Archive for the 'New York Moments' Category

Paul Ryan Comes To Harlem

May 14, 2017

In a sense, the visit of such a person to such an institution made perfect sense, that much the more in the Age of Trump. After all, here you had Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, one of the leading proponents of the ceaseless war on the remnants of the social contract, fresh off his successful orchestration of a billionaire tax cut masquerading as a health care bill intended to strip millions of healthcare, visiting Harlem Success Academy, the flagship school of Eva Moskowitz, one the most successful practitioners of the publically funded privately managed scams called charter schools.

The two, after all, have a lot in common. Both owe their careers to the largesse of the richest people in the country and, in the case of Moskowitz, the politicians in their employ. Ryan, of course, is a prime example of such an employee.

Hence, Moskowitz beckoned, Ryan came.

Despite their almost limitless financial backing, and a government that seems pleased to give them both almost anything they ask, both parade around as heroic strivers for the underclass against the wily tyranny of the status quo, i. e. the public sector and labor unions.
Both are corporatists, through and through.
Please note that Harlem Success Academy is but one of three schools housed in the building in which Ryan made his visit.
What was the purpose of Ryan’s visit? A visit that necessitated police barricades and TV crews at 7:30 in the morning when I arrived to teach in the school that Ryan had no intention of visiting . A visit that brought hundreds of furious protesters whose whistles and howls I could hear intermittently throughout the day, one especially loud volley signaling Ryan’s arrival, another, his hasty exit.

For Moskowitz, Ryan’s visit was a public relations bonanza, made to show the world how connected to power she really is. A few years ago I literally bumped into presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the hall of my school as he was leaving Success Academy after visiting with Moskowitz.

It is not hard to imagine what would happen if a public school official called Ryan’s office and offered a tour of a public school.

For Ryan the visit was an opportunity to show how much and how deeply he cares about the children and people of Harlem, even if he and Donald Trump and a bunch of rich white guys recently celebrated stripping them of their healthcare while taking aim at Medicare.

Full disclosure: Ryan, who arrived hours late, did make a last minute gun-at-the –head, perfunctory visit to a special needs class in the 811 school which Moskowitz tried ruthlessly to gobble up as part of her ever expanding empire, to hell with the special needs kids who are schooled there. Almost certainly agreed to because of the pressure asserted by 811 teacher Mindy Rosier, Ryan was reportedly escorted into a classroom of children who had no idea who he was, smiled, said hello, shook the principal’s hand and was hustled up the stairs for an hour long visit with Success Academy.

Using children for political props is nothing new to Moskowitz, even if the same act would find any DOE principal out of a job and possibly in jail should they pull such a stunt. Over the past few years Moskowitz has bussed children up to Albany and had them parade over the Brooklyn Bridge, all on school time, all as their teachers were on the city’s dime, all under the pretext of giving the kids a “civics lesson.”
Ryan’s visit, presumably, was just another such “lesson. “

But what, precisely, was the nature of the lesson? What did the students learn? That it was somehow OK for the Speaker of the House of Representatives to visit their school and not the public school next door in the same building? That the students my colleagues and I teach are somehow not as important? That passing savage health care bills that will destroy people’s lives and render millions helpless so the richest people in the country can have yet another tax break is just fine?
That some people count and some people don’t ?

Yes, it made perfect sense that these two should meet, as it is so perfectly revealing of the nature of all things in the Age of Trump.

Ryan and friends celebrating stripping millions of Americans of healthcare.



A 150 Mile Journey For Justice: 10 Years after Legal Decision, Billions Are Still Owed New York State Schools

October 2, 2016


Parents, students, teachers and elected officials gathered together in downtown Manhattan this morning at a press conference before some of the participants began a 150 mile walk to Albany to demand the payment of billions of dollars New York State owes their schools. The protest pilgrimage called “EdWalk2016” commemorates the ten-year anniversary of the decision
reached in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case that directed New York State to adequately and equitably fund poor school districts. During the same decade, the New York State has implemented draconian “reform” after draconian “reform,” such as ever changing and incomprehensible teacher evaluations linked directly to ever more difficult student tests.

