It has not been a very happy year so far and it shows no sign of getting better any time soon. I know I’ve been off the radar for two years now and I can’t seem to get back on the horse. I am putting a link that will tell the tale for me in the hopes of getting some help. Here it is http://www.gofundme.com/bm047c
I never thought it come to this but desperate times call for desperate measures. Thanks for reading, and to any who used my work for term papers and such. I hope you got good grades.
Category Archives: NY
It has not been a very happy year so far and it shows no sign of getting better any time soon. I know I’ve been off the radar for two years now and I can’t seem to get back on the horse. I am putting a link that will tell the tale for me in the hopes of getting some help. Here it is http://www.gofundme.com/bm047c
Well today marks the third year of my writing this blog and finds me staying at home instead of heading into New York. The nor-easter that has come out of nowhere has shut down my plans to see Rasputina tonight at the Highline Ballroom, it would have been nice to finish the year exactly the way it started back in Feb. But with snow, high winds, and a cold biting rain coming down I just can’t face the prospect of standing outside waiting for the doors to open. Tomorrow is supposed to be really nice and sunny in the fifties as well as all next week, this is a freak storm so doom on me I guess. I will make the best of it by writing and painting and later I will be making a beef stew over noodles for dinner. I have been thinking much about my writing this year and about the changes that I might want to make to it. In some ways when I look at the body of work I’ve written I am disgusted by the amateurish style of some stories. While on the other hand there are some passages that I am genuinely proud of and see as readable in magazines. I expect the best from myself and get discouraged when I don’t measure up to my expectations, but with only one college course in English to my credit I think on balance-I write well.
The tough reality is that the only way to get better is to write and study writing, and maybe also to read, but without more schooling I feel like I’m never going to make it as a writer. I need to take classes at the Gotham Writers Workshop in NY and beside the fact that I don’t have the money, I also can’t make it from my job in Suffolk all the way to Midtown by the time class starts. I would be an aggravated, sweating, stressed out mess with a headache by the time I got to class. I’m not one for taking online classes either, my brother is pursuing an online degree and I find too many distractions would keep me unfocused. Personally, I don’t know how he does it, but he is doing very well!
I am however starting to feel as though I have to change, this blog is not a blog in the usual sense, it is not a few short paragraphs written hastily each day, but a blog of short stories for readers. If you read my about me page I call it “a selfish venture” and indicate that it is at it’s core an open diary. While that is true I find myself wishing I had more fans and more comments. I see with an app added to my page that people from all over the world are visiting, some multiple times. I can even extrapolate that a few high school or college students might be hijacking my words for school papers, why else would I see people logging on from the same place over and over again sometimes a few hours or minutes apart? I don’t care as long as no one is getting paid for it, but it’s a shame that kids are so lazy these days. The change I think I have to make is to write more to an audience and less to myself, while I thought I was doing that already I think now that some stories are too cookie cutter too much the same basic story I wrote the last time. The fact is that not every trip is that interesting or noteworthy, some trips cool stuff happens and I’m cooking on all burners and others I’m too absorbed in what I’m doing to gather all the stimuli around me. It’s a tightrope but I have to try and do it better in the future, if I ever want to get published I must walk that line.
So tonight I will start writing a new piece about the city trip I took last week, and an editorial about this whole Occupy Wall St movement that’s so controversial and so confusing. I must again give thanks to the people that got me here. Thanks to Professor Wigetow for your teaching and for believing in my potential, to W.B. Wilkins whom I owe this blog to for giving me the key to being a good writer, hopefully I will use it to unlock all the right doors, to J.R.R. Tolkien for the obvious, to Jack Kerouac for teaching me to write in the moment, to William Burroughs for showing me the way to color my words, to Anthony Bourdain for infusing my imagination with his words and especially for turning me on to Graham Greene, to Graham Greene for igniting my desire to be a better writer and for creating some of the most unforgettable characters ever, to Maureen for being my friend and my number one fan, to my mom Alyce for teaching me my A B C’s while still in the crib, sometimes it’s the little things that matter most. No matter what happens I will keep writing and keep painting and strive as I have all my life to do something with nothing, I will keep hoping, planning, wishing, praying and insisting that life can be what you want it to be with a ton of hard work and a little luck. The work is hard, it’s the luck part that I find is so much harder.
Long Island N.Y. 2011
It’s a gorgeous day as I wait for my train on the platform bound for New York City. I’ve just finished a light breakfast of a coffee and a light airy pumpkin muffin. The first sign of fall is not the solstice on the 23rd, but rather the arrival of pumpkin products in the stores and eateries. This does not depress me as usual, in fact I will go so far as to say I welcome it. It will mean meat cooked over an open fire while me and my bro ponder the meaning of life and hold a meeting of “The Office of Separate and Collective Endeavors” a geeky name for some quality time spent together over food and alcohol.
But today I am on a special mission in New York, I mentioned that I put brush to paper for the first time in almost four years, after three abortive attempts to paint a cafe scene from the instructional book on watercolors. I finally got a finished piece on the forth try, I learned much about watercolor painting but have miles to go. I wrote in “Doing A Slow Burn” that I have to find good pictures of Paris cafe’s on the net to use for watercolor paintings. But I had a genius attack the other day in the city, and decided that my own pictures taken in my travels would be a better choice. Most good pictures on the net are copyright protected or you pay to use them, the last quiet trip to the city only yielded one picture good enough for a painting. So today I will be taking multiple shots of every scene that catches my eye, different angles will be tried and the element of chance will be invited to come along. I have found out that I can make my own watercolor block at home using home-made glue and sheets of watercolor paper cut to size and pressed together. This will save me lots of money, block is expensive. Especially the superior French Arches Blocks that cost arms and legs for the large sizes.
