TO THE GRANDE DAME OF BROADWAY – HAPPY BIRTHDAY CAROL CHANNING ♥ !
Today launches a new series called “Postcard Stories from New York”. Each week I will feature a vintage postcard sent to a loved one from the Big Apple New York City. Let’s see what thread they will weave over time. Here is the premier card:
and shower, servidor and circulating ice water. Four popular priced restaurants.
Dancing nightly in the Terrace Restaurant. Rates from $3.85 a day.
Photo of the day: A STUDY IN PINK – Some people take their investments very seriously. Some people take their health very seriously. Some take their religion very seriously. Some – take their strawberry smoothies very seriously.
Seen at: The Good Stuff Diner 109 W 14th St, New York, NY 10011 b/t 7th Ave & Avenue Of The Americas in West Village
Photo of the day: CROSSED PATHS
Photo of the day: HELLO DOLLY!!! – There are certain voices that when you hear the first note you know it’s them. At the top of the list is Carol Channing. Yes, there’s Cher, Bette Davis, Hepburn, but Carol’s voice and accent is absolutely irreplaceable. Who else can go from a squeaky inquisitive voiced googely eyed girl to a jazzy baritone in a split second. No one, period – Carol Channing can.
Monday night, January 20th, that unmistakable charming infectious voice filled the Town Hall on Broadway in a dual celebration of the 50th anniversary of opening night of the classic musical “Hello Dolly” – the role she originated and played uncomplainingly over 5,000 (yes…5,000) times AND her upcoming 93rd birthday on January 31st.
Hosted by performance artist Justin Vivian Bond, it was a love fest that likely will not be equaled for a very long time. To have been there was a privilege that will not ever be forgotten. The star studded audience included Folies Bergère/musical “Nine” star Liliane Montevechi looking absolutely stunning in her bright red fur coat, Carol’s dear friend and champion Richard Skipper, Sandra Bernhard, John Cameron Mitchell, Alan Cumming, Jackie Hoffman, divine John Lypsinka Epperson and Lady Bunny, Michael Musto (of course) as well as countess LuAnn de Lesseps and none other than Sir Ian McKellen.
Her entrance on stage in her crisp white pantsuit resulted into thunderous applause that would not end, no matter how they tried to start the show the audience persisted with their enthusiastic welcome. Upon first sitting down in her chair she was concerned that there was a microphone on a stand next to her and tried to grab it, it wouldn’t release. Justin explained it was ‘a back up mic.‘ “Oh! A bAAAAAAAAAAckuuuup mic!“ she exclaimed setting of a gleeful roar in the audience. No one can say “back up mic” and be heard all the way in San Francisco! San Fran is also, btw, where she wants to be buried, between the Curran theater and the Geary, she has already gone and measured and it seems there is just enough room in the narrow alley between the two theaters. “There are fire escapes there – but they’ll have to get rid of those.“ Another roar. She’s as sharp as tack, when she can’t recollect a name or story she will digress into another story with glee. She has no filter, she just blurts out her truth. When Justin intimated she performed 5,000 times in Dolly for the love of it, she interrupted him, looked down and said “noooooo, I wanted the money too.” Hysterical laughter and applause.
In one not technically well functioning segment with taped video questions for her, Carol didn’t catch on there was a giant video screen behind her and was startled by the booming voice overhead. As Justin explained it was a video she said with great relief, “Oh, I thought it was God” (perhaps eluding to her age). Each time a video segment came on, Carol just flung herself sideways in her arm chair, legs over the side and sat there like a little schoolgirl of seven years old.
She told of Sophie Tucker teaching her songs and sang ala Soph, excusing herself saying “I can sound nicer, but that’s just not how Sophie sounded!” In baritone voice she sang an ethnic milkman’s song as well. When asked about her pairing with Mary Martin in the ill fated show “Legends” she just drawled “it was a terrible show!”, thought a moment and added, “that was a bitch remark.” More gleeful roars. If any fan or Justin brought up highlights of her long career, she would always (feign) be astonished “”you remmmmmmberrrr…..were you there?!” One of the most touching answers she gave when asked what she would want for her 93rd birthday, she quickly answered “David Merrick.” Nothing more needed to be said.
