Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lost in History vol. 55: Top of the Rock!

Oh, Elliot Spitzer. How could you? How could you lie to your wife, your children, the good people of NewYork? How could you spend thousands of dollars (hopefully, we pray, thousands of your own dollars, as opposed to public taxpayer cash), over eight months, for a little whack in the sack? How could you shock and awe the nineteen million hardworking residents of the State of New York (state motto: Excelsior!) into a total legislative standstill when the state budget, currently standing at a $4.7 billion deficit, has mere weeks to get balanced and passed? Maybe it has something to do with you being reckless. Maybe it has something to do with you being “a fucking steamroller.” Or maybe, just maybe, you were psychically following in the steps of previous NY State Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who was also caught dead (literally) in the act of action with a much younger woman who most certainly wasn’t his wife. Let’s flash back, shall we?

Nelson Rockefeller, grandson of Big Daddy John D. Rockefeller, was born in 1908 to tremendous wealth and privilege, just like all the other members of the Rockefeller clan (this is, after all, the family of the richest man in American history, at a net worth of $200 billion in today’s cash.) Therefore, Nelson was taught to share his wealth with those far less fortunate. At the age of 24 he became at trustee of the Museum of Modern Art (which eventually built its garden on the site of Nelson’s childhood home,), and this developed into a lifelong passion for collecting and developing modern art. He became president of MoMA in 1939, one year after he also assumed presidency of Rockefeller Center. His political power and prestige began to grow in the mid-1930s when he invested time (and, one presumes, moniesmoney) in Creole Petroleum, the Venezuelan subsidiary of Standard Oil, the business that got Grandpappy Rock rich.

After bouncing around certain appointed posts for inter-American relations under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, Nelson became New York State Governor in 1958 by defeating the incumbent W. Averell Harriman. Always setting his sights on the Republican presidential nomination, he was turned down for the post in 1960, ’64 and ’68, but re-elected Governor in 1962, ’66, and ’70. In fact, Nelson was the first Governor to establish a permanent office here in the city, using Albany as mostly a hop-stop to pass legislation. Our Man Mr. Rockefeller also established the Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1968, absorbing the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and dealing the death knell to Robert Moses. Eventually, Nelson got himself elected appointed Vice President under Gerald Ford, but that was the farthest along the political train the man got. All this is well and good, but (I can hear you asking out loud) what does this have to do with our perv of an ex-Governor?

Nelson Rockefeller died on January 26th, 1979. Rumors had it he had collapsed of a heart attack while working in his midtown office. The official story is that Nelson died while working, but it certainly wasn’t in his office, and the verb “working,” could also be argued. Truth was, Nelson Rockefeller was in the midst of a sexual tryst with one of his assistants: 27-year-old Megan Marshak, who, to this day, has never come forward with her story or explained what she was doing underneath the former Vice-President of the USA. It might’ve helped that in his will, Nelson left her the deed to his townhouse at 13 West 54th sStreet, as well as $50,000. An unsubstantiated rumor states that the coroners noticed Nelson’s shoes crammed onto the wrong feet at the scene of his demise —– this was the first indication that the man hadn’t simply passed peacefully.

We wish new Governor Paterson a smooth transition into office. It seems as if the man has a lot to live up to.

(first published on 3/18/8 in www.thelmagazine.com)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lost in History vol. 54: Childs Restaurant A-Go-Go!

Roller skating will return to Coney Island! At long last, a glimmer of hope at this terminally threatened oceanfront paradise: the addition, on the boardwalk, of an all-ages, wholesome family activity won’t spur constant complaints about the death of working-class amusement parks and “the way things used to be.” What a relief that not everything at Coney is going out via Thor Equities’ wrecking ball — we’ll always have lace-up skates and a booming sound system, hopefully playing Brooklyn locals the Bee Gees. And what better place to have it than in Childs — the historic and landmarked restaurant space at West 21st sSreet on the boardwalk, on the western fringe of the amusement district.

