January 19, 2018

NYC Diary: Summer in the City

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?



Last week I returned from 9 days in NYC and in a few days I’ll be going back for over a month. I’ve sublet an apartment on the Upper West Side and I’ll be filling in for Alex Bennett on Sirius Left, channel 127. More on that as it approaches. I hope I get to see a lot of you over the holidays but if I don’t be certain that you have my best wishes for a Merry Christmas…Kyle is an enthusiastic Harry Potter fan (he re-watched EVERY movie episode in chronological order when he was with me last summer!) so he was excited when I got tickets to see Daniel Radcliffe in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” on Broadway. After the curtain call Radcliffe and John Laraquette came back onstage to raise money for ‘Broadway Cares’, the yearly fundraiser for AIDS. The cast had autographed posters and playbills for sale but Radcliffe anxiously announced they were going to try something new that night. He had worn an electric blue bow tie throughout the performance, untied it from his neck and autographed it along with Laraquette. “Would anyone start bidding for it at $50?” Kyle looked at me pleading: “Come on! Its only $50!” Before I could even think about it the auction raced forward to $400. Kyle, I am NOT going to pay 400 bucks for a bow tie! Forget it…” Shortly, the bidding jumped to $1000…and there was a pause. Kyle stared back and forth between me and the stage. “Will anyone in audience go to 1100?” Radcliffe asked. There was another silence. “ONE MILLION DOLLARS!” shouted Kyle as my hand flew out to cover his mouth. A smattering of applause for this outrageous bid was overtaken by a wave of laughter as all heads turned to see us sitting on the aisle in the orchestra, my hand stifling Kyle from saying another word. When it faded a bit Daniel Radcliffe looked down at Kyle and said: “I think we’ll pass on the million dollar bid for the moment…” The bidding resumed and finished with a $5000 offer for the bow tie! I’m just grateful Kyle didn’t choose a more reasonable amount or I’d now own the most expensive neckwear on my tie rack!…I also saw ‘Seminar’ with Alan Rickman which was in previews. It was impressively acted (especially Lilly Rabe), wittily and cleverly written for the most part. The dramatic contrivance of evaluating an entire book from a minute’s perusal is too much to ask of an audience even with the suspension of disbelief and the play fell apart in the last scene; characters inexplicably reversed behavior, loose ends were tied in neat bows and arch dialogue melted into sentiment. But it was a fun evening and more fun to tell Kyle that after seeing Harry Potter a block away I saw Professor Severus Snape…I counted 8 different languages on my walk home from 45th Street to 55th Street. And two more I couldn’t identify! Is there any other city in the world where that would happen?…One night I was invited to a fundraiser for Primary Stages saluting past Pulitzer Prize winners in Drama. Marsha Norman (Night Mother), Frank Gilroy (The Subject Was Roses), Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park) and others were sitting at tables right next to ours. I met Wendy Wasserstein’s sister as we both signed in for the event. Her manner and speech patterns were so reminiscent of Wendy’s I choked up with emotion while I described how classmates loved and missed her sister. Edward Albee, who is in his eighties I’m sure, made a memorable speech from the stage. He’d received the Pulitzer three times (A Delicate Balance, Seascape, Three Tall Women) but informed the audience he thought he was missing a prize. In 1963 “Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolff’ was selected by the Prize Committee but the Trustees had found it ‘obscene or offensive…or something…If you look in your programs you will see there was no prize awarded for that year. So let me ask all of you here tonight: ‘Do you think I won three Pultizer Prizes?” After pausing for effect he sighed: “Or do you think I won four?” Supported by his cane, he shuffled back to his seat through the affirmation of resounding applause. As impressive as that was it wasn’t the highlight of the night for me! In 1977, when I was an actor at the Yale Rep, I used to eat alone, studying me script and memorizing lines over dinner. One night at the Howard Johnson’s over by the Long Wharf I spotted a guy at the next table poring over his script in a similar manner. “Sorry to bother you but are you working at the Long Wharf Theater?” I asked. He said he was and mentioned that he was a writer. I asked his name and he replied, “Harnick”. The way he pronounced it sounded funny to me so I quipped, “Harnick from the planet Ork? Like Mork?” (Yeah, this WAS the seventies…) No. He was Sheldon Harnick who had written “Fiddler on the Roof” and one of my favorite musicals “Fiorello”. As a kid I must have listened to the cast album of “Fiorello” a thousand times. I knew the lyrics to every song by heart and still do. Mr. Harnick was incredibly gracious (especially after my lame joke) and we talked throughout dinner getting very little script work done. Well, Sheldon Harnick, now eighty-seven was here this night. He’d won a Pulitzer for writing the lyrics to “Fiorello” and though he did have a complaint it wasn’t about NOT winning the Pulitzer for ‘Fiddler’. There was a short chorus sung in the show called ‘Home Again” celebrating the return of Laguardia and other doughboys to the US after WW I. Originally a much longer song and most of it was cut from the show before opening. The melody for his lyrics can still be heard in the overture. Well ‘Harnick’, for the first time performed the entire song. He was terrific. Robust, on key, inspiring. I sang along with the chorus. Thank you Mr. Harnick for once again making my night! And thanks to my good friend and former classmate Jeremy Smith for inviting me to this unforgettable evening…Things I learned picking up Kyle from school: 1. 75% of (white) boys these days have Justin Beiber haircuts. 2. ‘Mad’ is the new fad adjective, as in “OMG, I had me some mad detention today!” 3. Kids EXPLODE out of school with the energy of a bomb. Why do workers slink from the office enervated, completely drained? 4. Young girls hug each other constantly. I don’t remember girls doing this when I was a kid. They hug with the intensity family members show to newly released kidnap victims…I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and caught the latest exhibit on caricature and political cartoons: Infinite Jest
Caricature and Satire from Leonardo to Levine