When it was time to bring the program to an end, Carol recited her closing speech from “Hello Dolly”, in which she asks the spirit of her beloved late husband, Ephraim Levi, to “Let me go!” so that she might fully rejoin the living and marry again, there was not a dry eye in the house. As a ‘thank you’, the audience spontaneously broke out into “Hello Dolly” led by a high school group in the balcony. The (mostly gay/theatrical) crowd sang the song to Broadway production perfection! The magic of the moment was, when the part came for Carol to sing “wow, wow, fellas, look at the old girl now!“ the audience instinctively lowered their voice in wait for her refrain – it was absolute theater magic that no flash mob could ever replicate. When ever are you going to get another chance to stand in a theater and serenade Carol Channing with “Hello Dolly“?! I’ve not seen so many beaming faces with joyful tears in an audience since I can remember. She was deeply moved, and in one very rare split second she let her guard down and looked as if she would break down and cry, she quickly caught herself and the beaming Hirschfeld Carol returned to take it all in, her eyes even bigger than usual, if that is at all possible. (Carol also has the distinction of having been drawn more times by Al Hirschfeld than any other personality ever.)
As she was led off the stage, the audience was not ready to let go of her, and quickly broke into a strong “Happy Birthday” song. She turned around and the look on her face as she took it all in, is one of the most priceless gifts she has ever given to me or an audience, it is a magic moment that flares for those brief seconds in a theater, you and the artist sharing this heartfelt strong love and you are the richest person on earth for having caught it. We are all richer for having Carol Channing in this world. Raspberries !!!
Photo of the day: THE GREAT WHITE WAY – Cliché title yes I know, but hey, if the title fits…lol! I bared the 17°F (-8.33C) temperatures and below zero wind chills to get a rare whitewashed view of the ‘great white way’.
Without the crazy array of people to create it’s atmosphere, Times Square’s huge lit signs became the main attraction. You sadly come to realize none of the signs advertise shows anymore, but only bras, jeans and eye makeup. Times Square is/was named “the great white way” because of the glow of all the lights from the theater marquis, now mostly all gone replaced by Sephora and Forever 21.
It was so bitter cold and wet, no one had any interest to stop and photograph the dimmed lights. I saw only a few tourists who were determined enough to take a few gratuitous pictures before their cameras froze and they hurriedly left to escape the brutal biting winds. We received up to a foot of snow for the day. In the great tradition of “the show must go on“, the Broadway shows were not canceled for Tuesday night’s performances, I am sure some great seats were to have been had. All in all, the huge lighted billboards begging you to come hither and stare were no match for the fury of Mother Nature Tuesday afternoon. Mother always wins you know…
Photo of the day: 1973 REFLECTIONS ON MY WORLD – Returning back to Mondays on Memory Lane, I just found my junior high school ‘audio visual’ English project from 1973.
It was a collage of photos and poems accompanied by a typed booklet version as well. It was my first attempt at seriously writing and expressing myself at age seventeen. There are twelve poems: Sunsets, The Sea, Sun Rise, Animals, Love, Colors, Beaches, The Desert, Flowers, Horizons, The Moon and Children. I had always been a voracious hunter of magazines in our apartment building’s incinerator (aka garbage) room and would spend hours looking through magazines like Look, Life, Time, Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, the gossips mags, Newsweek, anything with pictures. So therefore, I think the twelve poems were decided upon by the photos I had clipped from the magazines. (Somewhere in my warehouse space there is still a treasure trove of boxes filled with magazine clippings.)
I received an A+ on the project from English teacher Mr. Palzer. My audacity was, I had pasted a note on the back with an explanation of the project, as well as me having the balls to proclaim I deserved ‘at least’ an A if not an A+. In Mr. Palzer’s critique I was complimented on my self expression and insight. I had two grades, the first one was heavily crossed out by Mr. Palzer and next to it was the A+. With no other grade higher than an A+, I guess he at first wasn’t going to give in on my high opinion of my work – but then on second thought…he gave in J . Here after forty-one years, is the first of my twelve poems “Sunsets”.
The end of the day draws near,
remember how we laughed the day away,
our hearts filled with joy –
the sun lit up within us.
The sun shone so brightly through the trees,
swaying in the breeze,
clouds sailing by,
birds floating in the air.
The sun now sets and the time has come to end this harmony,
as it slowly sets shining onto the peaceful sea,
glistening it’s last sparkle of light into our eyes.
The sun now says farewell with it’s soft rays,
spreading peacefully over the island,
ending the excitement of sunlit flowers as it sets.
