Thursday, May 28, 2009

Holy crap Batman!

David McMahon, a professional journalist/author/photographer out of Melbourne, Australia named "I Am Sam" Post Of The Day on his blog! Okay, someone pick me up off the floor. This is really a great honor for me.

You can check out is blog here:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

West Bronx Side Story

For most of my life, I grew up in the northeast Bronx in a place that was new, big, and its own micro-melting pot of the larger essence of NYC. It was truly the first time I had been exposed to people of a wide array of cultures. This being the Bronx, fully half the friends I hung around with were of Puerto Rican descent. Some were boriqua, natives that emigrated to NYC, but many more were first generation Bronxites.

It is where I first experienced food that was outside of my standard taste zone. I still remember the first time I tasted a well-made dish of arroz con pollo, and a cup of strong Cafe Bustello. It was radically different from the standard Eastern European "cook it 'til it blanches" types of fare that was too often the staple of my diet. (However, in all fairness to my mom, she could cook up a damned tasty meatloaf, and her mashed potatoes are still the best. ) There was not a ton of variety in my own ethnic food life, and having all these differing varieties of fare gave me an appreciation not only how good food can be, but how varied cultures can be.

It also enhanced my command of Spanish, which up until the the mid-late 90's, was fairly conversational. I took 6 years of it between junior high and high school, and being around so many Spanish-speaking friends, it got quite the workout. I also learned the most important words, such as maricon, pendejo, and the one that if, you said to a guy in anger, would most likely find you involved in a knife fight, cabron. Alas, while I still used my Spanish somewhat frequently while working in Brooklyn, I lost the ability to speak it conversationally. I lost it completely after moving here, as I have not used it for 10 years. I still remember certain things, but unless it is in the present tense, I can't remember much else.

This brings us to yesterday, and President Obama's choice to be on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. She is, a Bronx Latina; her parents are boriqua, and she grew up in the Bronxdale Houses, one of the roughest housing projects in the country, just southwest from where I grew up. Her story has already been on display in the media, and the battle royale has begun as to whether she is too liberal, or not liberal enough. Was this a political pick, designed to ensure Obama's favor with Latino voters? Does she have the judicial background that will pass muster in the Senate? Two things are for certain: For starters, she was appointed to the Federal bench by then Republican President George Bush the Elder, and promoted to the appellate court by President Clinton. Perhaps more importantly, she knows how to handle her self in a fight. Growing up in the Bronx teaches you those things. Whatever the Republican opponents throw at her, you can be sure she will be able to handle it.

I am still examining her record, but from what I can tell so far, she is far more centrist than people realize. She ruled in favor of abortion protesters in one case, against labor in another and for it in a different one. The label of "dyed-in-the-wool liberal" may not stand up under closer scrutiny, but for now, I still need to know more.

What would I really like to see? Some Republican senator really go after her, and her respond with a big, fat, Bronx cheer. Now that would really make my day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

I am Sam.

One of my oldest friends (I'll refer to him as "Sam," because of the job he does) was up here in Rochester these past few days as a lecturer to a conference of police hostage negotiators. Sam and I grew up in the Bronx together, met in high school, and have been friends for over 30 years. We have a lot of shared history between us, and though we do communicate somewhat frequently via e-mail, Facebook, etc, we haven't seen each other in a while due to the distance from here to back home in NYC.

Sam is a NYPD detective, which if I were to get into a time machine and look back 30 years on, would have been the most unlikely job that I would have expected him to be involved with. We (meaning friends of his) used to make jokes at his expense along the lines of "They're going to let you carry a gun?" As the years have passed, it seems obvious that Sam chose the right path for himself.

I still remember where we met; We were part of the running crew of "Fiddler On The Roof," which was being staged during our junior year of high school. He was brash, bombastic, outspoken, and knew what he was doing, from a technical standpoint. We became good friends pretty quickly, and he introduced me to the wonders of CB (citizen's band) radio, where I was acquainted with an entirely different circle of people that I would become friendly with. We both joined the local citizen's patrol team, and he joined the local volunteer ambulance corps. I was not to keen on that idea, riding on an ambulance, until the summer of 1976, when I saw an elderly woman get struck and killed by a city bus. I felt helpless, not knowing what to do, and it was Sam that prodded me to take a first-aid course with the corps. Little did I know at the time that it would be my gateway into my 22-year career in emergency medical services.

Sam and I were rambunctious, especially when it came to women. It was the 70's, the age of experimentation of all sorts. We shared many things, including jobs, drugs (nothing too heavy), and girlfriends. I remember his brown, 1974 Grand Torino. I especially remember the backseat on many a night in the parking lot at Orchard Beach. If that backseat could talk...though Sam kept himself occupied with his girlfriend in the front seat as well.

