “you’ll just have to wait until I get back.” It’s kind of a radical concept in this tech-slave age in which we live. I say, let’s all go techno-commando more often and regain a few crumbs of freedom and don’t worry, your emails will wait. There really is no almost no reason you have to always be available. Really.

tonyI just finished watching the 3rd and, for me, the final season of “House of Cards.” I say final because I’m out and never watching this train wreck again.

Here’s the reason — “House of Cards” has virtually no redeeming characters and I spend the entire time hating on every single person in the show. My only hope (and this is a spoiler alert) was Rachel and I promised myself if Doug, who is a snake in human form, killed her, then I was out. I don’t even like Claire but she did redeem herself a bit by leaving Frank in the final scene. Finally!!! What took her so long?

After that last episode, I had to ask myself why I hate the show and characters so much. Yes, Frank is odious and kills people but Tony Soprano killed a lot of people too. The difference? Tony Soprano had morals — he believed in family above all else — his own and his mob family. Everything was done in their service. Underwood does everything in his own service. He cares for no one except himself. He would literally throw anyone in front of the train. Not so Tony — he was a family man.

He also had a twinkle in his eye and enjoyed himself, either at the Bada Bing Club or wolfing down a veal parm hero. Frank Underwood is only enjoying himself when he’s crushing people.

Perhaps the worst part of “House of Cards” is the realization that some of our leaders are like this and that our political process truly exists for the sole purpose of getting people elected. I hate politics, now more than ever. I wish we could somehow have a government where there were no parties, no lobbyists, no tainted money. But if that’s not going to happen, well, I don’t want to be reminded of it by a fictional series. I deal with it enough in real life.

IMG_20150308_090431_1Right up front, let me admit that I love the writing of Karl Ove Knausgaard. Lots of people do but there are also lots of people who loathe his writing and, in his Sunday NY Times Magazine story on March 1, he gave the the haters an awful lot of ammunition.

If you’re totally unfamiliar with his work, Knausgaard is a Norwegian writer who’s written a six-book memoir labeled as a novel of his life from boyhood into his 40s titled “My Struggle.” The books became a sensation in Norway and Europe and won Knausgaard the kind of reviews writers don’t have the balls to dream of. “Sensation” may be too mild a word in this case. He was compared favorably  to Proust and his books so dominated the conversation in Norway that newspapers declared “Knausgaard-free” days where Norwegians were encouraged to talk about something else for at least 24 hours. Four of his books have been translated into English; I’ve read 2 1/2 and plan to read all six.

Knausgaard has been hailed by American reviewers and editors which is why The Times Magazine editors handed him the assignment of flying to Newfoundland and drive to Minnesota. The idea was to loosely follow the path of the Vikings, his ancestors, lo those many years ago.

That was the assignment. What Knausgaard produced is something else. To begin with, he lands in Newfoundland with a suspended license so cannot not drive anywhere. He sits in his hotel room until his innkeeper convinces her husband to drive Knausgaard to a tourist attraction which holds remnants of one of those original Viking trips. Knausgaard goes there, takes a look at the few bumps along the frozen earth, smokes a cigarette and ruminates about Vikings, and gets back in the car.

Most of the magazine article is Knausgaard beating himself up for being a major fuckup. He knows he should have gotten his license renewed before flying to America to complete an assignment where the point was to drive but….he just couldn’t get around to it. Oh well, he makes the best of a bad situation. He goes to Pizza Delight and another restaurant where he notices that Americans are fat, he smokes a lot of cigarettes in his room and elsewhere and, in the piece’s most talked about section, he describes a “significant” dump he takes that clogs up the room’s toilet.

Instead of the water disappearing with a slurping noise before the bowl filled up again, it started to rise. I watched it for a long time.

Riveting stuff, right? Then this famous writer, who is dripping in royalties, decides he’s too mortified to tell the innkeeper and instead describes how he covers his arm in plastic bags and sticks it into the toilet to try to unclog the unsightly mess. He can’t do it and so it sits. He takes a nap and, when he awakes, the toilet is miraculously unclogged.

I think it’s fair to say that the Times editors who handed Knausgaard this assignment and who no doubt paid him quite a bit of money for it, did not envision getting a story about how his shit clogged up a toilet. But here’s the big joke — the editors put it on the cover of the magazine anyway and labeled it Part 1. Part 2 is coming!!

That’s the article’s most memorable scene. Nothing much else happens — Knausgaard finally gets a ride from a Times photographer and they smoke and drink too much, go bowling and look around the ruins of Detroit at night. It’s not much.

