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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

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A few years ago I traveled from San Francisco to New York City for some reason that I no longer remember. I arrived in NY on the A train. After a few days, I left it by taking the A train again to Far Rockaway. “Far Rockaway.” It sounds exotic. One could almost imagine emerging from the subway onto a sandy beach by clear blue waters — perhaps there is a boatload of buccaneers waiting offshore to attack. One does not usually associate NY with broad sandy beaches. Actually, it is one of those few major cities with large beaches within its city limits, like Rio. True Rockaway Beach, Jones Beach and Coney Island do not quite conger up the same images in one’s mind as Copacabana or Ipanema, (or even Venice Beach in LA) but they do have their own quirky and gritty charm. In the summer, those beaches were packed with beach-goers and sunbathers like subway cars during rush hour.

When the train emerged from the tunnel and into the sunlight over a section of outer Brooklyn or Queens (I never could remember which it was out here near JFK) we rode above the rows of brick attached homes and trees, lots of them, and passed Aqueduct Raceway. I left the A train at Howard Beach and boarded the AirTrain, taking it the last mile or so to the terminal at JFK.

Boarding the car with me were two New Yorkers dressed in SF Forty-niners shirts on their way to SF to see the Niners play the Giants. One of them was a large pear-shaped man with a pencil thin mustache and wearing a Joe Montana shirt. He announced to everyone in a very loud voice that he was a Niner and Joe Montana fan for all his life no matter what his friends and coworkers thought about it. In an accent that could only be from Brooklyn, he told several of the other passengers that he was a scraper, someone who scrapes the paint off bridges in preparation for repainting and that this was only the second air flight he had ever taken.

So while listening to the two of them express their excitement and their plans about what they wanted to see when they get to SF (Fisherman’s Wharf and the Crookedest Street), I pleasantly passed the time until we arrived at the terminal where I boarded the plane and left NYC behind.

The Niners lost that game.

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Mock Duck

1900. Mock Duck leader of the Four Brothers and Hip Sing Tongs begins a gang war with Tom Lee’s much larger On Leong Tong over Mock Duck’s demand for 30% of Tom Lee’s gambling revenue in New York’s Chinatown.

1904 November 4 – Hip Sing Tong leader Mock Duck is wounded in a gunfight by three On Leong hatchet men near his Pell Street home.

(Apparently Mock Duck, when in a gunfight would squat down, close his eyes and fire off his two guns until he ran out of ammunition.)

1908 August 15 – The Tong war becomes even more violent after Low Hee Tong, a member of the Four Brothers Tong, purchases a rival Tong slave girl Bow Kum who is later murdered.

(You may want to click on Bow Kum above and read about her tragic story).

December 30 – Ah Hoon, a comedian (apparently to his regret, the Chinese version of Don Rickles) and a member of the On Leong Tong is killed in his home by rival Hip Song members.

1912. Mock Duck is convicted of running a policy game and sentenced to imprisonment at Sing Sing Prison.

1913. A peace agreement is signed, with the exception of the Four Brothers, ending the gang war between the On Leongs, Hip Sings, and the Kim Lan Wui Saw Tongs.

1918. Tong leader Mock Duck, upon his release from Sing Sing Prison, retires from crime.

1924. The gang war between the On Leong and Hip Sing Tongs begins again after several members of the On Leongs defect to the Hip Sings with a large amount of money.

1941. Mock Duck dies in bed of natural causes.

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The rains have arrived in SE Asia. They begin at about mid-day and continue on and off through the evening. I go to the health club in the early mornings so that I can get my swim in before the downpour starts. Some, mostly Western, members of the club have taken to swimming during the rain

Pin-up photo of Esther Williams for the Oct. 1...