Childs was a famous New York restaurant chain at the turn of last century — sort of a local, franchised Korean-owned buffet-style deli market. Opened in 1889 by William and Samuel Childs, the eateries were known for their oysters, white tile walls (which emphasized cleanliness and discouraged loitering) and self-service standards. Their first shop opened on Cortlandt Street, which has a non-functioning subway stop for the R and W trains, but no actual street: Cortlandt was de-mapped when the Twin Towers were built in 1971. Later Childs restaurants even had table service and more expensive menus, catering to the moneyed crowd – the flagship Childs, opened in 1925, was at 604 Fifth Avenue. (Thanks, Encyclopedia of New York City!) In 1961, the Riese corporation bought out the Childs empire, and converted many of the stores into fast-food joints — in fact, the flagship Childs is a T.G.I. Friday’s today, smack in the heart of Rockefeller Center.

Luckily (depending on how one sees luck,) no such Fridayification was in store for the Coney Island Childs. Built in 1923 by the architects Dennison & Hirons, the space is a huge open-air single-level hall, moderately interrupted with pillars, which are necessary to support the roof. The terra-cotta fa├žade has whimsical nautical themes of lobsters, fishes, ships, seahorses and more; four gorgeous crests adorn the front wall, including Neptune and his trident, a Venetian Galleon, curious fishes and other maritime images. The terra cotta adornments were glazed with bright colors, some of which are visible on the building even today. The Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, in their September 1924 publication, referred to the Childs building as being reminiscent of Coney in its “carnival spirit [which] demands color; it permits almost anything. Childs Restaurant strikes a new note of beauty in surroundings that are naturally festive.”

And it’s going to be a roller rink! After decades of derelict abandonment and ugly graffiti (unlike Creative Time’s Dreamland Artist Club, a 2005 project that can still be seen today), Taconic Investments, the other big-name development organization down at Coney (one with a little bit of public support behind them for, you know, not ramming high-rise lux condos down Coney’s throat), offered Diana Carlin, aka Lola Staar , the space to develop the rink after she had won a "make your dreams come true" contest sponsored by Glamour magazine and Tommy Hilfiger. (So sayeth the Post, via www.gowanuslounge.blogspot.com) Taconic has a 49-year lease on the building. The rink is scheduled to open March 22nd. That’s two weeks away! Strap on those skates kids, and have a drink at Ruby's, the last historic dive on the boardwalk — because next spring there’s a good chance that one of the two will be gone. Definitely not Childs.

(originally published on 3/10/8 on www.thelmagazine.com)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

CREAMPUFF CATASTROPHE! on the UES - 3/6/8

Darcy Savat is a dear, sweet friend, one of the first new friends I made & still have, upon my return to NYC in 2003. She now lives on the Upper East Side with her MAD Magazine staff writer boyfriend Dave, in a swank pad on the 5th floor of a walkup on E 92nd btwn 1st and 2nd avenues. She's a very serious person when it comes to work (Development at MTV but hopefully not much longer) and a very silly person when not at work. She also speaks in a whimsical little-girl-type voice that always manages to express amazement and wonder at some of the most mundane scenes around the city, while not being annoying or grating in the least. A truly wondrous, wonderful human being. We always have ridiculous fun whenever we're out. And I hadn't seen her since November and I missed her dearly. So we planned a dinner-date: delicious & cheap sushi near her pad, and lots of catching up & gossip.

