The Financial District in New York is known for large office towers of glass and marble facades of old buildings. It is considered the epicenter of the financial world.
Many of the large banking institutions that comprise the symbolic “Wall Street” are located in midtown now. And very little actual stock trading happens on Wall Street itself. Most actual stock trading happens on giant data servers in New Jersey. But the name is going to stay and new banks will move in to replace the old ones.
There is a charm to lower Manhattan that is missing from midtown and other parts of the island. The streets retain the narrow dimensions of the early Dutch settlers, and now they are lined with tall buildings instead of brick homes. The chaos of the streets is part of what makes it different. You have to know where you are going, and the logical numerical grid of midtown is choked off for good farther uptown at Houston Street. South of there, you have to know where you are going.
Lower Manhattan retains some of the old world charm of the early settlers, even though Manhattan today looks nothing like it did when it was New Amsterdam. You can still see remnants of Revolutionary War history and the days of our nation’s founding. If you are close enough to Battery Park, you can wander away from some of the tourists to the Korean War Memorial or one of the gardens that are quieter, or see working bee hives.
An additional charm to lower Manhattan generally and the Financial District in particular is the scattered network of small alleyways. When I first started working downtown, I had more time to take walks on my lunch hour and whenever I came across a small alley I had not experienced before, I had to walk down that alley. It still seems a sin not to.
Near where I work now is one such alleyway: Liberty Place. It’s among the alleys that populate lower Manhattan and serve as secluded getaways that are enticing for midday walks.
Forgotten NY points out that Liberty Place used to be called Little Green Street and dates to the era of the early Dutch settlers. People who walk or drive on the extremely narrow, one-way street are traveling where there once was a graveyard and Quaker meeting house.
I make a point to walk down Liberty Place whenever I can. It’s an oasis of old New York City grit in a scrubbed land of tourists and high finances. I often smell skunk weed and see people taking a break from work. The people who linger there are sharing a joint, drinking discreetly, or making a phone call away from the usual noise and bustle of the New York workday.
And even though I don’t drink or smoke weed I walk down this alleyway feeling I am among my people. I also would rather loaf and feel at ease and spend my days enjoying the random beautiful madness of our city streets rather than sit at a desk and answer emails for hours. I too should have stayed a rambling, impoverished poet looking for eternity in the eyes of strangers.
Liberty Place is just that, a place we can seek a breath of liberty even within a shadowy alleyway. I try to make it part of my daily routine, another way to get through the everyday and be a tourist in your own city.
Fifteen years ago, it was a cold night in an apartment in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn where maybe two dozen people gathered for a Burns Night party. Burns Night is January 25 and celebrates the birthday of Robert Burns, the Scottish poet who lived in the late 1700s.
Several of us had brought our volumes of Robert Burns’ poetry, and at any point during the party, a partygoer would shout “Poem!” and silence the festivities for a reading of Burns poem.
The host had traveled to a meat distributor in New Jersey to obtain authentic haggis, a traditional Scottish dish comprised of a sheep’s offal and other ingredients served inside an animal’s stomach. A central ritual of the Burns Night party consisted of our host cutting open the haggis while someone read the Burns poem ‘Address to a Haggis.’
These Burns Night parties were a testament to the greatness of New York City and to the promise and meaning of Brooklyn to so many people. These were eclectic gatherings that showed the power of art to transcend time and place. Here were people of a variety of ethnic backgrounds celebrating a Scottish poet. The host, Roger, is a Peruvian Jew who grew up in Detroit. There was at least one real Scotsman at these parties, or at least he looked the party with a kilt. Maybe none of us had a drop of Scottish blood. Who cares? The power of Burns’ poetry transcends.
Among the guests at Roger’s parties were his frequent music collaborator Scott and Scott’s wife Diane. I once got to dog sit for Scott and Diane’s amazing dog Connolly (full name: Satchel Connolly X) – I picked up their house keys at a local diner where they knew the owners, walked their dog and explored Prospect Heights, which was a real neighborhood.
They were among the most active voices opposing the Atlantic Yards Project, a corrupt boondoggle that forced people out of their homes and businesses to construct luxury housing and a sports stadium. That fight was lost and the Barclays Center now sits on what used to be the part of the vibrant and eclectic Prospect Heights neighborhood. To this day I have not set foot inside the Barclays Center.
Roger returned to Detroit and Scott left Brooklyn and ended up in New Orleans. Diane remained in Brooklyn for a while after their breakup but she later moved to Westchester. All these people are doing well. Roger continues to write brilliantly, Scott has had his photos exhibited and Diane is a Fordham professor who recently published a book.
Those parties and those three people in particular represented Brooklyn to me like nothing else. They had each had come to New York and conquered it on their own, leaving great music and art in their wake. When those three people left Brooklyn, it was a sure sign that the things that made Brooklyn special were gone forever. If the people who embodied the spirit of Brooklyn more than anyone I knew were had left, then Brooklyn had outlived its usefulness.
