Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Morning in Park Slope: Breakfast in the Backyard of the Seventh Avenue Starbucks

After getting our flu shot at the Rite-Aid by Methodist Hospital on Seventh Avenue this morning just as the store's pharmacy opened, we walked down to the Starbucks to have our breakfast -- oatmeal and iced tea -- in their pretty backyard.

Friday is our only day off this semester in our six-day, seven-class, four-colleges schedule, and we're grateful for it and are particularly grateful today was sunny and mild enough to have our breakfast outdoors.

Soon, as the cold weather approaches, doing this will be just a memory.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thursday Night in Greenpoint: Literary Karaoke - Banned Books, featuring MK Reed and "Americus" at WORD Bookstore

On this mild early autumn evening we walked over to Greenpoint's wonderful WORD bookstore for the monthly Literary Karaoke series,

which tonight highlighted banned books, featuring MK Reed,

whose new graphic novel Americus, drawn by Jonathan Hill,

follows high school student Neal Barton as he fights to save his favorite fantasy fiction series from being banned at his town's public library.

MK Reed read and showed us a section of the middle of Americus, when the library board first meets to discuss the right-wing Christian parents' attempt to ban The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde (clearly reminiscent of Harry Potter) even though none of them have read it and the series is defended by the system's YA librarian.

It looks like a well-written, carefully drawn graphic novel that accurately depicts the struggles libraries and public schools go through with "controversial" books.

WORD's event manager and bookseller extraordinaire Jenn Northington

opened the Literary Karaoke portion of the event by introducing series host, author/critic Rachel Syme, who kicked things off with a hilarious story of how a girl in her tenth grade class whose religious, censorious parents forbade her to read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, a text selected by their Dead Poets Society-type English teacher; allowed to pick her own novel, the girl chose Stephen King's Carrie, which, bizarrely, seemed not to bother her Mormon parents.

Then the parade of Literary Karaoke began, with smart people reading from their favorite banned books. Ian kicked things off with some vignettes from Leonard Cohen's haunting The Favourite Game.

Stuart, with a great British accent, read some fun passages from Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho. As Meg Wolitzer told us about 25 years ago before we met him ourselves, Bret is a sweetheart in real life. Really he is. (This is not ironic.)

Natasha read the classic opening passage from J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, which we almost know by heart since first reading it back during the Kennedy administration.

Jenn did a bookseller's take on banned books by reading from the initial trials of Bella and Edward from Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. She confessed to being a member of Team Jacob.

Rachel Syme, who's writing a book about the last days of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood (we miss the old Sheilah Graham talk show from our childhood), read The Great Gatsby's gorgeous passage where Nick walks through Manhattan in the summer and describes the city. We last taught this masterpiece in our eleventh grade English class at Jess Schwartz Jewish Community High School and some boys who usually hated reading loved the book.

Vinnie read from Candide, narrating the latter part of the Old Woman's story of mutilation, rape, wartime murder and other very funny horrors -- a section we taught only yesterday and the day before, since Voltaire's masterpiece has been the required first book in Literature and Writing I at the fabulous School of Visual Arts for the past six years we've been teaching there again. (And we taught it to our senior AP English class in Phoenix in the fall of 2005, so we've reread it every year since then.)

Bridget, with a pleasing Australian accent, read a wonderful passage from Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which was one of the first books she loved. She has good taste.

Finally, Jess closed Literary Karaoke by reading from Haruki Murakami's terrific Norwegian Wood.

Somewhere in the middle, we read (haltingly, as usual) from Ann Bannon's lesbian pulp fiction classic I Am a Woman, which we've used in our Cold War Literature classes at Fordham and CCNY.

We're grateful to have participated in and to have attended this thought-provoking and entertaining Banned Books Week event at WORD, a favorite bookstore.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Afternoon in Williamsburg: Dominican Election Poster on Graham and Metropolitan Avenues

Like the U.S., the D.R. is looking forward to the next election, and candidates' workers have been "sniping" (putting up posters) Metropolitan Avenue and Graham Avenue with signs exhorting people to get out and vote for their candidates for the Chamber of Deputies. This is from the leftist opposition party PRD, and we're sure there will soon be other posters around the neighborhood.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Evening in Hell's Kitchen: Dinner at Clinton Cove Park

We took some soba noodles with tofu and honeydew over to beautiful Clinton Cove Park this evening so we could sit out overlooking the Hudson, wearing our favorite outfit -- shorts and a T-shirt -- and enjoy dinner outside on what was probably the last summerlike Sunday of 2011.

