Stickball on Pleasant Avenue on 9/11

Posted September 11, 2011 by Famous Ankles
Categories: Events, Harlem

Today I was up in Italian Harlem doing some shopping at the Target (and avoiding the mess down in lower Manhattan).  As I was walking back to the bus to get home, I noticed that someone had shut down one of the streets and there were all these people in yellow shirts milling around.  I was intrigued and went up there.

It was at 118th Street and Pleasant Avenue and they had shut down that block and two lanes of 117th Street (for parking).  What I saw was something that I didn’t think I’d ever see:  a game of stickball.  I’ve heard of it and have even noticed that some street up in Harlem called something like “Stickball Hall of Fame Street” or other honorific.  But an actual game being played?  I thought that was as likely as seeing an ice wagon drawn by a horse.

There were maybe 60 people watching and playing stickball.  The dress code was a yellow shirt proclaiming a memorial stickball game.  For a while I thought it was the most bizarre and wonderful 9/11 commemoration imaginable.  A welcome respite from the politics going on several miles to the south.

I watched it for a while and missed out on photographs (I no longer carry my good camera, but did have my iPhone).  However, I was giving a play-by-play announcement of the game with my cousin and the game ended before I knew it.  At the end of it, the participants (ranging in age from about 7 to about 70) gathered for a photo opportunity.  They also played the national anthem and “God Bless America”.  Like I said, I thought it was a terrific memorial.  The shirts themselves listed some names such as “Tugboat Jr.”, Zeke, Funzi, and Tommy; stating “In memory of”.  I presumed that these were Pleasant Ave residents/family that had perished in 9/11.

Well, I was wrong.  It was just a coincidence.  I didn’t read the shirts completely.  It was the 22nd father and son stickball game.  It is held on the second Sunday in September; so it was just a coincidence.  Apparently, they did add on some of the music as a secondary salute to 9/11; so I wasn’t completely wrong.  What the heck, I’ll just re-write their intentions and say that the pleasant folks on Pleasant Avenue had this long-planned counter-memorial to southern Manhattan’s formality and were celebrating the strengths that got New York through those dark days in 2001.

The above picture was during the singing of “God Bless America”.  In the picture below, I got a father and son picture showing what the bat looks like.  They had a couple of different bats.  This one looked almost like a “professional” stickball bat.  I did see one that was almost certainly a broomstick without the bristles.  The ball?  A pink rubber ball.

And now the important stuff:  how is the game played?  The rules looked pretty fluid.  Two teams.  A bunch of guys (10, 15?) go out and play defense by standing pretty much whereever they want.  At least one guy is at first base.  Yeah, there’s a first, second, and third base.  The batter takes the rubber ball and drops it and hits it after the bounce.  He can actually be doing something of a forward run while doing it.  A caught fly ball is an out.  The batter can the tagged or thrown out.  It doesn’t look like there are foul lines, but the buildings act as an interesting way to bounce the ball around.

I didn’t see how many outs there were.  Nor how many innings.  It really had the flavor of a father-son game.  Well, there was one young lady so I guess it was father-son-daughter game.

And it looked like a very good time.  I’m really glad I didn’t have any frozen/perishables in my groceries so I was able to spend a little while there with no pressure to hurry out.


2010 Feast of San Gennaro

Posted September 18, 2010 by Famous Ankles
Categories: Little Italy, Uncategorized

Earlier today I decided that I had to get out and see something again. So, I went to the annual Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy. I thought it was around this time of year and sure enough, it was. This weekend through about next weekend.

Little Italy continues to shrink, but it is still hanging in there. That’s good, but NYC is all about change and Little Italy is slowly going away.

I took some pictures with my iPhone, but when the light isn’t right it takes such poor pictures that I won’t even bother to post them here. Mulberry Street was blocked off and hundreds of concession stands were out in the street. It’s a pretty narrow street and the place gets very crowded. But that’s a good thing.

Two things I learned today. First, I was reminded that “Sausage and Peppers” really means sausage and onions with a very occasional (if you’re lucky) bit of green or red bell pepper. I didn’t try it, but it smells great.

