Archive for the ‘New York City’ Category

My Family Didn’t Bargain

April 22nd, 2013

Surely it’s too late to become a person who dickers for everything…or anything. I wasn’t raised that way.

However this afternoon I found myself forced at my end of a complaining phone call to negotiate. It’s damn tough for me.

I grew up observing people who haggle, which suddenly became common when I went to high school in New Jersey and later lived a decade in Manhattan. Although here living in Cambridge for a while during college, I had one chum who took her sport to the Haymarket and got phenomenal deals, matching resolve with the stall vendors.

In many ways, I envy the hagglers. I’m not clear why I can’t get over this part of my upbringing. I feel very uncomfortable where others would jump right into proposing a deal, and then enjoying the back and forth, then being ready to walk away at any moment if there’s no progress.

Today’s haggle was thrust upon me. A tub refinishing company showed up to work when I was not back from the gym yet. The $399, plus $50 for a color other than white, bid suddenly shifted. The tub tech said the residual glue from the liner needed to go to get the glaze to bond — at an extra $150. I had gotten and agreed to the bid and she felt kind of stuck. The rest of the bath rehab depended on the tub refinishing.

I called after the job and the check writing. The manager alternated between unctuous and paternal.  Ha ha ha, he called his tech, and reported back to me that the extra cleaning was absolutely necessary, it took over an hour, and that we got off lucky, at the low end of the service fee. Then suddenly, we want happy customers. And so it went, with me expressing my surprise, disappointment and anger. He said he not only had the smart-phone image, but that my wife had approved the big bump. I said $445 suddenly becoming about $600 was unreasonable and that I’d told them before they arrived and even before our bid that there was glue from the old liner, as well as that their site said cleaning was part of the operation. Back and forth, back and forth, each of us added angles and details and posits.

I continued to feel and think the fee unreasonable. Then just as suddenly, he shifted to bargaining. When we were at an impasse, he asked what it would take to make me happy.  Suddenly I was back at the Haymarket, watching Peggy at work, dickering for a box of fruit. While I normally would turn away, I did feel the discomfort but felt compelled to get some morsel from the deal.

We went back and forth a few more times, but now to force the other to make an offer. He wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. I remembered from my articles for business magazines that the first one to make an offer loses.  Eventually though, he wore me down. He had no intention of telling me what he thought would make me happy. So, I looked internally at the $150 and figured he’d bite on on the low end, $50, or the silly fee for biscuit, instead of white.

He did. We did.

That is nothing to someone who grew up in a haggling family, but it was remarkable for me. I don’t do that.

I thought of Peggy and how easy that would have been for her. She attributed her attitude and skills to being Jewish. I have come to downgrade that stereotype. I do believe it is cultural though. My tub refinishing manager seemed by accent clearly Middle Eastern. Peggy was from a German, Ashkenazi heritage. As I learned working for a Roman Catholic, German deli owner, the traits that many attribute to Jews are often common among Eastern Europeans instead, everything being negotiable included.

phsToday’s bargaining session also made me recall the only time I got shipped to my adviser’s office in my three years of high school. I was a smart ass but skilled at knowing my edges, my limits. I’d push a teacher with over-familiarity and wisecracks, but ease up when she or he tensed.

My tub guy said a few times, “I want you to be happy. What will it take to make you happy?” That put me back in history class, senior year, in Mr. Sidney Mace’s room, and my moment of ignominy.

The wisecrack that broke my three year of magic was far from my funniest or worst too. Mr. Mace (or Misssssssster Maccccccccccccce as we said for his hissing sibilants) would on occasion scold me and my best friend, who sat directly behind me in the A-B row, for talking in class. That happened often as he still lived lived his WWII personal history and that was the period we studied.

It was only three days before classes ended, we’d done our papers and exams, all we had to do was to listen to yet more stories of the war campaigns he remembered.  He hissed, “Misssster Ball, it would make me very happy if you and Misssster Blumert would stop talking.” I recall then my throwaway line, “We want you to be happy, Mister Mace.”

There was a long pause and I knew that was another safe insult. However, perhaps it was the proximity to graduation or something less obvious about the moment, but after a few seconds, the whole class of perhaps 30 exploded in joyful laughter.

