Leonard Cohen, The Future

When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature a few weeks ago, what surprised me was the number of people who said Leonard Cohen was more deserving.

Now, Cohen is dead. And there is an even more fitting chance to evaluate his contribution to our poetry, music and culture.

For me, he’s a great artist, but one who pales beside the Monadnock of Dylan. Cohen wrote many excellent songs, but for me this is his best. Your mileage may vary, which is why we have comments.

On The Road: The Movie

screenshot-2016-10-07-23-37-44Walter Sallas made a movie of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road a few years ago. On the Road was my favorite novel when I was in high school, it fired my interest in Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, and it introduced me to a form of truthseeking and mystical engagement with the world that changed my life.

In other words, for a while I was obsessed with UFOs and horoscopes, but I found a way to shift my imaginative engagement to something more human. That, at some point later, is what really matters.

I didn’t watch Sallas’s movie for years, I think because what I read about it was bad. Critics did not like the movie, and I wasn’t interested in engaging  with a bad movie about my favorite book. A favorite book that was problematic in the way it treated women.

In the many intervening years, I’d talked about On The Road with many women who had read the book and found that it failed the women in the story totally. I grew to understand that this was an important thing, and a failing of Kerouac’s book.

I watched Sallas’s movie tonight and, after a rough start, was surprised how well the movie told the story of Sal and Dean’s friendship and respected the women’s part in the story.

This is an adaptation that is also a critique of the original novel, exalting the romance of Kerouac’s writing, at its high points, but not overdoing that, and also treating the story with a modern brush. Woman are more than objects today, even if Kerouac didn’t always treat them that way.

In this way I came to admire the movie, though it is far from flawless. The Ginsberg  character is given due as a figure, but as a personality he’s irksome and pretentious and lacks charm. I’m not sure that’s inaccurate but it undermines the fact of all these character’s sexual fluidity. In fact, the movie goes out of its way to protect Kerouac’s hetero identity, when that wasn’t the case.

The bottom line is I think everyone should read the novel. It has deep and abiding meaning, especially in the context of it’s time. And I don’t think the movie screws that up much, except that it adds a layer of much-later critique, which I hope makes women feel more welcome.


Governor Cuomo, Sir! A Way Better Idea for Penn Station.

Yesterday the Governor of New  York, Andrew Cuomo, announced a new shopping mall and Amtrak station adjoining the James A. Farley Post Office Building, across Eighth Avenue from the current Madison Square Garden. Call it the new Penn Station.

If you’re not familiar with New York you have no idea just what a disaster the current Penn Station, which currently resides under the Garden, is. For one thing, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad all come through the station, which is a tangle of platforms and stairways and levels, all with low ceilings and a sense of crushing crowdedness.

screenshot-2016-09-30-23-30-17For another, it isn’t the glorious station that was built in 1910 and graced the site for 50 years before it was ingloriously torn down by greedy developers, a move that sparked New York’s historic preservation movement cum bureaucracy those many years ago.

If you are familiar with the station, you know all its horrors, but you might not guess that 650,000 people arrive and leave from it every day. It was designed to handle about 200,000.

As someone whose portal into the city when I was growing up was Penn Station, it was always a miserable place to be. Its dismal surroundings were ameliorated somewhat by the fact that you were either leaving or coming, you didn’t linger longer than necessary in Penn Station. Still, sometimes the wait was long.

I don’t know if it is by coincidence or plan, but the New York Times today has an elaborate suggestion for how to fix Penn Station. The beauty of the plan, which was developed by the architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, is to leave the massive cylinder that is Madison Square Garden intact, but to do away with all the innards.

screenshot-2016-09-30-23-32-00No concrete shell, no hockey rink, no basketball court. No stairs or escalators. The shell would be replaced with something called blast-proof glass, and the space would be open to the sidewalk. No doors!

Though in cold weather the station may be sealed off by temporary walls. But the idea is that the sun beating down on a giant glass building would work like a greenhouse.  Anyone who has ridden the escalator up with a full complement of luggage to the door on Eighth Avenue and 32nd Street knows how nice the elimination of door would be.

In any case, the Times presentation of this idea, written by Michael Kimmelman, the paper’s architecture critic, is not only beautiful, but it is beautifully presented. If there’s a reason to move from print to digital now, this is it.

And I’m not showing any of it. Be surprised!


Learning to Play Dice Baseball

double-six-diceMy father handed me the salt and pepper notebook and three chunky white dice, cubes with bold black concave circles called pips on each side. The dice were old, their white ivory yellowed with age, but they were heavy, substantial in a way that the dice that came with our Monopoly set weren’t.

Inside the notebook, each page was a hand-drawn baseball scorecard, rendered in my father’s elegant calligraphy, and filled in with the notes and marks he used for scoring a game. Beside each scored game was pasted that day’s yellowed newsprint box score from the New York Daily News, underneath the date the game was played.

My father explained to me that he’d come up with the idea for his dice baseball game when he was fifteen or sixteen. Obsessed with baseball, he figured out how often players walked, made hits, hit home runs, on average, and so he populated the possibilities of the dice rolls with the appropriate number of walks, hits and home runs, plus doubles, triples, ground outs and fly outs.

Here’s how the game worked:

First you rolled one die. A one or a four was a strike. A two or a five was a ball. A three told you to roll two dice. A six told you to roll three dice.

When you rolled two dice, the lower die always came first. So, the order from lowest to largest would go: 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, 1-6, 2-2, 2-3 and so on up to 6-6, for a total of 21 outcomes.

