Bullet Holes in the Cross

We made our semi-annual pilgrimage to my hometown of Cleveland and took a ride into the old Tremont section on the near west side where my parents grew up. 75 years ago the neighborhood was populated by poor, but proud, Italians, Polish, Germans and Slovaks. Robust, hearty European-types. Men and women with good, strong backs.

I drove down Buhrer Avenue past my mother’s childhood home. It’s amazing what the mind locks away for another day. I had completely forgotten that my father grew up across the street from her. That’s how far removed my dad is from my consciousness.

Buhrer Avenue is what I picture when I read To Kill a Mockingbird. There are plenty of houses with that Boo Radley vibe. I slowly drove past Grandma Meyo’s old, tiny, doll house and was suddenly hit with a wave of remembrance. Across the street, just a few houses away, was Grandma Polack’s house where dad, Aunt Reggie, and Uncle Marty grew up.

As children, we visited the grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins regularly. The streets were paved with red brick. There was a fruit peddler named Tony Ameto who would walk his fruit and vegetable-laden wooden cart through the neighborhood. One time, my cousin Kenny saw him urinating behind a garage. Thereafter, we would hide in the bushes and torment him with a ditty Kenny made-up to the tune of The Mexican Hat Dance:

My name is Tony Ameto
I live in a bowl of spaghett-o
My name is Tony Ameto
I pee behind garages!

And then we’d run. At the end of the block on the corner of Scranton and Buhrer Avenues was the Scranton Road Tavern. Grandpa Meyo had a drinking problem. Each evening, he’d walk the half block with his dog, Brownie, and take a seat at the bar. After a night of too much drink, Brownie would guide him home. As a reward, Grandpa would give him an Eskimo Pie. Brownie died overweight and of diabetes. An Eskimo Pie a day will do that. My mom said that after we were born, Grandpa stopped drinking. I never once saw him with a drink in his hand.

A few blocks down Scranton Road is St. Michael the Archangel; a 140 year-old Catholic citadel. That’s not old by European standards but there’s a lot of family history in that building. It’s where my mother and father went to elementary school and, much later, were married. My sister and brother-in-law were married there as well. See those two crosses on top of the spires?

st. michaelThey’re copper-covered wooden crosses. Each is 9 x 6 feet. They’re a beautiful shade of aged-green. That’s an old photo above. They’re not up there anymore. You can see one just inside the entrance of the church.

cross1They’re riddled with bullet holes. The neighborhood, no longer European, is now Latino and these new residents saw fit to use them as target practice.

cross2There are over 20 bullet holes in them. Rain water got inside and rotted the wood. They were structurally unsound and had to be taken down.

cross3The church is locked during the day because the neighborhood is crime-ridden. The only reason we got inside is because we lucked upon the caretaker and he unlocked the door for us. [My sister insists that mom put him there because we needed him.]

The old Europeans never would have shot holes in that cross. To what do we attribute this change of attitude? Is it a symptom of societal and family derogation? I think we can rule out economics because the neighborhood has ALWAYS been poor. Dare we suggest it’s cultural? Anyone?


Asbury Park, August 18, 2014, 2:30 p.m.

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Poor people are repulsive

There’s a new cruelty being foisted upon the middle income denizens of Manhattan. A whole new insult that was dreamed-up by real estate developers. Do you guys know what a ‘poor door’ is?

In a blatant attempt at fairness, New York City passed an ordinance requiring new residential buildings to include a small percentage of units that are to be sold as affordable housing. For example, a new building nearing completion on the Upper West Side has a few units that will be occupied by families earning $35-$55K annually. Don’t weep for the developers. They are given a significant tax abatement for providing these middle-market units.

Apparently, developers are worried that their upper-income tenants will be so unnerved by the sight of poor people that they managed to get an amendment allowing them to create separate entrances and lobbies; one for their wealthy residents and a second one on an opposite wing of the building for modest-income residents. It’s been unofficially christened the ‘poor door.’

In already existing buildings, amenities like rooftop gardens, gyms and playrooms for children are added to lure high net worth individuals. Access is being restricted to just those new tenants who are paying market-rate rents. The existing tenants who pay below-market rents are not permitted to use these new facilities. One developer was quoted as saying the gyms are being installed for new, market-rate paying tenants, not to please the existing ones.

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say that someone with significant wealth wants to live around like-minded individuals. Fair enough. That being the case, why, in God’s name, would you choose to live in New York City? This place is an economic and racial bouillabaisse. If you’re that put-off by the sight of poor people, go live in Los Angeles or some other economically segregated city. If you can’t live without the East Coast, move to Westchester County or Darien, Connecticut. Those places have laws on the books that make having a modest income a criminal offense.

