Monthly Archives: March 2014

Saint Patrick’s Day

The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City took place in 1766, and was organized by the Irish members of two British Regiments that were stationed there, organizing themselves into The Society of the Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick.

Their observances included military men and civilians, who would toast the King (of England, damn it!), as well as the prosperity of Ireland — at least until the American Revolution started.

As the Irish population grew in New York, the celebrations spread to various parts of the city, and yes, to bars and taverns. The “Marching Tradition” took hold when different Catholic parishes around the city organized processions from their churches to the original Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which was downtown on Mott Street.

Interestingly, the old cathedral was once attacked by Know-Nothing nativists, which led to a number of riots and other physical exchanges. Part of what led to the friction was a book supposedly written by a young, mentally challenged woman (I’m not making this up), who had converted to Catholicism and purportedly was forced by nuns to have sex with priests for the purpose of providing newborns for some kind of bizarre sacrificial ritual.

Like the Know-Nothings of today, no evidence was required for believing these ranting, leaving them to conclude that the only logical course was to attack the cathedral. They didn’t reckon that the parish fathers might resist, which they did — firing their muskets through holes hastily cut through the church’s outer walls. To keep a watchful eye on the premises, soon afterward the Ancient Order of Hibernians set up headquarters across the street.

It was the Hibernians who In 1891 laid out the parade route that’s still followed, which runs up Fifth Avenue to Central Park, and passed in front of the new St. Patrick’s cathedral in midtown.

Even though there are no floats, autos or exhibits, over 150,000 people march. That would be like lining up every man, woman and child in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and marching them a couple of miles — many in bizarre costumes, some playing archaic musical instruments while others dance. To top it off: they get it done in about six hours.

I’ve gone to the parade before, but usually watched for only a little while because I was supposed to be doing something else — like working.

This year, I decided to make a special trip and bring the camera. The scale of the parade really is astonishing, and it’s amazing that it goes on while all other business in New York proceeds with little disruption.

This year it was very cold, and despite some shivering, I managed to get some interesting shots of the marchers, and a few of the LGBT protestors.

The parade allows no political groups to march, so in effect they ban any group that isn’t concerned in some way with Irish Heritage. I’m not sure they’ll ever change these rules (as the Irish are known for being a bit stubborn), but it is ironic that the parade has become as much a platform for dialog over inclusion, as it is for being a fine way of displaying one’s Irishness.

Here’s the slide show:

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Everything Reminds me of Something Else

I included a picture of New York City landmark bar, P.J. Clarks. Part of my plan was to stop in on my way home for a Pint of Guinness, which would be keeping with a tradition of at least having a pint of Guinness (but not necessarily at P.J. Clark’s).

Alas, the bar was packed to the rafters with similarly minded revelers and I just wasn’t in the mood for fighting my way to the bar. Instead I partook at another pub over on First Avenue, which I would not have done had I known that it would be served to me in a plastic cup.

A beautiful Pint

A beautiful Pint

Guinness Stout is never to be served in a plastic cup, but if there is one day above all others when it should not be, that day is St. Patrick’s day — and they charged me eight bucks, too, which really got my Irish up (which believe me, is none too fearsome).

Did you know that a true vegetarian will not drink Guinness Stout, no matter what kind of glass it’s in? It’s true.

When brewing beer, there’s a process called fining where unwanted solids are removed. To quicken the process, certain agents which are called finings are added to the brew (it’s done in making wine, too), which absorb these solids and are then filtered out of the final product.

I’ve written before how a recipe change can sink you in the brewing business, and this is especially true of a product like Guinness that has a near mythical aura surrounding it. Wisely, the brewers of the product are in no rush to make any changes, so they’ve been making it pretty much the same way since 1759.

The fining Guinness uses in its beer is called isinglass, which is made from dried swim bladder, which is an internal fish organ that helps the creature regulate its buoyancy in water. As a result, a really, really dedicated vegetarian will avoid drinking Guinness Stout.

It hasn’t kept me from having a Guinness from time to time (alright, probably a bit more often than from time to time), but I’m not a vegetarian. I try not to think about the isinglass, as its image wants to crowd out the normal, pleasant evocations brought forth by the black, white-foamed brew, and dampen them with disagreeable memories of cutting bait.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Joe

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Spare Tires and Last Tangos in Paris

The car wasn’t rolling like it usually does, and it didn’t sound right. Just a half-block from home, I pulled over and did a walk-around. The front-right tire was nearly flat, but I got it home. Before swapping out the spare, I tried inflating it and was surprised when it stayed hard. I didn’t see or feel a nail, and hoped that that maybe a pothole or curb-strike was to blame.

Sunday morning it still looked fine, but after picking up some bagels, I came out of the store and saw it was dead flat. With no choice, I popped the trunk and went to work. I was a little surprised that I had a full-sized spare, an option that’s becoming less common due to weight and space requirements.

Only half the people who get flats actually endeavor to change them themselves. Usually they call Triple A or somebody else.

A lot of cars come with temporary spares, sometimes called “donut” tires. Am I being overly picky by observing that any tire could be so described? Doesn’t matter, but these kinds of spares are smaller and lighter, and can’t be driven for long.

