Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts ~ Last Night's Show

My memory is electric with images and music from my youth in Yorkville.

I remember the first day Rory, Mom, Dad and me moved into #4R in 517 East 83rd Street. It was June 20, 1957. Rory's first birthday. I was three and three months to the day. It was very warm, Mom let Rory and I run straight into the apartment before my aunts and uncles brought the furniture up.

At the window was the fire escape, on it a nest of baby pigeons. Rory squealed and I felt the same way. Rory said one of his newly learned words, "Wow!"

"Mom got to see it, birds, lots of them!" I yelled over my shoulder.
Mom came over took one look, gave Dad a look and said, "Bob, stay here. I'm taking Tommy and Rory for ice cream."

On the stairs we passed Uncle Mickey and Aunt Joan carrying a piece of our bunk bed.

When we got back from the store with our ice cream sandwiches, Rory and I ran to the window. No birds. I asked Dad, "Where they go?"

"The mom taught them to fly and they took off."

I had no ammunition, I said nothing but knew something fishy happened. I had a good cry, Rory saw me, and he started crying too. Rory didn't know why he was crying he just liked to cry when I cried.

Last night's show was wonderful, Saara, Myles, Jon, Amanda, Barry, Andre, and David worked so hard and performed so well. I'm awed and grateful.

If you come to my apartment, you see dad's paintings, sketches, miniature houses & furniture, sculptures, postcards, trivia, drawings, doodles, pins, buttons, teddy bears, pictures, film, books photos, 45s, lps, mom with her finger up her nose, trophys, hats, pee wee herman, william powell, barbarella, woody, joe dimaggio, an angel with a barbie doll head and the man who reclaimed his head. i cannot go ten minutes without telling you a fact or making up a game to play trivia, or showing you a picture. I've done this since I could talk. Dad drilled it into me.

My head is full of photos, pictures, songs and loose change that roll around my brain.

Saara Dutton's Mama D's Arts Bordello is an inspiration to me. I'm grateful to Saara. Thank you. Mama Ds' is a risque bawdy show and Saara owns her character, a sexy and naughty Sophie Tucker, Last of the Red Hot Mamas' hostess. As the leader, Saara brings out the demonic in the terrific talent she attracts to the Bordello.

Mr. Beller's Neighborhood is an inspiration to me. They gave me my first outlet for my stories and reminded me of the countless books, movies and plays I've seen that are driven by this same theme. Thank you, Tom, Patrick and Jean Paul.

Losers Lounge inspires me. Westbeth to Fez to Joe's Pub. Everybody with day jobs, working their asses off to put on amazing shows. Thank you Ed, Amanda, David, Nick, Mary Lee and Lianne.

I'm not risque and most of my work isn't naughty. I never leave my neighborhood. I'm a rabbit in a warren. My stories, my pictures, my art all reflect the neighborhood as it was and sometimes, magically still is. My theme is locked. My audience looks for a nostalgic peek back to their youth. I try to oblige.

I have a hundred old neighborhood stories. I'll tell them along with my friends' art, photos and songs. The show examines stoops and nuts in Yorkville. The neighborhood will keep me busy for a long time. My friends will bring in work that connects to the neighborhood theme.

hugs, Tommy

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's Raining, It's Pouring, the Old Man is...

running over to 17 Murray Street in his plastic mac @ 6pm tonight to see:

Tommy's "Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts" story, tune and picture show FREE with Free appies!

be well, Tommy

starring in foot size order:

Myles Goldin (size 21, she's a clown),
Jon Calvert (size 14, friends call him "Lanier"),
Amanda Thorpe (size 13 1/2 men's, Jon & Amanda are still arguing over that half foot size),
Tommy Pryor (size 10, Payless never has his size)
Saara Dutton (size 4, a little Chinese princess).

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts" Free Show Tomorrow Night!

Ishmael reminded me the "Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts" show is tomorrow night.

So we’ll finish the haircut on Wednesday.

Please come down to Chez Joey’s at 17 Murray Street on Tuesday night, October 28th @ 6pm for a rich trip back to Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood in the 1950s’ and 1960s’.

Saara, Myles and I have tales to tell, Amanda has tunes to sing, and Jon has pictures to show how life was, and still is, because when you’re a kid the center of your universe is never more than one block long.

17 Murray Street Tavern
(between Broadway and Church Street)
One block west of City Hall

#6 train to Brooklyn Bridge
any westside subway line that stops at Chambers Street

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gotta Get On the Ball... Show's Only Five Days Away

I don't have much time, the show's next Tuesday, October 28th.

