Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Without JFK

by Dick Mac

It actually doesn't seem possible that fifty years have passed since that awkward afternoon at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Grammar School.

I remember it like yesterday.  Actually, with my now-feeble mind, I actually remember it more clearly than yesterday.

We were in math class, the first class after lunch break (if I remember correctly) and we were studiously grinding away at First Grade Math:  1+4=5, 5-4=1, etc.  The really challenging stuff.  My teacher was Miss Concannon, one of two lay teachers in the grammar school.

There were fifteen classrooms in use at that time:  three rooms each of Grades 1-5.  We had just a thousand kids or so in the old school building on Smith Street, in Mission Hill.

Sister Loretta was another First Grade teacher, in the room across the hall.

She came into our classroom without knocking (unheard of) and rushed to a very startled Miss Concannon's desk.

Sister Loretta was old.  She had been my mother's first grade teacher, and she was old then; and would also be my little sister's first grade teacher.  It was rumored that she taught until she passed 100 years old.  I think it is actually true.  She never lost her clarity of mind, just developed that human curse:  feebleness of body.

Sister Loretta never rushed anywhere and never expressed any emotion.  EVER  She was visibly shaken, and that scared the daylights out of me.  i remember getting really nervous, worried that I was in trouble.  I racked my brain to try an remember any transgression that day.

Miss Concannon rose and the two of them rushed into the hallway, leaving the door open.  Another thing that never happened.

There was commotion, well, movement and the opening and closing of doors, and eventually the sound of a grown woman sobbing.

Miss Concannon returned, visibly shaken, pale and dumbfounded.  She just stood there in front of the class for what seemed an eternity.

Eventually, the PA system chimed and the principal announced that the President had been shot in Dallas, and that school would be dismissed shortly.  We were to go right home.

When I got home, my mother was sitting in front of the fancy black & white television, watching one of the talking heads (probably Walter Cronkite), with a tissue in her hand, sobbing.

It was years, of course, before I really understood what happened; and even more years until i understood the dramatic impact this event had on the American trajectory.  Today, I see it as the incident that moved America off the path to greatness and on the path to well, the dead-end, of avarice without charity.

Fifty years.

It seems like a long time, and it seems like yesterday (which I can barely remember anyhow).

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

5 Pointz: How I Was Wrong

by Dick Mac

I don't think anybody will ever accuse me of being an 'establishment' person, or an apologist for capitalists and developers.  So, it's with a certain amount of trepidation that I followed-up on this story, even though my delving deeper proved my initial reaction to be misguided.

There is actually a much better scenario that I hope will be seen by all and lead to a brighter outcome than anybody anticipated.

Jerry Wolkoff owns a warehouse in Long Island City, Queens, known as 5 Pointz.  For two decades, he has allowed graffiti artists to have their way with the five story structure, and they have done a magnificent job with it.

Photo by The Interrobang.  Used without permission.

This part of Queens never enjoyed a tourist trade, but in the past ten years or so, as 5 Pointz became internationally renowned, people from around the world have travelled by subway out to the neighborhood to see the landmark.

It has always been Wolkoff's plan to develop the site.  Eventually, the site was going to become a bank or a bank of luxury apartments, or some such destination that would preclude the beauty and the horror of graffiti.

That time has arrived.

Two towers will be built on the site.

This means the current structure must be removed.

Here is his dilemma:  he has enjoyed a good relationship with the artists and community, he loves the graffiti covered landmark, he wants to support this art form, and it's now time for him to remove the existing canvas.

  1. Just start demolition and watch it vanish bit by bit, or
  2. Destroy the existing canvas and move forward.
Wolkoff believed that it would be too painful to watch the masterpiece come down bit-by-bit, destroyed by demolition equipment.  He believes that the 'band-aid' approach would be best:  it will hurt less if we just rip it off all at once.

He knew, everyone knew, it would be a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, no-winners process.

He hired the police as security, hired painters, and went to his building in the middle of the night to white wash it before the demolition starts.

People awoke to this:

Photo: Tamara Beckwith.  Used without permission.

