1. I used to miss NYC with a longing and affection like an old girlfriend. Now I miss it with the dissapointment for an old gf who’s been screwing Donald Trump while I’ve been out of town. 2. Overheard in the Equinox locker room, a guy shouting into his cellphone: “I don’t give a fuck…human beings are only as good as the deals they bring to the table!” 3. Overheard on Broadway by Lincoln Center: “Look, at this rate we’ll both be living in my parents house in Westchester. I’ll have my old room and you’ll have my brother’s room. I’m sick…I’m sick…I’m sick with anxiety!!” 4. Now that apartments in Manhattan have a rich and poor entrance, is a rich/poor entry to the city itself on its way? 5. Have you noticed all those ads touting foreign superiority? Swiss precision. German engineering. Volvo made in eco-friendly Sweden. Jag-U-ar made for British genius super-villains . Japan and Canada are our largest trading partners and never mentioned in commercials. 6. And hey, forget about our third largest partner! No praise for their national superiority. (look it up!) Speaking of commercials do women experience the same visceral ‘ewwww’ to Cialus commercials that I get when I hear those ads about dry vaginas? 8. I knew I was getting old when the wives in the Cialus commercials looked like hot babes. 9. How come there are NO Viagra commercials? (Okay, after I wrote this, all of a sudden there were relentless Viagra commercials on air! It took them long enough to get over CD-commercial dysfunction).10.Have you seen the Chantix stop smoking commercials with the testimonial of a cop? Its followed by a hyper-rattling off of the possible side effects: Anger anxiety behavior changes, depression, feelings of panic, hallucinations, irritability, mood swings, nervousness restlessness, thoughts of killing oneself… Really? Prescribed for a cop?!? 11. 11. A few months ago I had Kyle for 16 days and then flew to NYC to babysit my best friends 9 year old for 12 days while he vacationed with his wife in Italy. Don’t tell me kids were always like this! 12. Maybe its faulty memory, but I don’t remember begging my parents to BUY me anything. Do you? 13. Whatever MINECRAFT is, from what I saw, its gotta be more addictive than cocaine. 14. I saw the LBJ play with Brian Cranston. He was awesome and hilarious, but I don’t remember LBJ ever being funny. Ever. Even once. 15. “Of Mice and Men” was a solid production and James Franco delivered a solid, strong performance, impressive for his first time on a Broadway stage. Chris O’Dowd had a fascinating interpretation of Lenny but what was Leighton Meister doing? The most sexless Curley’s Wife I’ve ever seen. All the male characters drool over how hot she is but she was a drab, projecting no sex appeal at all. 16. She was so poorly cast that I began to think it was a purposeful, a directorial choice maybe, all the men were projecting their longing and loneliness upon her, making her a victim twice over. 17. Maybe I’m the one projecting here! LOL 18. I think NY Times theater critic Ben (“We’re all gay now!”) Brantley would have written a better review of OMAM if they had had made the gay insinuations about Lenny and George more substantial. (He raved for “The Glass Menagerie” where they extracted a gay subtext for Tom and pushed it center stage, subverting the actual themes of the play.) 19. I don’t care about the reviews: If/Then was provocative and at times, thrilling. Not perfect, not great, not historic theater, but relevant to me at this stage of life. The subject was about the choices we make and how as long as we live we can make new ones. Idina Menzel, love her, mock her, mispronounce her name…but what a presence and voice! 20. The publicity juggernaut for Ronan Farrow ground to a halt faster than any celebrity since David Lee Roth took over for Howard Stern. 21. Okay, we rail about FB and video game addiction but in the age of DVD and DVR I have an addiction for narrative TV series: Orphan Black. Game of Thrones. Continuum. Homeland. Penny Dreadful. Manhattan. The Bridge, The Honorable Woman (that last was incredible!) We usually only read one or two books at a time. I follow two at a time, watching episode by episode like chapters in a book. 22. On the other hand how many hours did I waste watching ‘Under the Dome’ hoping every week it would get better? 23. How could Steven King and Jack Bender, the director from ‘Lost’, create something so phony and lifeless? 24. Do they change the name when its aired in Israel? 25. How come when I look in the mirror what looks back seems acceptable…but when I see it in a photograph I get hit in the head by the frying pan of reality? 26. Does anyone else find you’re having much more vivid dreams as you get older? 27. When I lived in NYC most of my dreams took place in Santa Barbara on the campus of UCSB. Now I live in Florida and most of them take place in NYC. 28. Most have to do with the panic of forgetting where I parked my car. (Yeah, I can figure out what that means…) 29. When I wear my glasses I get compliments. People under 30: “I love your Harry Potter glasses!” Over 30: “I love your John Lennon glasses!” 31: My brother gave me Hillary Clinton’s book for my birthday. I’m prepared to vote for her, to endure 8 years of her Presidency. I’m not prepared to spend 2 months reading her 800 page book. After 22 years in the public spotlight is there anything about her we haven’t heard or know? 32. Is this something one can re-gift ? 33. Joan Rivers and Johnny Carson had an infamous life-long feud. Ask someone under 20 who each of them is. Then tell me who won. 34. Sometimes I shake milk cartons after taking it from the fridge. Why? Because my parents did it when I was a kid. And milk had long been homogenized back then when they did it! 35. When I lived in NYC there was only one Dairy Queen, a crummy, tiny one in Penn Station with few selections. I used to drive to Rutherford, NJ for a Blizzard. 