Pin-up photo of Esther Williams for the Oct. 12, 1945 issue of Yank, the Army Weekly, a weekly U.S. Army magazine fully staffed by enlisted men. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(“Swimming in the Rain” was the title of a little-known movie set in Seattle starring Jonny Weissmuller and Esther Williams). The health club staff advises against that. They say that the pool could be struck by lightning and boil the swimmers like lobsters in a pot. I believe that is far less likely in BKK than getting hit by a motorbike taxi while walking along one of the City’s sidewalks or, for that matter, falling through those same sidewalks and disappearing forever into the foetid sewers underneath.

After the rains, the air becomes heavy with warm moisture. The smells from the innumerable sidewalk food stands mingles with the stench risings from the sewers until I feel as though I am bathing in a bowl of week-old bouillabaisse.

 

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English: Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx...

English: Julius Henry “Groucho” Marx, cropped from group photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now I know it may sound unbelievable to many of you but for those under 40 years old, Groucho Marx may be virtually forgotten and I doubt if any of my grand children if they read this have any idea who he is.

Well, to me Groucho Marx is the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century.

“Wait a minute,” some of you may exclaim. “Groucho was a comedian, not a philosopher.”

To which, by way of response, I direct your attention the Greeks of classical antiquity. To these progenitors of many “Western” cultural and intellectual beliefs, comedy and tragedy were just two ways of expressing truth. In the radical dualism of which the ancient Greeks were so fond, humanity’s experience was of only two types; either all your hopes and dreams turn to shit or, if you survive, they still are shit but you can laugh at them. There is nothing more in the cards for humanity except terminal boredom.

Before Groucho, the worlds greatest comedian was Machiavelli, who I have sometimes quoted in these posts. Before him, in my opinion the world’s greatest comedian was Socrates. Plato was a fascist jerk and Aristotle a woolly headed liberal.

Aristotle

Aristotle (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

Now some of you may say whoa, ”Aristotle a liberal?” “How can that be? Over the years some of the most autocratic people and institutions (like the Catholic Church) relied upon Aristotle to crush the human spirit?“

As Leo Rosten said, “A conservative is one who admires radicals centuries after they’re dead.” There is nothing so liberal that a few centuries later a conservative could not find useful to beat away challenges to his prerequisites. For example nearly 50 years after Marx, that arch-conservative Lenin saw in Communism something with which he could beat up a group of doddering superstitious autocrats and take over their empire (and while he was at it crushing the inept liberal Mensheviks along the way). Later Stalin had Trotsky killed to make sure Marx received the same treatment that Spencer gave Darwin.

Why do modern conservatives reject Darwinism when Spencer and his “survival of the fittest” did so much to make him their favorite scientist through most of the last century? I guess they found God. He is after all the ultimate survivor. As one supporter of conservative causes has written, “Jesus was against the minimum wage,” and the Bible “absolutely condemned” the estate tax, and opposed the progressive income tax also. This, of course, leads me back to Groucho and his immortal line, “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception.”

History is often funny in a sad sort of way or as Groucho would say,

“Why should I care about posterity? What’s posterity ever done for me?”

There is an old Hotel/Pub in Marble Arch, London, which used to have a gallows adjacent to it. Prisoners taken to the gallows (after a fair trial of course) passed by the pub on their way  to be hanged

The horse-drawn dray, carting the prisoner, was accompanied by an armed guard, who would stop the dray outside the pub and ask the prisoner if he would like ”ONE LAST DRINK.”

If he said YES, it was referred to as “ONE FOR THE ROAD.”

If he declined, that prisoner was “ON THE WAGON.”

So there you go… More bleeding history.

On thing about Groucho he never was one to curry favor. He once famously observed, “It isn’t necessary to have relatives in Kansas City in order to be unhappy.”

Speaking of to “curry favor,” it comes to that part of the world that actually speaks english  from Australia, so let’s put some ‘strine’ on the barbie, shall we?

It seems that at some point the inmates of the penal colony that was Australia decided that they wanted to improve their image in the world so that they would no longer appear to be what they were, criminals. They discovered that it was fashionable in certain circles to adopt the appearance of being civilized to cover the rough edges, so to speak. They decided that this was a good idea and they would do so too.