When you rolled three dice, again, the lower die always came first, then the next lowest, and then the highest. That added another 56 outcomes, for a total of 77. It certainly seemed like a lot more back in the day.

My dad could have stacked the game events up. Since batters make hits about 22 percent of the time, he could have made all but four of the two-dice rolls hits (22 percent of 77 is 17) and all the three-dice rolls outs, but he didn’t. Which made the game more fun, because there was a little suspense while looking up the result of many of the rolls.

While I quickly memorized the codes for home runs (66, 666, 256) and triples (111), other rolls weren’t clear until I found them on the game sheet. A roll of 126, for instance, meant turning the page over, scanning down the column, then, “Ouch, line out to third base, dang.” I would dutifully write the number 5 down in the appropriate box and move on to the next batter.

To play I would take the salt and pepper notebook from the shelf in my bedroom of our house in Smithtown New York. I’d pull the velvet bag of dice out of a drawer, and a pen and ruler from off the table. I would flop down on the floor in my room, onto the carpet by the bed, and carefully draw in the lines for the day’s scorecard, running the pen alongside the ruler. My lines were often but not always straight, usually parallel, but still somehow sloppy, so different from the fine work my dad had done back in his day.

The drawing of the lines took too much time, but there was no way around it. The game couldn’t start until the scorecard was ready. A few years later, I bought a real scorebook to record the game records, to make it easier. I’m not sure the scorebook was the cause, but my interest waned a short while later and that season was never completed.

I would consult the Long Island Press, our daily newspaper, for the lineups and probable pitchers that day, and enter the Mets lineup versus whatever team they were playing. This was what my father had done, in his bedroom in New Hyde Park, 20 years before, following the schedule of the New York Giants in 1944. He was older than I was, 16 years old and in high school, when he invented his dice baseball game, but I could only imagine him bent over the notebook, furiously rolling the die into a cardboard box sitting on the carpeted floor.

“Strike one, ball one, ball two, oh! Roll three dice!”

Shuffling paper, a page turns, the three dice, bouncing off the box’s low sides and clattering to a rest haphazardly.


Another page turn, paper swishes.

“Hmmm, ground out to second base.”

Pick the pen up off the floor, move to the scorecard and write 4-3 in the first inning next to Tim Harkness’s name. Oh, that was me, playing his game. He would write the result next to Ernie Lombardi’s name, or Mel Ott’s, in a statelier hand than mine, but with the same intensity, the same consciousness ensnared by baseball, devoted to recording the events of the game.

Donald Trump and His Associates’s Disgraceful Birtherism

Barack Obama was born in the US. We all knew it in 2004, in 2008, in 2012. Now, holy cow, even Donald Trump agrees that’s true. Boy genius!

But why did Trump spend seven years insinuating that Obama wasn’t born in the US?

Was it because there were legitimate questions? Or was it because Trump could gain political advantage by exploiting the prejudices of people who weren’t comfortable having a Black man with an unusual name as president?

Where do you stand?

This story is a good resource: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/09/priebus_pence_christie_conway_all_lie_about_birtherism.html





The Known Facts About Donald Trump

Donald and his dad Fred, to whom he owes a lot, as Newsweek details.
Donald and his dad Fred, to whom he owes a lot.

Three authoritative pieces about Donald Trump have emerged in recent days. These are based on solid straight-forward reporting by Newsweek, The Atlantic and Washington Post, and are followed by Keith Olbermann’s oxygen depleting recitation of factual reasons Donald Trump shouldn’t be president.

These stories are all over the place today, but I’m pinning them here just in case anyone lands here who needs to be reminded what their vote for Trump is actually a vote for. Continue reading The Known Facts About Donald Trump

Slide Hill, Governors Island

Here is the architectural rendering by West 8, the firm that is designing the island, showing what it would look like.

Click for larger image.

And here’s a picture I took yesterday of the finished, sort of, project (the trees will grow larger).


Uncanny, except in reality the kids are all adults. There were in fact many children enjoying the slides, but somehow none of them made it into this shot.


Stephen Wilkes’ Wrigley Field Day to Night

The other mindblowing photo I saw at the Brooklyn Museum sports photography exhibit was this one, a picture of Wrigley Field from outside the park, that shows the day transitioning from day to night.

This is a sample detail to give you an idea:

Screenshot 2016-08-29 16.23.55

Wilkes took more than 1500 images, then blended them together to make the full image, which you can see in full at the Gallery Stock website.

You can see more of Wilkes’ Day to Night series on his website here.

Tomasz Gudsowaty: Mexico’s Car Frenzy

I was at the Brooklyn Museum show about sports photography this past weekend. It’s a fine survey of the art of sports photography, with some iconic sportastic imagery that everyone knows (Cassius Clay towering over the fallen Sonny Liston in Maine, for instance) and then some other striking stuff.

This picture is by a Polish photographer named Tomasz Gudzowaty and it is a constant amazement to me. The spiral of the roadways and the careening angles of the cars is dizzying, and at the same time embracing. My first thought was of what rules such races might be run, and my second thought was who needs races, the speed is the thing!

Copyright Tomasz Gudzowaty.
Copyright Tomasz Gudzowaty.

You can find more of his pictures of Mexico’s Car Frenzy at his website here. I think his shots of the cars are stronger than the people shots, but all are worth a looksee. And I’ll be coming back to this one often.