Thursday, July 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, First Lady of Yorkville













Today is my grandmother, Ann Pryor Rode's 105th birthday ~ or is it her 210th?
1964, I’m 10; I go up my grandmother’s house around the corner to see what’s up.
“Hi, Nan.”
“That's it?”
“I said, hi.”
“Where’s my Happy Birthday?”
“I wished you a happy birthday on the 23rd and made you a card, its right there on top of the TV.”
“Today is my birthday, too.”
Involuntarily, my head started shaking. I was used to my grandmother’s inquisitions but I didn’t understand this one.
Nan, I don't get it.”
She explained.
Nan was delivered by Saveria Palermo, a mid-wife from the Yorkville neighborhood on July 23, 1906 in her family's apartment at 1403 Avenue A, later named York Avenue, two buildings in off 75th Street.
When the lazy mid-wife filled out her Board of Health birth certificates the following Monday, July 30th, she used the same date, Saturday, July 28th, for all the babies she delivered that week ~ so, Nan had two birthdays, July 23rd & July 28th.
My great-grandfather, Antonino Cuccia, a fruit stern, and his wife Giovanna couldn't read or speak English so they never fixed the certificate, but they always celebrated Anna’s birthday twice.
She was the baby in the family and a spoiled brat. She told me.
Nan never bored me. I miss her. She gave her life to the Yorkville neighborhood and the New York County Democratic Party but was so smart it felt like she was there for me even when she dove in to her politics. She kept me honest.
Here is a story about her, “A Valentine for Nan,” that was published in Ducts Literary Journal.
Below are some pictures of Anna Cuccia, aka, Ann Pryor Rode.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Rain Over The Bowery Electric




Last night, live music at the Bowery Electric. Circuit Parade, Ward White & Jed Parrish performed with friends. Exiting the subway the sky exploded and hard rain chased me from the Astor Place kiosk to the club several blocks away. I loved it, summer rain is a gift. I made like it was punt return and the rain drops were defenders. After I was whistled down we had the ball on their forty, first and ten.

Three great sets, a pop-up music feast.



Circuit Parade is Joe McGinty, Leon Dewan & Mike McGinness. A taste of their terrific music can be found here. I loved their set last night. On one song they paid tribute to Charlie Brown and Vince Guaraldi was smiling down on them, CB and the little red head girl.

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The New Yorker raved over Ward White's new CD "Done With The Talking Cure." The record has gathered a bushel of outstanding reviews. It is brutally hilarious and at one specific moment last night Ward took me smack back to 1964. Ward whipped confidently through his set.

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I know Jed Parrish as a regular at the popular Losers Lounge series. This was the first time I heard him perform his own music. Jed Parrish is rolling thunder. His compositions are powerful and give you the strong sensation something is on his mind and he's come to testify in Judge Roy Bean's court where there is justice, no mercy.

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Here are some other pictures of the show & downtown last night.















Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Twilight on the Upper East Side



Last night's weather: hard rain, followed by spotty rain, followed by a visually sporadic sunset made for a swirly twilight sky. I snapped shots and also noted something fleeting: an intact block long tenement row without renovation (100 years or older) on one of the busiest intersections in New York City ~ 57th Street & 2nd Avenue. Not many intact blocks left on major Manhattan thoroughfares. The north west corner is a two-story taxpayer then two unrenovated buildings are west of it on 57th St. Nine tenements run north up to 58th Street. My Pryor grandfather was born on 50th Street in 1900 and it was easy for me to get a sense of the stretch with the 2nd Avenue El running down the avenue in front of the buildings.

My Irish grandmother, Helen Ryan, was a telephone switchboard operator in a building in this row in the 1950s' & early 60s'. She took the M31 bus to work. Sitting on a stoop at the corner of86th Street & York Avenue I'd wait for her to come home.

Today, I never see an M31 go by without hearing Nan Ryan's sweet calm voice. What a contrast her personality was to the rest of the family.



































Here are some twilight photos of the Upper Eastside.






















































Monday, July 25, 2011

Jones Beach: Land of the Pharaohs












As a kid, I welcomed a horribly hot day like a wino waking up and finding a half-pint stashed down his sock. I wanted to be in water so bad in July & August if I saw the temperature was headed over 90 I’d do a jig. Only this extremity could push the dice my way.