The first thing civilized thing they did was to start killing the aboriginal inhabitants that they were sharing their country with or driving them off the land that they, the civilizers, wanted for themselves. The second civilized thing they did was for a few of them to become as rich as Midas by destroying as much or the land as they could and where necessary killing anyone who stood in the way. The third civilized thing they introduced was gambling venues at which these new rich could flaunt their money. Since gambling casinos were considered immoral at the time, the most civilized gambling activity they could consider was horse racing.

Soon a lot of money was spent to find the fastest horse of them all so that someone could boast that he owned it. At one time that horse was named Favor.

Now, there is a comb or brush used to remove tangles or burrs from a horses coat. It is called a currying comb or brush. Now I assume at the

English: Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones ...

English: Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones in the early days (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

time people were lined up for the chance to brush the famous horse much like groupies lined up at a Rolling Stone concert for a chance to be shagged by Keith Richards. And that’s were we get the expression to “Curry Favor.” ——- No. to brush the horse, not get shagged by Keith Richards, that’s called something else.

For a horse of a different color, they used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot and then once a day it was taken and sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were “PISS POOR,” but worse than that were the really poor folk, who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot, they “DIDN’T HAVE A POT TO PISS IN” and were the lowest of the low.
The next time you are washing your hands and complain because the water temperature isn’t just how you like it, think about how things used to be.

 

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Louie (stage name, “James Oliver”) left New York City and Tuckahoe for LA. On March 8, 1964, I wrote in my diary:

“Lou did not get married. Susan, his girlfriend decided to go back to California the day before the wedding. Lou was distraught. He decided to return to California also. Not to follow her he says, but because New York has suddenly become lifeless for him. He said he needed a new life.”

And so he left a week or two later and that was the last I ever saw of him. Years later he ended up living as an artist in Taos. I located him through Facebook as I was troling for new friends and was exploring Facebook members connected with Tuckahoe, NY where Louie and I grew up. I sent him an invitation to contact me. I received no reply. Soon thereafter his site was removed.

A reporter for the local Taos newspaper recently wrote of him:

“James Louie Oliver is one of the most fascinating people you might ever meet. He’s an artist, a former stage and screen actor, builder of model airplanes and one helluva storyteller. You’ll see what we mean when Oliver makes an appearance Friday (March 30), 7 p.m., at Bareiss Gallery, 15 State Road 150, north of El Prado.

Oliver will read from his writings, ‘Howie’s Chair’ and ‘Marilyn Monroe and the the Shoeshine Boy,’ and he will also display his intricately detailed assemblages and handcrafted model airplanes.

Oliver was born Dec. 17, 1937, in a coldwater flat on the Bronx-Mount Vernon border in New York. Growing up, he says one of his first jobs was as a shoeshine boy, something he told us about in a story we did on him in April of 2011. He also worked in his grandfather’s barbershop, sweeping up hair and doing anything that was needed. His face goes dark, though, when he talks about the abuse he suffered as a child, but he doesn’t dwell on it.

I grew up old, but I’m younger now,’ he says with a touch of humor.

He studied for and did quite a bit of stage work in New York. This also led to film work in Hollywood.

Cover of "Hells Angels on Wheels"

Cover of Hells Angels on Wheels

My first movie was ‘Hells Angels on Wheels’ (1967) and I played a guy named ‘Gypsy.’ And Adam Roarke was in it, he passed away, and Jack Nicholson too. It’s an underground film. Then I did a TV show where I met Johnny Barrymore. We became very good friends before he passed away. That was another motorcycle TV thing that starred Ben Gazzara called ‘Run for Your Life.’’ ”

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I have taken most of the following from one of two diaries that have survived the many disruptions and along with copies of “The Fred Harris for President Handbook” that I wrote for that ill-fated quixotic campaign in the 1970s and my daughters PhD thesis from Harvard have lain mostly unopened and unread, a few feet from the many beds I have occupied over the past 40 years. I was prompted to open them after writing the previous post about Louie, who I have not seen since 1964, in response to discovering on Facebook that Louie was living apparently happily as an artist in Taos, New Mexico.