That was all too much for Misssssssster Macccccccccccccccce. He in turn exploded. He ordered me to report to my adviser, Mr. Otto, the short, patient guy with the fly-away wispy hair. I showed, he seemed confused, saying he hadn’t seen me in trouble before, noting that we had only a couple of days of classes, and told me to walk about the halls until the period ended and go to my next class.

The tub guy wanted me to be happy. I wanted Mr. Mace to be happy. None of that was sincere, but everything worked out for all involved.

I bet this is not the start of a bargaining life for me though.

Things I Learned from Space Salesmen

April 10th, 2013

I’m a notorious TV disdainer. That’s odd for a boomer who grew up, enjoyed and benefited mightily from the box. I’ve aged to much rather do a cryptic puzzle, read a book or use the net.

I’m the least TV-centric in the family. Yet, I do like a few series that the family watches — Treme, Downton Abbey, and Mad Men. It’s the latter that had me reminiscing and projecting.

I’m a child who followed the WWII generation, not one of them. I did work with and know those guys (almost all men) and their younger siblings/nephews in the 1970s New York City.

I worked trade and business magazines in the 3-martini-lunch era. In fact, one publisher always ordered the same drink, “A triple Bombay martini, hold the olives and hold the vermouth.” It was all three martinis in one, very engineering efficient and thus appropriate for a construction mag.

Drunken afternoons were less of a shock to me as the dissolute lives of those magic creatures the space salesmen. The very term space salesman seems mythological if not metaphysical. Selling space…ooooo. The mundanity of actually pitching ads for print media does not rise to the phrase.

I knew a lot of these guys, men whose work brought in my salary. They often shocked me with the likes of their casual comparisons of sexual conquests of women customers, sales reps, waitresses and even friends’ wives.

However, I also got a few life lessons that have rooted.

I certainly recall the best space salesman I knew at Construction Equipment magazine. I’m comfortable using his name, Larry Huckle. He was one of the wholesome guys. He was also the company’s best salesman year upon year. That was particularly odd as he had Texas and the Southwest, virtually devoid of equipment manufacturers. He skunked the other reps time after time.

He and I were at a bar at the mag’s sales meeting in Boca Raton one time. As a former newspaper reporter, I just had to ask him how he did it. I had grilled the other editors and they claimed not to know. Larry was candid and had no fear of giving up his secret. He said, “I know one thing the other guys don’t. When you’ve made your sale, shut up.”

Sure enough, later on sales calls with various ad guys, I’d see them goof up a sure deal again and again by talking about themselves, making inane talk about the customer or otherwise souring a deal in the bag.

I found as a single guy that Larry’s advice was as good for someone seeking companionship as well. That’s another sale.

Likewise, I came to appreciate a silly rejoinder from another space salesman. He’d inveritably come back to the rhetorical, “How ya doing?” with “Any day I’m not pushing up daisies is a good day.”

That certainly falls in the class of painfully obvious. Yet, the longer I live, the more emotional, intellectually and physical troubles that visit me, the more meaningful and sensible that seems. It’s certainly better than the meaningless, “Fine.” And it inspires introspection.

A third space salesman had another iterative response when anyone did the drama-queen whine about a birthday. To one who complained about marking another year older, he’d always say, “Consider the alternative.” Sure enough, death would remove any joy or even observance of a birthday.

Space salesmen, as well as engineers and other stereotypical literal sorts can pluck all the feathers from our social conventions. After all, they have jobs to do that yield to metrics. To those other of us who like to think that everything is fungible, malleable, such brutal realism can only be good.

Waiting for God-Snow

February 8th, 2013

Extrapolating to the looming blizzard, I think power outages past.

In our former house of 21 years in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood, we had numerous localized blackouts. Some were a few hours, but an annoying and inconvenient number were days, up to five.

In the new place of four years, we fare much better.  It appears that the newer above-ground equipment, as well as the suplier — NStar rather than National Grid or Keyspan — have much to do with that.

