Friday, March 28, 2014

Whipped Cream & Other Delights

Tonight, I’m going to my grammar school, St. Stephen of Hungary’s first ever all students reunion. I graduated in 1968 and soaring memories involving all my senses have welled up. Next Friday, I’m headed to Joe’s Pub to see the Loser’s Lounge Carly Simon/Linda Ronstadt tribute. The Losers Lounge is my favorite recurring NYC music event, St. Stephen’s was my first nest outside of home and the fond memories below of song and school tie it all together.

A few years ago at Joe’s Pub, Tony Zajkowski crooned at the Losers Lounge tribute to Burt Bacharach.

You say this guy, this guy’s in love with you.
Yes I’m in love, who looks at you the way I do?

Tony nailed the tune with his duel fuel & prop martini glass. As always, The Losers Lounge delivered. Hal David was there in spirit and the song reeled me back.

1968 ~ I worshipped Julie Wilfinger from St. Joseph’s grammar school, but Julie loved Julio Marcovich. Julio had a high end Grundig portable radio with colossal speakers. It was FM radio’s second year and WNEW was playing our music virtually commercial free. The classic radio with the wood grill and stainless steel knobs was catnip to the girls. Julio wooed Julie with his music maker.

Julie had smooth olive skin, a tomboy’s energy and charm, and two scoops of peach ice cream that made regular appearances when the top buttons loosened on her man’s tailored shirt – her summer uniform with cut off shorts and white sneakers. Glasses on a cute girl’s face turned boys to mush. Julie’s glasses were always a little crooked on her nose and perfect that way. Julie liked wrestling with the boys. When she perspired, her skin glowed. If I made her laugh she lightly touched my nose. I craved that. Down the park, she’d let you take you her up on the swings, and she was the only girl at the time that would take the boys up on a swing. All the other girls thought that was outrageous, but she didn’t care. Because everyone knew, she belonged to Julio, and Julio belonged to her. My heart broke with this knowledge.

Julio carried the radio on his shoulder like a shipping crate and Julie held his free arm. When they passed me sitting on the stoop alone, Julio would give me a nod, he was two years older than me and owed me no greeting at all, so the nod was generous. Julie gave me a little smile, and then they’d be gone. I’d half sing under my breath… “Say you’re in love, in love with this guy, if not I’ll just die…” Julie kissed me once when she was drunk at a St. Stephen’s dance on March 10, 1969. I banked the kiss.

1965 ~ Herb Alpert’s released his “Whipped Cream” LP as the record world exploded. I was in 5th grade and needed to know what was going on, and the only place to know what was going on was the basement of Woolworth’s Five and Ten on 86th Street in Yorkville. Every Friday and Saturday night, my brother, Rory, and I went there to discover the new releases and go through our favorite records.

We stood in front of the record counters for so long, both of us would have to pee bad, but they never, ever, let you use the bathroom in Woolworth’s. It was waste of time to ask, so Rory and I did the “pee-pee dance.” We’d bounce up and down in the aisle, going from record row to record row, keeping our legs moving to hold it in. This drove the Woolworth’s clerk crazy. That’s half of the Whipped Cream story.

Look at the record cover above. Christmas Eve arrived early when this Lp came out. Because, that picture of Dolores Erickson lathered in whipped cream was the best Playboy cover ever and I could look at it for as long as I wanted without someone yelling at me to put it down. In the candy store and the barbershop we weren’t allowed in the men’s magazine areas, but now, Herb Alpert puts out an album cover better than any Playboy I’d ever seen. And all I needed to do was use my imagination and that album cover became my favorite picture of all time. When we looked at copies of “Whipped Cream” in the store, they were manhandled so many times the plastic on each album was worn or torn at the corners.

A Taste of Honey, a good song, Beatles did it too, but it was so beside the point. The “Whipped Cream” album cover was the thing, and any boring Yorkville night was less boring, when we got to look through the records, find the naughty covers and torture the store’s clerk.

1962 ~ I was eight years old, sitting on my 83rd Street stoop with nothing to do and no friends around to do nothing with. I felt blue. I had my grandfather’s grey plastic eight transistor radio to my ear listening to the Scott Muni show on WABC. A song came on I’d never heard before and the horns went right through me… I was in Spain at a bullfight and the crowd was full of senors and senoritas, dressed up fancy, all roused up and ready to dance. After the song, the DJ said, “that was ‘Lonely Bull’ by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass.” I was happy and confused. Glad to be alone, thinking about this new song that tickled my ears and took me away to somewhere fantastic. The horns sad notes warmed me up, made me feel better and I wondered – how does music do that do you?

