Today’s Suburbo entry will be the last one before summer begins!!! In keeping with a life that has revolved around the “academic calendar” since I was five years old, the Suburbo/Blast will begin its “summer” publishing schedule this Thursday. What does that mean? Basically, the Suburbo/Blast will publish infrequently for July and August. There will be periodic essays and irregular installments of Suburbo cartoons for the next ten weeks, as the lure of tennis courts, baseball games, and barbecues beckon. As regards the Suburbo, the “Housing” chapter (#4) is the penultimate installment, with Chapter 5 consisting of “Random/Miscellaneous” Suburbo observations & comments. This may well appear before Labor Day --- but maybe not. The Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli email list and Facebook will carry announcements about “publication” in the weeks to come.
All that said, today’s graphic reflects an aspect of suburban home ownership I have been observing over the past year or two --- the incredible need for maintenance of your house and its property! Owning a home (and property) requires a seemingly endless array of chores, tasks, and “projects” --- something those of us living in condominiums are spared thanks to a monthly “maintenance” fee which pays landscapers, gardeners, painters, et al.
So, today’s Suburbo is my jaded take on the challenges of home and property ownership in the suburbs. Thanks for reading and have a great summer!
A Note about Bourdain
I got my first restaurant job at age 16 --- at Flynn’s Restaurant in Bay Shore, as a busboy. Anticipating getting my driver’s license later that Spring (after completing my Driver’s Ed course, so that my parents could pay a discounted insurance rate), I wanted to have money to spend that summer. Billy Flynn was the scion of the family and a classmate and he got me the job, which I kept throughout the summer and during the next school year (when it wasn’t a sports season). It also provided me with two years of summer work in college --- at Flynn’s Fire Island, the family’s Hotel and Restaurant in Ocean Bay Park, where I worked as a handyman and waiter. Years later, living in Boston (1984-1987) I was a bartender at Annie B’s, a nouvelle cuisine bistro on Boylston Street across from the Boston Public Library. I had heard about Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential memoir when it was released in 1999 (The Food Network a staple in my TV viewing schedule) and scooped up a first edition of the paperback in December 2000. In the Preface to the paperback Bourdain opens by saying: “Things are different now,” because of the success of “Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.” He notes:
What I set out to do was write a book that my fellow cooks and restaurant lifers would find entertaining and true. I wanted it to sound like me talking, at say . . . ten o’clock on a Saturday night, after a busy dinner rush, me and a
few cooks hanging around the kitchen, knocking back a few beers and talking shit.” (p. xii)
He reflects later:
I’d forgotten when I wrote this thing how many people work in the restaurant business --- and, as significantly, how many have, at one time or another, worked in the business. (p. xvi)
As one who had “at one time or another, worked in the business,” I found the book more than entertaining. As everyone has noted in his/her eulogy for Bourdain, he was a “gifted storyteller.” With a style that had the energy of Hunter Thompson (and similar cynical insights) it was, in turn, hilarious and poignant. I could easily identify with the exhilarating alcohol and drug fueled kitchen life of the 1980’s, while also noting how self-destructive and negative it could be. Long before Mexicans were accused of being "rapists," Bourdain was championing them as the essential backbone to New York’s culinary world, advising all those who aspired to work in kitchens to learn Spanish. It’s a fabulous book and, if you haven’t read it, put it on your list --- it’s a treat.
The shock of Bourdain’s suicide is hard to describe and, in reading many, many tributes over the weekend, here’s a personal reflection. After reading Kitchen Confidential and becoming an instant fan, I watched Anthony Bourdain evolve from the host of A Cook’s Tour on the Food Network, to a travel and food reporter for the Travel Channel (No Reservations), to a brilliant journalist in CNN’s Parts Unknown. A number of writers have noted that Bourdain’s entire approach to his reporting shifted after a frightening experience when he filming in Lebanon in 2006 and was caught in a war zone. Certainly from that point on, his storytelling took on a broader context, deepening his appreciation (and ours) of the history and culture of those places he visited. And this is where, I believe, Bourdain remained a beacon for us, particularly since November 2016. The qualities that Bourdain embodied at the time of his death stand in stark contrast to the nation’s leadership today.
First and foremost, he was insatiably curious. More than anything else, Bourdain asked good questions --- about where he was, how that place had gotten where it was, and what that meant for us. He was an astute listener. Watch any episode of No Reservations or Parts Unknown and simply observe how he listens to those he interviews, whether they are Finnish rock’n’rollers or Barack Obama! Above all, Bourdain was the consummate globalist. Yes, he was often reporting on food, but it was so much more than that. He had managed to turn the food and travel milieu into investigative deep dives into the Haitian earthquake disaster, African life (nine visits to Africa --- and not the “tourist/safari” stops!), and the dark side of things in Moscow (long before the 2016 election). He was more than a “gifted storyteller,” and he was anything but “the ugly American.”