Over in JP, transformers regularly got shorts, lightning strikes or taken down in tree falls. Those are very rare up here, long timers tell us.

cablesThe oddment is Boston’s blind acceptance of the ugliness, inefficiencies and even dangers of the power and comm cables everywhere overhead. Like in so many cities, we simply don’t see them. They are like the dreadful snapshots folk take and only notice later that there are poles appearing to grow out of someone’s head or the garbage truck as a background.

Facts are that keeping these cables up high has benefited the utilities and other providers financially…at stupid penalties for all of us. Boston keeps a third-world infrastructure by inertia.

In contrast, places like Manhattan recognized the perils of this and protected most underground. We saw the benefits when superstorm Sandy was so destructive. Repair and rejuicing the thin, long island was much quicker and cheaper than where the transformers and wires were on poles.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it costs to put the cables under the street, but some cable TV/net/phone providers got it, sucked up the cost and have vastly higher uptime than the creaky alter kaker companies. If it costs, the provider should pay most or all of it, getting an ROI from longer maintenance and install outlays going forward. They can probably scam cities and states into letting them bump their rates, just slightly, to recoup some of that. Boo, but OK.

Sorry if this alters your perception. No, I’m not. People here from the pols to us ordinary folk should notice how hideous the poles, cables, boxes and cables covering our streets are.

Bury ’em!

How’s Ed Doing?

February 1st, 2013

Can you believe it? Ed Koch died.

The former mayor, NY state rep and NYC councilman had lots of health problems and went out at 88. His perennial…and sincere…question to constituents was, “How am I doing?” He wanted to know and would either try to fix shortcomings or argue with you about the nature of the problems. Great guy.

kochThis morning, I only found a small printed pic I took in 1979 of him. We met numerous times and I interviewed him several, and he interviewed me once. Somewhere I have prints of good shots without the print dot pattern, but this is a fair representation. This was from an article I wrote as a staffer on American Management Association’s AMA Forum, the magazine I ran within the magazine were I worked, Management Review. The mayor squeezed some hot-shot execs to volunteer by bringing their biz expertise to making NYC more efficient. Of course it worked.

He was my mayor for most of my years in the city, but I remember him more for a time before that.

One rainy, cold, windy morning I was headed to a 14th Street subway entrance on my way to work when I met him for the first time. He was not physically imposing, maybe less so in his dark raincoat and standing under an apartment building marquee.

As is my wont, I was looking at people and he zeroed in on me. “Hi. I’m Ed Koch, your state representative,” he said. He asked whether I had concerns, anything I wanted to change. Well, I did, though decades later I can’t recall what they were.

What amazed me was that he pulled out a notepad and pen. He wrote down my issues, even repeating them to make sure he had understood.

He had a convert right there. I told people and talked him up. He was a savvy pol.

 

 

Here for the Music

January 30th, 2013

At 8 PM, the Cantab’s performance space was so quiet we could have heard a caterpillar crawling. By 9, with the opening act half way through their set, the me-me-me birds so overpowered the amplified voices and instruments it was a pantomime.

Straining to hear Hoss Power, then accepting defeat, I thought of the sighs, moans and worse of my musician friends who play in bars. I also climbed into the WABAC machine in a flash memory of when I angered a singer in a New York nightclub.

Last evening was the predictable. By 8:30, the scheduled start, the small room filled, almost entirely with 20-something college sorts. Cantab does a good deed on Tuesdays in bringing in two bluegrass bands for only the price of a passed tip hat and your swilled booze. Being cheap and bluegrass being current hipster fodder, the room, then the adjacent standing space were jam-packed.

…but not for the music.

Da utes were there to socialize and toss back $5 beers and wines. They bellowed and brayed. Some never looked up from their smartphones. A small subset in chairs closest to the stage were clearly there for the band. There were smiles and waves; maybe their were all friends of the group — a lot of folk, mostly women, with a fiddle, mandolin, two guitars, banjo and upright bass. As many as there were hip to hip on the small stage and with working mics, they were no match for the increasing chatter.

Management is used to this and surely the bar had no objections to the non-stop hand signals for another round. We drank a couple ourselves.

alina

In the big-kid world of performance halls with pricey tickets, folk who talk endlessly and in increasing volume over performers doesn’t work. Abutters and staff hush them or remove them. My muse-I-can chums assure me that’s not the way in most bars. Customers are all about themselves. The band is coincidental.