Yorkville: Stoops to Nuts
A neighborhood story, song & picture show
17 Murray Street @6pm
Free Show

I need to get music to Dre & Jon, rehearse with Myles, get the poultry pitch to NPR, figure out how to set up music and multimedia at "17," find two microphone stands, get to the Lower East Side Tenement museum for additional Yorkville history prize research, rehearse with Myles, finish edits on four stories, pick a third story to read at the show, get together with Jon ~ twice.

I picked the song to open with, Sueno off the Rascals' Groovin album. The song's first line:

"I feel a strange, exciting thing about to be."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Yorkville's Secret Old Places

In Yorkville, there are many secret places. I'll give up one, and one teaser.

Entering Carl Schurz Park on 87 Street, if you walk straight ahead on the path under the stone bridge into the round sitting area with the Pan statue in the center, you'll see a large group of rocks on the right/south side. Up on the rocks is an ancient iron hook driven into the stone. The hook probably 250 years, secured a rope line from a ship or boat. Sit there, imagine under your feet the East River running towards the Hells Gate. Ships going back and forth to the countless piers along the waterfront.

Greenwich Village isn't the only Manhattan neighborhood with secrets in their backyards. Yorkville has at least two or more 19th century clapboard houses sitting behind the 1900-1920 built tenements that line the streets and avenues. One sat behind my grandmother's house on York Avenue, and it's still there.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Herman the German ~ Demon Barber of Yorkville is back!

Mr. Bellers Neighborhood has reposted my lost story, "A Barber's Portrait of Kaiser Wilhelm."

This prologue explains why 1960s' Yorkville fathers sent their boys to 'Herman the German" based on the local barber options.

I hated barbers. All of them. I was ten and girls started goofing on my haircut. I thought of several ways for my father to die. I’d rather get a needle in my ass from Doctor Somberg, then get a haircut.
On my block, fathers chose barbershops for their boys strictly based on who charged the least, with one exception. The cheapest barber charged 60 cents, undercutting the next guy who charged 75 cents. In a compassionate slip, most Dads coughed up the extra 15 cents rather than send their kid to Mickey Mouse.
Mickey Mouse, known as Charlie, only to his wife, had a breathing disorder and circus size ears. The ears alone would have earned him the nickname, but the clincher, was the shape of his hairline followed the outline of the Mickey Mouse Club Hat. Put that and his ears together, and you couldn’t look at him without mumbling, “M-I-C-K-E-Y…”
When he cut your hair, you counted on two things, body odor that could kill a rat and a breathing dysfunction that made you feel like you were receiving a dirty phone call.
Heaving breathing, followed by a drag on his cigarette, a hacking cough for good luck, then back to the deep breathing. He’d rest his scissors or razor on your head when he got tired, and he was always tired because he couldn’t breathe.
The neighborhood miser, Johnny Nolan, foolishly let Mickey Mouse give his two daughters’ haircuts. When Mrs. Nolan came home and saw the state of her girls’ heads and both of them crying at the kitchen table, she walked directly into the living room and woke her husband up from his nap by bopping him in the noggin with her closed fist.
“Nolan, you’re a wood head and the cheapest Irishman in New York City.”
This alone, didn’t stop the other fathers from sending their boys to Mickey Mouse. Something else did.
Anna, Mickey Mouse’s wife, had nothing to do all day, so she hung around the store and draped herself over an empty barber chair. She was always right next to you. A large woman with sore feet. Her shoes never fit right. They only stayed on when she walked next store to the German butcher and bought a raw frankfurter that she ate carrot style.
You’d be in the middle of a haircut; heavy breathing in one ear, thinking about nothing and out of nowhere, “FUCK, SHIT, PISS!”
You’d jump a foot off the chair; lucky, if your head missed the razor on your way up and down. With your timbers shivered, you tried settling back in – it got quiet again, except for the wolfman’s breathing. A few minutes later, “FUCK, SHIT, PISS!”

Anna had tourette syndrome, Mickey Mouse didn’t care, and you, ended up with a nervous condition and a neck twitch.

This, led kids to the other barber…

Herman the German waited for his prey... read the story in the hyperlink above

Friday, October 17, 2008


Yesterday morning, I left my doctor’s office with good news. I celebrated by walking through Central Park with a large coffee. Headed towards Columbus Circle, I sat on a bench in front of the Delacorte Theatre but kept looking left towards the Great Lawn to a particular spot in the middle of the field. I saw myself lying on the grass at nine years old. Throwing a ball as far as I could up in the air while making sure my back, firm to the ground, never left contact with the grass. Over, and over, and over.

