As Trump is Inaugurated, Queens Landlords Reflect on How Far They’ve Come

QUEENS, New York.  The Jamaica Bus Terminal here was abuzz this morning as chartered behemoths of the highway were loaded to the gills with men like Fred D. Kalinoff, a spry 64-year-old dressed in a loud plaid sports coat and dress slacks with an elastic waist.  “This is going to be the trip of a lifetime,” he said with a smile as the attendant punched his ticket for the five-hour drive to Washington, D.C.  “I’ve been to all five boroughs, but no further south than Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey.”

trump
Lookin’ good in the hood!

 

The journey that has Kalinoff and his professional colleagues excited will take them to our nation’s capital for the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, the son of a Queens landlord, as 45th President of the United States.  “For too long, the landlords of Queens have been looked down upon as something you would scrape off your shoe, and I don’t mean chewing gum,” says Art Moskolitz, the incoming president of the Small Property Owners of Queens, a trade association.  “With Trump in the White House, we’ll have the ear of the most powerful man in the world when some deadbeat tenant tries to walk away from carpet stains at the end of a lease.”

trump1
“And out the back, you have a breath-taking view of the back of another apartment building!”

 

Trump will be the first descendant of a Queens landlord to ascend to the Presidency, a fact which historians say may be the source of the real estate magnate’s apparently bottomless reserves of tackiness.  “Lyndon Johnson had the highest previous TQ, or ‘tacky quotient,'” according to Lyle George of the Institute for the Study of the Presidency at Waldham College.  “Showing off his scar from gall bladder surgery, lifting up dogs by the ears, making jokes about sex with goats.  Trump bids fair–if I may wax poetic for a moment–to pass that record in his first 100 days.”

trump2
Who could’ve guessed it would be downhill from here?

 

The word “tacky” refers to a person who lacks good breeding and taste, and who reveals the same in the course of social climbing to overcome a sense of inferiority.  “It originated in the South, where parvenus would get all sticky washing their cars in the street,” says linguist Armand Noersdorf of Encyclopedia.com, an authority on American slang.  “Tacky people lack self-awareness when they sweat like a bitch wolf in heat.”

trump4
Fred Trump

 

Donald Trump’s father Fred Trump amassed a fortune from apartment buildings in Queens, giving his son a taste of the luxe lifestyle one could achieve by chiseling tenants on security deposits and deferred maintenance of boilers and roofs.  “Fred was one of the great ones,” says Kalinoff, who owns several buildings in the Flushing neighborhood.  “He perfected the technique of making tenants file written requests for refunds on coins they lost in his washers and dryers.  He parlayed the float on that change into an empire that stretched all the way to Brooklyn.”

trump5
“Look at your lease–until the cockroaches get bigger than this, they’re your problem.”

 

As hopeful as they are of their prospects under a Trump administration, the men on this bus say they will not be blindly partisan in their support of the 45th President.  “I have to think of the national interest and not just the man in the office,” says Moskolitz.  “If I were the federal government, I’d ask for first month, last month and security deposit on the White House.”

 

 

Obama Pardons Pee-wee Herman for Foil Ball

WASHINGTON, D.C.  Courting controversy in the eleventh hour and fifty-ninth minute of his Presidency, Barack Obama yesterday granted an end-of-term pardon to Pee-wee Herman in exchange for Herman’s 8-foot high aluminum foil ball, which will become part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution.


“Listen Pee-wee, it’s the whole foil ball or the deal’s off.”

 

“It’s time for America to put the past behind us and honor one of our greatest living artists,” said Jane Chu, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who brokered the deal.  “Should someone be banned for life from hosting children’s television shows just because he likes to spank the monkey in movie theaters?  I think we as a nation are better than that.”


Herman’s foil ball: Not shown actual size.

 

Herman was arrested in 1991 on charges of lewd and lascivious conduct after he was caught masturbating in an adult theater during a showing of Nurse Nancy, a pornographic film.  He paid a fine and made several public service announcements, but the arrest and resulting charges have not been expunged from his record.