I am very excited about this new reason to go into New York, I stand at work and think about how I will sit and listen to Pandora Radio and create art later. It takes the idea of being stuck in for the winter a happier thought, and at the same time it ties together all my interests into one. It’s all here in a nice package Art, New York City, Food, Photography, and Writing. It’s been a quiet ride so far, but in Woodside, Queens things change. A big guy in shorts and t-shirt with a baseball cap get on the train and sits down in front of me. By all accounts he’s very normal looking. But after the train pulls out he starts talking to himself in a high-pitched nasal voice. I wonder if he’s nuts or if he’s practicing lines for a voice over in a commercial or something, either way it’s a little annoying. We slow to begin the descent into Penn Station and I fill with anticipation for the day. I emerge from the station and decide to walk to West 10th st and head south. I am looking for film for my Advantix camera which I haven’t used since I got the Samsung from my English relative in 2008. I don’t find any in two places I stop in so I start walking west. What I don’t know is that they stopped making the film and I will have to find it online. By the time I write this however-ten rolls are sitting in my fridge and I will buy more when I can. I will not give up on those beautiful wide-angle shots, some of my best pictures were shot using that camera!
I’ve never gone this way before and it turns out to be a good decision, as I begin walking south I stop after a few blocks and notice people walking towards something. I turn and see the entrance to the Highline, an old elevated railroad that used to be the carrier of freight trains into and out of the city. But for many years it was the haunt of the homeless, junkies, and crazy kids looking for some free fun in a shrinking economy. Of course it was illegal to be up there but with dozens of ways in, people found a way to do it. It’s kinda like the sewers and catacombs beneath Paris, you’re not supposed to be there but no one really has the time to enforce the law. The powers that be in New York decided a few years ago to turn this space into a public park, so I go up to investigate. There are stairs leading to walkways that have been built over the tracks, and on either side are planting beds with a wonderful array of trees, shrubs and flowering perennials. There are nice benches along the way, special seating areas and viewing platforms that jut out into space. The park police patrol to keep things cool and emergency call boxes in case of an accident.
There are times when the buildings rise up around you and others when you are open to the sky, it almost feels like your flying as you look out over roofs where only pigeons walk, they stare at you unable to fathom the invasion of their domain. This is a truly wonderful space, you can see the contentment on the faces of the native New Yorker’s and the delight of the visitors is apparent too. I hear a man say to his fellows that the time to come here is in Feb, when it’s not too cold and there’s no one here in the early morning. I can imagine how tranquil that might be especially if it’s snowing. I will have to remember that for the future. I walk some three miles to the end, along the way I encounter common areas where events are staged, a place where the children can splash about in an inch of water while mom and dad sit in chairs big enough for two, and a roofed-over area near the bathrooms where the kids can play with giant wood and plastic Erector set pieces and build small contraptions. I make my way to street level and start for the West Village, walking down Greenwich Ave again for the first time in two years. I pace myself slow, taking pictures, reading menus, and find myself down by the waterside-just a short walk away from the piers. I pass a huge meat distributor and wonder how many millions of dollars of food are inside, then doubling back to civilization to find lunch. So many good places to eat, but I can’t afford them, I need to spend under twenty dollars today so I walk on looking for a sandwich and a beer.
I find it at the Fish on Bleeker St, a small place that has been here since the fifties I think as I look around at the decor and the pictures of the old days. I order an Oyster PO-Boy sandwich and a Stella Artois and relax at the old wooden bar and watch TV. I see a huge pyramid of shellfish go by and is laid down on a table in front of six people, they immediately go at the crab legs, lobster’s, clams and mussels with a vengeance. In fact all you can hear is cracking and the banging of small hammers to break shells to get at the wonderful treasure inside, along with corn on the cob and boiled potatoes it’s a meal fit for a king. My sandwich is taking a long time but I watch the prep chef at the raw bar set up his mise-en-place a few feet away. He’s setting up dozens of oysters and clams, making sure he has plenty of sauces and lemons. He stops to put orders together which spit out of a gadget that looks like a credit card machine, then after setting up a plate he rings a bell and it’s picked up and delivered. When my sandwich arrives it’s a big plate. There’s a bunch of fries and a nice side salad with greens, sliced tomato and pickle with a tangy sauce. The po-boy is another matter. It is light on soft bread, the crunch comes from the oysters that have a delicate flavor that deepens as you chew, they taste of the sea and the stones where they grow. It’s altogether a delicious and filling meal, but I can’t resist going down the street for dessert. So I sit and let my food go down and then after paying my bill I go to a place called “Cones” an ice cream shop like no other.
I know I have seen this place on the Food Network or the Travel channel as soon as I walk in. There are many different colors of gelato in the case and as others get theirs I look past them to see many strange flavors. There is Yerba Mate,made with a South American tea. There’s kumquat with Johnnie Walker Black Label which costs a dollar to try a spoonful. Zabayone, based on an Italian dessert with cream and sweet Marsala wine-amazing. But I go for the Corn after the pretty Argentinian woman behind the counter gives me a taste. Made with real corn and cream and with a dash of cinnamon on top, it is a thing of beauty for the tongue. Imagine a piece of corn bread with butter and cinnamon and you’ll get the flavor profile. I talk a while with the waitress who is also Italian, we chat about living in her home countries, life in the city, and especially about Cones. They have been featured in articles in the New York Times, New York magazine and Zagat’s. They are number four in the top ten places making the best “corn” dish in New York City. I am sure I’ve seen this woman on TV. I finish my treat while she helps other customers and I bid her farewell and head out again. I’m on Bleeker St in the West Village so I decide to head east arriving on 1st Ave. This is the exact opposite of where I started so I think I’ll walk up 1st Ave and see what happens. I feel the heat and humidity more now after eating as the afternoon heats up. This is a fast paced area sporting many Italian, Latin and Indian eateries but not many good photo opportunities. So I begin to work my way back to the center of things and find brassiere Les Halles on Park Ave and a few others. Then I cool off inside a Greistede’s supermarket for a few minutes with a cold bottle of water. I retrace some of my steps from past trips but I always walk down a street I’ve never been before. I always find something new and today is no exception. Mille Feuille is a French bakery on LaGuardia Place in Greenwich Village featuring its namesake dessert and the bright Macarons that thrill and delight children from Paris to Provence. I order a coffee and a Mille Feuille and sit at the bar against the wall. The pastry cream is delicious and the crispy layers make it difficult to eat but oh so worth the effort. I see a mom coming with a stroller so I get up and open the door for her and two kids and her husband follow. They thank me and they are French, looking for a taste of home. The adults order Espresso’s and the kids are so cute asking for “Pain de Shokolat” as they loudly look at everything asking so many questions and running around the small space. I decide not to get into a conversation about France.