That’s not to say there is nothing good about Brooklyn. I still go to Coney Island and Prospect Park and there are still music venues in Brooklyn worth your while. But for the most part when I think of Brooklyn I think of overpriced real estate and the hordes of well-off people who are driving up the price of everything.
But people who attended Roger’s Burns Night parties years ago have not forgotten them. A friend recently spent Burns Night at Peter Luger’s Steak House and recited some Burns poems to his family and friends. Diane mentioned Burns night in a school lesson about ethnic foods and culture; sadly her students had not heard of Burns Night.
Roger posted his memories of Burns Night online, noting how he first came across a reading of Burns poetry inside a pub in New Jersey, and woke up the next day in New York determined to be one of the people who would recite Burns poetry.
I stayed up late with my volume of Burns poetry, and read The Bonnie Wee Thing to my wife while holding her hand. It was not the happening party of years ago, but I could not go to bed on Burns Night without reading a Burns poem.
The Burns Night parties in Brooklyn of long ago are gone, but as long as I live I will keep them alive in spirit, and I am not alone.
The holidays, as we collectively call them, start in earnest while we are still recovering from Halloween and preparing for Thanksgiving. Once Thanksgiving is over, all bets are off and we are surrounded by the Christmas season until we crawl back to work on January 2nd to the grim realities of our winter lives.
Holiday traditions are fine things, and for many years I took pride in my annual Bad Santa Party, which celebrated the greatest Christmas movie ever made, Bad Santa. Someday I will revive that tradition with a vengeance, but until that time it pays to find other holiday traditions that will celebrate the season without going to church or being part of a slack-jawed mob.
Of course, there are plenty of things to do that are not holiday related, but if you want to enjoy some yuletide spirit but not be surrounded by entitled ignoramuses or enormous crowds, here are some ways to observe the holiday season without losing your sanity or your edge.
Tree lightings abound. Mobs crowd Rockefeller Center and their tree is the most well-known in the city, but lots of other trees and menorahs have ceremonial lightings. Different parks, zoos and public gardens hold a host of lighting events and they are often a lot of fun. Go to one of those and you’ll get just as much craic as you would from going to some massive retail tree lighting and have a better time with smaller crowds as well.
Santa Claus for a better cause. You could certainly wait on a long line at a department store or shopping mall to put your sloppy toddler on that stranger’s lap, or you could explore an alternative venue where there won’t be as many elves or predatory photographers but the money will be going to a good cause. In my area, both the Queens Botanical Garden and the Lewis Latimer House have events where kids get to meet Santa Claus.
Anti SantaCon Pub Crawl. One of the more obnoxious holiday traditions in the city is SantaCon, a prolonged drunken stumble by perpetually unaware hollow men and their fawning female enablers. Sadly, SantaCon was once a fun and inspiring artistic event that became too popular and is now the corrupt antithesis of its founding ideals. But where there is a need for change, New Yorkers will step into the breech, and so bar owners in Brooklyn have started the Anti-SantaCon Gowanus Pub Crawl on Sunday, Dec. 9. You still get to dress up and drink in the holiday spirit, but absent the feeble stupidity that passes for holiday spirit among the current SantaCon crowd.
Literary birthday celebrations. Did you know that December 3 is Joseph Conrad’s birthday? Or that December 7 is the anniversary of Willa Cather’s birth? Shirley Jackson, Stanley Crouch, Edna O’Brien, Jane Austen, George Santayana, John Milton, and Mary Higgins Clark, among other literary lights, have birthdays in December. Why not have a party where you read their works?
Visit the New York Hall of Science. I have a tradition of visiting the New York Hall of Science on Christmas Eve with my daughters. It’s usually not crowded and our girls love science. It gives their mother a break from watching them for a while and she has time to wrap their gifts while they are away. It allows us to enjoy this popular public space in a bit of solitude and quiet.
There is no more New York thing to do than to carve out your own new tradition and celebration. The holidays give us these opportunities. Seize the day.
My plans to take time off from work were squelched by too many year-end goings on at work. So I drove up to Connecticut last Friday night to get one full day of hunting in this past Saturday.
It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and the highways were regularly quiet. I-95 in Connecticut is normally a slow-lurching snake of chrome and misery, so to breeze north was a rare treat. I made good time in getting to my friend Steve’s house. Steve is an accomplished hunter and he is generous enough to let me stay at his house when I go hunting.
I was up before 5:30 a.m. the next day. Hunting or running the Tunnel to Towers 5k are the only reasons a anyone should be willingly awake before 6 a.m. on a weekend. I was ready and out the door without too much problem. Unfortunately I accidentally set off my car’s car alarm in the driveway of my friend’s house, waking him and at least one member of his family.