36. Anita Bonita tells me they opened a new one in Union Square! 37. Upward inflections used by trained actors chain my attention until the end of the sentence. Upward inflections in the ‘Valley girl’ style of speech make me want to stop listening. 38. Have you noticed more and more of this kind of speech in the younger pundits on television? 39. Is vocal delivery even considered anymore when casting television news people? Remember the great on-air voices: Murrow, Cronkite, Brinkley, Robinson, Snyder, Grimsby?. 40. Yes, they were all male, but British television has many athoritive, distinctive female voices. Just listen to BBC podcasts. I could listen to Kirsty Young read the phone book for hours. 41. Does anyone remember the first black national news anchor, Max Robinson? We had the same agent so I heard about him quite a bit in the 80’s. What a story: starting as a studio stage manager, thrust by chance into an historic position, haunted by personal demons, dead from AIDS before the age of 50. No one has told that story yet in book or film. It could be a good one. 42. Quick, can you name the three current national news anchors on the evening news? I can’t. 43. Do you remember we had at least had some NY broadcasters sounding like New Yorkers? Michael Savage is the only daily broadcaster I can think of with a New York accent and he lives in San Francisco. And Joy Behar, I guess. Lynn Samuels with that great NY accent is gone. 44. Oh, yeah, and Curtis Sliwa…but I think that’s a parody of a New York accent. (Sorry, Curtis). 45. In over 25 years in broadcasting I never had an agent get me a job. (Okay, one– Lance Klein at ICM! Thanks for the ‘Truster’ pilot, Lance!) But I had several who lost me jobs. And one sued me. 46. On the other hand, as an actor, agents found me auditions for jobs all the time. 47. What was the last new musical genre? Trance? Grundge? A new one used to pop up every few years: Folk, rock, pop, punk, disco, grunge, rap. What happened? Music has been in stasis for almost 20 years. 47. How come I never knew Steve Kornacki was gay and I watch him every week but I knew Jonathon Capehart was gay after his first sentence? 48. Over the years I spent as an actor I could never cry on cue. Now, after the deaths of my parents, I can. 49. I’ve saved this story for years. It made me cry the first time I read it and each time I recited it to someone afterwards. It took me all this time to realize its not the ailing grandfather or the empathy of the doctors that brings on my tears. It’s the innocent, futile hope of the child. “A medical student told how he and a group of residents were laughing and joking through “work-rounds” one morning; they expressed amused resentment toward their next patient, a comatose old man awaiting his PEG (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy) ticket to a “nursing warehouse”. After the ritual chest examination and a few shouts in his ear, they turned to go, when their attention was caught by a new card on the wall, colored in crayon by a child’s hand. “Get well soon, Grandpa”, it read. The troupe fell silent as they left the room, and the joking ceased.” 50. Why do the days seem so short in Florida?
JOAN RIVERS INTERVIEW 1988 CLICK HERE FOR THE JOAN RIVERS INTERVIEW. I THINK YOU WILL ENJOY IT!
I interviewed JOAN RIVERS on live television, PEOPLE ARE TALKING, back in 1988. She was delightful, quick and had an easy access to that ability I always strove for, to punch through and actually make a real connection with the viewer on the other side of the screen. To turn live TV into LIVE TV! She was also, I think, the most insecure person I’ve ever interviewed. From the moment she arrived she nervously and repeatedly asked what questions I had, expressed concerns about the format and suggested topics for which she had jokes pre-planned (skiing was one!). By the time she was in make up I put a reassuring hand on her shoulder and assured her I would set her up as the perfect straight man, that she was so good at this and that I wanted her to look her best. She also was an attractive woman in person back then, much more so than she appeared in photos or on TV and when I told her so, she nervously denied it and joked about that.
On air I mentioned that unlike many TV celebrities she was more than gracious and friendly with fans off air. I’d seen her spend time talking with on-lookers, signing autographs, answering questions from fans and in a way that was down to earth rather than self-aggrandizing. I turned to the camera and said to the viewers: “You should know, not everyone is like this. A lot of people seem friendly and gracious on air but they’re not so in real life…” Immediately Joan jumped on it and demanded to know who this was. “Name names. Say it? Who was mean to you?” When I demurred, she insisted. “Oh, come on, don’t be a wimp. The way to get famous if you’re a little fish is to attack the big fish.” I kept refusing. “Look, if you ever want to get out of Secaucus say it. Who was it? They want to know!”. And I blurted out “Regis Philbin!” Someone once introduced me to him at a buffet table and he kind of waved me off. Joan turned to the camera and declared: “Regis! He hates you!!! Why were you so mean to Richard!” Live. On the air. I tried to make excuses for Regis and he certainly deserved them but Joan just kept on: “Tell him the truth! You hate him now! Regis, he hates you!” The audience both in the studio and home loved it. And it was another example of Joan punching through the screen on live television. Afterwards, Regis’ producers called to find out what I was upset about and I apologized profusely and a few months later I ran into Regis again and he was as apologetic I was. He didn’t remember meeting me at all, which was understandable under the circumstances And over the years, he’s always been gracious and personable with me. Even helpful with advice.