I continue my long walk back to Penn Station and think it’s been a almost perfect day. The only way it could have been better would have been to have a little more money to spend and if it had been about ten degrees cooler, but that will come soon enough. The final act of the day is a stop in tracks for a wash-up and a drink. It’s been a hot walk back and my french dessert was burned up hours ago. I ask for a St Germain cocktail and the Irish waitress says to me “What’s that?” so I order a glass of Harp instead. I didn’t really want a beer but when in Rome…
It was a crappy week at work so I really needed a good day out, I am tired and happy. Tomorrow will be a rainy day and I will work on pictures and remember today.
Once again I’m sitting on an express train bound for Penn Station, on my way to New York City for the day. I’ve begun to doubt the validity of these stories I’ve written, I mean they all seem the same lately. I keep reminding myself that the whole reason I started this Blog was to keep a sort of open diary for my own enjoyment and old age reminiscing. But lately I’m not feeling the excitement of the past stories, some of those felt like they were magically written. Now my trips are not unlike the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour; where the boys took a bus and a bunch of people driving around England and filmed what happened, the only problem was…nothing did.
My second anniversary on WordPress looms and I don’t feel this years work has really hit the mark. I certainly don’t feel as though I’ve written any journalistic pieces this year. Perhaps I’ve been too self-involved, I mean with all that’s going on in the world you would think I could write day and night but I don’t, my output is very low. Maybe if I had the freedom to be a writer and not work a full-time job I would be producing more thoughtful work and be way more productive. I am in serious study now of language and just purchased a book on sentence structure, I am hopeful that with study I will become a better writer without losing my own style. I know that my hero Anthony Bourdain said in an interview that he doesn’t stress over his sentences, but he also possesses a greater ability to talk his way into and out of trouble than I do, which he admits is where his natural ability as a writer sprang from. I don’t think he would be so successful without that talent.
The main reason I’m going in today to pick up a dry aged steak from Moe the butcher at the Albanese Meat Market in Little Italy, and I’ve decided to have my breakfast at Russ & Daughters, the best bagel and lox in NYC. I really don’t need all the bread but I’ll walk it off so I’m not worried. (Sidenote: at the time of this writing despite a pain in my spine which has curtailed my bicycling, my total weight loss as of this morning was 30 lbs!) I am trying to check off places that a good tour guide in NY should be able to say he or she has been. I also have tentative plans to eat at Sigiri, the only Sri Lanka restaurant in New York, which promises to be a mix of Thai and Indian cooking discipline’s. We arrive quickly in Penn and I waste no time getting to the subway heading downtown, negotiating the maze of stairways only to find one side closed due to track maintenance. So I have to take the uptown tracks to go downtown. This is a first for me and when I get to the uptown tracks I’m told I have to go to the center track for the downtown train. Then I begin the crawl back up and down and up and down the stairs till at last I drag myself up the last set of stairs to the center track. How many sets of stairs I climbed to get here? Honestly I lost count. But at least I got some good exercise before breakfast so I catch my breath, and breathe the stuffy subway air with many others who found the same path and the train arrives a few minutes later. The subway car is cool, a refreshing opposite to the furnace like subway station and my stair master training ordeal. This is also an express train so I make a speedy exit at the West 4th St station and soon find myself topside.
The weather is a study in contrasts as the shade feels very cool because of the strong winds, while the direct sunlight is very hot on one’s skin. I walk a little to get my bearings and then consult my map. I have to get to the east side and decide that W. Houston is the most direct route. I’m not usually in the city this early so the sun in my face tells me I’m going in the right direction. The city is just getting started in some ways, many places are not open yet-and those that are seem sleepy and needing a coffee to get going. I pass Pulino’s Bar and Pizza so I know I’m close now and soon I see Russ & Daughters in the distance.
Russ & Daughters is long and cramped but at least not too crowded. to my right the confection and dried fruit counter, to my left an array of fish and cream cheeses and salads to make your head spin. In the back and behind the counter are canned and jarred specialty foods. It’s a little confusing, so many people moving behind the counter, all of them seem busy. Suddenly, someone yells out “78!”…”79!” I don’t even see a ticket machine to pull numbers from and the crowd milling about instead of keeping place doesn’t help. I realize that everyone is already being helped. I finally order two mini bagels, one with cream cheese and Norwegian Salmon and the other with chopped liver and pickles and a decaf English Breakfast Tea. I get my order and head out to the center island between the two sides of Houston St where some benches are set up and tuck into my brunch. The salmon is the best Nova I’ve ever had but the liver is a little too mushy for my liking. I’m used to French Pate ( to be a right snob I guess) and this is not to my palate.
I finish my meal and watch the world go by and write a little while I finish my tea. A couple waiting for the light to change begin to slow dance, leftover passion or free spirits? You decide, I admire their carefree way in a judgemental world where it’s getting so hard to just “be”. I think I’d better get up and walk off some calories even though I don’t think that I’ll be hungry for lunch any time soon no matter how far I walk. It’s just as well because I can’t find the address of Sigiri anyway, the little sticky note is gone. I know it’s nearby so I start walking in squares, coming back to my starting point and overlapping a little, noting points of interest. I begin to see how close to Prune I was at Russ & Daughters, and how Katz’s is just steps away from the Mercury Lounge and Ashara, old landmarks from my first stories-that seem so long ago. I eventually wind up in Little Italy and find Moe the Butcher busily engaged in trimming meats in his quiet humble way. “Hi Moe, how late you open today?” I ask enthusiastically. “Hiya” he says looking up. “Seven O’clock today” he says and goes back to his cutting. “OK see you later” I say and move off to find lunch, it’s actually been hours since breakfast.
