Fall Advice for Children by Fiorello La Guardia

23 Sep

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

Well now, the equinox is upon us. It’s autumn; the sunrise and sunset are almost exactly twelve hours apart. Days continue to shorten. And I am not the author of the verse which opens this column. William Shakespeare penned those words. Of course, he lived in a much colder place and didn’t have to look forward to football.

As we move toward spending more time with the family all gathered around the hearth, there are a few things for you, children, to keep in mind this season.

Do not play with dull knives, old fireworks, or rusty guns. Make sure they are all in working order first. This is solid guidance for people of all ages, honestly.

As the long nights slowly settle in, you are encouraged to pick up an instrument, preferably the cornet—it certainly is my favorite instrument—and entertain your parents and siblings after supper. Remember to clean the spit valve often. “Satchmo” Armstrong started on the cornet. And look at him now. You, too, can be the next Louis Armstrong. Just remember . . . the valve.

Read the comics every day. And do so out loud, so everyone in the household is privy to the humor. There are some very clever works in the funny papers. My favorite is The Katzenjammer Kids. Hans and Fritz are such mischievous twins, aren’t they? Everyone needs to laugh during these trying times.

Bug your mother to buy a pressure cooker. They are a good way to conserve fuel while preparing dinner. We all must do our part for the war effort. Saving fuel helps our boys overseas.

Seek harmony and peace. Try to get along with people, as well as animals, that don’t look like you.

Make a pile of dead, brown leaves around a solid, hard object like a cinder block. Then coax your friends to come jump into it. It’s fun seeing their reactions.

If you are struggling at school, don’t worry. It won’t last forever. But if you are itching to leave, remember: we are expanding the New York City subway every single day. And we could sure use some extra hands, especially for digging. Even small hands are fine. You’ll work long hours, consecutive days, for low wages, but you’ll certainly improve your fitness and overall health.

Your opinion is valuable. But always keep it to yourself.

Mind your peas and queues.

If you come upon a bear and don’t have time to run, hug it. Bears cannot scratch their stomachs.

Do not worry too much if you come up short. It’s the thought that counts. And remember what I said about the subway.

All little boys want to become firemen, don’t they? If you do, then remember to light up as soon as it’s possible. Cigarettes will acclimate your lungs to smoke in a building fire.

If you are one of our young, flying men heading across the Pond to do your bit for our country and pilot those wonderful flying war machines, remember: “fly slow and low.” Stay alive. We are all waiting to welcome you back when your service is completed.

When you are running with scissors, point them down.

Finally, remember: Carpe Diem! Go ahead, what could possibly go wrong?

I hope everyone stays healthy and has a great Fall. For the greatest falls of men, especially from very tall buildings like we have here in New York City, make the best-selling novels. Thank you for listening to tonight’s program and God bless.

Hair Band Run-Ins

20 Sep

Last week on REDDIT, I stumbled upon a recent video of Paul Stanley (from KISS) singing “Detroit Rock City” live to a sea of new, old, and everything-in-between metalheads. Pyrotechnics went off behind him at one point, igniting the hair on the back of his head. Roadies popped up from nowhere like ninjas in leather vests with chained wallets, not a fire extinguisher in sight, and with their palms, they put out the fast-rising blaze that threatened to basically burn to a crisp our rocker’s face. All this time, Paul did not miss one word. Or one beat. The show must go on, right? Even when you find yourself on fire. I mean, the dedication is there for Paul and the boys. Even at the AARP-worthy age of 70. The incident on video proves it. A quick check on Paul’s life indicates he is worth around $150 million. I suppose if I were worth that much I’d have at least some sort of beefed-up insurance policy on every part of my body, so my hair catching on fire would easily generate, say, more than a few dozen mil for my brethren were the fire to consume the entire caboodle and the kit. Anyway, the clip ended with the song continuing and the crowd rewarding the impromptu firefighters with a healthy round of applause. The incident, the rocker, the usual life-threatening situations created by pyrotechnics at rock shows got me thinking in general:

In my 5+ decades of hanging around I’ve had some weird run-ins with “famous” people. Most of them were musicians. And most of those musicians, if not all, were members of hair bands at the time. One of the run-ins was literal. Not related to music, but I should mention it here because the gent, at that time, had a luxurious full mane worthy of a spot in any of the popular hair bands of the day. So, even though he wasn’t a rock star in the rock music genre, he was considered very much a rock star in his field of work. So I’ll put him in this omnibus, as well.