On Broadway

On Broadway

Former NYC Councilman Robert Jackson

Former NYC Councilman Robert Jackson

I met the marchers in Times Square.

Bringing the word to  Times Square

Bringing the word to Times Square

“We have teachers from Buffalo, Schenectady, Syracuse, Westchester County, Long Island, and every part of New York city. Twenty-three of us are walking to 153 miles to demand the $3.9 billion that have been denied our students and our schools,” said special education teacher Henry Montalto, one of the walkers.

Pilgrims-teachers Mindy Rosier and Henry Montalto

Pilgrims-teachers Mindy Rosier and Henry Montalto

The protest is organized by the Alliance for Quality Education.

Notes On NYC Labor Day Parade and the Horror of Trump Tower

September 14, 2015

success IMG_0817

So New York City’s Labor Day Parade was held on Saturday and, as a dutiful union man, I made my way up to 45th St in the morning and met up with the UFT contingent massed together awaiting our turn to march among the thousands of ironworkers, plumbers, postal workers, carpenters, laborers, nurses, and all the rest of the noble souls who collectively form the central nervous system of the city and keep the city running. The turnout among teachers was disappointing but I was grateful, as ever, to meet up with my friend and union brother, the prize winning blogger nyceducator and his delightful protégé. Together we managed to squeeze out some laughs and skillfully avoid the oily hands of various politicians – most notably the cadaverous looking Sen. Chuck Schumer, his arms seeming to multiply like the Hindu goddess Durga, desperately seeking something to shake — and walk the 5th Ave route from start to finish on 64th St.

At parade’s end we parted, the nyceducator and protégé heading east to lunch, and
I back tracking south along 5th Ave passing the parade that went on and on and on. Somewhere around 62nd St I came to a realization that New Yorkers dread: my bladder was sending me the unmistakable message that I needed a bath room, a need ridiculously difficult to fulfill anywhere in NYC, that much the more in that neighborhood of Tiffany’s and the Plaza Hotel.

I understood I had no choice but to soldier down 19 or so blocks to a branch of the New York Public Library and so, with ever increasing urgency, did I begin.

Lo and behold, not far into my increasingly miserable journey I looked right to find none other than the garish Trump Tower, with the words “open to the public” above the glass doors calling me to follow like the star of Bethlehem.
Besides, I reasoned, what better person to leave such a gift with after a Labor Day Parade than Donald Trump, no longer merely an obnoxious media whore billionaire but, crazily, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States! So, for the first time in my life, albeit with an extremely limited mission in mind, I entered a building owned by Donald Trump; which is to say I entered into a physical space mirroring the horrifying sensibility of Donald Trump.

Before I go any further let me say that, like any more or less sensate New Yorker, even before his insane entry into presidential politics and elevation into the same, I have been forced into an awareness of the vulgar and supreme narcissist who is Donald Trump. Moreover, cycling to work from the Lower East Side to Harlem, as I do, I am reminded of his existence via his brutal phallic buildings just about any route I take. There’s a Trump monstrosity on 1st Ave near the United Nations. Another when you leave the bike path at Central Park and 59th St.. There are still others along the Hudson Bikeway on the Westside. I was also unwittingly aware, seemingly through a process akin to osmosis, of Trump’s idiot TV show, his get rich seminars, his wives and other aspects of his garish life.

That said, even with all I knew of this man, nothing prepared me for what I was to find inside Trump Tower. Being inside Trump Tower feels like being in the center of a diseased psyche. It feels like mental illness made normative. It feels like narcissism so unbounded it has a palpable presence. Inside, the image and name of Trump is as omnipresent as was that of Kim ll-sung’s in North Korea. Indeed, even in a nation as frighteningly and increasingly narcissistic as America — the land that created and perpetuates “the selfie, ” — Trump brings a horrifying new dimension to the unseen and deadly affliction.
In the ancient Greek myth, Narcissus, unable to pull away from his own reflection, or so internally fractured he could not believe he even existed without constant affirmation, drowns in a pond. The myth is instructive should one be open to instruction. Like the junkie needs junk, the narcissist must see his or her reflection everywhere they look; must hear the echo of their own voice every time someone else speaks; writhes in agony at the reality that others exist and others matter; that they are not the sun and moon and stars. It was narcissism that compelled a Michael Bloomberg to do his best to remake Manhattan Island in his gilded image of the same. It is narcissism that compels a Bill Gates to try to insidiously reduce education, and indeed all life, to a mirror image of a computer operating system. It is narcissism that compels a Donald Trump to perceive the presidency of the United States as an entry-level job and one that he, Trump is capable and worthy of.
Trump’s conceit is merely pathetic. What is deeply disturbing is that many, many Americans seem to agree with him. And that too is a form of narcissism.