It’s bright red fire slowly fading away
into pale violets and yellows,
to the secrets
Photo of the day: EVERYBODY WAS HOME SATURDAY NIGHT – Living in New York City many of us have an Alfred Hitchcock-like “Rear Window” view. Mine happens to be out the front of the building onto 46th Street, one of the nicer streets in Sunnyside and Sunnyside Gardens.
A few weeks ago New York City was visited by a chilling Arctic Vortex, but lately it had warmed back up to 50F (10C) degrees and I was keeping my window open a bit nights. But last night the cold temperatures came back and I went to my window at 8:00pm to close it for the night. As I looked out my window, I noticed a warmer glow than usual coming from my street. There was more than just the warm glow of the street light, but also the entire building across the street seemed to glow like a miniature toy model. It was then that I noticed that something very unusual was occurring in the apartment building across the street – every single apartment, on all six floors, every window had lights on, everybody was home! That rarely ever occurs! This is New York, someone is usually out on an all night job, at a party, with a date, shopping, vacationing or what not. But on January 18th at 8:00pm, on one of those cold January nights…all these diverse neighbors at 41-29 46th Street had all decided to be snug as a bug and snuggle up to their big flat screen TVs, computers, cat, dog or loved one. As diverse as they are, for this night they were “one”.
(And no, I didn’t get out my Jimmy Stewart binoculars to look in the windows, I just enjoyed the warm glow of the city life.)
Photo of the day: ONLY IN MANHATTAN DO HOMELESS PEOPLE HAVE THEIR DRY CLEANING DELIVERED TO THEIR CORNER – OR DO THEY?
Photo of the day: ONLY IN MANHATTAN DO HOMELESS PEOPLE HAVE THEIR DRY CLEANING DELIVERED TO THEIR CORNER – OR DO THEY? – This past spring I was walking in the west 40’s of Manhattan when I came across this site. A homeless man with freshly dry cleaned dress shirts hanging from his ‘home’ which happens to be a laundry cart. Stunned, with the ‘what is wrong with this picture’ moment, I was torn whether to be amused or impressed.
So, let’s analyze this set up: the laundry cart is obviously stolen. Since it is not of the old cloth kind but of the new sturdy hard black polypropylene, I deduce it was stolen from one the better hotels in town. It is lined with well sorted commercial garbage bags that contain his collected recyclable soda cans, water and beer bottles – but note – the garbage bags are brand spanking new, now the well worn ones you see most street people use over and over again until they fall apart. Hanging from a shovel’s handle is a corporate American Express ID badge from the US Open Tennis Championships here in Queens. Dangling from the same handle is a cat toy, also in relatively unused condition. Tied to the handle is a pair of scissors.
His ‘home’ is lined with a nice light blue and a new black yoga mat. A can of Coke awaits. But the most eye catching of all…is the six newly dry cleaned expensive looking dress shirts hanging from a mop handle affixed to the laundry cart!
Now I ask you – kleptomaniac or down and out Wall Street executive?? You decide.
Photo of the day: THE DIVINE AUDACITY ~ CATHEDRAL IN NEW YORK CITY TO START CHARGING ADMISSION – Over the weekend New York City’s gothic treasure, St. John the Divine had the ‘divine’ audacity/necessity to send a memorandum out to the tour guide industry advising us that as of February 1st of this year tour groups will be charged admission. Brace yourselves – $5.00 (4€ euros) – to enter a church! The 9/11 memorial charges a cover charge of $2.00.
For the many, many of you that I have taken there on my tours, you well know it is one of the mostly undiscovered treasures of the city. They are fascinated to see the unfinished towers and dome. They love the story of the center doors only opening three times a year for Easter, the blessing of the bicycles and the blessing of the animals. To see the World Trade Center Towers on the columns in front begins to fascinate the wonderful mixing of old and new history inside.