I walk down Elizabeth to Prince St and mosey around a while finally settling for Jacques, a French bistro I know is not that good but the outdoor seating in the shade beckons so I sit and decide to eat clean. I order a Merguez sausage omelet and a screwdriver and write a little. I was alone but soon the tables around me are filled with hungry locals and travellers who sit down one by one. Two young guys pull up in a car and park on the street, they are parked illegally but on a Saturday I don’t think anyone cares, they sit down at a table next to me and begin to peruse the menu, one of them says “Maybe the Merguez omelet” to his friend who looks at my plate and suggests that’s what our neighbor is eating. But I warn them against it as it is not very nice, this is like a dog food sausage packed inside a thick omelet with no sauce or any redeeming quality. I suggest they go to Marseilles, not the place but rather the restaurant near Penn Station to get the Merguez meal they want. So they thank me for the warning and order other things from the menu. I polish off my unlikely meal and enjoy a decaf coffee and write while listening to these two fellows talk. I find out (by asking) that they are originally from Oregon but moved here to work and are heading upstate for a hiking trip for a few days. The young owner of the car is absolutely paranoid about the car which is sitting about ten yards away with its flashers on, he is convinced he’s going to get a ticket. Suddenly a whistle is blown and he jumps out of his skin, poor kid. The whistle-blower is a drugged looking middle-aged hip looking black dude talking to himself. He says he’s not afraid, and he doesn’t give a s**t as he acts up strange and strung out and walks away, another mind taken by drugs I guess. Unfortunately, my neighbor has had his nerves frazzled and it’s almost comical how fast he and his buddy stop eating, ask for containers to pack the leftovers and the check. Then they jump in the car and try to leave in the congested village traffic. You could see the kids nerves jangling as he walked away, I laughed quietly to myself and thought how much easier it would have been to find a legal parking space and walk a few blocks than to go through all that. I pay my check and head back to Moe’s for my steak.
I find him trimming more meat from fat to give to people who have dogs, nothing is wasted at Moe’s, food is too precious and the animal is respected here. He insists on finishing his work and asks if I mind and I say” Take your time, I’m not in a rush.” I ask him “How is business?” and he says “Ok, the holiday comes and everyone leaves town for a few days and then they come back, the kids go back to school and it’ll pick up again. I’m going to Florida for two days anyway.” Good for him, I wish my parents were as active and sharp as he is. Just then a guy in his late 30’s walks in and says “Hello, I just wanted to let you know I’m still alive.” Moe seems to know him well and asks the handsome guy with perfect hair and teeth how he is doing. He says “Not bad for a 68-year-old man.” This must be an inside joke and he and Moe laugh and I do too in spite of myself, although I don’t really know why. Then as my steak is done (it is a giant too) and is tied and wrapped an attractive woman walks in and says “Hello Moe, I see you’ve already met my 68-year-old man!” They all laugh and I exclaim that “I’m in on that joke and I’m not even from here” which sparks even more laughter. I thank Moe with a pat on the arm and wish them all a good day and I’m off. I wish my dad was in as good a shape as Moe.
I walk down Lafayette heading north, from this point I can take the 4th St subway or the 14th or the 23rd for that matter but naturally I walk a little (hours really) to burn some calories and see the city above ground. The sun is hot on my back as I make my way to Union Square, but I need a loo rather badly so I leave the marketplace and the wonderful smells of fresh basil and mint and find myself sitting in the Old Town Tavern enjoying cold melon soup and Stella Artois. A little tyke runs down the length od the bar towards the door followed by his dad, mom, uncle, whoever can keep up. He wears an Ireland shirt and may end up playing soccer. The juke box plays classic rock while a silent baseball game is on the TV’s to occupy the eyes of patrons to tired to talk. This is an old bar, rustic with tile floors and filigree ceiling panels with chandeliers, it even has an indoor phone booth! One can easily imagine James Cagney using it in a gangster film in the 40’s. I finish my refreshments and take a call from my mom to see how my day went. I give her the rundown and she just for a few minutes gets to live vicariously through me, she used to work downtown New York and is always interested to hear of my adventures although she doesn’t read my stories on paper or on-line…odd isn’t it? I pay my check and tip the cute middle-aged waitress who served me, I promise myself I will come back and chat her up a bit the next time I’m in New York. I leave and resume my walk through the crowded city streets, heading for home. it was a pretty good day after all and in reality any day in New York is way better than at work. I feel happy to be going home early with plenty of time to enjoy the evening ahead. But as Penn Station looms in the distance I already miss my adopted city.
I join the conversation around me after actually starting to read the book on-line. One woman is from Florida on vacation and her daughter is moving toward French cooking, an Indian girl who adores Tony, and a middle-aged woman who has a drawing her husband bought her on EBAY years before allegedly done by Tony that she wants to authenticate. I grow more excited as we get closer to his appearance, and then I hear people say “There he is!” and I look down into the ground floor to see Tony striding along in his dark jeans, graphic t-shirt and suit jacket carrying a Brooklyn Lager and wearing dark glasses. He looks just he does on TV loping along tall and relaxed, quintessential cool. In a few minutes he walks in and sits down at the desk and the signing begins, they speed the process by taking your book from you and your camera, you walk up to the table shake hands, talk a little while he signs the book he has been handed by the staff, and then you lean in and get your photo taken, he hands you the book and then you move on and let the next person go. It’s very efficient and rushed and by the time my turn comes I am a cross between a gushing schoolgirl and a stuttering awkward teenage boy. My turn comes and I walk up shake hands and place my folder on the table. Tony says “How you doin” and I stupidly say “Alright” without even asking him in return I blurt out “This is a gift” as I open my folder and say “It’s a little of my amateur writing” He says OK and takes it and puts it under the table then while he signs my book I say to him “Two questions…Is there any place in New York to get Singapore chicken rice?” and he says “No” Then I ask “How is the $26 Black Label Burger at the Minetta Tavern?” He smiles and says “It’s really good, I mean really good” So I say “Really!” (another great reply and as he hands me my book back after the picture) and I say “Uh cool uhh I’ll have to try it” and the conversation trailed off in nodding and smiling uhhs and yeahs and I don’t think I even thanked him for signing the books ( I also brought my copy of his excellent fictional novel “Bone In The Throat”) as I walked away feeling stupid and wishing I could have had a do-over and feeling like I need a social etiquette class.