Herman:  “I’m really sorry–okay?”

 

Herman’s return to the public eye has been cautiously orchestrated, beginning with a Broadway show and culminating in a so-called “weblog” or “blog,” such as the one you’re reading right now.  He has also appeared on a late-night talk show wearing an abstinence ring and worked as a celebrity usher at the Naked Eye Cinema in the Combat Zone, Boston’s adult entertainment district.

Presidential pardons are often controversial because they are not reviewable by the other two branches of government, and thus give the nation’s chief executive the latitude to do something really stupid.  Notorious pardons include Bill Clinton’s pardon of his brother Roger Clinton for cocaine possession, and Gerald Ford’s pardon of former President Richard Nixon for wearing wing-tip shoes on a federally-protected beach.


Nixon:  “I could say ‘Yippee’–but that would be wrong.”

 

Herman’s foil ball is reputed to be the largest of its kind in the hands of a private collector, and has been coveted by Obama since he first saw it in an episode of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”  “It’s the Holy Grail of foil balls,” said Eric Montrose of Sotheby’s, a fine art and collectibles auction house in New York.  “You would hate to see it broken up into pieces and used to freeze hamburgers or fish.”

Take Two Llamas and Call Me in the Morning

          A Massachusetts nursing home that doesn’t believe in antipsychotic drugs uses alternative methods to calm patients including a llama named Travis, whom a caretaker leads through the halls.

                                                              The Boston Globe


Over-the-counter generic.

 

We had tried everything with Mr. McKelvey–drugs, electroshock, Wheel of Fortune–but nothing seemed to calm his agitated mind.  He would wander the wards, enter other patients’ rooms and move their personal items–family photos, eyeglasses, much-beloved tchotchkes–not out of malice, as we ultimately learned, but from a deep-seated sense of aggrieved mischief-making, which is totally different.

Still, he was at times a danger to himself.  He would wander off the grounds seeking–we didn’t know what.  I thought it was time to call in a specialist from Boston’s extensive camelid-based therapeutic community.


Crack team of specialists

 

“Do you have the LLamatologists Directory?” I called to the young woman who was interning with us in the geronto-petting zoo ward.

“Right here, doctor,” she said in a voice made husky by the long nights she was on call, tending to the various South American fauna needs of our patients.  “But are you sure a llama is . . . appropriate?”

I gave her a look that spoke volumes–nos. 2A through 4 of the International Encyclopedia of Camelid Medicine.  “And what, may I ask, do you propose as an alternative?” I asked skeptically.  You have to put these young people with their “holistic” medicine in their place before they start questionning tried-and-true methods the elder statesmen of the profession have perfected after years of stepping into llama poop.


“You sure stepped in that one.”

 

“Perhaps an alpaca, or a guanaco–maybe even a vicuna,” she said, looking for all the world as if she had just stepped out of a particularly overwrought episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

“Shouldn’t you have added a tilde to the ‘n’ of that last species?”

“It is the internet–there is only so much I can do by way of punctuation,” she said, her eyes narrowed scornfully.  I knew what she was thinking; I was past my prime, old-and-in-the-way, a hidebound relic of a bygone . . .

“Would you stop with the internal monologue,” she said finally.  “We only have so much time.”

I granted her that much.  “How many llamatologists are there?”

“There’s Llama, Dr. Llance; Dr. Llarry; Dr. Llamont; and Dr. LleMoyne.

“What’s up with the last guy?” I asked.

“He’s from Missouri–what did you expect?”

I’m not an East Coast snob–even though I’ve never been further west than Kenmore Square–but still, I didn’t want to be questioned in hindsight.  Or foresight.

“Where did he go to school?”

“MIT.”

“Mascot?”

“The beaver–nature’s engineers.”


Chicks dig beavers!

 

“Is he board-certified?”

“Looks like it.”

“No record of disciplinary proceedings?”

“He’s domesticated–and lanolin free.”

I’ve never understood why that last factor was important, but in my head I could hear myself defending the referral by saying “I checked him out–not a drop of lanolin on him.”

