Friday, February 20, 2015

Silly Love Songs to My Kid

I have dyslexia. It takes forever to read a book. Years ago, my daughter gave me the business for slowly reading the novel, "London." I make Alison birthday books of cut and paste cartoons. In this cartoon of the future, I'm in the "Who's Next?" nursing home receiving a visit.

Alison oftened asked Father for a pony, So did I.

If you can't drive your daughter crazy with doodles and notes about TV shows she enjoyed watching when she was 4 years old, what's the point?

Writing silly love songs to your kid, what's wrong with that? 


If you would like to check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood," it's available at Logos Bookstore, 1575 York Avenue, or buy it online at AmazonBarnes and Noble or other booksellers.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Someone Should Keep An Eye On Him"

Tommy's work ID photo @2004-2010
Five years ago tomorrow, I left my affordable housing career to be a full-time writer.

In 2004 I taped this photo over my work ID photo because I was in that kind of mood. When I left NYCHA in 2010 and surrendered my ID I removed my old photo. During the six year period my baby picture was on my ID I was never stopped by security in any government building.

If there was a point in time when my need to leave housing started itching, I'd say the 2004 incident below is a strong candidate.

"Someone Should Keep an Eye on Him"

“That’s it. I’ve had it.”
Staring at the dirt encrusted window I made up my mind to cheer myself up.  After September 11, 2001 my job relocated from a building overlooking the World Trade Center to the industrial center of Long Island City - the old Bloomingdale Warehouse on a concrete hill overlooking the Long Island Railroad yards.  I sat in a windowless closet dead center in the core of the immense building where it took thirty seconds to walk to the nearest window to see if it was light or dark outside.  My space reminded me of Limbo.  
Limbo is the place in Catholic mythology where lost souls take mail.  As a kid they used to show us catechism slides in preparation for our first confession, communion and confirmation.  Same slides were used for all sacraments.  The nun would pep up the slides with a little bit of color analysis.
“Remember children, if you are not baptized a Catholic, God will never welcome you into Heaven.  You will spend eternity in a way station.”
“A what station?”
“A way station.  Limbo is a way station.”
“A gas station?”
Kids usually enjoy pursuing this line of questioning until it is stone dead but Limbo erased our curiosity.  It was so boring the kids lost wind.  The Limbo slide was a Twilight Zone drawing of a group of men and women in 1950’s styled dress clothes standing in the middle of a room with no windows looking up through a hole above the room where the ceiling should have been.   Alone at night in my closet, I’d imagine the ceiling lifting away and some brooding higher being staring down at me, drumming her finger against her chin.

After 31 months in LIC we made a second temporary move.  Our downtown building, 90 Church Street, was still under renovation.  My business moved me to the center of my New York universe, 14 Street and 5th Avenue.  My building straddled the West Village, East Village, Union Square and Washington Square.   I pinched myself.

My job was boring. The only thing making work tolerable was the location.  I loved our building. I loved the neighborhood.  The energy in the streets was palatable.  The schools and media/arts in the area converged sending an electric charge through the air.  Old churches with welcoming grounds, five minute walk down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square, my new iPod.  I was getting in tune. 

Unfortunately, the building owner was not in tune.  Our lease was up in six months and cleaning our windows was not on his list of things to do.  It drove me crazy to turn around at my desk and see my seven-foot high window loaded with gook.  The lack of natural light made me sad. All that amazing people watching down there - I was losing a fantastic opportunity to daydream a portion of my day away.  After several failed efforts trying to get building services to respond I determined, “I can do this.”

I’m mechanically challenged.  As a boy my parents paid me to leave our Queens apartment over the weekend.  They planned to paint the apartment and did not want me anywhere near a brush or paint can.  They came to that decision earlier when I used an entire gallon of paint to partially coat a small closet.  Most of the paint ended up on the floor and my clothing.  I finished up by painting myself into the closet’s back wall.  My parents would not stir the paint till they were sure I had gotten on the subway to Manhattan.  This hamstrung my home decorating development. I’ve decided to move once or twice in my life rather than deal with painting an apartment.  If I walk pass a hardware store with a Benjamin Moore sign I can feel the help looking out the window shaking their heads side to side.  I am pre-judged.  I walk the earth as Cain never to know the satisfaction of a home project well done.

