Sunday, December 17, 2006

I will screencap every minor Steve Buscemi role in existence.

I spent the whole day recovering from being overly social by staying in and watching The Aristocats, which is only worthwhile for the lovely cad Thomas O'Malley and the musical number featuring Scatman Crothers, and Billy Bathgate, which is only worthwhile if your goal is to see Steve Buscemi in every movie he was ever in. I also watched an episode of "The Sopranos," called "In Camelot," which happened to be directed by Steve Buscemi. Even though I'm getting very bored with this season, I watched the ep twice (mostly with my eyes closed and half-nodding off) because of the commentary by Mr. Buscemi. I liked hearing him talk over everything else.

But back to Billy Bathgate. Steve played Irving, one of Dutch Schultz's (Dustin Hoffman) gangsters. He was a dead-eye shot hitman, and also the guy who cleaned up after Dutch went on one of his homicide fits. Whenever he spoke, it was in a slow, husky monotone, which was strange to hear coming from him. Still not as cool as Mister Shhh in Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, but he dressed well. Mmm, yes.

 

  
Jeez, he looked so young! He was 34 at the time.

 
Oh, the eyes...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Hot pink history.

Workers expose a memory of a bygone Times Square.

The veneer of modern New York peeled away this week from a building at Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street to reveal a tasty slice of the 1940s.

Dixon Cafeteria.

More precisely: "Dixon Cafe er ." Some letters are missing -- Dixon's itself is long gone -- but the exuberant red sign, with an X like outstretched arms and legs, has re-emerged to recall a Times Square that exists now only as simulacrum; of Horn & Hardarts and chow mein palaces; of Benny Goodman, the King of Swing, at the Paramount Theater and "Oklahoma!" at the St. James; of neon, neon and more neon.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Paper.

One thing I never hear about is the paper that filled the sky that day.

See, I live in the middle of Brooklyn, across the East River from the island of Manhattan, about level with downtown NYC. The towers had fallen. I don't remember how long had passed, but we were in the path of an easterly wind that turned the sky a weird color -- the blue had been washed out by gray. That was the smoke and ash making the air scratch your throat when you breathed.

It was so quiet where we were. Nobody in the streets. No traffic. No sirens. No sirens, because every cop car and every fire engine and every ambulance was somewhere else, somewhere important. I stuck my head out of my kitchen window to listen to the nothingness.

And then, looking up at the sky, I saw...paper.

Just sheets and sheets of plain white copy paper, floating on the breeze.

Can you imagine it?

I thought of all those hundreds of business offices that occupied the Towers. All the reams of paper they had stored in their supply closets. All of them loosed and scattering in the acrid wind. Gently, like feathers. Randomly, like they were wandering. Getting caught in tree branches. Soaring over rooftops. So quiet.

...Can you imagine it?

They didn't stop floating by until hours after the Towers fell. I watched them until they completely disappeared. I wanted to be able to reach out and grab one, but then that would be like plucking a soul before it reached its intended destination.

I will never forget it.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Learning: it never gets old.

Last night I got the first episode in Ric Burns's PBS documentary New York from Netflix. Of course, as NYCentric as I am, I loved it. It patched up a lot of holes in my own knowledge of the city's birth and origins, and I re-learned some pretty interesting stuff that I'd probably heard about in high school history class when I wasn't paying attention. Like how the Dutch bought the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans for 60 guilders, or about $24. All they wanted was to establish a trading port to make money, money, money. It wasn't about religious or ethnic freedom like other colonies, it was all about makin' a buck, yo. It took 17 years for them to even think about building a church, and already there was a pub and whorehouse to one out of every three men. Yeah, this place started out pretty fucked up, and really, that's why it's like this today with no apologies.

Possibly the most dramatic moment early on in the Revolutionary War was when Gen. Washington, whose battered and losing army was cornered in Brooklyn, had to save his troops from the much stronger British. So he gathered up every spare rowboat, skiff, and raft he could find, and under the cover of night, they all paddled sloowly and quietly for 7 hours across the East River to Manhattan, right under the Brits' noses. Although he was defeated for now, Washington saved all their lives with that move.

Another random fact that stuck with me: I had no idea that Alexander Hamilton was buried in the Trinity Church Cemetery, right on Wall Street, in the heart of the financial district where he belonged. I need to go back and find his gravestone as I completely missed that fact when I visited. Also, Wall Street was named after the stone wall the Dutch had built when they first colonized the island to keep out Natives and the British. When the British took over, the wall was later torn down and paved over by African slaves.

(Oh, and Staten Island had been named Richmond after King Charles's bastard son. Ha ha!)

The episode ends with the completion of the Erie Canal upstate, thus securing New York's position as the trade center of North America. Episode 2 will deal with the influx of immigrants, the shaping and reshaping of the city, and the Draft Riots.