So, it’s with a great sadness that I say good-bye to Anthony Bourdain, who has been a guide and a teacher --- but most significantly, a model student --- for the past two decades. He was the wiseass kid you love to have in class, hiding his insecurities behind his razor sharp mind and some wonderfully quick, articulate barb. He was the chef I loved to bullshit with at closing time at Annie B’s and the ultimate New Yorker, no matter where he traveled. He was, above all, an honest soul, and one who will be missed.
You fake right, I'll fake Patriotism.
There’s No Such Thing
as Bad Publicity
(While Wilbur’s Suburbo is still “in production” here’s a little more writing)
While running errands in the car this morning I heard Norman Julius (“Boomer”) Esiason remind us that today (June 6th) was the 74th anniversary of the WWII Normandy Beach Invasion (D-Day). The short-bus riding Esiason then conflated memorializing the day with the NFL dust-up about standing for the National Anthem, clearly siding with our dimwit President on the issue. While Esiason harped on how our noble soldiers died on D-Day for “our freedoms” he apparently doesn’t believe freedom of speech and freedom to protest for a redress of grievances are somehow included in the sacrifice. The belief in standing for the National Anthem --- one of the most bogus, artificial, and shallow acts of “patriotism” one might display --- apparently trumps all other freedoms, according to Norman Julius. That Trump persists in roiling this empty kettle to keep his base aroused (as more and more shit hits the Special Prosecutor fan each day!), it certainly keeps the yapping pundits at MSNBC busy all day (while those at FoxNews defend “the President”, of course). And here’s the rub: the media is playing more and more into Trump’s hands as the days go by.
There’s an old adage in show business: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Case in point, Donald Trump. As long as his name (and bizarre actions) are front and center, he knows a huge swath of the American public won’t “sweat the details” (like facts) and will simply hear his name. Good publicity, good advertising for his brand. Last week (or was it the week before? It’s hard to keep track in this media shit show) we were so distracted by the whole “Roseanne” (and then Samantha Bee) tumult that the story about the horrific loss of life in Puerto Rico was relegated to a minor crawl along the bottom of the newscasts!
(As an aside: while I don’t necessarily believe there is moral equivalency between what Roseanne said and what Samantha Bee said, I do think they should have gotten equal cancellation treatment --- and don’t quibble w/me about S.Bee attacking a “White House official” who “happens” to be the President’s daughter. It was degrading and offensive language --- if not on par with Roseanne’s --- still foul. And, to use the Fox News saw: what if she said that about one of Obama’s daughters, would we be fine with her keeping the show?)
Michelle Wolf summed it up well at the White House Correspondents Dinner:
"You guys (the media) are obsessed with Trump. Did you used to date him? You act like you hate him, but I think you really love him. You helped create this monster, and now you're profiting off of him."
While obsessing over every detail of Trumpaphenalia, the media is not doing a very good job of simply reporting the news. Hawaii and Guatemala are blowing up, Europe is experiencing enormous political upheaval and turmoil, the Middle East is, well, the Middle East, and, yes, Trump is going to meet with Kim Jong Un but has anyone any idea of what the big issues and deep concerns are (or should be) beyond the U.S. demanding “denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula? It's a huge political blunder by Trump (granting Un status far beyond his pay grade) but he only sees it as a great photo op --- and our press plays along!
Trump has so disrupted our national applecart that professional athletes’ reactions to him and the National Anthem are major stories on cable and broadcast news. Since most of America seems to be like Trump --- in that they simply don’t read and rely only on their “devices” and social media to get their information --- his ability to monopolize the stories is magnified. While I know he can’t be stopped, I also know that I don’t have to pay attention to him and can try to get as much information as I can about issues I find important from sources I believe are reliable. While I hope that would be the case for my fellow citizens (and for many more media outlets) I know the reality is that WFAN’s morning broadcast, featuring the mouth-breathing Esiason, is #1 in ratings in the NYC metro area for men ages 25-54. Such is the world we inhabit.
There’s no such thing as bad publicity!