I guess people will always wish they had done a little better in these situations, at least I do now in retrospect I could have talked more and been a little more engaging. I should have said something more meaningful, but I thought I’d let my writing speak for itself. The trouble is I don’t know if he even read my stuff, I put my address and phone numbers on the inside cover just in case he wanted to get in touch with me. I mean he probably gets this all the time and it might even piss him off so there’s a good chance he threw it away. It’s my nature to be self-critical and I know I’m not a great writer I just wanted to sound more intelligent than I did, but hopefully he will read my work and read abut the positive influence he has had in my life in the story “1st Anniversary on WordPress” How he has changed me in positive ways and made me a better cook and consumer. I leave with regret, the whole thing was over in less than two minutes. I go downstairs and outside to find my friends and we gather together to talk excitedly about our shared experience. The Indian girl says that he told her he is definitely having too much fun and the show will go on for a few more years! The woman who owned the drawing had it confirmed by Tony that he remembered doing it on a beach in Long Beach, Long Island, NY many years back and that a friend that was not doing well stole it and waited to sell it when Tony was at the height of his popularity. Tony being the good man that he is did not ask for it back and felt that it had a good home with the woman who was thrilled to pieces. We talk for a few minutes and then go our separate ways.
I walk back to the park feeling a little better about things and sit on the wall and call my mom and tell her my news, she is thrilled and suggests I find a nice place to eat. So I walk back to the subway and head uptown to more familiar surroundings. My mind is muddled with a hundred thoughts about my experience so my usual observations are lost in that sauce and I get out at Bleeker St and begin to search for a meal. I walk around checking menus and decide to settle down in Chez Jaqueline, a French place that has been in New York a while, I have walked by it many times. I sit down facing the street with the louver doos and curtains open and I order a glass of pastis and watch the kids in the playground across the street. They are actually playing kickball! I didn’t think anyone did that anymore. I order Bacalau brandade, a mix of salt cod and garlic mashed potatoes baked till golden, and for my main a pork chop Milanaise. I sit and watch the kids and adults enjoy the cool weather and listen to a mix of cool jazz and cafe Paris thrown in for good measure. This is a Cote d’Azur themed menu featuring southern French food with a few traditional dishes such a Daube de Boeuf, Duck Rilletes and the ubiquitous French onion soup w/Gruyère cheese on top. I have the place to myself as it’s actually quite late for lunch and not yet dinner. The Brandade comes and is good but a little dry and over browned making me wish I had ordered a celery remoulade instead. The pork chop comes and has been butterflied and coated with seasoned bread crumbs and pan-fried, it is served with field greens vinaigrette and a lemon wedge. It is tasty and healthish and I enjoy a glass of wine with it while the afternoons grows late. I decline dessert and pay the check and head for the subway, it is alternately warm and cool depending on the wind and shade. Soon I see some familiar sights and as I make my way to Bleeker St station I find the Monk Thrift Shop where a new comer to New York City (me) came years before and bought the old army travel bag that has been all over the city as well as Paris and London. I look around at all the stuff, clothes, shoes, handbags, books, records, nick naks, lamps, glassware, all kinds of stuff. I show the guy at the counter the bag I bought here years ago with its hand drawn destinations and he is impressed and says that its history now-my history, and he is right.
The trip home was uneventful and I walked to an area easy for my mom to get to and called her to pick me up as I will be without my car for two days. I tell her all about my adventure and my hopes and feelings of dis-appointment about the experience and as always mom tries to get me to be more positive about things. Now what I didn’t know until about six weeks later is that Tony is holding a contest, for one of the fans of the show who are registered on the No Reservations website to write a 500 word essay on Why is it important to cook well? The contest will go on till November when Tony (who will be checking in and reading people’s work and commenting ) will pick the winner who will win $10,000 and get their essay put in as the new forward to the paperback version of his new book Medium Raw. you can enter as many times as you want to try to win and I have already entered once a piece called “I Cook Well” and am working on a second at this time. I can’t help thinking that it was me and anyone else who gave him their writing that brought this contest about so now I feel a whole lot better about the book signing debacle and how I came off.
I hope I win but my story at last count was like 914 out of 1047 entries so it’s a long shot, but at least I met Tony and the next time I meet him I’ll be a lot more confident and self-assured and maybe it’ll be because he’s delivering my prize in which case after a sit down with the family I will take him to Cassis, my local piece of France with food that I am certain will pass his muster and over a good meal and many drinks I will ask him all the questions I thought of later and pitch some ideas to him for a book I’d like to write but need help with and some ideas for his show that I think he would like very much, nothing big just goofy themes like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” that he used for his Nevada trip, along those lines. But of course “The Sit Down” with Tony is a dream that all his fans have and I’m sure very few will ever get that but it’s good to want and it’s nice to dream.
When I arrive at Washington Square Park I ask around and find out the fair doesn’t start until May so I wander a little and take some pictures of the goings on today, so I will let the pictures do the talking for me and after a while I decide to walk up to Union Square. I know there is vendors there almost every week and even in April of last year some of the braver souls came out when I took Mark and Sharon on a cold day during their first day in New York, I’m praying luck will be with me.
When I get their the market and the art show is in full swing, loads of people come here on Wednesday , Saturday and Sunday to buy produce & plants, meats and cheeses, and everything in between. I find myself walking amidst the artists sitting with their work, hoping for a sale. It makes me feel very wretched that I can no longer claim to be one of them. I know that it’s my fault I stopped painting, I always blamed it on other people and circumstances. But as someone once said “A real artist needs only his bread and his art.” Yes in modern times you need much more than that, but the bare bones of that saying ring very true for me anyway, so while I can only use writing as a lame partial excuse for not painting, the fact is that the nights I don’t write I could paint but I don’t. I haven’t painted a thing since 2007. Why? you ask. Because I let the canvas beat me into submission. I grew more and more unhappy with a painting that still sits on my easel mocking me. It became an all or nothing game of Russian roulette between me and the painting and in the end I died. There was no smoking gun, just an unfinished canvas and ten years of work lying dormant…unseen like some hibernating bear it sleeps, waking years later like Rumplestiltskin to find an art world changed.
The artist Mark Rothko said that eventually black would swallow red, swallow all color until nothing was left. He believed that artists should starve, that fame is what kills them. When they become a commodity, a pastiche of themselves, they seek a way out. For Jackson Pollack it was whisky and a Oldsmobile convertible. For me it was Malibu Rum and Coke and an online video game called “World of Warcraft.” In the game I could fight and die but I came back to life and fought again to win. Every time my characters gained another level, another skill, an achievement of any kind, it was like I was winning at life. Soon it became more fun to play with others online than to face the canvas alone, and see who would blink first. So now I know …I did.