I was the only one pulling into the small area for cars at the unmarked entrance to the Cockaponset State Forest on Little City Road in Killingworth, Connecticut. I didn’t see any other human beings for the next 10 hours and that was a good thing. I saw and heard evidence of people, but all the time outside in the daylight it was just me and my quest to take a deer home.
Spending time in and around the natural world is a basic human need. The science is in, and there are significant health benefits to spending time around more trees and fewer people. Human beings are not meant to live without experiencing some part of the natural world on a regular basis.
I made my way into the woods. It was still dark, but a bright moon provided good light. Once it was past the legal hunting time I loaded up and kept making my way quietly to my chosen hunting spot.
I got very lucky the first time I staked out this area and it and it has the natural attributes that would make it a good location to begin with. It is a natural overlook with greenery for deer to eat and water for them to drink.
But nothing doing. While I heard gunshots going off in the distance frequently and thought maybe some deer would get chased my way, nothing doing. At midday, I decided to search out someplace different. I started by making my way to my old spot, at another overlook that is an even higher perch. It was there where I took my first deer several years ago.
The area has improved, in that the stream that was dried up a few years ago is back and flowing nicely. But it has attracted other, less ethical hunters. Someone left a camping chair and their garbage on this natural overlook, a major faux pas in the hunting world. I thought it would be justified to take this chair out of the woods, as punishment to whatever entitled rube left it there along with their refuse. Instead I moved on, making my way deeper into the forest.
And as I marched through an overgrown passage between trees, I finally saw a deer. He or she was not far away, but had seen or heard me first and was on the move, picking up the pace and getting out of good range before I could even raise my shotgun and get in my sights.
I paused, hoping some other deer may come along on its heels, but no luck. I hiked a bit more and found a new spot that looked over the growth where the deer I saw would have exited into a more open area, and if any deer had some along I would be in a good position.
The last two hours of the day passed by slowly. Someone in the distance fired off a lot of rounds; they were either target shooting or had come upon some prehistoric giant mega deer that took ten shotgun slugs to bring down.
I started to make my way out of the woods towards the end of the day, hoping to maybe get lucky on the way. When legal hunting ended, I unloaded and found my way back to my car.
Another hunting trip without some game to take home, but time in the woods is always time well spent.
The dire warnings swarmed throughout the media ahead of last week’s snowfall. A “Bomb Cyclone,” was going to smash the East Coast and wreak havoc on our lives. I left work on Wednesday prepared to work from home on Thursday amid a cataclysmic blizzard.
Early the next morning, I checked my work email on my work phone and looked out the window repeatedly for an indication that the ice age apocalypse was upon us and that I should stay home and enjoy a work-from-home day. It looked underwhelming. There was not even any snow sticking to the street and the collection of snow on the parked cars in my neighborhood looked relatively mild. I decided that the “Bomb Cyclone” had fizzled and that not showing up to work in person would be bad.
When I got outside, the snow was coming down at a healthy clip, and I regretted not bringing my umbrella. There were not as many commuters on the morning bus, as people saner than I were in their warm homes getting some extra sleep. The commute to work was uneventful, and I was at my desk at my normal time.
Things were uneasy though. The snow kept coming down at a faster pace. From a high floor of a high office building, where normally one can see all the way to Eastern Queens, the nearby buildings were barely visible through the snowy haze. Sure enough, this Bomb Cyclone was for real, at least in that it was dumping a ton of snow on our city at great speed. Snow was being blown sideways and windy updrafts made it appear that it was snowing from the ground up like some kind of winter flurry from the upside down.
Few people had made it into work. Most of them not even bothering with the commute in. There were so few of us in the office that one of the administrative assistants had lunch brought in for everyone. While enjoying my free sandwich, I started wondering how I would get home. My boss sent me a photo of Han Solo on a Tauntaun from The Empire Strikes Back.
The snow kept going into the afternoon, and I decided I would try to leave work early in order to get a head start on the commute home, which I assumed would be a journey of misery and anger lasing hours.
By the time I left work at 4 p.m., snow had stopped falling in downtown Manhattan and visibility had resumed. The streets did not look great but what little traffic there was appeared to be moving. Arriving in Herald Square for my commuter bus, 6th Avenue had been plowed during the day but not recently enough and several inches of snow had been pulverized into sickly slush by hours of traffic.
I stood on the sidewalk with the cold wind punching me in the face as some of my fellow commuters huddled for cover. Being cooped up on an office all day, it felt good to feel the real world, even when it feels like Old Man Winter is hitting you in the face with a cinderblock.
The ultimate irony of the Bomb Cyclone: it took me less time to get home from work than it normally does. This was because enough people had been scared away from the city and because I left a little bit before normal rush hour.
