Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger, Forever

Pete Seeger to the House Un-American Activities Committee, in 1955:

"I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this."

The congressmen indicted him on 10 counts of contempt. He was sentenced to a year in prison.

The conviction was overturned. The congressmen are long-forgotten. Pete Seeger is remembered forever.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fab Four And Publicity, Then And Now

There was a big, two-page ad in the NY Times recently with archival photos and newspaper clippings of the Beatles' arrival in America 50 years ago. It was to promote a new re-release of some kind. The Beatles were always good at publicity.

Here's our attempt to be the same: an excerpt about them from our new book, "Brooklyn 3, New York", about the life and times in the borough back then . Available at Buffalo Street Books or from me directly.


Our dad ran the print shop at Pan Am - a pretty big job. They generated a lot of paper at the biggest airline in the world.

Along with all the other copying, they created a memo packet each morning that amounted to a daily newspaper. Trucks ran it out to LaGuardia and Idlewild every weekday. The Pan Am building itself was a town, going up instead of out.

Our dad started working there at age 16. He knew - and cared - a lot about the place.

One winter day, he came home with a record album in a Pan Am bag. "Ever heard of these guys?," he asked.

It was four guys called The Beatles. They looked strange.

Never, we said.

"You will soon," our father said.

They were from England, which we associated with wars, not music. But apparently they were popular there, and coming to America. They would be flying on Pan Am.

They would be on the Ed Sullivan Show, our father said, and if they became as popular in America as in England, it would be good publicity for Pan Am, having carried them.

That seemed strange to us, that Pan Am would care about publicity from flying four guys in weird suits and haircuts, but our father said so.

"Listen to it and see what you think," he said.

They didn't look like musicians. Musicians had straight teeth and hair piled up high. Like the Everly Brothers. That's who we liked.

Apparently, though, the Beatles liked them, too. That's what we found out when we listened.

They sang like the Everly Brothers. Those kind of harmonies. Except louder.

It was all loud, but we liked it. Every song on the record was good.

Soon, you started hearing the Beatles on the radio. The two songs they played the most were the ones we liked the least. But they were as good as anything else on the radio, or better.

Before you ever heard them on the radio, you would see bumper stickers on walls, saying "The Beatles Are Coming." Who?, kids asked. We knew, but failed to generate much interest when we explained they were a music group from England who were flying on Pan Am.

When they arrived in New York, two days before the Ed Sullivan show, they were met and interviewed at Idlewild by a mob of reporters and photographers. The Pan Am logo was behind them, on the wall above their heads. Job well done, somebody.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wise Pizza

Pizza Aroma is still number one in our booklet, but we also like Casablanca's pizza on the Commons. It is only about a 6.5 (a 7 when we are really hungry), but it is right downstairs from the Ithaca Blog office, and that counts pretty nicely for them with us.

We also like that they are weisenheimers down there, in true New York fashion. The guys (they are all guys) do not seem New York-born, and maybe not U.S.-born, but wherever they are from, they have that NYC thing of joking with you, if they feel like it. Recently I asked for the only thing I ever get, "Two plain slices to go, please," and the guy said to me, "Plain slices, or cheese slices?," and did not smile, but did not have to, because I know a wise remark when I hear one, so I said, "Give me one plain and one cheese." Then he cracked.

Currently, the place is closed for renovations and has a handmade sign on the door. "Closed for renovations. Sorry for any convenience," it says, and because these guys are so wise, I can't tell if they made a mistake or not.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Smoking In Brooklyn 3, New York

I heard on the radio this morning that it's the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General's report on smoking. I remember it. I wrote about it in my new book about growing up in East Flatbush, "Brooklyn 3, New York".

Here is that story. "Brooklyn 3, New York" is printed and will be available at Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca soon.

In Brooklyn 3 New York, cigarettes weren't bad for you.

Everybody smoked. All adults, and lots of kids.

People smoked indoors and out. In cars with the windows closed. In supermarkets. While pregnant.

The only adults who didn't smoke were sick, frail, or fussy. People smoked on TV. TV had a million cigarette ads, with sayings and songs.

It was the ads that disinterested me in cigarettes. The songs were lousy and the sayings made no sense.

The things I knew were good, like bagels, didn't have ads on TV. So I had the vague idea somebody was kidding with these cigarettes.

Suddenly, they decided cigarettes were bad for you. Just like that. Not just bad like to stunt your growth - which had always been a rumor, but clearly untrue, as many tall people smoked plenty - but like to kill you.