Second, spumoni Italian ice is…wonderful. Wow. I was walking by a booth and they had these tiny paper cups (very small ones, not for drinking) with a price tag of $3 on it. It said “Italian Ice” on it and the concession owner saw me kind of smile at the absurdity of the price and said something like “Yeah, but you should see what they charge me for it, but it’s still worth it.” I laughed and decided I’d go ahead and try a bit. I noticed the spumoni was more than halfway gone and took that as a sign that it’s good. It looked a bit like Neopolitan ice cream, except the colors were white, brown, and green. It turns out that the flavor combination is pistachio, chocolate, and some sort of coffee (I think). In any case, the Italian Ice is very dense and the flavors were nearly overwhelming. Really good.


Shakespeare in the Parking Lot – Julius Caesar

Posted August 8, 2010 by Famous Ankles
Categories: Events, LES, Wanderings

For the past few years, the only theater I’ve been going to has been Shakespeare. The rest of Broadway just doesn’t appeal to me: plays based on TV shows, on movies, and revivals of earlier plays seem to dominate the main theaters. The off-Broadway scene is filled with stuff that I find unappealing, even offensive in their deliberate crassness (but I guess that’s exactly what they are shooting for, and achieving, and getting…the lack of my patronage). I guess I’m becoming more and more of a stick in the mud and just don’t have the patience for those that want to try it.

But Shakespeare is still playing here and there and I really enjoy seeing it. The stories are timeless, the language difficult to parse until you get into the swing of it, and the prices are great.

Yesterday, I went to “Shakespeare in the Parking Lot”, not to be confused with the celebrity-driven Shakespeare in the Park. And you wouldn’t confuse them if were you there. The Parking Lot version has…well, it’s a parking lot in the Lower East Side. They have some chairs, but I took my own and so did a lot of others. They spread some blankets to let a few people sit on “less uncomfortable” asphalt. And the show is “in the round”, where actors came and went from the very cheap stage from four separate directions. The only props were a dressmaker’s dummy, yardsticks for swords, a letter opener for a dagger, and red ribbons to symbolize blood.

Oh, and a kazoo. The first Shakespeare I’ve seen with a kazoo. And it was properly used. I really liked it. And I’m thankful to the cast that is was used only at the first and even then was sparingly used. It really gave a good touch to the scene, though.

The play was Julius Caesar and it was free to attend (Huzzah!). It had a twist, though. They changed the scene from Rome in 44BC to…a school education board election. I guess still in 44BC and including swords and assassinations. But the beauty of it was that the text was pure Shakespeare. They didn’t change the lines, although they probably deleted a whole bunch of stuff that I didn’t miss. They also changed the gender of a bunch of the characters. For example, Marcus Antonius was played by a female (Ivory Aquino, who might be this). And nicely played, too. She hardly had any lines besides the “Friends, Romans, countryman…” speech; but it’s a long, long one and she handled it very well (although I always viewed the line “And Brutus is an honorable man” as pure sarcasm, but perhaps I’m wrong in that or that this is just an interpretation).

My favorite performance was that of Cassius, played by another woman, Selene Beretta. She did really well and I thoroughly enjoyed her work. I’m going to cheap out and not cite the others, but I really did enjoy all of their work and just don’t have the patience or the time to detail all the stuff I loved (among others: Hamilton Clancy’s performance as Julius Caesar, his humorous introduction to the play, the original music, the soothsayer/poet’s performance, the off-stage chanting, the seriousness of Mark Jeter’s Brutus, the creative use of that dressmaker dummy…). Okay, I started something I shouldn’t have because the cast was excellent and I know I’m forgetting bits and pieces I wanted to remember and cite (…the opening scene with the cobbler weaseling his way out of a confrontation…the assassination scene done so well in the round…the lackadaisical performance of the servant). Okay, I’m bad at this. All in all, well done.

However, I do admit that open air Shakespeare is hurt by motorcycles passing by in the neighborhood. And strangely enhanced by having a couple of officers in a police car watching for a while. They didn’t seem to be there for the murder, though.