Summer 1963, "Mom, please give me a quarter, I'm dying, come on, give me a quarter, I really need a quarter, I'm on my knee, Mom, I want a quarter!"

Mom gave me a dime and spun me towards the door out of the apartment. I had six other cents. I needed nine cents. Walking up 83rd Street, I went through everybody's garbage cans and found three Mission soda bottles and two Canada Dry bottles. That made ten cents. When Murray Parker passed me the deposit money, he made a face because I didn't buy anything. I had my quarter plus a penny. Why a quarter?

The quarter always triggered the “Triple Dilemma,” three of my favorite things each cost a quarter. This tickled me ~ that every time the bank account in my dungaree pocket hit twenty-five cents, my internal debate kicked in.

The first thing was food, I wanted crap, and my favorite crap combo was a 16-ounce Pepsi with Yankee Doodles, three to a pack, Brilliant! That gorgeous swirled bottle. What a grip, I never dropped it and I dropped everything. Your stomach was used to only getting 12 ounces with a soda, but then the 16 ouncer brought the extra soda surprise. And if other kids had 12 ounce sodas you’d torture them, finishing the 16 ouncer real slow with lots of sound effects, “Hmmmm,” “Oh, my God, that’s good,” “Ooooooooooooh!” That third Yankee Doodle was a gift. You never got three of anything, sometimes you’d sneak a second something, or someone would gift you a second thing, but, when other than a Yankee Doodle pack, did you know for sure you were getting three of anything? After the second item, your mouth’d be calming down, disappointed it was all over after a second something, sure nothing further was going in it, then all of a sudden your mouth is getting stuffed again, a third time, with fluffy chocolate cake filled with cavity-causing vanilla crème, and if your double lucky, a lob of crème stays on your upper lip for a while and you don’t realize it’s there till your tongue goes out for a walk and brings it back into your mouth. And that last crème lob goes down your throat like a royal coach.

Occasionally, I’d ignore my stomach and consider my second favorite thing, a balsa wood glider with propeller. They had names like “Hornet,” “Mustang” and “Scout.” The glider came in a plastic chute bag, same shape as a one-pound bag of imported spaghetti. The plane was a series of pieces with grooves for wing attachment and rudder. And one rubber band that powered your aircraft. The thing that intrigued me was the propeller. In a classroom, you could make a plane out of a sheet of loose leaf, and at best, clock a kid in the head four or five rows away, but with a propeller on your plane, you were going places. Exotic flight plans danced through your head before the first flight. Sometimes there was no maiden flight. The thing was made of balsa wood, fragile. Name something a kid handles delicately? Nothing, most things are slammed together. You can’t slam a glider together and even being careful, if someone distracted you while you were putting one together, it usually didn’t end well. This was a short life toy, like having a butterfly for a pet. Superb quick highs followed by swift devastating loss.

A glider might get through the assembly in one piece, despite kids walking all around me as I spread the pieces on the sidewalk trying to figure out what went where. Winding the propeller up all the way, I’d send her off. The glider sailed passed the German Butcher narrowly missing the store’s awning, climbing to the second story, it veered towards the corner where a wall of wind coming up 83rd Street met it, the blast banking it to the left, and with two quick loops it landed on Mrs. Sweeney’s fire escape, the single fire escape along the avenue without a reachable ladder even with a two kid push up. Kaput. That was the end of the glider, Mrs. Sweeney was a recluse and never answered her doorbell for anyone but her son, and he had a secret code that no one could crack.

The painful memory of lost aircraft, led me to my third favorite thing - a Spauldeen - a high bouncing reject tennis ball. You tested the quality of a spauldeen by dropping it from shoulder height. The higher the bounce, the better the ball. In Joe’s Candy Store I’d proceed with my ritual. Joe had lots of spauldeens, and they sat in a tall wire barrel near the cash register. Kids were always trying to sneak a ball in their pocket, so Joe kept a close eye on the bin. Spauldeen selection was serious business. The one you picked must have superior bounce and last through a wide variety of games. During a test, you developed immunity to being shoo-ed by Joe.

