Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat--Whither Thou Goest?

In the nearly 16 years I’ve lived in New York City I have never had one single trick-or-treater. Not one. Ever. Does this seem odd for a city known for its wild Halloween celebrations? I suppose I can understand the trepidation parents would feel allowing their children to trick-or treat in a city like New York. For if there are sick individuals out there who put razor blades in apples as we were taught fear as children, they must all certainly live in New York—even in doorman buildings.

Trick or treating does go on in New York I am told though. I know from friends who grew up here which buildings were great for trick-or-treating and which were poor. I’ve seen sign-up sheets in lobbies of friend’s buildings where one can sign up to be a participating trick-or-treat apartment so the little kiddies know who to bother. But in New York trick-or-treating is mostly a dead tradition.

This seems so far removed from the childhood I knew where my siblings and I would change into costumes right after school and begin our trick-or-treat trek at 4 PM and continue till the streetlights came on. That was always our curfew. When we got a little older, of course we could stay out later, but always in groups and only in familiar neighborhoods. We lived in a development that bordered on two others which were all great for trick-or-treating. We lived in the newest one with the largest houses which made the distance from door to door a little longer. The best use of one's time, however, was neighboring Sedgefield which had grid streets (not the meandering “drives” our development had) and row upon row of 1950s ranches and split-levels on small lots which made it the most bang for your trick-or-treat buck.

But the best house in all three neighborhoods was the Stensgaard’s, hands down! They lived on a mostly wooded lot and would set up Styrofoam headstones among the dried oak leaves in the front yard. The entry way was covered with spray-on cobwebs and a mummy for which the Stensgaard’s daughter posed years before would greet you at the door. Spiders and skeletons hung about as well. All this was accompanied by a recording of scary sounds being piped throughout the yard and in the house. It was terrifying as a young child. Once inside, you had to spin a wheel with numbers on it from 1 to 4. Whatever number the wheel landed on was how many pieces of candy you were entitled to (the rules were more relaxed for younger kids.) The candy was in a big cauldron like container and you got to choose you own. They always had the best varieties.

Once we returned home with our sacks full of candy we’d dump them out on the kitchen table for our mother to inspect for those famous razor blades. We were also not allowed to keep anything unwrapped which was fine with us because who wanted a lousy old apple or homemade popcorn ball anyway? Once we got the okay from Mom, we would stash our loot in our rooms in one of the many large Tupperware bowls from the kitchen. Usually I went through my candy in about a week. But it was my sister Janet who was the envy of us all with such restraint she could ration her Halloween candy all the way to Thanksgiving.

Sadly these recollections of my childhood seem quaint--like mere relics of a bygone, "Leave it to Beaver" era. Is trick-or treating dead in America? How about where you live…do they still trick or treat?

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Monday, October 29, 2007

A Gift to the Library

Today the New York City Public Library received a gift from the estate of legendary actress, Katharine Hepburn in the form of a collection of letters, scripts, photographs, scrapbooks and the like all having to do with Hepburn's stage career. The articles, like the lady herself, are full of life, wit and wisdom.

A treasure trove of memorabilia, the collection includes her personal copy of the script to Coco which contains hand-scribbled lyrics probably as dictated to her in rehearsal from famed lyricist, Alan Jay Lerner. There is a fan letter from Judy Garland following a performance of The Millionairess in 1952, in which Garland gushes "I've always said you were our leading actress" then suffers an apparent mood swing and goes on to proclaim "I am getting fat and pregnant and mean." There is also an absolutely hilarious journal entry recorded by Kate during the 1950-51 tour of As You Like It in which she recounts being arrested for speeding in Oklahoma. She is hauled into a police station and complains to a small-town lawyer "I have been arrested by this this moron," indicating the young arresting officer who was "very handsome in a dull sort of way." After what sounded like an all day affair, she pays a fine of $20 and promises "if I ever found an Oklahoma car in Connecticut I'd flatten all the tires."

Hepburn was known for her progressive politics but rarely spoke of them publicly, however, the collection also includes a brief hand written curtain speech about the Kent State shootings delivered during the run of Coco at the request of a fellow actor. In it Hepburn says of the four slain students "they were our kids and our responsibility. Our generation are responsible and we must take time to pause and reflect and do something."

The collection will be available to the public at the Library for Performing Arts at Lincoln Center in February.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

City Snapshot: The 79th Street Boat Basin

The view from Riverside Park.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

286 Days

That's how long my iPod has to live according to the iPod deathclock. I got the link from Joe over at JoeMyGod. Less than a year left with my less that 2 year old iPod. Cruise on over and check out your own iPod death watch simply by entering your serial number.

To quote Joe: "What a racket."