Thursday, February 20, 1964.

LANFORD WILSON, JEAN-CLAUDE VAN ITALLIE, H.M. ...

LANFORD WILSON, JEAN-CLAUDE VAN ITALLIE, H.M. KOUTOUKAS, ROSALYN DREXLER, IRENE FORNES, LEONARD MELFI, TOM EYEN, PAUL FOSTER, 1966, photo by GLOAGUEN. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Tonight was very interesting. Lou called and invited me to see his new apartment in the Village. I went there. It is a hovel. He told me all about how nicely he intended to fix it up.

An interesting young man named Leonard Melfi arrived. He is a young playwright, currently writing plays for Cafe La Mama.

We spent the next several hours drinking and talking. Lou described at some length his overactive sex life, including his current affair with a young actress and also the four other women he had gotten pregnant.

Leonard and I then went off on a discussion about the Janet Wylie murder that occupied the headlines of the NY newspapers for almost a year. We both closely followed the news reports about the killing. He had known Janet and appeared to have additional information not reported in the papers. We decided that the murderer was most likely the third roommate. The police, however did not consider her a suspect.

He and I discussed our fascination with murders and the process of identifying the murderer. Much more exciting than solving other types of puzzles we agreed.”

Monday, April 27, 1964, I wrote:

“This weekend the police produced a suspect in the Janet Wylie murder. His arrest upended all the theories Leonard and I had developed. He was the only remaining option unaccounted for in our theories. The murder was a completely random event. The suspect was someone who just wandered in and surprised the girls. Although when we were developing our theories we touched on this possibility, we rejected it as just too far-fetched.”

Note:

La Mama Theater by David Shankbone

La Mama Theater by David Shankbone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leonard Melfi was one of the most important American playwrights of the 1960s when experimental theater was the rage. His works were originally performed at Ellen Stewart‘s La Mama. He became a raging alcoholic and died alone in a SRO hotel on NY’s Broadway and 93rd Street on October 24, 2001.

Janet Wylie and her roommate, Emily Hoffert, two young professionals, were murdered in their Upper East Side apartment by an intruder on August 28, 1963, in what the press called The Career Girls Murders. The suspect taken into custody referred to above was a black man, George Whitmore. It later turned out, investigators erroneously arrested and forced a false confession from Whitmore. Richard Robles a young white man was ultimately apprehended in 1965 and charged with the crime. Nevertheless, Whitmore was imprisoned for many years until he was eventually released. Robles, now 68, was convicted and remains in prison.

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Cover of "The Wanderers"

Cover of The Wanderers

Recently while searching the web for two of my all-time favorite movies, the Warriors, and The Wanders, I came across a site dedicated to the New York City and Chicago teenage gangs of the late 1950′s, including maps of the rival gangs’ turf.

Based on Xenophon’s history of the Greek mercenary army, betrayed by the Persians who had to fight their way through 100s of miles of hostile Persian territory to get home, the Warriors, betrayed at a gang conference in the Bronx have to fight their way along the subway from Gun Hill Road in the Bronx and through Manhattan in order to return to their home in Coney Island.

The Wanderers, although very little about it is true to life, presented the most realistic view of the gangs and gang life at the time the time I knew and experienced it. The movie referenced actual gangs with which I had some passing relationship, The Fordham Baldies, The Golden Guineas, and the Irish Lords.

The Golden Guineas were sort of the mob farm team and along with the Fordham Baldies the most feared gang in the North Bronx (they were not bald as portrayed in the movie).