I hesitated for just a moment, then said “All right . . . ring him up.”


Baby llamas–kissing!

 

He was there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, which the lamb didn’t appreciate one bit.

“You are in need of a llamatologist?” he asked as he stood at my doorstep.

“Not me–Mr. McKelvey.  One of our toughest patients.”

“What seems to be the problem?”


Rastallamaferian

 

“Advanced dementia, but he’s not responding to standard petting-zoo therapy.”

“It may be too late,” LleMoyne said.  “Which ward is he in?”

“Down the hall, to the left,” I said.

He slipped on the short, white coat that is the trademark of the healing profession.  I followed him as he went and could tell from his gait–and the huge chunks of dung he left behind–that he was a true professional.

We entered the Alzheimer’s ward–Alzheimer was out, so he spoke to the nurse on duty.

“Which one’s McKelvey?” he asked sharply.

“The cantankerous old coot over against the wall.”

LleMoyne sized him up and said “I can handle him.”


Bachelor party llama

 

We approached the old man’s bed and LleMoyne turned on his bedside manner.

“Well, well,” he said apropos of nothing in particular.  “How’s the world treating you?”

“Damn nurses won’t let me have my CAKE!” he screamed into the air, not looking us in the eye.

“Have you finished your vegetables yet?”  A well-trained geronto-llamacologist will encourage a patient to dig into his past in order to relate to the world around him.

“No.  Not gonna finish vegetables.  Don’t like ‘em.”

LleMoyne turned and gave me a look.  “He’s going to be a tough nut to crack.”

“Do what you gotta do.”

LleMoyne leaned over the bed and said softly “I’ll bet you’d like to pet me–wouldn’t you?”

McKelvey gave the llama a look of wild surmise, as Cortez’s men did when they first saw the Pacific Ocean, as described by Keats in On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.

“Could I?” he asked hesitantly.

“Of course you could . . . llamas feel good,” LleMoyne replied.

The old man began to stroke the regal creature, who responded by lowering his neck and nuzzling the patient on the cheeks.  “You really need to shave,” animal said to man.

“You do too,” McKelvey said right back, although his face had softened to a smile.  I took the patient’s pulse, and his heart rate had slowed to a crawl.

“You’ve done it!” I exclaimed to the llama, as McKelvey started to munch on yellow beans, cottage cheese and pureed carrots.  We’re known for our 5-star cuisine.

“It’s what I’m trained to do,” LleMoyne said as he tried to write out a prescription in his illegible handwriting–even worse than human doctors!

“What’s this say?” I asked as I turned the scrip every which way, trying to decipher it.

“Take one llama every day before meals,” he replied.   “And don’t use the generic stuff.”

Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Wild Animals of Nature!”

How to Improve Just About Any Poem

. . . how every sunny Saturday afternoon, Hey, diddle-diddle, the dish ran away with the spoon.

                              November, Late in the Day, John Ridland

half seas over under up again and the barnacles white in the moon the pole stars chasing its tail like a pup again and the dish ran away with the spoon

                              archy experiences a seizure, don marquis

You can improve just about any poem
that you write high brow, middle or tres low
By adding a particular singular phrase
From a nursery rhyme learned long a-go.

I speak of course, of Hey Diddle Diddle,
The all-purpose doggerel solvent.
It will loosen any poetically rusted nut
Like a large can of Liq-u-id Wrench.

If you’re stuck for a rhyme for “moon” or “June”
(although I can’t imagine how you could be)
Just throw in the line ‘bout the dish and the spoon
And you’ll be a pro poet, not a would-be.

Like:

Whose woods these are I think I know
I hope to see him soon,
He will not see me stopping here
’cause The dish ran away with the spoon.

Don’t think it’s a crutch, classy poets and such
Resort to it daily and weekly.
And when they are done, they don’t cite their source,
They just keep on writing unmeekly.

It’s public domain, you can use it again,
And again and again ever after.
The surprise effect gets ‘em right in the neck
And after the shock comes the laughter.