The 19th century cartoons of Cruikshank, Rowlandson and Daumier are amusing and historically interesting but there was little 19th century American work and almost no Nast. British Napoleonic cartoons are colorful and spitefully funny but I could have done with a little more Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt and less Bonaparte. There were, however, a few 20th century cartoons from Oliphant, Herblock, Levine and others that were more powerfully artistic in original sketch form than they seem in newsprint. Inexplicably, most of these are some distance down the hallway leading to the main exhibition rooms so make sure not to miss them if you go: a frightening Nixon with V-shaped fingers rising from forboding black void, a frail Clinton rebuilding his image on a flimsy scaffold after Monica, an Eisenhower who is all elephantine ears. And there is an entire wall of Hirschfeld’s that are fun to decipher. The last cartoon in the exhibit is called ‘The Headache’ modeled after a 19th century George Cruickshank cartoon, this version has Obama bedeviled by little devils with pitchforks. Despite it’s deficiencies it is certainly worth seeing and I may return for the guided tour the museum is offering on December 15th…I saw ‘Tower Heist’ with Kyle, which despite my apprehension going in, was enjoyable and well done. I am not a Ben Stiller fan and Eddie Murphy seems so perfectly buff and pampered these days that I can’t even accept him playing any facsimile of an actual human being anymore, let alone one who is struggling and downtrodden, but Murphy is funny here. Yes, there is something disconcerting about multi-millionaire movie stars playing proletariat class warriors from Queens and yes director Brett Rattner seems to be a pig…but go, if you haven’t already. You’ll have a good time. Finally, I saw ‘Anonymous’ with an old friend and former Shakespearian castmate. Ugh. ‘Anonymous’ is awful and offensive in the worst way something can be awful and offensive: it was boring. The movie makers obviously see themselves as clever and daring but the film is puerile, like watching a High School kid sniggering at obscenities he’s scrawled across the cover of his Signet Macbeth. And about as entertaining. With Derek Jacobi(a complete waste. Olivier‘s Polaroid commercials were compelling in comparison.)and Vanessa Redgrave (who despite everything creates a vivid acting doodle of Elizabeth in her dotage), I was anxious to see it and had anxiety before seeing ‘Tower Heist’. Just goes to show ya; ‘Ya can’t tell a movie by its trailer.’ (Well, some of the time you can’t!)…See ya back in NYC.