But it’s really classic Knausgaard. Why do I enjoy reading him? Because it’s like looking into someone’s brain and I would rather an honest account of his failures than to read another writer’s bullshit bravado of being larger than life. Knausgaard doesn’t do that. Instead, he wallows in failures and thoughts that most of us would never utter to a friend, much less put into a book. Some friends who I admire think Knausgaard’s writing is one big waste of time but I don’t see it that way — I love reading someone’s inner thoughts and feelings whatever they are. To me, they make him more human. Knausgaad’s genius is to be unvarnished unlike 99 % of the writers out there. I enjoy reading about his adventures — big, small and smelly — but I understand if you don’t.

As for that big dump, well just after I finished his magazine article, I picked up Knausgaard’s third book called “Boyhood” and I was up to the section where he and another childhood friend go into the woods to take dumps and examine the contents! All I could do was laugh because the joke after all is on the New York Times editors. If any other writer had handed in this piece of shit assignment, you can bet anything it would have been rejected. But Knausgaard took a shit and they put it on the cover of the magazine with a photo of him smoking a cigarette no less. In these PC times, that alone is an achievement.

I say bravo, Karl Ove, you’ve struck a blow for all the writers whose work has been rejected by magazine editors throughout time. This time, you made them eat it and for that, I thank you.

IMG_20150301_154356I’m no ‘Stage Door Johnny” but today I made an exception for the actress Ruth Wilson, she of the television melodrama “The Affair” and of the BBC series “Luther.” Suffice it to say I found Ruth fetching enough to buy a couple of tickets for “Constellations,” the Broadway play she is now starring in with Jake Gyllenhaal.

I was happy enough to see the play (my review: good, not great) and was about to head home to Brooklyn when I passed by the side door of the theatre where a bunch of fans were milling about hoping for Ruth or Jake to come on out. I looked at my wife who agreed it might be fun to stick around a few minutes in the pouring snow. So we did and we were rewarded minutes later when the door opened and out came Ruth signing autographs and taking selfies with her fans.

Ruth Wilson & fans

Ruth Wilson & fans

She was gracious and friendly and seemingly in no rush. I passed on asking for an autograph or asking her to take a selfie with me because, well, I didn’t want Jake to get all jealous, y’know, so I settled for these photos. How did she look? I’ll quote my wife: “She’s so pretty!!”

Indeed. I’ve never waited for a Broadway star before and doubt I’ll do it again but it was kind of fun. It’s always cool to see celebrities close up but I have no desire to talk to them. They’ve heard it all before anyway. Enjoy the pix!

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David Carr's mug shot

David Carr’s mug shot

When New York Times writer David Carr died this week, we all lost a unique individual and writer we won’t see the likes of for a long time. Why? Because of that word “unique.” The Times has tons of writers around the world but not a single one like David Carr. His experiences as a cocaine addict, a cancer survivor, and the psychic pain of temporarily losing his twin daughters to foster care — those are experiences he alone had and you cannot manufacture them. They made him a fascinating writer and, even if he did not reference those experiences in every column, they informed who he was.

At the risk of stating the obvious, we’re all the sum total of our experiences and those experiences make us who we are. Later on, you cannot relive your life to make it more interesting. Scratch a great artist or person — someone truly unique — and you generally find a man or woman who’s either had hardship in their young lives or who chose a path early on that in itself was different than everyone around them.

Something Bob Dylan said in his recent MusicCares speech really stuck with me (partly because I’ve just finished reading his autobiography “Chronicles”). Dylan said his songs didn’t come out of nowhere:

“If you had sung that song [‘John Henry’] as many times as I did, you’d have written ‘How many roads must a man walk down?’ too.”

That’s the point right there! Lots of people want to be Dylan but only Dylan lived and breathed folk music like he did. He had one focus early on in his life — folk music and Woody Guthrie and long before the Internet, Dylan figured out where Woody was dying in a New Jersey Hospital and spent tons of time there talking to a true American legend. Dylan came to New York with nothing and didn’t expect the world to give him anything — he sought out the folk singers he admired like Dave Van Ronk and wheedled his way into their lives until he was performing next to them and, in Van Ronk’s case, sleeping on the guitarist’s sofa. Dylan was not looking around for a bloody internship!! He was living life and often fell asleep with a guitar in his hands.

It’s like that with a lot of great artists. I’ve read about people wanting to clone John Lennon from his DNA. It doesn’t matter if you have Lennon’s DNA — you can’t have his experiences! Lennon already has two sons out there and neither of them can touch their father because neither was raised like he was — in the shipping port of Liverpool with parents who abandoned him early on. Neither of them met Paul McCartney as a teenager.