It suddenly reminded me of my own issue many years ago. I pissed off Sesame Street’s Olivia, a.k.a. Alaina Reed.

Before her long stint with Big Bird, she was already a singer and actress. Her blues were powerful and convincing.

I was single and brought a female companion for the show. I also brought my new 35mm camera (decades before digital photography). I was considerate and discreet — no flash and only a few shots. I prided myself in being considerate.

Yet in retrospect, I was different only in degree from the clods at the Cantab last night.

After her long set, she stopped by our table on her way out of the room. She looked fiercely into my face and told me  how rude I’d been. She said that the several shutter clicks had tested her concentration.

To me, the noises were so few and faint that I hadn’t considered them a problem. I immediately apologized and iterated that several times. She was decidedly not placated. She stood there and kept at it.

Surprisingly, she did accept my invitation to have an I’m-really-sorry drink with us. Cocktail in hand, she relentlessly scolded me. Naively, I had assumed that the double social lubrication of apology and alcohol would ease the anger. …not at all.

She must have told me 15 different slight variations on how difficult it is to maintain focus as the sole singer in a room and how my selfish noises had challenged her focus. My and my date’s praise for her show also had no obvious effect.

Eventually, she finished her drink and seemed to tire of verbally slapping me. She never once smiled nor showed the slightest indication that anything was forgiven.

The testiness of artistes is the stuff of legend. Alaina Reed was at once right and self-righteous.

Last night, Hoss Power’s musicians plugged away as though everyone could hear them and was listening to the music not each other. They left the stage smiling and were pretty good. No one learned any lessons from them about how to behave in public.

Different people, places and times…

 

 

Tricksy Managers

December 21st, 2012

ESpen

On discovering a couple of what could kindly be termed collectors items, I ran though some of the corporate gifts I’ve gotten over decades. Yesterday’s finds were impressive looking ballpoint pens. The pen body was in the same wood as the substantial box. Both had etched ELRON SOFTWARE into them.

Its Israeli parent, Elron Electronic Industries, is still fat and thriving in various medical and defense businesses there. The mistimed decision to jointly develop software there, here and with some help in Russia was solid, but unfortunately foundered in the industry collapse of 2000-2001 and an IPO that was about three months too late.

Along the way in the good times, management gave us these tchotchkes, along with fleece pullovers, polo shirts and seemingly anything you could weave or brand with the company name or its product names. I have bright yellow INTERNET MANAGER and blue WEB INSPECTOR apparel.

Likewise, various previous companies handed out backpacks to our children on bring-your-kid-to-work day, as well as t-shirts, note pads and on and on. I still like wearing Microcom gear, because I was proud of those products. That company sold itself to Compaq, shortly before that one bought DEC and a NIC manufacturer, with the idea that all together we’d put Compaq instantly into the networking business. That best-of-breed amalgam took more smarts than Compaq’s management and marketing and their new owner HP had. The network-card, DEC networking and Microcom teams were all tossed in the street.

Truth be told, many of us at various companies were amused by such gifts. They cost the companies very little, all of which was tax deductible anyway. The company got diverse use by giving the same stuff to customers and vendors.

The cynical aspect though was what I heard directly from the shots at American Management Associations a long time before. That AMA made its consistent profits by holding seminars for execs. Some of those meetings were at the New York City HQ and others at more luxurious locales like the horse farm at Saranac Lake.

They told us in the publishing division that companies’ managements understood the tchotchke nature of these expensive trips for their underlings. Sure there was the airfare and the hotel and meals costs, some away-from-office time and incidental penalties. The pretense (dubious, I say, having attended numerous of these sessions) was that the managers given these wonderful AMA privileges was that the brass at home expected them to be even better at their jobs after attending.

In reality, AMA told the big shots that these were a great way to make the recipients feel special, and maybe increase the productive competitiveness internally. The best part was that the one or five thousand spent did not add to the salary base. That is why companies so love bonuses over raises. The rewards immediately expire and do not compound.