Inside there is always a sense of awe. I advise my guests to take a brochure and put a donation in the donation box at the entrance. You then pass wonderful hand carved 15th century German wooden choir stalls and enter this magnificent world of surprises. The fireman’s memorial, the American history stained glass window that has the prototype of the first television of 1926 in it as well as movie stars Jack Benny and Mary Livingston. Another stained glass window shows the sinking of the Titanic. I tell the touching story of how the cathedral cared for the AIDS patients of NYC when no one else dared to as we look at the AIDS memorial. I show them the plaque dedicated to the horrible bookstore fire that damaged the church in 2001, ruining the organ’s pipes for 10 years. I show them the ‘zipper’ of the church marking the finished and unfinished part of the cathedral. I show them such wonderful worldwide gifts as the 17th century Barberini tapestries, the golden chests donated by the King of Siam, the urns given by the emperor of Japan, the Keith Haring graffiti triptych in the Asian chapel donated by John Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono. I lead them through the 7 chapels dedicated to the main 7 languages spoken in NYC in 1892. I take them up near the altar for one of the most breathtaking views of the front stained glass window containing 10,000 pieces of glass, 40 feet in diameter. I show them menorahs on the altar as well, explaining the church welcomes all faiths.
Well – they welcome all faiths, but they now do not welcome groups unless you pay to get into the house of god. Never at no time in New York has there been a house of god that has had the need to charge admission into what I thought is the house of the people. St. John the Divine is desperate for money, last year having sold off precious adjacent land to the church and allowing god awful high rise apartments to be built, therefore obstructing the rays of sunlight into the north side of the church. Now they are obstructing the tourists of New York.
As a fellow tour guide Tom said: “What they really, really, need is help to grow their endowment. Presumably they have an endowment, like Universities and Museums. With a massive old building that must have massive maintenance costs, there is no longer a massive congregation as in the old days to keep up the place. That’s where smart and competent money-managers take hold of the finances of the institution and go on a major campaign to grow a big endowment, sufficient for maintenance. This is how Carnegie Hall was saved. The famed Koch Brothers have contributed literally hundreds of millions of dollars: $100,000,000 EACH to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to Lincoln Center and The American Museum of Natural History, total $300,000,000. So, who’s in charge of this program at The Cathedral?”
They are nickel and diming, almost literally, a huge problem. It will have the most unfortunate and unintended consequence of keeping some likely visitors O-U-T. The sudden sticker shock of $5.00 will leave many at the door. I can understand starting at $2.00 – but $5.00?! A full bus of 55 guests would cost $275!! The biggest losers here are the young visitors to New York, the student tour groups. My student tour groups from Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas and all along the coast. They are already on a tight budget, eating at McDonalds to save money on the big trip from their home town. They enter St. John the Divine starry-eyed and filled with wonderment at this magnificent gothic structure, the likes of which most will not get to see unless they are privileged enough to go to Europe. Sadly, it is simply adding itself to the list of those famous cathedrals of Europe all forced to do the same out of necessity. Notre Dame in Paris charges €3/$4.10 to see the treasury of riches. The Basilica in Rome charges 12€ euros/$16.00. The Cologne/Köln Dom in Germany charges 4€ Euros/$5.00. Seville cathedral in Spain charges 8€ euros/$10 dollars. St. Paul’s cathedral in London charges 16€ euros/$21.85. The wonderful art-filled little adobe churches in poor Tucson, Arizona do not charge at all. St. Patrick’s cathedral on the wealthy Fifth Avenue here in NYC does not need to charge. St. John the Divine in New York now wants to be added to the world wide list of those charging admission.
Perhaps St. John the Divine got the idea from the very recent surprising November 2013 decision of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. to charge $10/7 € euros admission and perhaps I should feel I am getting a bargain. (In comparison, The Museum of Natural History’s full price adult admission charge is $22/16€ euros). But is this the beginning of a possible disturbing and disheartening trend in the famed churches New York City? Where the declining parish necessitates charging at the door? Most of the churches in Harlem are only surviving on the Sunday gospel tour dollars. It is no longer ‘the fashion’ to go to church in most large cities, therefore the declining membership results in declining donations. These grand cathedrals were built for the masses – church going masses who today – are tourists. A sad trend.
I am only a New York City tour guide and have no idea how this cathedral functions. But, what is needed at St. John the Divine is a professional, knowledgeable, experienced, committed, well paid, position of fundraiser to grow a serious endowment. Considering their list of well connected parishioners, their current plan seems like nothing more than a high school-level accounting class solution…if that.
Here is the memo:
To: Professional Guides, Tour Operators, and Guest Lecturers
From: The Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Department of Public Education and Visitor Services
Please note the following updates in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s visiting group policy, effective February 1, 2014.