The great writer Richard Price has a new novel out using Harry Brandt as a pseudonym but as one reviewer pointed out, Price cannot sound like any other writer than Richard Price. Even Price said he realized that he only knew how to write one way. And how does Richard Price sound? Like a guy born with a bum right arm who was raised in the Bronx projects. That’s how. Others can try to find that authenticity but only Price has it. If you don’t think being a kid in the projects with a shitty right arm makes you different then you don’t know anything.

That’s just the way life is. Edith Piaf sang like she did because she was raised in a bordello and sang on the streets, literally for her supper when she was a little girl. Can you hear that in her voice? I can.

The great CBS Correspondent  and writer Bob Simon saw life the way he did because he knew first-hand was it was like to be held captive for 40 days and nights by enemies who hung him from the ceiling and thought about killing him. Simon knew that life was fragile and precious.

And finally and sadly, that brings me to Brian Williams, a nice guy who was raised in a small town upstate to a middle class family. Early on in his TV career, Williams — because of his looks and pleasing personality — was tapped to be an anchorman in the movie sense of the word. I think Williams wanted something less vanilla for himself, more unique! And I believe that’s why he began inserting himself in dramatic stories — his chopper was shot down, he was there when the Berlin Wall fell, he met the Pope, he rode with Seal Team Six — all Forrest Gump-like tales that are now coming under fire.

Did Brian believe them? Probably not but they made good stories and I’ll bet anything that he believed the stories made him unique, they gave him credibility, they made him something other than plain old Mr. Vanilla. Except it doesn’t work that way Brian. You should have been happy with the $10 million a year NBC was giving you for being a pleasant enough chap. Instead, as Paul McCartney once wrote of John Lennon, you took your lucky break and broke it in two.

Parenthood-Family-tree-infographic6_1

Well, this is it — tonight (Thursday, January 29th), the NBC television show “Parenthood” will air for the last time. It’s the series’ finale and then the Bravermans will join the Cleavers, Bunkers and Seinfelds in the hallowed halls of great television families.

Now you might disagree with that statement but let me school you and tell you why I’ve happily watched every episode of “Parenthood” during its five year run. I watch because it’s virtually the only one-hour network television show (and there aren’t that many on cable either) that is NOT about crime. Can you name any other? “The Good Wife” is often about crime, even though it masquerades as a legal show.

“Parenthood” was different. It was a television program about human relationships and how refreshing was that? Because, when you think about it, aren’t way more of us more touched by relationships in our lives — good or bad — than we are affected by crime? Come on, that’s the truth for most people.

Some (like my wife) think “Parenthood” was too sappy and, yes, it had its sugary moments but for the most part, it explored familial relationship between parents and kids, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, even grandparents and grandkids. It made its points and made them well and exposed a lot of people to Aspergers Syndrome through the character of Max Braverman. It didn’t shy away from the tough aspects of the syndrome and the problems it created for Max’s parents, even if that meant we had to listen to the annoying nasal voice of Max’s mother, Kristina Braverman, the most annoying woman on television.

You want diversity? “Parenthood” also explored inter-racial relationships, gay relationships, the PTSD affecting military veterans, bullying, sibling rivalry, heart disease, sex, aging parents, drug use, alcoholism, dysfunctional adults…..you name it, “Parenthood” explored it. It got millions of viewers to watch and care each week without resorting to dead bodies, car crashes, serial killers or crime.

And let’s not forget that “Parenthood” was a drama, not a comedy. There are a lot of half-hour sit-coms on that are not about crime. No but they’re all about vagina and penis jokes and that’s what keeps them on the air.

My favorite character probably always was Zeke, the patriarch of this crazy brood. He didn’t work, he was corny, sometimes belligerent and stubborn, and not always right but he believed in family above all else and kept his clan together.

Again, “Parenthood” was a rare beast. It was a show about human frailty. There’s no one-hour dramatic show on television now like it and I think it will be a long while until something replaces it.

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Yep, this is how we used to play and no one said ‘stop’

In late December, six police cars pulled up to the Maryland home of Danielle and Alexander Meitiv. Later, someone from Child Protective Services showed up to open an official investigation. What crime did these two middle class parents commit? The answer is shocking, at least to me. They allowed their children, 10 and 6 years old, to take a one-mile walk to and from a neighborhood park by themselves!