In Lieu of the Today's Chapter Four Installment
How Starbucks Ruined Baseball
This short essay is a placeholder for the next installment of Wilbur’s Suburbo. As I’ve mentioned, producing the Suburbo is extremely labor intensive, requiring a) an idea; b) a preliminary pencil sketch on a piece of typing paper, c) a penciled sketch of the actual installment, d) inking that sketch, and then e) coloring it --- all before photographing and posting it. Last week (starting Sunday, May 27th) I attended three New York Yankee baseball games --- two in the Bronx and one at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Hence, no Suburbo. While I begin working on the next installment (parts a) and b), above have been completed) I thought I’d share some observations about going to the ballpark in 2018, my 61st year of attending such athletic contests.
Despite it being late May/early June, anyone who has been outside or looked out his/her window here in the Northeast knows that Mother Nature is not particularly cooperating with baseball this Spring. The Sunday afternoon game the Lovely Carol Marie and I attended on May 27th was extremely unpleasant, as the temperature fell into the 50s and a cold, sometimes wet, wind churned all day. The game itself was fun, with the Yankees defeating the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (why not the New York Yankees of the Bronx?) 3-1. On Wednesday I went to the 6:35 p.m. game against the Houston Astros with my old friend, Steve Jones (who had, quite graciously, gotten the tickets for my birthday!). It was a lovely night for a ball game and the Yankees prevailed 5-3 behind a sterling pitching performance from their ace, Luis Severino. Finally, on Saturday June 2nd the Lovely Carol Marie and I went to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to see the Yanks beat the Orioles 8-5, although we left in the 7th inning, assured of a Yankee win and tired of sitting in the rain. The game was delayed from its scheduled 4:05 pm. start until 5:45 p.m. (and almost NO RAIN fell during that time). Around the second inning a steady, annoying (if not exactly “soaking”) rain thoroughly doused the afternoon/evening.
We went to Baltimore to see the “Ballpark,” and it was certainly worth it. I’ll talk about that later. What I want to discuss here is how I think Starbucks has ruined going to the ballpark for the devoted, avid fan. You may wonder where Starbucks and major league baseball intersect, so I’ll explain. When Starbucks was created in Seattle in 1971 it was just another West Coast “boutique” coffee shop (Peet’s, Seattle’s Best, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Tully’s, etc.). They quickly realized they had to do something to distinguish them from the pack. Over the next decade, Starbucks began to promote not their coffee (which is good) but their “experience.” Not “we’ve been in business and know what we’re doing” kind of “experience,” but “come here and you’ll get more than a cup of coffee, . . . you’ll get an ‘experience.’” Hence we have those friendly “baristas” and coffee that in bizarrely sized containers: Short (8 oz.), Tall (12 oz.), Venti (16 oz.) and, now, the Trenta (31 oz.!). Starbucks also made sure we could see their baristas at work. As important, you can smell the product --- aroma being part of the “experience.” Starbucks also put a premium on the physical design of their shops --- allowing for sitting and reading (initially), using your portable device, or chatting with friends. (We won’t discuss the recent Philadelphia fiasco here) In all, the expectation was that Starbucks wasn’t just serving you a cup of coffee but providing you with an experience.
Lots of businesses --- in the food industry and otherwise --- have followed suit and providing consumers with an experience is just as (if not more than) important than the product. And that’s what has happened at the ballpark! It’s no longer about going to the game to “root, root, root for the home team.” No, now it’s about the “baseball/ballpark experience.” At the Wednesday night game with Steve, and then again in Baltimore with the LCM, there were people constantly walking up and down the steps (obstructing the view for fans who actually came to watch the game), like a never-ending river of consumption. The ballparks these days, are rife with an unending array of food/eating possibilities, “team stores,” and even restaurants! From what we “experienced” while trying to actually watch the ball game was people incessantly walking in front of us, people are coming to the game to eat, shop, and bullshit with their friends, paying little attention to the game. Along with those people who insist on bringing their infants to the game (will the child really remember the “experience?” Was there no alternative regarding child care?), the folks who are showing up to “experience” Yankee Stadium or Oriole Park would do all real baseball fans a favor by simply going out to eat and staying away from the game!
Hot dogs and Cracker Jacks and beer have always been part of the going to the ballpark, for sure. Lurching down steps while balancing a huge bucket of fried chicken parts or an equally enormous kettle of popcorn (who could possibly consume that much?), the “experiencers” block the sight lines of true fans simply to spend most of the game eating and not even watching the game!
And that, my friends, is how Starbucks has ruined baseball. In becoming more “fan-friendly” and “family-friendly,” baseball organizations have simply become another corporation aimed at attracting as many “consumers” as possible, without any concern for the “experience” of the died-in-the-wool baseball fan. Putting a premium on the ballpark “experience” and not the ball game itself makes it more and more difficult to the fans that go to the ballpark to watch the game to enjoy their time there.