I remember the time we "borrowed" one of our volunteer squad's ambulances, drove it to Orchard Beach around midnight, and pulled up behind a van - very quietly - all lights off. We got close enough to the rear doors, turned on the emergency lights, and yelled over the PA system, "WHERE'S MY DAUGHTER?!!!"

It was fun watching the bodies fly up and down in the back of the van while we peeled away. Nope, we didn't get caught.

Sam became a cop in 1987, the same year I started working in Brooklyn. He had been in the medical field for a time, and was even in physician's assistant school. It was however, not to be. A series of events, including a woman that was psychologically abusing him, dashed those hopes.

Sam made his mark with NYPD, first as a patrol officer, then plainclothes, and then his fascination with communications came back to help him, as he got involved first with the Office Of Emergency Management, as a communications tech supporting multiple specialty police units. The big test of his skills came in on Feb. 26th, 1993, when a bomb was detonated underneath the North Tower of the World Trade Center. This was the scene:
Sam was in the middle of all of it, trying to coordinate all the various agencies that responded to this disaster. One of the problems was that there was not one single frequency that they all could communicate on. It was all a bit chaotic, but Sam was directly responsible for getting everyone involved in understanding each other. It was because of his work this day, he was promoted to detective investigator. He became in demand as a speaker worldwide, and then in 1998, he became part of TARU (Technical Assistance Response Unit), which backs up the Hostage Negotiation Team. (NYPD has the oldest such team in the world.)

Through all this, he has survived divorce, amongst other personal disasters, and then came 9/11. Sam survivied both towers coming down, but spent 12 days in that pit, photographing bodies for identification as they were pulled from the wreckage. It was that event, amongst some other ones that brings us up to today.

The Sam I saw here in Rochester is a shell of the man I knew even just a few years ago. The bombastic, supremely confident (sometimes overly so) over-the-top guy was gone. There were flashes of it when he was lecturing to his fellow officers, and when he would be talking amongst them at the after lecture party, but away from them, with me, he retreated into a shell that I never saw him have at any point in his life.

As it would turn out, he told me that he had been battling depression for some time, and only recently started taking medication to combat it. He is also looking for a therapist to help him. He did battle this once before, while undergoing his divorce, which drove him to the point of putting his gun in his mouth and almost pulling trigger. What saved him, which he related to me back then, was thinking of his kids. He seemed to pull himself together after the divorce, as it was in many ways a weight lifted off his shoulders. As with Sysiphus however, the stone soon rolled back.

Looking into his eyes, I saw parts of myself, of my own battle with depression a few years back, of issues in my life that drove me into therapy, and how I vowed never to go down that rabbit hole for anything - or anyone - ever again. I mentioned that term to him, "rabbit hole," and he liked it a lot. He said that it perfectly described how he was feeling. It was the first time in a long time that we found a common connection in this way.

As I showed him around the city I have called home for the past 10 years, bringing him to my theatre, my house, and having him take myself and Mrs. N. out for breakfast before driving him to the airport, it occurred to me that I needed to keep closer tabs on my old friend.

I called a mutual friend in Long Island, who is still friends with another person that was part of our circle of friends from back in the day. That person is a therapist, and I'm going to see if I can get Sam in touch with her.

All I can do now, is hope.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Beware of Canadians bearing gifts...

...for they just might become a good friend. As I mentioned, Violet Sky trekked across the border to come to Rochester's Lilac Festival this past Thursday, and to have a blog meet with yours truly. As she mentioned on her post, this was my very first blog meet, so I am no longer a virgin, and I don't even feel dirty about it.

I have to give her a lot of credit; the weather, at least at first, was decidedly uncooperative. I thought for a bit that she might cancel on me, but it's obvious that those who live up in the Great White North are made of even heartier stock than we are. The rain was coming down pretty hard on her trek here, and as I waited at one of the two Starbucks that I frequent for her arrival, I was getting suspicious that the festival might turn into a total washout.

I needn't have worried, as it turned out. She pulled into the parking lot, and I spied her as she was walking towards me, and as we recognized each other from the pictures we sent to each other, we both broke out in big smiles, and hugged warmly. While it was still raining pretty well, she was sans umbrella, and I thought she was probably thinking: "I'm from Canada. Umbrella? I don't need no steekin' umbrella!"

After deciding that the first best thing to do was to grab some lunch, and then head off to the festival, we hopped into our cars and I guided her down towards Park Ave, to one of my fav restaurants, Sinbad's. We dined on falafel kebabs, and generous portions of humus with sides of pita wedges for slopping it up. She commented on the size of the food portions, and I had to remind her that this is America. *wink* While we were eating, the sun broke through, and the day took a turn for the better, weather-wise.

