Sunday, January 31, 2010

Spread the Love

Listen up: The Breukelen Coffee House will hold it's first official art opening on Friday, February 5.

Among those participating in this incredible event is my boy Mike Sorgatz, a massively talented artist and husband of my big time buddy Eleanor Traubman, chief cook and bottle washer at Creative Times.

A Brooklyn-based DJ, will be spinning fly tunes, and a Brooklyn-based bartender will be spreading the love in its liquid form, which is my favorite way of getting it.

In addition to the party and press, there will be an independent documentary film crew be on hand to take footage for their docu on the 6 month progression of the Breukelen Coffee House.

The event runs from 8pm to 12am. Breukelen Coffee House is located 764A Franklin Ave. Now you've got everything you need to know. So come on down to party, drink, and get some culture, damn it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Save Coney Island!

Heads up, y'all.

If you love Coney Island--and who the hell doesn't?--then get on down to Galapagos Art Space this Saturday, January 30, for a good old fashion Brooklyn ho down.

The folks at Save Coney Island are holding a fundraiser for the hallowed amusement area.

"Gone Country for Coney" will feature five of the city's best plinkers and plunkers. The eats will be provided by Jakes BBQ.

Save Coney Island is fighting to restore Coney as a world-class amusement destination, and this includes "trying to revise or overturn the city's misconceived plan for the amusement district."

The group is working on a number of initiatives, including efforts to insure a successful 2010 season and protect historic buildings along Surf Avenue.

The event runs from 3pm to 9:30pm. Tickets are $15 until 5pm and 20 bucks for the slow pokes out there. And you get a raffle ticket with entry. Could you possibly need anything else? Of course not!

Galapagos Art Space is located at 16 Main Street at the corner of Water Street in delightful DUMBO.

Coney Island needs you, partner, so saddle up, come on down, and show your face at the place.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

I, the Juror

I’ve been chosen to play a vital role in our legal system.

I am helping advance the cause of justice that dates back to the days of our founding fathers.

I got nailed for jury duty.

I don’t know what I did, but it was enough to get me a seat in the jury box at a civil trial.

There’s nothing quite so depressing as pulling that jury summons out of your mail box. Your heart just sinks, your blood pressure soars and you ask why, why me, why now? I’ve got things to do, goddamnit. Yeah, you and 12 million other people.

I went down to the central jury room and joined a cast of extremely unhappy characters. It was like being in church only here people really pray—as in please Dear God don’t let them pick me!

Voices pour out of the PA system reciting the names of every person on earth, or so it seems. I suspect the afterlife is something like this. We arrive, take our seats in a vast room and wait until the Big Voice calls our name.

I wasn’t feeling at all well on this particular day and I really wanted to get the hell out of there, but I had nothing resembling a decent excuse.

While I waited, I watched a man with a yarmulke sitting in my row ask a young woman with a headscarf if he could borrow her pen. She obliged and they smiled at each other. There’s nothing like the misery of jury duty to bring all kinds of people together.

A man who reminded me of Ice-T got hold of a microphone and thanked us for showing up—like we had a choice. He asked that anyone who had trouble understanding English to form a line on the right side of his desk.

“But if you understood what I just said,” he added, “then you know enough English to serve on a jury.”

Talk about Catch-22.

There were TV monitors in the room showing a film with the late Ed Bradley who told us all how the judicial system had advanced since the days of trial by ordeal, when the law got medieval on your ass.

The film had a scene with a bunch of actors in old time garb tossing some poor bastard into a lake to see if he was guilty or not. This was supposed to make us feel better about being there, but jury duty is a bit of an ordeal in its own right.

I’d seen this film the last time I was called for jury duty some five years ago. I didn’t serve on a trial that time, but I was working as a freelancer web editor back then and losing money every day I was in court.

"I Solemnly Swear..."

When I got back to work, I found that my supervisors had whittled down the web site until it was little more than an adding machine. I essentially had no job and I was canned a short time later. I'm sure my absence and the butchery of the web site was just a coincidence.

I was first called for jury duty nearly 30 years ago and I remember the courtroom was freezing cold—unbearably so, like a meat locker. During the voir dire one of my fellow jurors told the judge he edited comic books for a living.

“Common books?” the judge asked.

“No,” the man said, “comic books—Little Lulu.”

I was interviewed by the assistant D.A., an earnest young man with glasses who actually asked me-with a straight face—that if I wanted to serve on this jury.