The year was 1991. I was walking through Georgetown (in D.C.) with a friend on a Sunday early afternoon. We had just had gallons of coffee at some joint on K Street and had concluded a killer best-of-eleven backgammon marathon (he beat me 6-5). We were both buzzing from the caffeine and being quite loud and animated in our conversation. Walking by the front doors of some fancy hotel, we were engaged deeply in our repartee when suddenly I got blindsided by a gorgeously coiffed creature who, from the violent impact, promptly fell on his arse. The man was in the process of hustling out of the hotel, three giant athletic bags around his shoulders, probably focused on the black limo waiting by the curb with the engine running and the driver standing by the open door. I absorbed the impact with not much consequence. I hardly budged, really. I suppose at the time of impact I was fairly well centered or balanced. But there on the ground, among huge bags filled with equipment and two dozen tennis racquets wrapped in air-tight plastic, was rising world superstar, tennis great Andre Agassi.

He was playing that afternoon in the final of what then was called “The D.C. Sovran Bank Tennis Classic.” He was quite nice and apologetic; he did violently merge into me after all. I was merely minding my business. At the time he was dating Brooke Shields. Both my friend and I were huge tennis fans back then, so we thought the incident was quite a nice surprise—a literal run-in with a celebrity. No sign of Brooke, though. Just an entourage of what looked like a couple of bodyguards, coaches, gurus, and some other hangers-on. After Andre got into his limo with his crew, my friend speculated what might have happened were Agassi to be hurt badly enough to forfeit the final. We probably would have never gotten out of there with our lives. Those bodyguards resembled Terminators sent back in time to create mayhem on anyone interfering with their client.

*

In 1986 I was on a flight out of Philly with my friend, Woofie. I was tagging along with him and his parents on a trip to Veracruz. The flight was bound for Mexico City. The plan was to rent a car there and drive southeast to the coast, arriving in Veracruz about 9 hours later. As with any trip overseas, it was going to be a long voyage. But, as 17-year-olds, neither Woofie nor I cared for seemingly inconvenient things like that.

We settled into our seats, which were directly behind the 1st class cabin—during those days, and at least for that flight in particular, there was no barrier or delineation between the sections. Woofie and I sat together. I don’t remember what we did back then to occupy our time. Obviously this was the era before mobiles and the Internet. I would guess we both cranked out some mix tapes on our Walkman. I remember being able to actually read fiction novels on flights at that age, and I remember being heavy into Kafka so I probably had my trusty Trial with me.

AnywaySSS, we’re all settled and good to go when in comes a super tall, lanky rocker-type with jet black hair and complicated leather get up that only tall, lanky rockers in the 80s could get away with. He approaches us, and both Woofie and I recognize him right away. We get a clear, close look at his ugly mug for confirmation. Our respective gazes lock, and he realizes that he has been recognized for who he is, so he smiles slightly and gives us the “all riiiight, all riiiight, all riiight” double guns, followed by the double thumbs-up, before he swings around and takes the last seat in 1st class, just in front of us. We both just sit there giddy and comfy as pearls in oysters. And then give one another a very subtle low five. As if we had actually done or achieved something.

The gent was one Tom Keifer, lead singer and guitarist of hair band Cinderella who, in 1986, was one of the hottest rock-n-roll products out of Philadelphia. No other members joined him, much to our disappointment. We always thought the likes of Cinderella must surely travel together. A band is a unit. The unit stays together, eats and sleeps together, parties together, travels together. I mean, the outfits and hairstyles complemented one another, so there is no way these musical parts would look right individually. Much less on a flight to Mexico City with two metalhead teens trying hard not to show their excitement seep through their pores. The flight was uneventful. Tom Keifer ordered a couple of Bloody Marys. There was no trashing of the cabin, as both Woofie and I hoped. There was no excess or any bad behavior. Not from Tom, not from us. And that was that. Sometimes stories fizzle out, what can I say. To this day I have Tom Keifer’s face vividly ingrained in my memory as he flashed us the double guns. Nobody does those anymore, by the way. Times have changed. And not for the better.