• Self-guided groups are encouraged to schedule their visit at least two weeks in advance. Groups are defined as ten or more visitors. Scheduling requests can be made through a web site request form, or through the Public Education Office by phone or email below. The group will receive confirmation of a one-hour time period to visit the Cathedral.
• Group arrivals are permitted between 9am and 5pm daily.
• Groups should enter through the Cathedral’s southern door at Amsterdam Avenue. The group leader or guide must check in at the Visitor Center upon arrival.
• Payment of the discounted group admission of $5 per person must be made upon arrival. One group leader or guide receives complimentary admission.
• Groups that do not pay group admission may only enter the Cathedral as individual visitors.
• The Cathedral accepts cash, checks, and Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express. Checks should be made payable to The Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
• Tour companies are encouraged to join the Cathedral’s voucher program to obviate admission payment on arrival in exchange for discounts and quarterly billing. To join the voucher program or receive more information please contact the Public Education Office.
• Scheduled groups will be given access to the entire Cathedral, including restrooms, as well as brochures for their participants. Confirmed groups will be alerted of changes to access as soon as possible. Groups that schedule to arrive during times of limited access will be notified in their confirmation.
• Late or early group arrivals will be accommodated as best as possible, however we do not
guarantee access to all parts of the Cathedral.
Photo of the day: MOURNING THE GAY PRIDE DAY’S GRAY’S PAPAYA ~ What on earth will Gay Pride be without the wonderfully bright yellow Gray’s Papaya on the corner of 6th Avenue and 8th Street, the epicenter of the Gay Pride day parade?!?!
For anyone that has ever followed the maddening crowd of the parade on the sidewalk as a spectacular spectator, knows the tightest bottleneck of the parade is when you come to the main intersection of 8th/6th. It is where the large Fifth Avenue sized fabulous parade has been squeezed onto narrow 8th Street and now pours onto the big 6th Avenue intersection again leading it to the ceremonial entrance to gay history’s Christopher Street. The police have therefore cordoned off any chance of you crossing the street within blocks of this big intersection. It does give the parade marchers the space to twirl and show-off before shashaying onto Christopher Street – it’s a divine madhouse! But the one chance you had to make it around the corner as a spectator was to cut through Gray’s Papaya’s open walk-through corner, and by the thousands we did.
It was a quick mini party stop for you to grab that desperately needed cold juice and those wonderfully tasty hot dogs and $1.00 slices of pizza, it was party on the go! The (sadly now) iconic paper fold out fruit decorations hanging from the ceiling made it feel like you were stopping by a madhouse Carmen Miranda fruit stand! With the perfect flow through traffic pattern open corner set-up, it was the absolute ideal guaranteed chance at grabbing that badly needed drink and some nourishment as you tried to make it further along the parade route. That super staff never missed a Latin beat, those dogs and slices were dished out as fast as we ordered them, those Papayans were one of the true martyrs of the parade! I always admired how they kept there cool while others were like “ay caramba!”. Nicholas Gray, the proprietor could not afford to have his monthly rent increased outrageously from $30,000 to $50,000 a month, therefore he was forced to close.
Yes there is Nathan’s in Coney Island and it has wonderful history, but most New Yawkers are not willing to pack a suitcase to travel to the outer reaches of Brooklyn for a dawg. So, Gay Pride and the largest Halloween Parade in the world and especially late night party goers all are going to miss you terribly, a very strategically placed Gray’s Papaya. Adios mis amigos, adios 😦 . . .
The extremely cold 10°F degree weather added to the morbid feeling in the air. Only a few of the die hard regulars showed up including Meres One and Marie Flageul to join co-owners Maureen and Salah for a final round of drinks. To my surprise, as I arrived I was greeted by water dripping down from the ceiling. The frigid temperatures had burst the pipes and was flooding the bar. The water had been shut off but it was still ‘raining’ inside the bar. The water from above had damaged the juke box with Meres’ disco favorites causing the sound to go from high to low every few seconds only adding to the eerie feel of the night.
During the evening Marie stepped out for her usual cigarette, as she stood in front of the bar she observed a pigeon flying towards the building to seek refuge form the cold, and seconds before it could reach the building, it simply fell out of the sky succumbing to hypothermia. Marie’s mission was to rescue the bird. We got a box, lined it with tissue paper and gently placed it in the box. It did not even resist. We placed it in the back hoping it would warm up. (It was in desperate need of sleep as well.) Every so often we would check to see if Marie’s pigeon was reviving, it barely was, but towards the end of the night was fluffing itself up, a hopeful sign. As a final act of kindness, Meres and Marie took the pigeon to their garage to let it warm up and revive. Two days later it flew off to join the world again.