I have to admit that I really don’t understand the reason for staging the play as if it were a school board election. It really was mentioned only at the very beginning, but the contents didn’t allude to an election after about four minutes into the play. From what I read on, they used it as a way to let them cast more women in the play. I don’t think it was necessary. In fact, I thought the females held their own as the characters without the need for the backstory.

It’s playing for another week. The Drilling Company puts it on.


Ankling to the King Tut Exhibit

Posted August 1, 2010 by Famous Ankles
Categories: Events, Manhattan, Times Square, Wanderings

No pictures this time. Hey, I barely have any description as there was a prohibition on pictures and it was too dark to sneak one anyway. Plus, I didn’t have anything to write notes with.

I was wandering through Times Square and was offered a handout by a young lady. I declined it (politely – those people have a tough job and get either ignored or rejected most of the time), but then about two steps later I reversed and went back and got the pamphlet.

The pamplet indicated that the King Tut exhibit is in its last days. It’ll be a long, long time before it’s back. And it had a $5 off coupon on it. How could I resist?

I’ve heard bits and pieces about the exhibit, but no one has mentioned going to it. I’ve been thinking I ought to go and wondered why it seemed pretty low profile. I remember the last exhibit of it, back in the 70s(?), and it made all the magazines and all. I was nowhere near NYC or other cities on its tour at the time so never saw it.

The exhibit is on 44th Street between 7th Ave and 8th Ave. It’s hard to miss, but I guess I have missed it recently.

I went in and, being a cheap guy, I immediately asked how much it was (even before getting to the ticket counter – there was a long line). It turns out that the admission is $29.50 plus tax, plus a few doo-dads they throw at you. The first was a 3-D movie. No thanks. The second was an audio tour featuring the voice of Omar Sharif. Yeah, not a problem. The charge for that, $7. After my coupon, it was about $34 total.

When you go in, they have a 90 second intro film. Not bad, but I had to wait about four minutes for it to open up. It seems that they use the film to space out the traffic. Fine by me. After the film, a second set of doors is opened and you enter the exhibit rooms. There are about 4 or 6 of them (I wasn’t counting at the time).

The exhibit starts off very slowly and oddly. There are only about 130 items shown, and I think less than half of them come from the tomb. The others come from other tombs and excavations. Lots of stuff had only minor links to Tut; they were primarily about his father and some relatives.

You’re guided from room to room and Omar’s voice gives much better info on the exhibits than the written materials on the exhibits. However, there are only about 22 or so items he talks about. The rest of the exhibits seemed too small to merit any sort of lengthy discussion.

In about the second room, there’s a sarcophogas. For a moment, I thought it was the one that I’ve seen pictures of a million times…but it wasn’t it. Instead, it was of a relative and was just gold-gilded. Still, pretty cool, but nothing that was like what I was hoping to see. (I really should have done the research and known what I was going to be looking at.)

As I went from one room to the next, I got a couple of interesting feelings about the exhibit. First, the old scam that P.T. Barnum did of “This way to the Egress” kept coming to mind. At the hallway to the next room was always a sign saying “King Tut” and an arrow. ‘Come further in and see the real thing’ it seemed to say. The other feeling was much more positive as the quality of the exhibits kept going up. In about the second to the last room, I saw three items that basically made the visit worthwhile just by themselves. First was a gold box that was beautifully done. Really nicely detailed. Second, a ‘pectoral’ pendant for the chest of Tut. Wow. It had some nice shiny stones in it that really made it fantastic. I guess I like shiny stones more than gold at times.

Finally, there was the small sarcophagas that held Tut’s liver, about a foot long or so. The liver wasn’t in there, though. But the casket was just fantastic. There were some other pieces I also liked (the gold dagger that was in his linen cloths), but these three items were the best in the whole exhibit as far as I was concerned.

I also enjoyed the film of Howard Carter from the original opening of the tomb. It was running on a continuous loop of about 3 or 4 minutes duration.

The final room held what I guess is supposed to be the gemstone of the exhibit: a mummified body without the wrapping. The room was jammed with people and I wondered who it was. There was a film loop on Tut’s unwrapping and DNA testing. But an early sign at the beginning of the exhibit said that Tut’s body was still in Egypt. Who was it? Turns out, it was a replica of Tut.