Since her death, there have been a lot of reports about how Joan’s drive to work continuously was motivated by a fear that it would all stop at any moment, that she might suddenly lose a way to support herself with her talent. Joan was funny and self-deprecating but she was also fearlessly honest and unguarded. For someone so intrinsically insecure this was a feat of great bravery.
Twice we were competitors. Her radio show aired against the one I hosted with Steve Malzberg on WABC. Her TV show aired against THE RICHARD BEY SHOW on WWOR. And once, we had a row on THE HOWARD STERN SHOW where Joan promoted her show as #1 in the time period (It wasn’t. My show was #2 after the PRICE IS RIGHT and Joan was far behind both shows in the NYC ratings). Two hours later as I prepared to leave home, Howard was still on the radio and I heard him tease: “Richard Bey, Joan Rivers is #1. Do you hear me? She is #1, Richard Bey!” I smiled. Howard had millions of listeners but now he was talking just to me! And now, I’m just one out of the millions who will miss Joan.
Joan Rivers was NOT #1 in our time period. But in so many other ways Joan Rivers WAS #1.
Isla Vista has been in the news recently after the recent shootings. During the early 1970’s I lived there for three years as a student at UCSB. As I heard the reports I could visualize the Spanish named streets described in the rampage: Del Playa, (where I lived), Sabado Tarde, Pasado, Embarcadero del Norte. I often visit them in my dreams. I’ve attended five different universities but when I dream about college, I only dream about UCSB and Isla Vista. IV was unique in that it was a large community of only young people. You rarely saw anyone over the age of 30 (except for professors on campus). It even had a unique smell, a sweet/sour mixture of eucalyptus and oil slick. The news reports describe it as idyllic and that sounds like a cliche, but IV and the campus are located on the side of cliffs overlooking the Pacific. In the East, the Santa Ynez mountains create the horizon. There’s a beautiful lagoon on campus and cutting class can easily mean going for a swim. When we sang about how ‘We got to get ourselves back to the garden”, that garden might be a place like this. Paradise…
On the other hand, the island in ‘Lord of the Flies’ was idyllic and it was also populated by only young people. And we know how that turned out.
In my freshman year there was a ‘Nude-in for Peace’ on the beach. Everyone gathered fully clothed waiting for someone else to take the first step. A wild, beautiful young girl, part of the ‘hippy street people’ tribe that gravitated to IV, stripped off all her clothes and ran happily into the surf. Soon everyone was following including me. I remember sitting cross-legged on the sand in a circle with all these beautiful girls from class and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Someone passed a joint, others brought large conga drums and soon everyone was dancing to the beat. On the cliffs above the beach police were arriving, followed by gawkers from Santa Barbara with binoculars and there was some concern there might be a bust. But there wasn’t, despite what happened next. I noticed a boy lying on the sand and the expression on his face was ecstatic, an expression so powerful Ican still imagine it in my mind’s eye. I remember thinking it looked like he was ascending to heaven. Then I noticed the girl’s head in his lap and I understood his ecstasy was more corporal than spiritual. And I heard female moans, equally ecstatic coming from another group nearby. A girl was spread out on the sand with a man on top of her. When he was done another took his place. I realized there was a line of young men forming, students waiting their turn. And the girls moans were moving from pleasure to panic. I walked to the line and said “Come on, guys. This isn’t cool. Cut it out, this girl is f-ed up.” Which was an understatement: ‘free love’ was becoming a gang rape. They were big guys. Students. The kind of jock-types Rodgers called ‘brutes’ in his deranged manifesto. They pushed me away and told me to get on line, to wait my ‘turn’. I walked up to the girl and threw sand on her body, warning the next guy that he wouldn’t want to continue, she was all sticky and sandy (it was the only thing I could think of at that moment). Finally, I picked one guy, looked him in the face and insisted: ‘Come on man, look at me! You know this ain’t right!” He met my eyes, there was a flicker of shame in them and he quietly agreed: “Yeah, you’re right.” We picked the stoned girl up from the beach, threw her arms over our shoulders and walked her away. I learned something then: It only took the break out of one guy on the line to break up the mob. One person can break the group fever.
IV was a wild place, exciting, young and full of energy…with the potential for a dark side when mob think took over. Even the Garden of Eden had a Serpent lurking…
For the rest of the semester, the parties in Isla Vista became nude parties, leave your clothes at the door. The next year, they were over, a fad disappearing as quickly as it began. But a more dangerous activity began.