I want to live on the Upper East Side
And never go down in the street.
Splendid isolation
I don’t need no one

Splendid Isolation
Warren Zevon

Class segregation has been around for a long, long time. Just ask the Brits. But there’s a mean spiritedness at work here. What is this dark, human desire for exclusivity? Is it biological? Something that’s a natural occurrence amongst tribes? Or is it a learned behavior? Isn’t this how horrible things like wars and organized religions start?

With a million neon rainbows burning below me
And a million blazing taxis raising a roar
Here I sit, above the town
In my pet-palliated gown
Down in the depths
On the 90th floor

Down in the Depths (on the 90th Floor)
Cole Porter

Of course, my outrage is because my mother would have been forced to use the poor door. I internalize everything. I’ll own that. I spent some time in therapy and developed a modicum of self-awareness. But aside from that, seeing people treated like second class citizens by a bunch of real estate and hedge fund douche bags irks me a little bit. Plus, they’re scarring this beautiful/hideous city of mine. They’re turning it into Phoenix or Seattle or Tampa or Houston or Omaha or Pittsburgh. All fine places, but each one as vanilla and interchangeable as the next.


Here’s another snappy summer outdoor art installation. I didn’t use to like Jeff Koons’ work but then I got over my bad ass self and now I enjoy it.

koons1His latest is Split Rocker in the plaza of Rockefeller Center, where they put the Christmas tree. It coincides with his career retrospective currently at the Whitney. (A show important enough for me to call in “sick” and attend.)

koons5It’s a flower-covered stature of a child’s rocker split in half. I brought the girls in to see it before they dragged me to Matilda.

koons3One side is modeled after a toy rocking horse that belonged to one of the artist’s sons, and on the other side is the head of a toy dinosaur.

koons4The sculpture is attended to by an army of gardeners. There’s an internal irrigation system that extends to the top of the sculpture. As the summer progresses, it’ll flower becoming fuller and more robust.

koons6I like it. I must be getting soft in my old age.

More Manhattan Memoirs

Here’s another uproarious episode from my journals. There’s lots to cover so I’ll skip the usual ‘lost memoirs’ back story.


August 4, 1992

On Saturday, Cindy and I saw Austin play out. He was supposed to play The Marquee Club but it was closed that afternoon for fire code violations. The band didn’t find out until they arrived to set up. It was an important gig because some A&R guys were supposed to be there.

There was a restaurant a half block away. Ed and Austin offered the owner $100 to let them run a power line outside. They were going to play in the street! But the restaurant was dead so the owner let them play inside. He charged a $5 cover—same as the Marquee. They hung a sign on the door of the Marquee directing Very Pleasant Neighbor fans to the restaurant down the block. It worked! The A&R people showed up and were impressed with the band’s resourcefulness.

Afterwards, Cindy and I went to Milano’s, that dingy bar next to the Knitting Factory. It’s long, narrow and not very clean. Just the way Cindy and I like our women. We pounded McSorley’s cream ales and I got uncharacteristically blitzed. I was hitting on the pretty barmaid (who was having none of my bullshit) and the guy sitting next to Cindy was hitting on her. Ha. If he only knew.

We left around 1:00 a.m. At the corner of Houston and Bowery I told Cindy, in my drunken slur, that I wanted to kiss her. She said, “Okay, but keep it light.” We were kissing and heard someone scream, “CINDY!” It was Laura! She had been following us again! She was standing several paces away. The two of them got into a terrific screaming match. I slowly backed away in case Laura had a gun. Laura called Cindy a homophobe, which I guess is the worst thing you can call a lesbian (or a bi-sexual, as the case may be). Cindy pulled her keys out of her pocket, snapped open the ring, took Laura’s apartment key off, threw it at her and said, “Get the hell out of my life!” The key whizzed in a straight line and bounced off Laura’s forehead and landed on the Bowery. I started laughing my ass off which, as you can imagine, didn’t help matters. It was pretty awesome.

Lincoln Center subwayLook how the two lines on the top and bottom converge. Love it.

On Sunday I went to Bonnie’s to watch the Olympics. It was raining so I hailed a cab. When the cab pulled up, the doorman came out with an umbrella and rode up in the elevator with me, which I find annoying. I can push a fucking button. Bonnie said they’re a nuisance but the old people in the building insist on them. What a bunch of babies.