As our commuter bus headed over the 59th Street Bridge, I saw a line of inactive snowplows parked along the street on 1st or 2nd Avenue. The avenues of Flushing had been plowed but our bus struggled a bit up some sloping streets. By the next morning though, the streets were clear.
A hard, biting cold has gripped the East Coast recently, and New York City has taken its share of the brunt of it. But it is part of life here. We get all four seasons in the Big Apple, and we get all of them in a big way.
The Fourth of July every year brings with it many great traditions: hot dogs, fireworks, partying to excess with friends and family. And every year I have partied with high school friends in a way that embraces all of these observances.
My high school friend Steve and his wife Paige put on a great 4th of July party that brings in friends from far and wide.
Steve is the center of our social circle among most of my Connecticut friends. When we were in high school, his mother’s house was our central meeting place, and Mrs. Q was a second mother to a lot of us. She is missed. Steve and Paige’s house has become a second home to many. They have helped many friends and relatives who have needed places to stay. Even friends with perfectly good homes of their own nearby wind up spending a lot of time at Steve and Paige’s house.
The day of the party, circumstances delayed our departure until after 2 p.m. Driving on I-95 in Connecticut is its own special hell, and a Saturday on a holiday weekend it was an infernal misery of traffic. A two-hour drive became a three-hour drive, and since our kids had already napped at home, they screamed and cried for much of that three-hour drive. When we finally pulled onto our friends’ property, it was after 5 p.m.
I didn’t have time to make the stop for fireworks like I normally do. The forecast called for rain.
Once we got there, it was great to be among friends again.
Steve is a very handy person. He turned his one-story house into a two-story home and constructed his own out-buildings to keep farm animals on his property. He got me into hunting, gave me good advice on how to move about the woods, and helped me field dress my first deer. He also introduced me to the works of Arthur Schopenhauer and we’ve debated both the immutably dark nature of human existence until the wee hours of the morning.
Steve and I were both financial journalists for a while. After being laid off and being without a regular job for a long time, Steve began working in shipbuilding by helping to renovate the historic Amistad. He has since began working on boats in Newport, Rhode Island. More than a year ago, he told me he could not go back to working behind a desk. At the party he said he hated having to be away from his family for so long for his job, but that he loves his job. He wakes up every morning and looks forward to going to work. It was something I had heard about but didn’t think I’d see.
A man who loves his job today is rare. I expected to see Bigfoot or get kidnapped by a UFO before one of my friends told me they loved going to work every day. Even though he loves to play the part of a curmudgeon, he looked sincerely happier than he’s been in the past. It was great to see and I can’t think of someone who deserves that more than Steve. He brings a lot of good thoughts and much-needed perspective to a lot of his friends. I know I’ve been better for having had long conversations with him and I’m far from alone.
He’s been writing a lot of good poetry lately as well and posting his poems online. He’s getting to see new things, and be inspired by his work with ships. “In so many ways, sailing is freedom like most of us can’t even understand.” He messaged me at one point.
A while into our time at the party, I found Steve sitting on a lawn chair in the back of his pickup truck. With him was our friend Jay. The two were perfectly content to sit with their beer there and observe the party from their perch. But they soon began to attract a crowd. Everyone wanted to stop by and enjoy the conversation. In between searching for and wrangling my children and stuffing my face with food, I discussed poetry with Steve.
We agreed that two men sitting in the back of a pickup truck was good fodder for a poem and we decided to each write a poem with this as the theme.
The party continued and despite my not being able to contribute to the supply of ordnance, there were still plenty of fireworks. My twin girls asked to be brought inside and skip the rest of the barrage after getting a bit too close to the pyrotechnics. Inside Jay was making his outstanding jambalaya, and we got a peek at the culinary genius at work.
We stayed late and got on the road for home after 11:30 p.m. Someday we’ll stay overnight in a tent on our friends’ lawn like my wife and I did before we had children.
It was a great way to celebrate Independence Day. The national politics evolves and devolves, and no matter your perspective, it’s easy to become discouraged. The strength of our country lies in the bonds we form with friends and neighbors, and at Steve and Paige’s house, a strong community thrives on its own.
I moved back to New York City nearly 20 years ago. I packed all of my belongings into a small rented moving truck and drove north from the sprawl of suburban Atlanta to the sprawl of New York City. It was early November when I arrived at my mother’s house in suburban Briarcliff. The trees rained yellow leaves like gold vermillion onto the damp, black streets.
I came to New York to find literary fame and fortune and I’m still fighting the good fight. My enemies are my own laziness and self-doubt and the regular pressures of needing to make a living and feed a family. I have friends who no longer write and are comfortable in their day jobs. I have friends who have found great success as writers and published books. They make me green with envy sometimes but I can’t scream that things are unfair: they worked hard and have been more on the ball than I’ve been when it comes to managing a career.
