Category Archives: Life as I Know it

Jason5

Column: May the funny one win?

Jason-Column2I’ve always gotten by being the funny one.

It was late in elementary school when I realized it wasn’t going to be my looks or my athletic prowess—and certainly not my dire lack of both—that was going to carry the day for me, if in fact I was ever going to win any days. It was around that time I realized I was probably funnier than a lot of the folks around me and that was going to be my play.

Being funny has gotten me jobs, gotten me girlfriends, it got me married and probably got me this column.

My sense of humor has served me well, I would say. But will being the funny one help County Executive Rob Astorino become New York’s next governor?

He’s trying to find out.

According to a poll from Siena College released Monday, Astorino, the Republican nominee, trails Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, by 36 percentage points, 57 to 21. A worse number for Westchester’s county executive is 69, the percentage of respondents in the Siena poll who either don’t know or have no opinion of Astorino.

Astorino’s unfavorable rating was only 12 percent, so I guess that’s something.

So what’s a newly re-elected county executive with higher aspirations to do?

Apparently, in Rob Astorino’s case, play to his weaknesses.

Last week, as Editor-in-Chief Christian Falcone and I were putting the finishing touches on your newspaper, reporter Chris Eberhart called our attention to an internet video, just sitting there on Vimeo, entitled “Bad Astorino.” I clicked it expecting a hit piece by the governor’s people, a special interest group, or whoever, bashing the county executive and his candidacy on this issue or that one.

Oh, the video bashed Astorino alright, but it was the county exec himself, his staff and even his family doing the bashing.

Throughout the video’s eight-minute-and-36-second duration, Astorino, playing himself, is depicted as a slovenly, hen-pecked husband, something of a potato chip-pounding dope and maybe even a bit of a drunk.

“Hawaii’s not a state,” Astorino says at one point through a mouthful of chips and giggles.

Addressing the county exec’s biggest problem in the campaign so far, “Bad” Astorino holds a press conference on his front lawn attended by only one reporter, about four years old, wearing a latter day Pee-wee Herman suit.

The video, made, it turns out, for Astorino’s appearance at the Legislative Correspondents Association Show in Albany-—sort of New York’s White House Correspondents’ Diner—is legitimately funny and the county executive is outstanding in it. When I watched it the first time, I had to pause and stare at the first scene in which Astorino appeared because, by the way he was behaving in his worn t-shirt and mussed hair, I thought it had to be an actor playing the county executive.

Wasn’t.

The video was informative as well, for me at least. Alongside Astorino staffers, Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay and Edward Cardinal Egan also appear in the video. The slightest internet research tells me Astorino was once quite successful in radio as, among other things, the executive producer of Kay’s ESPN radio show and a host on Sirius with Egan.

I didn’t know that and it tells me two things. First, there’s more to Rob Astorino than perfect hair and bright-eyed grin. Second, his pre-political friends still like him.

That probably matters in some way.

“Bad Astorino” taught me something else about the co-
unty executive who would be governor. In playing himself as a hopeless unknown and pointing out his campaign’s major shortcoming to date, Astorino demonstrated nice comic timing, yes, but more importantly he demonstrated a willingness to laugh at himself, and that shows self awareness.

And if he is self aware, he is very likely human.

Maybe that’ll be worth a few percentage points in the next poll.

CONTACT: jason@hometwn.com

 
Jason5

Column: You can look back, but you can’t go back

I revisited Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” on Blu-Ray this weekend. It made me feel things.

“Pulp Fiction” was released in 1994 and, for those of us toiling away at Tower Video in Yonkers with hopes and dreams of writing our own screenplays, it was seminal. So much so, we went back and saw it three more times in the theater; I don’t think I’ve done that with any movie since.Jason-Column2

The significant thing about watching “Pulp Fiction” this past weekend is it made me remember the 1994 version of me and all the things he thought he might do and all the things he thought he wanted to be.

