Friday, July 27, 2007

I Found a Free Weekend Getaway
Our Town downtown
July 30, 2007

A month ago I stayed in someone’s apartment near Washington Square while they were away. I went over to the park to read that Friday evening while it was light out because I had nothing going on and because I hadn’t spent much time in that park recently. I wound up sitting there for maybe three hours listening to music, watching folks walk by, hardly reading it was so stimulating to just watch and listen.

I came back the next morning with the Times and a cup of coffee, and when I realized that I didn’t actually ***[ital]have[ital]*** to go hurry back to the apartment to watch the women’s tennis final from Wimbledon – or anything on the TV for that matter – all day or all year or all the rest of my life, if I didn’t want to, I was liberated to think that I could sit in the park and watch people go by and listen to music, go get my book, and come back for more. I did that ’til dark. I did it the next day, too. It was like being on vacation. (Anybody who has a weekend place or a summer cottage without a TV will tell you that that’s an [the?] all-important component in being “on vacation.”)

Here’s what I thought about while I sat there:

The fountain ought to be on all the time. The empty dry pool that’s there when it’s off certainly does allow for some noisy, tourist-interesting entertainment. But those guys would find other places to put on their show, and New York’s filled with all sorts of entertainment. Parks are better with fountains on on hot days. It’s a beautiful thing to look at.

There’s no coffee there. You can get all sorts of popsicles, big pretzels, water in bottles, soda pop. But you have to walk a ways out of the park for a cup of coffee. I don’t want the Shake Shack – I just thought it was odd that no one in such an entrepreneurial city was selling coffee from a truck near there.

I love dogs. I grew up with dogs. I had a dog that died at age 16 just before I moved here nine years ago. I still miss him, and have his old dog dish out where I can see it in my apartment. Sometimes in the kitchen I’ll find myself sweeping crumbs off the counter on to the floor as if he were still around to lick them up. I catch myself maybe once every couple months when I’m out somewhere around dinnertime thinking I better get home to feed the dog. That having been said, the dog obsession in/around the dog runs is a little much. No one else’s obsessions are fun to watch.

Some of the music is so good that you can’t believe it. You also can’t believe that so many of the listeners won’t put a measly dollar in the basket.

I saw six impressively strong, alert, no-nonsense plainclothes cops round up six easily-over-40 black drug dealers. While I was watching this occur not 100 feet from me, another dealer strolled by me on my bench and, with his eyes and a soft mumble, tried to sell me some. I wondered how the three black cops felt putting cuffs on these toothless old tigers.
That there are bathrooms at all is a nice surprise. God, are they dirty though. I feel bad for women.

I’d make the bathrooms cleaner even if I had to have an attendant in there all the day. I guess I’d clean up the whole place a little. I’m not sure what I’d do. Make sure the grass is green. Keep the fountain on. That fountain being on makes the whole place feel cleaner. When it’s off, the place seems faded and dried out a bit.

I wouldn’t put a Shake Shack place in the park. That’s all too cute. I don’t hate those places. We all have to eat. But I’d rather have the chess guys in the corner even if they don’t mean much to me. I don’t play chess. But it annoys me to see people standing in a long line at the Shake Shack or at a sushi place or at a breakfast place that will not be as good as Denny’s.

If you don’t have a weekend getaway, get away from your TV and sit in the park the whole time. Read a book, read the paper, hears some tunes, talk quietly on your phone, go get a sandwich and bring it back.


Friday, July 20, 2007

When Barry Goes ‘Downtown’, He’ll Go Without Me
Our Town downtown
July 23, 2007

When you read this, Barry Bonds may have already hit the last home run he needed to get beyond Henry Aaron. Boo, that’s what I say. Here’s how much I say Boo: I have not watched baseball all year. Which is something when you consider that I twice went to Tucson to see the Indians in spring training with my youngest daughter. And that I would have named my oldest daughter Willie if I’d known then that I wouldn’t ever have a son.

One night last week I stopped for one beer up the block at 10:00. It’s not a sports bar but there’s an old TV at either end of the place. I took out a pencil and made little notes in a notebook about stuff rather than get into the Mets, or the Yankees on the tube. And I’ve stopped watching Sports Center too because they, after having excoriated (basically buried) Bonds over the last couple years, now count down his march toward Aaron like it was Aaron himself going after Ruth. And while I still save the sports page till last every morning to savor it like I have since I was a kid with major league pennants on my pajamas, I find myself now getting through it as quickly as the business section.

The other day after Bonds hit two in one game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, he said, after having sat out for a couple games, that he felt ‘rejuvenated’. Here’s what I thought: maybe he went and got his human growth hormone, or whatever he might use, level adjusted after the recent dry spell he’d gone through. That’s what I thought. That’s what his history has put in my mind. That’s why it’s no fun for me anymore. I don’t even know if he’s using anything right now, but if I have to think about it, that’s a turn-off. It distracts me from the game. I used to think, like every man who went to college was supposed to, that baseball was ‘the perfect game’ and getting home was like the Odyssey and all that. Steroids have taken that away from me. Just like Michael Richards’ racist rant has taken the fun out of Seinfeld. When he slides into Jerry’s apartment now, I don’t just see Kramer anymore. That ruins it. I don’t watch it at all anymore. Jason Giambi hit a home run last year when I was sitting in a bar and I looked down at my glass rather than watch his trot around the bases.

It’s weird what we get outraged by. James Frey’s being dishonest in his memoir rocked the world for a month or more. We hated him. Giambi we still love, the big lug. Well, I don’t.

We’re supposed to hate Bud Selig instead. I don’t, anymore than I hate any wealthy, long-ago-compromised business guy. I don’t expect high standards from a club owner. Maybe the Rooneys who owned the Steelers were good guys, but I can’t remember anyone else. So I have no reason at all to expect an owner/commissioner to be a morally courageous guy. He might be a good dad. I’ll bet he is. But he’s certainly no one you should expect to go to the wall or against the grain. He’s a grabby mogul. Come on.

Who I am holding it against, besides the players themselves, of course, and their parents and the managers who are supposed to look out for the boys (Say it ain’t so, Joe), are the sportswriters. Where were they? Where was Lupica, and Dave Anderson and William C. Rhoden and all the other sportwriters in this town and all around the country who’ve got bold things to say about Tom Coughlin, and Dick Cheney even ? Yo, guys, you didn’t notice? Didn’t see muscles where there weren’t any the year before? Didn’t see homeruns flying off the bats of second basemen? I’ll read James Frey before I’ll read those guys about Bonds again. They’ll be blaming Bud Selig, anyway, or George Bush when he owned the Rangers. If they’d have done their job at the time, maybe things would be different this summer for me, and Hammerin’ Hank Aaron.

Bill Gunlocke

Sunday, July 15, 2007

John, Paul, George, Ringo—and Harry
Our Town downtown
July 16, 2007

Last week I saw an ad in one of the dailies for back-to-back shows on PBS; one was on John Lennon, one was on Paul McCartney. I didn’t watch either of them. But I have an old Walkman that gets a few TV stations and I happened to take a walk through the East Village the night they were on and so listened to some of the Lennon one. (Try doing that with your TV.) Anyway, while I’m not much of a music listener anymore, and seldom put any tunes on, my whole being lights up when I hear almost any Beatle tune. One will come on in a bar once in awhile, and for three minutes life for almost everyone in the place I have to believe is transformed. I think I can see it in their eyes and from the way their lips are moving a little with the lyrics. Conversations stop for a bit, maybe just a second. In my 60 years, nothing has been as big in life as the Beatles. I’m way more a sports nut than a music guy, but not even Willie Mays was as big. Or Michael.

I can remember driving through the hills of Western New York as a teenager on my way from my rural hometown to Cooperstown with my girlfriend to see Casey Stengel and Ted Williams inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. On the ride there, on the car radio, we heard ‘Paperback Writer’ for the first time. Whenever the Hall of Fame comes up in talk among buddies and I tell them I was there the day Casey and Ted Williams went in their eyes light up. My biggest memory though was not the ceremony but that drive through the hills on the way there and back with that new Beatle tune on. (I think ‘Rain’ was the flip side.)

Here’s why I’m thinking of that today. Some day maybe 50 years from now some guy will be sitting at a keyboard telling some readers that the biggest thing in the life of the culture during his lifetime were the Harry Potter books. He may be from here or Omaha or Birmingham or Cape Cod or from a rural town in Western New York and he’ll remember his equivalent of driving to Cooperstown. Whatever it might be; the first book, the birthday gift from his now-dead mother, the third time he read the second book, the night he stood in line at the big store in the mall with his buddies at midnight to get the newest one, how he read 700 pages in one weekend.

The Harry Potter thing is so big my eyes water about it sometimes knowing it’s like the Beatles to millions of kids. Years from now they’ll happen upon one of the movies flipping though the channels. They’ll buy the books for their kids hoping to light up their lives. Publishers will release 25-year anniversary editions. 50-year boxed sets will appear. J.K. Rowling will come out on stage at 75 at the Oscars for some special honor and the kid that plays Harry in the movies will walk onstage looking eerily like what John Lennon might have looked like if he had lived that long.

I wasn’t, and am not, a reader of the Harry Potter books and while I really thought the first movie was wonderful, I have not seen the others. Like my father never listened to the Beatles, I guess I wanted to leave the books for the younger generation and not be that baby boomer can’t-miss-a-thing guy about them. But I did observe it all wide-eyed. I used to own a bookstore and just the publishing phenomenon of Harry alone was enough to fascinate me. I had made a note to go to the Scholastic store on Lower Broadway for some Harry Potter event on the evening of September 11, 2001. I may have even thought about it that morning when I woke up. I saw Jim Dale at the big Barnes & Noble on Union Square read in all the characters’ voices one night. I’ll never forget the kids’ faces in the audience. It was a kind of Beatlemania.

