November Brought Major Surprises for New Yorkers

In a New York minute/ Everything can change . . .”

Written and sung by the Eagles’ Don Henley, “New York Minute” is about how quickly and drastically life can turn. Thought to be inspired by the stock market crash of October 1987, the lyric also fits what has happened to New Yorkers in November 2016.

As the month ends, let’s look at a few examples:

Just weeks ago, New Yorker Huma Abedin was preparing to spend lots of time at the White House in 2017 and beyond as the indispensable aide to president-in-waiting Hillary Clinton. Blindsided by FBI Director James Comey’s reopening of the investigation into Clinton’s e-mails because some were found on estranged husband Anthony Weiner’s computer, Abedin was left behind when Clinton took a last-minute national campaign swing.

Right after Clinton’s shocking loss, Abedin was spotted on a Brooklyn street with tears streaming down her face.

Meanwhile, after nearly a 100-year wait, the Second Avenue subway is poised to launch! Sort of. The city promised to open the first leg of the line before the end of 2016. “We’re working very judiciously to meet this date,” MTA chairman Tom Prendergast has said.

The latest effort has cost $4.5 billion, and it has resulted in the completion of a grand total of three new stops (96th, 86th and 72nd). For that sum, every rider could’ve been personally picked up by limo and driven to work for years. Thanks, MTA!

Last week, President-elect Donald Trump (talk about a drastic change) said his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, might be the ideal person to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since Kushner has zero foreign policy experience, one can only assume Trump believes this because Kushner is Jewish. Kind of like thinking singer Paula Abdul would be the perfect person to solve the crisis in Aleppo because she’s of Syrian descent.

Finally, Trump said his wife, Melania, and son Barron will not join him in the White House, but remain in Trump Tower. For us, this means endless midtown traffic mayhem and an ongoing $1 million-a-day security price tag.

What a lovely surprise.

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Keep Trump Off the Thanksgiving Menu

Carving knives, alcohol and Donald Trump — what could possibly go wrong?

Thanksgiving 2016 promises to be uniquely challenging. Fresh off an angrily contested election, family members you see perhaps once a year might hold political views that, to quote our president-elect, make you bleed from your eyeballs, or your wherever. Relatives who will either be clucking with glee at Trump’s victory or seething with rage at Hillary Clinton’s defeat might be ready to leap across the table at uncle Ralph when he instructs them to, “Get over it!”

Yep, a perfect recipe for Thanksgiving family disaster!

How to avoid it? Here’s a handy guide to keeping the peace while trying to keep your family in one piece:

Don’t talk politics! I know, easier said than done. Phrases such as “What kind of a racist jerk would vote for Trump?” or “Whiny liberal sore losers make me laugh” are out of bounds — at least until you’re on your way home.

Phrases to avoid while serving the turkey: “I assume you want a left wing?” or “Of course, you’d want only white meat!” are sure to lead to desperate, misplaced calls to the turkey hotline.

But if you still believe battling it out is the way to go, a large drumstick makes a handy weapon. However, I suggest curbing those impulses and seeing the good in the other side. Yes, I mean that!

More than ever, people tend to associate with those of similar beliefs, read the same articles and watch the same networks. Those who offer opposing views on Facebook are too often unfriended. But you can’t unfriend family.

Or can you? I’ve heard more than one story of relatives canceling out on Thanksgiving or not being invited because of their political beliefs. And that’s a shame.

I happen to know some really nice people who voted for Trump. Believe me, I don’t get it either. But this is neither the time nor place for an angry, self-righteous rant from either side. Think of your host. Your grandma. Your digestion. Leave the bashing to the NFL players on TV. And stay away from the liquor cabinet!

So happy Thanksgiving, damn it!