More so even than that, it made me think about how much of the world still lay ahead of me in 1994.

I turned 20 that year. I hadn’t met my wife yet, and I was less than a year removed from the tumultuous two-year relationship with my first girlfriend. I was a free agent in those days; spending most of my time working night shifts until midnight at Tower and sleeping during the day. My remaining waking hours were filled with movies, talking about movies, Star Trek, talking about Star Trek and action figures and talking about action figures.

How did it take me two years to find another girlfriend?

The one thing I wanted to do then more than anything, as I mentioned above, was write a screenplay. I read the standard how-tos of course; Syd Field was en vogue then.

So was En Vogue, but I digress.

Seeing “Pulp Fiction” four times was like rocket fuel for my desire to make my own mark on cinema.

As luck would have it, I would get that chance. Sort of.

Another Tower Video jockey, a kid my age called Mike, was a thesis student at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Such students spent most of their last year at the school making a film to be shown in an awards festival at the Cineplex Odeon on 51st St. at the end of the school year.

As you can imagine, I got on with Mike very well. As it happened, the script for his thesis film, penned with another student, fell apart.

And so, over one late Tower night in, I believe, early 1995, Mike and I hashed out the idea for a short film that I would write and he would direct with other SVA students as crew and a cast of professional, working actors in front of the camera.

On the day of the SVA awards ceremony, called the Dusty Festival, I sat in an actual movie theater and watched the actual short film I wrote actually get laughs and reactions from an actual crowd.

If I’m honest, nothing’s really ever topped that.

I didn’t stay for the awards ceremony itself, so I missed Abel Ferrera, director of movies like “Bad Lieutenant” and “King of New York,” hand Mike the award for best film at the festival.

I’d never written a screenplay, I’d never set foot in SVA or any other film school and a film I wrote won the top award from what is to this day a significant festival at a significant school.

It was the worst thing that could have happened to me.

From there, I thought, things would be cake.

Mike and I would conceive another short film story, I’d write that, he’d direct it, and then maybe, after say one more, we’d start looking into financing for a feature.

Assuming no one from Warner Bros. or Miramax beat a path to our door first.

In addition to my collaborations with Mike, I started a feature screenplay of my own about the U.S. Coast Guard, a branch of the military underserviced by movies to this day. In furtherance of that effort, I visited the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., and I even toured the high endurance cutter Dallas, which was stationed at Governor’s Island at the time.

Mike and I got as far as the script for another short, and my Coast Guard screenplay made it to about page 15 before it was all over.

Mike moved to California to seek his fortune in Hollywood, and I moved on to other things. I met my wife, I left Tower, I had other jobs and wrote other fiction.

Starting in May 1996, my life morphed into something different, in many ways better, but nothing has ever felt more open and filled with possibility as the time after that first short film. When I think about it, even now, I can feel a cool breeze on my face.

That’s what life felt like then, a cool breeze coming from somewhere in a bright future.

But that was a long time ago. The Dallas was decommissioned in 2012. Syd Field died last year.

This all might seem a bit depressing at this point, but it’s really not because Mike came back from Hollywood a few years ago, much the same as when he left, without ever having achieved cinematic greatness, or even much of a profile on IMDB.

We still got on great, we even saw movies together again for a while; it was as if he never left the life we had in 1994.

But I had.

My life is with my wife now in our Yonkers co-op. I’m here at your newspaper now, and I’m searchable on Amazon. Mike and I never made good on our plans in 1995, and so watching “Pulp Fiction,” the movie that meant so much to us back then, is sort of a reminder of that.

But it’s also, I realize, a reminder of the road I traveled between one phase of my life and another; a time when the best laid plans were brushed aside by a cool breeze and the man who talks to you here each week was probably born.

I didn’t end up where I planned to go in those days, but, however briefly, I knew what it felt like to get somewhere.

I’ll never be able to thank Mike enough for that.