But if I were you—I know, I’m not—
And you wanted to borrow it nicely,
Like a cyanide pill to cure all your ills
You should do it just once, not twicely.

At the Short-Story Vending Machine

Zoetrope: All-Story Magazine unveils America’s first short-story vending machine.

Press release, July 2016

coppola
Hmmm.  John O’Hara?  Naw, too fattening.

 

I was the only one at work on Martin Luther King Day, and the little greasy spoon on the first floor of my office building was closed.  My stomach started to growl around a quarter to eleven, and I figured I might as well head down to the cafeteria and see what was available in the vending machines.

The selection ran the gamut from high-salt to high-sugar.  A demand by the younger people in the firm that we stock “healthy” snacks had resulted in a natural foods vending machine that sat there, neglected, like a hippie girl in Birkenstock sandals at a junior prom.  The stuff tasted so bad the few people who ever bought anything from it ended up eating the box instead.

coppola1

I got a Gatorade, an tuna salad sandwich that carbon dating would later establish had been sitting there since the second Clinton administration, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for dessert.  Lunch, to steal a phrase from a Wheatie’s box, of champions.

I was about to sit down when I heard a tinny little voice of the kind that the Japanese had installed in their interactive vending machines a while back.  “don’t you want some sustenance for your brain too?” it said in the inflection-less monotone that computers always use.

coppola2
“Ann Beattie?  You’ll be hungry again in an hour!”

 

I looked up and noticed for the first time a new machine lined up in our little automated food court.  Across the top was emblazoned, as in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Excelsior, the strange device “Short Fiction Snacks.”

“Excuse me,” I said; we have a Dignity-in-the-Workplace policy that requires us to use a courteous and professional tone with all inanimate objects, from the Post-It Notes to the almost-obsolete fax machine on the 5th floor.  “Were you talking to me?”

“you bet,” the machine said.  “for a dollar twenty-five you can have a short-story delivered piping hot.  just the thing to fill the hole in your soul left by all that junk food.”

I looked down at the meager repast I was about to consume.  Yes, it was a bunch of crap, but it was my bunch of crap.  I wasn’t going to supplement it with an ephemeral epiphany of three to five thousand words on the say-so of a hunk of metal and plastic.

“I don’t know,” I said with cautionary reserve.  “Whadda ya got?”

“we’ve got early hemingway nick adams.”

“I like it, but I want something with a little more meat on its bones.”

coppola3
Ring Lardner

 

“humor with a dark underside like ring lardner?”

“Ordinarily I’d bite . . .”

“virginia woolf praised him you know.  and hemingway used his name as his high-school nomme de plume.”

“Thanks, I know all that.  But I don’t know how old this tuna salad is, so I shouldn’t risk a grim surprise ending like Haircut.

coppola4
Flannery O’ Connor

 

“i have a flannery o’connor . . .”

“You know, it has been awhile since I dipped my toe in the real honest-to-God outcast stuff.  A Catholic writing in the ‘Christ-haunted’ Protestant South.”

“you know what she said about the sacrament of communion right?”

“If it’s just a symbol, I say to hell with it.”

“you got that right.  and yet she’s a beacon for all the godless mfa’s in fiction stalking the land, praying to her as their icon.”

“Did you read that ‘By the Book’ interview of Bruce Springsteen in The New York Times Book Review?”

“in which he compared his sappy sentimental songs to her.  i almost puked up a john cheever story.”

“As Miss Flannery would say, there’s many a platinum album that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

“ha ha ha,” the machine laughed.  “well, what’ll it be?”

“I’ll go for the O’Connor,” I said, and I pulled out my wallet.  “Can you make change for a dollar?” I asked.

“are you kidding?  my math skills are better than yours.”

I let it pass, and slipped one, then a second dollar bill into the little slot.  Three quarters came jingling down the chute and I pressed button F1.  Oops–I missed and hit F2 instead.

“Crap! I hate when that happens.  Can I get a refund?” I asked the machine.

“sorry no refunds for human error.  you’ll have to read what you got.”

ohenry

“But I hate O. Henry!”