I guess that bummed me out a little. I really don’t like the exhbitions of bodies (I refuse to go the The Body exhibit that has dozens of actual human bodies turned into plastic freak-like exhibits doing things that the person probably never did in their life like holding an American football in a Heisman-like pose), but it seems bizarre to show a replica at the same time that you are showing some good film of the actual body.

I sort of surprised myself though. I kept thinking about the P.T. Barnum line and when I saw the replica, it just seemed a relief that I could now see the Egress. I went through to the next room, turned in my audio device, and then had my senses assaulted by the required gift shop crud. I didn’t even slow down for it.

Was it worth it? Barely. At least for me. I later was talking with a neighbor and she said that her niece had come to NYC to see the exhibit and had been thrilled at the content. I’ll only say that you might want to check it out a little more before going to it. But, then again, the exhibit is almost over and who knows when it will come back again…


Union Square Proves Interesting Again

Posted June 12, 2010 by Famous Ankles
Categories: Union Square

I haven’t been putting up any posts for a while.  A lot of it is burnout and a lot of it is “been-there-done-that”.  To be a little more complete, I’ve explored a lot of Manhattan and seen a lot of stuff.  My old favorite place, Union Square, became very boring over the past year or so when it became nothing more than a farmers market and all the strange stuff was just pushed away.  I’ve said before that “there’s always something going on in Union Square”, but that hasn’t really been the truth for a while.  It got boring…at least for me.

Something new happened today though.  Small, but just wonderful.

I went down there just to get out of my place and saw that the farmers market had been pushed back to its old area on the west and north side of the square.  That was pleasant.  In its place were a lot of artists selling their wares (pretty much the standard of before) and a really nice jazz combo.  I looked around for a while, but ultimately didn’t see anything that grabbed my attention.  The music was pleasant, but the art was same-old, same-old.  But then, I’m not much of an afficianado and there could be a dozen new Van Goghs and I wouldn’t know the difference.

But after I circled the square, I found a real treasure that I could appreciate fully and wholly and I didn’t stop smiling for half an hour.

On the east side of the square, right next to about a dozen garbage bags awaiting pickup was a very pleasant and young Japanese fellow (I discovered his nationality later).  He was dressed…unconventionally.  Okay, he was dressed in a way that you do see on the streets of NYC a bit, but not often.  He was wearing a kilt (not too unusual), he was wearing very bright gold sneakers (pretty unusual), and he was dressed with all he needed to be a one-man-didgeridoo band!  Yes!  Uniqueness at long-last!

You know the didgeridoo:  the long horn played by Australian Aborigines.  It has a very deep and haunting sound.

This guy’s playing wasn’t haunting; it was joyful.  It was wonderful. He wasn’t playing any music you’d recognize, more along the lines of just playing a beat and freestyling it.  And he wasn’t limited to his long, brightly sequined (yes, worthy of playing alongside Liberace), hand-made horn.  In addition, he had a 5-gallon paint bucket for drumming, two tin cans for also drumming, one metal bowl for drumming, a can filled with rocks for castanets-type-action, bells attached around his ankle, and (most perfectly) a rubber duck.  Okay, it was three rubber ducks but he only played one of them to squeak at just the right times.

Okay, I’m going to add a second picture at a worse angle, but you can see the rubber ducks better.

I was so delighted by it, I called Cuz’n Cathy and let her hear a bit of him. I stood around with a crowd that varied from about 4 to about 20 listeners.

The guy had lungs of steel! He went on for at least 10 minutes, probably almost 20 minutes. Didn’t stop, barely seemed to inhale. At the end of it, he was peppered with questions including where he was from and where he got the didgeridoo. He said he made it himself and he just likes playing the didgeridoo. I don’t know what he’s doing in Union Square (other than playing some really nice music), but I figure he’s a student at either NYC or maybe Julliard. But, then, I usually only have seen the Julliard guys playing in Central Park. Hey, in either case he shouldn’t just be learning, he should also teach this instrument. I don’t think I’d mind seeing this kind of playing a lot more often.

As for myself, I just learned that Union Square can still be interesting.