In the present, Tony Z pulled me along with the rest of the Joe’s Pub audience in on the song’s final verse. I was back at the show and I sang along…

I need your love, I want your love
Say you’re in love, in love with this guy,
If not, I’ll just die.

As the horn faded away, I felt Julie Wilfinger touch my nose.

This piece currently appears as my new column in Ask A New Yorker

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My School Lunch Exit

Cousin Curly
Dateline: St. Stephen's lunch room, 408 East 82nd Street, March 1962 

The sandwich, a plug of ham, greenish-brown, was thick enough to sit in front of Snoopy’s doghouse as a doormat. Stiff wheat bread with a glob of margarine on it - a reliable vomit starter. I had it. I rolled the ball of crap up, stuck it in my pocket, got up, ran passed my second grade nun holding my stomach moaning, “my belly hurts!” Raced out of the school straight to my house on 83rd Street. Mom was in the kitchen having coffee with Aunt Lily and her new baby, my cousin, Curly. I pulled the car accident out of my pocket and held it under Curly’s nose, quickly grabbed Dad’s camera and took this picture. I was immediately released from St. Stephen of Hungary’s lunch program.

Aunt Lily & Aunt Vera

Tommy & Uncle Mommy

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Barber's Dead

I bet I can name every barber I’ve had back to five years old. I only remember nicknames for the first two on York Avenue because I didn’t know their real names. “Herman the German” and “Mickey Mouse” with his wife with Tourette’s syndrome. In a house dress with her wild gray hair, she sat next to you in the always empty second barber’s chair and on and off through the haircut screamed obscenities into your ear. The other barber, Herman the German fogged me in during haircuts when his cigarette smoke created clouds around my head. Sometimes, Dad tried to save a quarter and sent me to Mickey Mouse who only charged 50 cents for kids, but when I got home Dad caught crap from Mom because the haircut was always terrible. Reluctantly, Dad would spring for the extra quarter next time that meant I was going to Herman.

At 13, breaking away from crew cuts, I went to Gino
Rory & Tommy 1961
at Claremont’s Men’s Hair Stylist also on York. There, I discovered sideburns and threw away my butch stick. Then when I moved out of my parents, Antonino in Bay Ridge who played Italian Opera on Saturday morning while sipping red wine out of a coffee cup. A little wine always rested on his pencil moustache before his cat tongue took it home. After opera, there was pretty Angeline who cost too much, but I didn’t care because her face in my face for a half hour was heaven. Angeline moved to Jersey, and then it was off to Lydia on Beekman Street next to the hat store where my Dad got his hat blocked in the 50s’.  After Lydia retired, David, my Russian comrade styled me near the Trade Center until September 11th. With my work building closed, my office was exiled to Long Island City for three years where a Chinese chicken salesman cut my hair off Jackson Avenue.
In 2004 I went back to Claremont Men’s Hair Stylist in their new location on 83rd Street and First Avenue. Claremont’s owner was a Yorkville land baron and moved the store from one of his buildings to another. A couple of years ago, I plotted my next haircut tying it to a weekday to avoid waiting on a Saturday morning. When I got to the store at eleven the windows were white washed with a little hand written sign telling the postman where to leave the mail. My barber who I already lost once in my life was dead. Or moved elsewhere, leaving no forwarding address for my wild poet head. Not to be denied, I remembered somewhere between the subway stop and York Avenue there was a barber pole; I definitely remembered the swirling stripes on the pole. After a few passes, I located my barber on 84th Street right next to Doctor Higgins the Vet’s office. Not too shabby, cut my hair nice, would of made Floyd of Mayberry proud, “Real proud, Andy.” Can’t tell you his name, but I’ll try to keep him on life support.

 This piece appeared last Friday in  Ask A New Yorker

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"I Am, Who I Am" ~ Stoops to Nuts Show Aftermath

Lady in elevator to another lady about another lady on my last day of work at 90 Church Street.

"Well, I said, that's my stance." then Miss Fancy Pant said, 'Oh, yeah?'"

Silent other lady in elevator couldn't get a word in edgewise, the talking lady continued, "Yeah, and if you don't like it you can stuff it, and she said, 'who do you think you are? And I said, I am, who I am."