Monday, October 22, 2007


For my birthday my mother gave me a card with a picture of a scruffy Jack Russell Terrier on it that bore an uncanny resemblance to my little dog Sadie I lost almost 3 years ago now. I credit Sadie for getting me out of the house every day even when I didn’t feel like it and making sure I got to the park every day to stop and smell the roses. Well, I would smell the roses, she would smell other things. Anyway, inside the card my mother wrote: "Take a walk in Riverside Park for me" and signed it from Sadie. So when I awoke Sunday morning with the bright Autumn sunlight flickering through tree branches into my window, I had to get out to the park right away. I went with the spirit of Sadie, but when I got to the park I was met with another spirit. The Alzheimer's Asoociation's annual Memory Walk was getting ready to start with dozens of walkers and volunteers buzzing about. Inspirational speeches were being made and a moment of silence was observed for those we’ve lost to this dreaded disease. Naturally I thought of my grandfather who suffered with Alzheimer’s until his death at age 80.

I’m lucky enough to own many possessions that belonged to my grandfather and each one comes with memories attached. Most of these were given to me by my grandmother who knew of all his grandsons, I would be the one who would most appreciate Grandpa’s things. In high school I wore an over sized vintage topcoat of his when that was all the rage in the ‘80s. I wore it for years and finally wore out the lining. I also have a red plaid Eisenhower jacket that is so fabulously ‘50s, as well as a subtle black and red plaid sport coat that makes me feel like Ricky Riccardo when I wear it. I own all of his cuff links and a square onyx and gold ring that looked like something Maxwell Smart might have worn. He’d let us speak into it to imaginary secret agents when we were kids. But one of my favorite things is a book he owned that so perfectly personified him: Esquire Etiquette, a guide to business, sport and social conduct, published by Esquire magazine in 1953. It’s funny to read now, but I’m sure in part because of this book I’ll always remember my grandfather as the perfect gentleman.

But more than that, Grandpa was a good provider for his family. As the oldest of four boys he dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support his family during the Depression. One of his jobs around that time was teaching the Argentine Tango. Grandpa loved to dance and could not keep his feet still when there was music playing. He always looked sharp and was quite the snappy dresser. Despite his limited schooling Grandpa was an avid reader and continued to educate himself and became quite a learned, cultured man. When my mother was growing up he worked a white collar job in sales for the New York Central Railroad. He was very proud of his job with the railroad and the glory of Grand Central Station and all it represented.

It is said when one develops Alzheimer’s one’s dominant personality traits emerge. Grandpa remained a perfect gentleman till the end, always with gracious manners and a bon mot. His love of dance never faded either, foxtrotting with nurses in the nursing home whenever there was music in the activity room. What a gift on my birthday to have these memories come flooding back.

Below are some photos from the Alzheimer’s Association 2007 New York Memory Walk.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Me & Jackie B

Today I turn the same age as Jack Benny. And if you get that reference you're probably a lot older than ol' Jack and me.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

In Memoriam: Deborah Kerr

It is with sadness that I report the death of one of my favorite actresses: Deborah Kerr. An actress trained in the classic English tradition, Kerr's technique adapted well to her many co-stars from Cary Grant to Yul Brynner and was always exciting to watch. Deborah Kerr is one of the few actresses whose considerable range we are fortunate enough to have captured on film forever. She easily and convincingly went from roles as nuns and school marms to that of seductresses and adulteresses. She was nominated for an Oscar 6 times, most notably for her roles in From Here to Eternity, The King and I and Tea and Sympathy, a role she originated on Broadway for which she won a Tony nomination.

It was in The King and I at the age of 10 that I first learned who Deborah Kerr was. I was cast in my very first real-live community theatre production of that show. I was quickly bitten by the theatre bug and pursued recordings and anything I could having to do with the show. To this day the "Shall We Dance" polka scene in The King and I remains one of my all time favorite screen moments ever. Another one of my favorite screen moments is the beach scene in From Here to Eternity which I've embedded below. Watch and enjoy.

Deborah Kerr died from complications of Parkinson's Disease. She was 86.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Paint Chips

You think you have problems deciding what color to paint the living room? Well, New York's Landmarks Preservation Committee has an even bigger quandary on their hands: What color to paint the Guggenheim Museum. Paint it white, right, hasn't it always been white? Well, not quite--more of an off-white, a shade called London Fog.
Which looks something like this:

But famed architect of the Guggenheim, Frank Lloyd Wright ,never approved of this color and in fact had another color in mind entirely: A shade called Powell Buff.
Which looks something like this:

So, the question is, do they leave the Guggenheim the way people have come to know and love it or do they honor the architect's original artistic vision? Which would you choose?