The Bank of America was a large brick building smack in the middle of the loop, the social heart of IV. Because B of A was said to be the paymaster of the War in Vietnam it had become a symbol of the establishment for some and a source of resentment for many. In February radicals set fire to the bank and I saw it burning on my way to rehearsal at the Drama Dept. I had one of the leading roles in an English anti-war play by John Osborne I was 18 but one of the other actor’s was older, a Vet and more mature in his mid-twenties. When I excitedly informed the cast what was happening down the road he said: “You twit, the bank can’t burn! Its made of concrete.” When he saw the fire from the roof of the Drama Dept., he came back to the stage and admitted: “You’re correct. The bank is burning. But you’re still a twit!”
I opposed the war in Vietnam but I had mixed feelings about many anti-war activities. When student groups gathered and planned the shutdown of Highway 101 at rush hour (which took place) I stood before the group and argued against it. “These people in their cars are just working people. They’ve been at the job all day. They’re tired and want to get home for dinner and see their families. They’re not going to welcome us making them late. They’re going to say some asshole kid is keeping me from getting home. We’re going to turn them off. Completely.” I stood another time and argued against romanticizing the spray painted anti-war graffiti defacing the campus. I was disgusted when I heard Jerry Rubin at the Gaucho Stadium tell us that in order to be true revolutionaries we had to be willing to kill our parents. I looked around at those seated near me and yelped: ‘We wouldn’t even be here without our parents paying tuition!” It wouldn’t be the first times in my life I would be called names and told to shut up for having unpopular, minority opinions. On the other hand I did join protestors on the tarmac at Santa Barbara Airport to keep Governor Ronald Reagan from landing there. And I did join the sit-in at Perfect Park in violation of the curfew and restrictions on civil liberty in IV.
But I also called USAF recruiters in my last semester because though I was against the war I believed citizens have a duty to serve their country. I spoke to them several times but then got a full graduate scholarship to Stanford, followed by a scholarship to Yale.
On the night of April 18, 1970 I was standing on the street before the new pre-fab trailer the B of A had erected as an assertion that they would not be forced out of the community. I was ridiculously wearing an Aussie style hat and a pair of leather pants I made as a project in Costume Design. Stupidly, I had bought thick upholstery leather and the teacher told me I couldn’t make pants out of it. I proved him wrong by punching holes in it and sewing it with strong carpet thread. I could wiggle into them but it wasn’t comfortable walking. You could hardly bend your knees. Students had gathered that night and some started throwing stuff at the bank trying to break its windows and glass doors. When one did, the crowd cheered. The mob grew more brave. Molotovs followed and a small fire erupted. Several students ran up the steps with fire extinguishers to put the fire out. When this happened a few times, a Molotov, a fire extinguisher, another Molotov some in the crowd began throwing bricks at the boys with extinguishers. Five or six of us ran up the steps, placing ourselves between the mob and their victims. I raised my arms and shouted out something banal and hippie-ish like “Hey man, you’re trying to stop people from being killed in Vietnam but you’re trying to kill people right here. That makes no sense. Try to burn the bank if you want. Let them put it out if they want. But don’t hurt other people! That’s not what this is about!”
Suddenly, trucks came racing down the street. They screeched to a stop and I heard a ‘POP’. I thought it came from the tear gas canister that was now hissing smoke in front of me. Other canisters were going off around the street and cops in riot gear leaped from the trucks, chasing people through the alleys. For seconds I thought ‘should I tell the cops I was trying to stop the violence?’ But it was chaos now, no time for reasoned explanations. I took off. As I began to run, my home made leather pants split and I waddled away, grabbing them at the waist. A cop began chasing me and I banged on the doors of student houses pleading for safety. One opened and shut quickly. I stumbled inside before I could be grabbed.
Later on the radio we heard that one of the students with the fire extinguishers, one of the guys standing right behind me, was shot and killed. I’m pretty sure that was the ‘POP’ I mistakenly took for a tear gas launcher. His name was Kevin Moran, a UCSB student. I’ve always remembered his name and think of him from time to time. His life cut short for nothing. No future. No career. No wife or children. An ending as senseless as the war itself. And it could just as easily have been me who was shot by that cop that night. Sometimes life is the luck of the draw.
When I returned to Isla Vista a few years back the bank had been replaced by a pool hall. There is a plaque in cement in front of it. “Kevin Moran For Social Change, Fair Play and Peace”. I went into the pool hall, ordered a beer and asked the bartender what he knew about the plaque. He walked over it everyday but didn’t even know it was there. Neither did the waitress. I felt the same sad senselessness the day I saw the Communist President of a unified Vietnam smiling and ringing the bell on the NY Stock Exchange.
On April 13th 1970, California Governor Ronald Reagan gave a speech in Yosemite. He called for a crackdown on campus dissent saying “Appeasement is not the answer… If it’s to be a bloodbath, let it be now.” Reagan later denied making the statement but when a tape recording of his voice emerged he had to admit it. Kevin Moran, that UCSB student was shot and killed five days later on April 18th. His death has been largely forgotten, overshadowed by what happened shortly after: the following month four students were killed at Jackson State followed by four more at Kent State.