I don’t even get tired of kindly correcting people who ask about my ENRON jacket. After all, Elron had bad timing with its software efforts, but they weren’t a bunch of crooks.

 

Sandy just bruises us a bit

October 30th, 2012

Here’s best hopes and wishes for those in Sandy’s path. We had comparatively little damage here. Our flooding, lost power, and tree-on-house destruction would normally be sources for self-pity. With this monster storm though, we feel lucky.

Here are a few snaps of our hill in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

Well, there was that tree. This 40 to 50 foot pine fell without creaking or other sound, suddenly blocking the road. The car normally in its path was not and it fell both away from our house and short of the neighbor’s.
Everyone, his brother and niece seemed to have called the city. Plus a Public Works big shot lives nearby. They told us they didn’t know when they could get to it, but were there within a half hour. They took about half the tree but used a loader to move the rest off to the sides so folk could drive through.
Pre-Sandy old coot (and weatherman/woman) wisdom was it would be a waste of time to rake before the storm. That was partially true. Here is our formally totally clear patio after the blow.
On the other hand, we got trash, recycling and yard-waste pick up all on Monday. So 16 big bags or cans of leaves went to the city compost piles.
A neighbor’s R.I.P. Halloween tombstone ended up in the gutter flood of leaves and water. I retrieved it and one of the downed-tree gawkers recognized it, taking it off to the rightful owner.
Our several maples were denuded by the big winds. The three big basswoods in the back haven’t even bothered to turn color much less give up their foliage. This dogwood held on to about half its covering.
The skies still misted and more rain is allegedly coming throughout the day. Yet, early this morning, the sun tried to peak and promise.
With the big winds gone and guts down to 20 MPH, the political yard sign went back up.

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once.

We know numerous chums who lost power and had water damage both here and in New Jersey. I hear that my WV buddies and getting a foot or two of snow as well. However, Sandy was relatively kind to us and Boston did a fine job.

 

What George Taught Me

October 21st, 2012

Without ever meeting me, George McGovern taught me a lesson I’ve kept in mind since 1972. Even back in the grim and exciting days of the Vietnam War era, I interviewed other pols, including similarly anti-war U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse.  As newspaper reporter and editor, I was eager to speak with pols.

Yet the lesson McGovern coincidentally revealed was news I could and can use.

In 1972, I lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, long before Yuppies or hipsters. Instead, it was the Hell’s Angels, many Russian and Ukrainian elderly women (hubby had died), junkies, and immigrants using the area of cheap apartments as staging ground for becoming Americans and maybe even wealthy.

In some political ways, I felt a bit like I was back in South Carolina. There, I had been a hippie peacenik sort. That was a decided minority persona. Back on East 3rd and 9th Streets, I sensed the conservative vibes all around.

Russian and Ukrainian greetings and conversations were ubiquitous. Even the tiny A&P on First Avenue was an Eastern European outpost. It sold those deceptive loaves of black bread that weighed two or three times what sandwich loaves the same size did. The old women chatted with clerks and each other in their native tongues, even though many had been in the neighborhood since the 1917 Revolution. I recalled enough of my college Russian to understand the gist.

To a one, the old women seemed dour and sour. I even recall seeing one stumble and fall, spilling her bag of groceries. I helped her up and repacked her bag. I told her in Russian that I’d help her home, but she snatched the brown bag from me and looked terrified as she limped home with her bloody knee. Trust of the other was not big outside of that community.

I thus knew it was surely a fool’s errand to canvass for pinko McGovern in my precinct. I knew Nixon decidedly wasn’t THE ONE as his campaign claimed but rang the bells anyway.

The old women who filled the apartment buildings (one to five story humble dwellings, as was my own) would not have rung me in. However, as was and is the standard NYC practice, I’d just go in when someone else opened the door to enter or exit. Once I was inside, I did get a face-to-face hearing after the woman had looked through the door peephole.

They were stunningly unresponsive. I gave my pitch about the pivotal election and hopes for peace and equality via a McGovern administration.