We were making out on the sofa during the swimming and diving competition and Bonnie said she wanted to go for a walk. By then it had stopped raining so we went to Central Park for a bit, then to the Japanese restaurant down the street. Of course she knew everyone there and everyone knew her. She was talking kind of loud and I was embarrassed. People were staring. We sat at the sushi bar and ordered hot Saki. She introduced me to Fuji, the girl behind the bar, telling us that we’d be perfect together. She had bright eyes and was full of the devil. Get this: Bonnie made me show her my new tattoo. [Note: it’s a Japanese symbol.] Fuji looked at it, gasped, and said, “That’s a man’s name!” Well, it isn’t but I believed her for a moment and thought it was very, very funny. Later, I told Bonnie I wanted to mount Fuji—ha-ha, get it?—and she got really mad and jealous. The bill was $40 but Bonnie was dead broke so I (gladly) paid it.

[Disclaimer: I debated on whether or not to include this next bit. It’s vulgar and crass. I decided to post it with the caveat that it might offend. I’m warning you with peace and love, don’t judge me today for the boy I was then. Pat, if you’re reading, please stop here.]

We went back to her place and went to bed. It always takes me a while to relax but there are great rewards for the lucky woman with patience. Bonnie went down on me. It amazes me how some women have elevated blow jobs to an art form while others won’t have anything to do with them. You can tell when a girl is disgusted. Bonnie is a maestro.

Bonnie is afraid of catching AIDS and insisted I use a condom. I got one out of my backpack but it was from last Christmas when I was with Ann. They were so old that the lubricant dried up and the condoms had shrunk to the size of a dime. I couldn’t even get the damn thing out of the package. By then, Bonnie was drunk with desire + Saki. She pulled me on top of her and put me inside anyway. We would’ve had simultaneous orgasms except I had to pull out, so hers was interrupted. She said, “I need that space filled,” took a few of my fingers and put them inside her. I felt like a gynecologist but it did the trick. Satisfaction all around. Bonnie smells nice. Ann, not so much. I almost passed out from Ann. We were up until 3:30 a.m., woke up the next morning and started all over again. She had to leave for work at 10:00. We were both beat. Not enough sleep.

brooklyn bridge

Summer’s here and the time is right…

…for outdoor art installations. The city is littered with these things—and I mean that in the good way. Not all of the installations work—I’ll spare you the sight of the ones that don’t—but here’s one that amused me.

nearness5It runs through the center of Times Square—Broadway between 44th and 45th. This is Nearness by Cuban artist Arlés del Rio. It’s a simple concept that works because of its placement. It creates a nice flow.

nearness2

They’re exactly what you see; a series of chain link fences with the centers cut in the shape of silhouettes. They’re participatory, which I always like. People walk through them and have their pictures taken while standing in the middle. You don’t see anybody in these photos because it was 6:00 a.m. and anyone in their right mind is still in bed, not traipsing through Times Square. I think the exhibit is more striking without people around.

nearness3

According to the literature provided, these figures metaphorically represent

“…the social, political, cultural and personal barriers, among others, that may keep us away from one another.”

These concept descriptions are always too high-minded for me. They always sound like ArtNews blather. Perhaps the artist needs that gobbledygook to feel connected to his work but I always take it at face value. I’m the opposite of complex.

nearness4

This one’s my fav. Placed in front of the Times Square military recruiting center.

nearness_lg

Next up: a Jeff Koons horse.


While daddy’s at work, proud new mommies often bring their babies into the office for show and tell. The little bundles of screaming joy always have names like Halston or Eureka. [I recently saw Tiffany but it was spelled "Typhanie."] Someone just paraded a stroller through the corridors here at work. It’s a disruption but everyone has to feign interest. Like when you’re forced to sing happy birthday in the break room. I’m guilty, too. I brought the first daughter in when she was born. Not the second one, though.

What I’ve noticed over the years is that when it’s the wife of a senior executive, it’s always the wife, the baby and a nanny. I guess if you can afford one, you get one. Why wouldn’t you? But I think it makes them seem frail. Like they’re too delicate or detached to shoulder the heavy responsibility of caring for a baby on their own.

I think that wealth makes some people soft. It robs them of their natural, God-given coping mechanisms. Their grit. Their ability to navigate through adversity or a lifestyle crisis, like a new baby. Instead of planting their feet, striking a defensive pose and dealing, they throw money at a problem and hope it goes away. Here in NYC and on Long Island, you can hire someone to teach your kid how to ride a bike. I’ve worked with and have known some very well-off people. It doesn’t seem to take much to harsh their mojo.