Now on TV, new commercials said that the Surgeon General, who was like the sheriff of health, said that cigarettes could give you lung cancer.

Lungs. I knew what they were. They were disgusting. You didn't want anything to happen to them. You didn't even want to know you had them.

These health commercials didn't have songs. They had pictures of hearts beating slow, slow, slow, then stopping. Announcers talked low and scary.

But they still had the ads telling you to buy cigarettes. So which was it?

I asked my mother and she said cigarettes are rotten and you should never smoke.

So why do you?, I asked.

Because I started young, she said, and it is a very hard habit to break. Maybe I will someday but it is better never to start.

Why did you start?, I asked.

Because my friends smoked, she said. Isn't that stupid?

I could never think of my mother and stupid in the same sentence, so I didn't say anything.

She smoked a lot. She would send me to Mickey and Sarah's luncheonette sometimes to buy her a pack when her carton ran out. It was hard for her to leave the house, with my little brother Paddy and baby sister Maryann.

I would tell Sarah they were for my mother, not me. She would make me hide them and tell me, run home. Don't get caught. She must have laughed as I scrambled. I never liked this errand.

I don't remember the first time I tried one. I must have fairly young, as they were all around. But I don't remember it. My older brother, Eddie, started early - at age 11, about a year after the surgeon general's report. It was a secret I didn't know. He told us when he was 16. He wanted to be able to smoke at home. There was a big argument, maybe the worst ever in our house. He got his way. Sadly.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Bob Proehl Moves From Books To THE Book

Bob Proehl is the Director of Operations at Buffalo Street Books, but not for long. On 31 December, Bob announced (on Facebook) that he is leaving the job to take on the full-time work of writing a novel.

Bob is the kind of guy who gets 41 comments and 167 "Likes" for news such as this on Facebook. Lots of people know him from the bookstore - he was instrumental in keeping it alive, in the face of demise a few years ago - and lots more know him from events he hosts outside the store: dance parties, trivia contests, and competitive story-telling.

I'll be meeting with Bob this week for an interview for the Ithaca Times. The paper wants to get the story of this public and private guy who means a lot to Ithaca and, with hard work and some luck, might mean a lot to the larger literary world soon.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Whence Or Wherefore, Recurring Nightmares?

We had a splendid New Year's Eve, except we drank nothing to interfere with a good night's sleep, which turned into a bad one, as it often does for us, with recurring nightmares.

We don't know if Jung endeavors to explain them. We have one that we can, and one we can't.

The easy one is the dream where you are in school, but forgot you were carrying a particular class, until the day of the exam. We know a lot of people have this dream, and it is obviously related to (old) academic anxiety: not much mystery. Not much anxiety, either: technically, it's probably not even a nightmare.

But we have another one which is a mystery, and troubling. It has variations, but basically features our immediate family, and sometimes friends, and we have been relocated from our homes to stay together in a domicile that, generally in the dream, is large, but always is forbidding, with holes in the floors, water leaking and sometimes running through the house, and not much furniture, and everyone lying on mattresses on the floor.

Creepy enough, but the troubling part is that, in the dream, I'm the only one who realizes the situation is bad. The dream's action usually involves me saying we don't belong here, and everyone saying yes, you don't, and I realize everyone has a space staked out, as if satisfied to stay, and there is no ordained space for me in the house, and I am being encouraged to leave, sometimes with shouts and threats. I wake up before being attacked.

Bad enough having these once in a while, but last night I had it twice. I have the feeling understanding the dream might help me shed it. Is that worth reading Jung for?

WNYY's Recurring Nightmares: Its Public Service Announcements (All 3)

WNYY is a left-of-center talk radio station in Ithaca. It's good to have one here, as most talk radio in the U.S. is dominated by conservatives, and dim-witted or dishonest ones, at that.

"The Stephanie Miller Show" is the show we like best, as it has a minimum of lunk-headed callers-in, and features pretty pointed political satire and generally good comedy. Sometimes it is barely PC or PG. If you listen to it, you know this.

And you also know this: WNYY has a problem with recurring public service announcements.

The station runs a lot of them, we guess for a lack of paid advertising. The problem is, they run the same three. A lot. And they are poorly-crafted: abhorrently written and acted. They would be annoying heard even twice in your life. Sometimes, the station will play the same ad twice in the same station break. This is when we take a day-long station break.

We can't figure out the reason for this torturous lack of imagination or effort, unless the station actually pays for each different ad it plays. This seems unlikely, but there must be some good reason it risks driving off viewers who can't take "Stop the texts, stop the wrecks" again.