Then I turned to the talking lady and said, "I know, you're Popeye!"

After she gave me a look the rest of the ride to the lobby was silent.

Tuesday night, was a blast at the "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts" show at Cornelia Street Cafe. On March 20th I turn 60. I am, who I am. Time, life moves on, and what better way to capture my joy in a bottle then gathering together all the people who've contributed to making my life more interesting and fun and thank them, my family and close friends for their relentless love and support. It was a fine time downstairs in the Cafe in the West Village on that magical block between Bleecker and West 4th Street.

Thank you, Barbara Aliprantis, Otto BarzCris Beam, Nicole FerraroFrancis Flaherty, Zack HampleRobin Hirsch, Tim O’MaraJoshua Rebell, Barbara Turner,  Angelo Verga and Adam Wade  for giving me direction and opportunity. It's my bottom of the seventh and it's the best inning in my life and I'm playing in the coolest ballpark in the world, New York City.

Here are photos from the show.

Tim O"Mara

Cris Beam

Joshua Rebell

Barbara Aliprantis
Robin Hirsch

Tommy at the scene of the crime

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Stoops to Nuts @ Cornelia St. Cafe, Tonight, 530pm

Xmas Day 1960
"Here I go!"

“City Stories: Stoops to Nuts,”  tonight, Tuesday, March 11 @ 5:30pm @ Cornelia Street Cafe.

It’s a doozy, my guest tellers: Barbara Aliprantis, Cris BeamFrancis FlahertyRobin Hirsch, Tim O’Mara, Joshua Rebell & Angelo Verga. Time Out Magazine says, “Stoops to Nuts,” is a positive experience not to be missed. No they didn’t, but they do say it’s a cool thing to do. Show starts sharp @ 5:30pm.

1961 Central Park

2014 Central Park

Monday, March 10, 2014

Those Ol' Bethesda Blues

Now and Then at one of my favorite spots on earth, Bethesda Fountain.

Photos are from last summer and a 1961 Central Park swim for Rory and me.

Here's my New York Times memory of that 1961 swim,  "Cooling Off in Bethesda Fountain."

To celebrate the city, to thank my friends, this month's storytelling show is free on me. I’m giving away stuff, too. “City Stories: Stoops to Nuts,” tomorrow, Tuesday, March 11 @ 5:30pm @ Cornelia Street Cafe.

It’s a doozy, my guest tellers: Barbara Aliprantis, Cris Beam,Francis Flaherty,Robin Hirsch, Tim O’Mara, Joshua Rebell, Angelo Verga and Adam Wade. Time Out Magazine says, “Stoops to Nuts,” is a positive experience not to be missed. No they didn’t, but they do say it’s a cool thing to do. Show starts sharp @ 5:30pm.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Carl Schurz Park, Now & Then & Then

You're 5, and you just left the Carl Schurz Park playground with your mother and talked her into a walk over to the water. You jump on the granite stone ledge, grab the black steel fence with both hands and pull your body forward to look through the opening and there they are: the Hockey Field, Lighthouse and Drive, and you think, "when I'm older, and allowed to come here by myself, they'll be all mine."

Remember "itchy balls" down the park? My least favorite part of oncoming spring was itchy balls falling out of trees, getting picked up by budding sociopaths and going straight down the back of your shirt (if you were lucky) or in your pants. I never see an itchy ball without thinking about some idiot.

This month marks my 60th year as a New Yorker, and I still find new and interesting things everywhere I go in all five boroughs. To celebrate the city, to thank my friends, this month my storytelling show is free on me. I’m giving away stuff, too. “City Stories: Stoops to Nuts,”Tuesday, March 11 @ 5:30pm @ Cornelia Street Cafe.

It’s a doozy, my guest tellers: Barbara Aliprantis, Cris Beam,Francis Flaherty,Robin Hirsch, Tim O’Mara, Joshua Rebell, Angelo Verga and Adam Wade. Time Out Magazine says, “Stoops to Nuts,” is a positive experience not to be missed. No they didn’t, but they do say it’s a cool thing to do. Show starts sharp @ 5:30pm. All friends of Stoops to Nuts are welcome.