While at lunch, we talked about a wide variety of things, a little about our lives, how we got to where we are today, a little about Burlington, where she lives, and then she surprised me with a small gift:

A little bit of Canada in a nice wrapper turns out to be:
Along with this little thing that is now proudly displayed on my fridge:
After stuffing ourselves silly, We hopped in my car for the ride to my theatre (that she mentions in her post) that will soon be closing its doors to move to a new location. Along the way there, I showed her the mansions of East Ave in Rochester, which were at one time the homes of the very rich movers and shakers in the city, including the George Eastman House, former home of the founder of Kodak (now a museum).

After taking her onstage and backstage, we hopped back in my car, picked up hers, and headed off to the festival. Miraculously, we found a good place to park, and headed off into Highland Park, site of the festival. Taking in the sights and sounds, and smells, we stopped for some liquid refreshment, and just talked and talked. I felt a little guilty, as I know I can have a tendency to monopolize a conversation, but I think that we found out we had a lot in common, especially when we were in my car earlier, and I put a CD in that she instantly recognized.

"Wow, that's Pat Metheny!" she blurted out. I had no idea she was a big fan of his, and had seen him to boot. There was no doubt now that we had formed a good friendship.

We cruised through the festival, and it was time for me to leave, as I had to get to a meeting that my supervisor decided to shcedule for that day. We said our good-bye's, hugged, and I gave her directions back to teh highway from the park.

Now, it's my turn to return the visit, hopefully sooner rather than later. This blog meeting stuff is okay in my book.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Canadians are coming! The Canadians are coming!

Well, one Canadian, at most. Violet Sky, who is an excellent writer and photographer, lives just outside Toronto, and is coming here to Rochester this week for the internationally known Lilac Festival. Violet was one of the first bloggers that I posted comments on regularly, so it will be good to meet her face-to-face. I'll give her the 50 cent tour of town, as she will only be here for the festival before scooting back over the border. This sort of hit-and-run diplomacy will be appreciated, as she will be the first of my blogger friends from the time I started my blog that I will meet in person.

I will keep you posted on events as they happen, and will let you know of any diplomatic crisis that might occur as a result of this blatant breach of U.S. security. I'll also let you know if she tries to convince me that curling is an actual sport. (*wink at VS*)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Turning a corner.

Last week was a good week, on the whole. I scored a major public relations coup for my theatre, by pitching a story to an anchorwoman for one of the TV stations (the local ABC affiliate) to cover the planned move to our new performance space this coming fall. There was a local event called "TheatreROCS," which brought together most of the performing arts organizations in Rochester together for an evening of presenting the public a smattering of what they have to offer. It was also a way of bringing awareness to the public of smaller performing arts organizations that don't always get the exposure that the larger organizations (such as my theatre) do.

This anchorwoman is well known in the area, and is also a big theatre-goer herself. She emceed the TheatreROCS event, and I got the idea to approach her and pitch the possibility of covering our move to our planned move. We met for breakfast about a week later, and she LOVED the idea. It's not going to be a one-shot deal either, but she is going to cover it as an ongoing event, from the initial start of the move, right up to opening night this coming September. our artistic director and board president were thrilled, as this is something that doesn't happen all that often here; television coverage of the arts.

Don't get me started on why, as that is a whole other issue.

The same day that I bagged the TV coverage, I did a staged reading for a film script with a director from RIT that I have worked with in the past, a grad student by the name of Neal Dhand. Very talented guy, I acted in 4 of his short films already, and this was a presentation of his thesis film, a full-length feature that is still in development. To my shock, he cast me in the lead. I was surprised and humbled, and even more so when I saw that I was acting with some of the A-list people here in town, several of whom I know. Now, yes, it is just a reading, not the actual shoot. It was a presentation for Neal's professors, a sort of thesis defense, with a Q and A afterwards. It went off very, very well, and Neal's comment to me was "You showed me nuances in this character I had not considered. You were terrific."

Who knows, maybe I have a shot at the lead when he films it? Here's hoping.

Next week is a big week, as I am acting in a one-night production at the Strong National Museum Of Play, a live version of a 1940's USO-style radio show, complete with songs and commercials from the era. I'm playing the announcer, as singing is not something I do. Well, I can do it, but I don't have the vocal training for stage work. At least I know my own limits as an actor. The museum is the second largest children's museum in the U.S., but also has many programs for adults as well.

So with all the down stuff that has happened recently, it was nice to get some positive things under my belt. Now, if I can only make that independently wealthy thing happen.