This is all revealed to me as I walk through the artists stalls practically reeling with the weight of the realization I’ve just made about myself and my art. Eventually I walk into the regular vendors space and as I come around a bend I see the exact T-shirts I wanted and the girl selling them from last year is back! This is a kind of salvation for me now as I had no idea they sold here and am overjoyed to find the shirts I want, but there is just one small problem. I’ve got no cash and they don’t take debit cards. But luckily the girl tells me that a permanent newspaper vendor set up here actually has a debit machine and he is on the other side of the fair. So I take a long walk back to the artists area and wait my turn to get some dough, and I noticed that there’s many signs up protesting something, so I stop at an artists booth to get the lowdown. It seems that our illustrious Mayor wants to start limiting the number of artists to eighteen who can show and that there will be a fee for the day and that it’s on a first come first serve basis, anyone else will be turned away! I walk back to the girl and pick out the shirts I want marvelling at the stupidity of the people in our local government. The very thing that makes New York special is the very thing they want to attack and destroy or alter in some way and make it less attractive to tourists and the local population, and then when the Union Square market closes down because they took all the good out of it they will sit and blame others for the loss, never admitting it was they who ruined it in the first place. I hope it doesn’t come to that but it’s an old story, around here on Long Island, local politics have made the suburbs a boring place. Where kids get into trouble because all the venues for fun were closed down leaving the kids nothing to do but invent their own fun on the street. I go down into the Union Square subway station and take it back uptown to the theater district.
It doesn’t take long to get back to the theater and needing a sit down and a drink of some kind I go searching for a local bar where I can sit and relax till the show, but this is a tourist section and there’s only loud sports bars and tourists traps, not what I need right now. So I wind up in another French restaurant calles Pergola des Artistes near the theater, it is crowded and I sit at the bar wishing for a drink and an appetizer but finding nothing small and “tapas-like” which I really would have preferred. I order Fillet of Sole Menuiere and French Onion soup to start with a glass of Cotes du Rhone and watch the action in front of me. The woman behind the counter is Marie Ponsolle, she and her husband Jacques opened the place in 1962 and struggled with all sorts of problems including a plumbing and electrical problems, water damage from a flood in the basement and from a fire on the floors above causing flooding to their restaurant below to put it out, and even a holdup the first week they opened! Now their son Christian runs the place but Marie runs the bar where I sit and with a watchful eye and a loud voice she makes sure the bills are tallied correctly and that the waiters are working hard. I find her a little off-putting and when my soup arrives I tell her it is good but I’ve had better actually. It was murky and greasy and seemed to me to include the sediment on the bottom of the pot. When my fish arrives it is indeed a huge portion the size of a dinner plate with some basic vegetables on the side that were undercooked and un-inspired, the fish was tasty enough but I have no point of reference so I don’t know this dish. I eat about half and ask for the rest to be wrapped up, the play starts in about twenty minutes and I pay the tab and walk briskly for the theater wishing I had gotten a hot dog of a cart instead. I mean why should you pay 50 bucks for heartburn when you could get it for around $5. I walk past others on their way to food and shows and arrive at the theater and take my seat.
The stage is set up just like Rothko’s studio, bare wood floors dirty and paint splattered, canvasses on the walls, stacked up some painted others stark white and waiting. There are tables and ladders, spot lights and a big wooden Adirondack chair across from a huge red canvas hanging from a gargantuan moveable A-frame easel. The actor is already seated in that chair contemplating the canvas before the show starts. It is to say the least an unexpected and un-nerving start to the play…he is motionless. When the lights go down he gets up and lights a cigarette and looks at the canvas, he walks toward it and touches it almost with the reverence a man might touch his wifes nude body while she sleeps. Quietly a young man enters through the door stage right, wearing a brown suit and shoes, looking earnest and eager he has come to apply for the job of studio assistant. Rothko lays down the law of employment, he’s not here to be his friend, his father, or his mentor.
The dialogue between them throughout the play is often raw and un-pleasant, Rothko’s contempt for people in general is very evident and he laces into his assistant many times and mocks his opinions after asking for them. But still he tries to draw his assistant, who is also a painter into the real meaning of art. Rothko talks about Nietzsche, Byron, and Socrates. He tells the young man to become civilised. during the show they actually take canvasses down off the huge easel and put up new ones. They actually finish stapling one on the floor and setting the corners and after placing it up on the easel they both cover it in red primer, Rothko working above, the assistant below whose white t-shirt gets covered in splattered paint! (Later we find out the t-shirt will be signed by both men and offered to raise money for AIDS after the show)
In a pivotal scene the young assistant (who has spent two years with Rothko) finally tells his employer off, giving a long soliloquy about Rothko’s self-absorption and mis-trust, and finally telling him that he (Rothko) doesn’t believe anyone is good enough to own his art or even view his art. He thinks he is fired but Rothko says it’s the first time he really said what he thinks and respects him for it. In real life Rothko, after seeing in the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagrams building is distraught. He will not have his work in a place where such pretentious people, will pay too much money for mediocre food and look at each other assessing their worth and comparing their status. Rothko gave back the $35,000 dollar commission and continued to paint his unique vision but in his later years fell in into ill-health, an aneurism made him unable to work high up and he was forced to paint smaller canvasses. Then also ignoring his physician’s advice to quit smoking and drinking he became more depressed. Rothko was growing increasingly unhappy with the art world, and feeling betrayed by the younger artists who he felt had learned so much from people like him, finally took his own life in Feb 1970, slicing his wrists to his elbows in his studio, which was now his home after he and his wife separated. He was found by his young assistant Oliver Steindecker on the floor near the slop sink.