Following the sushi, the craving for sweets hit and hit hard. Cupcakes in particular, but any homebaked cookie/or/cake-type thing would suffice. And this is the Upper East Side . . . they have everything up here! So at a quarter to 10 we set off for cupcakery. The first bakery was pulling down the gates as we approached. I dropped onto my knees on the sidewalk, raised my fists to the air, and proclaimed to the heavens "CUUUPPCAAAKKEESSS!" The young buck drawing the gates grinned and remarked "We've been closed for an hour, dude." I told him an hour ago we were shoving sushi down our gullets. He said try the French place around the corner. We did, to no avail. A third bakery was also closed. At this point, the need for any kind of sweet-cake-type-product-or-anything was unavoidable. So Darcy casually remarks "Well, there's a creampuff place around the corner that-a-way. . ."
Creampuffs?!? Why are we wasting our time with cupcakes when we could be creampuffing our way off this mortal coil? "Cupcakes sink to the bottom of your stone like a stomach, Darcy dear. Let's trip the light fantastic with some creampuffs!!" I hollered at the poor girl. So we hustle-muscle to the creampuff joint (actually a coffee/creampuff place called Choux Coffee on 1st Avenue nr 86th Street) and arrived to a locked door. No good. Two latina teenage employs are sweeping the creampuff crumbs off the floor. There is a fully loaded bag of creampuffs tied up and sitting on the glass counter, ready for the trash.I knock on the door. The girls say "We're closed." I say "I know. I want that bag of creampuffs." Darcy, behind me, shrieks "GIVE US THE CREAMPUFFS!" The following interaction ensues, across the closed, locked glass door of Choux Coffee and us on the sidewalk:

Me: We want those creampuffs!
Darcy: GIVE US THOSE CREAMPUFFS!
Employ 1: I cant.

Me: But they're for the trash, right?
Employ 1: Right.
Me: So give us the creampuffs.
Darcy: WE WANT THE CREAMPUFFS!

Employ 1: But I'd get in trouble with the manager.
Me: Is the manager around?
Employ 1: No.
Me: And those are just going to be thrown out, right?
Employ 1: Right.
Me: So give us the creampuffs.

Darcy: WE NEED THOSE CREAMPUFFS!
Employ 1: But there's no cream in them.
Me: We dont care. We want those creampuffs.

Darcy: WE NEED THOSE CREAMPUFFS!
Employ 1: I dunno.
Me: Look. (Pulls $5 bill from wallet) Look. I'm going to leave this five dollar bill right here (places five dollar bill sticking out of the Come And Eat Creampuffs stand-up sign parked right outside entrance) as a tip for whomever comes and takes it. And we're just going to stand outside this storefront, waiting for a bus. And we hope that somehow, someone just happens to leave a plastic bag filled with cream-less creampuffs at our feet, for the trash, while we're waiting for the bus, and the fiv
e dollars just disappear. That's what we're going to do, and we hope that you get the drift and just place those creampuffs outside for the trash. That's what we hope happens, and we hope you hope it happens too.
(Employ 2 just looks on incredulously as this whole scene unfolds. Employ 1 walks around behind the counter to talk to Employ 2. Me and Darcy take three steps towards the curb and pretend to wait for a bus. As we're waiting, we hear the sound of a door unlocking and sneakers hitting the pavement. All of a sudden there's a plastic bag at out feet. We ignore it. We hear the door close behind us. We pickup the plastic bag filled with creamless creampuffs and turn to walk away. I notice that the $5 bill is missing from the sign. We make off like bandits, calm, cool, collected bandits, with a plastic bag stuffed with creampuffs between us. )

END SCENE.

We then proceed to the local Gristede's, buy two cans of Redi-Whip Whipped Cream (one heavy cream, one chocolate) and a box of strawberries, sit down on some wooden pallets outside the supermarket next to an outrageously enormous plexiglass pear, and proceed to DIY our own goddamn creampuffs. Its the most delicious thing in the whole Upper East Side. Passersby are eyeing our DIYpuffs with envy and delight. We laugh and laugh and stuff our face with puffs.

(no camera was on hand to document our creampuff catastrophe, but these pix were shot by my photographer roommate Valeria Forster.)