I sometimes doubt my abilities to put words to the ideas coursing through our lives that will move people and help them see themselves in greater things. I sometimes doubt my odds in gaining success in the creative field and rising to the esteemed literary heights so widely celebrated.
What I do not doubt is my love of creativity and burning need to produce good work. I am confident in my connection to the orgiastic madness that powers the human animal and makes our Gotham such a powerful crucible. I will never question my love of truth and the embrace of human kind’s true carnal nature. I will never surrender my ability to be a black flame helping fellow travelers navigate the cold dark realities of an indifferent world.
Art and creativity make life worth living; it’s how we express the truth of human existence as we struggle to understand it and find our place in the world. I have been very fortunate to have friends who have helped me indulge in reading James Dickey on whiskey-soaked nights in the sultry summer night of Georgia, friends who have written poems that have been turned into songs and that can still bring tears to my eyes to this day, and friends who held Burns Night parties complete with haggis where the party would come to a dead stop to read from the Bard of Scotland.
As I struggled to get a handle on writing fiction, I continued to write and publish poems, and my earliest successes have been with publishing poetry. I have come to the realization that I may be better at writing poems than writing fiction or non-fiction and that I at least owe the form more time and attention than I have been giving it. Poems can be written quickly and can express an idea in its rawest form. It can inspire by telling a narrative story or not. Either way it echoes in the hearts of the reader who feels inspired to do great things. I lapsed in recent years in writing them but I have recently redoubled my efforts to write poetry every night. Last year I also starting finishing and publishing one poem per week through Impolite Literature’s Web site.
This national poetry month, join me in reading poetry, in understanding that poetry is the testament of our civilization. The future will judge the worthiness of our times by our art and literature as much as by our wars and monuments.
I hope to raise an army of warrior poets, to make poetry part of the life of blood and iron that defines our existence on Earth. Join me in making our world great by insisting poetry be a part of it. I stand with sword-pen in hand.
Sid Yiddish is a Chicago performance artist who is running for president as a write-in candidate. He describes himself as a “Lincoln Republican” though his politics are more in line with the Democrats, but you are welcome to write him in on whatever ballot you choose; he’s not picky. He is the only candidate promising to invade Denmark.
Why Denmark? “Because it’s there and because I can,” he said. He has performed in Denmark but did his first show with Danish musicians over Skype for the Chicago Calling Festival in 2009. He travels the U.S. frequently. This Friday, Jan. 22 (2016) will find him in Kansas City, Missouri at the Poetry & Absinthe Open Mic at the Uptown Arts Bar.
Sid Yiddish usually dresses like a kind of mischievous cantor, as if The Rocky Horror Picture show took place in a Catskills summer camp or if Fiddler on the Roof was an avant-garde punk rock opera instead of a Broadway musical. With a prayer shawl and Kittel – a traditional garment worn by orthodox Jewish men and a face mask, he both pays homage to and satirizes Jewish heritage with his appearance. When he appeared on America’s Got Talent, Howie Mandel called him a “Hasidic Lone Ranger.”
A Sid Yiddish performance is always an eclectic ensemble of songs, poems, comedy and compelling noise. Each performance will usually involve some form of Tuvan throat singing, which sounds like it is painful to do and can rattle the uninitiated. He often performs with a band, the Candy Store Henchmen. With connections in various cities, his auxiliary of Candy Store Henchman can be summoned to perform on short notice and very little rehearsal.
[Full disclosure: I have known Sid Yiddish for several years and have performed in the New York City version of his Candy Store Henchmen. I met him through Mykel Board, who had the wisdom to write about Sid much sooner.]
His presidential campaign is his latest effort in reaching out to the world. His platform includes heavy support of the arts. “I believe schools should cut sports from schools and give all their money to the arts.” He would also buy everyone a new pair of shoes and hand out bubble gum with good comics in them, not the shabby comics that have become the standard today.
He has extended his reach through some small acting roles. He appears briefly in a Ludacris video and recently had a bit part in the Showtime show Shameless, which stars William H. Macy. There’s an online petition to make Sid a recurring character on the series.
While he revels in his outsider status, he makes an effort to make each show as interesting and participatory as possible, inviting audience members to join his band and play instruments if they choose, even if that instrumentation consists of banging on a table top or tapping a beer glass.
He’s devised a series of hand signals that instructs the band on what to play. One gesture means to stop, another gesture means a free-for-all, other gestures mean other things. If you play the wrong thing, he doesn’t ask you to change, he just may be a bit more emphatic with his gestures. No two Sid Yiddish shows will ever be the same and he likes it that way.
Sid Yiddish describes himself as a late bloomer and suffers from depression. His past is littered with sad memories of where clinical depression can lead. He hopes his work can reach people and help encourage those who also suffer from the disorder. To him, being a performance artist is a redeeming experience that puts him on a good path and colors his worldview. “It feels like I take LSD without taking LSD,” he notes.
