XV

Yesterday was our 15th wedding anniversary. That’s right. Our anniversary is 9/11. Thanks, terrorists, for fucking-up our special day. Oh…AND my city. When we got married, I thought the confluence of numbers–9/11/99–was a fortuitous thing.

We didn’t get married on THE 9/11. That’s how we spent our second anniversary. We were both working in Midtown Manhattan and living on the Lower East Side. All hell broke loose and we had to walk home. My Bride was seven months pregnant. She was wearing heels that weren’t suitable for a 45-block, four-avenue walk so we stopped into the Duane Reade and bought a pair of plastic flats. It took all day to get home because we had to stop for frequent rests. By the time we got home her feet looked like pieces of raw meat. I remember it being really pretty outside. Azure sky and cool temps. 100% clarity. The focus was sharp.

The transit system was shut down and the avenues were choked with pedestrians. It’s the first (and only) time I’ve seen New Yorkers inconvenienced and not complain about it. A military demarcation line was established south of Houston St. There was a gauntlet of armor personnel carriers and very large guns. In order to get to our apartment we had to show ID. That went on for three weeks. Once inside our apartment, we had to shut the windows because the air stunk like a combination of an electrical fire and burnt hair. The Trade Center was (had been) just a mile away.

We moved out of the city four months later. Our move had nothing to do with the attack. At that time, Avenue B was no place to raise a little girl. The wheels for the move had already been set in motion. We had bid on a house and were disembarking for the suburbs. I felt awful about leaving. It felt like we were abandoning the city in her time of need.

We didn’t celebrate our anniversary for the next four years. It didn’t feel right. But then we got back on our feet and decided to reclaim what was rightfully ours–just like my shining citadel on the hill did.

15 years is pretty good run. A lot of people don’t make it to 15 months. In all that time, I’ve never once thought of bailing out. Not once! I’m serious! Isn’t that miraculous?

The women I’ve known I wouldn’t let tie my shoe
They wouldn’t give you the time of day
But [My Bride] knocked me off my feet
God I was glad I found her

Rod Stewart
Every Picture Tells a Story

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Look how black my hair used to be. So sad.

Can’t we all just get along?

We went to the last street fair of the summer. Do you know the cliché, ‘if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’? That’s a street fair. It’s the same vendors, same food and same entertainment. That’s not a criticism. Familiarity breeds comfort and when I’m out with the girls on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I’m not looking to be challenged. Comfort is the order of the day.

Occasionally, you’ll find something out of the ordinary. There’ll be a politician campaigning or a local author signing copies of his book. But here’s one vendor I’ve never seen at a street fair before:

planned-parenthoodThat’s a bold choice! But no less startling was this booth:

catholicNow we’re getting in deep. I think the organizers were having a bit of fun. I think there was some backroom snickering. Because as odd as it is to see these two organizations represented at a street fair, it’s even odder to situate them next to one another.

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Isn’t this like positioning the Hamas booth next to the B’nai Brith booth? And what about the people visiting these booths? Couldn’t this have caused a riot? Fortunately, everyone seemed to get along just fine. Perhaps all that anger and violence is only played out in the media. Perhaps once you get down to street level, everyone respects the differences of opinion. Wouldn’t THAT be nice?

See that contest wheel on the Planned Parenthood table? My friend joked that the categories were abort/keep/abort/keep. I know a lot of you don’t find that the least bit funny but it gave me a chuckle.


That evening while walking the dog, I bumped into a neighbor. He’s a phenomenally successful executive with a major corporation. A white guy. A Republican. He’d just returned from a long weekend with his family at a resort/amusement park. He stayed at an elegant lodge that costs about $400/night. It sounded beautiful. While discussing the amusement park, he said,

“You’d be surprised who can scrape together $60 for an admission ticket.”

I knew exactly who he was talking about and I’ll bet you do, too. They think I’m one of them. Because I work for an investment bank and live where I do, they assume I have certain attitudes. There’s a secret language that’s spoken in closed circles. You have to be a member of the club to be privy to these conversations. Comments and opinions are expressed that would never be aired in public. His wife once made a crack about the Mexicans who work in their private beach club.

But this guy is an enigma. Here’s something that must be taken into consideration: He’s on the Board of Trustees for a local food bank. He spends a healthy amount of his free time raising funds for, and running, a fairly large organization. He, literally, FEEDS THE POOR. As far as charitable work is concerned, here’s what I do to help the underprivileged:

JACK SHIT.

What does that make me?

I don’t understand how he’s able to reconcile these conflicting viewpoints. He seems quite at ease and doesn’t appear to lose any sleep over them.

hookey

hooke·y (ho͝okē) noun informal.
1. to stay away from school or work without permission or explanation.

I take very few things in life seriously, least of all my work. I’m conscientious about keeping a job. I have responsibilities. Plus, I need to fund the things that DO interest me. But I’ve never been one of those career-driven success stories. I envy people like that. I wish I could have embraced a white collar profession, but things like medicine, law, management and high finance bore me to tears. Those things require a significant time commitment and a lot of personal sacrifice. I have a slacker’s heart.