If you are familiar with United States history you know that the latter part of the 19th century is labeled “The Gilded Age.” The moniker was created by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and Charles Dudley Warner for a novel they co-wrote in 1873, just as a period of unparalled wealth accumulation began, as the U.S. became a world leader in producing steel & refining oil, as well as numerous other industries exploding during that era. You know the names: Rockefeller (oil), Carnegie (steel), Harriman and Vanderbilt (railroads), Morgan (banking and finance). The wealth, of course, was concentrated in New York City (home of the Stock Market, created in 1792) and their mansions lined Fifth Avenue in particular. Starting in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s the wealthy began building their “summer cottages” (their term) in Newport, Rhode Island. You can take the tour of “the Breakers” today to see what Thorstein Veblen termed “conspicuous consumption” in his Theory of the Leisure Class (published in 1899 and highly recommended reading) --- one of the first great critiques of social class and consumerism ever written (and actually quite relevant today).
The Robber Barons/Captains of Industry (you can choose your title for the magnates) realized, by the 1890’a that they could build summer homes along the Long Island Sound in Fairfield County, Connecticut --- homes they could live in year-round, if they chose to, and easily commute to New York City on the brand new New Haven Railroad! So, from 1890 to about 1930 (when the Market crashed) Mansions and Estates sprung up in Greenwich, Stamford, Westport, Darien, Ridgefield, and other Fairfield Country towns. You can still see some of these impressive homes when driving around the country.
As we got to the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century there was a new wave of “migration” to the Suburbo, with the newly wealthy looking for that same easy access to NYC (where the $$$ i$) but r o o m to build a new generation of “mansions.” Of course, there are no longer the master craftsmen who do the woodworking or masonry that good, cheap immigrant labor could execute in the late 19th & early 20th centuries. The mansion materials of those days are too expensive except for the wealthiest nowadays. As a result, we live in a landscape that, more and more, is populated by “McMansions” --- large, unsightly, egregiously hideous domiciles.
And that’s what today’s Suburbo depicts. Thanks for reading and I hope it’s amusing.
The migration to the suburbs over the years has often been motivated for the twin desire of home ownership and land. People living New York City --- where apartment size is a regular topic of conversations (along with rents – “rent-controlled” or “rent-stabilized”?) --- often depart once they start a family and discover their idyllic city fantasy life runs smack into the need for more room for the kids! And, of course, those “good schools” that are everywhere in the Suburbo.
When it comes to housing, there’s a real variety to choose from --- particularly depending upon your financial situation. Here in Fairfield County, we’ve got everything from palatial estates and mansions to newly constructed McMansions, to a variety of single-family dwelling on some “property,” to different kinds of “cluster” housing (condominiums are big). It’s quite a range. And there’s also the element of country clubs, swimming pools, and tennis courts that are “value-added,” regarding any property.
So, Chapter Four of Wilbur’s Suburbo will take a look at the wide and wonderful world of Housing!
Thanks for reading and enjoy!
“A rose by any other name . . . “ Children’s’ names in the U.S. of A. have always cycled through new iterations as each generation passes through. In the 19th century we had people named Ulysses, Abraham, Augustus, Abner, Amos, Ezekiel, Cyrus, Homer, and Horace. In the early 20th century we had Theodores and Franklins and then a raft of immigrant monikers: Salvatore, Dominic, Hans, Moshe, Juan, et al. And there were a number of women’s names we no longer see like Edna, Lydia, Gertrude (“Gertie” or “Trudy”), Mabel, or Florence (“Flo”). As the Baby Boomers hit the stage, starting in the late 1940’s, a new wave swept through with lots of Bobbys and Billys and Johnnys and Tommys and Jimmys along with millions of Susans and Carols and Barbaras. But there were also Margories and Marilyns, and Miriams and Lois-s and Joans – that we seldom, if ever, hear any more. During my high school teaching years we saw these tides come in and out: the Jennifer, Jessica, Sarah wave along with a Joshua–Jacob-Nicolas groundswell. And so it goes.
Today’s Suburbo is about boys’ names in the 21st century and I’ll let the illustrations speak for themselves. Last year I wrote a Blast about this phenomena and my prediction was that we shouldn’t be surprised if, around 2050, we see these names on the doors of CEO’s all over the country.
Thanks for reading and have a great week!
In Lieu Of
Having just returned from Pennsylvania Thursday, midday, the Suburbo is in abeyance and, hopefully, will return starting Monday, the 21st. In the interim, I'm going to be totally self-indulgent.
Tomorrow, Saturday, May 19th, is my 69th birthday (woohoo!). I'm going to use this opportunity to do a quick, photo-illustrated retrospective that reflects on "what a long, strange trip it's been."