*

In January of 1983 I braved a typical Washington, D.C. ice storm and biked to my nearest record store, a now-defunct chain called Penguin Feather Records, in order to pick up the latest record from a band called Def Leppard. You may have heard of it. They had some hits. The record was out to great fanfare, both from critics and fans alike. It was called Pyromania. I was 14 years old and a big fan of not just Leppard but a ton of other heavier, less poppy, metal bands.

I chained up my Dragster outside the store and barged into the warm space, eyeing the Heavy Metal bins toward the back. The joint was full of people, something I didn’t really think out of place; Pyromania was selling like hotcakes, apparently. Record in hand but still rifling through the Led Zeppelin section, I noticed a small crowd following a diminutive, older, puglike looking man who approached me. The man was slightly taller than what we used to call back then the not politically correct a “midget.” He had on a full leather ensemble, belts with spikes protruding out of the leather, and short, bleached blonde hair. He stopped next to me, crowd gathering around.

Cut to the chase, this was Udo Dirkschneider—lead singer of German heavy metal band Accept. The band had just completed what was called an “in-store” (appearance and signing records for fans), and the boys were now let loose around the small shop to go around and pick up their favorite vinyl, gratis thanks to Penguin Feather. I recognized Udo (I was a fairly decent fan of the band) only after doing a double-take. He was waiting for me to stop thumbing through the Zep section so he could check out the newest offering from L.A. Guns. So he told me in a thick accent.

I was stunned. I had not even an inkling that there’d be a possibility a German metal band like Accept would travel all the way to this relatively small suburb of Washington, D.C. (Greenbelt, MD) for an in-store appearance at Penguin Feather Records, of all places. I mean, believe me, this was your typical small 80s record joint in a strip mall, next to the K-Mart, and in between the mom-and-pop video store and the quintessential “Hunan Village” Chinese restaurant. And now here was Udo Dirkschneider patiently waiting for me to get out of the way. I scrambled to get my copy of Zep’s “In Through the Out Door” and cede the space to the famous man. Meanwhile, I searched for something, anything of value to say. Here was my chance. One brief sentence. And all I could come up with was: “What are you doing in this place?” And dramatically made a large circle with my pointed finger.

It was the conclusion of the meet-and-greet event, and I had just walked into it unknowingly. These things were advertised back then in flyers posted on kiosks and in posters handwritten by store employees and placed in the store’s windows, but I had somehow missed the news. I had walked in like a Gump just looking to drop my hard-earned $6.99 on the newest Leppard record and ended up chit-chatting briefly with the lead singer of Accept about L.A. Guns, Leppard, and a new band making waves in the metal biz: a rowdy group called Motley Crue. It turned out all the members of Udo’s band were very nice, polite guys—nothing like what I’d thought Accept would be like. And it turned out to be a great day for a 14-year-old biking through ice pellets and miserable sleet in the middle of January, looking to buy what became one of the greatest records in rock, and a seminal work by Def Leppard: Pyromania.

*

To me the “Seattle Sound” is not Nirvana or Pearl Jam or Soundgarden or Stone Temple Pilots. No, sir. I am old enough to profess that “the Seattle Sound” is, in my opinionated opinion, Queensryche. Ok, ok, I would be called ignorant if I did not mention Heart. For if we’re going by official dates, they truly are the granddaddies (grandmommies, really) of The Seattle Sound. All respeK and props to the Wilson sisters, still going strong in 2021. They, and Heart, deserve a post all of their own.

My run-in with members of Queensryche was at one of those aforementioned “in-store” appearances. This time I hadn’t pulled a Gump, as in ’83, but actually had waited in line outside a record joint called Waxie Maxie’s in Laurel, Maryland, located in an outdoor mall called Laurel Lakes. Laurel Mall is actually pretty notorious and infamous. It was the location in 1972 at which Alabama Governor George Wallace, the South’s most vocal segregationist running for president, was shot and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his lousy life. I digress, although it’s a pretty important historical digression.

