If I were to brainstorm everything I know about the Statue of Liberty it would look like this:
– The French donated it as a gift to mark the United States’ centennial (and probably as a thank-you for having whomped their perpetual enemy, the British, in the Revolutionary War).
– It blows up in every disaster movie.
Not much history there. I almost visited Liberty Island once, but I opted to stay on the ferry back to New Jersey. I’d left my phone at the station, probably when I put it down to clap along with the chorus of John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” (a temptation I can never resist), which was playing on the speakers at the station. Our time was tight that day, and we’d have only had enough time to walk around the island and try to look up Lady Liberty’s dress until the next ferry, but I still consider it a lost opportunity.
That significant little slab of land has a history to it – one that stretches long beyond the 1886 unveiling of the grand statue. One that also features a phenomenal explosion. Like any amateur historian, I’ll pull at any thread that might result in an exciting kaboom.
That appetizing slab of muck is actually an oyster bed. The tidal flats in Upper New York Bay used to be filled with these tasty little creatures, and they washed up en masse on the shores of the three islands that would later be known as Ellis, Black Tom and Liberty Islands. The trio were known as the Oyster Islands by the settlers of New Amsterdam, and they’d continue to supply non-Kosher goodness to folks in the region for centuries before landfilling expanded the islands’ footprints and messed with the natural coastlines. Read more…
Without question, Times Square is the center of the urban-tourist universe, and all other city cores are distant suburbs. The splashy lights and night-defying non-stop glow are mesmerizing, intoxicating… until you realize that most of the magic around you are advertisements. Even then, all those pleas for the pennies in your pockets blend together into a euphonic crescendo, a blast of visual tympani that will leave your rods and cones shimmying a jitterbug for months.
The neighborhood is also one of America’s safest – apart from the occasional terrorist threat, of course. It may be the pinnacle achievement of urban Disneyfication, but it is unparalleled as a tourist mecca. There’s nothing to do in Times Square, and therein lies its brilliance. Sure, you can shop at a couple stores, snarf back a McBurger or slurp up a margarita at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. But those options pop up around any major attraction, don’t they?
In Times Square you are there to look. Not at a specific building, just at the air around you, tickled to life by neon and the hot blue breath of LED signscapes. You may be one of thousands of pedestrians (or millions if it’s New Year’s Eve), but your feet are planted at the nexus of America, where corporate cash, glitzy braggadocio and our collective self-importance collide in a glamorous display. It’s hard to believe that not long ago, the area was astoundingly natural.
Don’t let the frilly collar fool you; John Morin Scott was a certified bad-ass, one of George Washington’s generals and ballsy enough to keep his heels firmly into the mud as British forces kicked Revolutionary ass in the Battle of Brooklyn. He was the last of Washington’s top men to argue against surrendering the island of Manhattan to the British in 1776. Was it his unflinching spirit? His weep-worthy patriotism? Or (more likely) the vast amounts of land he owned in what would someday be called Midtown? Read more…
When that icy murk of depression sinks into the soul and plants its jagged spiky heels into one’s chest-flesh, thoughts of ending it all tend to squirt to the surface. It’s a dark reality that such notions dance a step or two through most brains at some point or another. Thankfully, for most of us that nastiest of acts makes merely a flitting appearance in our morbid fantasies. For some, it becomes a reality.
Suicide is always a tragedy, or at the very least the final chapter in a years-long tragedy for some weather-beaten soul. But suicide with style is the stuff of gaping gawkery. Not everyone tilts their weight off the Golden Gate or gulps down the business end of a firearm. Some folks have opted to roll the dice on a happier afterlife in strange and prose-worthy ways. Whatever had propelled them to such depths may be lost in history, but clearly they wanted to take their final bow in a way we’d remember.
So as a tribute to their creativity I’ve compiled some of the more macabre and inventive suicides from recent to ancient history. I recommend reading this one with a bottle of something oomphy at your side, and raising a toast to each. Don’t worry, unless you fill your glass too full you’ll still be able to walk afterward.
Haoui Montaug was a fixture in that hippest of New York scenes throughout the 80’s. He was a doorman at Studio 54, Hurrah, the Palladium and Danceteria. He was the barometer of Manhattan coolness, and he parlayed that into a touring cabaret revue that featured a young, pre-superstardom Madonna and a trio of local white Jewish rappers that would become the Beastie Boys. Montaug was the key to the party, so it was only fitting that a party would be his final earthly scene. Read more…
Lately I have found myself falling back in love with All In The Family. The jokes are still funny, the characters still compelling, and it’s the only show from the 70’s that can still be called ‘edgy’ by today’s standards. I wanted to do a piece about the show, but rather than delve into a history of the show’s production or spin a bullet-list of trivia (which I’ve already done for The Golden Girls), I decided I’d focus on the song.
You know, that song. The one where Jean Stapleton – whom I have recently decided is the funniest woman ever to appear on TV – hits that high note that can make your sofa cushions cringe. The song that Family Guy homage-ifies with their opening number.