The play ends as it started with dramatic music being played on the phonograph while Rothko who has just dis-missed his assistant telling him to get with his friends and start something new, get with them and “do the work” he says holding his face and looking into his eyes the only fatherly advice he gives him. He looks at the canvas alone as the light dims but the red of the canvas glows with an inner fire out of the black like the burning coals of a furnace. The crowd erupts into explosive applause with many hoots and shouts of “Bravo” and the actors appear and bow before us and then leave the stage. I make my way downstairs and go outside and wait a long time for the actors to come out, Eddie Redmayne comes out first and I tell him how good the show was, he is very pleased with the attention but after finishing with us rushes to embrace a young girl and guy who waited patiently for us to be done with him. They are obviously friends and possibly fellow actors enjoying a friends big break, indeed I find out later that Redmayne was interviewed on Charlie Rose, a late night serious talk show. Next Alfred Molina comes out and I tell him that I’m a painter trying to come out of a two-year block and that he has helped me quite a bit tonight. We all take turns taking pictures with him and when all are done he gets into his limo and off he goes, he’s got to be exhausted, two shows in one day. I am too but I stop to help an old woman who attended the show find the bus stop before turning back to go down 8th Ave and Penn Station once again. The wind has died down so I am warm enough in my denim and scarf as I walk the streets and find myself standing before the big board with 40 minutes to kill before my train. So, naturally I go to Tracks for a wash up and a cold glass of Harp on tap. It’s been a wonderful day followed by a profound evening, art changes you, it should change you. With gods help and a little luck I hope to be able to say I have been changed in this way many times before Rothko’s black finally comes. I settle into my bar stool and lean back sipping my cold brew…lost in thought.
Well it’s an auspicious occasion for me tonight, I am six days away from my one year anniversary on WordPress. To coin a well-worn phrase it’s “been a long strange trip” but really not so strange and actually it has been wonderful! When I started this BLOG a year ago I was home sick from my many wanderings in New York City, burning the candle at both ends as it were. But when I wrote my “About” page and my first post “Now with Subtitles” I couldn’t have imagined where it would lead and how it would change me as an artist and as a writer.
While I always knew that I could write pretty good at least as far as my school teachers grades indicated, it wasn’t till I attended college that my English 101 teacher Prof. Wigetow told me when asked that I could be a writer, he said it with conviction and without hesitation. But it was on a cool night on Oct 22nd 2008 that my world was changed when I; waiting for Duffy to take to the stage, was questioned by a woman asking what I was writing in my notebook. While I told her she was joined by her brother W.B.Wilkins, Wilkins (a former english teacher and actor) upon finding out that I intended to wait until the winter to start writing, gave me a lesson I’ll never forget. He covered how one goes about writing, but more importantly how I should go about writing about my experiences. He told me to do this in two days not two months!,and to try to convey what I’m feeling and what others are feeling. If I can write a piece that speaks to 80% of the people then I turn writing into saleable art.
But he warns me not to expect to make money at it, just like painting the pleasure is in the doing, the experience of the work and the love of the written word. If you are very lucky, people will pay you for it! This is all punctuated by light taps on my chest, a rub to my arm and a squeeze of my bicep. It’s done in a fatherly reinforcing way and with a handshake he and his sister who is also a teacher, moved off to get a good spot for the concert that was starting.
I left that episode out of the Duffy piece because I thought it broke the flow of the story but now give the credit where it is due, I have tried to convey in all my NY travel stories exactly what he said, how it feels to be there at that moment. To give my readers the sights, smells, and tastes around me and also the people moving around me and how they might feel too. I feel as if I’ve done a good job of this but there is always room for improvement. I also have to acknowledge the influence of Jack Kerouack, his hand written notebooks and in the moment style have had immeasurable influence on me. The sheer brilliance of his raw novelist as reporter approach to his writing have served me very well and I really don’t think I would be this far along if it wasn’t for him. But I also have to give as much credit to William Burroughs, his loose yet careful words have shown me how a writer can be like a jazz musician, light and dark, fast and slow, all at once or each emotion on it’s own terms. There is also room to mention Tolkien and James P. Blaylock both created antediluvian worlds that made me want to live there, where good quiet folk found themselves fighting evil and having adventures. They are still favorite reads for me and the work never gets old even after multiple readings of Tolkiens “The Hobbit” and Blaylocks best “The Disappearing Dwarf” and “The Elven Ship” they will be read again and again till I am gone from this world.
The influence of another figure who is not only a writer but also a well-known former executive chef and star of two hit shows, one for the food network (which is no longer on the air) and currently an Emmy Award winning show for the Travel Channel. I’m talking about the loveably snarky and iconoclastic Anthony Bourdain. He has been my mentor, my man-crush, and my pick-me-up on Monday nights at the beginning of a long week of work. I listen closely especially to the voice over at the end of the show where he tries to sum up his experience in a particular place or country. While images of the trip flash by he recites his words, the liquid wisdom he has written in the moment. Very often the insight about the world and the human condition become (for me at least) the best part of an already excellent show. These programs have fired my imagination and along with my trip to England and France in 2005, have given me a wanderlust that right now…I can’t satisfy. The lack of expendable cash and responsibilities on the home front have kept me from journeying away. But I know that someday Tony, I too will swing in my hammock on the edge of the lake in Indonesia, in my little house and wait for “pancake man” to come in his boat on a sunny morning to give me breakfast. Yes, this at least I’ve promised to myself.
But since I will probably never get to meet you face to face and tell you this story I’ll write it now, and maybe you’ll read this someday. I have never been a great lover of seafood, even though I have Swedish and Norwegian blood and my Great Grandfather was a sea capitan I have never much liked the water and could only stomach a few kinds of fish even into my twenties and thirties. In grammar school of course I ate tunafish sandwich and I liked fish sticks as long as it was all white, no discoloration please! Frozen deep-fried Howard Johnson’s clam strips or shrimp were a favorite too…thanks Mom.
But I could not stomach the real hardcore seafood, I’m talking about the shellfish. On a good day I could handle a lobster tail (when I was older) but drew the line at a whole lobster or even crab legs, I had no desire at all to perform an autopsy on my dinner! The humble Mussel was enough to make me hurl, the sight of the chambered form inside with its Lovecraftian appendages, bubbling and blaspheming in a pot of Cioppino at my cousin Chrissy’s house, could send me screaming about the “Old Ones” into the night, and don’t even get me started on snails! But in 2006 things would change in a special way.
My aforementioned cousin Chrissy had been battling cancer since 2003, and had survived an operation that would have killed most people, they are probably still studying her case. The cancer had spread from the intestines to the liver and ovaries, kidneys, stomach-the lot. They removed so much tissue from her body it was a miracle she lived, but live she did. She would live to vacation in Jamaica and take many other trips away with her husband and two girls, and I living nearby would drop in to see her without notice just to sit and tell her of my adventures or problems, you could always count on honesty with Chrissy, even if she didn’t always tell you what you wanted to hear.