His music and acting takes up a lot of his time and he is interested in going to another audition for America’s Got Talent. “I’m a renaissance man, a Jack and Jill of all trades. No one can put me in a category; you can’t pin me down. But sometimes I’ve felt that I’m spreading myself too thin.”
The world has given up a good bit of the civility and thoughtfulness that was more commonplace when Sid Yiddish was growing up, and he offers himself as a one-man protest against that. Instead of waving his fist at the world, his hand gestures conducts a motley crew making avant-garde punk rock symphony. He can take your rejection; he’s faced it all before and just keeps coming back, serving as a reminder that the act of creation and expression is sometimes all that matters and all you have left.
A new poem, Ten-Dollar Blackjack, is online via Impolite Literature. It was inspired by a good night at a Blackjack table. I had reason to visit Las Vegas recently for work and while I am not a big gambler I wanted to take in some Vegas nightlife and I wasn’t able to get to see Penn & Teller.
I was staying at The Rio and I didn’t have time to go far since my time in Vegas was short. I decided after a day of work and schmoozing for work to enjoy some time in the gambling pits of the casino before retiring to my room.
So after quickly losing $20 on Roulette I made my way to the nearest $10 minimum Blackjack table. Two people from the work conference happened to be there so I sat down and enjoyed the friendly game. One of the two conference attendees retired and I was soon there at the table with Adam, an earnest and well-mannered conference attendee form Indiana and an older Asian man who spoke only broken English.
Adam and the elderly man schooled me on the finer points in Blackjack as we went along. The good thing about Blackjack is that if you can do basic addition and remember a few simple rules, you have a fighting chance at coming out ahead. And come out ahead I did. I made a total of $50, walking away from the tables with $90 in chips on a $40 investment. Those are good returns. My greatest skill that night was quitting while I was ahead.
Rockport, Massachusetts has a certain surreal and extremely beautiful quality about it, especially as you experience sunset there in the summer.
Rockport is a relatively small town that experiences tremendous tourism over the summer and has struck the right balance between quiet residential life and tourist mecca. The town handles large volumes of visitors but without surrendering the picturesque and friendly charm that attracts them.
This poem, “Rockport at Night”, attempts to capture the beauty and spirit of a place that is becoming too rare in American life today.
One night in our off-campus apartment in Athens, Georgia, I came to the living room to find one of my roommates sitting in the dark, looking out our window. He had a beer.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“Watching the lightning in the distance,” he said.
In the South the weather is such that you can often see storms coming from a ways away. The storm may not reach you but the lightning lights up the sky where you can see it and it’s beautiful.
A few weeks ago I was on Cape Ann, Massachusetts with my family and I went out for a nighttime ice cream run for my wife and I. As I walked down Rocky Neck in Gloucester towards the ice cream parlor, I saw lightning in the distance. It was peaceful outside, and the lightning in the clouds in the distance was beautiful.
A few days before, we had to hurry home from a fast-approaching storm. As we headed down Rocky Neck Avenue to where we were staying, I saw a woman run into Rocky Neck Park with a camera. I couldn’t resist looking to see what she was photographing and it was a set of storm clouds moving in fast.
The weather rules our world more than we can ever control or prepare for. It may rain destruction upon us, but it will inspire us.
This poem was inspired by the distant lightning past, present and future. May it continue to inspire.
The Borough of Queens is taking applications for its poet laureate, and I’m going to throw my sweaty hat into the ring. I think my chances of being accepted are low, but fuck it. I’m as good as anyone else and I like this borough very much.
Queens was where I lived when I moved back to New York. I had been away from the Northeast for several years and hadn’t lived in the five boroughs since I was an infant in the Bronx. I grew up mostly in Yonkers and while I came to the city frequently growing up, I am by and large a child of New York’s suburbs.
In college I decided I wanted to be a great American writer in the same way that thousands of other English majors do. I was determined to get myself back to New York City as if that would somehow magically bestow some great inspiration power and let me live a charmed literary life.
I got a job at JFK airport that helped me move back here and I went looking for apartments that were a reasonable commuting distance to JFK. I found a small studio in Ozone Park at $500 per month (it soon went up to $525). It was on 101st Avenue and John Gotti’s old Bergin Hunt & Fish Club was still there and only a few blocks away. That was a selling point that the realtor mentioned. “People know not to mess around in this neighborhood,” he said. Gotti had been locked up for several years by then but the neighborhood still had some old wise guys hanging around.
I enjoyed living in Ozone Park a lot. I would walk around the neighborhood as much as I could and enjoyed how quickly neighborhoods could transition from one to another. Not far from where John Gotti plotted his takeover of the Gambino Crime Family a store sold cricket supplies to the Indian and West Indian immigrants who were moving into Richmond Hill. I was not too far from Forest Park and I could also walk to the small apartment where Jack Kerouac wrote his first novel.
