Wednesday, October 17, 2001
Our kids, our future - the start of Jennifer Lopez
Do you remember a play in which the narrator sees his town as the center of the universe, in the eye of God? That's how I see the T&V country. Our people are the hundreds of faces at the corner of 14th Street and 1st Avenue at 8 A.M. waiting for the 15M bus, the moms and kids going to school in dungarees, in blue blazers and tartan school clothes. Our people are the big highschool kids with tattoos, the hospital and office people going to work. And the thousands out on the street at lunch hour on Union Square, the Greenmarket sellers and shoppers, the young people having medieval encounters on Tuesdays after hours in the Greenmarket space, and the roller bladers , hockey players and skateboarders on other afternoons. Today we will talk about the kids of our town.
We all live a dream, la vida es un sueno. Some dreams are fulfilled while others fail. My friend Arnie who has toiled for 30 years in daily tasks, with an eye to the stars, has two sons, both fine ballplayers, affectionately known by the office colleagues as Adam and Clayton. Arnie and Marlene have spent hundreds of hours and energy taking the boys through untold neighborhood Little League matches, ascending to the National Championships. In his office he keeps pictures and blown-up newspaper reports of the feats of the kid's uncle, a 6'4'' pitcher,xx, as as a reminder that it can be done. But after years of the dream, reality struck home, no one offered contracts, and the boys went off to college to pursue more mundane careers - in accountancy and biology. But the love for the sports never died, and now both young men have switched to doing physical therapy, sports-oriented. A dream fulfilled.
John, another toiledr on Union Square, coaches soccer ot home, in New Jersey. He had this boy Tony, the sweetest little youngster, who ran like a whirlwind and tried hard but could not control the ball nor score a goal. This kid was an artist, drew Tony the Tiger in contests and won two or three bikes but could not ride them. He was always the last player in the school's piano recitals, where other kids played chopsticks and he could do Mozart. He was on the soccer team because his parents wanted him to stop studying and get out and play sports. Tony wound up at Notre Dame studying in computer sciences, best in the class, beating out a serious girl, whom he ended up dating. He grew a foot in college, and was offered several fellowships, of which he took the one at Indiana, because they had one for Diane too. They are now married, and Tony is a teacher, poor but happy. He still cannot ride the bike or play soccer. A dream fulfilled.
Another friend David, is the father of a little girl wo liked to dance. I met her when she came in the office on holidays, to play computer games, a lively and expressive child. Mom took her to dancing classes and auditions, with not too much success. Jennifer, after highschool, took a job as a secretary with Dad's employer, on Union Square, enrolled at Baruch and started thinking of a law degree. But then she went to yet another final audition, at 19, and got a job dancing on a TV show, In Living Color. Having turned into a sultry Latin beauty, Jennifer Lopez went to Hollywood and did supporting roles in movies, My Family and Money Train, then played Robin Williams' fifth grade teacher in Francis Ford Coppola's Jack, dancing between takes when she was happy with her performance. Recently she played a Cuban nanny who cannot decide between her suitors Jack Nicholson and Stephen Dorff in a crime film, Blood and Wine, directed by Bob Raffelson. She is now in a dream role, the story of the Tejano singer Selena, slain by her fan club president, for director Gregory Nava. And another role is under contract, that of a documentary film maker who has jungle adventures, in Anaconda.
Looking at Jennifer's sultry publicity pictures, there are the unmistakable features of David, a gentle person who never misses a day's work, keeping a computer system on track. Soft-spoken, he carries pictures of Jen and tells stories of her phone calls home and the support group that the family provides. Not all kids of her generation have the background that the family gave her. And it is evident in her attitude towards the family. She calls home frequently, comes to stay with the family for Christmas, Easter and Mother's Day, and recently brought them to san Antonio for a long weekend, to see her in the filming of a Selena concert.
Her younger sister, Linda, 24, graduated from C.V.Post University, and now has a rock DJ program on WBAB, in Babylon, N.Y. Older sister Leslie, 29, was a schoolteacher until her recent motherhood.
David, who has worked for the same company for 25 years, has an level-headed attitude towards success in life. A house and a home for the family has to be earned with work. Easy life after retirement comes from saving and sacrificing. Good schoolwork comes with good parenting. If you work, you can succeed in life. A dream fulfilled.
Are all the dreams fully attained? Of course not. But a half-filled cup
Monday, October 08, 2001
Chinatown, Little Italy and Ellis Island revisited
This is part of a continuing series to keep you informed of the city and country pleasures you and your out-of-town guests can enjoy.
This summer we took our foreign visitor, by request, to world-famous Chinatown. Unfortunately, the after-dark scene was disappointing. A glitzy dinner at the Silver Palace on Bowery helped, and we had some funny exchanges about ginseng and its powers, a case of multi-ethnic communications in broken English, at a Mott Street souvenir shop. Politically incorrect humor transcends ethnic differences. A bit dismal, nevertheless.