In 1980-81 I lived in LA for eight months appearing in TABLE SETTINGS at the Matrix Theater. Almost every night, after the show, most of the cast would head over to a bar/restaurant called Kathy Gallagher’s in West Hollywood. Many performers hang there until closing time and one night I was at the bar in long conversation with the congenial guy next to me. I forget most of the conversation (girls?, LA lifestyle? Movies?) but at one point he asked what I was doing in LA. I told him I was an actor, signing test deals with the networks and appearing in a play. I asked what he did. “I play keyboards”, he replied. “Really? I played piano and played keyboards in a lot of bands in high school. I had a Baldwin organ and an Ampeg Gemini II.” We continued talking about organs, the sound of a Farfisa (the popular Italian organ manufacturer) and Baldwin compared to a Hammond B-3, amps, the Leslie tone chamber etc. I talked about the Ampeg and how it was not a bass amp usually used with organs, but had a 15″ speaker and delivered a different sound. After a few minutes of this (and I was by no means an expert on organ playing) I asked how he made a living. “Oh, I play with some bands. Do some recording.” “Any groups I would know?” I asked. He mentioned a few that seemed vaguely familiar but didn’t change tone when he added, “And I was also the keyboard player for THE DOORS”.
It was Ray Manzarek, one of the most famous rock keyboardists in the world. His solo for ‘Light My Fire’ is probably the most famous rock organ riff in history.
I was shocked and embarrassed. I could have dropped to my knees and bowed: ‘I’m not worthy. I’m not worthy’ like the characters in Wayne’s World. Here I’d been blabbing about my amateur tinklings on my folding Baldwin organ with one of the great rock organists! He was such a sweet, humble guy, answering all the fan questions I had about The Doors and we would say a quick ‘Hi’ every time we met in Kathy’s during my run at The Matrix.
Ray Manzarek died yesterday in Germany at the age of 74. An artist who was also a humble, down to earth guy…at least in the very limited time I spent with him. Thinking of you today. And remembering your solo, which I inartfully tried to mimic so many times in High School…Thanks.
Ten years ago this week I was fired at WABC during the first weeks of the Iraq War. For months preceding the invasion I had been presenting real evidence exposing the flim-flam our government was perpetrating concerning Iraq’s danger to the US and its connection to 9/11. During the prior months I watched my fellow anti-war comrades at the station Lynn Samuels and Rev. Byron Schaefer get fired along with others on TV and on radio. A few weeks after my dismissal I wrote this as a letter to the editor or an op-ed…but I never sent it. A good friend in the business, who’s opinion I highly respected, suggested it was not a good time to do so. His words at the time were chilling: ‘Don’t send it if you ever want to work again in this business’ He may have been right, but it is one of the very few things I regret not doing during my broadcast career. I came across it the other day…It’s ten years too late, but interesting as a window on that strangest of times:
TALKING WITH THE ENEMY
Last month I was knocked off the beacon of freedom in a troubled land. I was fired by the talkradio station where I worked. It is a station where a savage conservative voice follows an affable conservative voice which is preceded by a operatic conservative voice proceeded by a genteel conservative voice preceded by a streetwise conservative voice. In talk radio this is known as diversity. It seems to be a successful broadcasting model these days. In morning and late evening drive two dissenting gadflies buzz in dissent. Until last month I was one of them.
The morning anti-war gadfly conveniently disappeared for vacation on the very day the shock and awe bombs began to drop. This should have been enough time to keep him out of harms way but unfortunately, ‘the walk in the park’ became a slightly longer foray. The Iraqi’s did not collapse at ‘the first whiff of gunpowder’ but waited until a second or third sniff, so he was back on the air before the war ended. Though he is a very brave and passionate fellow he was a bit restrained in his commentary when he returned. I understand why.
The un-American police are on patrol.
It is un-American to show ‘Bull Durham’ at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Not because of any message in the movie but because its stars, Susan Saranden and Tim Robbins have been outspoken in opposition to war. It is un-American to point out that bombs kill mothers and children as well as enemy soldiers so Representative Charles Rangel, a decorated Korean War Veteran delivers a speech defending his patriotism and decrying intimidation. It is un-American to use a campaign slogan that reminds voters that regime change in America is their right at the ballot box so candidate John Kerry has to plead to be allowed to criticize the office holder he would like to replace at election time. It is un-American to listen to the Dixie Chicks, to praise Michael Moore‘s wit, to eat in a French restaurant. to drink Evian or Perrier. Even Tavern on the Green is purging its menu of French references (they cannot find an Anglified substitute for ‘filet mignon’ yet). There are so many things that are un-American these days that for a while it seemed that the only safely American past times were flag waving and yellow ribbon tying.
Now that the fever of war is cooling it is time to rediscover two real American traditions: Proud dissent and passionate debate. They should never have disappeared, even during a month of war.
Some dissenting media stars have faded away in the breaking of our new conservative dawn. MSNBC has a memo that warns the station it will be branded unAmerican if Phil Donahue is on the air once war begins. A major media consulting firm warns TV stations that their ratings will fall if they broadcast news of antiwar protests. Peter Arnett does something stupid and is banished from American airwaves while Geraldo Rivera does something even more stupid and remains a conservative star. War coverage on the airwaves that corresponds to the Pentagon playbook is the only ratings getter. The war has sealed what was a trend, the acceptance of monolithic conservative mass media.