Enter Trump Tower and you can feel the illness in the air. Visit one of the two Trump Stores inside. There the only “books” for sale are books “written” by Donald Trump. ( “Think Like A Champion”, Think Big and Kick Ass” , “Time To Get Tough” and more. ) There the only shirts for sale are “designed “ by Donald Trump. There one may purchase a Donald Trump tie, a Donald Trump teddy bear, a Donald Trump baseball hat, or a bar of chocolate in the form of a bar of gold labeled “Trump.”


If you are hungry you can find nourishment at the Trump Café while a drink can be procured at the Trump Bar. Or you can bring the kids for a cone at Trump’s Ice Cream.
If you desire the effluvium of Donald Trump — and what “winner” wouldn’t? — you may purchase one of the two Donald Trump perfumes, “Success” or “Empire.”

All of this might be darkly funny if Trump were merely continuing his pathetic pre-political lust for perpetual attention. But he is not. Americans have allowed Trump to emerge, somehow, as a legitimate political figure, indeed the front runner of his party as they prepare for another debate this Wednesday. Many, many Americans appear to love and admire this man.
And that is the place where the disturbing reality of Donald Trump merges with and reveals the disturbing reality of all too much of America.


Addendum: And here is a bit of that reality.

Linda Hill: An Opportunity For Farina To Exorcise the Lingering Presence of Bloomberg

February 28, 2015
Linda Hill

Linda Hill

Until very recently Linda Hill, principal of Dreyfus Intermediate School on Staten Island , was known, when at all, as the chief tormentor of teacher Francesco Portelos, whose career and reputation she tried and failed to destroy, even if she did cause the man an enormous amount of hardship. Portelos’ offense was to point out to the powers that be that Hill was ripping off the public by claiming to be doing two jobs at the same time in different places: an impossibility. For his courage, Portelos was rubber roomed, investigated endlessly by the Office of Special Investigation (OSI), eventually vindicated but nonetheless, crazily, fined $10, 000.
He has also been proven right. The same OSI that hounded Portelos has confirmed that Hill was doing precisely what Portelos said she was doing.

Not that it matters at all in the strange universe of the Department of Education, made all the more strange, and strangely corrupt, during the reign of Michael R. Bloomberg. Indeed, during the darkness of the Bloomberg years, in which experienced principals were given buyouts and newly minted Leadership Academy replacements were urged to think of themselves as CEO’s, their primary function was apparently to hound, demoralize and degrade teachers as much as possible.
Think of a corporate mini version of Mao’s Great Leap Forward which produced the Great Chinese Famine. Bloomberg’s maneuver, in turn, created a different kind of famine but a famine nonetheless. As a bonus, principals who proved incompetent, insane, sadistic or criminal were not fired but merely shifted to another school or warehoused at Tweed where they continued to collect their significant salaries. I know. I had one who managed to fill all four of those categories and the last I heard she’s still collecting Disgraced Former Principal Dole. As with the mafia or the IRA or the Ivy League, once you were admitted into the club it was very, very hard to be tossed out.

The New York Post, which shamelessly cheerleaded for all things Bloomberg during his twelve nightmare years as absolute ruler of New York City schools, has attempted to somehow link Hill’s criminal behavior with current Chancellor Carmen Farina’s tenure; this despite the fact that Hill’s $55, 000 worth of thievery was done under the watch of Bloomberg’s trio of preposterous non-educator Chancellors of Education, Joel Klein, Cathy Black and Dennis Walcott.

That said, OSI’s confirmation of Hill’s criminality merits an immediate and appropriate response from Farina, namely Hill’s firing (at the very least) and (as much as I know it will never happen) a public apology to Portelos for the hell he’s been put through.