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First Review of Senior Moment–Very Gratifying

Theater Review (NYC): ‘Senior Moment’ by Mike Vogel

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Bob Ari as Jack and Ian Lowe as Larry in 'Senior Moment' (photo by Michael Portantiere)

Mike Vogel’s new play Senior Moment is a charming comedy with serious undertones, especially for two of today’s mushrooming groups, the elderly and the “sandwich generation.”
It centers on a beautifully nuanced performance by Bob Ari as 77-year-old widower Jack, a grouchy stick-in-the-mud who blossoms into something like his full true self only after oh-so-reluctantly trying out the retirement community/assisted living life, at the urging of his aggravated, uptight, but devoted son Larry (Ian Lowe).
Discovering a ratio of four women for every man at the new residence, Jack finds himself in heavy social demand, first and especially by Violet (Marina Re), an impossibly peppy, uninhibited flirt with unexpected depths.
Vogel steers clear of schlock and schmaltz, stripping his characters to their more-or-less lovable essences while revealing what seems a hopeful, even sunny view of human nature. It’s a refreshing dose of positivity in a city blindsided by recent realities.
Malka (Amanda Kristin Nichols), a 35-year-old facility employee, scrounges to support herself and her young son by earning extra money giving off-the-books shoulder massages to whiny, randy old resident Chet (Brad Bellamy). Malka is a wonderful creation who has the proverbial heart of gold – and hers gets a crush on old Jack. Nichols does a marvelously focused seriocomic job with the juicy and appealing role, Russian accent and all.
Lowe makes us root for touchy, repressed Larry, whose lifelong failure to live up to his father’s expectations will ring so widely true. Fizzily independent Violet surprises herself by genuinely falling for Jack, so that when their happy future turns out to be not so assured, it’s a crushing sequence, as Jack has become so memorably endearing.
Even Chet, always feeling threatened and cheated, merits sympathy in Bellamy’s funny, sincere portrayal. He reminds us that while a blossoming old age is possible for some, others never rid themselves of their accrued anxieties and resentments. Without that bit of balance, the story as a whole might have acquired a slightly treacly taste.
The script also digs into Jack and Larry’s family drama. Even as Violet romances him, Jack carries a photo of his late wife – but it’s from their wedding, before innocent hopefulness gave way to a half-century-long passionless marriage.
When Malka calls Jack “youthful” it’s a poignant reminder of how much of life he’d sacrificed over all that time.
In a last confrontation with his father, Larry pulls out the heavy weaponry: “You were never warm and you didn’t do shit with us.” That is, indeed, the Jack we met in the opening scene, when the “true” Jack was still as locked up and frustrated as his apparently socially inept son.
A good deal of credit must also go to director Donald Brenner for drawing out such strongly convincing performances. And Fan Zhang’s costuming is dead-on for these New York “types,” who quickly become fully rounded human beings in this warm-hearted but coolly observed comedy.
Senior Moment runs through Dec. 4 at Theatre Row’s Lion Theatre. Tickets and information are available online, or for tickets call 212-239-6200.
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Trump’s Victory Sends a Chill Through Restaurants

Immigration enforcement agents recently swooped down on a small restaurant in Buffalo and arrested Sergio Mucino, the owner of La Divina, a Mexican market and taco counter. Mucino was charged with housing workers who are in the country illegally in residences around Buffalo, transporting them to jobs at his restaurants and paying them off the books, according to The New York Times.

Immigrant groups fear such raids will be more common under a President Donald Trump, who vowed to deport 11 million immigrants here illegally.

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has said that if Trump follows through, “Every restaurant in America would shut down.” He calls immigrant workers the “backbone of the industry.”

Earlier this year, soon after Vetri Family Restaurants in Philadelphia were acquired by Urban Outfitters, employees were put through the screening process E-Verify, which certifies a worker’s legal status. As a result, 30 employees were terminated.

“It just sucks,” former owner Marc Vetri told Philly Magazine. “You have second- and third-generation immigrants who have raised families here, and there’s still no real road for them to get legal.”

A tough but fair immigration reform bill would offer such a path, but hopes for that seem dim. Many are waiting to see whether raids such as the one in Buffalo are a preview of things to come.