While immediate literary success proved elusive, I managed to publish my first poetry collection while I was living in Ozone Park. ‘Five Borough Blues’ was a small broadsheet of poems published by New Jersey-based Lucid Moon Poetry (RIP Ralph Haselmann Jr.).
Years later, after living in Inwood for a decade, I moved in with the woman who is now my wife and that brought me to Flushing. I got to learn Northern Queens whereas Ozone Park is in Southern Queens.
The greatest borough continues to impress me. I do miss Inwood a good bit, I can’t lie. But Queens has many more great neighborhoods that are still real neighborhoods and not overpriced tourist zones.
Queens has both the greatest number of interesting neighborhoods, real residential neighborhoods with character, as well as cultural institutions and a variety of environments that the other boroughs don’t have. Do you have the beachfront and harbor areas like Broad Channel and the Rockaways in Manhattan? No. Can you find 24-hour Korean barbeque in Staten Island? Good luck.
And without fail, Queens continues to inspire me to write poetry. The entire city does, to be sure, but Queens is my home and it’s where I believe you find the most New York part of New York. It has the widest array of cultural offerings and the largest sampling of interesting people anywhere in the world. It stands between the city and its suburbs. It has all manner of terrain. It even has its own zoo.
I will gladly accept the (unpaid) responsibilities of the Queens Poet Laureate. I will let no excellent verse about this borough go unwritten. Applications are due April 24th (April is national poetry month).
But whether or not I am poet laureate of Queens, I will continue to let the city inspire to create good written works. It deserves no less.
Summer is when many New Yorkers plot when and how they are going to leave the city for as long as possible. Although this has been a relatively mild summer so far (we still have to get through the rest of August), New York summers can be a cauldron of oppressively humid heat and sweaty anger.
But New York City is also a place of free Shakespeare in the summer, and if you have not gotten to one of the city’s offerings of free Shakespeare, make plans to do so at once.
The most well-known free summer Shakespeare plays are those produced by the Public Theater in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. But there are many others and they run the gamut. Many are done in parks and one is even produced in a parking lot.
When I lived in Inwood in uptown Manhattan I made sure to attend the Inwood Shakespeare Festival of free plays in Inwood Hill Park courtesy of the Moose Hall Theater Company. A few summers ago I was fortunate enough to attend The New York Classical Theatre’s production of King Lear in Battery Park that featured my uncle Andrew in the role of the fool.
Living in Flushing, Queens among throngs of Asian immigrants and currently out of the zones of hipsters and rapid (or at least costly) gentrification, I am fortunately still walking distance from seeing the Bard’s work performed.
The Hip to Hip Theatre Company specializes in bringing Shakespeare to the people of Queens. I was recently fortunate enough Hip to Hip’s production of Cymbeline that was performed in the garden of the Voelker Orth Museum in Flushing. I walked straight there from the Main Street stop of the 7 train and arrived with time to spare. I was able to stroll home afterwards with no trouble.
My wife and our two baby girls got there before me and the good people of the museum had us set up nicely with some folding chairs on either side of our double-wide jogging stroller (bringing a double-wide jogging stroller to an indoor production would indeed make us among the rudest people on Earth but this was in an outside park and we were not in anyone’s way, really).
The audience was at full to overflowing capacity well before show time, and more folding chairs were brought out and placed wherever people could find space without getting in the way of the actors. There was a children’s presentation before the show began. A member of the theater company brought children from the audience up in front of the crowd and put them through their Shakespeare paces, including getting them to perform dramatic Shakespearean deaths.
The show started and despite obstacles that come with performing in public, outdoors and in New York—actors dealt with microphones that cut out and fed back and they were constantly competing with the sounds of overhead airplanes and a running power generator—the cast forged through and put on a great show.
Watching Shakespeare in summer twilight is special no matter where you are. The changing light signals a cooling of the air and the start of night and new possibilities. Dusk ushers in with it the promise of adventure under the cover of night and hearing the poetry of Shakespeare’s plays as the sun sets is magnificent and is a joy that can’t be duplicated.
Watching Shakespeare’s Cymbeline in the summer night was outstanding. Even though we wrestled with two baby girls the whole night and even had to take them to the back when they started getting noisy (they liked the show and got excited), it was still possible to get lost in the beautiful language of the play. And Cymbeline has everything: romance, long-lost relatives, bloody swordfights, the works.
Once the show was over, audience members and actors alike paid compliments to our twin girls. I am proud that they went to their first Shakespeare performance when they were only six months old. The Hip to Hip Theater Company is to be admired for so ably fulfilling its mission.
Don’t miss the chance to see some Shakespeare this summer.
I entered a haiku writing contest and was judged one of three winners. The haiku had to be about the World Cup.