Some who awoke to this felt betrayed, tricked, fooled.
Some are really angry.
Some live in resignation.
After all, we know it wouldn't last forever.
The internet filled with hate for Wolkoff.  Nobody remembered that his building was a free, safe canvas for two decades, through his largesse.  Nobody remembered that it was his love for the art form that led to the amazing piece of history known as 5 Pointz.  Nobody remembered that it was his property and he could do with it as he pleases.
People, especially some of the interested artists, were unkind.
I was unkind.
Explaining why he did the deed in the middle of the night, Wolkoff explained:
I'm never going to say anything bad about them. Why would I allow it to go on for close to 20 years if I didn’t not only like but love the work that they do? The last thing I would want them to do is get arrested while I’m painting the building, their emotions would run over. I felt if I did it in the morning, it would get over with. 

Further, Wolkoff goes on to explain:
In the new building we're going to let them come back, and it's going to be similar and better. They're upset with me now, but it's the right thing for both of us.
His new building will have a 60-foot wraparound wall for graffiti.

So, this ogre who has done this terrible thing is actually a pretty decent guy.  He's a developer.  He's going to make money developing his property.  He is a developer, unlike many, who is interested in his impact on the surroundings.  He loves graffiti. He has given much. And even if you need to get stuck on that which he has taken away, at least acknowledge that he is giving it back.

I jumped to a conclusion that was ill-informed and I now have a different feeling about 5 Pointz.  Yes, I am sad it is gone as we know it; but, in the face of progress, there is a man who wants to be certain the legacy is honored.

Instead of derision, I suspect some gratitude is called for.

Some links:


Monday, November 18, 2013

Ten Commandments of Diplomacy

by Dick Mac

  1. Thou shalt not ask what thy country can do for thou, but what thou can do for thy country
  2. Thou shalt imagine no religion, too
  3. Thou shalt not fool some of the people all of the time nor fool all of the people some of the time
  4. Thou shalt embrace power and powerlessness
  5. Thou shalt tear down that wall
  6. Thou shalt not force the fishes of the sea to ride bicycles nor thy women to serve men
  7. Thou shalt not allow vice to be rampant and rife and shalt always dance with thy wife
  8. Thou shalt care about everything and sow an opinion about it all
  9. Thou shalt smile politely at conservatives and remain silent
  10. Thou shalt always be candid

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ten Commandments of style

by Dick Mac

  1. Thou shalt remember Paris when thou wore blue and yon Nazis wore grey
  2. Thou shalt put on thy red shoes and dance the blues
  3. Thou shalt tell the world it is not thy legs, dahlink, but how thou make use of them
  4. Thou shalt swear that when it comes to fashion, comfort is no object
  5. Thou shalt choose Jungle Red, mother
  6. Thou shalt be famous for fifteen minutes
  7. Thou shalt know the technology of fashion and obey the laws therewith
  8. Thou shalt shun the logo and empty status it promises
  9. Thou shalt never be dull
  10. Thou shalt hold Chanel above all others

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ten Commandments of Fact and of Fiction

by Dick Mac

  1. Thou shalt find the ring that in the darkness binds them
  2. Thou shalt be called Ishmael
  3. Thou shalt know the best of times and the worst of times
  4. Thou shalt steal this book
  5. Thou shalt build it and they will come
  6. Thou shalt be the light of my life, fire of my loins
  7. Thou shalt hold these truths to be self-evident
  8. Thou shalt never accept that there was only one shooter
  9. Thou shalt have some more, please
  10. Thou shalt wonder

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ten Commandments of Rock

by Dick Mac

  1. Thou shalt not step on my blue suede shoes
  2. Thou shalt take thy protein pills and put thy helmet on
  3. Thou shalt not be blinded by the light
  4. Thou shalt shake it loose together
  5. Thou shalt not spit on yon snatch
  6. Thou shalt carry on as if nothing really matters
  7. Thou shalt twist and thou shalt shout
  8. Thou shalt never turn around to see the frowns on yon jugglers and yon clowns
  9. Thou shalt treat me like a natural woman
  10. Thou shalt like it like that

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Ten Commandments of Glam

by Dick Mac

David Bowie releases his first record in ten years and Lou Reed dies.

We must all now remember the ten commandments of glam:

1. Thou shalt be an untamed youth with thy cloak full of eagles
2. Thou shalt not be stealing clothes from Marks & Sparks
3. Thou shalt beg voulez-vous coucher avec moi
4. Thou shalt praise do do do do do do as yon colored girls sing
5. Thou shalt sock it onto others as thou shalt have them sock it to thee
6. Thou shalt be waiting for thy man
7. Thou shalt party like it's 1999
8. Thou shalt not lay a divorcee in New York City
9. Thou shalt keep thy TV Eye on me babe
10. Thou shalt wear thy electric boots and thy mohair suit