Up to three years ago I‘d stare at a screw not knowing whether to turn it left or right to tighten or loosen it.  My cousin Jimmy, god bless him, taught me a short poem, “Righty Tighty, Lefty Lucy”.  I still mumble it under my breath when I introduce myself to a screw.  When my daughter was five she said to her Mom, “Someone needs to keep an eye on him.”  This was her response to the crash she heard in the kitchen when my make shift ladder, a chair with a milk case on top of it, crumbled leaving me hanging from the cabinet over the sink. 
Back on 14th Street, I stared at the work window studying the problem.  It was heavy and huge.  It could hurt me.  I stood on the sill gently swinging the window in to let it lie across my desk. The dirt and dust flew in with the breeze scattering my papers around the tiny office.  Fifth Avenue roared below.  The sound and the air felt good.  I saw the caked up dirt and measured the assignment.  I needed loads of paper towels and a bucket of water.  It was five thirty, the office was mostly empty so I took off my dress shirt and turned my garbage can over enlisting it for bucket duty.  Heading for the bathroom, I ran into my office neighbor, Barry.
“What are doing?”
“Washing my office window.”
No kidding, I’d love to do that but my window doesn’t swing out.  It’s blocked by the wall jutting out.  What are using to wash it?”
“This garbage can and paper towels.”
“I bought a squeegee for cleaning my car windows today.  Do you want to borrow it?”
“Absolutely, thanks.”
Filling the bucket with a few gallons of water I returned to the window with my borrowed squeegee.  It only took two to three passes of the squeegee to blacken the water.  I was not clear on how the building would feel about me washing my own window.  I decided to finish the job with the dirty water rather than chancing a run in with a security guard walking the floors.  The squeegee had a one-foot handle that allowed me to clean most of the window but not the very bottom.  There was no room on the side of the window for me to approach it that way.  The only way to clean the bottom of the window was to let a little bit of water pour down the glass from the top and take the dirt off the glass on the pass. This worked well and my spirit lifted as I saw the dirt peel away like volcano lava.  The water fell from the bottom lip of the window and spread out along the marble ledge outside my window.  Here is where my alternate reality began playing tricks on me.

I love film and I love architecture.  Sometimes these two subjects dovetail in my mind and what I see in film becomes my reality.  I love Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.  Their incredible stunts tickled me to no end.   Anytime I saw a city scene in a silent film or an early talkie I assumed it was all taking place in my world, Manhattan.  Walking a skyscraper’s ledge, hanging from a clock or tip toeing a plank bridging two building roofs. It all took my breath away and it was all happening in New York (not true, but what did that matter to me).  I was mesmerized.  As a boy I’d roam Manhattan looking up at the tall buildings. I’d daydream about what building belonged in what film and if it didn’t belong in that film didn’t it look just like the building that was in that film.  It got to the point where I stopped looking up.  It no longer mattered.  My mind was made up.  Further viewing was not required. 

I was convinced all tall buildings between 14 Street and 23 Street on or near Fifth Avenue were built by insurance companies.  Each had been used as a location in some old film involving a treacherous escape, rescue or pursuit.  How could I forget Harold Lloyd hanging from the clock in “Safety Last”, or Oliver Hardy hanging by a telephone wire out of a top floor window.  All these buildings had elaborate ornamentation - spires, towers, big face clocks, columns, pillars, reliefs, gold roofs, chevrons, cupolas, and much more. Some were stone wedding cakes with a complex series of ledges starting at the mid floors leading up to the top floors kissing the sky.  Armed with my fuzzy celluloid driven view of the local building architecture I ill advisedly approached my cleaning chore with faulty data.

So as the water dripped off the window onto the outside ledge I gave no thought to its final destination.  Because my building was built around the time of the Great War in the last century the water-spilling out my window onto the ledge would of course move onto another ledge, then another ledge then another ledge till all the water was dispersed or evaporated.  I was on a high floor.  My building had many tiers to its wedding cake and most of them were below me.  I was sure of this based on my movie memory rather than me ever performing an actual visual assessment.  Say for instance me standing in front of my building and looking up.  This never happened.  What was the point?

Pleased with the way the window was beginning to look I continued pouring the black water on the window.  This was going so well I got caught up in the moment and figured what the heck and emptied the entire bucket onto the window.  High floor, many ledges, the building would soak it up on the way down.

