Archive for the ‘New York’ Category

I’d rather be talking to the Western Wall   Leave a comment

I’m having a flashback to my teenage years now…. seeing tables fly by my window, the way Dorothy saw witches on broomsticks or bitches on bicycles, or both, in The Wizard of Oz: round tables, rectangular tables, horseshoe-shaped tables, parallel tables — oh, man, I’m getting dizzy. Tea leaves swirl around in the thick soot and unidentifiable debris that spins around with the house.

I wake up in a sweat and shake my head. I’m not in Paris! (Good. I hate France.) I look at my iPhone on the night-table. It’s not a Timex. It’s obviously not 1973 anymore either! We’re not trying to organize the end of the Vietnam War. Then what the hell is going on here?

Oh, shit. I’m at the United Nations General Assembly. Prozac for breakfast again today.

Back to reality

The speech today by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in which he said, “I come before you today from the Holy Land, the land of Palestine, the land of divine messages, ascension of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the birthplace of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people ….” but remarkably never acknowledged Judaism or Jews, was well-played in Ramallah, where things were surprisingly peaceful, but what kind of a childish snub is that by Abbas? Is he a diplomat, or just a dip?

But still, at a time when virtually no one in Israel was listening (it was after sundown Friday night in Israel, and the last Sabbath of the lunar year), Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stood up in front of the U.N. General Assembly in New York and again offered to meet with Abbas in New York, in the very building in which they were both standing, immediately, and with no preconditions.

Netanyahu, longtime far to the right in Israeli politics, has reached deep inside his support base and pulled concessions out, at his own personal and political risk, and offered them to the Palestinians. And each time he’s thrown some more human chips into the pot – in the form of uprooted Israeli settlers and in some cases entire communities – he’s been paid back in Katyushas, Grads, Qassams, and al-Quds – rockets and grenades, but no peace. None.

If the economy in Gaza is so bad, where are they getting money for rockets and other munitions, and why are they spending it on that and not food or rebuilding schools or developing commerce? Where in the developed, civilized world do citizens just walk around with AK47s, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and shoulder-launched missiles? Do they have any police in Gaza, or are they preparing for the end of days? (Caution: Do NOT get me started on that.)

The meeting, no surprise, has not taken place. Netanyahu refuses to dismantle another Israeli home, school, synagogue, what have you, on the West Bank as a pre-condition for just sitting down at the table with Abbas.

Abbas, for his part, doesn’t seem to have the ability to rule nor the authority to represent. Even al-Jazeera reported that Netanyahu was unlikely to get any real response from Abbas because the Palestinian leadership has said it will not meet before establishing clear terms of reference and a timetable. So, Abbas simply split town.

For whatever today’s speeches were worth, this is the grand total of all the energy spent by all parties today, according to a Reuters report in Ha’aretz:

The “Quartet” of Middle East mediators (EU, Russia, US, and the UN) proposed on Friday that Israel and the Palestinians should meet within one month to agree (on) an agenda for new peace talks with a goal of a deal by the end of 2012.

They’re now committed to talking about two points: How they refer to each other; and when to have a meeting to agree on when to meet.

It’s like the Paris Peace Talks all over again.

*** Update: In an article by Tovah Lazaroff, Khaled Abu Toameh, and Herb Kein, The Jerusalem Post reports: “Israel responded positively Saturday, and the Palestinians negatively, to a formula for restarting negotiations issued by the Quartet that would place a December 2012 deadline on reaching an agreement.” Read JPost Article


Global Revolution for the hell of it?   Leave a comment

The late Yippie!-in-Chief

Got nothing to do on Saturday night? Come on down to Wall Street — we’re gonna overthrow the world.

With apologies to the late Abbie Hoffman….

I’ve spent the last few hours watching the globalrevolution channel on livestream. To be quite honest, I don’t see any hope of this thing ever going beyond a few square blocks in the financial district of New York. And I don’t see it lasting much longer than the end of the Eagles-Falcons game on Sunday night.

