June 26, 2017

NEW YORK DIARY

It was relentlessly cold for most of my ten days in NYC. By the end of the trip I was looking forward to a swim in Florida!….I walked out of four different STARBUCKS in one afternoon without buying coffee when not one seat was available. Most were filled by patrons using the store as an office with computers and cold, long- empty cups. How can this be a good business model? STARBUCKS is supposed to feel like your living room, not BE your living room….I saw “Lost in the Stars” at ENCORES when I was in NYC. It was a beautiful production and if you missed it because of the NYT’s sour review you missed something you may not see again in your lifetime. Although its only been produced twice in sixty years it has a beautiful score by Kurt Weil and a moving libretto by Maxwell Anderson based upon ‘Cry The Beloved Country’. I was crying by the big intermission finale…I was struck by the number and variety of fast food cafes that have replaced pricey waiter serviced restaurants around town. There were so many new Japanese, Middle Eastern, Mexican fast food places all steps up from Taco Bell or Udon. One place even promoted its carbon-footprint as a selling point informing diners of the carbon expenditure on each selection!…The Soup Nazi is back! (Okay, he calls himself the soupMAN)….The scandal of the week in NYC was Mayor Bloomberg‘s comments about ‘drunken Irishmen’. Being half Irish that didn’t offend me. Being Jewish, what offended me was when he said all Jews think what he thinks!…While I was in NYC the SEC finally did something about my investment fund, filing four new charges against officers and suggesting that the court appoint a monitor for the fund. I first met with the SEC with my information last March 2009, with a subsequent meeting in September and continuous correspondence. (The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine). The GP of the fund tried an end run against the SEC by appointing his OWN independent monitor. The SEC vigorously fired back actually quoting my allegations in the court memorandum. The GP returned fire , defaming me in court documents. There was an email from him stating that I ‘was a very Limited Partner’ and ‘should get my head out of my ass’. I was preparing to travel down to Pearl Street at 2PM for the court date. At noon I received an email the date was off. The GP of the fund had caved to all SEC demands and a monitor was installed for the fund. Even a little guy with his head up his ass can get something done…Ate at ATLANTIC GRILLE and CIRCO (the owner’s father owns LE CIRQUE) Restaurant Week and had a great burger at THE BURGER JOINT in the Parker Meridian Hotel. The Joint is a little dive of a place behind a velvet curtain in the lobby. Also tried out the burgers at much praised 5 GUYS on W55th street which left me Meh. SHAKE SHACK remains my favorite burger in NYC. The shakes must have a zillion calories but taste incredible too…I took Kyle to see Miranda Cosgrove (Nickleodeon’s ICARLY) at the Beacon Theater. A group was going backstage to meet her and Kyle was upset he couldn’t do the same (“Tell them you were on TV! Let’s sneak in!”). A woman approached us in our seats, told me that she and her husband were big fans and asked to take a picture. Kyle was whining about backstage while we took the shot. She asked if Kyle was my son and when I said yes she handed us 2 extra backstage passes! Kyle was so nervous when we met Miranda Cosgrove he couldn’t bring himself to look at her face! Once outside he exclaimed: ‘She’s so hot!’ Now he wants to be an actor!…On my last day in the city I was a guest for an hour and a half on Curtis Sliwa’s show on 970AM THE APPLE. Curtis was going strong despite a weekday morning show, a weekday afternoon show and now a Saturday morning show. He looks great and fit, with perhaps a bit less hair than I remember. I’ve done long radio schedules but just thinking about his schedule makes me tired. Had lunch with Frank Morano who keeps pace with Sliwa. If you could harness their energy there would be no crisis!….And the days WERE longer in NYC

And Frank and Curtis’ days are even longer than that!

Out of My Mind

Some people seem surprised that when you turn up the stove the water starts boiling….Have you ever heard younger generations use the phrases: ‘Hold yer horses!’, ‘Its raining cats and dogs’, or ‘doing something whole hog’, . How about ‘gallivanting around town’ or anything going ‘a mile a minute’? My father used to call rude drivers ‘Shmohawks’. I hadn’t heard that word in decades until Larry David used it on his show. Recently I explained ‘lollygagging’ and ‘goldbricking’ to Kyle. He asked: “Why do you talk so ‘old time’?” Will these words and phrases completely disappear in the 21st century? Got any others?…If ‘Spiderman’ is now the #1 grossing show on Broadway (its now beating ‘Wicked’) why wasn’t ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ the #1 movie? Both are travesties of original, revolutionary materials popular with adolescents. Unfortunately, I kept my eyes open (barely) sitting through both….Representative Giffords HERSELF promoted the connection between hateful, extremist political expression and violence. Why don’t those who refuse to acknowledge this connection ever insist that Giffords herself was wrong?… For your ipod: Check out Regina Spektor’s new song,
Laughing With:

“No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one’s laughing at God when they’re starving or freezing or so very poor
No one laughs at God when the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one’s laughing at God when it’s gotten real late and their kid’s not back from that party yet
No one laughs at God when their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake
No one’s laughing at God when they see the one they love hand in hand with someone else and they hope that they’re mistaken
No one laughs at God when the cops knock on their door and they say “We’ve got some bad new, sir,”
No one’s laughing at God when there’s a famine, fire or flood
But God can be funny
At a cocktail party while listening to a good God-themed joke or
Or when the crazies say he hates us and they get so red in the head you think that they’re about to choke
God can be funny
When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie
Who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus.”

From slavery to union busting violence to outsourcing to undocumented labor the economic history of the United States has followed a continuum to keep workers hampered, powerless and cheap. And thankfully, this has generally been a losing battle…On the other hand is there any individual citizen who believes that municipal or Federal pensions SHOULDN’T be capped at six figures (perhaps with COLA adjustments)? Wouldn’t any candidate of either party, at the very least have a winning proposal supporting pensions that were based upon lifetime earnings instead of a mad careers end rush for overtime in order to jack up yearly pay outs?…And while I’m on gaming the system: What about those ads that GUARANTEE Medicare will pay for your new go cart or they will give you one for free? Isn’t that evidence in and of itself of fraud and waste?…I’m taking acting class and Portuguese lessons in Florida. People repeatedly ask: “‘Why?” Well, becomes my acting is rusty and I always want to learn new things… I’m reading “Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices” by Noah Feldman . It’s a wonderful book; easy to read, told almost in narrative, colorful characters and explanations of legal theories understandable to any layman. So many of our current debates rest upon their decisions and analysis… And finally: Why do the days in Florida seem so short?

THE 12 CENT VS THE $65 MILLION SPIDERMAN

I bought the very first SPIDERMAN comic book. In fact, I bought BOTH of them.

SPIDERMAN first appeared in AMAZING FANTASY comics and then got his own gig in March of 1963 with the premiere edition of THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN. I remember buying it, just as I remember buying the first FANTASTIC FOUR a year earlier. I was 1l years old and thought: “Wow! I’m buying the first edition just like some kid bought the first Superman in 1938! I’ll keep this until I’m an old man and then it’ll be worth lots of money!” Alas and alack, it disappeared over the years, although I did treasure Spiderman #7 until I sold it after my fund was wiped out.

The great thing about Spiderman was that he was SO REAL! He was just like me. He did well in school but was not one of the cool kids. He was bullied by the jocks. He suffered from self doubts and pined hopelessly for the prettiest girl in his class. It seemed like he lived somewhere in the outer boroughs of NY. He was raised by two lower middle-class parents who were loving and devoted (although his were an aunt and uncle, not a mom and dad).

Over the years it became my favorite comic, more identifiable than any DC character or anyone else in the MARVEL stable (THOR, IRON MAN, THE FANTASTIC FOUR, DAREDEVIL). One day my brother and I discovered that Stan Lee, SPIDERMAN’s creator, had a listed phone number. And HE LIVED IN QUEENS LIKE WE DID! We called the number and when he answered the conversation went something like this:

“Is this Stan Lee?”

“Yes…”

“Is this the Stan Lee who makes SPIDERMAN comics?”

“Yes, it is…

“Oh, my G-d! OH MY G-D! I can’t believe it!”

Then stricken with fear that we would get in trouble for making a phoney phone call we hung up.

I read and collected SPIDERMAN comics until my junior year in high school when girls, Heinlein and theater edged comic obsessions to the sidelines.

I’m writing all this as a prologue to my experience at SPIDERMAN: TURN OFF THE DARK, the new Spiderman musical on Broadway. With a $65 million it’s the most expensive Broadway show ever mounted (SHREK, #2 was ONLY $25 million!). It’s not a universal axiom that vast budgets are fatal to artistic success. For example, AVATAR, the most expensive movie ever made created a magical, believable world and revolutionized the possibilities of cinema. But when the producer of the show proclaimed on 60 MINUTES: “We could have done the $25 million Spiderman but nobody wants to see the $25 million dollar Spiderman. They want to see the $65 million dollar one,” it was distasteful and disturbing. Money alone is not the arbiter of transformative experience.