Did someone throw you a surprise lobotomy, pal? Of course, I don’t want to do this, you dumb shit, but if I say that, the judge will throw me in the nearest lake. So, risking being struck dead by a lightning bolt, I said, why, yes, I’d love to serve.

I got bounced off this case, but I’m happy to report that they did nail the Little Lulu guy. I always hated that comic.

I was chosen to serve on a jury for a murder trial about 10 years ago. A young man had been accused of shooting another one to death over a stolen TV set.

The defendant claimed that the gun had gone off during a struggle with the deceased, but the prosecution proved that the victim had been shot in the back from more than three feet away.

The victim’s nickname was “Rubber Man” and he’d pretty much have to be Gumby in order for the defendant’s story to be true. We convicted the guy in under an hour.

That’s it, I thought on the way out, I did my bit, so I’ll never have to serve on a jury for the rest of my life, right?

Well, it didn’t work out that way. On Friday I sat in a room with 20 other people and watched the lawyers whittle us down in search of six jurors and two alternates.

One woman claimed that she'd have trouble serving because she found it so upsetting when people sue each other.

Yeah, lady, I thought, and I find it upsetting when little lulus like you try to bullshit their way out of jury duty.

The lawyers cut her loose and that moved them one step closer to me. When the lawyers came back in after a brief consultation, I knew they were going to pick me.

It could always be worse. The trial doesn't start for another week and the lawyers expect to wrap up in 4 or 5 days.

I'll have a few days away from the office and I'll get a chance to be a part of the system. After all my complaining, I have to say it doesn't sound like an ordeal at all.

Monday, January 18, 2010

'I Have a Dream'

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.

One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.

And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds.

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering.

Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

--Martin Luthor King, August 28, 1963

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Goodbye, Joe

I was reading an article in today’s New York Times about a 104-year-old strong man who died Monday after being hit by a minivan as he crossed Bay Parkway.

This is terrible, I thought, as I read about Joe Rollino, who once billed himself as the "Strongest Man in the World." He was so powerful and had lived for so long only to die like this. It's just not fair.

It just seemed like yet another tragic story in a city--and a world--that has far too many of them. But as I continued to read the story something started to nag at me.

The article said Joe had been a boxer who had fought under the name Kid Dundee and there was a photo of Joe at his 103rd birthday party, his fists raised in a fighter's stance.

And then I realized that I knew Joe Rollino.

It was three years ago, just a few months after my father’s death. I was shopping at a store on Fifth Avenue in the old Thriftee store. The owner pointed to Joe and told me that he was going to turn 102 the following week.

Like most people when they first meet Joe, I couldn’t believe my eyes. How could this vibrant, powerfully built man possibly be that old?

I was suffering from a sinus infection at the time and upset at the prospect of turning 50 in a few months and here was man who was more than twice my age shadow boxing in front of me like a Golden Glover.

I was so impressed by Joe that I wrote about our encounter in a post called "Man of the Century." I only met him that one time, but I never forget him.

“Sometimes people have a way of coming into your life just when you need them the most,” I wrote back in March 2007 and I meant it. The man was a walking treasure.

The Times article said Joe once reportedly lifted 475 pounds with his teeth, hefted 635 pounds with one finger, moved 3,200 pounds with his back, and bit down on quarters to bend them with his thumb.

An Associated Press story said that Joe hobnobbed with Harry Houdini, watched Jack Dempsey knock out Jess Willard, was friendly with Mario Lanza, and even had a bit part in "On the Waterfront."

Joe told me that he had been a gunnery sergeant in the Marines during World War II and had fought in Guadalcanal. He had gotten his start as a strongman in the 1920s during the high point of the Coney Island carnival, according to AP.

He also made a living as a traveling boxer, fighting in armories in cities around the country where boxing was forbidden.

“I fought all over the country,” Joe told me. “I fought all the great fighters.”

He said he had stopped boxing after he lost some of the vision in his left eye and was unable to see his opponents' jabs.

Joe didn’t smoke, drink, or eat meat and walked five miles every day, rain or shine. The papers said that he was crossing Bay Ridge Parkway at 13th Avenue when he was struck by a minivan. He was taken to Lutheran Medical Center where he died.

I thought about writing an article about Joe, but, like a lot of other projects, I never got around to it.

“I'm kicking myself for not getting some contact information,” I wrote in my original post, “but I'm praying I'll run into him again.”

That didn’t happen and now I'm kicking myself even harder. Just think of the stories this man could have told me. I once heard a saying that went "one of these days is none of these days." I see now just how true that is.