“Pick a ball and get out of here,” Joe said.
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” I said.
“They’re all good.” He grabbed one and squeezed it. “See?”
He almost smiled. This frightened me.
“Yes,” I said. “But one of them is better than all the others.”
He studied me, “You just tried that one,” he said.
“Not true. I have a system. I repeat no ball.”
“I repeat. Pick a friggin ball now!”
I found the ball, said, “Bye Joe,” and left a quarter on the counter.

Ball in hand; I worked my way down my street, joining games in progress that moved me. Play a little Ace, King, Queen, then some Off the Point. However, nothing made me happier than running straight up 83rd Street to Central Park to find a perfect spot in the middle of the Great Lawn to lie on my back and toss the ball as high as possible in the air over and over, and over again. Nothing eased loneliness like a good game of catch, ever when it was just my Spauldeen and me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Curls and Waves – Goodbye, Outdoor Shower

My life would radically improve, if I took an outdoor shower everyday. This morning, Ricky the retriever and I chased birds off the beach - at one point, the beach was cleared of creatures for an hour. Our exhaustive doggy mission left me sandy, breathless and sweaty. Ricky and I sniffed each other goodbye, and I returned to the backyard of the house to take my final outdoor shower. We’re going home today - that made me sad, but the shower softened my blues and I milked it like a final bite of a yummy pepperoni slice.

After I took my clothes off, I teased myself. I stuck one arm under the water, noticed the difference between the air temperature and the water’s temperature, played with it, then slowly passed my whole body through the shower. While the rope of water pounded my neck, my tension eased and I looked over the shampoo selection and noticed a purplish bottle with a frog colored top. I grabbed it and read the label,
“Herbal Essences - Totally Twisted - Curls and Waves Shampoo.”
If this was true, who knew what amazing things would happen to my hair? I read the back label, it talked to me.
“With a French fusion of lavender twist & jade extracts, I’m deliciously bent and your hair is, too.”
I couldn’t stop, my heart raced.
“Are you happy go loopy?”
That’s me! I’m in love with this amazing product.
“Happiness goes round. I’m essential to a curl’s life with a cleaning that’s totally springy.
My formula fuses French lavender and jade - makes curls and waves smooth, lush and defined. Use me: lather up, have a lush moment with your curls, rinse and repeat.”
I stretched my lush moment. I’d spent the last three days with hat head - my hair stuck flat to my brain’s roof, an area rug where a wavy plush oriental once laid. Poor shampoo choice. “Totally Twisted” promised curls and waves, I took a leap of faith.

Twenty minutes after drying off, my hair looked like a prairie. Waves, curls, I was bouffant; luckily it was a little windy and a bit humid, contributing to my full luxurious head of hair. I went to the LBI Chowder fest and the remarks thrown my way, made it clear, “Herbal Essences - Totally Twisted - Curls and Waves Shampoo” and me were going to be together for a long time.

“Holy crap!”
“Look, at those curls!”
“Did you see the wave on that guy?”

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Lazy Beach Day with Dog

Up early to write, then rode the bike towards the lighthouse. Took another outdoor shower, a recreational drug with no payback.

The ocean water is clean, seventy degrees and the surf, deceptively rough. The dog dug a hole, being a good guest, I joined Ricky in the hole. We stayed there covered with sand for an hour humming tunes, until a nosey pelican teased Ricky. We both rushed the bird. Exhausted from the two block run, we went in the water to freshen up. When we came out, I laid on my back in the wet sand and Ricky rubbed my belly with her front paws. Then we switched and I rubbed her belly. This kept up for a while until a flock of terns came much too close. We chased them off our beach. Afterwards, Ricky gave me an ear rub. I expect we'll be late dinner.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Long Beach Island

Greetings from a Long Beach Island sunset outside my window, inside the 19th century Beach Haven Library. Last night, John Harvey and I drove to the Jersey shore with the intention of getting some writing done. Mission accomplished. Some writing was done. Not a lot, some. We also did the beach, bought groceries and retold each other twelve St. John's Rugby stories. We rented bikes, rode to the southern tip of the island then played up and down the streets looking at houses and property for a few hours and ended up in the library. no internet access at the house.

I'm here through Sunday, life is good. Exchanged emails with Daniela in Romania, this lifted my mood a few rungs higher. She is an amazing reader and her critique of the books she reads knocks me out.

Is it me, or is an outdoor shower with a high pressure showerhead better than ...? You walk outside, take off your clothes, you're a little chilly, feet on wood slates, the water warms up, then you sing a song as the rushing spray whacks your neck, back, butt, chest and head.