I lived outside of the City and although we had our own gangs and relationships with some of the Bronx gangs we were no match for them in size or reputation.

I belonged to two gangs that I can remember, the Skull Gang, the gang my childhood friends evolved into when we passed into puberty. It was mostly social and something to call ourselves. It was a mixed group, Italians, Blacks and Irish boys who had grown up together.

I also belonged to a gang from Mount Vernon, a somewhat more serious group. We called ourselves the Capris if you can believe it. Our “uniform” was teal bowling shirts with black velvet vertical stripes. This was a zip-gun, switchblade, tire chain wielding gang, unlike the unarmed, unwarlike Skulls who just hung out on the corner. I was consigliere since I refused to carry a weapon (fear mostly), was not known as a particularly adept fighter but was considered the most knowledgeable and thoughtful member of the gang.

I also associated with one or two minor gangs from the north Bronx, but I no longer recall their names. I was a “war” advisor with them.

I also had a friendship with the leader of a major gang from Fordham Road called the University Avenue Gang. I could not find them on the site, so they may also have had another name. The leader’s name was “Bambi.” The gang was a mixed gang, Bambi was Italian but many of the gang members were Irish.

One evening, Bambi helped in saving me and several friends from a severe beating. It seems that “One Punch Sammy Santoro” the legendary tough guy from Roosevelt High School in Yonkers had, a running conflict with Frank Santaliquito from Tuckahoe, the nearby village in which I lived. It seems Santoro once beat up Frank for some reason. As a result, Frank spent the next two years in the Gym bulking up and training in boxing and hand to hand combat. Frank who had been a tall handsome slender young man, had in those two years turned himself into an ugly brutish looking mountain of a man. He had let the word out that he was looking to even the score.

One evening, two friends of mine (Charlie DeVito and Frank Plastini) and I were at a large fast food place with pinball machines that teenagers used to like to go to and hang out. Located on Central Avenue in Yonkers( I cannot remember its name — perhaps Nathan’s), it was generally considered neutral territory.

One Punch Sammy Santoro and about seven or eight of his hangers-on came in and saw us there. Someone mentioned to them that we were from Tuckahoe. Sammy immediately assumed we were associated with Santaliquito who also lived in Tuckahoe. As a result, he prepared to punish us as a message to Frank. As they started toward us, another friend of ours, Chickie Muscalino showed up and sized up what was happening. Chickie went to the same High School as Charlie and I. He knew One Punch well and was respected by everyone because in addition to being big and strong he was affable. He intervened and tried to persuade Sammy not to harm us since we were not associated with Santaliquito.

Unknown to me, in another room of the place, Bambi and several members of his gang had come up from the Bronx to play the pinball machines. He also realized that I was in trouble and came up to me to assure me that he had my back if things got out of hand.

Despite the huge load of testosterone in the air, Chickie’s persuasiveness along with Bambi’s presence calmed One Punch down and we were allowed to leave unmolested.

Sometime after this confrontation, Sammy and Frank met up again and despite all his training and commitment, Frank was beaten again as badly as the first time they had met.

Racial concentrations in the Bronx.

Racial concentrations in the Bronx. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the way back home for some reason, we stopped at another place along Central Avenue. As we returned to our car our we found our way blocked by a group of about six teenagers led by a kid who had some sort of beef with Charlie. So with Frank and I behind him, Charlie advanced to meet the other gang leader in the center of the parking lot. Frank who had not ridden with Charlie and me before, I could see was trembling. I, on the other hand, assumed that we would lose and I would be beaten up. So I was busy searching the area for somewhere to hide in the hope that I could stave off the inevitable long enough for the police or something else to intervene.

As usual in situations like this, violence rarely occurs as the parties swap hormonal indicators. We called it “bluffing.” Charlie walked up to his opposition and before the other could speak said: “OK start fighting or start talking.” That was enough to encourage the other kid to back down. After a bit more back and forth talking and face-saving, we left and returned home.

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