Now & Then & Then, Carl Schurz Park, 2014, same spot, Ella & Lenny Ryan 1962, Ella & Lenny Ryan at Lake Ronkonkoma, New York in 1927. It's a short ride, love somebody.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I'm a Native New Yorker

Thomas not pleased on his first day home from hospital
This month marks my 60th year as a New Yorker, and I still find new and interesting things everywhere I go in all five boroughs. To celebrate the city, to thank my friends, this month my storytelling show is free on me. I’m giving away stuff, too. “City Stories: Stoops to Nuts,” Tuesday, March 11 @ 5:30pm @ Cornelia Street Cafe.

It’s a doozy, my guest tellers: Barbara Aliprantis, Cris Beam, Francis Flaherty, Robin Hirsch, Tim O’Mara, Joshua Rebell, Angelo Verga and Adam Wade. Time Out Magazine says, “Stoops to Nuts,” is a positive experience not to be missed. No they didn’t, but they do say it’s a cool thing to do. Show starts sharp @ 5:30pm. All friends of Stoops to Nuts are welcome.

How did my New York life start? With an argument.


Early March 1954, in a Woodside apartment overlooking the # 7 Subway El and the Long Island Railroad station below it, two express trains crisscrossed, one rattling over the other.

“Bob, please get me some food.” Patricia pleaded from the kitchen to the living room.

“There’s plenty of food,” Bob answered as he played with the bunny ears antenna on top of the TV.

Patricia opened the refrigerator and eyed the contents for the fifth time in the last five minutes.

“There’s no food-food, only junk. I want ice cream, I want bacon, I want mayonnaise!”

Bob disregarded Patricia’s request and continued to shake the ice around in the spaghetti pot chilling his six Rheingold beer bottles. He took the dish towel off his tee shirt’s shoulder to wipe his hands, and he definitely heard Patricia’s next statement, “Get off your bony ass and go get me food!”

Bob ignored this too, until the boxer he bet $20 on hit the canvas with a thud. It was Friday Night at the Fights and unfortunately, Bob’s man was down. Bob had just settled in – first round, first beer. After the boxer was counted out, the telecast went to a commercial and the Gillette parrot squawked, “Look sharp, be sharp, feel sharp!” Bob, disappointed, but now available for chores, went to his near due pregnant wife and gave her head a hug.

“Get off my friggin head. You know I hate head locks.”

Bob, hurt, kissed Patricia on the cheek.

“Patty, what do you need?” he said.

When Bob returned from the store, he put his five remaining beers back in the fridge, washed the pot and boiled water for spaghetti.

Grabbing a black frying pan he made two huge bacon sandwiches with extra mayo on Wonder bread. After serving Patty both sandwiches, he took a beer and joined her at the kitchen table.

“So, we’re decided on baby names, right? Marc Anthony if he’s a boy, and Alison Leigh if she’s a girl.” Bob said.

“You are so full of shit. The girl’s name is fine. When you name the boy, Marc Anthony, be sure you walk carefully over my dead body, cause that’s the only way that stupid guinea name will ever appear on my son’s birth certificate.”

Bob was hurt again.

“Oh cut the crap and get that stupid puss off your face.” she said.

“So what name do you want?” Bob said.



“R-O-R-Y, Rory.” Patty said.

“Like Calhoun, the movie cowboy?” Bob said.

“Yep. It’s an old Gaelic name meaning Red King,” she said.

“Red? You’re loony. Our hair is black. It’s a girly name and you’re guaranteeing he’ll get the shit kicked out of him,” Bob said.

Bob & Patty began a game of mum. The only sound in the room was the bubbling boiling water. After an endless silence, Bob broke the ice.

“It’ll be Rory over my dead body.”

“I’ll alert the press,” she said.

“Give me an alternative,” Bob said.


“Then I’ll give you one, Thomas,” he said.

“That’s imaginative. I thought we agreed no fathers’ names?”

“It’s not after my father; it’s my brother’s name, too,” Bob said.»

“You mean Stone Face? We’re going to name him after Stone Face?”

“That’s my compromise and you’ll get to name the next boy.”

Patty swallowed a large bite of mayo with a little bit of bacon and bread attached to it. She chewed slowly then wiped her mouth and said, “OK.”

Two weeks later, Patricia gave birth to an eight-pound boy. When the nurse let Bob into the recovery room and he saw Patty cradling the baby, Bob started to cry.

“Oh stop you’re blabbering and give me a kiss.”

“How do you feel?” Bob said.

“Not too swift.”

“How’s Tommy?” Bob said.

“Doctor said he’s fine. Isn’t he beautiful?”

