Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sandy Becker Haunts "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts"

When I was eight years old nothing made me happier than hearing Bert Kaempfert’s That Happy Feeling coming out of our TV on East 83rd Street. That Happy Feeling signaled the start of the Sandy Becker Show.

Sandy Becker's talent and charm could cool my 103 fever, make my German measles stop itching and quiet my parents arguing.

I loved Chuck McCann, still do, but Sandy got way inside my head and I couldn’t wait to grow up and try and do all the things he did to cheer kids up. Sandy was a mentor and I wish I was able to tell him that. Luckily, I was able to tell Chuck who is alive and well in California.

I’ll bet Bruce Springsteen loved Sandy Becker, too, or he never would have worn that pith helmet on stage at the Garden in tribute to Sandy’s Hambone.(photo by Jeff Havas)


The next "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts" show is Tuesday, December 13th @ 6pm @ Cornelia Street Cafe.

Please come down to the Cafe for a special holiday show with gifted tellers and marvelous songsmiths: Barbara Aliprantis, Kelly Wallace Barnhill, Carl Kissin, Mary Lee Kortes, Thomas Pryor, Elizabeth Rowe & Amanda Thorpe.

Admission is $7 & that includes one free drink.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Under A Crescent Moon in Central Park ~ Ridiculously Deep Indian Summer

When I'm sad, a sunset can put new sneakers on my soul. Instantly, I run faster and jump higher.  Add 70 degrees to the sunset and I'm surfing clouds.

Yesterday, I walked around the reservoir heading west.  After dark, I biked south along the Hudson River seawall under a crescent moon.  Be careful next few days as seasons flip, you'll need your Autumn Sweater.

Saw the oddest thing in my travels, a pleased piggy offering a carrot to a hungry bunny.

More ridiculously deep Indian summer pictures here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gary DeSena Memorial at St. John's with Rugby Friends

Saturday, I attended a memorial in honor of Gary DeSena who passed away at 25 in 2000. Gary was our friend and teammate on the St. John's Rugby Club. Gary was a stand up guy and loved playing the game. A tree on the property was re-dedicated in Gary's honor. It was a pleasure remembering Gary with many old friends who I still love dearly.

Here are a few pictures from the memorial.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dusk in Washington Square Park

Had business in the village last night.  Arrived early and killed time in the park. Saw a fellow doing sand art near the Arch, and another fellow making friends with a squirrel.  Then I watched the light say good night.

more park pix here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Over The River and Through the Potatoes

This is the third and last section of my three part Thanksgiving 1961 story that takes place in Yorkville.