CONTACT: jason@hometwn.com

 
Jason5

Column: The best places I’ve never lived

Jason-Column2First of all, thank you to everyone who wrote in suggesting things I should do during my 12-hour layover in Chicago this past weekend. I took the Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise, which was the most suggested thing, and it was great. In fact, my whole do-it-yourself Amtrak residency to get started on my next fiction project was exactly what I hoped and wanted it to be, and I have you to thank in part for that, so well done.

The next time I’m in Chicago, and there’s definitely going to be one as I had a great nine or so hours there. Great big city feel, but cleaner and with a more consistent, intentional look and feel than Manhattan. The Red Line subway was immaculate and, though I’d never been there before, Chicago felt welcoming to me in a way only one other city I’ve ever been topped.

More on that city in a bit.

During the architectural river cruise, the docent pointed out a building, the balconies of which looked like Morse Code, that was recently built to house condominiums. She said the developer was having some trouble selling the condos in the current economic climate, so right now you can buy a two-bedroom, two-bath condo in this new, Morse Code looking building for around $200,000.

I almost jumped overboard and ran for it.

This building is right in the middle of central Chicago; it’s not far from the Willis Tower. Two bedrooms? Two baths? For 200 large in a city that sure seems cool and inviting to me? Where do I sign?

This is not the first time I’ve gone somewhere and wanted to live there immediately, but, as you’re about to read, this one might be for real.

The last time I rode an Amtrak train before this weekend was round about 1998. My wife, then my girlfriend, and I took the train to Atlanta to visit her family, who lived in a nice suburb thereof.

Strip malls, town houses and a slower pace; I loved it. When we got back, I was all set to start looking at real estate listings.

Back then, having children was still a possibility for us. My mother wondered how that would work for her and my father if we lived in Atlanta. Don’t worry, I said, we’d be just a short plane ride away.

“Yeah,” she said. “But they won’t know me.”

And there went moving to Atlanta.

Looking back, it would have been a terrible idea, and not just because of the separation from my family. I realize it was just a capricious thing to think, probably driven by dissatisfaction with other things going on, or not going on, in my life at the time.

Moving to Atlanta probably would have just been running away, and that has never a reason to go anywhere.

Jump ahead to 2009.

My wife and I went to Disneyland Paris to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. That trip included a 36-hour visit to London before we boarded the Eurostar train for Paris.

I don’t think a day has passed since that I don’t think about our one full day in London.

I loved everything about it, the look, the feel, the people, the history, the size—only about one square-mile at its core—the character; everything. I felt like I belonged there. I remember telling my wife London was like Walt Disney World, but real.

You know when people have their living room just so, and it looks beautiful, but you’re not allowed to touch anything? That was Paris.

When we got home, I, of course, looked into what it might be like to live in London or one of its suburbs. I got as far as the VAT tax and six-month quarantines for incoming pets.

Still, I want to get back to London for a full vacation. I think we’ll do that in the next year or two.

Back to Chicago.

It’s not all Walmarts and subdivisions the way suburban Atlanta was and it’s not in a foreign country the way London is, rather it’s a unique, geographically and financially attainable place with a character and pace perhaps much more conducive to me than Manhattan ever has been, or ever could be.

Plus, let’s be honest with each other; apart from a 12-year stint in the north Bronx, I’ve lived my entire life in the same basic area of Yonkers.

I’m not sure I want to say that 30 years from now.

CONTACT: jason@hometwn.com

 
Jason5

Column: Men, you are not entitled to anything

Jason-Column2Another mass murder this week. This time a 22-year-old man from Santa Barbara, Calif., Elliot Rodger, the son of a Hollywood assistant director, stabbed three men to death in his apartment and then used his car and two 9mm pistols in an attempt to kill as many more people as he could. He succeeded three more ti-mes, killing two women and another man.