[insert ‘gasp’ here]

What I find shocking is the official reaction to the freedom these parents allowed their children.

Talk about a waste of time and resources! In a world where we bend over backwards to reunite low-income children with their drug-addicted, stressed out, and violent parents (see several horrible cases of child deaths in NYC over the past few years), why are we wasting our time on responsible parents who know their kids and believe in teaching them a little responsibility?

The Maryland mother, by the way, is a climate-science consultant, and the father a physicist at the National Institutes of Health. She told The Washington Post

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

They sure sound like criminals to me. 

The issue of course is free-range parents embraced by some brave souls, the idea some parents have that they will allow their kids to be kids. The Meitivs told The Post this is the way they were raised in New York in the 1970s. I grew up in the 1960s but it was much the same then.

On summer vacations and when school was out, my parents — and the parents of all my friends — often had no idea where we were. What did we do with that freedom? We played touch football, softball, hardball, handball, basketball, went fishing, shot real arrows, and ran around my Bronx housing project like wild banshees. Did kids get hurt? Yes, a few times but nothing horrible happened. A broken arm or leg was the worse and that was rare. No one was murdered, no one was snatched away. And if you believe there were no pedophiles back in them there days, you’re sorely mistaken.

Of course, we had no cell phones and the very thought of calling in from a pay phone was an alien concept. I don’t believe I or any of my peers ever did. We showed up for dinner, period.

When we were not playing games, we explored The Bronx, ranging far and wide with very little money in our pockets. I once took an eight mile bike ride over the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey without telling my parents where I was going (I think I was 13 or 14 years old then).

Sometimes, we snuck into the Bronx zoo without paying; other times, we used our school bus passes to go to Queens and broke into buildings that were left over from the 1964 World’s Fair. We did crazy shit but we learned the ways of the world and never got into serious trouble. We all looked out for each other. We had our own backs. Our parents were at home, doing whatever parents did. We didn’t even think about that.

The coddling of kids today is not going to make them stronger or more independent. It’s just going to instill fear and anxiety where none should exist. Lighten up all you new parents. You don’t want your kids to have to wear a helmet every time they step outside the house, do you? Or do you?

I don’t know much about Tarot cards (I’m not even sure if you capitalize the word) but I was given a reading as a Christmas present from my all-knowing and all-seeing wife and so I went down to Greenwich Village to visit Eva the Tarot card reader.

Eva didn’t have a flowing robe or crystal ball but she was wearing something that looked like a turban. Maybe she was only having a bad hair day but it helped fit into my preconceived notion of what a Tarot card reader should look like. (Although I must say that the jeans kind of ruined the effect.)

Anyway, this Tarot reading was held in what was essentially a therapist’s office and that’s kind of what it felt like. Eva wasn’t overly forthcoming about how the whole thing worked so it was up to me to get the crystal ball rolling (sorry, I kept looking for one that wasn’t there.) I wasn’t burning up with any overriding question about my life (Will I lose my hair…get married…have kids? You know, critical questions in precisely that order) so I had to think up a few on the spot.

“I’ve written this novel and I’m going to submit it to publishers soon. How do you think it will go?” I asked.

Eva shuffled her cards (she seemed to be always shuffling the cards), and laid them out in front of us. Immediately, I knew I was in trouble:

book card

Now you don’t have to be a psychic or a Tarot card reader to know that card does not bode well for someone who’s written a book. Talk about rejection!! Ten swords, a lot of blood and a dead writer. It looked like a preview of “48 Hours.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“It looks like you may be in for a bit of a struggle,” Eva said.

I think I must have turned white because she quickly pointed to the last card in the deck,  a card with some trees on fire. “It looks like you’ll burst through and have a lot of success but not before you go through a difficult period,” she said.

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Well, that was certainly an optimistic spin, as opposed to saying the whole process could go up in flames.

I guess that was my problem with the entire reading. It felt like you could interpret the cards pretty much any way you wanted to. The cards could have had any meaning you assigned. But I walked out of there happy enough. Maybe my novel will burst through, maybe it will go up in flames, but whatever happens, I remain optimistic. Here is one of the last cards that appeared — The Magician — and like Woody Allen, I believe there is always magic in the world.

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Mmmmm, fish!

Posted: 16th December 2014 in food
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IMG_20141216_193542Somewhere there exists a person who looks at a hunk of raw fish and says, “Mmm, I can’t wait to get home, sprinkle a little lemon and salt on that baby, broil and eat it as nature intended — fresh!” Let me say right now, that person is not me. I would rather taste any spice — and I’m including bleach here — rather than taste the ‘flavor’ of fish.