NYC Diary

I just got back from two weeks in NYC, getting Kyle set up in school, seeing friends and enjoying the place that feels so much a part of me…Its still a city where anything can happen at any time. One day I ran into Laurie Dhu (the ex-FoxNews babe, now WPIXnewscaster) and Dr Judy Kuriansky (our resident psychologist on the Richard Bey Show) within minutes of each other on the same street. Later, on the same street, Ashley Simpson came out of a movie theater as I walked by. Yeah, I wouldn’t have known who she was but photographers were shouting her name…Even at night there are amazing surprises; one night at 10pm I went down to have a smoke on that same street, 55th street, and the Marine Marching Brass Band turned the corner. In formation, resplendent in full dress, medalled chests thrust forward proudly, playing ‘The Marine Hymn’ on trumpet, trombone and tuba as they passed by just feet away. It was awesome and I felt like saluting! The NYPD fife and drum corps in kilts followed them. And behind it all ambled an unorganized crowd of five hundred observers. This was the night before 9/11 and I had just watched ‘Flight 93’ with Kyle before my smoke. It was almost as if someone had purposefully staged a reassuring coda to the most dispiriting tragedy….I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Franz Hals exhibit. Itwas mesmerizing, both for his awesome talent for capturing the soul and for his startling techniques presaging painters like Manet and Sargent who wouldn’t be born for centuries. It made me wonder: Why is it that a great painting draws you slowly into the subject’s eyes but photographic portraiture has eyes that pop out grabbing the viewer? Photographers, (and I’ve posed for quite a few, including Bachrach Studios which does presidents) use the term ‘making the eyes pop’. Avedon’s portraits are generally an exception, but even his portraits contain eyes that seem wide and inert, deathlike. The geniuses of paint create eyes that are truly a window to the soul. Portrait photographers seem to strive for the fancy window dressing masking it…The most shameless muggings in NY are not crimes on the streets but on the faces of actors in billboards for the new TV season. There are endless, repetitive caravans of them in the subway tunnels. Each show is described in pidgin English for the proletariat. I guess they figure we can’t handle a complete sentence: “A PRUDE. A DUDE.” or “COP. AN ATTITUDE”. The facial contortions and ‘bon mots’ of somebody promoting the eponymous ‘Whitney” show made me want to reach into the poster and wipe that obnoxious smirk off her face! Ugh, these shows must be better than the ads selling them!…On the other hand, this subway ad for a storage company made me smile. It read: “In my fathers house there are many rooms– John 14:2JESUS MUST NOT HAVE BEEN A NEW YORKER…. While I was away for the summer the NY DAILY NEWS morphed into a conservative tabloid, a few steps short of the NY POST. They knocked Obama everyday about everything and covered the election of Republican Bob Turner as if it was a royal wedding! Just what we need: Two conservative tabloids in America’s most sophisticated city!…I saw Sondheim’s ‘Follies’ in its final preview, walked up to the ticket office and got a seat sixth row center orchestra just two hours before curtain. It’s a magnificent production with a superlative cast. I’d heard of but never seen Jan Maxwell live before and it’s hard to believe that her first talent is not musical theater but ‘straight’ theater. The cast is so superb it would be ungenerous to call her a stand-out…but she IS a standout. One small criticism: the character played by Bernadette Peters is described by her husband in detail as unreasonably argumentative, unfocused and depressive and although the term ‘bipolar’ wasn’t in fashion in 1971 when the play was written its pretty clear to me this character, per the description, suffers from it. But Peters’ character was not. It seemed like her husband was describing the wrong gal. It wasn’t until the final number that Peters displayed anything like her previous description. When she sang: ‘You said you loved me, Or were you just being kind…Or am I losing my mind?’ there was no doubt her last self-analysis was accurate. And it was a startling denouement, very effective…but she had lost her mind long before. We could have seen at least a hint of that in the first act. …. The saddest sound in New York? I heard it on the #6 subway platform. An old Chinese man played “G-d Bless America” on some kind of exotic zither. It wasn’t rousing. It was a mournful, dirge. It still haunts me…In NYC you do 10 things in a day and kick yourself for not doing more. In Florida you do two things a day and give yourself a pat on the back. Is it because the days seem so much shorter in Florida!