He didn’t act out of backward religious fanaticism and he wasn’t the bullied emo who was pushed too far and he wasn’t a political extremist. No, Elliot Rodger was none of those things; he ended six lives—and then, thankfully, his own—because the girls he decided should date him didn’t want to date him.

Elliot Rodger died a 22-year-old virgin. He’d probably murder me for saying that.

People like Elliot Rodger tend to leave manifestos, and he did, but this is the social media age, so he also left a trail of message board posts and YouTube videos chronicling his, I guess we have to call it madness, but maybe it’s just the extreme form of an attitude scores of men—particularly young, white, affluent men—appear to share:

Women are a commodity, and sex with women is a right.

There’s a video making the rounds, shot shortly before his rampage; effectively a trailer for it, in which Elliot Rodger sat in his BMW and detailed his plans to kill “every spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut” at the “hottest sorority” at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Presumably, some of these are among the many, to hear Rodger tell it, who have rejected his advances, which seems to have confounded him as he considered himself “the supreme gentleman.”

Watch the video if you haven’t. I’ve seen people say it’s chilling. I found it the hollow squeal of one of the digital world’s great cry babies, complete with little fake, maniacal giggles sprinkled wherever the would’ve-been pick-up artist thought they’d make him seem the most cool.

The video would be easily dismissed if Elliot Rodger hadn’t killed six people soon after upload. But he did, which means those six people died because Elliot Rodger was a rank misogynist with a fundamental misapprehension about the way the world works.

To me, the most telling facet of his perceived plight and all-too-real attitude can be found in his manifesto, which checks in at more than 100 self-important pages, by the way.

“I was desperate to have the life I know I deserve,” he wrote.

Let that sink in for a moment. I’ll wait.

I don’t know about you, but you know what the life I deserve is? The one I make for myself.

You know what the life you deserve is? The one you make for yourself.

You know what the life Elliot Rodger deserves is? The one he’s not living right now because that’s the one he made.

None of his victims deserved the lives Elliot Rodger gave them.

Speaking of deserve, neither Elliot Rodger nor any male like him deserves the love of a woman. Neither do any actual men. None of us are entitled to a woman’s companionship, relationship, sex, or anything else in between, and we’re certainly not deserving of any of these things by declaration, which seems to have been the creed by which Elliot Rodger stopped living.

I’ve been married for 15 years and I have what I consider to be the best relationship of which I am aware. My wife and I earned our happiness because that’s what a relationship, especially a marriage, is. It’s work, it’s respect and it’s absolutely nothing you’re issued after enrollment in or implementation of, pick-up artist techniques.

Those are real, by the way, folks. Look them up. Women are referred to as “targets” in those particular guidelines.

Elliot Rodger was what’s known as a PUAhater. He belonged to an online community dedicated to despising the pick-up artist movement not because it’s misogynist cowardice, but because it didn’t deliver to him what it promised.

What he deserved.

And so ends Elliot Rodger. The supreme gentleman whose 22 years of not having sex—or any other female attention, to hear him tell it—convinced him everyone else was at fault for his complete lack of the thing he decided was value. It was the girls, you see, who should have realized what a special gift it was to have the attention of one such as he. They didn’t, and so they, and the men they did favor, naturally had to die.

Elliot Rodger was crazy; that’s easy to say.

Elliot Rodger was a cracked mirror; that’s not as easy.

But it’s probably true.

CONTACT: jason@hometwn.com

 
Jason5

Column: What am I not going to do?

As I’ve understood it, Chicago is a hell of a town.

Let’s hope so.

Jason-Column2Several weeks ago, we talked about my fascination and wonder with the possibility of an Amtrak residency, wherein a writer was able to ride the rails free of charge so long as she, in addition to any other writing she did, wrote about the experience for Amtrak’s blog. Since then, Amtrak has made writer’s residencies an official thing and, after an application process, will send 24 writers…somewhere and back this year.

I can’t wait that long.