Speaking of mommies. Sex Tape with Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz just opened to disastrous reviews. Only a 20% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s toast. I don’t want to say I enjoy reading bad reviews, because that’s not nice, but I laughed at this bon mot from the New York Times review. It said the movie…

“…asks us to believe that Annie is on the verge of selling her blog about motherhood for big money, a plot point that inspired raucous laughter from the press rows at my screening.”

Mommy blogs—hell, blogs in general—are about as rare as oxygen molecules. So the thought that one would actually sell for big money is pretty funny stuff, which I’m certain wasn’t their intent.

I Spy With My Little Eye: Something Dangerous

I finally committed the crime I said I’d never commit: I made a parental decision based on what everyone else is doing. How lame is that?

I broke down and got an iPhone for my 12 (and a half)-year old daughter. I felt (feel) that that’s too young to mess with something as hedonistic as a smart phone but my hand was forced. She’s got a lovely group of girlfriends. They all do well academically. They’re polite and can hold their end of a conversation. They’re the types of kids I want her around. And they’ve all got iPhones. ALL OF THEM. When they group text or share photos, Daughter Dear is left out of the loop. I know how that feels. I spent my entire childhood out of the loop and if I can spare her that burden by breaking one of my rules, I’ll break it. I don’t want her drifting to a different crowd because she was disconnected.

This has lead to no small amount of angst, worry and sleepless nights. I’ve taken a dramatic and, some would say, unethical step.

I loaded tracking/monitoring software onto her phone.

You can lecture me all you want about trust and privacy issues but, Jesus H. Criminy, she’s just 12 (and a half). I don’t think ANY 12 (and a half)-year old girl should be left on her own to navigate the scary world of Instagram. I don’t feel good about reading her text messages. It makes me feel kind of dirty. But I’m in a no-win situation.

I’m finding that “little kids, little problems/big kids, big problems” is more than just a clever turn of a phrase. It’s pregnant with truth. I wonder if any of the other parents monitor their kid’s mobile phone use? Could you accuse them of being lazy and uncaring if they don’t? What would you do?


We made our annual pilgrimage to the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the summer installation. Every year they do something special on the roof and every year I drag the kids up there whether they like it or not. (I think they like it.) We arrive when the museum first opens so that we have the roof to ourselves.

Some of these installations are pure genius and some of them fall flat. This year’s model lies somewhere in between. The Roof Garden Commission by Dan Graham is an interesting “S” of steel and glass set between two ivy hedgerows.

Roof Garden Commission4The roof was covered with grass (actually artificial turf) and is meant to be viewed in conjunction with the lush greenery of Central Park.

Roof Garden Commission5The interesting part, the “get,” is the glass. It’s two-way mirrored and while completely translucent from one side, you see a gentle refection from the other.

Roof Garden Commission2It’s a neat trick. You can still see through the reflective side, but the ghosted images of the city can be seen distorted in a half-circle. It makes for a fun family portrait.

Roof Garden Commission1I wish it were a larger exhibit. Once the crowds arrived, it lost some of its magic. People waited in line to take photos from the best, most reflective, angles.

My Bride points. I imagine the dialogue is something like, “See that building over there? That’s where Daddy wishes he had a pied-à-terre.”

Roof Garden Commission3It’s an interesting enough piece although I was somewhat underwhelmed. To date, the best installation I’ve taken them to—hell the best one I’ve ever seen—was Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s anthropodino at the Park Avenue Armory in 2009. THAT’S how it’s done.


After the museum we saw a Broadway musical. Despite visiting the theater on an almost weekly basis, the fact is, with a few exceptions, I can’t stand Broadway musicals. Quintuple my nausea if there are children on stage. Broadway kids are the worst. They’re precocious, overly-talented mini-adults. Behind each one, giving a good hard shove, is a failed actress trying to relive the dream.

My kiddies wanted to see Matilda and since I’d be willing to take a bullet for them, suffering a musical seemed like a small matter in comparison. So there I was at the Shubert Theater for a Saturday matinee with a stage and house full of children. Dreadful. Strike up the overture. Let’s get this over with.

I may have to re-think my knee-jerk revulsion. The girl playing Matilda was a joy to watch. The stage design was magnificent. The lyrics are peppered with hilarious asides for adults. Matilda’s mother sings this one from her hospital gurney just after giving birth to Matilda, a child she neither wanted nor loves. Where you’d expect an ode to the joys of childbirth, you are treated to:

“Oh, my undercarriage doesn’t feel quite normal.
My skin looks revolting in this foul fluorescent light.
I should be dancing the tarantella -
Cui buon fare Italiano. [Italian: With good Italian manner]
Not dressed in hospital cotton,
With a smarting front bottom.”

How can you not like that? Thank you, Royal Shakespeare Company.

matilda