Just got back from 10 days in NYC where one day had weather like Florida…I filled in three nights for Mark Thompson on Sirius Left. As always the Sirius callers were the best informed, most articulate of any callers I’ve ever worked with in any medium—talk about military procurement and an ex-Navy man calls with expert info on the F-35 or the Ford super carriers, talk about the Wisconsin debacle and a Wisconsin teacher calls in, talk about Teabaggers and they dial in to complain about taxes stolen at the barrel of a gun. Its always a joy to work there…I took Kyle to the Pompeii exhibit at the Discovery Museum on 44th street, a spectacular show, movingly, dramatically presented. Kyle was excited by the remarkably preserved gladiator’s helmet and shin guards and (eye roll) the recreation of a Roman brothel room. When he read the plaque that rooms like this were a hotbed of sexual diseases he was too scared to go inside. “Am I going to get AIDS if I go in there?” he asked. Midway through the exhibit there is a breathtaking moment when a SURROUNDSOUND CGI film of the city rattles the walls while recreating the hourly progression of destruction over the course of the day. As you stand shaken, with billowing black smoke roaring to engulf you, smothering all in its way, doors slide open and you enter the room with the plaster casts of actual Romans contorted and frozen in time, clutching their loved ones, their heads, their mouths in the final moments of life. The complete frescoes, the gold jewelry work, the pottery and sculpture—it’s all well worth the $25 entrance fee…I really enjoyed two Broadway plays: WAR HORSE at Lincoln Center and THE BOOK OF MORMON created by the team from South Park. Both plays received standing ovations. The ovation for WAR HORSE was perfunctory and dutiful. The one for BOOK OF MORMON was enthusiastic and irrisistable…. WARHORSE, about the cavalry horses of World War I has life size horse puppets that are so intricate they make THE LION KING figurines look like sock puppets. It’s a production that is awe inspiring in its theatricality and imagination. Unfortunately, the production is a bit precious and displays an awareness of its own magnificence. This self-conscious grandiosity saps intimacy from the central story and as impressed as I was by the stagecraft, it was the simple straightforward performance of one little girl, an orphan of war, that was most moving. That, and the PLAYBILL notes informing that out of 1 million horses shipped from Britain to the battlefields of France only 68,000 returned…. THE BOOK OF MORMON, on the other hand is as raunchy, as offensive and as hilarious as you would expect considering its source. It’s the story of two Mormon missionaries assigned to Uganda where life is so hopeless and miserable the natives curse G-d for their existence. One number is so outrageously sacrilegious (and funny!) that I expected a New Testament thunderbolt might strike the theater. I’m a guy who, out of habit, still hyphenates the word G-d, the way I was taught in Hebrew School (don’t use His name in vain), but when the woman next to me sneezed during intermission it felt inappropriate to say ‘G-d bless you” amidst such blasphemy! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a play where the audience so enthusiastically and uproariously supported the show from beginning to end, engaging with every comic twist and nuance (yeah, there are a few!). This is powerful, relentlessly funny stuff. The theater was sold out FOR THE PREVIEW and Joan Rivers, Penn and Teller and Mike Meyers were sitting all around me. Try to get a ticket now before it opens, if you can. (I waited for cancellations at the theater a half hour before curtain and got a fifth row orchestra seat on the aisle.)…Just as sacrilegious, just as outrageous, but far less entertaining and more than slightly pathetic was the ugly mess known as St. Patrick’s day; drunken rowdy teenagers, burly tattooed girls bulging from skin tight t-shirts and shorts, red-faced gray-haired men in uniforms stumbling across the sidewalks. Worst of all there was no cross town transportation. Getting from the East Side to the West involved a hike uptown to 86th street. They wouldn’t even allow MTA busses cross the park on 68th, 72nd or 79th Is that necessary?!?!…Had lunch with Dr. Judy (Kuriansky) from the Richard Bey Show at the Friar’s Club. It was great to see her again and she hasn’t aged a day!…Frank Morano and Curtis Sliwa invited me to join them on air at 970THE APPLE for two hours on Saturday . We called my brother Jeff in Japan for an update and he stole the show!…One night Kyle and I walked by Milos Estiatorio on 55th and he began pointing and shouting: ‘Hey, that’s the girl from ‘Full House!’ I looked over to see a mass of hair puffing nervously on a cigarette attached to two skinny ostrich legs extending from a big ball of fur. Thinking he meant it was one of the older girls from the show I said ‘No, Kyle that’s not her’ and apologized to the girl for the scene. She turned fully towards us and said ‘Oh, that’s okay. It’s not a problem’ and, of course it WAS Mary Kate (or Ashley Olson)!… In other places you do one or two things a day and feel content that you’ve accomplished something. In NYC you do fifteen things a day and kick yourself because you didn’t get more done…Had fondue, great Indian food and for the first time tried a (not so) GOODBURGER. Nothing beats Shake Shack… Saw the movie LIMITLESS with Kyle. I always repeat to him: “Cursing is a limited mind trying to express itself.” So when he asked why Bradley Cooper continued cursing even when his brain capacity was ‘limitless’, what could I say?…Also took him to MARS NEEDS MOMS in IMAX 3D, although it contained satires of ‘60’s and 80’s mindsets and a Martian topography, that needed a lot less explaining. Despite its hydrogen bomb at the B.O. and the steep IMAX 3D ($16.50 for a child!) ticket prices, I enjoyed it!… One evening I ate with an old actor friend at an outdoor restaurant (on that 75 degree day) and as often happens in NYC we began talking with the couple at the next table. He was a law professor, an expert on the post war prosecution of Nazis and an assistant Watergate prosecutor. She was a legal specialist on consumer protection. Serendipity leads to the most interesting people and the most engaging conservations when you eat out in NYC. If you can afford to eat out!…And, yes, all of that and more in just 10 days. The days are actually longer in NYC!