 

 

 

What’s Wrong With Stella by Starlight?

It was one of those moments when you realize you are hopelessly out of step with the current generation.

My girlfriend had declined to move to Boston with me and so I was looking for roommates.  I happened to mention it to a guy named Phil, a philosophy major whom I knew shared an interest in jazz.  He said he was moving to Boston to go to graduate school too.  “That’ll be great!” I said, assuming too much.  “What with your record collection and mine, we could . . .”

He cut me off, and rather sharply I might add.  “Uh, thanks but no thanks,” he said.

“But . . .”

“No offense, but you probably listen to ‘Stella by Starlight.’”

I didn’t have to speculate as to what I’d done to deserve my reputation as a moldy old fig, the term beboppers used to refer to musicians of Louis Armstrong’s generation and their fans.  I couldn’t have whistled the tune to ”Stella by Starlight” on a bet, but I knew what Phil meant.  William Thomas McKinley, a musician and composer from whom I took an undergraduate course in jazz at the University of Chicago in the early seventies, had said that the only proper moods left for jazz to express were violence and introspection, and I was definitely a member of a retrograde faction.  I believed, in flat earth fashion, in melody.

McKinley had once invited one of his protegees, a young saxophonist, to perform for the class.  The fellow proceeded to honk on his horn for perhaps fifteen minutes, producing sounds that recalled a man stomping on a bag with a goose in it.  When the guy stopped–I won’t say “concluded” because the thing he produced seemed to have no beginning or middle, although it thankfully had an end–he spoke a bit about his, uh, art.  “I could go on like that for hours,” he said after McKinley praised him.

I had the temerity to put my hand up for the first question.  “Why on earth would you want to?”

In a historical sense, Phil and McKinley were right; at that time jazz had devolved to a point where your choices were pretty much limited to angry musicians, who sounded like they were having arguments with their instruments, and those who were neurotic and depressed, or who sounded like it because they were on heroin, like Miles Davis. Those who had no allegiance to melody fell into step; those who felt that jazz had fled from a city in the midst of its Golden Age–the Jewish/African-American renaissance of music that has come to be known as the Great American Songbook–to a desert plain where all was arid and lifeless, were bereft.

Kingsley Amis, one of the funnier novelists of his generation, once said of the neurotic mode that “if you really feel that life could not possibly be gloomier, try any slow Miles Davis track.  It will suggest to you that, however gloomy life may be, it cannot possibly as gloomy as Davis makes it out to be.”


A smiling Miles Davis, before he wised up and got depressed.

 

I was then a member in good standing of several circles of jazz listeners; one connected two Poles, a guy named Ed and another named Richard, both from the Polish neighborhoods of Chicago and both into heavy chaos in their music.  The axis on which their favorite music extended was, in cosmological terms, made of dark matter, those modal solos that make the room spin even when you’re not high.  The only representative from the neurotic camp I knew was a woman named Suzie who went on to become an anchorwoman in Los Angeles after college.  She had little bruises on her feet where she’d shoot heroin since she didn’t want tracks to show on her arms where they’d ruin the effect of her little black cocktail dresses.  Junkies favored Miles since, if all you can do with your body is nod your head, his music provides the perfect tempo.

But above and beneath this two dimensional plane there were two entirely different realms composed, for want of a better term, of light matter.  Beneath, there was the jazz of the 30′s, sometimes hot, sometimes sweet; Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Django Reinhardt, played by a friend of mine from New York.  At some point he’d hit a rip in the space-time continuum, slipped into the past and never returned.  He played the sort of music that one associates with the sound track of Max Fleischer cartoons–Betty Boop, Popeye, et alia, as the lawyers say.

Above it, and reaching to the heavens, were the be-boppers and their precursors; Lester Young on tenor sax, Charlie Parker on alto, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Bud Powell on piano, Boston’s Roy Haynes on drums.  Their music was filled with the same sense of joy but was more complex harmonically and rhythmically.  They had a firm home base in the blues but weren’t embarrassed to use popular songs as the basis for improvisation.  It was Parker, the most gifted of them all, a man who couldn’t breathe without creating wildly inventive figures, who heard “Stella by Starlight” in its original format–as a recurring theme in the ghost movie “The Invited”–and decided to use it as a vehicle for his protean flights of fancy.