But then we crossed Canal Street at Mott and got on Hester Street and there were lights, and crowds, and cheerful talk at Puglia Restaurant (I've never seen it without a crowd outside) and at Ferrara's Pasticerria on Grand. And when we turned into Mulberry, the night truly became day - there were people strolling, crowded cafe tables on the sidewalk, waiters greeting you and handing you huge menus, all the way to the Grotta Azzura (the Grotto in SOHO dialect) on corner of Broome Street, the last outpost. Along the way, in front of Umberto's Clam House were two white stretch limos, and one across the street, probably provided by the local Chamber of Commerce to heighten the drama, highlighting the Joey Gallo to John Gotti heritage (there is a crime-oriented walking tour of the area available). An exciting gastronomic multi-ethnic evening would have been in the making, but we had already eaten.
Next day, continuing the ethnic theme, our scheduled tour was Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. After consulting, we decided to skip the Statue and see Ellis, and went downtown by train, to line up at Castle Clinton for tickets, while our guest held a spot in the Ferry boat line - a time-saving measure, accepted by everyone in the line. Buskers greet the people in line with songs and patter ("welcome to the streets of New York, the only place in the world where you can buy a Rolex watch for $25") and a hiphop show. The tour lets you get off at Liberty, a two-hour stopover, three or more if you want to climb the 22-story staircase to the top. An elevator will take you to the pedestal and the exhibits there, but you have to start at the bottom on foot for the visit to the crown.
The story of the statue is that it does not celebrate immigration, as the Emma Lazarus' poem tells us. The French Republicans who put it together did it to advocate democracy, then nonexistent in France under Emperor Napoleon III, and friendship with the US. Edouard de Laboulaye inspired it, Auguste Bartholdi made it in 1877, and Joseph Pulitzer raised the funds to install it, by 1884. It was formed from a four-foot tall clay model in 300 enlarged full-size plaster sections. Then 2.5 mm thick copper sheets were hammered into matching shape (repousse process). A massive wrought-iron tower or pylon was built, to provide the skeleton for attaching the copper skin, flexible and impervious to high winds and temperature changes. The tricky construction was engineered by Gustave Eiffel, who went on to build another interesting structure, named after him, for the Paris Exposition of 1889.
Ellis Island was the gateway to America for immigrants, 1892-1954, though the flow slowed after 1924, when legal restrictions were placed on immigration from East and Southern Europe. Before Ellis, immigrant flow was encouraged and was free of regulation, though some states had limited barriers. Ellis Island has museums, showing the pitiful overcrowded towns of Italy and Poland that prompted the exit of our forebears; there is a shipping line poster showing wistful people watching the liner depart, and glowing pictures and postcards of the ships. The descriptions of the miserable quarters provided for the $35 steerage passengers are not on the posters.
Once on Ellis Island, the immigrants underwent scrutiny for tuberculosis, communicable and debilitating disease, and there were huge quarantine quarters (not restored). Incidentally, women physicians were accepted for employment at Ellis Island. The bad cases, about two percent of immigrants, were shipped back, at the shipping company expense, therefore the screening of immigrants by the shipping lines in Europe was severe.
At its peak Ellis Island processed 5,000 immigrants a day, and the facilities bulged at the seams. The annual numbers: 446,000 in 1892, 179,000 in 1898 (down due to a cholera threat from Europe), 1.1 million in 1906 (up after the revolution of 1905 in Russia), 335,000 in 1927 (restricted by immigration laws). A huge French Renaissance main building (Boring & Tilton, 1898) and 34 additional structures were built on the island. The original three-acre island, annexed by New York in 1691, was expanded to 27 1/2 acres through landfills (construction of New York City subway systems provided the dirt). The fill has now given rise to a claim by New Jersey for the man-made sections of the island, which were placed on a part of the harbor that belongs to our sister state, under a 1834 compact that gave them the waters surrounding Ellis Island. The lawsuit reached US Supreme Court in 1993, and an appointed special master is reviewing the case. New Jersey is insistent, since the island represents revenue from salaries, concessions, and a potential convention center and hotel.
After 1924 the use of Ellis Island as an immigrant processing center declined, and it housed undesirable aliens slated for deportation, as well as a military hospital and a Coast Guard training facility. It was closed and nearly abandoned in 1954; some illegal squatters moved in, and it took an act of President L.B.Johnson in 1965, which made the island a National Park, to put this major monument of our national heritage, the American Dream, under government protection. Consider - about 12 million people moved through Ellis Island, to give birth to 40 percent of our population.
Several plans were presented to National Parks Service for rehabilitation, the most modernistic from Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson, neither with much respect to history. A groundswell movement to rehabilitate the island to its peak period state started in 1974. It was picked up by Lee Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler Motors, in 1982, and he was appointed by the Department of Interior to head a centennial commission and its fundraising arm, the Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation. Restoration specialists Beyer Blinder & Belle and Noter Finegold & Alexander designed the main building rehabilitation, which was completed in 1990, at a cost of $162 million.