Around one, we got back to my father’s family’s apartment for Thanksgiving dinner. Dad’s Mom, and Step-Dad, John Rode, Nan and Pop Cuckoo to me, always cooked our bird. Mom’s parents did Easter’s lamb roast. At the kitchen table, Mom and Nan were snapping ends off a few pounds of string beans and throwing them into a spaghetti pot. Rory and Pop were in the living room watching Babes in Toyland starring Laurel and Hardy.
“Hi, all, I thought we were eating at one?” Dad said.
“The bird’s got a way to go – maybe another hour,” Nan said.
Mom gave Dad a silent, “No way.” I was a first class Mom lip reader.
Dad went over to the oven and opened the front.
“Jesus Christ, who are you feeding?”
“Shut your mouth,” Nan said.
“That prehistoric beast is the same size as Rory,” Dad said.
            “Mind your business.”
“Did the tribe bring him down with a spear?... or a net?” Dad said.
Mom whispered to me, “Rory is smaller.”
“We’ll eat tomorrow,” Dad said.
“Another hour. Go inside and be useful.” Nan said, waving Dad away. “Get two folding chairs and bring me my bag. I forgot something and need you to go to the store.”
Dad eyed me up and down. He wanted to send me to the store but he thought I was getting sick. Resigned, Dad exhaled loudly, ensuring, everyone in the balcony knew he was leaving the stage. Being at Nan’s cheered me up. Everything was big. She was big. Pop was big. The coffee cups were big. At her house, I could drink anything I wanted, when I wanted. Dad returned from the front room to the kitchen with Nan’s pocketbook. I could see his arm muscles working hard, lifting the heavy bag.
“Here you go. What do you need?” Dad said.
“Go down to Parker’s and get me a pound of butter.”
Dad walked to the fridge, opened the door and stuck his head in it. “You have a full pound.”
“I need six sticks for the mashed potatoes.”
“We’re six people! That’s a quarter pound of butter per person. Are you trying to stop our hearts with a single meal?”
“I’m making mashed potatoes for the week and it’s none of your business. Get the butter.”
“And the thirty pound bird? I suppose that’s part of your long-term meal plan?”
“Don’t exaggerate. It’s twenty-six pounds.”
“Oh, only twenty-six pounds. Let’s see, at more than four pounds per person that should cover our meat provision on our Easter Island sea voyage.”
I was curious: Would Nan slap him or not? I was pulling for a slap. She seemed real close. Instead, she stared him down. He wisely took the money and went to the grocery store. I joined Rory and Pop inside the living room. We watched the end of the movie. Dad came back from the store and stayed in the kitchen with Nan and Mom. More than an hour passed.
“I’m starving. How much longer?” Dad said.
“I’ll take a look,” answered Nan.
I got up and watched through the doorway. Nan opened the oven and took the turkey out with her arms firmly hanging onto both pan handles. From behind, she looked like a Russian Olympic weightlifter. She placed the pan on the counter and checked the thermometer. Dad was right behind her.
“What does it say?” Dad said.
“135 degrees,” Nan said.
“Forget it, put it back in.”
“No, it’s done.”
“You’re nuts.”
“It’s fine, look?”
Nan sliced into the meat. It was pink as a flower.
“Meat is supposed to be 175 degrees before you eat it,” Dad said. “That bird just stopped breathing.”
“That’s it. Let’s go.” Nan said and moved the enormous pan toward the table. Dad met her halfway across the kitchen floor and began guiding her back toward the oven. They both had their hands on the pan’s small handles.
A turkey dance!
“Give it to me,” Dad said.
“Leave me alone. Start mashing the potatoes,” Nan said.
“Give it to me!”
He tugged. She tugged. The pan didn’t know what to do.
Then in full view, the confused pan flipped over. The bird with all its natural juices leapt to its death; landing on Dad’s new dress shoes with the little pinholes all over the leather. Stunned, Nan and Dad stared down at the linoleum and the bird for a long time. Nan spoke first. “Ah shit, I’m lying down,” And she did.
She passed through the living room. Me frozen in the doorway and Pop had Rory on his lap. They watched like two wide mouth bass. I wish I could’ve taken a picture of their faces. Pop and Mom exchanged places. She joined Rory watching TV. Pop went to the kitchen and began to help Dad. They put the bird back in the pan with a couple of cups of water to replace the lost gravy. Then they put the pan back in the oven. Pop gave Dad one of his extra large tee shirts. None of Pop’s pants fit Dad, so he gave Dad a pair of boxer shorts. Dad wore Pop’s boxer shorts over his boxer shorts – that went nicely with his dark socks and skinny legs. I saw Mom peek in, point at Dad and start to laugh.
Sometime much later, Pop announced, “OK, everything is ready.”
He went into the front room and brought Nan back. She returned to the kitchen and took over as if nothing had happened.
“Bob, carve the meat.”
Dad grabbed the knife and did as he was told. This relieved everyone. The table comfortably sat six people yet with the large amount of food on it, it was hard to see each other. Everyone was scary polite. Late in the meal, Dad looked at the bucket of mashed potatoes and said, “You know from this angle, I believe I can see a couple of goats circling the top of Potato Mountain.”
We all laughed except Nan. But she didn’t hit him. The storm passed and Rory and I started looking forward to our favorite Thanksgiving ritual – Pop watching. He was a gentle bear and never yelled at us. After the meal, he drank two short glasses of Ballantine Ale, wiped his mouth carefully with his linen napkin, and said, “Thank you, excuse me.”