It took me years to write, would you take a look…’

Bill Gunlocke

Friday, July 6, 2007

My Friend Says It’s The Schools
Our Town downtown
July 9, 2007

So my old Midwest-college friend lives in Westchester now with his second wife and a couple new kids and when, over beers in a little Mexican place in Mt. Kisco on July 4th, I again tried to get him to come to his senses and move back into the city with his new family, he said he understood all the reasons I was giving, but that the schools were much better up there, and that’s why people moved there from Manhattan.

I’ll get to the schools in a minute. No doubt they’re better there. But that’s not the definitive reason my buddy’s staying, or most of the others up there are. I think they just like living there. They use the schools as a cover, so you don’t see the real reasons, like how much they like walking into the back yard while they’re on their cell phones, or how handy it is that they have a washer and dryer right by the back door. Or that all their late-parents’ photos and dining room table chairs are right there in their basement instead of in a storage unit in Queens. I also think they like having a car with the ballgame on. And they like the playing fields nearby, and a library in town that stays lit until 9:00 at night. They can get the Times and bagels and pizza and Starbucks and the new Ian McEwan book right there on Main Street. That’s why they’re there, even though, of course they miss all the things I—or you—could throw at them to try again to get them to see how cool it truly is here. They may, indeed, from the remove of the suburbs, think the city is cooler than even we do; they just aren’t coming back yet. It’s the schools, they reiterate.

Let’s say it is the schools. No doubt schools are a big part of why they left and aren’t coming back for a while if ever. How can it be that the schools are worse here? Why would that be? Is the Merrill Lynch office worse here than the one in Stamford? Are the bagels not as good as in Armonk? Can you not buy Crocs here? Is there a bigger Bergdorf Goodman in Darien? Are there better musical theaters in Scarsdale than on Broadway? Of course not. Then how come all those places you can think of have better public schools than we do here?
Can it be a money thing? Does New York City not have the money? That can’t be, can it? There must be plenty of money, if the city can drive by the big brokerage houses and throw money—suitcases full of it—out the window at them to get them to stay here. There were more suitcase filled with loot, weren’t there, to throw at the Jets to get them to move into the city? There’s money. The city just doesn’t spend as much per pupil on its schools as Westchester towns do.

More is at work—or not at work—than that. My buddy’s oldest kid, from this new batch, before they moved did go to a public school here. It wasn’t bad, he says. But he mentioned this: there was a broken part of the outer door to the school. I think he said like a panel. It was broken when the school year began; it was still not fixed when school let out in June. Come on. That’s not because of money. I’d say that that’s a lack of will.

Maybe the lack of deep attention—the kind of deep attention that’s given, along with mountainous tax breaks, to brokerage houses—to the schools is because the city’s school kids are mostly minorities. You know that’s some of the reason. That has to be addressed. It is not being addressed enough. If it were, the schools would be better. How can we live here knowing not enough is being done for the kids and feel so good about living here?

—Bill Gunlocke

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Mike Bloomberg Show. Would You Watch?
Our Town downtown
July 2, 2007

When the Clintons were running for their second term in the White House, somebody commented that they’d win for sure because we had become an all-consuming, TV-watching nation and the Clintons offered us a sitcom-worthy dysfunctional-family show that we were in no way going to cancel just yet. They were just too much fun to watch, what with no 9/11 upon us and the Silicon Valley tiger still roaring along and balancing the budget. They were a fascinating show to watch in that easy time.

That very TV obsession of ours could be why Hillary and Rudy are in the lead. They’re two people we like to watch for whatever odd and not-odd reasons. They’re just weird enough to be ever-interesting to us in a TV way. You’d watch 10 minutes of John McCain and start flipping through the channels. Five or ten minutes of John Edwards. Surprisingly, I don’t think we really want to watch Obama for a whole season. He’s turned out to be kind of boring. You wouldn’t think he’d be, but he is. I think we thought he’d be like Tiger Woods or Derek Jeter because he made you think of them in his bi-racial gracefulness and his likeability and intelligence. But those guys, who were just picked as the country’s favorite two athletes, do something. They win majors and World Series rings. Obama just talks calculatingly and always looks good. Who wants to watch that? He’s too mild for a hit TV show. Other than the fact that he supposedly smokes and that his brother-in-law coaches hoops at Brown, he’s not tube-interesting in any special way.

Fred Thompson is the worst-looking human who’s ever even considered running for president. He looks like a criminal. Or a warden. Who’d watch that show without squirming? Mitt Romney is too-nice-looking. Something seems odd about him for that reason. Interestingly odd, because we don’t know anybody quite like him in our own lives, but not enough people want to watch that show. The Mormon show is already being done on HBO.

So, what about The Mike Bloomberg Show? Would you watch it? Would people outside New York watch it enough to make it a hit? Remember, hits are what people want. Hillary or Rudy would be a hit, no doubt; she probably the bigger hit with Bill’s potential infidelities a part of the plot. Of course, though, Rudy’s got quite a supporting cast of characters himself. It’ll be a tough call to see who of the two will go up strong against Monday Night Football.

But what about Mike? What’s he got that’s good TV material? For one, he’s a billionaire. That’s TV-interesting. He has a bunch of homes, luxury homes like you see in those heavy Sotheby’s real estate ‘books’ they put in the Times now and then. Maybe like the Clintons sold over-night stays in the White House, Mike could put up people in his Bermuda home, or one of the others, if the Lincoln bedroom is booked. Maybe President Bloomberg would refuse to go to Camp David or even live in the White House like he eschewed Gracie Mansion in favor of his nicer digs on 79th Street. That is good TV material. So, is his size vis-a-vis his good-looking, model-tall girlfriend. So is just the fact that he’s a president with a girlfriend. A bachelor in the Oval Office. Boffo TV. A Jewish bachelor in the Oval Office, to boot. Better yet. With a Jewish mother still alive. Come on. It’s getting good.

Plus, he’s got that voice. If Tom Brokaw and Barbara Walters –and Newman--can make it big on the tube with their voices, why can’t Mike with his? That voice of his is an odd instrument. It may go over big, like Urkel. It’s a clean voice, a little bit of a sissy voice maybe, but clean in a good way. And it’s precise and confident, like that of a successful guy who’s used to being at the head of the conference table. That might work on the tube. And he’s certainly got the clothes for the role. He dresses perfectly. His haircut is good too.

I think the show would fly. I think he thinks so too. Stay tuned.

Bill Gunlocke

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Penny for Your Thoughts. Really?
Our Town downtown
June 25, 2007

You shake your head at the headline in the Times, ‘Schools Plan to Pay Cash for Marks’. You can’t resist the impulse to get angry about it and you get mad at Klein and Bloomberg, and Gates and Jobs, and everybody involved in TV while you’re at it, that they’ve let it (hell, hurried it, actually) come to this; that we have to pay kids now to open a book and read it long enough to answer some simple questions on a test. How lame is that! You couldn’t be lamer, if you ask me. Bloomberg and Klein and every person in town who cares about kids, or claims to, should all get in a big room and have that headline projected up on a huge screen at the front of the room. The rest of the day or week or year (or years) should be taken up with how it’s come to that and what can be done about it that week to make a dignified correction to our way of schooling so we don’t have to stoop to paying kids. No one could leave until the ‘what can be done’ part is decided upon and set in motion by the end of that week.

In this city, with the richest history of transforming lives through opportunity and education in the world, it’s come to this: We’re going to pay kids to study?

It’s not unprecedented though, this paying kids to do well in school, even in my life. In the small rural Western New York State town I grew up in, four brothers lived two doors away. Their father was a doctor. He was kind of a moody guy who wouldn’t wave to you even if he was driving by slowly and must have seen you waving to him like you waved to just about everyone in a town that size when they were driving by looking for someone who might be waving at them. You’d eventually learn to line yourself up with trees next to the sidewalk as cars passed, to avoid all that waving, But none of this eagerness or hiding mattered to the doctor; he would stare straight ahead and just keep driving.

The doctor was a smart guy and played chess at lunch time when any of the four boys were around to play with him. He liked the Yankees and would always watch their games with the boys. I envied all that and used to hang out over there. They always had big cases of pop in the garage and your large glass was always filled with ice and exotic brands from the cases, like Cream Soda. The doctor smoked and had a wooden dispenser-like thing on the knotty-pine wall in the TV room where one pack of Camels would be replaced by another when he took one. Like a Pez dispenser on the wall. There was a stuffed fish on a plaque right next to it.

Their mother was smart too. She was on school boards and library boards and if women had been allowed to take up the collection at mass at the Catholic church she’d have been extending the long-handeled basket among the pews with the best of them. So, the four boys were smart and mostly a cut above the other kids in the small parochial school just up the street from them—and me. I wasn’t in class with any of them. Three of them were older, one was decidedly younger. I amend that: one year I was in class with the boy two years older. So small was the town and the Catholic grade school we went to, that when I was in third grade, the third and fifth grades were combined in one classroom. I remember him being real smart. I also remember him having a bottle of prescription red cough medicine in the back pocket of his heavy corduroy pants. He’d take a slug out of that whenever he wanted. The brothers were a confident bunch, and the nuns loved them.

But they didn’t get good grades just because the nuns loved them. They were smart and would have gotten good grades in the rural setting our growing-up took place in if they’d never even bought their school books. At home, they had stacks of comic books and sports magazines and the whole set of the Hardy Boys. That they’d get ‘all A’s’ was a given. But that didn’t stop their ol’ man, the doctor, from giving them a dollar for every A they got. We couldn’t believe that! A dollar!

Looking back on it, it was having all those books and magazines and comics that made them know stuff in school. The dollar for every A was after the fact. Yo, presidential-hopeful-despite-your-denial Mike Bloomberg, you must know that. Come on.

Bill Gunlocke

Friday, June 15, 2007

May I Recommend ‘Falling Man’
Our Town downtown
June 18, 2007

My middle grown daughter loves Three Lives bookstore in the Village and goes there a lot apparently just to hang among the books and see what's new. She said she picked up Don DeLillo's new novel 'Falling Man' off the table and read the first paragraph and put it down when she realized it was about 9/11. She obviously hadn't seen the back of the book, which she must have assumed was a just the standard picture of DeLillo or some old blurbs about 'Libra' or 'White Noise'. The back is an extension of the blue sky of the front cover, but with the Twin Towers standing up through the clouds.