The visitor walks in, following the path of the immigrant. The ground floor is a baggage hall, and steps lead to the overwhelming 2nd floor Reception hall, 200 ft. long and 100 ft. wide, with 56 ft. vaulted ceiling. Here the exhausted immigrant passed through a row of specialist doctors, who observed, examined and put a chalked code on his clothing if heart, lung and mental problems were suspected. The dreaded eye examiner could cause an instant reject, if trachoma was present. A final examiner asked 29 questions, the most treacherous being whether the immigrant had a job waiting. A positive answer was the wrong one, since contract labor was illegal. (Fiorello LaGuardia was a $1,200 Ellis Island interpreter, for Italian, German and Serbo-Croatian speaking immigrants, working 80-hour weeks before he entered politics.) 20 percent of arrivals were detained, only a half of them because of doctors' chalk marks, the others mostly for lack of money, if their American relatives were late in getting to the island with transportation funds. After five days the missionary and immigrant aid societies (HIAS was one of them) stepped in and guided the unfortunate arrival to his relatives.
The visitor has much to see. A one-hour guided tour takes you past the very impressive Immigrant Wall of Honor, 650 ft with over 500,000 inscriptions, principal fundraising tool of the Foundation. (I found three of my name, none in the spelling given to the 1905 arrivals. Research, research!) A touching movie -Island of Hope, Island of Tears - and oral histories performed by costumed actors (duration 1/2 hour each) bring forth the plight of the immigree. Poverty in the homeland, a 6-day journey in steerage, sleeping in tripledecker bunks squashed together (most people did not wash), soggy bread and a barrel of herrings for shipboard food (lucky the ones who packed a basket with sausages and black bread). And the Reception Hall, and the three floors of museum material - walls of passports, tickets, photographs of people hard at dirty immigrant work, and serious-faced picknicking in folk costumes, alone and with their fraternal organizations. America is a hard country. Go visit the Island on a sunny day.
Go, Yankees! Baltimore in four, Atlanta in five!
Concerned Citizens Speak Awards Dinner
By Wally Dobelis
There was a sellout attendance of 176 dinner guests at the Concerned Citizens Speak 15th anniversary dinner and awards ceremony on Sunday, October 6, 1996 at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park. Before the meal, three surprise awards were given to John F. Bringmann, the founder and leading light of the organization, by Thomas R. Stevens and Richard Jordan from the CCS board, O.Alden James on behalf of NAC, and Assemblyman Steven Sanders.
The Interfaith Humanitarian Awards presentation to seven clergymen, in recognition of their dedication to their congregations and the neighborhoods in which they serve, brought in many congregants and members of the communities who wanted to record their respect and appreciation of the honorees, and hear their reminiscences. Pastor James Amos of Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church spoke of 33 years of community service in the church, highlighting its newest activity, a "To Love and Be Divorced" group, meeting on the third Thursday every month (everyone is welcome); Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Armenian Church in America, told of the need for creeds to forget their differences and stand together to bring back the values of religion; Rabbi Emeritus Irving J. Block, of The Brotherhood Synagogue, proceeding from the Hillel texts "If I'm not for myself, who will be for me," "If I am only for myself, what am I" and "If not now, when?" highlighted the need for activism. Msgr. Harry Byrne (ret), of the Roman Catholic Church of the Epiphany, meditated on the theme of priests, ministers and rabbis needing each other and the value of such structures as CCS to mediate between helpless citizens and mega-business and government; Msgr. Kevin O'Brien, of the Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated the roles of some of his paritioners - mentioning Patricia Sallin, Alvin Doyle and Jo-Ann Polise of the CCS Board - in taking responsibility for the community (the latter two also received the CCS Founder's Citation for their dedication as President and Vice President of the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Tenants Associations). Rev. Thomas F. Pike, Rector of the Episcopal Parish of Calvary/St. George's, stressed the role of congregations as beacons of compassion and hope for those in need. Rabbi Harold Swiss, continuing on the theme of community of faiths, spoke of the true love that prompted Pastor Amos and his congregation to offer his then homeless Little Synagogue a room to pray, starting a harmonious relationship that has continued for ten years.
There were letters of anniversary congratulations for CCS signed John Cardinal O'Connor, Bill Clinton, Charles Schumer, Carolyn B. Maloney, George E. Pataki, Dennis C. Vacco, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Ruth [Messinger] and Alan G. Hevesi.
Gentle harp music for the reception was provided by Kirsten J. Agresta, who at the age of fifteen was a soloist on a full tour of the British Isles and has since performed extensively throughout the US, Europe, Israel and the South Pacific. She has appeared on NBC, CBS and ABC-TV, on Michigan and Indiana Public Television, and was featured in the "Up and Coming" section of People Magazine.
After the ceremonies there was the customary drawing of raffle winners, rewarded with gifts donated by local restaurants and merchants. The raffle income is used to provide gifts for the needy, particularly during the holidays.
C.C.S., based in the Gramercy Park area, holds "Speak Outs" on issues such as crime, tenants' rights, drugs, stronger criminal laws, landmark preservation and mass transit, in which the citizenry has an opportunity to confront elected officials. The group over the years has directed letters and position papers to elected officials, and has merited congratulations for its efforts from the President, the Governor and the Mayor.