Still, I was hoping it all would all work for a variety of reasons. I was a Spiderman fan. I was taking Kyle who was a BIG Spiderman fan. He said: ‘I’ve seen 15 Broadway shows but this is the one I’m looking forward to the most!” I spent almost $300 on the tickets. And Julie Taymor and Bono are two creative, socially responsible artists as well as critic’s darlings.

The performance we saw was glitch free. There were none of the notorious stops and starts that plagued the first preview. With the exception of a black clad stagehand twice crawling into a scene to steady a prop or a set piece the show ran smoothly.

Despite this, it was awful. Beyond redemption. An insult to the audience. An insult to live theater. And an insult to Spiderman.

It brought back those words that I stammered to Stan Lee over the phone so many years ago: “Oh, my G-d! OH MY G-D! I can’t believe it!” though now my shock now came from a very different place.

Apart from a three chord Spiderman theme there was not one memorable piece of music in the entire production. In fact, every song sounded the same– overbearing, overwrought and over not soon enough.

The acting (with the exception of a deliciously hammy Green Goblin, the same actor who played Seuss’ Grinch on Broadway a few seasons back) was slickly forgettable or mundanely unmemorable). Peter Parker is a tough role to play. He is a mopey victim who feels sorry for himself when he is not swinging across town on a web. Tobey Maguire was well cast in the movie. His apprehensive whisper and shell-shocked eyes, veered him away from self-pity to a guy waiting for the other shoe to drop. The hardest part for Maguire was making us believe this elfin Emo could perform Herculean deeds and amazing CGI took up the slack on that. Reeve Carney, the ‘actor’ who plays the part here, simply makes no choices at all. He is athletic, powerfully voiced and exceptionally handsome, characteristics antithetical to the role. Mary Jane, the girl he loves is as confident, slick and impenetrable as an American Idol runner up.

The much touted special effects? There was more ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ on the 3D Spiderman ride at Universal. In fact that is where this piece finds its closest kinship: to one of those shows at Disneyworld or Universal that combine actors, special effects and projections. Except at the theme parks they are well done. And they are short. And admission is cheaper. So Spiderman and the Goblin (acrobats, not the actors playing them) ride clunkily over the audience on thick wires? Kyle asked me during the show, “Why is it so CHEESEY?!?” When Peter Parker discovers his power he bounces up and down off retractable walls. Kyle asked, “Why is he jumping up and down on a bungee chord?!?”

Yes, it is still in previews but no intensity of rehearsal or performance will save Spiderman this time because the show also has a fatal flaw. It is not the story of Spiderman.

Spiderman is a boy’s story. A boy full of insecurities about fitting in, romancing the opposite sex, entering the real world and finding a meaningful place in it. The movie made literal what the comic implied: a boy from the boroughs is about to graduate high school and try to find an identity for himself in formidable Manhattan, its menacing skyscrapers, its dog eat dog ethos, its ability to swallow you in its waves of humanity. Girls may go through similar insecurities but I don’t think their fantasies about it have to do with beating up bad guys and flying across skyscrapers. (Stan Lee gave them Mary Jane story about theatrical dreams, failure and redemption but that is given no shrift here). Superhero comics are a boy’s thing…

Instead of the boy’s story Julie Taymor has transformed it into girl’s story. Except for a brief opening tableau you don’t even see Peter Parker or Spiderman for the first 10 minutes. Instead you are presented with a GEEK CHORUS (the Greek Chorus, get it?), three ineffectual, sloppily dressed, dimwitted boys and a quick witted, fashion smart girl who teaches them that the ORIGINAL Spiderman was actually a woman. A woman from Greek Mythology, Arachne, who was transformed by the gods into a spider with eight legs and set into a net for eternity. And then we have to hear HER story. And hear her sing about it. And Miss Patty Perfect reappears throughout the show to set the boys (and the audience) straight about how Spiderman’s male villains are all a dream created by this most powerful woman, powerful enough to destroy Spiderman himself, if she cares to. And then we have to hear Spiderwoman sing about it.

I’m all for empowering little girls and creating role models that are positive and assertive but let’s not mess with Dora The Explorer OR Spiderman.

“Ms Taymor, I KNEW SPIDERMAN AND THIS IS NO SPIDERMAN!”

When the producer extolled the popularity of the $65 million Spiderman he was wrong. The 12 cent Spiderman magically enthralled millions of fans for decades.

Kyle is 12 years old, just about the age when I first met Spidey. He reads the comics. He’s seen all the movies. He plays the video game.

His review?

His head rested against my shoulder as he slept through the second act. On the stage the earth exploded into flames awaiting Spiderman’s rescue, above us the Spiderwoman trawled along suspended from a cable, her pygidium inches from our heads, Mary Jane belted another banal ballad.

None of it disturbed his dreams…