I'd read the book; that's how we got talking about it. I thought of it as my story, like you would if you read it. We all take that day personally. But I've been wondering since my daughter mentioned putting the book down, what younger people who saw the towers fall or heard all the noise carry around with them. A buddy (and a father) always reminds me that you never really know what your kids are thinking, and I know that, but I wonder how the world looks to the young people who were probably out at a bar or a restaurant the night before. Are they OK? I mean she said she put the book down after seeing it was about 9/11. The book makes you think about it all again. The Times’ Michiko Kakutani didn't care for it, but she is so annoying you can't read her anymore.

I wonder what the young people make of how long it's taking us older people to get the new tower or the memorial (which is it? I can't remember) built at Ground Zero. What do they think of Chase getting a great deal-among-older-guys to build there? What do they think of the pictures of the men in dark suits and shovels with hard hats on, all smiling like Robert Moses?

Do sirens get them thinking about it still? A woman at dinner the other night told me she still thinks about it every time she hears an especially persistent siren. I saw a long line of cop cars twice last week speeding somewhere and I wondered. I cried a couple times reading 'Falling Man'.

DeLillo's the guy people had been waiting for to write about 9/11. The day was all so personal and proprietary that his take on it was certain to bug some critics. It did. But I almost started reading it again right after I got to the ending. It held me in a way that I wound up not wanting to let go. It was the first thing since the attack that felt like the days after. For all the photos and all the great amateur footage of the days after I've stared at, this book felt the most like it.

I hope they build a bookstore down around Ground Zero. Downtown needs more bookstores. There have to be places a daughter can go where she can happen upon something like a book by Don DeLillo. Where else can you go but a bookstore and not be assaulted by the cheese of commercial signage and taxicabs with last night scores in lights on top?

I gave my ‘Falling Man’ to the woman of the couple I had dinner with the other night. I don’t know if they’ll read it or not. They have TiVo and that doesn’t mean they’re watching less TV. They’re just watching fewer commercials. They’ve got stuff backed up like stacks of old ‘New Yorker’s waiting to be watched. It’s tough for a book to get face-time in the world of TiVo. Even if Charlie Rose has an author on often, he gets more turned on by guys who invent stuff like TiVo.

What can you do? You can’t make people read Don DeLillo’s ‘Falling Man’, even New Yorkers who should have been in line waiting for it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Way Too Many Cars Here, For Sure
Our Town downtown
June 11, 2007

I don’t hate cars. Nobody does. A letter to the editor in this issue even points out that Al Gore rode in cars to his various readings around town a couple weeks ago. Cars are a remarkable invention, honed over the decades to fit us in so comfortably behind the wheel that even the clumsiest of us seem to coordinate feet, eyes and hands well enough that we get to our destination without causing a wreck. You wouldn’t think that was possible after watching people waddle and veer as they ‘walk’ along the sidewalks here. Somehow behind the wheel they waddle and veer less. Go figure.

I miss having a car sometimes. I have listened to almost no music since I moved here nine years ago. The car was where my tunes were. How can you listen to Bruce Springsteen sitting in your apartment anyway? You have to go through the gears on some of the best tunes to get everything out of them. Think the triumphant Jerry Maguire screaming ‘Free Fallin’’.

Too many cars in a small area is a bad scene though. New York City is too small an area for all the cars that come in here every day.

Last week a buddy came in by car from Connecticut to take me to breakfast on my birthday. The rigmarole he went through to try to find a place to park on the street near my apartment was nuts, a stupid way to spend time. The drive to find a place in a parking garage was a wander. When we did find one, the guy waved us off; he was full already at 7:30. We begged him and he let us stay for two hours while we ate. After breakfast, my friend said he‘d give me a ride to work. No going. He had to drop me off three blocks away from the office, so heavy was the traffic. Later after work my kids were coming to get me for a birthday dinner. They called to say they’d be late because of the traffic on the avenues and the cross-streets in the Village.

So who can not be for some version of Mayor Bloomberg’s adoption of London’s charging drivers who want to go into the business/busyness area of the city? People think it’s a bold plan on the mayor’s part. It was bold for London mayor. Once you saw it worked there, how could a New York City mayor not try it? I like Mike, but it takes no genius to follow a leader who’s figured out a way to lessen a major problem. He’d have been a fool not to propose this.

It has to happen. Some version of it. Do I like the idea that it’ll take all sorts of movie cameras to monitor it? Of course not, who does? But what are you going to do? Outlaw cars and make it look like that little area by the river in San Antonio that they always show during Spurs games? You want some cars. Wouldn’t you rather have cars going by than a street fair in your neighborhood every day? I would. Cars and their movement give some energy and pace to the place. But they have to be controlled.

One thing I’d like to see happen if the number of cars is reduced in the city is for the street light patterns to change. One of the maddening things about living here, without a car, in a city that gets pats on the back for being a great walking city, is to have the street lights timed so that if you walk at a normal pace you get stopped at every corner as you walk along the avenues. It can drive you nuts if you have to go far, especially if you walk the same route every day. You find yourself breaking into a trot every few blocks just to break the pattern. But the pattern gets you again the next block.

Oh, and one more thing; while the mayor’s putting up the cameras to catch the scofflaws, I wish he’d order as many more cameras as it takes to monitor the speed of all the cars in the city. It is unconscionable how fast some cabs and other cars go up and down the streets here.

Bill Gunlocke

Friday, June 1, 2007

Teaching to the Test is a Good Thing

Our Town downtown
June 4, 2007

If you want to be thought of as cool or progressive or humanistic, you say you don’t like tests. When it comes to schools, you say, don’t teach to the tests. You say No Child Left Behind is misguided, because it makes teachers do just that, teach to the tests.
If you’re one of those, you’re like me. And, like me, you probably thought, or just intuited, that the whole-language approach was better than phonics for teaching kids to read. But we were way off on that, according to almost all the studies. Maybe we’re way off on the tests too. I hope we are, because it was just announced last week that the city schools are going to test the kids in grades 3 through 8 five times a year now in both math and reading. Even the high school big kids are going to be tested in all their subjects four times a year.
I surprise myself; I’m all for it. I changed my mind. Can I change yours? The tests can only help the schools here where all kind of help is needed. You can’t avoid tests, shouldn’t avoid them.
If you go to the gym, there’s a scale. Fat guys—and thin guys—weigh themselves routinely with their little towels around them. They want to see how they’re doing. They want to know that what they’ve been doing is working. They want to know if it’s not working, so they can do more, or do something different. If they run, they use a good watch to time the whole thing. Same with swimmers. You might see either of them checking their pulse in the neck or at their wrist. If they use the treadmill, they monitor the monitor. Golfers want to know how far their drives go at the driving range. It’s only natural to want to know how you’re doing. Coaches also want to know how you’re doing.
Teachers do (did, at least) too. Remember in grade school how you’d have a spelling quiz every single week. There would be math quizzes all the time. You’d have to do questions at the end of every chapter in history. You have to do the same in science. It isn’t like we sat outside under an apple tree listening to a teacher who changed his costume every class to look like Louis Pasteur one period and then Ben Franklin the next and then Rosa Parks. Mostly it was read the stuff and you’ll be tested on it. Wasn’t that sort of teaching to the test? Weren’t we studying for the test? What’s the big deal about tests?
These new tests are only like 45 minutes long. It isn’t like they’re anxiety-inducing, all-day deals. They’ll probably be about 30 minutes when you factor in classroom management and forgotten pencils. What’s the big deal? Do teachers avoid tests now because the whole system is so bad, they’d rather not know how the class is doing? Or is part of their reluctance to embrace the new testing program a result of teachers not wanting to have to grade a big stack of tests five times a year? But now the kids can take the test on computers, and they can be graded easily that way.
There are all sorts of things that should be tried in an effort to improve the school experience in the city’s public schools. These tests will certainly not be the whole answer, but they can help by showing what’s working and what’s not working. Coaches at half time get handed a clipboard by one of the assistants and on it are stats like the number of offensive rebounds the team got in the first half. The numbers tell who on the other team is killing them, who’s in foul trouble. Once these numbers are looked at, adjustments can be made to do better in the second half, in order to win the game. That’s the goal. It’s the goal of school too. You want the kids to do well. If some numbers on these new tests will give the teacher and the principal some guidance in going forward, how can anyone resist them? It isn’t like these kids are studying the sonnets of Shakespeare with such intensity that one period five times a year devoted to a test will knock them off their game.
Good for the Mayor and Chancellor Klein.
—Bill Gunlocke

Friday, May 25, 2007

If the Mayor's Running, We Need Imus Back

Our Town downtown
May 28, 2007

I wish Imus were still on. He probably will be again. He’s gotta’ be. You can’t get by on Charlie Rose and those other guys. I’ll bet Imus could get more out of Warren Buffett over the phone in 10 minutes than Charlie got in fawning over him for an hour a couple weeks ago. Warren would laugh at/with the I-man which would tell you something about him you wouldn’t get on another show where, if they’re like Charlie, they’d do all the laughing, for some unknown reason. No, actually it’s not unknown; they’re so overly impressed with the guest they have on that they’re giddy/nervous and can’t control themselves. Imus wouldn’t really give a damn about Warren Buffet unless he found out Warren liked his favorite singer Delbert McClinton. Of course that’s not totally true, but at least Imus may have been drunk in Omaha once which is worth something when it comes to talking to Warren Buffett.