Bob picked up the wrinkled red-faced boy. He thought the baby’s head looked like a grapefruit. A gorgeous grapefruit. Bob held the baby for a long time then turned him over to Patty.

“I have to fill out the birth certificate. I was thinking about Robert as a middle name,” Bob said.


“Why not?”

“You picked the first name, now I pick the middle name.”

“No, no, no, you get to name the next boy.” Bob said. “No, I get to name the next boy’s first name and you get to name the next boy’s second name.”


“No buts. I get to pick Tommy’s middle name, and his middle name will be R-O-R-Y, Rory.”

That night, Bob temporarily parked his anger, and rode a cab into Manhattan to his old neighborhood and celebrated his first son by dancing on the bar in Loftus Tavern on 85th Street and York Avenue.

Three weeks later, the boy was christened Thomas Rory in the back chapel of St. Sebastian’s Church. Bob wore a sour face throughout the ceremony.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1955, Bob & Patty told their families they were expecting a second child. Throughout the pregnancy, Patty kept Bob in the dark. He begged for information, and whined for hints. Late in the pregnancy, Bob tried to bribe Patty by hiding candy bars around the apartment, promising to give up the locations only if she told him the name. Patty never cracked. Bob prayed for a girl.

On June 20th, Patty gave birth to a nine-pound baby boy. Bob dropped Tommy off with his mother and went directly to the hospital. The room was lit low and the baby was sleeping in Patty’s arms. Patty appeared to be sedated and gave Bob a little wave. Bob quietly went to her bedside and leaned over and gave them both kisses. Patty gently held Bob’s arm keeping him close. She tilted her head signaling him to lean in so she could whisper something in his ear. Bob pressed his ear to Patty’s dry lips.

“Rory, his name is Rory,” she said loudly.

Bob backed away from the bed. “That’s nuts, we’ve already got a Rory.”

“Middle names don’t count. Rory it is. You promised.” Patty said.

Bob knew he was had. In desperation, he blurted, “His middle name is Robert.”

“Who cares?” she answered.

Patty gave Bob a victorious smile and squeezed her Rory tight.

This is my weekly column in  Ask A New Yorker

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"This Evening, About a Quarter to Nine"

Al Jolson
"The stars are going to twinkle and shine, HOW THEY'LL SHINE, this evening about a quarter to nine,"

I'm 7, these words I hear as I wake from a coma on the couch. For some reason, nobody chased me into bed. Mom's gone, Rory's gone, and it's me, Dad sketching a tree and Al Jolson in a tux singing "About a Quarter to Nine," in the eleven o'clock movie on Channel 5. I think sometimes, Dad liked to keep me up with him so he wouldn't be lonely. Jolson's catchy tune goes right into my head and the next day in second grade Sister Lorraine came down the aisle and clobbered me for humming it during a test.

Oh, by the way, any time I got whacked, I either deserved it or it was deserved payback for old questionable behavior that was seemingly unobserved by the Nun. An eye in the back of the head came with the Nun uniform.

Tommy 2nd Grade
Real conversation overheard in Pryor 83rd Street apartment in 1963

Tom: Maaaaaaa, where is my blue SSS tie?

Mom: I was hungry, I ate it.

Last night, I had a terrific time up in Washington Heights @ Word Up No Name Paranormal Storytelling Show. Nelson Lugo, Robin Bady, Lisa Kirchner and Daniel Guzman shocked the pants off the nervous audience. I told a spooky one, too. Co-hosts Eric Vetter and Michele Carlo were top shelf. Stellar promoting by the extraordinary Gordon Balkcom brought out a good crowd.

It's always a fine time in the Heights. Thank you, Eric and Michele for inviting me. Thank you, Gordon, for introducing me to No Name.

Next "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts,"show is Tuesday, March 11 @ 5:30pm @Cornelia Street Cafe. It's a doozy, my guest tellers: Barbara Aliprantis, Cris Beam,Francis Flaherty, Robin Hirsch, Tim O'Mara, Joshua Rebell, Angelo Verga & Prof. Adam Wade.

Admission is free. Life's short, I'm thanking my friends, first drink on me. Time Out Magazine says, "Stoops to Nuts," is a positive experience not to be missed. No they didn't, but they do say it's a cool thing to do. Show starts sharp @ 5:30pm.

Eric Vetter

Michele Carlo

Nelson Lugo
Robin Bady
Daniel Guzman
Gordon Balkcom & Lisa Kirchner