Others cars are equipped with “drive-flat” tires, which as the name implies, allows for getting the vehicle off the road under its own power. This appeals to me as there are plenty of places where it is not advisable to change a tire. Sometimes it’s the neighborhood, but often its the proximity to speeding cars that don’t give a damn if they leave you as flat as your tire.

Another approach car manufacturers are taking is the tire repair kit. They used to sell products like this, with names like: “Spare in a Can,” or something like that, which I’m pretty sure didn’t work very well — if at all.

The new approach is that the kit includes a small compressor that plugs into the cigarette lighter (God help you if your battery is also dead). It includes some sticky, rubbery spray that you squirt into the tire before using the compressor, which allows you to drive home, safe and sound.

It saves a lot of weight and space, is much easier than jacking up your car, but there is a significant drawback: it doesn’t work if the hole is too big or on the sidewall, which is about 15% of the time. So, you might want to keep that Triple A membership active.

Old school tire jack

In days of yore, a car would be jacked up by hooking a device onto its bumper. Trying something like that on a modern bumper would quickly result in a full reveal of what is hidden by what passes for bumpers these days, and a giant piece of cracked plastic that will cost upwards of $1,500 to replace.

The modern tire jack is much smaller and lighter, and slides underneath the chassis. It’s called a scissor jack, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me because you raise it by turning a crank.

Scissor Jack

Scissor Jack

I admit, It’s pretty cool that you can lift a car by turning a crank, but the bad thing about it is that you have to get on your knees and align it at the right place under the chassis. If you don’t do this properly, you can mess up your car and really, really wish you called Triple A to do it.

Everything reminds me of something else

In 1972, Marlon Brando starred in a movie called Last Tango in Paris. It  was a worldwide sensation because it contained nudity and somewhat explicit sex scenes between Brando’s, Paul, and his costar, Maria Schneider. It was one of the first legitimate movies with a real star that ventured into such taboo subject matter. Schneider was 20 when she made the movie, which was the same age I was when I saw it. Brando was 48 and struck me as being pretty old — now, not so much.

Paul is a recent American widower whose wife has committed suicide. Schneider’s character, Jeanne, is a carefree Parisian girl who is soon to be married. They meet at an apartment that’s for rent and have a sexual encounter, after which they agree to return for ongoing trysts.

Paul is a sad and damaged person who is wracked by guilt and shame over his wife’s death. Through their depersonalized and often depraved sex, he vents his suffering and grief upon the inexplicably compliant Schneider, who seems an almost indifferent spectator of her own debasement.

Paul insists they keep things anonymous, to the point where they don’t even know each other’s names, another demand Jeanne goes along with — but in spite of the rule, they can’t help but reveal more and more about themselves.

There are quite a few interpretations of the movie, but one thing that’s pretty well agreed upon is Brando’s acting put him in the running for being one of the greatest screen actors ever.

Toward the end of the movie, Paul deserts Jeanne, but then returns, this time treating her much better and expressing his love and a desire to get married. He starts telling her about himself, and this is when he says something that the flat tire reminded me of:

“I picked up a nail when I was in Cuba in nineteen forty-eight, and now I have a prostate like an Idaho potato. I’m still a pretty good stick man, even if I can’t have any kids.”

What an odd admission! (The urban dictionary defines picking up a nail as catching a venereal disease, and I’ll leave the definition of stick man to the reader’s imagination.) Here’s the scene — I’m afraid you have to watch the commercial, but it’s not too long. To get back to this page, use your browser’s back arrow.

Me again

In the dance hall there’s a tango competition taking place and the couple gets very drunk. At first it looks like they’re going to end up together, but for reasons that are unclear, Jeanne decides she doesn’t want to see him anymore. Here’s the dance hall scene:

The movie is over forty years old, so there’s no harm in exposing that it ends with her shooting Brando dead — and it’s just after she tells him her name. As she waits for the police to come, she’s heard practicing her lines: saying that she didn’t know who he was and that he was threatening her.

All and all, quite a period piece from the seventies, and they sure don’t make ’em like that anymore.

All the best until next time.

Wild in the Streets

It’s fascinating how people who the gods smile upon sometimes reject the bounty the world is so eager to bestow.

Nineteen-sixties actor, Christopher Jones died this past January at the age of 72 from complications brought about by cancer. He bore a likeness to James Dean and is said to have been fascinated by him at an early age. I became aware of him when he starred in the movie Wild in the Streets, which is a low budge, bizarre film where the Jones character becomes President of the United States, after which he locks up everyone over thirty and forcefeeds them LSD — from water coolers! Here’s the trailer:

Shelley Winters, Hal Holbrook, Ed Begley and Richard Prior were in it. I didn’t realize it when I saw it, but the whole thing was more or less a total joke.

Christopher Jones was born in 1941 without any semblance of a silver spoon in his mouth. In Jackson, Tennessee, he lived above the grocery store where his father was a checkout clerk. His mother was a artist who was plagued by mental instability and ended up in a mental hospital when he was three — and lived there until she died in 1960.