Simply put, I am not a fish lover and, if there’s one thing I hate more than eating fish, it’s cooking fish. But today, when I got home from work, my wife was too sick to cook and you know how it is with that farmer’s market fresh fish — you have to cook it immediately if not sooner or else it goes bad. That’s why when we buy fresh fish, I refer to it as ‘the curse of the fish.’

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So tonight, I was stuck cooking my own piece of (damn) tile fish. Normally, I limit my intake of fish to 3 varieties — cod, flounder and tuna. Okay 4 if you count Mrs. Paul’s…whatever kind of fish that is.

I opened the package gingerly and realized that this luscious (note: I’m being sarcastic here) piece of tile fish had a bunch of pin bones along its spine. How appetizing! It’s no wonder people don’t eat fish snacks, right? I couldn’t get those damn pin bones out no matter how hard I tried so I turned to youtube for a few tricks and 3 hours later (slight exaggeration), all the pin bones were out and I was exhausted. My eyes were shot from staring at the little invisible bones.

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Okay, so now I had that nice hunk of fish. I turned again to the Internet and found a nice recipe for sautéing the fish with butter, lemon and scallions. Simple enough. I began cooking and basting and, as I waited I read the reader comments. Many of them were warnings not to eat tile fish (note: now I am NOT being sarcastic) because of the high level of mercury. Your hair could fall out or something.

I pressed on and came up with a reasonably decent looking piece of cooked fish. My side dish was a large glass of white wine. Who had the time to make anything else? I called my wife down and, on her first bite, she found a pin bone. Say what??!!! I hadn’t found a single one in my half!

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She praised me about how good the fish was and I accepted the compliment graciously. “Nothing to it,” I said, “but don’t ever buy tile fish again.”

Then, after she left, I dug into a bag of the only fish I truly love — red Swedish fish from 7/11! Mmmm, now THAT’S some nice fish!

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See how thick that driver's side pillar is?

See how thick that driver’s side pillar is, near the mirror? That can screen out pedestrians in crosswalks.

To be a good driver in NYC, you’ve got to be aware of your surroundings because you never know when a pedestrian, a bike, another car, a dog — who knows what — might suddenly appear right in your path.

I’m always on the lookout but there’s one thing I almost never do when driving the city streets — look at my speedometer. And I don’t think I’m alone; I would bet most drivers behave the same way.

There’s really no need to check one’s speedometer because the traffic is usually intense and, if I’m lucky enough to find a street that’s free of cars, I drive at what I would consider a good clip. I’m not going to do 50 mph on a residential street but neither am I going to go 25 mph. And that brings me to the city’s latest attempt to make our streets safer — lowering the speed limit to 25 miles an hour.

I have to admit that I feel the new law is irrelevant. I don’t mean to be arrogant about it but I’m going to keep doing what I’ve always done — drive at the speed I think is appropriate.

There have been a lot of cars hitting and killing pedestrians lately but not, I believe, because they are speeding. Many of these fatalities are happening when the driver is making a left. I’ve seen the videos online and the act is so egregious (the pedestrian has the light and is in the crosswalk) that I believe the drivers involved never saw the pedestrians.

Let’s be honest — there often is a little game of chicken (that shouldn’t happen) when a pedestrian is in the crosswalk. Drivers tend to see how far they can go to make the turn and most pedestrians give as good as they get, boldly staking out their right to cross with dirty looks and curses. But in the videos I saw of pedestrians being hit, it wasn’t like that — rather the drivers just blew through the crosswalk as though the pedestrians were not even there.

Why is this happening? My own theory is that a lot of drivers ignore a critical blind spot when making a left. That pillar on the driver’s side between the window and the front windshield can often screen out pedestrians in the crosswalks. It’s happened to me a couple of times — particularly at night — but my wife spotted the pedestrian before anything bad happened. That’s the thing — the person seated in the passenger seat can see the pedestrian but the driver often cannot.

I believe this is a function of the widening of the car’s pillars. They used to be fairly thin but now that car companies are putting air bags in there, those pillars are growing wider and wider. It’s a big problem. Drivers need to be as attentive when making a left on a city street as they are on a highway when changing lanes at 65 mph.

There should be a public awareness campaign about these ‘new’ blind spots. I’ve never seen anything written about them but I do know one thing — UPS has its drivers avoid left turns because they are so dangerous. Everyone should be more careful. It’s not the speed, it’s the blind spot. Pay attention Mister Mayor.