Lost in History vol. 53: Red All Over

Amidst the luxury boutique shopping up and down the landmarked Ladies Mile Historic District on Fifth Avenue, the frenzied haggling over at the Chelsea Flea Market on West 25th Street and the foaming-at-the-mouth gallery-goers headed west for a Sunday spent gaping at the newest, most sensationalist life-portraiture by some unknown schmo in LIC, you’d never guess that the forty or so blocks between 26th Street, 14th Street, Eighth Avenue and Union Square were a hotbed of Communist activity! Who would’ve thought that Gay Chelsea, Art Chelsea, Fabulous Chelsea, Big Box Store Chelsea is all sitting on land formerly and currently occupied by those Red Menaces? Not this intrepid, God-fearing American. So it was with a mixture of awe, wonder, trepidation and downright New York skepticism that we took a ninety-minute walking tour of Communist Chelsea this past weekend.

The tour was sponsored by the Common-Room Art Gallery in the Lower Lower East Side (Grand and East Broadway). Our guide was a smart, sharp young Russian photographer, Yevgeniy Fiks, and we were strolling the streets to admire buildings Mr. Fiks has photographed (on view at Common Room through this Friday). We started at 235 West 23rd Street, immediately across from the Chelsea Hotel. This unassuming, staid structure just so happens to be the headquarters of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA). Although they’ve only been in this building since the 1970s, CPUSA owns the whole building, as well as the Utrecht Art Shop on the ground floor (though the materials are not cheap). Although they used to occupy the entire building, they’ve been downsized since the 70s and now operate on only three floors. There are forty full-timers in the office, and in fine Marxist-Leninist stance, all the employees receive the same salary.

The history of Communism in NYC is rooted in the immigrant poor, who very much wanted to rise above their station, along with all the rest of their destitute brethren. They had also come from the collective shtetls and ghettos (the original) in the old worlds of Poland, Russia, Lithuania and the Baltic States, to mention only a few. For these people to come to America and witness the discrepancy of Haves and Have-Nots? CPUSA hardly had to advertise for volunteers.

Right across from 235 West 23rd is the famous Hotel Chelsea — one-time home to Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, Thomas Wolfe, Bob Dylan, Eugene O’Neil, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and, let’s not forget, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Miss Flynn was a radical labor leader who was the first female chairwoman of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) between 1961 and1964, as well as a founding member of the ACLU in 1920. She lived in the Hotel Chelsea for a short period in the late 30s while writing a column for the CPUSA journal The Daily Worker.
Among the other points of interest the heavily-accented Mr. Fiks pointed out to the fifteen interested individuals on tour (some of whom, we thought, seemed to know a little too much about the inner machinations of the CPUSA. . .) was 23 West 26th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, the former HQ of CPUSA during the 50s and 60s, which meant this was the hotbed of activity during the McCarthy witch hunts, the ascent of the Soviet Bloc (particularly Hungary and Czechoslovakia), as well as the civil rights movements of the 60s — all making this the go-to spot for young revolutionaries. Now the building is privately owned. We also scoped out 200 Fifth Avenue, home of the League of Women Shoppers, an innocuously named group that acted as a front for the CPUSA in the 40s. In reality, the League investigated unsafe working conditions for women, and organized consumers to support unions and their rights as human beings. 225 Fifth Avenue was home to the publisher B. W. Huebsch, who produced Marxist lit in the 10s and 20s. The magnificent building nearby on the corner of Fifth and 14th was the operating base for the Young Pioneers of America, a group that recognized the importance of educating immigrant youth in Communist dialectics, — as well as American history and the all-important English language.

Last stop on the tour was the ever-important Union Square Park — home to beatboxers, breakdancers, portraitists and some of the most important union rallies this city has ever seen. Union Square hosted annual May Day Rallies for dozens of years, from the late 1800s up to WWII,. The largest and most tumultuous was in 1930, when 30,000 protestors were broken up by 300 cops when the rallying troops wanted to march down to City Hall. To think: this bucolic, peaceful urban center was the site of mass protests and head-crunching cops. Come to think of it, it still is — been to any Critical Mass rides lately?

(originally published on 3/4/8 on www.thelmagazine.com)