Which is why you wish Imus were on now when all sorts of pols are running around trying to look and sound presidential. (In saying all this I don’t excuse Imus for what he said about the Rutgers girls. He’s a genius and such folks make darker mistakes than average bears do.) With Mayor Bloomberg quietly checking out his chances, I’d love to hear what Imus would say about it. Did you notice the Bloomberg ad (for the company, not Mike) during ‘60 Minutes’ last week? That had to be a campaign ad, didn’t it? A campaign ad in the sense that it got his name out there. I think that’s what it was. He’s serious about this idea of being president. If he finds out he’s got no shot, he’ll say he only ever wanted to our mayor, but he’s out for all he can get. A guy with all those homes, wants it all. If he brought out his standard line about being short and Jewish and divorced , Imus would tell him to get some cowboy boots from his good friend out in Santa Fe, He’d tell him to marry that big, good-lookin’ girlfriend of his, and he’d tell him to call the I-man’s friend Kinky Friedman about the Jewish problem. He’d probably get Kinky on the line where Kinky would tell the mayor he could use the line he used in his Texas gubernatorial race: ‘If you elect me the first Jewish governor of the state of Texas, I’ll reduce the speed limit to 54.95.’ It would be funny and Mike would laugh out loud which you don’t see or hear him do much. And it would all be done with Imus wearing his cowboy hat, and not like Charlie Rose wearing a bespoke suit from the same tailor the Mayor might go to.

You wish Don Imus were on today when, as I write this, folks are lining up at the Barnes & Noble on Union Square to hear Al Gore talk about, and read from, his brand new book. I-man doesn’t like (or at least, didn’t like) Al Gore. I’m not sure why and I don’t want to speak for the deposed radio star. But you could probably reach into your own mind and come up with the reasons he didn’t like him. It would be fun to hear Imus go on about it. Someone has to. Gore’s being treated like he’s Brian Wilson being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He’s not that. Al Gore was never a major talent. He’s hot right now though, and you need someone who’s an insider/outsider like Imus to talk about it. You can laugh about Imus and the hat and all that and dismiss him as a racist cowboy if you want, but do you want to hear Larry King and Chris Matthews and Bill Moyers with Al Gore, more than with Imus? Imus is smarter than all four of them is why you want to hear Imus. And he’s not excited by, impressed by Al Gore. Hell, the I-man was so relaxed, unimpressed, not excited about meeting then-candidate Bill Clinton, he was the one who dubbed him Bubba.

The whole campaign for president will be a great spectator sport. I read where XM radio is going to have 24-hour coverage of it starting pretty soon. But with the mayor of our city maybe going to run, and with Al Gore maybe going to run, and with Hillary Clinton for sure going to run, you want Imus telling you what he sees in them.

Bill Gunlocke

Friday, May 18, 2007

A View from the Corner

Our Town downtown
May 21, 2007

David Crohn’s cover story on the preservation of the character of the South Village got me thinking about neighborhoods and how they change.

If I stand on my corner at 21st and Third and look up Third to 23rd I can see huge construction. I don’t usually notice it, huge as it is. I notice the posters all along the side of the site, advertising movies, and sneakers, and newly-released CDs. Eventually there’ll be some big high rise. What used to be there seemed like it would always be there, like it had always been there. When I moved into the neighborhood five years ago, some of the places on this block under construction were places that stood like veterans, to me the rookie, and I wanted to get to know them and wanted them to know who I was. The big corner newsstand was one of those that sold Foreign Affairs and Boston papers and all the fashion mags. I remember I had run up there the morning after 9/11 to get a newspaper. There were no newsstands open that day in the East Village where I lived then.

Up from the newsstand was a wonderful bar with the wonderful name, Poolbeg Street, named after a street in Dublin. Vinny the bartender by the door knew sports. We got to know each other. Up the block from there was Johnny Fox’s, another venerable pub. Now they’re gone. Those three places mattered to me and to other neighbors. People from outside the neighborhood would take cabs to come there. A big apartment building will make it a whole different block.

Across the street and back toward me is a Starbucks. I don’t go to it anymore. I never went much. I stopped going to all the Starbucks because I read where the owner was asking the city of Seattle to pay for most of the cost of a new arena for the NBA team he owns there. He’s just like all the rest I decided, and he lost me. It’s funny about Starbucks. Those who hate it, hate the chain-ness of it, I guess. They hate its everywhere-ness too. But a block away from where I’m standing in the other direction a new Dunkin’ Donuts opened and people haven’t stopped smiling since. Is it the color of the place? Does it seem less arrogant than Starbucks? Does it remind us of home somewhere, like Tim Hortens reminds Canadians of home? It can’t really be the coffee. Can a chain be lovable? Dunkin’ it seems may be one that can be.

While I’m looking left, I can see that Pete’s Place is dark and will stay that way. Closed awhile ago for health violations, it never re-opened. To have sat in one of the small front tables when they opened the big windows and have the morning sunlight light up your orange juice while you read the paper was as good as breakfast got in the city. Gone now. The citation from the health department was probably just the tipping point. The rent was likely killing him. Sweet-tooth Dunkin’ coming in across the street wouldn’t have helped.

You wonder how long before other places go. The CVS won’t go (and the lines in there won’t go any faster, until the manager calls on the three young employees sitting in different aisles stocking shelves to come up and man a register), but other places might. Please let the first one be the pizza place. I used to say I’d never had a bad pizza. I can’t say that anymore.
Up the street is Molly’s, the great atmospheric Irish pub with the great burger and the sawdust floor and a fireplace in wintertime. Almost next to it is the Lyric Diner which doesn’t close and whose neon sign which raps around its corner-front is classic. Rolf’s the famous German bar and eatery is painting itself white as I write this. It’s worth a trip in late fall and definitely around Christmas time to look in the window. It’s like looking at an applause-inducing stage set. I’ve never gone in, but I’ve smiled through the window at the wonder of the inside.

There are more bars, two of which drive the tenants of my building nuts with their late-night street-smoking/talking noise, and a Korean grocery and a classy flower shop. Two busy bagel places. A Blimpies I’m standing across the street from. A vintage clothing shop that has a wonderful used book section. A small newsstand near Dunkin’ where the guys from the methadone clinic on the block congregate, bumming smokes from one another.

There’s a lot on the block. I’m sure yours has lots too. And change lurking, among all those things.

- Bill Gunlocke

What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear

Our Town downtown
May 14, 2007

The picture in the Times last Friday of some NYU kids romping in the fountain in Washington Square Park after the graduation ceremony was the standard-fare shot of the predictable merriment that goes-on on such a day. The lead picture on NYU’s web site that day showed one of the graduates making bubbles.

Maybe they’re protesting at Oberlin’s graduation or at Evergreen State’s. You don’t hear about it though. You’d think there’d be some kids walking out on some speaker. If they’re not doing it in Washington Square Park, where are they doing it? I’m not suggesting they do it. I’m just thinking about why, with a very unpopular war on, in which all the casualties are kids their age, there isn’t much protest.

There are a couple reasons. First I think TV makes the whole world go flaccid. If you’re a student, Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann and Bill Maher are making all the clever signs for you. No need to festoon your dorm windows with peace signs. It’s easier to sit and watch the TV people be clever about the war. All that sitting doesn’t really lend itself to a Chicago 7 lifestyle either.

The main reason (although it’s hard to raise anything above TV as the cause of most of the culture’s inactivity) is that the kid making bubbles is not worrying about the draft. Neither are the kids hopping into the fountain. For all the claims of how much this war is like Vietnam, to my graduation day memory it’s not. The draft loomed huge back then.

Indulge me: My father hardly talked to me after the ceremony. What was there to talk about? We hadn’t really talked in a few years. The war was going on in Vietnam and we didn’t agree on one thing that that war spawned. He was bothered by my long hair, my cigarettes and my bellbottoms. He didn’t care for the music. He was older than most of my friends’ fathers and he wasn’t a guy who was going to wear long sideburns like many dads did then. That bugged me. He wasn’t one to watch the Smothers Brothers or ‘Laugh-In.’ He thought the army might even do me some good. That bugged me. He’d been an officer in World War II. Sensing all that in him, I had to do things like play ‘The Eve of Destruction’ over and over at a high volume (Wouldn’t you think a junior in the dorm near Washington Square would have played that same song the other day, that loud, and over and over, while whoever spoke tried to speak at the commencement?) I had to wear a white armband at my graduation.

The draft dominated the lives of college students then. Not a day went by we didn’t worry over some table about it. All of us, it seemed, knew a kid back home somewhere who, with no student deferment like we had, got drafted after high school, sent to Vietnam, and was killed. As soon as school was over for us, we were no longer going to be protected from maybe the same fate. It drove us crazy. I could say we talked about nothing else, but that wouldn’t be true. We still read the sports page, played the jukebox. Motown was big. But draft worries dominated. I wound up teaching in an inner-city grade school in Cleveland to beat the draft. Guys somehow got in the National Guard. Others didn’t. Many friends went to Vietnam. Part of me envies them the experience. Hard to explain.

Anyway, it’s very different today, certainly for the students in an era of a volunteer army. They can take five or six years to graduate. We couldn’t. We, for all our protests, knew we were lucky to be white boys with a few bucks in our families. We got news from home about a kid from our high school that had been killed. The draft connected us to him. The college kids now don’t have that.

-- Bill Gunlocke

What if Costco Came to Town?

Our Town downtown
May 7, 2007

I’ve got a buddy Joe who lived here for awhile. He’s got this saying that seems to apply to so many things. We might have been talking in a bar about the increasing number of women getting face lifts and boob jobs and how many of them were going back for more work. Joe would just say ‘The biggest distance is between zero and one’. He’d say that about all sorts of things. Once you get started at something, the rest of its attendant pitfalls or exaggerations or addictions seemed to follow. Naturally, inevitably, according to Joe’s law.

I thought of Joe the other day when I read about Martha Stewart gearing up for a line of foods next year in Costco. It scared me that she’s teaming up with them. Her cachet will prompt more people to stop in the store for the first time and that will be their Joe’s-zero-to-one moment. They’ll get hooked. You know they will. They’ll be buying those big Kirkland brands, telling themselves that they aren’t at all like the Wal-Mart shoppers they read about. ‘Costco’s different. They sell wine more than any place else does. Did you know that? You should see the fish they sell. And their wages are very impressive. The only reason we keep that Escalade and don’t go to a Prius is that we need the space for when we come over here to Costco. Or when we go to Target. We buy in bulk. Did I tell you about the wine selection?’