They’re not going to get the “entire 16.5% of America that’s unemployed down to Manhattan Island,” as one of the protesters said. And there is no common ground down there other than what they’re sitting and sleeping on. There is nothing keeping them together; there is no single target for their rage, which seems pretty low-key if not just plain non-existent; and to compare this simple flash-mob to the Arab spring is like comparing a fart to a hydrogen bomb.

On this livestream telecast, there are 3000 to 4000 people on the website watching spotty recorded-earlier “live” video of what seems to be mostly stoners and petty criminals staying out late on a Saturday night in New York. Get a slice and a Coke, smoke a joint, just hang out and check out the tourists. The camera crew is walking through the crowd interviewing people who have no opinions on anything concrete, but at least they’re not violent. It’s a very chill global revolution.

And although this particular global revolution may be well-intended, the people who are participating are not largely well-educated and underemployed; they’re confused and/or ripped.

Watching the counter below the spotty recorded “live” stream, which alternates between shaky handheld footage and an old MLK speech, is like watching the altimeter on a glider. You may catch hold of a good thermal, but you know those numbers are going to tick down, because there is no engine to keep the airplane aloft.

In the attached chat room, meaningful political discourse like this floats by:

i---z: haha! the people are awesome that no longer shall we be the shame of the world!
 The world around us have been weeping for us. They are with us! A worldwide deliberate
 collapsing has awakened us!


g---4: if i was president we would vote on every bill and decisen just like people vote on american idol


Aside from the fact that this idiot rhetoric is neither intelligible nor even spelled correctly, there’s an idea I can support and feel good about! That last one is just brilliant in its simplicity! Let’s all go to the polls every time an amendment is put forth. To hell with Congress! What did we put them there for after all? All they do is… wait, what…? THEY vote on all the bills and stuff? That’s what we put them there for, and it’s… why they’re called our… Representatives? Aw, shit, maaannnnn….. this global revolution sucks! Let’s go do some shots and go home.

Memories of the World Trade Center   Leave a comment

The first time I walked into the World Trade Center was on a snowy Lincoln’s Birthday in 1977. Half the City didn’t go to work that day, but I had a job interview, and I wasn’t about to blow an opportunity to work in those shining towers that meant as much to New York as the Rocky Mountains do to Colorado and Mt. Rainier does to Seattle.

I met with a fellow named Sam Zekser, the Import Manager. I apologized for my ridiculous rubber snow boots, but he told me how much he appreciated my shlepping in on a day when most of New York stayed home and they were closed anyway because Customs was off. (Score one for me!)

The office was huge. It took up a full quarter of the 16th floor, facing uptown — the direction the first plane came from — and the place was mostly empty. He ushered me into a conference room, gave me a cup of coffee, and told me to take my coat off.

He brought in two pencils, a few sheets of xerox paper, and a calculator. And he wrote out maybe a dozen math questions as he sat across the table from me. I read them upside-down as he was writing them out, and solved them all in much less time than it took him to write them down. He hired me on the spot, and I started the next day.

The job was classifying imported items from a huge tariff book, figuring out the duties payable to Customs, and filling out the Customs entry documents. The office consisted mostly of Cubans and other Latin-Americans, all very legal immigrants, and from a dozen different countries.

I worked on a team with three other guys: Gil Casas was my supervisor – he was a short, thin guy in his 50s, and he taught me the mechanics of the business; a fellow named Bernie something, a Jewish guy from Brooklyn, who grumbled and growled all day between having telephone arguments with Customs inspectors, but who was able to classify almost any item you would ever see imported into this country without looking in the 1400-page tariff book; and Mario Garcia, a former political prisoner from Cuba who learned chess in prison, became an International Grandmaster, and swam shark-infested Guantanamo Bay to freedom after a match against a visiting team from Russia.

He and Gil would play two games sometimes after lunch, taking just seconds between moves. Mario was in his late 40s, looked like 60, and he had an accent like the guy in the Dos Equis commercial. “Stay thirsty, my friend” sounds like something Mario would say.

Once lunch hour ended, Mario would start off the afternoon with a hearty, “Let’s maaaake entry, boys!” which always made the girls in the office giggle, and in turn always had us four guys laughing. He and I would often ride the Number 7 train home together – he got off in Jackson Heights, and I stayed until Main Street, the end of the line, in Flushing.