Joe shook my hand that day, told me to take care of myself, and that was the last time I ever saw him. And now he’s gone.

I went to a boxing class at my health club this afternoon. I was pretty tired and I was seriously thinking about skipping today it, but I'm glad I went. Whenever I started to slow down, I'd rear up and hit the bag as hard as I could.

"This one's for Joe," I said to myself. And I kept on punching.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

California Dreaming

Let’s see: freezing temperatures, work crews drilling right outside my door, and a general feeling of misery.

All right I get the point; I’m not in Los Angeles anymore. Stop rubbing it in.

I got just back from a 10-day trip to L.A., where my sister and I visited my uncle Joe and his wife during Christmas week. I'm wishing I had stayed there, but that's what I said about 15 years ago after my last visit to Joe's place.

Two days ago I was walking around in a t-shirt in 70-degree weather, admiring the sunshine and the palm trees. Now the holidays are over and I’m freezing my keester off in Brooklyn.

I flew out on Xanax Air on December 26 and arrived in the City of Angeles in a drooling stupor. I’m not particularly proud of that but it certainly beats whimpering and crushing my sister's hand in terror for five hours.

It’s a shame I didn’t pack some Xanax for my trip to Disneyland. This was my first visit to the Land Where Dreams Come True and after enduring the long lines and the Space Mountain ride I’m not in a great hurry to go back.

This ride was so violent, so fast, so downright unpleasant, I felt like a space monkey--some hapless chimp who gets his ass strapped into a rocket and blasted into the sky. Only I didn't get a banana.

Why waterboard people when you can just give them a ride on this train wreck? A few turns on this thing and they’ll confess to everything short of sinking the Lusitania.

Like many other rides, Space Mountain was plastered with signs warning potential customers to keep clear if they suffered from heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and other such aliments. What they don't tell you is that if you didn't have these problems before you took these rides, you’ll have them once you get off.

My lovely niece informed me that the Tower of Terror ride had an even lengthier
disclaimer, which explains why I didn’t go anywhere near the goddamn thing.

We also visited the Hearst Castle and the Huntington Gardens. As a longtime van of Citizen Kane, I wanted to see the stately home of William Randolph Hearst, the man who inspired one of my favorite films.

The place is phenomenal, with guest houses and a massive indoor swimming pool; visitors included Winston Churchill, David Niven and Charley Chaplin.

One of the people on our tour asked the guide if she thought Hearst was a happy man.

“Yes,” she said to no one’s surprise. “I believe he was.”

The Huntington Library, where the Blue Boy hangs his hat, was a real high point. The weather was so mild and the gardens were so beautiful I hated to leave.

On New Year’s Eve we watched the ball drop in Times Square at 9 pm, wished each other a happy and went to bed a short time later. Now that’s how you ring in the New Year--seriously; who wants to be out on amateur night?

We went to Pasadena after the Rose Bowl Parade and checked out all the floats, which were fantastic.

And I finally saw the Getty Center, 12 years after seeing watching a news report about the opening. The place, which has free admission, is built on top of a 900-foot hill in the Santa Monica Mountains and has spectactular views. It's got some nice art, too...

Now I'm back home and we're starting a new year. I miss the daily walks in Griffith Park we took during our vacation and once again I'm thinking about living in Los Angeles.

It’s an amazing place. You've got all these beautiful homes and quite streets, but then you have those 12-lane freeways, where it feels like you’re in the middle of a Mad Max movie. Maybe the Disney people could make a ride out of that.

Of course, ever since grade school I’ve been threatening to move there and become a big shot in the movie business, but as you might have guessed, that hasn’t happened yet.

I winced when we were driving on the freeway and I saw a billboard for a bank that promised “More ATM’s than Unsold Screenplays.” Sarcasm really isn't a good selling point, but then that ad was probably written by a would-be screenwriter.

I was in my butcher store today and the woman behind the counter raised an eyebrow when I told her I had just got back from L.A.

"The people out there are different," she said.

Yes, well, they're warmer anyway.

My father talked about moving to California for the longest time and he never did it...kind of like me.

I think a lot people use Californina as a kind of pressure valve. Whenever they get fed up with their lives, they swear they'll pack up and go. Then they calm down, come up with excuses about staying put and nothing changes.

Well, it's a new year. I'm no space monkey. I'm going to make changes in my life. I'm going to improve my attitude, get organized and throw out all the garbage in my house and in my head and start with a clean slate. So if people tour my house some day, the guide will be able to truthfully say that I was a happy man.

And if that doesn't work, I'm moving to California.