We had a special bond as painters but had gone to only one art show together since I started to paint in 1999,she was raising a family and I was busy with my own life. So in 2006 Chrissy and her husband Bruce decided to host Christmas for all the family, these were always happy times for me, I loved sitting at the table with my cousin Chrissy and her sister Donna, Bruce and Pat their husbands, my cousins daughters Sharon, Michelle, and Jennifer and my brother Chris as well as all the parents of our tribe. We would go off telling war stories and riffing on each other in a friendly way that would be punctuated by the raucous laugh of Chrissy and high-pitched guffaw of Donna and my own explosive laugh. So on this night things were a little more subdued but not much and when the hot food was served I saw that there was many seafood items to be eaten tonight. I realized that this may be Chrissy’s last Xmas with us and when I had already tried the other dishes of chicken, various pastas, eggplant, zucchini, roasted peppers and mushrooms. I went to the table of freshly laid out seafood and scanned the offerings, there was Cioppino, small snails in tomato and garlic tapenade, crab legs with butter, stuffed clams in garlic butter, seafood stew, a feast of garlicy tomato Italian tradition.
I took it all back to the table and bravely tucked right in with my cousin sitting across from me beaming as I discovered that some of this was actually very good! I ate and talked with her enjoying the face time with her and for a while it was not very obvious that she was sick. There was no way I wasn’t going to do so, like Tony says on the show when people are giving till it hurts, even if you don’t like it-you eat it and you smile and you ask for more, to do anything else would be an insult.
My cousin died eleven months later in November of 2007 and it was touching that she seemed to wait until Stanly Kramer, her old art teacher in grammar school, now the school principal. Had to come to see her before she would let go, that’s how strong her bond was with him and with her art. We get together now without her and it’s cool to see how her daughter Jennifer has taken over Chrissy’s role as the raucous storyteller, regaling us with her tales of working in the fashion industry in New York City and Donna too seems to have joined her as well filling the gap left by Chrissy’s passing, and Chrissy’s other daughter Michelle, (a photographer who looks like her mother) quietly takes embarrassing pictures of all of us-yes we will get you for it too Michelle just wait.
I did some growing up that night and since then I have found myself trying more foods that take me out of my comfort zone, even though I might not like them at least I try them now, veal, seafood, unfamilair meats, blood sausage, lagastino lobster, and anything else offered to me I eat without hesitation. I no longer sit on the sidelines and watch as others enjoy and encourage me to do the same and refuse, too caught up in myself to be polite and join in. I learned there is a big difference between taking a stand against a certain type of food for health reasons or moral obligation, and not trying a certain food out of immaturity.
So thank you Anthony Bourdain for helping me to grow a lot, and for putting a smile on my dying cousin’s heart. Indeed with your own writing not just for your show (and it’s accompanying books) but also your fiction, which I have also enjoyed very much. You have informed my writing too, just like the master writers of this century and I hope you stay here in New York and keep doing No Reservations for many more years to come. This viewer will never grow tired of it.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the one thing that my writing has given me, the most important thing…a friend. When I started reading others work I came across the blog of Maureenj aka White Orchid and after commenting on something she wrote, found her also looking at my page and since then we have become good friends. The fact is that only a few other people have bothered to comment on my posts and the comments have all been good, but no one follows my blog like Maureen. This past year we have weathered many storms in our own life but still find time and energy to encourage each other and comment on each others blog posts. She has become the older sister I was supposed to have in many ways and although I have not shared some of my deeper problems and fears with her, (especially since she had a medical scare this year and a death in the family) I have come to realize she is my true friend. We talk of our desire to meet one day and I often find myself day dreaming about my trip to Australia or hers to New York, where I would undoubtedly be the personal tour guide for her that I want to be in the near future, and was with my relatives from England in April of this past year.
Mark and Sharon came over and changed my life without even knowing it at the time, the days spent showing them the Village and Midtown Manhattan were the happiest this year, and led to my realizing that this might be my true calling. This was reinforced by meeting Robert Fogelnest; a former tour guide and Village authority whose book I bought and study along with many others on all things good and bad about New York City.
So right now while I weather the storm of debt consolidation and zero credit available to me I cannot indulge in the finer things in New York City. I have to learn to write about other topics anyway, still have some story’s to tell about New York and some experiences I had before all this blogging, theater-going, tour guiding study and hardcore foodie stuff started. The very first story I wrote as an intentional piece of journalism was a story about street art that I wrote in 2007 when I was so wrapped up in my story that I didn’t even review the food I was eating in a now closed Sri Lankan restaurant, which is strange because I remember it was good. The story of our trip to England and Paris is all a blur now but I can try to look at pictures and piece it together to make it live. I also have the hope of coming into some money soon, by legal means I assure you which will be enough to pay off a few bills not covered by the debt consolidation in which case I could be in a few months very close to breathing a sigh of relief and able to continue my adventures.
So right now after watching Paradise Found with Keifer Sutherland last night I am also trying to become an artist again, and trying to meld both my writing and my art into switches I can throw on or off depending on my mood instead of one or the other, which is the way it’s been since early 2007, I haven’t painted a thing in two years,why…I don’t know.
I am grateful to Word Press for their support and presence on the web, and to Cheru Jackson of Alphainventions for helping me to promote my page, and to my Mom, whose diary writing, and her repeatedly showing and speaking aloud the first three letters of the alphabet to me as a baby, have undoubtedly had a lasting effect on me as a writer and reader. As always it’s the little things like this that mean the most.
It has been a great ride and I hope to continue this for the rest of my life, even if I never make it as a writer or an artist it’s OK. The most important thing is that while I write or paint I’m alive, doing what I enjoy and not wasting time with mindless activities or destructive behavior. Thanks to all the cast of characters in my life, which is my work of art, as I am in others casts…so may all of us grow. Thanks for reading and influencing my life and art, and if your ever in New York City drop me a line and we’ll have a drink or two, and one more thing…try the veal at Le Rivage on W. 46th St…it’s really good.
Long Island, NY 2009