Meres and Marie and all the fantastic 5 Pointz crew are greatly symbolized by our little pigeon – we may be down, but with a little help from our friends – we are not out. Maureen and Salah will reopen at a new nearby location at 21-59 44th Drive, off of 21st Street soon. 5 Pointz will rise again like a phoenix (or our pigeon) and with the creative force of the artists and minds behind Meres and Marie, look out for a brighter and bolder future for Pointz! !
Photo of the night: DREAMS OF A “MIDNIGHT SUN”, Twilight Zone episode
As the United States is experiencing an unusual ‘Artic Vortex’, the Twilight Zone TV series has thought of this already – sweet warm dreams?
The Earth has begun moving away from its usual orbit and is gradually rotating towards the sun. A prolific artist, Norma, and her landlady, Mrs. Bronson, are the last people in their apartment building. Everyone else has either moved north where it is cooler or perished from the extremely high temperatures. Norma and Mrs. Bronson try to keep each other company as they see life as they know it erode. They watch in terror as their water supply is turned on for merely an hour a day and their electricity is considerably reduced. Food and water are scarce. As mentioned by a radio reporter, all citizens are to remain indoors and be prepared for a looter rampage. The radio reporter also states that you can “fry eggs on your sidewalk and heat up soup in the oceans”.
As the temperature grows hotter the two women increasingly perspire. Mrs. Bronson’s mind cannot manage the psychological pressures any longer and she beseeches Norma to paint a picture other than hot topics such as a burning city, screaming deliriously, “Don’t paint the sun anymore!”. Footsteps are heard from outside the apartment door. Norma asks her landlady if she locked the doors of the apartment complex. Mrs. Bronson is uncertain if she did. They hear a knock on the door, and Mrs. Bronson starts to answer it as Norma screams for her to not open the door under any circumstances. Norma threatens the mysterious man with a gun and after a few seconds he says he will leave. Unfortunately, despite Norma’s warning to the contrary, Mrs. Bronson opens the door and the stranger forces his way into the apartment and drinks their supply of water. After several moments, he begs for their forgiveness and claims that he is an honest man and would never hurt them, and that he was driven to looting due to the heat. He goes on to describe the recent death of his wife due to complications of childbirth, as well of the death of their newborn child.
Feeling that her latest painting might cheer her friend, Norma displays a beautiful oil of a waterfall cascading over a lush pond, implied to be that of Taughannock Falls near Ithaca, New York (specifically inUlysses). Mrs. Bronson, unable to cope with the unbearable conditions of the raging sun, deliriously claims that she can feel the coolness and delightfully splashes in the imaginary water before she collapses to the floor and dies. The thermometer surges past 120 °F (49 °C), and eventually shatters. As her oil paintings melt, Norma screams and also collapses.
The scene cuts to the apartment at night with snow outside the window. The same thermometer reads −10 °F (−23 °C). Norma is bedridden with a high fever and is accompanied by Mrs. Bronson and a doctor. She was only dreaming that the Earth was moving closer to the sun. In reality, the Earth is moving away from the sun and will eventually freeze. Norma tells Mrs. Bronson about her nightmare, adding, “Isn’t it wonderful to have darkness, and coolness?” Mrs. Bronson replies with a sense of dread in her voice, “Yes, my dear, it’s… wonderful.”
Photo of the day: VISITING OUR NEW YORK WHITE HOUSE – “You’re invited: Open house with Mayor de Blasio at Gracie Mansion Date: 12/18/2013 12:12:41 P.M. Eastern Standard Time”
When on December 18, at 12 minutes past noon I received an email inviting me to meet the new mayor at the formerly closed Gracie Mansion – I clicked the “reserve” button without a second’s hesitation. This was the final symbolic dig at the elitist mayor Bloomberg who distanced himself from ordinary working people as much as possible, after all, we can’t afford to fund big condo projects.
Sunday January 5th came and it was a bleak, cold, wet, foggy, icy and rainy day. A few of my friends debated whether to head out in this weather. Not me, a full blown blizzard could not have kept me away! Every person on line would be another twist of the knife in Bloomberg’s back.