This particular branch of Waxie Maxie’s would eventually hire me as a clerk, but the day I stood in line to meet Queensryche it was as a civilian fan. The band was on tour and making in-store appearances to promote their latest concept album, Operation Mindcrime. In my opinion, even today, this is one of the most brilliant concept albums of all time, up there with The Wall, American Idiot, Red Headed Stranger, Mothership Connection, Quadrophenia, etc. It has everything that, then (1988), was en vogue: dystopian morass, government mind control, brutal secret police, an underground revolution brewing, a lack of future for Mankind. Everything en vogue then and before, that has pretty much come true now.

Despite having waited close to an hour to just get inside, and then hanging around another half hour to meet the band, I could once again come up with nothing to say. I moved from member to member with a dumb smirk on my face, collecting signatures on the back of my record jacket. Once again, I was floored by how nice, kind, and generous each musician was to every person that came across their table. There must have been easily a thousand fans waiting. None of the guys in the band as much as stood to stretch or take a break from signing and schmoozing for hours.

After getting my record signed and tooling around the store for other bargains in the reggae section, I finally squeezed out the door. The line had been cut down to barely a few fans bringing up the rear and you could tell the event was finally closing out. I walked across to a small pizza joint and grabbed 2 slices with xtra cheese to go. Stacking them up and folding down lengthwise, I was a veritable Tony Manero struttin’ down toward the parking lot. Only thing missing was the can of paint and The Bee Gees singing about the New York Times’ effect on Man.

I ducked around the back side of the mall where I had parked, behind the dumpsters and service entrances to the various stores. Weaving around some trash bins I came upon a long-haired skinny creature sucking on a ciggie, shivering, and moving sideways from foot to foot, trying to keep warm. I recognized him: Scott Rockenfield, Queensryche’s drummer. I stopped. Had nothing to offer. Scrambled for something worthy of saying. And came up with: “. . . so . . . uh . . . did you get to work with a click track on the album?” He dropped the butt, stepped on it, sniffled, and said: “Yup.”
“All right, all right, all riiiiiight . . . ,” I said and nodded. “Cool, yea. Cool. . . . “
“Yup,” he said. “Well, I gotta . . . “
“Oh sure, sure. Yea, cool . . . , ” I said. And that was that. Another potential great story for my mullet-wearing grandchildren squandered by a lack of imagination and a star-struck talker’s block. Should’ve just used the ol’ standby “What are you doing in this place?” Although, seeing how it was pretty obvious, that would’ve sounded worse than my feeble attempt at discussing a time-keeping piece of technology used in the recording industry thenadays (and nowadays, as well).

*

The last one (I swear!) comes courtesy of my now ex-brother in law. It’s a good one, and I wish it were me privy to the scene, but I have to give the credit where it belongs. My ex-brother-in-law John is a highly skilled rock guitarist, as well as a scientist. Given those two specific credentials, he could have easily fit into The Offspring.

So John was flying first class from L.A. to Atlanta sometime ’round 2000 or so for some sort of business the lab he was overseeing had with the CDC. Seated a few rows from him, he recognized, was guitar god and icon Yngwie Malmsteen. The axman had apparently put on a tremendous amount of weight since his glory days of the 80s. Nevertheless, John recognized him. But, unlike me, he remained cool and never approached the musician. During the flight, according to John, Yngwie became more and more inebriated. And more and more delinquent, obnoxious, and demanding of the cabin staff. It was (and is) the typical behavior one would expect of the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen, right? I mean, Woofie and I were extremely disappointed with Tom Keifer’s exemplary behavior on that flight to Mexico City.

After some time of this irritant, crew and passengers’ patience having worn thin, a woman a few seats away, finally spoke up and . . . basically called it as she saw it. She let him know exactly what was what and suggested, finger waving (according to John), he show respect and settle down. He was causing enough of a disturbance to be heard all the way to the back of the aircraft.