Mom had psoriasis and wanted no one to see her legs. She was not taking us anywhere near water. Mom could page a calendar in winter and start sweating reading the name of the months: June, July August… She hated heat and looked for shade like an old farm mule. Our apartment lights only came on at night for reading. Dad didn’t sweat until he put his head under a car (rarely, he didn't own one). In the Navy he slept under a steam pipe and spoke warmly about it when repeating that memory (often).

Only a forecast of 90 and over got my parents in gear. Their brains got scrambled and sound decisions got mushed up with impaired judgment.

There was a scale of increasing value when it came to getting to water.

Tub ~ Dad not home, Mom ain’t leaving the house, she ran a tub for Rory & I and we took turns sliding in and out.

Roof ~ Mom’s two sisters would talk Mom into pulling the baby pool up to the 83rd Street roof and we all took turns sticking ourselves in it.

John Jay Pool ~ a relative other than Mom took us and Dad only did it with great reluctance. He hated public pools.

Rockaway Beach ~ this is where the 90 degrees came in, though Dad didn’t sweat he did love body surfing. When it hit 90 his fudged up brain stirred up his memories of the beach and we took a cab to Woodside (without Mom) caught the Rockaway Park bus to 116th Street where we jumped off and ran to Curley’s Bath House.

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Lakes ~ Sparkle & Davies Lakes were the standout destinations but this only happened on the weekend when a relative with a car felt sorry for us and dragged us along. Dad would come to the lake but make a face all day that said, “Why didn’t we go to the beach?”

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Jones Beach ~ Nirvana! Only Aunt Joan & Uncle George took me, and it was only the three of us. No faces whining about the heat, just three beach lovers with food & drink packed with magical Scotch Ice. Cold tuna from heaven, mayo, cheese, good bread, soda, juice, milk. Rough waves, perfect for body surfing, and the place looked like ancient Egypt with the obelisk and decorative buildings. The Land of the Pharaohs!

Joan lived at 321 E. 85th St, and if I stayed over in July or August and the weather was right, 6am we were gone before the rest of the neighborhood woke up.


This past Saturday, I went to Jones Beach and it was just fine. Photos below and a link to gallery of 145 photographs of the beach. It's still a magical place.

Thank you, Joan & George for taking me there.

























Sunday, July 24, 2011

Uncle Mommy: Yorkville's All-Time Best Babysitter


Pryor babysitting rule: assignment outside the Pryor apartment was only accepted by grandparents and two sisters of Patty, the anti-christs' mother. All other houses begged off.

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There was one unbreakable caveat with the aunts, Ryan & Pryor-Rode grandparents: No one would watch the two of us together. The extended family agreed, "Tommy & Rory were not allowed in the same house without parental supervision."

Rory and I fought over any spot on the couch the other was in; battled over who licked the tuna bowl after Mom made sandwiches.

When Bob & Pat went out, Rory stayed with the Ryan grandparents or Barbara & Mickey. I stayed with the Pryor-Rode grandparents or Joan & Georgie.

Rory & I had our needs met at all households, but Joannie had bongos, an FM radio and a bullfighter poster on her wall. She had a bar with high stools wore clam diggers as she danced & sang around the living room. I kept expecting Trini Lopez to drop in.

Joan & George took me to the beach, and it was named after Joan. We had no family car.

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I loved all my grandparents, aunts & uncles, but my favorite babysitter was Mom. Sometimes, it was just her & me. She called me her “Cow, Cow Boogie,” and I called her "Uncle Mommy." We snuggled on our tiny 83rd Street couch watching The Twilight Zone & Hitchcock on Friday nights. Her smile stopped my clock.

I was a lousy artist, a stinky poet, and I had a stutter. None of this disrupted me from trying to make Uncle Mommy laugh. She loved Rory and me like a freight train. Mom died July 24, 1998. I'm still working on stuff for her.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tommy, Can You Hear Me?










Intending to go to Boston, never made it there. Went through it, but didn't stop. Walked Cambridge till feet cried "uncle!" Visited Peacefield, John Adams' Estate at Braintree.

Trip highlight: getting in tune viewing rainbow over sprinkling fountain on Harvard campus.

Here are pix from the trip.

Braintree is the birthplace to Presidents John Adams, and John Quincy Adams, as well as statesman John Hancock and General Sylvanus Thayer. Braintree is also the site of the infamous Sacco and Vanzetti murders as well as the retirement home of the co-inventor of the telephone Thomas Watson.

"Tommy, can you hear me!"

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