I called in sick in order to view the Jeff Koons exhibit at the Whitney Museum. I told them I had food poisoning. How immature is that? Try to imagine someone who owns his own business or a senior executive in an asset management firm calling in sick to visit an art museum. It just wouldn’t happen. It’s irresponsible. It’s bizarre behavior for someone my age. Why am I blogging about this, anyway?

However, that being said, the Koons career retrospective is special. The Whitney is closing to relocate downtown and they’re going out with a bang. They turned the entire museum over to Koons. It’s unprecedented. I certainly don’t like all of his work but I thought the show was interesting enough to do something as childish as faking an illness. Kak-kak.

Back in the 90’s I didn’t have a lot of respect for Koons. I thought he was much better marketer than artist. Since then, I got over my bad ass self and enjoy some of his pieces because they’re fun, which is what I think he intended all along.

This is Balloon Dog (Yellow) from the Celebration series of the exhibit. Koons made five of these, each one a different color.

yellow-dog2Last November, Balloon Dog (Orange) sold at a Christie’s auction for $58.4 million. This one is owned by hedge fund scumbag Steven Cohen of SAC Capital.

This is his latest piece, finished just before the Whitney show opened. It’s a giant, steel sculpture of Play-Doh.

playdohPlay-Doh purportedly took 20 years to complete. He’s a perfectionist and was looking for the exact right color and texture. His poor assistants!

Across the room from Play-Doh is Hanging Heart (Violet/Gold), a 9-foot tall polished steel heart.

heartBalloon Dog, Play-Doh and Hanging Heart are all in the same gallery. It’s like walking into a riot of color and over-sized familiar shapes.

About a month ago I did a post that included Split Rocker, the Koons summer outdoor installation at Rockefeller Center.

split-rocker1The child’s rocker that was used as a model for these giant pieces was included in the Whitney show in the Easyfun series.

split-rocker2Koons has a thing with superheros. Who doesn’t? This is Popeye. It was on display in the courtyard just outside the Whitney cafeteria (where spinach isn’t served).

popeye1A version of this statue was purchased this past May by casino magnate Steve Wynn for $28 million. Is that all?

This is Hulk (Organ). It’s a fully functional pipe organ.

hulkIt couldn’t be played because it only has one volume—very loud. The literature said it’s as loud as a helicopter. What a tease!

Speaking of tease. There was a room full of sculptures from his Banality series that included his most famous piece, Michael Jackson and Bubbles.

banalityBefore I saw the exhibit, I was thinking that it’d be fun to bring the daughters into the city and see Balloon Dog and Play-Doh. Then I saw these.

banality2In 2011, the Pink Panther sold for $16.9 million, which was considered a huge disappointment. The estimate had been $20-30 Million. The front of the sculpture can be seen here. There’s some pornographic imagery as well.

crystal-statueThere are also giant prints of Koons nude with his then wife, Italian porn “actress”-turned politician La Cicciolina. Do you think 8-years old is too young to see Koons’ penis? I do.

You may have thought the previous pieces were preposterous but wait until you see these beauties. Here’s a gallery full of vacuum cleaners in lighted plexiglass cases. It’s from his The New series he did in 1980.

vacuum-cleaners2It defies commentary although I’m certain there’s a high-minded explanation for this.

This is from the Inflatables and Pre-New section. They’re…umm…a toaster and a whistling tea kettle mounted on lights. I was sending pics to my friend and he said, “You took off work for this?!”

inflatable

“I yam what I yam.”popeye2

Me too, brother.

Funhouse

Just look at this ridiculous distortion. [Side note: I love the background.]

mirrorOver the weekend we were strolling the boardwalk in Seaside Heights. Inside an arcade, I came across a wall of funhouse mirrors. Each one presented a comic, distorted me. I studied each reflection carefully and realized that this is exactly how I present myself to the world. A series of preposterous exaggerations.

The people I work with have no idea who I really am and they never will. I won’t allow it. My daughters certainly haven’t a clue. How could they? They lack perspective. I don’t put my true self out here in blogland. Who does!? Don’t all posts contain a modicum of half-truths and boasts? I moved away from home decades ago so my siblings can’t know who I am anymore. My wife knows me better than anyone but there are still hidden crevices that remain unexplored.

Can we ever know our true selves? The voice in our head only tells us what we want to hear. Perhaps we’re all just a composite of these others selves. Maybe there’s no real true center. Just a series of funhouse mirror reflections.


When I was a kid, we never had a nice car. My dad bought a series of junkers that were ‘great deals.’ They were broken-down wrecks on their last legs. Rolling scrap metal. Time bombs. One car had a rusted-out hole in the floor. You could see the road speeding by underneath. We used to fight over who got to sit over the hole and watch the road. We finally had to get rid of it because we were on a freeway and the carpet caught on fire. The car filled with smoke.

Another time, my mom was driving the four of us kids to grandma’s house. While speeding down Fulton Street, the front axle snapped in half. We saw a tire rolling down the road and thought it was the funniest thing until we realized it came off of our car. We could have been killed.

Over the weekend we bought a brand new car. It’s a mid-sized SUV with only 96 miles on the odometer. A big, suburban snooze-mobile. 12-year old daughter expressed mild disappointment that we didn’t get the limited edition with second row captain’s chairs and leather trim interior. Can you imagine?!

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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