According to John, Malmsteen suddenly popped up from his seat and in one quick, agile move, he ambulated his 300+ – pound frame across the rows and landed in this poor woman’s lap. Wagging his finger in her face in what I can only assume was a gesture of mockery, red in the face, veins nearly bursting on his forehead, inebriated from vodka and whatever else he might’ve downed pre-flight, Yngwie Malmsteen—perhaps thinking he was on stage performing?—roared in this poor woman’s face: “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? DO YOU? I AM YNGWIE MALMSTEEN! AND YOU SHALL FEEL MY WRATH!!” (No worries; the poor woman did not get to “feel the wrath” of guitar god Yngwie Malmsteen, as the cabin crew was able to get the Swedish axe man off the passenger and eventually calm him down with some magic pills that put our man down into a deep snooze until the end of the flight. This was just pre-9/11 so imagine the army of aviation goons that would’ve descended upon this Swedish god gone wild had this been a year or so later.)

My ex-brother-in-law tells this story in a much funnier way. He, himself, is a big man, an unforgettable physical creature, and when he tells the tale he literally acts it out. If you should be so unlucky to be sitting down, John will accurately re-enact the shocking lap dance the poor passenger woman received, complete with veins popping and a purple, rabid face.

I’ve run out of space and time. This piece is now pushing into short story land and probably not saying half as much as I’d initially thought it could. There was one more run-in I had planned on documenting; ironically with yet another hair band from Sweden, but I don’t think any of you have even an ounce of patience left for this drivel.

Maybe one day though . . . over a pot of good Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.

Imagine

8 Sep

I first heard John Lennon’s “Imagine” in January, 1980. I had just come to America from the country, Romania, in which I was born and lived my first eleven years on this planet. The trip took around three weeks and, no, the ocean passage was not completed on a boat. Before stepping foot on this land, my father and I had to spend a little over two weeks in Rome. It was a condition set by the U.S. government for the both of us, in order that we rejoin my mother, who had defected under political asylum granted by the State Department in early 1979. I do not to this day know exactly what that condition was—something about officially coming from a “western” country or maybe a country practicing capitalism. Or, some version of capitalism, if you are familiar with Italy’s politics. I suppose I could research, but it’s not that important. We were told we had to pause in Rome for some time before “the paperwork comes through” and reuniting with mother.

For a kid like me, for anyone really, being forced to spend a few weeks in Rome, even in a shitty pensione like the one we stayed in where the only hot-water shower available for the entire floor was coin-operated and located halfway down the hallway, wasn’t really an imposition. For many immigrants from communist countries, like my father and me, it was a veritable vacation. We didn’t spend much time in our one-room simple accommodation, so comfort wasn’t important. We had beds and one cold-water faucet in the room. That was enough. We took to the streets nearly every day and walked as much as our feet or legs or muscles could stand. We saw most everything there is to see in Rome, I believe. Truly. One day we even trucked it miles and miles from our pensione in Furio Camillo, crossed the River Tiber, finally reached the Vatican, and got in to see the Pieta, Sistine Chapel, the Dome, and other nooks and crannies of St. Peter’s Basilica.

This is suddenly turning in a different direction from where I was meaning to be headed, so let’s get it back on track. We flew from Rome to Cleveland, Ohio via a long layover in New York City. Tooling around JFK Airport, waiting for our connection to Cleveland, I strolled by a newsstand that was playing “Imagine.” I understood little English at that time, but I dug the melody. It reminded me a little of The Beatles. And I knew The Beatles from having heard them in Romania, smuggled on some audio cassettes my parents had. Those tapes also introduced me to ABBA, Boney M, Glen Campbell, Elvis, and Kenny Rogers. But that’s maybe for another piece here.

At the newsstand in JFK was the first time I heard “Imagine,” but had no idea it was John Lennon. The Beatles that I knew were the “She Loves You” and “Yellow Submarine” Beatles. I did not know John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr by name. Nor had I any idea they all were solo artists by that time. But I liked “Imagine.” And I figured the name had to be “Imagine” just from hearing it over and over. The word is repeated many times in the song.