But it’s not just Latino workers here illegally who are worried. In NYC’s Chinatown, agencies with names like Successful Restaurant Employment Agency screen a steady stream of potential Chinese restaurant employees.

“There are only three jobs a Chinese immigrant can get without papers,” a woman from Beijing told The New Yorker. “You can get work in a massage parlor, you can work doing nails, or you can work in a restaurant.”

Tom Bauerle, a conservative-radio talk-show host in Buffalo, told the Times many of his callers strongly supported the actions of the agents who raided Mucino’s Mexican restaurants.

“At the same time,” Bauerle added, “they are disappointed because apparently these places made awesome tacos.”

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Trump’s Victory: It’s Still the Economy, Stupid

Liberal and moderate New Yorkers wander NYC streets shell-shocked. Donald Trump President of the United States?

How could this happen?

Many blame FBI Director James Comey, whose reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails grounded her momentum to a screeching halt. His reversal two days before the election was too late. Others cite a hacking plot involving Russia and Julian Assange.

Some grumble that Sen. Bernie Sanders could have easily won. They are kidding themselves. The GOP would have ruthlessly exploited Sanders’ radical background and scared the crap out of Americans about a proud socialist being president.

Meanwhile, it is clearer than ever that Clinton is a weak campaigner. A relatively unknown Barack Obama trounced her in 2008, while Sanders gave her a real battle, despite the media virtually ignoring him.

But the main reason for Trump’s victory? As Bill Clinton said years ago, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Yes, unemployment numbers have dropped, but millions of people are still struggling economically. Technology continues to steal jobs, especially from the working class, and this will only accelerate, no matter who is president.

Stroll in to your local drugstore, and see how many kiosks have replaced humans at checkout. Look around your workplace. How many jobs have been replaced by automation?

Angry white men without college degrees, who helped drive Trump to victory, are in deep trouble economically. According to CNN Money, nearly 25 percent of them are not only unemployed, but have given up looking for work. Many others drive to earn a living, and will only see things worsen as driverless cars take over. And Trump expertly exploited their anger.

But despite his confident boasts, Trump can’t reverse this economic trend. Conservative Wall Street ominously signaled its feelings about Trump’s ability to right the ship when the financial markets plunged immediately after the election.

The sad truth is that no matter which party is in power, jobs will continue to disappear. Despite Trump’s scapegoating, it’s not undocumented immigrants doing the jobs Americans would never do who are to blame.

It’s technology, which also has historically improved millions of lives. But there are always unintended consequences.

Such as President Donald J. Trump.



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In New York, Every Vote Counts. Or does it?

On Tuesday, I will proudly march the half block over to my polling place and exercise my rights as a U.S. citizen. But in New York, does my vote really count?

Hillary Clinton is ahead in New York by more than 20 points, and her winning the state’s 29 electoral votes is a foregone conclusion. No Democratic presidential candidate has lost the state since Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1984.

Meanwhile, did you know Sen. Chuck Schumer is running for re-election? OK, now can you name his opponent? If you said Wendy Long, claim your civics prize at the No Chance Saloon. Have you seen Long’s TV ads? No one has. She lost the 2012 Senate race to Kirsten Gillibrand by a mere 43 points, and this year’s trouncing by Schumer should be equally embarrassing. So, that vote doesn’t really count either.

Meanwhile in Idaho, Republican Sen. Mike Crapo (that’s his real name) is ahead of Democratic opponent Jerry Sturgill by more than 30 points. Crapo received 71 percent of the vote in 2010, and is looking to match that this year. Idaho hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since the 1980s, and that’s not changing anytime soon. So basically, they’re in the same boat as us.

Frustrating, isn’t it? But wait — there is a way to make your vote count. Move! Your vote in Florida or Ohio could actually help sway this election. But for your vote to be meaningful, should you really have to relocate to Cleveland?

There’s an obvious solution, brought up every four years, then forgotten. What if we switched presidential elections to a simple national majority, eliminating the Electoral College? The increased power of the vote in New York, California and Illinois would instantly make the results more progressive. Urban issues such as public transportation would become more important.