The DVD had some extras, some precious silent mini-documentaries from the early 1900s about New York bridges, city life, and the building of the Empire State Building (from 1933). This last one was pretty amazing. It showed all the stages of construction as the building took shape, from the basement to the spire, all the while with the rest of the city bustling all around it. I can imagine this being run right between a Mickey Mouse cartoon and a Jimmy Cagney double feature.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

McSorley's

I saw a segment on some show on the Food network about an Irish pub called McSorley's Old Ale House, which was established in 1854 and had such famous patrons as General Custer and Abraham Lincoln. Now, I'm not necessarily one for drinking, but this is the kind of old New York that I love. The current proprietor says that every single thing in the pub has a rich history, a story to be told about it. I would just love to hear every one of them. The back room was used during Prohibition to sell the real stuff, but now it's converted into sitting areas with nooks and crannies and niches devoted to art, music, and writing all pertaining to the pub's rich past. I think the place even has sawdust on the floor. And some cats! Also, until 1970, women were banned from the establishment -- even the wives/mothers of its owners/managers pledged to keep out.

They serve authentic shepherd's pie and other simple, hearty comfort foods, along with a buy-a-pint, get-a-second-pint free deal. I wonder if anybody'd be up for this some time...

Saturday, August 5, 2006

Guilty feet have got no rhythm.

Dancing is still banned in NYC venues that don't have a special Prohibition-era cabaret license.

The Gotham West Coast Swing Club had claimed that the law unconstitutionally infringed on its right of free expression.

But Judge Stallman of New York County's Supreme Court dismissed the case for "a lack of any viable constitutional claim".


Wow, it's just like Swing Kids! ...Sorta kinda.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

A little gangland murder to satiate me.

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre is on tonight at 11:30 pm on AMC. How convenient!

The warehouse across from the pizza restaurant had been converted into a store, but it was still kind of creepy to be sitting out there where all that blood had spilled. While my friends and I were walking along the block, we passed a parked "ghost tour" bus, and apparently N. Clark Street is one of the most haunted streets in Chicago. I have no doubt about that.

And I completely forgot to look up the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Ave. (we were so close! just down the street!) where John Dillinger was gunned down. Wow, I'm morbid.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I don't like gangsters.

Reading about the history of the Mafia and all sorts of underworld criminals in America is all fine and good, but that doesn't mean I like these people. They fucking scare me. And it's funny, but the gangsters that scare me the most were and are Irish...well, either Irish or Russian. Irish first, Russian second, Chinese third.

But anyways, I was just musing on that, because this article, Fighting Irish, highlights all the TV shows and movies depicting the Irish-American mob and Irish-Americans in general. Jason Isaacs is starring in a new Showtime series called "Brotherhood" (the posters for which are all over the subways), and Martin Scorsese is working on a new movie called "The Departed" starring Leonardo DiCaprio (who I think is finally growing out of his boyface). And on NBC this fall, there's "The Black Donnellys". I think it might be worth a look-see.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Downtown, where the food is slop...

After attending some events at the Tribeca Film Festival this afternoon, I walked back along Chambers St. with a small crowd, mostly consisting of parents with kids and strollers, and we all know that parents with kids and strollers walk slow, and of course I GOT SOMEPLACE TO GO, PEOPLE, MOVE IT! Ahem. No, I didn't yell that out. Instead I did my duck, dodge, and weave technique that helped me get through high school and college hallways quickly and efficiently. I actually wanted to duck into the Taco Bell, but as I approached, it seemed empty, and the rule is that when a restaurant is empty especially around noon, it's not a good idea to eat there.

There actually aren't good places to eat in the Tribeca/City Hall area, which is dumb, because that's where a lot of businesspeople are, and the options are limited to fast food and delicatessens. So I went up a couple of blocks on Broadway to a Dunkin' Donuts sandwich joint, where my mother and I ate once, and got a nice turkey and bacon wrap.
After lunch, I went back down Broadway the way I'd came, all the way down to St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Church. This is the little chapel that was directly across the street from the Twin Towers. It survived the collapse and became a haven for rescue workers, firefighters, and police officers, and everyone else who needed a bit of rest and hope.

Even though I had known about this church ever since I was a kid, I'd never been inside the cemetery gates before this day. Just never had a real reason. I was well aware, though, that the gravestones had dates as far back to the 1700s. I used to work in the Woolworth building about a block away, and whenever time permitted, I used to peer through the black bars of the fence to read the names and inscriptions on the old stones.