Over the following six months I learned to speak English fairly well and got to hear “Imagine” many times on the radio. I also became aware of John, Paul, George, and Ringo as artists in their own right. As I understood the words to “Imagine,” I soured to the song. I was young, sure, but I was already cynical (yet another piece for another time). I thought the lyrics were dumb and the tune was wishful thinking. By then I thought it would have been better had The Beatles carried on together instead of disbanding like they had.

But it’s likely I was projecting my parents’ ideas. They were conservative immigrants. Staunch Reaganites. Didn’t much care for other immigrants that didn’t at least struggle as much as themselves. Didn’t really like liberals or Democrats, although my mother did initially appeal to then President Carter and his staff to try to get the Romanian government to let my father and me get out of the country to join her. They despised the hippie vibe of anything, and “Imagine” certainly carried that.

It’s hard to say now what I was thinking exactly. I was eleven years old. It’s very likely I was just parroting what my parents were spewing every evening at the dinner table. But I do admit that groups like Queen, Rush, The Police, and punk music in general spoke to me or connected with me much more than John Lennon’s music did back then, that’s for sure.

On December 8, 1980 John Lennon was shot to death in front of his apartment building, The Dakota, on the Upper West Side of New York City, just next to Central Park. I remember vividly the news footage of the vigils after John’s death. And I remember hearing “Imagine” in a totally different light then. Oh, what a difference ten or eleven months can make in someone’s life.

John Lennon’s death was quickly followed by the attempt on President Reagan’s life in March, 1981. By then, only 14 months in this country, I thought America was insane. I had never in my life experienced murder (or attempted murder) in the open like that, despite coming from an authoritarian country whose Big Brother was possibly one of the most evil, murderous Big Brothers in Big Brother history. Back in the mother country, people disappearing and often never reappearing or reappearing looking like their former selves after having been recruited as snitches for the Securitate (the Romanian secret police; our version of The Stasi in East Germany), was more of a concept for me. The acerbic Romanian humor seeped through with every story of atrocities, and so I grew up with a dark humorous concept of death and dying, not seeing it on live television or in news reports.

In the forty-one years since I first heard John’s “Imagine” I have changed drastically. My wife would probably say the change fully for the better came in only the last decade, but still. I’d rather be here now, at this age and stage, than never. The lyrics to “Imagine” no longer sound naïve to me. The song is no longer wishful thinking but resonates as possibility. Not probability . . . possibility. And my love for art, all types of art, is rooted in just that: possibility. That is all art needs to speak to me.  

John Lennon’s “Imagine” turns fifty years old tomorrow. To celebrate the milestone, Yoko and her son Sean Ono Lennon—as well as the estate of John Lennon and Universal Music Group—are hosting a global party. Among the events taking place to mark the anniversary is a viewing party for the 1971 film “Imagine,” which was one of the first full-length conceptual music films and contains all the tunes from the “Imagine” album, as well as four songs from Yoko Ono’s “Fly” record. And on September 10, one day before another painful, infamous anniversary, Capitol and Universal Music Group will release a limited collector’s edition pressing of “Imagine” as a double LP on white vinyl.

In September, 2019, just months before COVID-19 shut down completely the magical metropolis, my wife and I stayed on the Upper West Side on Sesame Street (aka West 63rd Street and Broadway), in a hotel just across from The Met. We were there as a 50th birthday present for me to see the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by the great Wynton Marsalis. We had a magnificent four days walking as much of Manhattan as we could cover, including a chunk of Central Park.

On our second day in the city we strolled up nine streets to The Dakota on 72nd and Central Park West, before we veered into the park itself and across to the East Side to check out how the 1%-ers live. We only paused in front of the building for about a minute, mainly because there were so many people taking pictures of John’s last home and we didn’t want to get our big heads in the way of their mementos. I did not feel sad, nor did I feel melancholic or particularly reflective upon anything. I felt like time had both flown and stayed still at the same time. I recalled seeing on the news the vigils in front of the majestic building in the days following John’s death, so long ago—the very front we were looking at now. Everything looked and seemed as it should be. Normal.

And there was nothing more for me to do. Just a quick smile and an acknowledgement to myself that once upon a time, a tremendous artist and his family lived part of his life here in this space.

And then, suddenly, he didn’t.   

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