We're teaching seven classes six days a week at four colleges this semester, so we don't have much free time anymore. And this is our last term in New York. In three months, it will be Christmas, and we're moving out west again at that time.

But we'll always be grateful for our times in New York City's wonderful parks.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Afternoon in Williamsburg: After 41+ Years, Watching the Last Episode of "All My Children"

We were 18 years old and in our first semester at Brooklyn College on Thursday, December 11, 1969 when we read this article in The New York Times:


Heroine on Serial on A.B.C. to Be a Mother for Peace

By George Gent

The daytime serial, or soap opera, is in the process of going activist.

Behind the agonized cries emanating from the traditional themes of troubled marriages, misalliances and fortune-hunting males, a soul engagé is apparently struggling to emerge and, if the signs are right, its time may have come.

The latest indication of what may be a trend comes from the American Broadcasting Company, which has announced that it will televise, starting Jan. 5 at 1 P.M., a new daily daytime series entitled "All My Children," whose heroine will be a peace activist married into a wealthy conservative family.

We were then involved in the antiwar movement, having worked in the New York headquarters of the Vietnam Moratorium in October, and active politically as a volunteer in Mayor John Lindsay's re-election on the Liberal Party line a few weeks before. The week All My Children premiered, we were in the viewing audience most days, except when we had our draft physical and French final.

We also loved soap operas, which had gotten us through some hard times in our teenage years and which we'd be watching for the rest of our life.

After a few weeks, All My Children didn't seem all that radical. A Sunday Arts and Leisure article in the Times dealt with the Vietnam War storyline, but clearly the usual soap opera plots held sway in Pine Valley. That was fine with us, too, and we kept watching -- not totally faithfully, but periodically and sporadically, as we moved into our twenties, thirties, forties and fifties.

Wherever we moved to, whatever our problems, we could turn on ABC at 1 p.m. or 12 p.m. or whatever time All My Children was on in that TV market, and we'd see familiar faces from our past.

Now we're 60 years old and All My Children aired its last TV episode this afternoon. (It will reappear next year as an online serial from Prospect Park (a different one than we've been going to since the 1950s).

Heavy rain and an age-related sports injury (torn gluteal muscle) prevented us from getting up to the Upper West Side to Soap Opera Digest columnist Carolyn Hinsey's farewell viewing party at Blondies Sports Bar, just a few blocks from the apartment where we used to watch the show in the 1980s.

But it was nice to see the finale at home by ourselves, the way we usually watched the show.

Thirty-Two Years Ago in New York City: Richard Grayson Announced Skylab Watch to Protect Pets from Falling Satellite

The NASA satellite expected to fall to earth today reminded us of how, in June 1979, we tried to alert the public to protect their pets from the falling Skylab satellite. A letter we published in the New York Post was picked up by the UPI press syndicate and disseminated to news outlets around the world, as in the article above from the Norwalk, Connecticut newspaper The Hour. A friend in Reykjavik, Iceland, heard about it on the radio. We are happy to note that no pets were injured in the 1979 fall of Skylab and hope for a similar outcome today.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Afternoon in the East Village: Theater for the New City presents “Bamboozled, or the Real Reality Show” at St. Mark’s Church

Nobody does street theater like Theater for the New City, which is why we're so grateful that we managed to catch the very last performance of Bamboozled, or the Real Reality Show, the typically hilarious, incisive and infectious summer theatrical confection cooked up for the 35th year by director Crystal Field and the venturesome company of performers, musicians, and highly-skilled behind-the-scenes crew.

Theater for the New City's topical, satirical summer productions have made them a 21st-century mashup of the agitprop companies of the Great Depression and the activist street performers of the late 60s/early 70s.

Taking on the economic, political, social and cultural climate of the Great Recession, Bamboozled has first-rate production values and a cast of 33 actors with broad and subtle comic timing and gorgeous singing voices.

Since early August we've been meaning to get to one of their weekend productions that have traveled to different locations in all five boroughs, and today, at the last possible time, we managed to eke out some time after teaching our 9-to-noon class downtown at the wonderful Borough of Manhattan Community College.

Although we arrived late enough in the yard in front of St. Mark's Church on Second Avenue and Tenth Street to have to stand for the first half of the show, someone managed to find us a choice seat -- a dairy crate in the bank -- for the remainder.