I entered the graveyard through its north side gate. There were people milling about on the pathways. There was a...something...displayed beside the rear entrance of the chapel. It was part of a massive tree trunk with some gnarled roots. I read the placard, which stated that this was the stump of a large, old sycamore tree that had been on the west side of the graveyard. The tree had borne the brunt of the collapse of the towers, and was destroyed by a steel beam. And the tree actually saved most of the old gravestones and the chapel itself from damage. Not a single window was broken. And I remember thinking on that ugly, ugly day, "What about the little church? What happened to the little church?" Surely it had been crushed or battered beyond repair. ...Nope.

The tulips were shades of bright orange and yellow, the grass was green with spring, the gravestones were rusty brown, gray, and white. They dotted the sloping land, some in pairs and clusters, some all by their lonesome. Some faces were worn away by time. Others were just beginning to chip away, still others bore quite legible engravings.

I wandered down one pathway that led to the west side. It rounded a bend, and there I found two more placards. One was for the Tree of Hope, a young spruce planted in the corner of the yard, looking all green and Christmas-y. The other placard commented on the sycamore, commemorated with nine white flagstones arranged in a square over where its roots had been for who knows how long. All I have to say is love your trees, people. Love your trees.

This was the lovely scene from the west side of the yard.

While wandering around, I discovered quite a few of these people had been Revolutionary War veterans, usually identified with a little brass wreath and an American flag. You can't help but feel proud when you see them.

What made me very sad, though, is that there are many babies and children buried here. This is one example of a gravestone marking the site of two very young children. The epithet reads: In Memory of Two Children of James & Catharine More. Ann died 25th July 1786 Aged 15 days. Mary died 1st June 1787 Aged 2 Years 9 Months & 11 Days. Some were marked 1 year, some only in months.

There was one stone that was of a man born in England and had died in New York at the age of 33 (I think it was 33...), and of course, the imagination runs wild. There were a few senators and doctors as well, and husbands and wives buried together like the Nesbitts.

Note the little sparrow perching on one of the stones. (I had actually witnessed two pigeons getting it on on top of a tomb, but I was too slow to get a picture. Plus it would've made me feel guilty.)

There was this huge obelisk dedicated to a one Dr. MacNevin, who was born in Ireland, came to New York, and became the "Father of American Chemistry." He was a pretty important guy.

Winding my way back around the rear of the chapel, I got a good look at the 9/11 memorial bell, which was donated by the people of London to New Yorkers on the first anniversary. Each year now the bell tolls 12 times on the date. I sat down on a nearby bench and had to collect myself before moving on.

I left the graveyard and headed further south on Broadway, and came upon another church, the actual Trinity Church. The graveyard to this one was closed, but it was much larger and more open to the afternoon sun. I took a few pictures like this one through the bars of the fence.

Now, my navigational skills in downtown Manhattan are nonexistent. All I know is Broadway, and if I stick to Broadway, I'm fine. Veer off Broadway, and I will get seriously lost. Because if you look at a map (hopefully that link will take you to a map of the southernmost tip of Manhattan island), it's like a haphazard latticework of side streets rather than a straightforward grid, and it's hellaciously disorienting. I can understand why back in the 1800s, this was THE most dangerous place to be. The fabled Gangs of New York roamed these narrow alleyways, robbing, killing, drinking, and whoring. Now it's the stockbrokers who do all that. HA!

I found myself on Exchange Place before I panicked and turned back north. At least I think it was north. I did find the New York Stock Exchange, which was dead on a Sunday. I didn't feel like taking pictures because there were way too many tourists around and I wanted to look like I wasn't lost.

There was an inordinate amount of construction going on. Well, not on at the moment, but it seemed that every street I ventured onto was caked with dust and debris and blocked off with orange cones and tape, with the occasional construction vehicle crouching on the curbsides like sleeping Transformers. I wondered when all this was going to be done. I also wondered where Denzel Washington made "Inside Man."

This was getting tiring and I was getting a headache, so I made my way back over to Broadway. And then I found a very familiar sight. YAY.

I showed this picture to my dad and asked if he recognized it. After a few moments of thought, he said no. NO?? After like 40 years of working in the building in front of which this giant sculpture stood, he didn't recognize it. Well, okay, it was a weird perspective, looking through the hole in the cube, but still. Heheh. That is 140 Broadway, by the way. It used to be Marine Midland Bank, which then became HSBC, which is now...named after some guy.

So, I made my way back up to City Hall, where at least two sparrows, a male and female couple, are living underground in the subway station. For real. They're the cutest things.

Well, that was my downtown adventure. One day I'm going to figure out how to get around there. It's one of the oldest parts of New York City if not the oldest, where people first settled, where immigrants first took root. It figures that I should see more of it, given my obsession with this city's history. One day eventually I'll make friends with its sloping streets and crusty old buildings.