Sometimes I threw in a little Russian, always being careful to avoid such loaded terms as товарищ (comrade), far too risky I knew. They invariably remained impassive. They certainly were not like the Swiss, who quickly forgive poor pronunciation of any of their three languages or the Japanese or Chinese, who largely sincerely appreciate any effort to speak even a few words in their language. Instead, I saw the same stone faces, never smiling nor nodding nor asking anything.

After several weeks of doing this in the evenings, I had covered the precinct, but was deeply disheartened. Clearly my audience was conservative, unswayed by McGovern’s messages or at least my delivery of them. I had done the right thing in the cause noble, but to what effect?

I had a keen bead on my target voters. They were not buying what I was selling.

Come Wednesday, November 8th, the day after the election, I had an awful acknowledgement and a shock. First, Nixon had crushed my man. Only Massachusetts went for McGovern. Yet, yet…when the precinct results appeared in the papers later, mine had gone overwhelmingly for McGovern. I think it had the highest percentage in the city and state. Those sour elderly women were not at all as I knew them to be.

They didn’t make a deal out of their leftist leanings. They didn’t show them, at least to me. Those many Russian and Ukrainian elders did want what McGovern offered. Perhaps they had experienced enough war and violence and death and instability in their earlier years. Perhaps this or perhaps that. Regardless, they voted as I.

So I learned and have remembered. When I’m cocksure that my assumptions are absolutely correct, that’s far, far less important than reality. You need to ask, to make your pitch, to expose yourself, to be open to the obvious or even the eventual responses of others.

As my mother told me many times, ask, the worst you can hear is, “No.”

Blue Bloods Birthing Babies

June 17th, 2012

Amusement and satisfaction coexist in a big shot’s indicator in today’s NYTmidwives are becoming must-have status symbols for rich ladies.  Reminiscent of the FT‘s splendidly absurd How to Spend It insert magazines, we learn that the likes of supermodels in NYC and Boston use “the best” midwives now instead of OBs to deliver their princelings and princesses.

Having long been big on midwives, I see this as a likely advance, one that will percolate into the populace. First will be the celebrity imitators, who can do more than copy the pretentiously unusual baby names. The birth method may well open up, increasing demand for more midwives and birthing facilities.

This is personal with us. Our three were all born with midwives, beginning in 1979. I know from both experience and reading that prenatal care is vastly superior with midwives over OBs/nurses and that outcomes are superior, in no small part because of preparation and monitoring. Moreover, numerous moms beyond my wife have spoken of how much better the births went without being strapped down and rushed and drugged and cut open and such. Having a couple of women with you throughout (not even including the serving hubby or beau or equivalent) is an order of magnitude better than the standard hospital routine.

We had to work to get access to midwifery services. Actually the easiest was the first, at the Maternity Center in Manhattan’s Yorktown. They’d been delivering babies and training midwives (and fighting jealous OB groups) since the Depression. They were in a gorgeous, commodious former mansion, to which we made a weekly pilgrimage (always followed with a pregnant-lady satisfying meal at a local restaurant).

There were lots of measurements, stringent rules for nutrition and exercise, and correcting or preventing problems that would preclude a non-hospital delivery. The OBs who worked with the center were of course midwife friendly. They were wont to say on the rare times we saw one to listen to the midwives, to rely on their estimates of delivery date, and to practice the breathing and other techniques we’d use in delivery.

One morning, I awoke to see my wife in the rocking chair saying, “It’s time.” When the contractions were close enough together, we took a taxi from the Village and were off to the arena, or at least the birthing room in the basement. The first one made it some work, as in back labor. He needed to go from sideways to head down, which took the better part of a day. He was healthy with a high Apgar score. My only shocks came at how slick he was when I caught him and at the official New York moment of birth, which was when I cut the umbilical cord. That was one tough tube.

A few hours later, we were in a cab headed to our apartment with our son, following the requisite OB visit to certify his health. It was great to nest with the baby the same day.

Two and three were born around here, although we had to chase the midwives.  What was then the Harvard Community Health Plan only offered a midwife center for Eastern Massachusetts on the grounds of the Beverly Hospital. That’s a haul from Boston’s Jamaica Plain. We took our mandated birthing refreshers more locally but drove to the North Shore for the birth. We got there but didn’t have a lot of time to spare.