Given that we're scrambling busy this term, teaching seven classes at four colleges six days a week, we'll cheat and cut and paste from the show's website for a little Bamboozled plot summary. (Students, it's okay if you credit your source!):

The hero of the play is a lowly but reliable Postman, whose route runs through Jackson Heights. He has always been very happy with his job, delivering the happiness of birthday cards, news of newborns and the romance of marriage invitations.

But this year, there is a terrible change--he is carrying a tsunami of unhappiness with pink slips, layoffs, businesses closings, Medicare terminations, closings of hospitals, firehouses and libraries; teacher terminations and condolences sent to the Japanese.

The TV haunts his dreams and corrupts his reality, with its bizarre reality shows and its news of wars in which we're not really there, but somehow we're bombing them to pieces.

He experiences a visitation from Diablo Hysterico, the Rock 'n' Roll King of the Underworld, who reveals to him our Faustian contract with Nuclear Power. Diablo declares, "You are America! Lord and Master of the World!"

Our hero resists the responsibility until he is visited by a fugitive from the future, who screams out what he has seen and pleads not to be sent back.

But Diablo sings him away, and the Postman flies with him to see a people-less planet--a silent world, with nothing but grasses and overhanging trees, and little animals scurrying here and there, and the only vestige of Human Civilization: a few Pokemon characters left over from a digital remix.

The operetta shows how a strong young man, slipping quickly towards middle age, can see through the maelstrom of bad news towards a clear vision of a cleaner, more harmonious planet.

Our hero fools the Devil and reminds us that a really good postman will ring three times if he has to, and even knock the door down if smoke is billowing from inside the house, and a person is screaming for help, as our planet is now.

Two years ago in Jackson Heights we saw and utterly adored TNC's 2009 summer show, Tally-Ho!, or Navigating the Future and figured it would be hard to top, but Bamboozled seemed even more resonant and entertaining.

Director/writer Crystal Field, the doyenne of New York street theater, who played Mother Nature at the end of the show, called Bamboozled "our gift to the city in the summer," and it's one for which we are extraordinarily grateful.

As the great theater writer Jerry Tallmer wrote in Chelsea Now/The Villager/Gay City News, this production of Bamboozled was enlivened considerably by "a five-piece band, music by Joseph Vernon Banks, giant puppets, masks, smoke, moving scenery on a nine-foot-high scroll called a Cranky,' group singing by the audience, dance by everybody."

The eighty or so minutes of Bamboozled seemed to go by in a flash, perhaps because of its incredibly fast, almost manic pace. In addition to trenchant social satire, it gave the audience a lot to think about, and if a rollicking farce can be thoughtful, this play was just that. It was also very moving

as well as informative, especially on the nature of global warming, the perils of hydrofracking and nuclear power, and other environmental issues. The songs were indeed wonderful, but our favorite was a surprisingly touching ode to New York State's superb (and scarily endangered) drinking water.

There are also wonderful parodies of cable TV pap designed to narcotize American citizens. We don't have cable TV and only know about some of these "reality" shows from our reading, but they included hilarious send-ups of Sarah Palin's Alaska, Jersey Shore, The Deadliest Catch, and some apprentice-chef-competition reality program.

The Theater for the New City cast is, as always, both versatile -- their swift costume changes would have our heads spinning -- and infectiously energetic, with clear and resonant singing voices that you'd expect of a Broadway musical.

Led by Michael-David Gordon as the Postman and Mark Marcante as the Devil,

the actors worked together with precision and dead-on comic timing. There were times when the ensemble overflowed the stage, and the ending got the audience up on their feet -- with some joining the cast in a celebratory conclusion to the show.

We are so grateful we were able to catch the final performance of Bamboozled on such a gorgeous afternoon in the yard in front of St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery.

Since the last time we sat at a bench here, on the Sunday of Rosh Hashona a couple of years back, we ended up in the emergency room of New York Eye and Ear Infirmary a few blocks away after a freak accident (okay, okay: a bird's shit ricocheted from the inside of our glasses into our eye, causing a severe burn that didn't go away after an hour and required medical attention), we were a little, uh, gun-shy about returning to the spot.

But today the birds behaved themselves, and Theater for the New City's production, thanks to Crystal Field, the cast, crew and other creators, gave us an end-of-summer lift. As we said at the beginning, nobody does street theater better than this.