Since my firing, colleagues in broadcasting have called me to commiserate. ‘What the heck is going on?’ they ask. But they ask it in a whisper, as if the phone is being tapped or some agent from a new TIPS program is eavesdropping.
Two weeks ago the Dixie Chicks were number one on the Billboard Charts, even after their music was banned on playlists and CD’s were smashed in protest. Toby Keith was number two with his song connecting Saddam Hussein to September 11th. Michael Savage‘s literary dream of a savage nation was number one on the NY Times best seller list but Michael Moore‘s premonition about the dangers of stupid white men was number two. This is still a nation where some people buy books or music for different political reasons and also because they like to read or listen to music. Broadcast mediums have far less diversity in their spectrum.
The media has a power to shape reality and that reality today finds dissonance of political opinion intolerable. Talkradio goes further. There is a bullying confidence in identifying the real Americans from those who are not. It is un-American to use the word ‘invasion’. Broadcasters must use ‘liberation’. Peace marchers are communists filled with hate although I was there along with many others carrying American flags. Democrats are a subversive group, untrustworthy and ready to undermine the benevolent efforts of the protective state though I have been a lifelong registered Democrat. ‘G-d Bless America’ used to be a plea. Today it is an order to the Almighty to fall in line.
Operation Iraqi Freedom is drawing to a close but Operation American Freedom is just beginning. The soldiers in that fight here at home must not whisper or cluster in fear.
Or is it unAmerican to make that comparison?
The trailer for EVOCATEUR: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie has just been released and you can see me briefly here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3MKEqwE76FU I saw this powerful film last year when it premiered at the TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL. It opens nationwide in theaters this June. And surprisingly they used quite a bit of my interview in it…If you saw Mort and the show I’m sure you never forgot either…The film is worth seeing.
It’s a great story for the Christmas season; the Broadway cop who interrupted his beat to buy shoes and socks for a homeless man barefoot in the winter cold. We expect cops to be tough and inured to the quotidian hardships of life on city streets. Other New Yorkers, as they walked by, laughed and mocked the discomfort of this poor man. These details served to further highlight the patrolman’s charity.
But if you’re a New Yorker you’ve grown cynical to the ways of the city as well. After all, this was a young, inexperienced officer who grew up in the gentler suburbs of Long Island. Give him time to toughen up. And the fact that the photographer had connections to an Arizona police force inspires initial suspicion of some sort of self-interest and manipulation.
If you are a cynical New Yorker you might have initially considered these caveats as I did before buying the story . Or perhaps not.
The short story writer O. Henry was also a con man. He spent time in prison and was haunted by personal demons. Yet he wrote one of the most heart-warming, moving stories about Christmas-giving in the English canon, second only to Dickens. And it took place in hard-scrabble New York City.
I think New Yorkers (and this is almost unique to New Yorkers) have a special capacity to be cynical AND sentimental, streetwise AND compassionate, guarded AND caring. They have a reputation for moving too fast, being self-concerned and rude, yet I have visited many cities around the world and I’ve never seen one where so many citizens offer unsolicited help to bemused strangers with maps. Yes, we have the old story of Kitty Genovese but we also have stories of New Yorkers who leap onto subway tracks to save another, who chase purse snatchers or give all in time of crisis like Hurricane Sandy and after 9/11. We have our share of con artists like Rosie Ruiz and Madoff and Kerik but we also have our share of heroes and those who donate their lives for the well being of others. We have our share of stories like the next two but we also have our share of stories like the two that follow these.
I was sitting in an outdoor café on Columbus Avenue when a bearded, disheveled man walked by my table. “I’m hungry,” he growled at me. “Give me some money for food…” The waiter had just plopped a fat, juicy hamburger on my table magnifying the guilt factor. I don’t like to give out money on the street as you never know whether it will help or hurt the person to whom you’re giving. But I looked up and down at the burger and replied: “Here, take this. We’ll both probably be better off if I give you half” and proceeded to slice off my lunch. I wrapped it in the wax paper on which it rested and placed it in his hands. No thank you. No acknowledgement at all. Then I watched him walk away to the corner and dump it in the garbage pail.