I went to a Costco a few years ago. I was in South Florida at my sister’s and a buddy who moved down there came by for breakfast one morning; when we’d finished he asked if I wanted to ride over to Costco with him. I’d heard some kind of buzz about the place but didn’t really know what it was, so I said OK. It turned out to be pretty cool. I liked the lighting in the place. It was very bright, but that may have had to do with the bright sunshine outside the windows and the big doors. I don’t know if all the stores are like that. My friend bought a bunch of stuff. I grabbed a very big bottle of Kirkland Omega-3 fish oil tablets for cheap. But I got out of town before I got a real chance to get to ‘one’.

I could be vulnerable in a big way to any kind of chain store. I grew up so far out in the sticks that we had to go toward town to go huntin’. (That’s not my line. It’s John Cooper’s the old Ohio State football coach’s. I always wanted to use it.) My western New York hometown was very rural and very small. Try 2,003 people. We couldn’t even field a football team. We played soccer, as did a lot of the small towns around there. Main Street was only a block long, with a few shops on the highway that went by one on end of the street, down by the Mayflower restaurant, where the Greyhound bus stopped. Jim’s Diner was at the other end of the block, across from the post office, next to Stanley Niles’s 5 & 10 where you could buy a gold frame with a picture of Kim Novak in it. I bought caps for my cap gun in there. If you wanted BB’s for your BB gun you had to go up the street to Percy Shetler’s Gun & Tackle shop with a note from your parents that it was OK for him to sell you BB’s.

But we didn’t have a McDonald’s and there was no place to buy Levis. Oh, you could get Dickie’s at Homer Schaefer’s men store and all sorts of work pants and boots with steel toes, but we wanted Levis and to get them you had to go to an hour to Rochester, like you had to go there to get a Wilson baseball glove or the new Trini Lopez album with ‘If I Had a Hammer’ on it. We’d have killed for a Wal-Mart.

They have one about 20 minutes from town now. And the once-childhood-lively Main Street is pretty empty.

What’s my point? There’s no Costco here, you’re thinking. There will be. There’s a Home Depot. We sometimes go to Chipotle’s for lunch. You should see the line. Joe says it’s that way everywhere. It was no doubt such lines forming at the spanking-new airline terminals that allowed Penn Station to be taken down.

-- Bill Gunlocke

An Inconvenient Truth

Our Town downtown
April 30, 2007

Even with Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein running the schools, two guys who have glossier resumes than you normally expect public school heads to have, even with them at the helm, only about half the city’s high school kids graduated in four years, according to important numbers released last week. That means half the kids didn’t even show up for school or class or something; you almost can’t go to class every day and not graduate from the city public schools. That 50% rate is about the same as the rates in Rochester and Syracuse and Buffalo. Half the kids in those places must have not really bought the program either.

That’s a glum statistic, isn’t it? It’s so flat and predictable it hardly dents our consciousness anymore. And, of course, the rest of the statistics show that the suburbs do much better. You’ve all heard that. And you know there’ll be the mandatory news reports about how much more they spend in Westchester per pupil, and you’ve all heard that the teachers there make more. And they’ll say New York City doesn’t get its fair share. And of course we want our fair share and we want our kids to have schools like Westchester does, or wherever it is that it all seems to work, as seen from here.

But look; we have Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein. That’s big, isn’t it? Bloomberg is a bright mogul and a philanthropist and the good mayor of the biggest place in the country. Klein was a big lawyer in the Clinton administration. That should be the turnaround team you’d dream about. Two mature, accomplished guys in good suits, men used to succeeding, turning their attention to the problems of urban education. Westchester should be so lucky as to have two guys like that in charge of the schools, you’d think. They weren’t just given the reins, they grabbed for them, so fed-up were they by the failure they saw, so convinced were they that they could make things better.

Don’t you wonder why then, even with the two sharp guys running the system, the system scored about like Rochester did, or Buffalo, or Yonkers, places that didn’t have Westchester advantages either? Like major league batting averages seem to top out in the .300’s, no matter what gear or substance or training methods are used, is it going to turn out that 50% is about where urban school graduation rates are going to settle?

We seem to be settling for that number. We try to get our own kids in schools, private or public, where the rates are better. And of course the numbers are way better in Manhattan.
But does that mean we shouldn’t worry about the rest of the city kids? Are New Yorkers so remotely taken up with worrying about Iraq and Darfur and snowmobiles in Yellowstone that they can’t even see the disparities and injustices close to home? How can a borough that has renowned colleges and public lectures on everything from global warming to the Shirtwaist Factory fire not be talking all the time about the failure of the local public schools, schools that may not be where their kids go, but where kids go nevertheless and who need help from somewhere? Schools in the same city, for God’s sake, where the publishing industry is centered, where Harry Potter is published. Schools where the kids of the people who deliver your mail go. Why don’t we demand of ourselves to make the schools work for those kids? We New Yorkers want to save the whale and save Darfur and save the next Penn Station from the wrecking ball and save ourselves from Wal-Mart. We should want to save the 50% of the kids that don’t graduate on time. Shouldn’t we be marching over that? Why do we accept such a high rate of failure where New York City kids are concerned?

-- Bill Gunlocke

Video Did Not Kill the Radio Star

Our Town downtown
April 23, 2007

Most of the massive commentary the past two weeks on Don Imus’s screw-up was made by people who had been more-than-occasional guests on his show (exchanging and grinning the whole time, by the way; I heard them all over and over enjoying the hell out of being on with Imus and his pals) claiming that they sensed all along his potential to do/say what he did. Blahblahblah. It was ass-covering all the way, as you’d expect among the hyper image-conscious.

If the I-man could get behind the mic for a minute he’d call them all ‘a bunch of lying weasels’. And he’d be right. Here’s what I used to hear, and it fascinated me: The caller could be Tim Russert or Doris Kearns Goodwin or Jeff Greenfield or Brian Williams or Jon Meacham. To a person they’d almost always allude to some comment made maybe an hour earlier or the day before on the show by Charles or Imus or Bernie. And they’d call each of the guys by name. It at first surprised me. They were listening to Imus first thing in the morning? I guess I figured they’d be watching CNN or some such thing. But on the mornings when they were on, they definitely had been listening to the show way before they were scheduled to appear. They were regular listeners. They of course didn’t say that last week.

Radio—and not just Imus and Stern—has a lot of regular listeners, an engaged audience, in a way that TV doesn’t. Sure, television will hook you with a few shows. In the six or so hours it’s on in most homes every night with its hundred-plus channels, it would have to grab you occasionally. Friends rave about ‘The Office’. My oldest daughter, who wouldn’t know Brady Quinn from Anthony Quinn, says ‘Friday Night Lights’ is the best show that’s EVER been on. She and her sisters wouldn’t miss ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. They’ve got TiVo of course. People, for certain, love ‘The Sopranos’. I’m sure there are other shows with a big following. Maybe six others for all I know. But viewers don’t seem as deeply hooked on them as radio folks are hooked.

Radio folks are proud of their listening schedule. They love ‘This American Life’. They’ve loved Garrison Keillor like people loved Will Rogers. The Car Guys; what’s not to like, after all these years, still? Howard Stern. Do you think Matt and Katie and Charles Gibson matter to people like Stern matters to people? Do you think Chris Matthews matters like Imus mattered? Does CNN have the fervent following that NPR has? No way. Radio people are proud of their habit. TV people aren’t quite. They know it involves popcorn.

Radio by its nature is better. Bill Moyers and Charlie Rose would do better on radio than they do on TV. Oprah might too. Larry King was great years ago on late-night talk radio. His vanity was easier to listen to than to watch. Maybe Oprah is getting a little harder to look at the more she tries harder to look good. Radio would take care of that. Radio is good for you, like Guinness.
If video killed the radio star, it’s not how you think. Take Ray Suarez. He was about the best voice on NPR. TV seemed like a step up to him and now he’s a regular on the Jim Lehrer News Hour, which is so good it’s almost radio-good. But only almost, and Ray Suarez isn’t the guy he was on the radio.

Imus wasn’t much on TV either. I never watched him if I could help it; I always listened unless I was somewhere that didn’t carry his radio show. Then I’d watch occasionally. It was different, in more than the obvious ways. When I listened on the radio, I didn’t have to do anything but turn it on and set the volume. I could go do what I wanted then. Stir protein powder in my orange juice, look at my teeth in the bathroom mirror, read the easy parts of the morning paper. Yeah, you say, but you could still do those things with the television going, listen to Imus on the TV like it was radio, just don’t look at it. But I really couldn’t. TV doesn’t work that way. You know that. I’d have to go in to see what the I-man was doing every now and then, see what hat he was wearing that day, my spoon left standing in the juice glass.

-- Bill Gunlocke

I Was an Imus Guy

Our Town downtown
April 16, 2007

It’s maybe 1972. It’s morning and I’m sitting in my Volkswagen bug listening to the radio. I’m in St. Brendan’s grade school parking lot in a suburb of Cleveland where I moved after college because I was already married with a week-old child at graduation and I needed to beat the draft by teaching and I found a Catholic grade school in Cleveland that needed an English teacher.

I should be in the classroom already because it’s 7:55 and the kids will be coming soon and I have to be ready for them. But a disc jockey named Imus is on the radio and he’s being so funny and smart and bold and his voice is so good, that I don’t want to get out of the car until his bit is done.

Imus was in Cleveland for a few years. Maybe twice actually. When he moved here, I could get him there still. I didn’t listen to him every day that he was on. There was some music usually going in the car. But I listened to him enough that people thought of me as an Imus guy.
Am I still an Imus guy? Probably. Do I think he was wrong as could be with the Rutgers comments? No doubt. Do I think he should lose his show over it? Yes, when I think of the young women who play for Rutgers in front of hugely white crowds a half an hour from a mammoth city where a guy who they’ve never heard of is calling them names for no reason except to get a rush from saying something forbidden; and even though he doesn’t for a second think they are what he and Bernie called them, he couldn’t keep his tongue away from saying what it wanted to say because it had been trained for a lifetime to want to risk it all for a laugh.