(The full photo gallery is located here.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Oh, silly men.

From "Public Enemies" by Bryan Burrough:

For some reason, probably because they were low on cash, they decided to rob a Muncie roadhouse, the Bide-a-Wee Tavern, that same night. A few minutes after midnight, Dillinger and a partner walked in, guns drawn, handkerchiefs over their faces, and within minutes backed out of the bar with about $70. On the way out the front door, Dillinger encountered a couple coming in. With a grin he pinched the woman's bottom; when her male friend objected, Dillinger slugged him.

When a guy with a gun pinches your girlfriend's ass...just let it go, man.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Broke from jail without a gun, public enemy number one...

Tonight I watched a documentary on the Discovery Channel called "The Dillinger Conspiracy." The actor playing John Dillinger in the re-enactments was hot, but that's entirely beside the point, although I felt I should mention it. And if Dillinger himself wasn't such a, ya know, murderer, he'd actually be quite attractive. He did reach a kind of rock star status in the eyes of the public. But anyway, among the commentators was Bryan Burrough, who wrote "Public Enemies," which I'm currently reading, and a woman named Ellen Poulsen, author of "Don't Call Us Molls: Women of the John Dillinger Gang," which I totally need to get my hands on right now. Because I didn't know this -- I didn't know the details about Dillinger to begin with, only that he was the most dangerous, notorious bank robber in the midwest, and that shootout with the FBI at a rural Wisconsin inn -- but it was a woman who helped bring about his downfall. A woman! That is so classic! Almost cliché, but that was the real deal.

And then I watched Dead End (1937), and I couldn't help comparing Humphrey Bogart's character to Dillinger, as both of them had plastic surgery to alter their features so they could slip past the law more easily (didn't work in the real gangster's case). Bogart did the plastic surgery thing again but on a whole 'nother level in Dark Passage 10 years later. But wow, he looked so young in Dead End that I didn't even recognize him at first, as I'm used to seeing him a little more craggy in his later films.

Good movie, though, grittier than I'd expected (real cockroaches!), with some heartwrenching moments. Sylvia Sydney (Juno in Beetlejuice -- remember?) was a beautiful and expressive actress. I liked her in this. The Dead End Kids remain a mixed bag for me, having first seen them in Angels With Dirty Faces and finding that I wanted to smack each one of 'em, but that's probably what their purpose was, to make you want to smack them. But they were better in Dead End, I think, not as annoying, and with better developed characters. Bogart himself had a small role, even though he gets the big close-up on the DVD cover, and he served mainly as a catalyst. Overall, there wasn't much of a Big Giant Action Plot. It was much more subtle, relying on what the characters were going through emotionally, how they related to each other, and how they related to their environment, the slummy Lower East Side of Manhattan. And also like The Petrified Forest, it was based on a stage play, so much of the action takes place on one set and over the course of one day and night. The more I think about it, the more I'm liking this movie. Glad I bought it.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Stuff I've read so far in '06

I think I'm doing better this year in terms of sticking to a book and finishing it. Then again, it's only the end of January. (Only? Already!) The only time I really feel like reading is on the subway (if I'm not too sleepy), so I don't get very much accomplished each time I crack a book open.

The first thing I finished was Mickey Spillane's novel "Vengeance is Mine!" (exlamation point!), which also concludes "The Mike Hammer Collection: Vol. 1." I'll be moving on to Vol. 2 the next time I'm in the mood for some pulpy pulp.

The next thing I finished was Luc Sante's "Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York," which I'd started in 2004 as reasearch on my NaNoWriMo novel. After NaNo passed and my novel was left by the wayside, so was the book for the most part, though I did try to put in a few pages here and there whenever I needed something to read. But I never could finish it, until now. And I have no idea why, but the second half seemed so much more readable and enjoyable than the first! Maybe I just wasn't paying attention. Or maybe I was just reading when I was too sleepy. I tend to do that. That could be it. In any case, it's about life and politics and crime and seediness in New York City from the late 1800s to about 1914 or so, and it doesn't go much further past the first World War. It details the formation of various neighborhoods like Greenwich Village (already a bohemian area back then), the Lower East Side, Little Italy and Chinatown; forms of entertainment (opium dens, nickelodeons -- I love nickelodeons and wish they still existed!); legacies of corrupt politicians and policemen; and much, much more. Some parts were real eye-openers. For example, the amount of homeless children in any given year reached the high five-digit numbers, and that's not even including the ones that weren't able to be counted. Given that the overall population was significantly less than today's 2 million or so in Manhattan alone, that's a huge percentage. And guess what, the real estate trend of marking up the value of shoddy studio apartments in Alphabet City so rich artistes can rent them out is so old skool, it's not even funny. Daaaamn, New York.