Failure to do so will not merely make a mockery of justice but it will make a mockery of Farina, and billboard what every Leadership Academy scandal reiterates: the ghost of Mike Bloomberg is still very much present.

This is an opportunity. I hope, for the good of all, that Farina uses it and uses it well. But, sadly, I am not holding my breath.

Reflections on the Cup and Saucer, Edward Hopper, Tom Waits and Community

February 21, 2015

cup and sacuer Unknown

Strange how sometimes the mere encounter of certain things – songs, aromas, buildings — can affect one so deeply, conjuring up right hook emotions, fueling locomotives of memory and desire, transporting you hither thither and yon toward all manner of known and unknown destinations. Even though I haven’t actually dined there for years and was never what you could call a habitué, I undergo some version or other of the above phenomena just about every time I stroll past the Cup and Saucer Luncheonette on Canal Street and see it still standing, still open, still operating much the same way it has been since before, well… punks roamed the earth.
The Cup and Saucer, you understand, is a greasy spoon, and one of the first order. It is not a faux greasy spoon designed by yuppies for other yuppies seeking the greasy spoon ascetic, but with food more suited to their sophisticated palettes and a cliental that looks, thinks, smells and earns like they do. No. The Cup and Saucer is the real deal, the thing-in itself, the noumenon, at once authentic and delightfully unconscious of its authenticity, frequented by people who tend to look as if they belong in an Edward Hopper painting or else walked off the set of one of those great and gritty 70’s New York movies like “The Panic In Needle Park.” (I, myself, found comfort there during my time doing graduate work at the Edgar Allen Poe School of Serious Drinking when, after a night of mystery and indulgence, paradise could be found in a plate of the Cup and Saucer’s greasy bacon and eggs. ) Such people are becoming increasingly hard to find in my neighborhood and such establishments, once as prevalent in Manhattan as a mailbox, are fast going the way of the woolly behemoth.
I understand I am witnessing a vanishing.


I have no idea how or why but somehow the Cup and Saucer has survived; no small thing in the uber -Darwinian world of Manhattan real estate. Of that I am glad, even as I know it is living on borrowed time, for the place has resonance for me as I suspect it has for many.
I cannot see the Cup and Saucer without thinking of both the paintings of Hopper and the songs of Tom Waits. I cannot, in turn, think of Hopper or Waits without thinking of my late and beloved eldest brother Eddie who, many years ago, introduced me to both and in doing so enlarged and deepened my adolescent universe. I cannot think of Eddie without often experiencing an oceanic sense of loss and a kind of vertigo of sorrow that finds me bumping into things or stepping in puddles or reaching for rosary beads which are no longer there. Finally, I cannot experience such sorrow without being reminded of how quickly our days here pass, how little we know of what we are doing here; of our sublime fragility; of how suddenly we leave, leaving others who love us and who we love behind as we enter into silence.

tome waits

So somehow, against my will, the Cup and Saucer has become important to me, which is to say, it has become symbolic to me, and symbols are very powerful and necessary things indeed.
That being so, I cannot pass the Cup and Saucer without wrestling with other more mundane but just as disturbing realities as well, none more so than the rapidity of change that has become an across-the –board-norm of 21st century urban existence – that much the more in NYC. With precious few exceptions – a tailor here, a pizzeria there – the Lower East Side neighborhood I moved into 14 years ago no longer exists except geographically. Quirky independent or family businesses and neighbors have almost all been driven out by ever more insane rents, or left in disgust when the place was given over to ephemeral restaurants catering to Wall Street big shots or bars catering to NYU frat boys who confuse our doorways for public urinals. Even more gone is the spirit of the artists of every conceivable medium who found cheap dwellings here that allowed them to pursue their muses and, whatever you thought of their work, added to our culture and made things interesting. God knows where they have gone, but gone they are, and such misfits and marchers to different drummers will not be back in my lifetime. And that is a loss that is incalculable.