Roy Haynes: Still alive, catch him if you can.

Which is why I say, in the manner of an old Broadway musical segue, what’s wrong with “Stella by Starlight”?  I mean, after all: if it’s good enough for Parker, the greatest jazz soloist of the latter half of the twentieth century, if not the entire span of jazz’s first hundred years, why isn’t it good enough for wannabe hepcats like Phil?

The graphic title to Anthony Braxton’s Composition No. 65: “Baby, I love you like a quadratic equation!”

 

Part of the reason is pure snobbery; if a song first hits the public’s ears from the loudspeakers of a movie theatre, how cool can it be?  For part of the pose of the avant-garde is always to define one’s self by what they don’t want to be–the schmucks who suck up popular culture.  Members of this school of thought, those two Poles being exemplars, like their art obscure and irritating; you “enjoy” it as a show of strength, like the guy at the health club who has to grunt to let others know how hard he’s working while you’re just–cruising.

Thus instead of a song you could actually sing along to, you get the likes of Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp and Anthony Braxton, who named his compositions with symbols, anticipating the androgynous R&B artist Prince who took a break from ordinary orthography when he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol.  Progress in this world view is represented by exiling emotion from music and replacing it with empty virtuosity, in much the same way that aliens in science fiction films are depicted as having oversize heads and aetiolated hearts.


Charlie Parker and trumpeter Red Rodney

 

The problem with this s8j#coooxl of m13uxic–now they’ve got me doing it!–is that not all change is progress, especially self-conscious change, and not every musician is a composer.  There’s a reason why jazz musicians have a strange affection for chestnuts such as “Stella by Starlight,” “When Sonny Gets Blue” and even, God forbid, “Danny Boy.”  They have pretty melodies, and long lines on which to hang your musical ideas.

Before Davis decided that he was incapable of making mistakes and slowed down to a tempo at which they were almost impossible to make (I can point out a few flubs to you even during this phase of his development), he had also played tunes taken from movies, most notably “Green Dolphin Street” from the movie of the same name, and even “Someday My Prince Will Come” from–good Lord–a Disney movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Those who fret about the smallish audiences that jazz attracts these days must eventually face this fact: an art form that turns its back on patrons, the way Miles Davis did both literally and physically in his dotage, can’t complain when the paying customers turn around and walk out.  If you start with music people like to hear, and not the self-indulgent meanderings of a musician out to prove that he’s a genius, you might persuade them to come back.

poetry is kind of important

poetry is kind of important,
a poem can be a big deal.
you can write one about your girlfriend
and how she makes you feel.

if you’re sad a poem’s just the thing
if you can see to write through your tears.
if it’s really good it’ll ruin someone’s evening
in a way they’ll remember for years.

good poets screw around with punctuation
to wrap up their gift of gab.
they also experiment with indentation
so it can be hard to set your tabs.

meter’s important in poetry,
you should definitely try to make your lines scan.
if you don’t you’ll ruin your flow-etry.
if people complain you can tell ‘em to buzz off, that’s exactly what you planned.

one thing that’s cool about poetry
is it doesn’t always have to rhyme.
I mean, it’s good if it does every now and then
but it’s not a crime if you don’t do it all the time.

real poets don’t sweat edits and deletions
they just sit down and the stuff comes out
like any other bodily excretion–
you know what I’m talking about.

poetry is like gymnastics;
you’ve got to nail the dismount.
the art form is generally plastic,
in stores it’s sold at a discount.

sorry, i was going to end this
but somehow i got distracted,
and now this poem’s gone on too long
like a wisdom tooth that’s impacted.

anyway, excuse the lapses in taste and rhyme
or more precisely, artistic deportment;
i’ve stayed on the stage of the page beyond my time–
i just wanted to say poetry is kind of important.

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”