I'm going to try to organize this, a bit, by "category," with photos, reminiscences, and commentary. If you want explanations or clarifications regarding the photos, just write and ask.
Hope it's not too self-indulgent and thanks for reading!
Happy Birthday to me.
First Takes - Family
From 1st grade through high school, I grew up at 929 Thompson Drive in Bay Shore (South Shore of Long Island -- pictured below) with my family. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
Going to Yale from 1967 to 1971 was the formative experience in my life. It was an incredible time to "grow up. We experienced Woodstock and campus "turbulence" (MayDay at Yale) as well as all the emerging "liberation" and "rights" movements (Black civil rights, women, gays, the environment, the anti-war movement, etc.) My first two years at Yale it was an all-male institution. My last two years we were co-educated. I played football & lacrosse the first two years on the Yale teams and then got involved in campus and national politics --- and academics! Incredible professors (Charles Reich, Vincent Scully, William McFeely, Cleanth Brooks, Eugene Genovese, et al) were everywhere. I was even (for a brief time) a member of Skull & Bones! It was a great time to be young and on campus.
Here are some of the photos I dug up to illustrate those years.
Forty-two years --- starting in Rye Brook, NY (Blind Brook High School from 1973-1984), Winchester High School north of Boston (1984-1987), back to Westchester County and Bronxville HS (1987-1994, and then north to Cambridge, helping to found the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, MA (1994-1995) and that overlapped with the beginning of my time at Brown University in Providence, RI (1994-2007). A sabbatical took me to Fairbanks, Alaska for several months (fall, 2004) and then I moved on to Yale for a year (2007-2008) and, finally, New York City --- teaching at Essex Street Academy (2008-2009) and finishing my career at the Urban Assembly School for Design and Construction (2009-2014). Teaching gave me a chance to coach (tennis, volleyball, basketball), direct plays, write (3 books about education) and work with brilliant people who have become lifelong friends. It would take too many photos to document the entire voyage but here are a few, selective shots.
Growing up in the Sixties music was everywhere. The Beatles arrived when I was in 9th Grade --- perfect timing. I had already abandoned my accordion and was learning to play guitar; took a few lessons on the bass guitar and, voila, was in a band! My brother and I played together quite a bit (he's really good -- and we still hack around occasionally) and, when I lived in Providence, I got to play with the "MAT Band" and "The Overdue Bills" (a blues ensemble). Music is always fun and integral to my life --- so much so that I drew a flaming guitar and had it tattooed on my arm! So, here are some photos. Enjoy.
Sometimes life has a way of reminding you how little control of things you actually have. Such was this case this weekend, when my almost-91 year old Mom fell and (classically) broke her hip. That was Saturday night, just before Mother's Day. As a result, I have been in scenic Stroudsburg, PA since Monday morning, when she had (very successful) surgery at the Lehigh Valley Medical Center here.
As a result of these events I have not been able to produce the Suburbo for this week but have, in the interim, been working on a couple of cryptic poems that I thought I'd submit as a "place holder," if you will.
I hope you find them interesting, or amusing, or even "meaningful," in some way. Thanks for reading.
Mother's Day 2018
An overcast, rain-impending morning . . .
Greeted by a pile of (human!) vomit in the parking lot
as I walked the dog.
An old friend's Mom passed yesterday
which is bad timing, I guess,
or just Friday the 13th on Sunday?
As I'm getting groceries a text
from my brother
"Mom fell and can't move.
Waiting for an ambulance."
Happy F'ing Mother's Day
The Stroud Mall
This sarcophagus for capitalism sits
atop a hill . . .
Septuagenarian wraiths chat in the
Food Court, over coffee and lemonade.
Specters haunt the corridors and shops,
with thousand-year (shopper's) stares,
A few random souls camp on benches,
across from the CinePlus,
waiting for the Early Show.
The contoured metal (garage like) door
has shuttered "The Bon-Ton"
(where Mom loved to shop)
Lonely clerks make busywork in
their shops, the silence
reverberating around them.
Old men shuffle, looking lost,
Once thriving, prosperous,
with overflow parking,
The sarcophagus now sits,
in its own empty desert
of long-forgotten glory.
So, this will be the last salvo at parents raising children in today’s Suburbo. Kids, being kids, still celebrate Halloween, play in the school music ensembles, and sign up for Little League (sometimes on their own!). But, as you’ll see in today’s graphic narrative, it’s hard to get the parents out of the picture. Today’s three vignettes are based on first hand, primary source information (your humble chronicler’s eyewitness contemporaneous notes).
Thanks for reading and have a great week!