I’ll learn to live without him. Actually I’ve been living without him since Christmas when somebody got me a Sirius radio. I’m hooked on all the talk stuff on there including Howard Stern, who I had never listened to before. Never, even though I’m a life-long talk radio listener. Now I listen to him sometimes, and I think he’s a genius.

Imus was a genius too. Look at that face and those eyes. He has a great voice. He’s smarter by nature than any guest he’s ever had on the show. If fools who couldn’t have been listeners want to still keep writing that he was a shock jock and write him off as that, well they’re just stupid. If they think Jon Stewart is smarter and funnier than Imus was for four hours every day, they didn’t listen to him. They probably wrote him off because of the cowboy hat, which I think he wore to keep himself and everyone else from taking him too seriously. He was so smart he could have been a scold or a wonkish diatribe guy. His hat kept him where he wanted to stay. He wanted to make fun of himself and his co-workers, his wife, his Jewish producer, Archbishop Egan, black people, rednecks, homosexuals, pols, the Hamptons crowd.

He knew music, he’d been a Marine, he collected first editions, he played chess with his young son, he loved his brother Fred, he was a recovering alcoholic and drug user, he chewed Nicorette gum like jelly beans. He’s helped sick kids for years. And he helped me through more than one bad morning. He was a very big deal to me. It’s Friday morning and it’s the first day Imus is not on the radio. The whole thing is sad.

In the messy-with-books-and-papers back seat of that VW I sat in and listened to Imus in in 1972, there could easily have been a beat up paperback of “Cat’s Cradle” or “Slaughterhouse-Five” or, my favorite, “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater,” by Kurt Vonnegut.

-- Bill Gunlocke

I’m Still Thinking Mike

Our Town downtown
April 9, 2007

A few weeks ago we said here that we hoped Mike Bloomberg would run for President. Wouldn’t you know, right after we said that we read that he was in a slump, with the cops’ shooting of Sean Bell and the mayor’s not coming home when the 10 African immigrants burned to death in a Bronx fire; school bus problems, homeless family problems. OK, it was a string of non-successes for sure. But they weren’t utter-political-failure events, any of them. They didn’t change my mind. In fact now more than ever I hope he runs.

I just got an email from Obama—you probably did too—talking about his amazing feat of raising Hillary-level bucks. Oh, it is quite something, all that money so soon. He’s magic right now. He’s D-Wade. I don’t know what we want that’s more than that from him. Maybe nothing. He’s fresh when we need fresh. Not just because of Bush and Iraq either. We just want fresh. It’s a TV land we live in and he’s the new show. That’s the appeal. His being black is not something we’ve never seen before. His having gone to Harvard Law School is not out of this world either. Joe Biden was way off; Obama’s not articulate in some special new way to white people. Even the most sequestered white people have seen black politicians, actors, newscasters, and Tiger Woods. And Oprah, for God sakes. (Joe, seeing a U.S. senator with hair plugs is way more unusual to America’s eyes than seeing an articulate black person.)

I don’t know though that his freshness will not wilt. There’s no guarantee. He’s going to have to work at it and make fresh statements about the same old issues that are out there being talked about by all the candidates and he’s got to do it in a voice that’s better than anybody else’s. He’s got that ability. We’ll see how he does.

Hillary has a terrible voice. I don’t know if she can overcome it if she’s paired against Obama. Elizabeth Edwards has a wonderful voice with a great ability to choose the perfect word, but her husband doesn’t. He’s hard-charging smart but he’d be the weatherman on my broadcast team. Not the lead anchor. Obama would get that, with Elizabeth in the chair next to him. Hillary would get the weekends.

Rudy fascinates me, and not all negatively. Currently I’m fascinated by this though: Does he really think America will elect him and have his wife be the First Lady? There is no chance in hell that they’ll do that. Drop out now. Go back to your old haircut and get a show on TV or radio. You have a better voice than Obama and your sentence structure is the best I’ve ever heard in a candidate. So get a show. You and Judith are not going to be living in the White House.

John McCain’s soft voice is as phony as Woody Hayes, the old Ohio State football coach who slugged a player on the opposing team during a bowl game. He could talk just as soft as McCain though. I don’t trust that voice.

Mitt Romney is a guy if he lived on your street in whatever town or city you lived in, you’d probably call him The President. He’s got something in that way for sure. But he’s from yesterday and you’d be thinking of a president in some old movie. He can’t be president in these times. He’s just too old fashioned, even if it’s appealing on some level.That leaves Mike Bloomberg, who you’d never call Mr. President on your block. He wouldn’t live on your block. He’s got too much money to live near you. And I wouldn’t pick him for my news team either. He looks like a cute parrot and his voice doesn’t carry at all. And he bugs me that he needs so many material goods. All those homes. It’s sinful really. But I’ve got different sins of my own. So do you. He’d make a good president.

-- Bill Gunlocke

My Night with the Knicks

Our Town downtown

April 2, 2007

Three times in the last month I stood outside the Garden waiting for the guy with the tickets. It was fun standing there (I’m pathologically early to everything, so I’ve spent a lifetime standing waiting in such scenes) looking at the crowd of game-goers within the crowd of commuters. It was fantastic stuff to stare at. It was one of those times since I moved here eight years ago, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. It was exhilarating being alone right then and there waiting for a friend with the buzz of a game in the air.

The most recent of three games I saw (the first two were college games in the Big East tournament) was a Knicks game. If you’re already laughing or cynical, I understand. The sportswriters and talk show guys here have been merciless in their attacks on the whole Knick situation, mostly going after Isiah Thomas, for awhile going after him every single day. It was way overdone. Isiah Thomas is as accomplished in what his life work has been as anyone in this city. He was a better basketball player and leader than almost anyone in town’s been at what they do. He was one of the top ten of all time probably. In the history of the game. (Sportswriters may deep-down hate jocks and look for every chance they get to pile on. Ever notice how they take every chance they get to say it’s just a game? Even while they’re making a living sucking up to them?)

My ticket was free. Long story. And the price on it said $65. OK, that’s a lot. But so’s the ticket for the Joan Didion play with Vanessa Redgrave which didn’t get a hot review. So is the ticket to hear Betty Buckley at Feinstein’s. You think Sir Bono lets you into his shows for cheap? And where in those shows do you get to see LeBron James fly through the air without a script or a play list and throw down a dunk like you’ve never seen before? (The Knicks played LeBron the night I was there.) Where in those events (wonderful as they are) does the outcome go down to the last few seconds? Where in those performances do you stand up and exult over something unexpected and raise your arms and scream in jubilation? 65 bucks? By this city’s standards with $7 pints of Guinness, and $2000 apartments so small that you have to pay extra to keep most of your stuff in storage in Queens, $65 is not that bad. And don’t forget these guys are risking crutches every minute they’re on the court.

You get two good hours for the ticket price, even if some of it like the Knicks dancers is cheese. But so what? You could easily spend more on an average meal with drinks than that. You could spend that at the Joyce Theater where the dunks are scripted. Jon Stewart was at the game. So were some other young big shots that they showed on the big screen. That’s cheesy to show them, of course, but it’s a TV world we live in.

The game’s out by 10:00 and you go home by foot or cab or train and you get your mail and hang out for awhile before bed and that’s a good night. If you were a kid your mother would tell you to make sure you washed your face and hands after bring in a crowd like that.

The next night West Virginia played Clemson in the NIT finals in the same Garden. That would have been fun to go to. But there are so many things to do in the city that you can lose track. We list some things to do every week. The dailies list stuff every day. Time Out does a great job at keeping up with it all. There is so much stuff. The same night as the NIT game, Bill Bradley was reading at the big Barnes & Noble and Pete Hamill was leading a discussion near NYU about an Irish novelist at the same time, in addition to all the other sports and movies and theater and dance and gallery openings. Makes you wonder if St. Peter won’t ask us why we were inside that night watching TV. And what’s with NetFlix in New York City? he might wonder. There wasn’t enough to do in the big city?

-- Bill Gunlocke

You Should Have Been There

Our Town downtown

March 26, 2007

If you’re like me, you were maybe thinking if you’d been to one monthly Public Meeting of The Panel for Educational Policy at Chambers Street you’d been to them all. A sober PowerPoint presentation of dry material. An earnest report by some well-meaning staffer. Maybe a half hour of questions from some of the few parents that bothered to come. In the four meetings I’d been to, it felt like school.

Last Monday it was different. You should have been there. There were twice the usual number of people. The extra half were all festooned with white sashes that had something written in big Asian letters on them. They spoke in their language among themselves and took the front three rows of seats. They were organized and purposeful, you could tell. The woman in front of me sat up in her chair like she was waiting to see the pope.

The meeting began when a dozen panel members and Chancellor Joel Klein ambled in and took their seats behind a long table. I watched Klein as he came in and wondered if he was sighing to himself when he saw the bigger group in front of him. The four times I’d been there, he played with his Blackberry the whole night and seemed less than engaged, to say the least, by the whole process.

When you come to these meetings there’s a table outside the doors to the room with a stack of handout sheets. It’s the agenda for the night. Monday night’s had these four points: I. Executive Session (this takes place in private before the public meeting starts); II. Citywide Science Curriculum; III. Fair Student Funding; IV. Public Comment.

At some point early on, maybe within the first 15 minutes, before much of the agenda had been attended to, with the Chancellor comfortably settled in with his good friend Mr. Blackberry, there was a noise from outside the big open wooden doors, somewhere out in the open area where there are easy chairs and coffee tables, where the stack of agendas was, somewhere out there a menacing chant was going on. It came closer and suddenly about 30 people marched in to the back of the room carrying signs and chanting, among other things, “Listen to the parents!” They were loud in the room which isn’t big. It’s like the size of two classrooms, but with oriental rugs and big chandeliers hanging from very high ceilings. These folks with their signs looked nervous, but more thrilled, to have barged in to such a setting. Mr. Klein put his toy down.