Here is my winning haiku:
The American Way
We are new at this
Chant U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
But don’t know the rules
I am originally from The Bronx and I was raised a Yankee fan. My father went to high school not far from Yankee Stadium and I stood by the team even when they had the worst record in baseball. I quit watching the 1996 World Series after the Bronx Bombers dropped the first two games to the Atlanta Braves. They won the next four games and began their late 1990’s dynasty.
I had been to the new Yankee Stadium only twice before. Once for a game and another time for a Big 4 concert. The new stadium had not impressed me. From the cheap seats you could not see the entire field (Stadium Building 101: one must be able to see the entire field of play from every seat. They had the technology to do this in 1923). From where I was a few years ago at a game, I couldn’t see all the way to the right field wall even when I stood up.
There are numerous other reasons to hate the new Yankee Stadium. The upper deck is two decks, there’s a moat keeping people from getting close to the field unless they have expensive tickets. The Yankees, one of the richest sports franchises in the world, got a sweetheart deal from a broke city to build a luxury stadium on city park land. And it’s a leaky concrete slab with no soul.
So the chance to experience how the well-to-do take in a baseball game was something I wasn’t going to pass up. I would likely not have the chance to take in a baseball game from such a seat of luxury again. I made sure I could make the game and gladly accepted my prize.
I got to the stadium more than an hour before game time and met an attorney from the firm that hosted the contest. We chatted until the other two prize winners arrived. One was a media attorney and the other was a corporate restructuring specialist.
Once we were all there we entered the stadium through the special ‘Legends Suites’ entrance. We got special wristbands and were shown to a very nice restaurant area where waiters brought drinks to your table and there were several food stations for all-you-can-eat food. There was a special guest chef serving his take on a lobster roll (they were on small toasted hamburger buns and had a plastic Yankees flag in them). I got an obscene amount of food, even enjoying a big plate of sushi. I couldn’t finish my dessert. Overhead, TVs broadcast the pregame show, though one large row of televisions was broadcasting the current World Cup game (of the U.S. losing to Belgium). All the food and drink was free unless you wanted alcohol. Towards the exits to the seating area, there was a wall of shelves with baskets of candies and other snacks for the taking.
We got to our seats, which were amazing. We were the second row behind home plate. My family and friends saw me on television. I got to see the game from a perspective I never have before and I could see the entire field.
Baseball great Bill Veeck once said that a fan’s knowledge of the game is usually inversely proportional to the price of their ticket. My few visits to the box seats at Yankee Stadium have shown this to be accurate. I’m sure there are some knowledgeable baseball people among the well-off denizens of the luxury sections, but they would probably get their asses handed to them in sports trivia by your average Bleacher Creature with a bad hangover.
Of all the talk overheard among the other luxury seat occupants, there was a lot of talk about business and vacations and other facets of life, but there was not a lot of talk about baseball. There was only one person nearby who was acting like a real baseball fan, yelling criticisms at the home plate umpire with bellowing gruff wit, and he was looked upon askance by people sitting around him.
A group of four women arrived late and sat in front of us. The ushers seemed to know them, or know at least one of the women, an attractive blonde. One of them, the one sitting directly in front of me, appeared to be some kind of model. She was very young and unusually tall and thin. I saw others looking over at the group so one or more of them may have been celebrities. The blonde that the ushers seemed to know was friendly and told me where I could find complimentary hot dogs in the luxury dining area. While I had feasted on high-quality seafood, the thought of not having a hot dog or two at a baseball game was sacrilege.
These supermodel women actually tried to get the rest of our section into the spirit of the game and stood up at the very end. It was two outs and two strikes with the tying run on base for the Yankees. This is a traditionally a time when the crowd stands to applaud to help rally the team. The supermodels stood up and I stood with them (I also would not have been able to see the game otherwise). An usher came along and told us to sit down.
One of the more depressing aspects of following the Yankees in recent years was the press decrying the “aging” Yankee lineup, made of players who are my age and younger.
Shortstop Derek Jeter, the captain of the Yankee team and a fan favorite for a long time, is retiring after this season and is considered over the hill by many sports standards. He’s a year younger than I am.
While I was at the game, I got to see Jeter tie Lou Gehrig’s record for most doubles hit by a Yankee. I also got to see a great play by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is now my new favorite Yankee player. Ellsbury was caught in a rundown between first and second base, and let himself get hit by the ball—when a player is hit by the ball during play he automatically advances to the next base—turning what looked like a sure out into a stolen base.
Derek Jeter looked over in my direction several times during the game. I’m guessing someone told him about my awesome haiku and he was hoping I’d stick around to give him an autograph after the game. But because I left as soon as the game ended he probably had to make due with hanging out with the supermodels in the first row.
The game itself didn’t go like I wanted. The Yankees lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1. Continuing on the theme of luxury, I treated myself to a cab ride home, enjoying the sight of the New York skyline at night capped off a nice evening.