And so, next week I will climb aboard the Lake Shore Limited from New York’s Penn Station to Chicago’s Union Station, returning the next day. I’ll have a Viewliner roomette on the way there, a bedroom on the way back and nothing to do either way but take in the scenery, dine with my fellow passengers and, most importantly, work on my next fiction project.

It’s going to be a total of 38 hours on the train over a 72-hour period. I can’t wait.

What I’m having a bit of trouble with, though, is the 12-hour layover in Chicago between Lake Shore Limiteds.

That might be where you come in.

I’ve never been to Chicago and, between check-in times and the cost of hotels near Union Station, it doesn’t really make sense for me to book a room I’m not even going to sleep in. So, that’s going to leave me with 12 hours to kill during which I am essentially a homeless, roomless tourist.

Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower and formerly the tallest building in the world, is not far from Union Station. Apparently, there are several glass boxes in the building’s Skydeck in which you can stand and look down through the floor to Wacker Drive 103 floors below.

So, as someone who used to be deathly afraid of heights, I’ll probably do that.

I’d love to go to Wrigley Field and take in a game, but the Cubbies will be in Milwaukee. Can’t they do anything right?

Consulting their schedule, I see the White Sox will be home against the San Diego Padres and, low and behold, it’s a day game. Even though I don’t think I could name three White Sox these days—not an American League guy at all—I think I might just hit the game, particularly since U.S. Cellular Field is well within striking distance of Willis Tower.

OK, so I’ve got Willis Tower and the White Sox. Now what?

It’s only occurred to me recently that my 12-hour Chicago layover should be seen as an adventure within an adventure, and an experience within an experience. Until then, I saw it as kind of a chore, believe it or not; basically something to be endured.

But it’s not, is it? It’s actually a bonus experience to be embraced, and I think I shall.

And so that’s where you can come in.

I like to think we’ve got some worldly readers out there combing through the Review each week, and some of you have got to be well versed in the Windy City. Bear in mind, what I know about Chicago is contained in this column, so anything you might suggest is bound to be new to me.

Well, I just lied.

I’m pretty sure they filmed the awesome action climax of Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables” in Union Station. There; now you know everything I know about Chicago.

Whether you help me with a destination or two or not, I think my 12 hours in Chicago are going to be fun. I’m someone who is not accustomed to, or inherently wired for, such adventures, so I think this will be good for me.

If you’re going to call yourself a writer, it’s probably a pretty good idea to live a bit to get as much perspective as possible to add to your talents. While two overnight train trips and a day in Chicago all by myself may not be dog sledding to the North Pole or macheteing my way through Papua New Guinea, it should be fun, therapeutic and—if I do it right—an experience that will enhance my next bit of fiction, the ones beyond that and the guy who writes them.

CONTACT: jason@hometwn.com

 
Jason5

Column: How not to handle a kidnapping

Jason-Column2As I write this, 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, most ranging in age from 16 to 18, are in the custody of Boko Haram, a radical Islamist terrorist group, somewhere in the country’s jungles.

To date, the most significant sign of the world’s outrage is a hashtag on Twitter.

In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt was confronted with a kidnapping. He handled it differently.

Ion Perdicaris was a Greek-American playboy and businessman with an interest and a home in Tangier, Morocco. On May 18, 1904, Perdicaris and his stepson, Cromwell Varley, were kidnapped from their home by a group of bandits headed by Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, an outlaw some in Morocco regarded as something of a Robin Hood.

With his wealthy, foreign captives in-hand, Raisuli demanded $70,000, safe passage for his men and control of two wealthy districts near Tangier from Sultan Abdelaziz of Morocco, who was seen as a weak pawn of European powers and interests.

When word reached the United States, Secretary of State John Hay called Raisuli’s demands “preposterous” and Roosevelt, winding down his term, ordered four warships from the South Atlantic Squadron of the United States Navy to Morocco on May 27. Three more warships, these from the U.S. European Squadron, were dispatched to the area on June 1.