He was sent to an aunt’s house, who later pawned him and his brother off to an orphanage in Memphis. He lived there until he was fifteen, at which time he took up with a married, eighteen year old woman with two kids. He said that he realized then that women liked him. What took him so long?

chris2

I realized women liked me

He deserted her after awhile, and joined the army — which lasted two days before he went AWOL. He stole a car and headed for New Orleans, and then New York to turn himself in. He spent six months in military prison on Governors Island off the tip of Manhattan.

When he got out, he took up with another married woman who’s husband was in jail for peddling marijuana. He began studying painting and sculpting with artist Edward Melcarth, who by then was a pretty notable artist and was almost certainly attracted to the younger man.

An actor friend introduced Christopher to Producer Frank Corsaro, who taught at the Actors Studio and had been a friend and mentor to James Dean. In 1961,Corsaro cast him in a minor role of a Broadway play he was producing, which initially starred Bette Davis, who was replaced by Shelley Winters, who also took a shine to Christopher.

Winters introduced him to Actor’s Studio Founder Lee Strasberg’s daughter, Susan, who he ultimately married, but it didn’t go well. He later admitted to hitting her — and then there was the accidental discharge of a shotgun in their apartment.

He got his first TV role in 1963, playing a member of a street gang in an episode of East Side, West Side, and by 1965, landed the starring role in the TV series The Legend of Jesse James. It lasted only one season because of ratings competition from The Lucy Show and Dr. Kildare.

Wild in the Streets (1968) was his breakout role, which led to another exploitation movie Three in the Attic. He did two movies in Europe before getting the lead in David Lean’s Ryan’s daughter, which began filming in March of 1969.

Filmed in Ireland, it took a year to make — which was twice as long as it was supposed to. There were reports of friction between Lean and Jones, and though it was panned by critics, it made money, which is all that matters in, well…everything.

At the top of his career, when he returned to Los Angels he quit pursuing movie roles. Except for a three minute cameo in 1996, he never got in front of the camera again. In later interviews, he revealed that he and Sharon Tate had had an affair prior to his leaving for Ireland, and her murder played a role in his having a nervous breakdown.

For awhile in the seventies, he lived in a hotel on Sunset Blvd. and could be seen slumming around the Sunset Strip. He had a house in the Hollywood Hills, and moved to the San Fernando Valley with another woman, with whom he had a child and devoted himself. He also refocused on his artwork.

In the 1980’s that relationship went south and he was set adrift. With his movie money gone, he was left to rely on his friends for living arrangements until he met Paula McKenna, with whom he had four kids. After ten years, he moved on once again.

Christopher Jones was one of those guys who got a lot of slack from everybody because he was one of those lucky, usually handsome and charismatic guys the world can’t get enough of — no matter what they do.

Everything Reminds me of Something Else

Me and a group of friends went to see Wild in Streets at the Bay Shore Theater (the one that was kitty-corner to Saint Patrick’s Church on Main Street). There used to be a guy who stood outside the theater and as people were leaving, he would ask them for a cigarette. I always thought that was an odd approach, since he probably would’ve done better if he asked for money.

Another thing I remember about this theater is a show that Newsday once put on there for all its paperboys, which I was for four or five years (girls were not yet granted the privilege of doing this crappy, mostly thankless work).

It was sort of a paperboy appreciation rally, where we could eat all the popcorn we wanted, and fill up on sodas and candy. They had a rock band, and the lead singer told us a joke that still comes to mind:

A guy is working behind the counter at a restaurant and a nasty woman patron keeps demanding, “Make me a hamburger. Make me a hamburger.” After awhile the guy — who unbeknownst to her has supernatural powers — gets fed up and says: “Poof, you’re a hamburger,” whereupon the woman is changed into a hamburger.

This joke was used to lead into the song Do you Believe in Magic, by the Lovin’ Spoonful.

At that time, Newsday cost a nickel each, and we only delivered it Mondays thru Fridays. They had a Saturday paper, but if you wanted one, you had to go buy it, probably because the carriers couldn’t handle the much thicker Saturday edition. Most of us had this kind of basket on our bikes:

bike basketWhen it was filled with papers, it wasn’t real easy to hold steady, and I remember falling over on many occasions, the worst being windy days when you had to get a hand on the papers before they blew all over the place.

It’s been said that doing this kind of work is good because you learn a lot about running a business. I don’t know about that, but I did learn one very important lesson and that is: Far too many people are no damned good.

How did I learn this? By the number of people willing to give me a quarter when I came to “Collect” for the week’s delivery. I mean, for Christ’s sake, I hand carried their paper to their front door five days a week! Isn’t that worth something extra?

Not to these soulless, pitiful mounds of flesh, who were only slightly more reprehensible than those willing to pry an extra nickel from their rusty purses and pay $.30. People who paid $.35 barely entered the realm of marginal acceptability. The truly admirable members of the human race were the ones who always paid fifty cents, usually with two fine looking quarters. They also usually gave me five bucks for Christmas.

May God have a special place in heaven for them.

Cheers!