I was driving down 58th street by the Plaza Hotel one night when I saw a frantic young woman lifted her head from the window from the car in front of me. Her face was tear stained and she was a windmill of waving arms trying to flag me down. “Please, please, my name is (so and so), I live in Edison, New Jersey,” she sobbed. “You can call my mother if you like, I’ll give you her number…Someone just stole my purse and I can’t get home. My car is in the lot and they won’t let me take it out unless I pay. Please help me…I’ll send you back the money. I promise….I just don’t know what to do–where I will sleep, where will I go? I have no way to get home…” Her face was wild with anxiety and tears were streaming from her eyes. I offered her a twenty and warned: “This is probably a scam. I know it…but its one I’ve never heard before and on the small chance it is true here’s $20 and a business card. If you’re going to pay me back just call the number and I’ll give you my address.” Instead of a ‘thank you’ she told me that the garage was $29 and she couldn’t get home without that amount…so I threw another twenty on top of what I’d given her. Well…..of course I never got a call but about three months later I was driving in bumper to bumper traffic down W 57th Street with Kyle and there she is leaning into the car in front of me. “Watch this,” I warned Kyle, my blood pressure rising. The tears were flowing, the face anguished as she leaned in and began her spiel. “Get your face out of my car before I punch it,” I shouted. “You’re a great actress. Why don’t you walk a few blocks south and get a job on Broadway!” The tears stopped like turning off a garden hose. She composed herself in a second and moved on to the next car.
On the other hand, one day I was taking the escalator up from the Lincoln Plaza Theater. I was looking down and when I got to the top I saw a pair of shiny Brogues buffed to a sheen so reflective you could see your face in them. Above them was a man with a goatee in a natty three piece woven suit; atop his head a snazzy straw boater. He seemed like a well dressed character out of time, a dandy—polished and neatly buttoned up, as spiffy as they come. With a wide grin he began to address me: “Do you remember last winter when it was freezing cold and a man on the street came to you asking for money? You said you don’t give money on the street but you took him to buy soup and a cup of coffee? Do you remember that?” I did. The poor soul had been shivering in the bitter winter under a wrinkled shirt with no overcoat. “Well, that was me!” he said grinning. “I jest want to thank you for that. You really helped me out when I was cold and hungry and I appreciate it. I been thinking about that awhile and been looking for you. When I saw you coming out of the movies I had to say ‘thank you’.” “My G-d,” I exclaimed. “I can’t believe you. Look at you now! Just look at you! You’re better dressed than I am! What happened?” His smile got even wider: “I found Jesus!” he nodded. “Well, whatever works for you keep it up because it is doing the job!” Our handshake turned into a hug.
Another time I was walking up Columbus when I spotted a young couple heading towards me. As they walked their arms were entwined in the way that told the world they were very much in love. They were not just heading in my direction. They stopped me to say thank you for taking them into a restaurant the winter before when they were desperate. They reminded me that I gave my credit card to the cashier then and told her to ring up $20 and feed them anything they wanted up to that amount. They were desperate then. Now the city had found them shelter and they both were working towards their GED’s. They remembered that night more than I did. I watched them linked together in hope and love, as if they were holding onto each other for life. . It was starting to get cold and the wind was sharpening. Winter would soon be here again.
To paraphrase Beckett life in the big city teaches us: “We can’t believe. But we must believe.”
Yeah, so maybe that homeless guy that got the cops shoes went off to trade them for a bottle of rotgut. Or maybe he walked in those shoes to a place where he could turn his life around. Sometimes in the grand scheme of things a lot of stories don’t ultimately have happy endings. Tiny Tim who cries out ‘G-d bless us everyone’ will probably still die young in the alternative future chosen by Scrooge. Anne Frank’s inspiring narrative ends not at Auschwitz but with her belief that ‘despite it all I still believe people are basically good’.
In the end it’s not what’s in the hearts of others that matters because you can’t control those hearts. What is important is the commitment you have to what is in your own.
Good for you Officer DePrimo. This city will no doubt make you tougher. May it never make you harder of heart.
I will be on SiriusXM Left on December 7,10th and 14th from 7-10AM EST filling in for Alex Bennet. Its Channel 127 and the number to call in is 1 866-99-SIRIUS. Please tune in and listen if you can. Better yet, please call in and share your thoughts regardless of your ideology, agreement or disagreement. I’m looking forward to it. Hope you are too!