Another guy I worked with, Richard Pencak, a 6’5″ 300-pounder who everyone lovingly called Bigfoot, later wrote the book (literally – two of them) on how to become a Customhouse Broker. He was on a par with Bernie. They used to have long discussions about Customs Regulations, and thanks to all those guys, I learned a business that would take me from New York to Denver and around the world, and then to Seattle. (As I was researching this story just now, I learned that Richie died just over a year ago, at 56. Too damn young.)

Sam, the guy who hired me resigned on the first day of my second week on the job to open a company of his own. He was replaced by a guy named Billy Sullivan, who kept me on and promoted me a couple of months later. When Sam left, Richie became Billy’s assistant. Another guy I worked with for a short time there won five million dollars in the New York State Lottery, took a limo in the next day, and offered to buy the company. They refused, so he went to the Customs office and turned in his license.

I worked at that company for a little over a year, during which our team cleared a lot of high-profile stuff. I wrote one of the first landed-cost programs for Macy’s, which started me on a second career; Gloria Vanderbilt visited our office once – we cleared her designer jeans, and Jordache’s too; we cleared the King Tut exhibit when it first came to the U.S.; we cleared the former Shah’s son after he fled Iran; a piano for Elton John, who played a private party at Windows on the World; and a very expensive Steinway that belonged to Leopold Stokowski, whose original death certificate had to be presented to Customs with the documentation to avoid paying duties. The guy in the Fine Arts Department who did the entry secretly kept the original after it cleared, and blamed its loss on the Customs people. (I’ve kept that secret for 35 years, until now.)

Since I was just 22 when I started working downtown, I had plenty of wild little experiences in the five years I worked there, and since it was the 1970s, a lot of them had to do with getting stoned:

My friend and I were in the final scene of the King Kong remake. It was done over a weekend, at 3:00 AM on Saturday and Sunday and most of the crowd was drunk or stoned or both, including a few of the “soldier” extras. We smoked a joint as Jessica Lange climbed up on the dying motorized gorilla.

One fine lunch hour, a bunch of U.S. Customs officers in a van made me eat a lit joint right across the street from the north entrance to their building. Luckily, (a) they didn’t bust me; and (b) Customs was the most prepared of all government agencies on 9/11, because they’d drawn up evac plans after the 1993 bombing. Every last person in the New York Customs Headquarters at the World Trade Center got out alive. That was the only really good news to come in the days after.

A messenger I worked with — I can’t remember the company — guy named Henry something, used to like to get high in the sub-basement levels. We went as far as the 5th underground level once, if my memory is accurate. After I moved to Denver at the end of 1983, I didn’t think about it for 10 years.

Then, in 1993, I was in my hotel room in Taipei, ready to check out and come home, when CNN International reported that the WTC had been bombed. As my colleagues came to take me to the airport for my flight home, I watched about a half-hour of the coverage, and then I had to catch the worst return flight I was ever on — 11 hours of only knowing that the World Trade Center had been bombed, and people had been injured, but unable to get any details of what I would be flying home to.

The World Trade Center — I refuse to call it Ground Zero — was a pretty fantastic place to see, and a great place to work at. I was young and it was beautiful. I loved it. And now it’s gone, and I refuse to go back.

I took a trip to Long Island a few years ago to attend my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah, and we flew into and out of Islip (thank you, Southwest Airlines), because if we flew into any of the three major New York airports, we would likely overfly lower Manhattan, and I didn’t want to see the gigantic scar on my City.

Today I’m very thankful for U.S. Navy Seal Team Six and Barack Obama and all of our troops, and everyone who had anything to do with killing bin Laden and feeding his dead ass to the sharks. To know that some carnivorous lower life form has long since shit him out to the bottom of the ocean is almost enough payback for me personally.

But ten years have gone by since that awful day, and we’ve got to demand that America bring our troops home from Afghanistan and leave that damned wasteland for good. And we have to vow, as a nation, never to elect a total fucking incompetent like George W. Bush again. He should have left right after 9/11, on the planes that he arranged as getaway vehicles for the Saudi royals and bin Laden relatives.


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