            He lifted himself from the table, then walked from his kitchen chair to his living room chair. Once Rory and I heard “Swoosh,” Pop’s bottom sinking into the plastic, we started counting backward, “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1…”
We peeked into the living room. Pop was sawing wood. Rory and I stared at him.
While Pop slept, a cartoon came on with two poor kids who go to bed with nothing to eat. They dream, people come and bring them goodies and music starts to play. Rory and I stood behind Pop’s chair on each side of his head and sung quietly into his ears along with the cartoon song:
Meet me tonight in dreamland, under the silvery moon.
Meet me tonight in dreamland, where love’s sweet roses bloom.
Come with the love light gleaming, in your dear eyes of blue.
Meet me in dreamland, Sweet dreamy dreamland,
There let my dreams come true.
Our singing didn’t wake him. Pop had a stretched out snore with three different sounds. Nan had a toy piano with eight color coded keys. You could play a full octave of tones. It came with a color-coded music book with classics like “Pop Goes the Weasel,” “Roll Out the Barrel” and “This Old Man.” Rory was pretty good on the thing – he played “Jingle Bells” with ease. Rory went over to the piano. In between snores he’d hit a key. It sounded pretty good. Rory played around a bit until he located a couple of notes that harmonized with Pop’s snoring. Not wanting to be left out, not having Rory’s natural musical talent, I improvised. Nan’s toilet door made a nasty creaking sound when you opened or closed it. I went over to the door and opened it a smidge to see if I could somehow join the band. I found a funky “eek” noise and added it to the mix. Leaning over, looking back into the living room, I could see Rory. Once we made eye contact, it was easy to find our rhythm. We riffed, “Snore, piano key, eek; snore, piano key, eek.”
“Our song had a hook,” as Dad liked to say. Mom threw a sponge at my head. I ducked. The band played on. Sponge two was in the air. I avoided it by doing the cha-cha.
“I will kill you both. Keep it up, I’ll kill you both,” she said.
Noticing Mom had run out of sponges, and the next airborne item could be a spoon or fork, Rory and I left the airwaves. Later on, Pauline and Charlie Hannah came over and started playing Pokeno with Nan and Pop. Dad and Mom moved to the sink area. I sat on the washing machine right next to them. Mom picked up a dish and started scrubbing it. Dad squeezed too much dish soap into the water, then started playing with the faucet’s screws.
“Let’s get this over with,” Mom warned. “You’re moping.”
“Not true, the secret is a long hot soak. Then the grease slides itself off.” Dad said and continued to play with the faucet.
“The secret is you’re full of shit and have a bony ass,” Mom said.
“Leave the kids here – you can pick them up in the morning.” Nan helped them gather their things, and threw them out of the house.
Rory and I conked out together on one bed listening to the Pokeno game. We didn’t mind that kind of yelling, you could sleep through it. The last thing on my mind as I drifted off was Santa’s sleigh led by his deer flying high over the 59th Street Bridge, turning up York Avenue headed toward my house.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Downtown Thorpe, Uptown Word

Woke up with a fever yesterday, but I recovered later and glad I did. Attended Amanda Thorpe's record release for "Promenade," her new album at The Cutting Room. I love the record and it was a treat to watch and listen to Amanda and her amazing band play each terrific song. My favorites tunes are Monica Says, Once Lovers Bar Tabac. "Promenade" is a well thought through collection of intelligent and beautiful songs.
Below are a few pix from show (my camera stinks indoors, sorry) the Lower East Side neighborhood and a shot of Brooklyn.
Tonight, I'm heading up to Washington Heights to Eric Vetter's Word Up! show. I'm telling a Thanksgiving story from a long time ago. It's a great variety line-up; please stop by if you are in the neighborhood.
Word Up Bookstore
4157 Broadway (between 175th & 176th Streets)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Baby's First Concert: Amanda Thorpe @ The Living Room @ 6:45pm tonight

Mom is taking me to my first concert tonight.
"Why are you so excited?"

"Mom is taking me to my first concert tonight."

This is the first time I'm doing anything besides swim, poop or eat grass.

"Who you seeing?"

"Amanda Thorpe at The Living Room at 6:45pm. This is the first time I'm doing anything besides swim, poop or eat grass."

"That's nice."

"I'm going to sit here a while and think about Amanda's new record, "Promenade," then I'm going to wish happy birthday to my friend, Alison Leigh, then I'm going to do my happy dance again."

I'm just going to sit here a while, then I'm going to do my happy dance again.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Amanda Thorpe Record Release @ The Living Room @ Mon. @ 6:45pm

Harvey the incognito dog has gone undercover.

He was supposed to sniff luggage at JFK tomorrow but instead he’s infiltrating a rare live performance by Amanda Thorpe of her new recording, Promenade, at The Living Room @ Monday night @ 6:45pm.
Promenade was produced with Brad Albetta and Don Piper,  guest musicians include: Tony Scherr, Rob Jost, Craig Chesler, and Rob DiPietro to name a few.  
Show is tomorrow night, Nov 21st @ 6:45pm. @ The Living Room, 154 Ludlow Street.
Here’s what two critics have to say about Amanda’s work. “Amanda Thorpe brings the concept of the chanteuse into the 21st century. Held together as much by Thorpe's versatile singing as by her love noir vision, she silkily moves through the crowd with a drink in one hand, the other, lightly brushing your shoulder as it passes by.” HIGH BIAS Michael Toland. "Thorpe...balanced brassiness and vulnerability with panache"