None of this, of course, is new in New York and change is both necessary and healthy. Change, in point of fact, is the only constant of the city since Peter Minuet first swindled the Lenape out of their tree ridden island. “Expect poison from standing water,” wrote Blake. What is new is the speed and the scale and the dislocating effects of such upheaval as well as the uniformity of so much of what replaces it. Somewhere in his voluminous entries, 19th c New York diarist George Templeton Strong laments that New York neighborhoods change so utterly that every 40 years or so, a native could return and find one wholly unrecognizable.
The vanishing Strong lamented now seems to occur every four months or so and, sadly, tends to produce places and people that are all too easily recognizable. Such a situation has definite if difficult to locate side effects for those of us — and there are more and more of us all the time – who are forced to live under such conditions or flee.
Such conditions set a kind of guerilla war of environment against the psyche: a war of the primal human need for continuity and some level of stability and the post -postmodern super capitalistic culture that eviscerates both, even as apologists for the Efficiency Market Hypothesis (which brought the world to the brink of economic catastrophe in 2008) continue to preach it is all for the good.
And all is for the good if you happen to incarnate the abstraction called The Economy. All is very, very good, indeed. Fabulous even. If, on the other hand, you are but a lowly sensate human, such perpetual change can tend to leave you feeling invisible, utterly inconsequential, and meaningless. Indeed, it feels like an attack of the most impersonal kind by the most impersonal forces, and as such, is terrifying. What’s more, the human heart and psyche have demands of their own, impervious to the “hidden hand” of the free market, (or any other hand that is not human or divine for that matter) and when these demands are not met, life begins to feel…well, crazy.
As it happens, I was a boy when I first encountered the abject horror of human craziness. It came in the form of my best friend’s mother who, during our boyhood, was painfully, mercilessly, mentally ill. When things were very bad for her she hallucinated people changing shapes and forms and identities right in front of her eyes. In those horrible moments of everything and everyone shifting, the poor woman would sometimes scream.
It took me years to understand something of what she must have felt like; took me years to understand that we need stable markers in this life, be they psychological, spiritual, moral or geographical, or some combination of them all, which somehow reinforce each other. When they would start shifting, I’d feel like screaming.
I find myself remembering my friend’s poor pained mother all too often these days when I am walking through my neighborhood and it is not a pleasant feeling.

Nor is it easy to define. Whatever the feeling is, it is not nostalgia. I have no longing for some bullshit rosy past and even if I did, I might well be sated (with enough alcohol) by the post-post modern phenomenon of faux-reality-brand-new-very old-bar, often times of the faux-Irish-faux-lineage. You know, the bar that opened last week but is designed to look and feel like it’s been there for a century or so with a name (“The Fifth Ward”, perhaps) to conjure up the wild days and nights when Jimmy Walker ran Gotham.

Nor, alternatively, am I jonezing for the “convenience” of having a CVS or a 7-11 or Starbucks or Citibank on my corner to save me the trouble of walking two blocks to the next CVS or 7-11 or Starbucks or Citibank in a city that feels increasingly as interchangeable as any airport.
Not good.
Not good and, I fear, spiritually dangerous.
There is, I believe, something ineffable, immeasurable, profoundly human and absolutely necessary about forging or finding a connection, however subtle and tenuous, with the place where one lives. It is precisely that connection that allows for the formation of true community. Conversely, I cannot help but feel that there is a danger, also ineffable, immeasurable and profoundly human, when such connections are either not made or severed. Such changes change you and not, I fear, for the better. You cannot love what you do not know and you cannot know what you do not feel a connection to. And where there is no connection there can be no community.

Someday, and I suspect that day will come soon, I will stroll down Canal Street and find the Cup and Saucer to be no more. It will be replaced by either a bank or an enterprise that will have no interest whatsoever in its current clientele ( who will remind no one of Tom Waits or Edward Hopper ) or it will be a pile of rubble making way for luxury condos for the children of the mega rich as described in “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Piketty. The workers of the Cup and Saucer as well as the regulars they served will be scattered to the winds searching for a place to go.

That day will spell the end of the greasy spoons of the Lower East Side and almost certainly the last use of the word”luncheonette.” For me it will be one very poignant reminder of the fleeting nature of both time and our times and the pressing need to look elsewhere for a place to call home for me and mine.

cup interior images