Smaller states are strongly against this solution, for obvious reasons. Politicians would spend less time, if any, in states such as Wyoming, with its sparse population of some 586,000 (by comparison, 2.6 million live in Brooklyn). Instead, they would concentrate on the major population centers of the nation.

But isn’t that the way it should be?


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New Yorkers’ Birthday Wishes for Hillary

Happy birthday Hillary Clinton! Today is the Democratic presidential nominee’s 69th birthday, and I asked a sampling of New Yorkers to select the perfect birthday gift for her. As you might imagine, Clinton’s supporters picked some cheery offerings, while her detractors were brimming with snarky suggestions.

“A bright pink pantsuit, bedazzled on the back: Born to be Nasty!” suggests Robin Rice of Manhattan.

“How about a dress?” asks Brooklyn’s Bob Goldblatt. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her in one. Or perhaps a GPS tracking device for Bill?”

Brooklyn Hillary supporter Karen Curley suggests “an enticing basket of fruits, nuts and veggies__a cornucopia of healthy treats. In accepting the gift, Clinton can assure people she’ll continue Michelle Obama’s healthy food and garden campaign. Hillary also might point out that Donald Trump eats a lot of high fat items, fast foods and other crap, and remind voters ‘you are what you eat.’ “

Her first-time voter son Will was a tad less enthusiastic. His gift to Hillary? “A half-hearted vote from an embittered millennial.”

But that was a ringing endorsement compared to the response of Arthur Wellikoff of Malverne, Long Island. “I don’t think I or anyone could top the generous gift she already received from James Comey, Loretta Lynch and the Obama administration: a Get Out of Jail Free Card.”

“How about golf lessons and clubs?” suggested Kevin Quinn of Queens, a Hillary supporter. “All presidents have loved playing rounds of golf with friends and other politicians, and I think it would help a workaholic like Hillary to relax.”

Others from those who didn’t want their names used show the range of emotions Clinton evokes, and ran the gamut from “a Nobel Prize recognizing her efforts to help women and children,” to “a one-way ticket to Siberia.”

One such person who never cared much for Hillary but seems resigned to her winning surprised me with his lovely suggestion. “How about a super-comfortable rocking chair?” he wondered. “Hillary must be really tired after this grueling campaign. My birthday wish for her is to relax and not try to do too much in the next four years.”

“In fact, don’t do anything.”

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42 and 44: American Pioneers

‘You want a player who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?” baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson challenged Brooklyn Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey.

“No, I want a player who’s got the guts not to fight back,” said Rickey.

Jackie Robinson, whose uniform No. 42 was retired by Major League Baseball, died Oct. 24, 1972. The first African-American major-leaguer’s ability to turn the other cheek to abuse and bigotry when he broke into baseball after World War II paved the way for other black ballplayers.

Sixty-two years later, our first African-American president followed a similar path. Barack Obama, president No. 44, knew that while America made progress in tolerance over decades and might be ready for a black leader, it wasn’t going to tolerate an “angry black man” as president.

Both Obama and Robinson had to endure bigotry-driven versions of “You don’t belong here!” From Newt Gingrich suggesting Obama might have a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview to Sarah Palin mocking Obama’s “shuck and jive,” many Republicans used thinly veiled racism to attack him. Was the birther movement anything but bigotry? Obama’s birth in Hawaii was never in question until he ran for president, when a relentless demand for his “real” birth certificate sprang forward, led by Donald Trump.

Frustrated that Obama didn’t retaliate strongly enough, some liberals were clueless as well. It wasn’t because Obama was weak. It was because he refused to be baited into an angry retort, thus increasing his chances of defeat in 2012.

Nearly 70 years after becoming the first African-American in Major League Baseball, Robinson is remembered as a class act on and off the field, a man who played the game with grace.

And today, as the clock winds down to the presidential election, it’s time to recognize the grace and dignity shown by Barack Obama, the Jackie Robinson of U.S. presidents. Whatever our political beliefs, we should appreciate the class he has shown throughout his tenure.