Anyone with a camera in the room was now aiming it toward the back of the room. The chanting kept up, an occasional voice leaped out from the group cadence and belted out a solo, “Listen to the parents!” The look on the faces of the purposeful Asians in the front rows was glum. I’m guessing they were angry too. Here they were, as orderly and scrubbed and serious as any New Yorkers could be, sashes in place, and in barges this noisy group of Black and Hispanic folks taking up the “teacher’s” time again just like it was in high school. You felt sorry for them.
But you didn’t dislike the noisy group at all. You were impressed actually by their spirit and their passion. Listening to them speak individually though when Klein ultimately gave in and gave them time to go to the microphone stand, you wish that they would barge into their neighborhood libraries with their kids and make sure their kids knew how to read. Or you wish they knew to demand of the Panel that their kids be taught to read as well as the kids at Dalton, where I think Klein’s kids went or go.

Later when things quieted down, a half dozen of the Asians got their chance to go to the microphone. You learned they were Koreans who were there to express their anger and pain over a book that they’ve found in the schools that doesn’t accurately depict the suffering their people went through at the hands of the Japanese a half century ago. I don’t know what it said on their sashes.

-- Bill Gunlocke

I Hope Mike Runs

Our Town downtown

March 19, 2007

I thought about Bloomberg twice on Thursday. A friend and I were e-mailing about various candidates and I said I liked Obama most right now but it was for purely charismatic reasons. I like him like I like Tiger Woods whatever that means about him—and me. I said I don’t dislike Hillary. I like her more than I like Bill, in fact. I’m their age and I can see him sucking up to every teacher he ever had and even those he didn’t have when he was in school and hanging around after class with them. Brown nose comes immediately to mind. I don’t see her that way. Edwards I loved the last time with his two Americas mantra. I even made phone calls for him in some union office here. His new guy-on-the-far-left pose though seems just that, a pose he practiced in the mirrors of his newly-built mansion. It’s too nakedly ambitious. His admitting he made a mistake in voting on Iraq is being seen, mostly by him, as some big act of courage. He’s saying it to get votes now that 2/3 of the country is against the war. Where’s the courage in that?

Then I said maybe Gore will trim his hair and his waistline and make a run. I even noticed that Bill Bradley has a book just out. He seems pretty good to me still. Finally I said that if Bloomberg ran he’d be the most competent among the lot of them. (Rudy is probably the closest in competence to the mayor. He’s hampered of course by some of his unsavory affiliations. All these guys know questionable types though. You think the people with three or four homes near the mountains and the beaches and the golf courses got them from selling Christmas trees or licking Green Stamps?)

That I think Bloomberg’s the most competent doesn’t mean I’d for sure make phone calls for him if he ran. I might though. Here’s why: He doesn’t seem a bit phony. Think of everyone in the list above except for Bill Bradley and there’s a phony component to them. They’ve been running for office for so long they’ve forgotten how to talk like real people. Mike doesn’t sound ultra-real himself, but that’s probably what he’s always sounded like. He seems cautious and shy and not in love with the sound of his own voice. That doesn’t mean he’s not ambitious or too rich. It just means he doesn’t sound phony and that’s refreshing. Even the way he’s not-running running doesn’t bug me because of his shy manner.

The second time I thought of him was later on Thursday night outside of a bar where I’d been having a couple pints, talking with a work mate, and occasionally looking up at the one small TV screen in the place to catch a glimpse of the college hoops scores. I’d gone outside in the cold drizzle to see if anyone was out there who I might bum a cigarette from. Like a leprechaun, a little young guy from Ireland sprang from nowhere it seemed and was handing me a half-empty gold pack of Benson & Hedges that I think he wanted me to notice because on the pack was a no-nonsense label that said ‘Smoking Kills’. I think he knew we’d ask where these were from. Ireland? England? His voice gave it away. Ireland it was. He was over with his girlfriend to show her the States and he was staying up in Woodlawn with some friends he’d met here before. He was so glad to talk to us outside. He said we were like meeting Bill Gates. He was funny. We smoked and went back in.

I looked at the pack of smokes with the label. There was another label on the back that said ‘Smoking is highly addictive, don’t start’. I thought of Bloomberg. He got the city to change its smoking ways. That was big in a town that too heartily identifies with Sinatra’s rendition of itself. The mayor did the right thing, though I whined like a lot of other people and thought he was a creep, out of touch with the real guys. He probably is out of touch in a lot of ways since he’s gathered so much stuff. But I hope he runs for president.

-- Bill Gunlocke

There Ought to be More Madness Here

Our Town downtown

March 12, 2007

Here’s a note that came early in the week from Steve Bloom, who writes a lot of sports for us:

The [NYU] Violets finished the 2006-07 season by winning the ECAC Division III Men’s Basketball Metro Championship last night at Coles over Richard Stockton College, 58-55. They ended the season with a 22-6 record. Pretty darn good. It was fun covering the Violets. Thanks for encouraging me to follow the team.

Steve wrote a cover story on the NYU team at the end of January and got hooked on going to the games. None of the rest of us went to any of them, but some of us commented at the time of the article how surprised we were at the description of the game atmosphere. It was more the stuff of college sports than we had imagined NYU games would be. Cheerleaders, pep bands, excited crowds. Just up the street from the Angelika.

We thought it was great that it was that way. I especially did. I like college sports so much that I this year bought season tickets to Fordham basketball. One of my daughters went there but she could care less about their hoops. I go up to the Bronx because the gym is classic and the atmosphere is fun. Fordham’s in a good league. The coach is a show and the student section tosses baby dolls in the air behind the basket while the other team is shooting free throws.
You leave these games feeling different than when you walked in. You’re on cloud nine if your team won, way down if they lost. It’s better than going to concerts, which someone once said are totally emotionally ‘safe games’. Bruce never loses or even gets the ball stolen. You get to cheer baskets scored against no defenders. All the fans go home happy like they won a game. But, no risk, no real reward. That’s why sports are so wildly popular everywhere. Even as a spectator you invest something of yourself. You risk something. It’d be easier to rent a movie you’ve seen before on Saturday night than to watch a basketball game and maybe have to go through the pain of losing, but if your team wins, it’s a rush. How many real rushes have you gotten from NetFlix?

Last week and weekend the Big East Tournament was held at the Garden. People all over the country watched it on their tubes. That’s what I usually do. This time I went over to it. I bought a ticket Friday afternoon from a scalper whose looks and manner you’d know not to trust in a movie, but I was in a hurry to get inside and it turned out all right. Cost me $80. Craig’s List, which I don’t really know how to use, wanted at least $100. So I saved $20 there, I figured, and I stayed away from the $7.75 beers once I got inside.

The atmosphere was charged, better than a concert. Guys had money bet, guys had loyalties; they didn’t want their school to lose. People there had hats and shirts on from all over the Big East. Pep bands played the songs their fathers had stood and clapped to. March Madness was just underway.

The Garden is lit perfectly for basketball. The lights above the seats are dimmer there it seems than in other arenas; that makes the court seem brighter in contrast like a boxing ring at a big fight.

You think while you’re there that there ought to be big-time basketball interest all year long in New York—for the colleges. In Philly they have a little hoops world all their own with St. Joe’s and LaSalle and Villanova and Penn and Temple—and Drexel. It’s a great tradition. Why couldn’t New York develop such a thing among St. John’s and Fordham and NYU and Columbia and Manhattan. Men and women’s teams. Have a Christmas tourney in the Garden. It’d strengthen all the programs. It’d help keep some of the local talent here. And it would give you another reason to go to a game.

-- Bill Gunlocke

The Schools May Have Picked a Winner

Our Town downtown
March 5, 2007

Did you see that the city’s Department of Education chose a woman named Martine Guerrier to be the Chief Family Engagement Officer? If you don’t have kids in the schools or aren’t a news junkie, the appointment wouldn’t get your attention. It got my attention because this Martine got my attention the three times I went to a school board meeting this year. They don’t call them Board meetings; they’re called Panel for Educational Policy meetings. That sounds like they might be of a new order and of a higher nature than old-time Board meetings. Well, I never went to one of those sessions, but at these the level is not high. It’s so low in fact that nobody goes, unless you think 20-30 people showing up to listen and talk about a school system that has more than 1,000,000 kids is a good turnout.

The lone exception to the boredom of the proceedings and the boredom on the panel members’ faces (Chancellor Klein looked by far the most bored; he arrogantly [there’s no other word for it] played on his Blackberry the whole night(s)) has been Martine Guerrier. She can’t help it. She’s not showing off. She’s just sharper and more alert than the others. It doesn’t take much to be sharp at the Chambers Street meetings I’ve been to. But she’d be sharp in any crowd.
In this new job she’ll represent the parents of the more than 1,000,000 kids. She is a wife and mother and has a 10-year-old son. With that, and her intelligence, diligence, and speech pattern, she’s a great fit for the job.

That’s all I really know about her. I googled her after I first watched her at a Panel meeting. There wasn’t much about her. I was fascinated enough by her to do that. Watching her exceptional talents at the meetings was like seeing some random game on TV and finding yourself rooting for a player you’d never heard of because he got your attention somehow. It happens with supporting actors sometimes. You’re taken with them and start to follow their careers. Or you catch part of a song and you’re hooked on that singer. If your instincts are good, it doesn’t surprise you totally that some of those first impressions are validated and the person goes on to be somebody big.

That’s how I feel about this Martine Guerrier. She’s young, African-American, smart in a non-annoying way, likable in her manner and unafraid to ask for clarification of some point—at the meetings I attended—that otherwise would have just laid there in its own jargon.
The position she’s got now could be a place where she’ll be able to shine. Representing all the kids’ parents could be a huge, powerful opportunity to move the city to do more. There must be significant things that need doing or there wouldn’t be just half the students graduating in four years.