While it might appear Roosevelt’s armada massed along Morocco’s shores to compel Raisuli to release his hostages, the American ships’ actual mission was to pressure the sultan to secure the release of Perdicaris and his stepson. Although few marines actually went ashore, the American forces were poised to seize control of the Moroccan customhouses, the country’s main source of commerce, if the order came from Washington.

Roosevelt and Hay’s demand to Abdelaziz was simple, “This government wants Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.”

That line went down a storm when Hay read it at the 1904 Republican National Convention.

Behind the scenes, Roosevelt recruited France and Great Britain to apply additional pressure to the Moroccan government, which both did.

On June 21, the sultan agreed to Raisuli’s terms and Perdicaris and his stepson were released unharmed. Perdicaris said later he grew to admire Raisuli during his captivity.

“He is not a bandit, not a murderer,” Perdicaris said of Raisuli following his release, “but a patriot forced into acts of brigandage to save his native soil and his people from the yoke of tyranny.”

What the public didn’t know until a 1933 biography of Hay was Perdicaris was not an American citizen at all; he’d relinquished his American passport for a Greek one some 40 years before Raisuni kidnapped him. Although he was informed of Perdicaris’ status during his captivity, Roosevelt reasoned Raisuli and the sultan believed Perdicaris to be an American, and that perception alone was enough to make damn sure both of them knew who was boss.

Roosevelt was re-elected in 1904; though it’s unlikely the Perdicaris incident had all that much to do with it beyond Hay’s rabble rousing at the convention.

So, what’s the point of all this?

What has the Perdicaris incident of 1904, in which President Roosevelt forced a sovereign nation to capitulate to what many people would consider a terrorist, have do with the kidnapping of 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014?

Well, even in 1904, the world was quite a complicated place with shades of gray and backroom deals that had to be worked out before a not-quite-American could be freed from a might-have-been-but-maybe-not-terrorist, but it got done and, though some of the motivations might have been questionable, no blood was spilled.

In 2014, a year I’m sure we’d like to believe is far more complex than Roosevelt’s era, more than 200 girls have been torn from their schools by cartoonish clichés of evil who have perpetrated an act so pure in its depravity one would roll one’s eyes were it to take place in fiction.

The members of Boko Haram are men around whom the entire world should stop and stare until those 200 girls are back in their classrooms. It should be that simple and it astounds me it hasn’t
happened.

It would be nice to live in a world like that, where malevolence so clearly-cut would be met head-on by everyone else and either shamed from existence, or else extinguished from it if a single hand was raised against those girls or against anyone brave enough to say you can’t do things like this and I’m going to stop you if you do.

It would be nice to live in a world like that, a world that direct. But we don’t.

We have a hashtag.

CONTACT: jason@hometwn.com

 
Jason5

Column: I did it! Wait, did I do it?

Jason-Column2By the time you read this, I will have a novella on the market. I’m ecstatic about that. I think.

I’ve wanted to write fiction since I was in the first grade. I didn’t realize I wanted to be serious about writing fiction until about 12th grade. I don’t know how or why but, once I realized that, college became an uninteresting prospect.

If I look back on it now, I think maybe I knew then what I definitely believe now, which is you can’t be taught how to write.

You can be taught how not to write. You can be taught grammar. You can be taught the difference between plot and story—not enough would-be writers learn this—and you can be taught sentence construction, but can anyone teach you to write dialog? Can anyone teach you character? Can anyone teach you how to pace a story?

No, I don’t believe they can. You want to learn those things? Write.

I think the same can be said, to some extent, for journalism. You can absolutely be taught journalism; it’s a specific, structured form of writing that requires an aptitude for research and adherence to an ethical standard.

But it’s still a narrative, or at least it should be. There are still characters. There’s still a plot, though perhaps not a linear one. It’s still, in its basest form, a story. So those elements of writing still come into play.