Mr. President, your taking the high road in the face of ignorance and bigotry will be remembered long after all of us are gone. Thank you.

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What If Columbus Met Native Lives Matter?

In Fourteen Hundred Ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue . . .

That’s probably the last carefree verse ever written about Christopher Columbus. After intense lobbying by leading NYC Italian-Americans, Congress proclaimed today — Oct. 12 — a federal holiday in 1937 called Columbus Day.

Since then, Columbus’ legacy has come under scrutiny. Depending on your age, background and education, the name Columbus conjures up an image of a man who a) discovered America; b) discovered the Bahamas; c) discovered a group of unsuspecting natives he could exploit and terrorize; d) discovered the three-day weekend.

Did Columbus discover America, or did he invade it? In 2016, descriptions of Columbus run all over the map from visionary to America’s first terrorist.

When Columbus encountered the Taino natives of Hispaniola (he never set foot on our mainland), the explorer forced them into slavery and made them collect gold under the threat of mutilation or death.

Yet we still honor his name. It would take an act of Congress to eliminate Columbus Day as an official holiday. Many have backed off from the celebration as the explorer’s less heroic deeds have become more widely known. Hawaii and Alaska, which have large native populations, don’t recognize the day, while South Dakota celebrates Native American Day instead.

Meanwhile, some U.S. cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It wasn’t long ago that American Indians were portrayed in movies and other media as godless savages. Columbus recorded in his diaries that Tainos “would easily be made Christians because it seemed to me they had no religion.”

Today, many people question the Black Lives Matter movement. “Don’t all lives matter?” they challenge. Of course they do. But what if there had been a Native Lives Matter when Columbus arrived? Things would have been different if the natives had political savvy. But they were innocents.

While most recognize today that minorities aren’t lesser peoples to dominate, too many still ignore that truth. That’s why Black Lives Matter exists. And that’s why Columbus Day celebrations will likely soon be a thing of the past.

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Will Bad Mike Show Up for Sunday’s Second Debate?

This Sunday, Donald Trump will try to rectify his lackluster performance at the first presidential debate.

Of course, it wasn’t Trump’s fault.

“They gave me a defective mike!” Trump complained to reporters. “I wonder—was that on purpose?”

Trump might be on to something__there were some issues with his microphone. Indeed, the word salad coming from his lips could only be caused by a technical glitch, or yes, sabotage!

Like a possessed ventriloquist’s dummy, the distorted mike (or mic, if you prefer) spewed all kinds of nonsense that Trump couldn’t possibly have meant to say. For example, when discussing the taxes that pay for our military, roads and health care, Trump’s statement that “good citizens pay their taxes” came out sounding like “not paying taxes makes me smart.”

When he expressed sympathy for the millions of Americans who lost their homes when the housing bubble burst, it sounded like he was happy about it because he could profit from their misery.

And when he talked about ISIS, which has existed for about a decade, it sounded like he was saying Hillary Clinton has been fighting ISIS “her entire adult life,” which is about half a century.

Bad mike!

But that’s not all.

The mike started making him sound nearly illiterate. When Trump said “I’m going to cut taxes bigly,” many wondered if that’s even a real word. But his son Eric helpfully explained afterward that his dad said he will cut taxes “big league,” not “bigly.”

Once again, bad, bad mike! How bad? A “hot mike” usually means it’s on, but not at the last debate. Trump’s mike was literally hot, making the poor guy sniffle, sweat bullets and consume gallons of water.

Who would do such a thing? It might have been the mysterious 400-pound man lying in bed that Trump said during the last debate might have hacked the Democratic National Committee. Who knows?

So if you see an obese gentleman lurking around the stage on Sunday with what looks like either a microphone or a meatball sandwich tucked under his arm and it’s not Chris Christie, you’ll realize that, despite what many, many people are telling me, Donald Trump is definitely not paranoid.

Definitely not.

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