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Sunday in Pictures

Some of the cool things about living in New York is that you can have breakfast at an iconic greasy spoon like Tom's Restaurant of both Suzanne Vega and Seinfeld fame, where they haven't let their notoriety go to their head as is evidenced by the fact that they haven't redecorated since the late '80s.
And where if there's a wait for a table you can always enjoy a view of St. John the Divine just around the corner.
And after breakfast you can wander through the Farmers Market.
Where the apples look particularly good.
And the tomatoes are locally grown.
Then you can stroll through the quad of venerable Columbia University where hundreds of families and children have turned out for The New York Times' "Great Read" sponsored by Target to promote children's literature and admission is free. And if you're lucky, maybe, just maybe, Julie Andrews will be there doing a Q & A with her daughter, Emma Walton on their collaboration of children's books which you can read more about at the
And that's what's cool about New York.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Such a Fancy Building

You may remember it from the exterior shots in Single White Female, the 1990s thriller starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, but the Ansonia has been a landmark anchoring the Upper West Side at 74th and Broadway for more than 100 years. The Beaux-Arts style building was designed by Graves and Duboy for builder William Earle Dodge Stokes from 1899 to 1904 and is considered an Historical Treasure and is protected as such.

Historically a musical building in its heyday the Ansonia served as home to Igor Stravinsky and members of the New York Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera. During the gritty 1960s and 70s the Ansonia served as home to the Continental Baths where Bette Midler and Barry Manilow famously performed together and started their partnership.

The building is in the news once again, this time for a roach infestation of "Biblical proportions". A couple, Alan Arkin (not the actor) and Suzanne Bagert, who rent a one-bedroom apartment (far below market value) on the 14th floor are suing the building management over the infestation which they claim has "rendered their apartment completely unfit to live in." They have been forced to sleep with their lights on, as roaches have been known to cover the floor, walls, ceiling and draperies.

Ew. Only in New York.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

Are You in the 212?

Call it a vanity tax this forty-some odd dollars a month I pay to keep my status as a "real" Manhattanite. It is proof of my seniority, a link to my paid dues, this phone line I never use but keep in service simply because it begins with the area code 212.

New Yorkers are snobs, or rather, Manhattanites are snobs, myself included. We size people up by a mere street address, zip code or telephone exchange. (In a city of so many people one has to categorize some how.) This wasn't always possible with area codes, however. At one time all five boroughs of New York were in the 212. Then in the '80s 718 was introduced and assigned to Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island, Manhattan and the Bronx remained 212. But in 1992 the Bronx, too, joined the ranks of the other outer boroughs leaving only Manhattan as 212 with all the snobbery, seniority and bragging rights that accompany it.

Well, imagine our dismay about 10 years ago when Manhattan ran out of 212 phone numbers and new numbers were being assigned to 917--an area code that had previously been reserved for cell phones. No one could imagine Manhattan without a 212 area code. In fact, we didn't even have to dial it back then--all you needed was a good old fashioned 7-digit number, it was understood that the area code was 212. The worst part about the implementation of 917 was that it would be used on a "rolling" basis, meaning that it could be assigned to any new number at any time, ANYWHERE in Manhattan. There was no neighborhood that was safe, no place to move to continue to enjoy the cache that comes with 212. The only defense was to hold on to your 212 number for dear life if you had one. I ask you, how else would anyone know that I didn't just fall off a turnip truck at the Farmer's Market or arrived in Times Square last Wednesday week with stars in my eyes if it weren't for my 212 phone number? And, by the way, I am not alone in this thinking--many New Yorkers are in the same quandary. And so, I pay my $40 a month.

In my particular case however, I had to fight for my 212 number, so I'm not about to give it up lightly. When I moved from The Village to the Upper West Side almost eight years ago I couldn't take my number with me. So when I called to have my telephone service hooked up, my worst fears were realized--they were planning to give me a 917 number! Luckily the young women I spoke to on the phone that day either felt pity or amusement by my long winded, eccentric explanation as to why I could not possibly have a 917 number. She asked me to hold for a few minutes which I did. After a full 5 or 6 minutes she came back on the line and explained that she just obtained special permission to open a whole new block of 212 numbers for the Upper West Side. So anyone with a 579 telephone exchange on the Upper West Side has me to thank.

The great irony is that I never even use my coveted 212 number anymore. At some point it just got easier with all the traveling I used to do for work to simply use my cell phone--a 917 number. For a while only telemarketers and my mother ever called my 212 land line. Then I got on the Do Not Call list and my mother finally wised up and started calling my cell phone, too. So now, for my $40 I get maybe 4 or 5 calls a month--but it's worth every penny.