I arrived at 11:15 and the lines we already half way through Carl Schurz park surrounding the mansion. I was greeting by friendly park rangers who led me to friendly police who led me to friendly volunteers to show me my spot on line. The volunteers made every effort to assure me that the misery of standing out in this weather would be lessened by hot cocoa and cider, wandering musicians and heating tents. Portable bathrooms where everywhere, every detail had been thought of. No one complained, no one groused about the weather. There was a feeling of excitement and accomplishment in the air, we the people had done it and this was our lucky reward. We were doted on by the volunteers with warm smiles and cheery attitudes, “more cider?”, “more cocoa?”, “let me throw that away for you.”
The mood was infectious, no pushing, no shoving, no griping, just busy texting “I’m here!” as the rain poured down our umbrellas and onto our backs. As the rain let up, people were so excited they were doing ‘the wave’ on line! (No one ever did ‘the wave’ on line waiting to meet Grinch Bloomberg!) At 12 noon came the most wonderful odd assortment of unique wandering musicians ranging from opera singers to a melodica (hand blown air accordions) band complete with giant tuba and the best of all – a marching electric guitar band complete with their own amplifiers and power source strapped to their waists, you would never had seen that at a Bloomberg event, they stole the show!
12:30 noon I got near the mansion, we were given a card to fill out with our names and email address so that they could mail us our ‘photo with Bill’. Are you kidding?! We thought, ‘ok, we’ll see him, say hello,’ but to have DeBlasio’s people perfectly organize to have each and everyone of our pictures taken with him and then send them to us, left many absolutely giddy with surprise. This was like waiting in line for Santa Claus.
At the door the security tent hardly felt like “security”, the police were so polite, so helpful, no tension in the air, no airs of suspicion, just ‘hey folks, just this one more step and you get to see him.’ Was this for real? Up the steps to the mansion I went. At every entrance, corner and room we were met by obliging volunteers and docents warmly welcoming us. I am a born and raised New Yorker of 58 years and I have never been inside Gracie Mansion – 99% of us had never been inside either. Cameras were clicking like mad, selfies galore. The Christmas tree was still up, since Doomberg hadn’t lived here it was poorly and sparsely decorated (the DeBlasios will change that), but…if you looked up to the top, the tree topper is a miniature Gracie Mansion!
We were steeped in history. The Federal style mansion was built in 1799 by Scottish born shipping magnate Archibald Gracie. In 1942, builder Robert Moses convinced Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to appropriate the house as a mayoral residence. It’s main two floors are open to the public on a limited basis for guided tours, and serve as a small museum. It has not been occupied for the past 20 years. This is our New York White House. The buzz in the house was like that of an opening night in the theater and we were about to meet the star of the show. The line snaked through the historic old house as the press eagerly interviewed and filmed the people on line. “This is a historic event. It is even more so, because it’s a symbolic a stab at Bloomberg. I feel as if a black 12 year old cloud has been lifted and this is the colorful dream I have awakened to, I am bursting with pride and joy” I said to a reporter.
Our final room to see was the dining room where Bill, his wife Chirlane, and children Dante and Chiara will have breakfast and their family meals. The dining table was complete with official New York City seal placemats, I just have plain cloth at home J . It has a wonderful view of the east river through the trees of the park. Final stop – meet Bill.
Yet again the Gracie Mansion staff surprised us, they made sure our email name cards weren’t wet, we were asked whether we wanted our photo taken with or without our coats on. They provided a table were we could place, our coats in order. It was managed like a well oiled machine. Then . . . there he was, all 6’7” of him. As warm as a figure he his, his height is a bit imposing.
He had taken a break to talk to one of his staff members, so I had to wait. When finished, he turned to me outstretched his arms and joyfully and proudly said “welcome to Gracie Mansion, the people’s house!” I almost forgot what I wanted to say to him! I said: “After fighting so hard against Quinn, this is such a joyful experience, thank you!” We posed, he turned to me grabbed and squeezed my hand and said “you guys did hero’s work.” I felt like a billion dollars ! (I am waiting for the official photo to be sent to me.)
He patiently and above all in good humor, shook 7,000 hands, listened to 7,000 greetings/complaints, wishes and concerns and smiled for 7,000 photos – god bless him! Upon leaving, my coat was properly waiting for me and no one was given the expected bums rush out. People were just giddy with excitement and took their time leaving, no one rushed us as we took out beaming final pictures on the back porch of the mansion –