My bucket empty I soaked up the water on the glass with paper towels.  I was beaming, thinking to myself, “Mom loved a clean window, she’d be proud of me.”
I threw all the dirty paper towels in the bucket and began walking to the bathroom to wash up.  When I came back to my office a security guard and a building engineer bounced in right behind me.
“What are doing?” they screeched.  I knew the answer but shut up.  They were not here to congratulate me on a job well done.  Plus I still had the bucket and the squeegee sticking out of it under my arm.  My non-response encouraged their curiosity.

I stared at the two men thinking, the great thing about life is the potential to learn something new everyday.  The problem is sometimes you learn the new thing on the wrong day.  Now if I learned a day before I washed the window that my office was right over my building’s Fifth Avenue entrance, and that same day learned my office window’s ledge had no sister ledge beneath it, then I would have developed a different plan for washing my window.  Much to my chagrin, neither the security guard nor the building engineer was interested in life’s potential or the order in which I learned new things.
I stood stupid in my wet T-shirt absorbing their taunts and blows,
“You can’t do that?”
“”It’s against building regulations.”
And each of them added my all-time favorite Dad question to me.
“What were you thinking?”
I almost answered, but convinced myself I was having an out of body experience and that this was happening to someone else, not me.  I stood there, arms hanging at my sides, till they wore themselves out.

If you would like to check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood," it's available at Logos Bookstore, 1575 York Avenue, or buy it online at AmazonBarnes and Noble or other booksellers.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Baby Pigeons

 The last time I remember seeing baby pigeons in NYC was the day we moved into 83rd Street on Rory's first birthday, June 20, 1957. Well, I saw them again out an air shaft's window three years ago.

There were two birds in view,
but I heard this song in my head.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Desire Paths ~ Closing One, Opening Another

Houston & Ave B - March 11, 2012
I was 10 or 11, my father and I were sitting on our 83rd Street stoop after playing catch with a football. Our conversation bounced around.
"Broadway is the oldest street in New York City." Dad announced.
"How old is it?"
"No one knows, but it goes back to the Indians."
"How do you know?"
"It's a desire path."
"It started out as a desire path. A path an animal or human makes out of desire to get from one point to another as easily as possible."

I love the term, "desire path." It can apply to many things with the expanded definition of getting most interestingly from one place to another. When I walk the city this is on my mind.
Houston & Ave B - February 10, 2015

Three years ago, I took the sunny shot above at the corner of Houston Street and Ave B.  Late Tuesday afternoon, I mosied up Houston Street and through part of the West Village early for my last Stoops to Nuts show at Cornelia Street Cafe. In my second shot here is the same location at Houston and Avenue B - Construction - like most of Houston Street from one end to the other. At some point soon, Houston will be a canyon of tall sleek "why are you here?" buildings. Change is inevitable. Ignoring that yesterday, I kept my eye out for pleasant surprises and old inanimate friends. With the sun descending it was easy to find a few scenes that were easy on the eye.

Tuesday's "Stoops to Nuts ~ Bottom of the 9th on Cornelia St." An amazing show to end the series. Thank you, Barbara Aliprantis, Phillip Giambri, Jim Hawkins, Adam Wade and Sherryl Marshall and her fantastic group, Fred Walcott, Charles Giordano, Deborah Berg and Elise Morris. Thank you, to all my friends who came out to celebrate five years of Stoops to Nuts at the Cafe. Thank you, Angelo Verga, Joshua Rebell and Robin Hirsch for letting us play in your yard. Thank you to the Cafe's gang who always welcome me like family. Tuesday's show was as good as it gets. I'm content. Time to create a new desire path.
Fred Walcott, Charles Giordano, Sherryl Marshall, Deborah Berg & Elise Morris

Most of the outdoor photographs in this album from Tuesday show were taken on Bedford and Downing Streets. The building lit up at sunset is One Fifth Avenue.

My NYC memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood," is on sale at Logos Bookstore and online.