TV Theme songs may seem like a fluffy topic, but they are certainly worthy of a couple hours-worth of finger-punching my keyboard. The lyric-laden theme song is a dying art form, yet these tunes are woven with the fabric of my slothful youth. Some became hits or were hits already – I’m not going to dig into the roots of John Sebastian’s “Welcome Back” or Al Jarreau’s “Moonlighting” here. But each of these songs was written and performed by somebody, and those somebodies had a story.
“Those Were The Days” was penned by the team of Lee Adams and Charles Strouse, the guys responsible for the Broadway hit, Bye Bye Birdie. There were a few versions of the performance recorded throughout the series’ run, and astute listeners can pick out Stapleton’s second-verse screech becoming more comically punched as the song evolved. Read more…
A few days ago, I attempted to bake a word-brew that would adequately (or at least semi-adequately) justify the singular importance of the Beatles’ inaugural appearance in American culture on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. We all know what followed that show – the British phenomenon known as Beatlemania spent the next few years pummeling our culture and steering kids into an idolizing frenzy. But the Beatles were not the first to incite madness and hysteria in an adoring public. No, Elvis wasn’t the first either.
The original Rawk Gawd, the man whose very presence on a stage would incite heart palpitations, unrestrained shrieks and a swift swoon of consciousness-sapping wonder for ladies of a certain ilk was none other than Franz Liszt.
That’s right – no matter how passionately parents in the 1950s and 60s railed against the scourge of popular music that was causing their kids to devolve into manic, startled sheep, those folks merely had to look at their own great-grandparents to see how natural a phenomenon this could be. And for what, some classical pianist?
Alright, I guess he was kind of dreamy.
The term ‘mania’ as it existed in 1841 when this phenomenon was first observed meant something entirely different than it does today. Beatlemania (and ABBA-mania or Bay-City-Rollers-mania or Roxette-mania or whatever media soundbites have oozed out since) refers to a craze, a trend, even the unrestrained jubilation in the presence of the subject. An 1840’s mania was seen as a disease, a potentially contagious affliction that required the intervention of medical personnel. Read more…
I will admit to a moderate love/hate relationship with Edmonton, the city where I would hang my hat were I hip enough to own a decent hat. The ‘hate’ stems mostly from the weather, as the recent “warming” trend to near-freezing temperatures mocks me and subtly reminds me we’re only two months in to our six-month dog-fight with winter. I’m also perturbed by the excessive number of jacked-up pickup trucks adorned with decorative metallic testicles, but that’s a kvetch for another day.
But put aside the redneck hickery, tuck in that atrocious neighborhood sprawl and set the perma-calendar to an eternal July and this is one of the finest places a person can plant roots. Like most cities, Edmonton has shifted and adapted with time. When some lucky schmuck discovered oil nearby, our little skyscrapers started poking at the sky. When they built our primary tourist attraction (a giant shopping mall) in the west end, the neighborhoods out that way spread their borders like a vinyl-sided virus.
With some cities, you saw what they were going to be on the side of the box. They were built (or were almost built) with a blueprint. A concept. A pre-ordained destiny. Maybe it’ll be sci-fi and futuristic, the utopian embrace our cold, alienated shoulders have been longing for. Maybe it will inspire a new era, a new reality in urban awareness. Or maybe it’ll just be creepy.
Welcome to Celebration, Florida.
If this quaint little strip of Americana looks too perfect to be real, well in a way it is. Located right around the corner from Walt Disney World near Orlando, Celebration is the brainchild of the Disney Development Company. It was built in the 1990’s with the aim of contradicting the perpetual state of sterility and individual isolation that has been suffocating American suburbs over the past few decades. The theme is neotraditionalism – pedestrian-friendly, intrinsically self-sustaining, and ideally the kind of place where you’ll actually want to meet your neighbors. Read more…
“I’m not mad, I’m proud of you. You took your first pinch like a man, and you learn two great things in your life. Look at me. Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.”
So said Jimmy Conway to a young Henry Hill in Goodfellas. Being a rat among organized criminals is the lowest of the low – a lawbreaker who won’t even respect the notion of honor among thieves. Any devotee of the gangster genre of cinema and television knows there are only two possible endings to a rat’s story: government protection or a swift and sudden final curtain. But opting for rat-ism is an act of desperation, of self-preservation. Sometimes it’s the only road a guy can take.
Abe Reles felt so snugly crammed into an inescapable corner, ratting out his friends seemed like the only possible route to salvation. But the consequences of those beans he’d spill would shake loose the foundations of a lot of lives, because Abe Reles was no common hood. He was Hit Man #1 for the most gruesome of all organized crime syndicates: Murder, Inc.
Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1920’s, Abe Reles quit school after the eighth grade and started living the good life: hanging out in pool halls and candy stores and fraternizing with local wannabe-hoodlums and aspiring gangsters. He was busted in 1921 for swiping two bucks’ worth of gum (which back then was probably a full bucket) from a vending machine. He was a little guy, but he had a crew: Martin “Buggsy” Goldstein and Harry Strauss. Three Jewish hoods looking to make a living on the grisly side of the law. Read more…