I spent a good deal of the summer up in NYC; two weeks in July, almost three in August leaving after Labor Day…“New York is a great place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.” That saying was around before I was a kid but I’ve never understood it. I’ve always believed (and argued vehemently) that the exact opposite is true. When you live in NY you instinctually understand how to survive NY: how to navigate a battalion of pedestrians marching at you, how to calculate whether to take a cab, a bus or a subway to your destination, how to spot scammers and bullies before they spot you. You also acquire an internal database how to enjoy the city: which plays must be seen in previews, the cheapest prices and sales on clothes, electronics and ethnic food, the least crowded times to view a museum, the freebies available in summer months, the spots in Central Park that are great on a Sunday afternoon. When you’re a New Yorker you become PART of the city: its pace becomes your pace, its noise level becomes yours, its structured chaos is the framework of your life and most of the time you don’t even notice how dirty it is (well, I said MOST of the time!). I am a part-time New Yorker now and I’m losing some of that; I see the sweaty crowd advancing against me– typing on blackberries, talking on phones, ignoring everything in their path and I react like I’m seeing the shuffling mob on THE WALKING DEAD. I scan back and forth, back and forth on a street corner anxious about cabdrivers who drive like they’ve never left Karachi. And now that I’m a visitor I realize even more: New York is a better place to live than to visit…There is a new procedure at some bus stops (but not all). You have to use your Metrocard to buy a slip of paper BEFORE you get on the bus and then show the driver a receipt. The bus will not accept your Metrocard. There are no signs telling you this is necessary but there are blue kiosks selling receipts at the bus stop. I was thrown off the bus along with a dozen other tourists. It’s supposed to speed things up but it took minutes to explain to us why we couldn’t ride the bus even though we had Metrocards!… ’NYC Restaurant Week’ expanded to ‘Restaurant Month’ and then ‘Restaurant Summer’ (beginning mid-July and extending until Labor Day!). I had some excellent meals (Fishtail by David Burke, Toaloache in the Theater District) but with a glass of wine and a tip that $35 bargain is never less than $60. Some bargain!…I passed Steve Kroft of ‘60 Minutes’ dining al fresco at Café Boulud by Lincoln Center and our eyes met. He looked at me as if he knew who I was and appeared about to speak to me but I kept walking. Was I imagining it?…Why do tourists take pictures of a) window displays and b) themselves standing in front of store logos like Prada, Gucci and Hollister? Don’t they have stores where they live?…New York Magazine had an ink black cover asking: ‘IS AMERICA DEAD?’ (reminiscent of that famous TIME cover about G-d.) That brightens your day (well, at least “GM IS ALIVE!”)… I was reading the Daily News on a subway platform and an article made me laugh out loud. Two older women behind me asked what in the news could be so funny. I told them a new poll revealed that New Yorkers were more inclined to vote for a Muslim than a ‘Born Again’ Christian. The genial women turned frosty: ‘Well I don’t think that’s funny. I’m a born again Christian!” Oops! ….In Central Park there’s a beautiful line of elms sheltering a lane that leads uptown to the bandshell. Its one of my favorite spots and is called Literary Walk because its studded with statues of authors. Shakespeare is there, two Scottish writers and someone named Fitz-Greene Hallick?!?.Where are Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Faulkner, Williams, O’Neal, Miller? Wouldn’t it be great to make a Literary Walk a celebration of great American authors? And use it as an environment to inspire kids to read? You could present readings from passages by these authors in the temperate months and perform scenes from our great plays. And you could present the space as a favored place under the trees for readers to spend time with books (and okay, E-readers too!) …Does anyone know if New Yorkers are the only ones who lift up the newspapers and take one from the middle when buying a paper? Do people in other places do this too?….I saw a beautiful Monarch butterfly flitting above the street on Lex and 59th and asked: “Where the hell did you come from?!?!”….I went to The Highline for the first time. Its an elevated walkway in Chelsea with wildflowers, weeds and a few modern art installations. It was attractive and interesting for a short while and it certainly is preferable to the rusted elevated roadway it was once–but I just don’t see the big deal. As they say ‘Meh’ (Actually does anyone EVER say that or only write it on a computer?) …Overheard on THE HIGHLINE: Young woman in tight shorts: “It’s so incredible. Like I’m learning so much about my relationships now. And I feel like I’m contributing which I never did when I was a bartender!”….The Empire Diner is still open. How many nights did I end up there after clubbing, eating a chili omelet and playing the rickety piano?…I saw some wonderful art exhibitions: 1. Larger than life Richard Avedon portraits of the Chicago 7, the skinny tied and uniformed men of the Vietnam Era Defense Department, Andy Warhol and his naked ‘Factory’ crew 2. An art exhibition inspired by the Marx Brothers with new works relating to them, memorabilia (including Harpo’s wig) and some paintings by Harpo Marx which were better than alright. One of the commentary cards described the Marx Brothers as ‘occupying a form that needs disruption and then destroying it from the inside.’ I can identify with that… 3. Most of all I was fascinated by the Rineke Dijkstra exhibit at the Gugganheim which included a series of pictures of adolescent kids at that moment when they’re as awkward as baby chicks right out of the shell, contorted between childhood and young adulthood. As different parts of the psyche and body grow at different speeds its as if they are wonderous and afraid of what life is doing to them. She photographed them in color in swimwear on the beach highlighting vulnerability, naïve pride, fear and insecurity. Also she shot a month by month series of portraits of a pimply teenager who joined the French Foreign Legion transforming into a hardened soldier. And a video installation of an elementary school class of 12 and 13-year-olds interpreting a Picasso without adult supervision. All quite fascinating and unique…At Columbus Circle in front of the Time/Warner Center a blind man is shouting for help catching the M3 bus. The bus is pulling up and some joker grabs his arm and leads him directly away from the bus. He looks to the crowd smiling at his cleverness and putting a finger across his lips not to warn the blind man what’s happening. I go up, stop it, and try to lead him to the bus stop as the prankster runs off. But we are too late. The bus is pulling away. I ask the blind man if he can take any other bus and he starts screaming at me: ‘No! I want the M3 bus and I want it now. I want what I want when I want it!” No good deed goes unpunished… When you’re tired of NYC you’re tired of life. I know it was said about London but that was centuries ago. I’m not tired of NY. I’m not tired of life. But when one gets older one does get tired more quickly—no matter where you are!…and why are the days so short in Florida?