Sherryl Marshall

Phillip Gambri

Barbara Aliprantis

Jim Hawkins

Adam Wade

Cornelia St Cafe 2.10.15

Downing Street

Downing Street

Houston St

Houston looking south and west

First Ave from Houston

Houston St

Toulouse 2010

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Biking Down to Cornelia for Last Stoops to Nuts Show

OK, I can do this.
"Stoops to Nuts ~ Bottom of the 9th on Cornelia Street" at Cornelia Street Cafe. I go straight down York Ave. and make a right on 57th St. What did Mom say next? Oh, yeah,

“Stay on the sidewalk, and for God’s sake watch the people, and make sure someone crosses you at each corner. Make a left on 2nd Ave. straight down to 2nd St. and make a right, make a left on Bowery and a right on Bleecker straight over to Cornelia St. No detours! Tommy, are you listening to me?” 

Yeah, that’s it. 

Our Artists ~ the meat of the order, "Five O'Clock Lightning" and we start 6pm.

Barbara Aliprantis, Phillip Giambri, Jim Hawkins, Adam Wade & Sherryl Marshall sings the national anthem and "take me out the ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch.

Rory's coming, so is Casey, in spirit.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

"Stoops to Nuts" Presents "Five O'Clock Lightning" Storytelling

So I'm upstate last night walking on a country road and I run into this Nun, two exchange students from Holland, The Scream, Guitar Man Gumby and Bambi.
I say, "What's up?"
Nun says, "I'll tell you what's up. I told these two no necking a hundred times and they're at it again. It drives The Scream crazy; and I had no idea that Gumby could play guitar, and why is Pokey absent and that stupid Disney deer is here."
I had no answer for the Nun, but after a chat I talked them into coming to"Stoops to Nuts ~ Bottom of the 9th on Cornelia Street" this Tuesday at Cornelia Street Cafe. Its our final show and coming to bat, "Five O'Clock Lightning" ~ Barbara Aliprantis, Phillip Giambri, Jim Hawkins, Adam Wade and Sherryl Marshall. $8 and a free drink.

You can also borrow it from the Middle Country Public Library on Long Island.  The Librarian there ordered it last week.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Stoops to Nuts ~ The Bottom of the 9th at Cornelia Street

Thank you, Mom for saving this stuff

Early on, the awards piled up for young Thomas Pryor: Numbers Work, Reading, Arithmetic, Spelling, Religion ~ all achieved while his teachers, the Sisters of Divine Charity, tried to crush his spirit with poor marks in Conduct. Outside the classroom, the boy was a lauded Bobcat Cub Scout at Trinity Church, St. Stephen's Altar Boy of the Year, and survived an assassination attempt by his Troop 654 Scout Master (accused by Pryor, but never charged) in Ten Mile River Boy Scout Camp in 1968.

Tommy’s art has appeared on loose-leaf and construction paper (all colors); Daitch Shopwell’s bathrooms; LaSalle Academy’s cafeteria; inked bone samples in Physical Anthropology Lab at Hunter College and sagas with steely knives on several desk blotters at the NYC Comptroller’s Office.

In 1963, Thomas performed in front of the St. Stephen student body and two hundred hooting Hungarians, singing “Mindem Vagyam Visszaszall,” Father Emeric’s favorite folk song at the priest's Silver Jubilee. Pryor's made countless appearances at Joe’s Candy Store, Spotless Cleaners, Parker’s Grocery, Herman the German's Barber Shop, Loftus Tavern and other Yorkville gin mills where they either liked him or threw him out.

Pryor's "City Stories: Stoops to Nuts" final show at Cornelia Street Cafe is Tuesday, February 10th @ 6pm. We exit with a-bing, and a-bang and a-boom. Short tellings, sweet music and time to yap with each other. Our artists: Barbara AliprantisPhillip Giambri, Jim Hawkins, Adam Wade and Sherryl Marshall performs a showcase set.

Admission is $8 with a free drink. Show starts @ 6pm. No reservations necessary. Pryor's hosting and telling one from his memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood."

Thank you, Robin Hirsch, Angelo Verga & Joshua Rebell for your warm support and steady love. Thank you, to the gang at the Cafe who always welcome me like family. I don't forget my friends.

"I will return, I will return, I'll come back for the honey and you."

Next month the second Tuesday storytelling tradition rolls on with "The New York Story Exchange." The show features four alternating hosts: Barbara Aliprantis, Michele Carlo, Nicole Ferraro and Jeff Rose. You are in good hands with the same concept as "Stoops to Nuts," come and tell a good one, sing a good one, have fun. 

Casey on Bow Bridge in Central Park in 2014