Running the city’s schools must be a bear. No place has figured it out. No other city has, for sure. It doesn’t seem to matter if the mayor takes control or a woman runs them or a board. There must be something essential that’s being missed. I wish they’d find out what it is. The kids are waiting. What probably will happen is that it will all be done by some computer programs in the frighteningly-not-too-distant future. Teachers will still be in the room but kids will learn music from Winton Marsalis and history from Bono, like we learn cooking from Rachel Ray. In the meantime, before we turn the thermostat way up to Fahrenheit 451, the schools need flesh-and-blood humans to run things. Sharp people are what are needed most and typically schools don’t attract the bold, energetic types that go into more alluring-for-them careers. This Martine might be one of those, and we better use her well while we have her.

-- Bill Gunlocke

Far From Gramercy Park

Our Town downtown
February 26, 2007

In Jackson, Wyoming last week I notice the rear of two cars parked in front of Bubba’s, the place you get breakfast; one has an Alaska license plate and a sticker that says Eskimo Women Kick Ass, the other car is from Wyoming and has a sticker that says Charlton Heston is my President.

In the local paper is news from the state legislature in Laramie about proposed legislation that seeks to do away with citizens being allowed to drive with an open container of alcohol.
These sightings are sent to you not to mock out-westerners with muddy tires like New Yorkers are supposed to do. They’re sent to show you how far from Gramercy Park you can get in a week.

Here’s what you can do in a week when your pregnant youngest daughter’s water breaks a week early in Jackson Hole and you gotta’ get there. The last-minute price of a ticket out of here is too high by any standard and you find one a lot cheaper out of Cincinnati, which you book because your college roommate is a lawyer in Columbus and you can stay with him and he’ll drive you to Cincinnati the next day. But first you go to rural Ohio with him while he refs a basketball game between same-town high school rivals Washington Courthouse and Miami Trace where it’s senior night and there’s a testimonial and silence for three kids from the two schools who were killed in a car crash earlier in the week. The National Anthem is sung by two students with a guitar with a pain you haven’t heard before.

The plane gets me to the Wyoming hospital an hour before the young couple is leaving with their baby for the two-minute drive to their house on Flat Creek Road. My ex-wife’s flight is delayed by snow so I’m glad I made it.

The kid is a beauty. Lucy Macauley. No staring at her wishing you could tape an odd ear back. She changes your life like friends said she would. It’s like there’s a Christmas tree in the room now. My son-in-law says the next day that the biggest of their two dogs slept in their room by the crib. He’d never slept in their room before.

I don’t ski and am getting tired of visiting my daughter out there without doing anything with the snow. This time I take a lesson in cross country skiing. It’s rewarding like swimming laps is and I go three other times. You can see the real skiers coming down the Tetons just a few hundred yards away. It’s beautiful to watch. You envy them. Later in a bar at the base of the mountain they all look in their ruddiness like Brett Favre and Sheryl Crow. You think you look like Bob Denver to them.

At another bar one night a snowboarder from Birmingham, England says he and his mates go into Yellowstone the day before to get near a geyser. He says there are two bears in front of the geyser so they can’t get very close. He is awed.

On the fifth night in town, I decide I’ll stay away one night from the baby’s house and let my ex have her to herself. I go to the local high school basketball game. The Jackson team is the Broncs. The Lady Broncs play first and the team from Lander Valley they play has three very good young players I think are Mexicans. The next morning my son-in-law says they were most likely Americans Indians. There’s a reservation in Lander he says. The crowd at the game wasn’t much different from the crowd in rural Ohio. Maybe the Jackson men have longer arms and bigger hands. Rangier, I guess. Cowboys.

A week after Lucy is born, her mother and father decide they’ll bundle her up and put a little knit cap on her head and put her in one of those papoose things and go outdoors into the snowy landscape with her for the first time. They take their two dogs in the car with them and drive off for a walk along the Snake River.That’s a long way from Gramercy Park, a short drive for them. And they don’t need a key.

-- Bill Gunlocke

C-Span, the Opposite of Sex, Is About My Speed

Our Town downtown

February 19, 2007

I was in South Florida a weekend ago, in the home office of Anna Nicole coverage. I didn’t pay attention to it because I’d never followed the trial over the money from her old husband, and I couldn’t watch the fat version of her on that TV series (I was kind of in love/lust with her in those old black and white jean ads she did and wanted to remember her that way). A lot of people must have been watching that fat show, even a lot of people who when you mention TV to them or say you don’t watch it will tell you they only watch the History Channel and “The Wire.” They must somehow have heard about her somewhere. They’re claiming they didn’t watch the stuff about her death either but I’ll bet they did. Most people are TV addicts, and if they go on about Bill Moyers and Bill Maher and “Washington Week in Review,” that’s a cover, and it’s still TV anyway and it’s nothing they couldn’t get in a magazine or a newspaper.
I don’t watch any of that stuff (I’ve got other vices), but I could become a C-Span addict. And not just “Booknotes” and “Q&A” and all that very tempting weekend stuff about authors that keeps you from reading. I mean the sober, opposite-of-sex “Washington Journal” morning call-in show that must actually be set in Pittsburgh in Mr. Rogers’ old studio, so welcoming and clean is the whole enterprise. Enterprise is too sexy a word for it. Compared to the C-Span morning hosts, Garrison Keillor is Tom Waits. It’s like the innocent morning radio I heard as a kid. It’s like a yellow record.

You’ve noticed “Washington Journal,” I’m sure. Looks boring and you’ve hardly ever stopped. And no doubt every time you have landed on it for even a minute, it’s always an unfashionable woman representative from Illinois talking to a guy who looks like a seminarian about a school bus seat belt bill. You run from it and head to the networks, or Imus.

I don’t run from it, or to it. I just turn to it sometimes on my Sirius radio (forget iPods and flat screens, get satellite radio and free your legs to move about, or lie down and stare at the ceiling; you can’t do that with even the biggest flat screen). When I’m sports-talked out, or I’m Howarded out on Sirius, I turn the dial to “Washington Journal.” It’s the same thing as on the television. And I get ready for the day listening to citizens (that’s what they seem like when they call in that show; they’re not consumers there) call about the war or the candidates or the Washington Post editorial on Joe Biden—or seat belts. It’s not bracing, I admit, but it’s not bullshit either, and that’s a good way to start the day. So, back to Florida. My sister who I was visiting wanted to go to the beach on Saturday after we stopped by and saw her newest grandchild. I was certainly up for both things, but what I really wanted to do on a perfect sunny day on my first day down there from the brickyard cold of here was watch Barack Obama make his announcement of his running for the White House at 11:00 that morning on C-Span. I lost. I had to go. And I could catch the highlights later on the CNN. But I wouldn’t catch what C-Span would be giving. With C-Span, you’re on the steps of the Illinois capitol building before Obama is. The announcer, if there even is one, is silent while the camera watches the flags flap in the wind or catches the ambient sound of the citizens as they gather at the foot of the steps waiting for the candidate-to-be to show up. It’s like politics unplugged. Unplugged is good.

-- Bill Gunlocke

You Know The Preacher Likes The Cold

Our Town downtown
February 12, 2007

Yeah, it was cold last week. I say I like the cold but even I will admit my face hurt in an almost scary way one morning walking to work. One night I went to a play on Theater Row and I had to cut through the Port Authority terminal to get out of the wind for a couple minutes even though I had on a knit cap and all that. I slept with that hat on a couple of those nights.

But I actually loved it. I like gloves and that hat and a muffler and the way getting warm feels. Bitter cold makes me appreciate four walls and the way they keep the wind and the wolves away.

Some people can’t stand it. They start complaining every year in October that the cold is coming. They find nothing fun about it. It makes them mad. They dream of getting out of it. I had a cab driver here once when I was visiting before I moved here and I was going from a restaurant on Spring Street back uptown where I was staying with an old college roommate. The cab driver was a bright young guy and we got to talking as is my wont, and it came out that we were both divorced fathers with daughters. Three for me, one for him. He was younger and newer at it and he lamented how much he was missing his young daughter up in Toronto. I empathized and tried to comfort him. I figured he was in graduate school or had been transferred here and was just driving a cab to supplement his salary to pay his child support. When I asked him what he did when he wasn’t driving, he said he did nothing else. He drove full-time. I thought about the picture of his daughter on the visor above him and how sad he was about not seeing her often and I so I asked, well, couldn’t you drive a cab in Toronto and be nearer to your daughter? He shook his head and said, Man, it’s too cold up there. I didn’t know what to say.

Some people are warm-blooded and like the cold. I remember some guys in grade school when we’d have snowball fights would throw their coats and sweaters off and be in their T shirts winging hard ones at us. No hat, no gloves. They just weren’t bothered by the cold. The same guys were too hot in just a T shirt on the dog days of summer. Their warm blood boiled and made them miserable.

A friend of mine has been visiting from Florida. He moved there because he’s one of those people—cold-blooded I guess—who’s miserable in winter. He may not ever have gone to the beach down there though he lives only 10 minutes from it. He’s not there for that. He’s simply there not to be cold.

We’re all wired in our particular way. How’s this for an example? The Florida guy I just mentioned said one day last week that he was watching tube while I was at work and he had to turn it off because there was a high-pitched squealing noise coming from it. I said I’d never heard anything. A couple nights last week he was watching something and he called me in to show me the noise. I looked at him and grinned thinking he was fooling me or was going nuts. I heard nothing; not a thing other than the show that was on. He couldn’t believe it. He had to turn it off, it was bugging him so. Later he turned it back on and called me in again. Same thing. He’s no clown. Very rational guy (No doubt there was some noise emanating from the tube). He’s also a music-obsessed person. He’s a graphic designer and listens to tunes incessantly while he works and whenever the TV isn’t on. I’m not a music-obsessed person. I wonder if that sounds he hears and I don’t has something to do with it. His ears are different. I think he’s just wired to need music.

At night last week when his TV shows were off and his CDs had stopped spinning he needed the heat up so high I could hardly sleep.

-- Bill Gunlocke