We were both more relaxed for the second act and the labor was considerably shorter.  I caught son two too. As with the first, we headed home the same day and were a family, now of four, at home.

The third fell afoul of bureaucracy and because-we-can behavior of a teaching hospital, but still produced a healthy son. By this time, the HCHP shunted us to a midwife area at Beth Israel Hospital. That was fortunate geographically, as this labor was under an hour. We managed to drive there from a few miles away and toss the keys to the valet. I was well aware of the fast progress, but the midwives and nurse didn’t seem to get it. In the room, I immediately washed up and put on gloves. While the trio was across the room chatting, I caught son number three without them.

Unfortunately, BI being a teaching hospital, the OB on call insisted that our son’s heart rate was too slow. He also didn’t get the usual squeezing workout of delivery, so he was a bit purple. The doc had him put in a neonatal ICU. We were not pleased and this two brothers were concerned when they visited and put on yellow scrubs to see him under Plexiglas with tubes. When our own pediatrician was available nearly two days later, he came by, checked him over, pronounced him very healthy and with a heart like a future athlete and sent us all home.

I can go on about the glories of midwife preparation and delivery. I have been known to do just that. If it takes the status-seeking super-rich to spread this gospel, that’s OK by me.

Felder Bares Bernstein

April 30th, 2012

Loath as I am to stand in applause (seemingly the norm at every performance from kindergarten through Broadway), Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein had me up and flapping. Last evening’s nearly two-hour, one-man show also deserved the overused and usually hyperbolic tour de force.

Note that this is an ArtsEmerson show at the Paramount and runs through May 20th. Hie thee. Maestro: The Art of Leonard Bernstein is far better done and more memorable than any play you’re likely to see this year or any musical with women wearing spangles and rhinestones.

At its most basic, this show is a chronological biography. Badly written and performed, that could surely be tedious. This is riveting. No one coughed or rustled papers.

Note too that Felder is creating a career out of these musician shows. Following Bernstein, he comes on with black hair starting May 30th as George Gershwin. Previously, he’s been Chopin and Beethoven. He takes his shows on the road and somehow maintains his energy with one or two a day and transitioning among characters and musical repertoires.

And music…

Felder plays and sings, the former stronger than the latter, but certainly in the role of conductor/composer, his voice is fine and does not distract from the story. He plays enough Beethoven, Wagner. Copeland, a few others, plus parts of his own work. Intriguing is his early efforts and parts of his major works. Yet an apt leitmotif that does a fair job of tying his story together are a couple of songs from West Side Story, Somewhere and Maria.

Key tensions in the tale start with his unapproving, gruff father. Over his objections, Bernstein pays for his own piano lessons, studies with several leading mentors, and makes a seeming success of it all. Underlying are problems most of us who saw him conduct or perform and explain on TV forgot or did not know. There’s his finding, marrying and having three children with Felicia, his professed great love. Meanwhile, he longed to be known as a composer, to be among the greats in this country and historically. Along the way, he had homosexual affairs, including one for whom he left his wife for a few years. He returned and nursed her as she died of cancer.

A long, pivotal scene near the end has him beseeching the audience to sing any of his arias or recall even a few bars of his serious work. He knows no one can and in the end seems to accept begrudgingly that West Side Story will be his piece by which people recall him.

The show carries the biography from childhood to death surprisingly smoothly. Felder stays in character, or characters, as he voices the father, mother, various mentors and more. This artificial cast of characters allows for development and aging and struggles one-man shows tend to lack.

He also manages to deal candidly with issues, such as the gay affairs, without becoming salacious or silly.

The show had no pauses, no awkward or forced segments, and nothing contrived. It is brilliantly written. The steady rhythm of intense performance performance and then casual conversation provided great focus and framed each example of development memorably. Felder was more than capable at the piano and the musical selections illustrated both how Bernstein progressed, and regressed, professionally, and supported the thesis of a tormented would-be great composer.

Felder’s view seems to be, as the program reads, that it is too soon after Bernstein’s life and death to judge his oeuvre. His superb version of the life does not judge either. I left the Paramount with a much fuller and more personal sense of the musician and person. Again, this show brought me to my feet.

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