More than that, no one can teach you the people skills needed to be a good journalist. I firmly believe that. Oftentimes people tell reporters things they know they shouldn’t, for good reason or a bad one,

That doesn’t happen by accident; that’s the reporter doing that.

There’s also something called journalistic instinct. Knowing what’s a story and why it’s a story; sorry, you’re not learning that in school.

So, the bottom line is, whether it’s fiction or reporting, a writer writes, and you get to be a writer by writing.

That’s why I’ll have a book out by the time you read this.

Here’s the thing though; it’s an ebook, at least for now. That was never part of the plan. I think that’s why I don’t know how excited I am.

I’ve published a few short stories before, a few online and one in print. I always considered the print one the biggest achievement but, looking back, is that the best story I’ve got out there? I don’t know.

And there are two other factors at play. First, as we discussed here several weeks ago, the market for the kind of fiction I write, this New Pulp, is, at least at present, quite small. So small, in fact, there’s no major house publishing it because it’s too niche a genre—and set of subgenres.

But that’s the other thing, why aren’t big houses, or any print houses, really, doing this sort of thing? Because it’s too small an audience and their print product is getting whacked by ebook sales as
it is.

So, the reality is, my book is going to be as properly situated as it can be; right there on Amazon amongst its fellows in the subgenre.

Saying that, I’m still going to want a print copy when it’s available even if no one else does. And I think that’s why I’ve felt less excited than I thought I would at the prospect of finally breaking through with a piece of long-form fiction; it’s not happening the way I envisioned it.

But, you know what? It is happening, it’s exactly the kind of book I always wanted to write and I got there exactly the way I wanted to get there.

When I think about things that way, this is pretty exciting.

Anyone who knows me well as a writer knows all I’ve ever wanted from my fiction was for someone to read it—after buying it, let’s be honest—get to the end and think to themselves, or dare I hope say to someone else, “yeah, that was a good one.” I’ve said that’s what I wanted for years and, as I sit here with a book about to hit the market, it still is.

That first Amazon review; maybe that’s when it will hit me.

I did it?

CONTACT: jason@hometwn.com

 
Jason5

Column: Spock would be a frustrated mayor

Jason-Column2By now, it should be no surprise to you to learn, first, I am a Star Trek nerd and, second, I vastly prefer the original series—Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, et al.—to anything that’s come after it.

It occurred to me the other day Mr. Spock would have a lot of trouble being a municipal mayor in New York State these days.

Shall I explain?

If you’ve been reading the Review lately, you know it’s budget season for local school districts and some smaller municipalities. You also know the mightiest of struggles, according to the folks creating those budgets, is the property tax levy cap signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, in June 2011. Ostensibly created to provide homeowners with tax relief, the legislation, in essence, restricts the total amount of money a municipality or school district can charge for its services. An eight-step formula, created by the state, determines how much a taxing entity can levy for the upcoming year using the tax levy from the previous year as a base.

That I think Spock would be good at.

Because each municipality is different, each total tax levy ends up being different and, therefore, the amount each school district or municipality can raise its tax levy is different every year.

I think Spock would still be with us at this point—Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations and all that—but what is thought of, and, frankly, reported as, a tax levy cap is not really a cap at all because a municipality can create a local law to override its calculated cap with a 60 percent vote of its governing board. A school district can put a cap busting budget before the public and it can pass as long as it has 60 percent of the people behind it.

So, really, the tax levy cap isn’t a cap at all, it’s a point at which, to exceed it, a taxing entity has to meet a higher threshold of approval.

Spock, as you may know, is half Vulcan. The prevailing philosophy among Vulcans is logic; cold, rigid, unwavering logic and Spock, though half human, has dedicated himself to this discipline. Logic can be an effective way to view the universe and navigate the many dangers and wonders it presents.

It is probably not the best way to view New York State municipal tax policy, in which a mandated property tax levy cap is actually a varying brink over which taxing entities may pass with enough support.

Illogical? Unfortunately for would-be Mayor Spock, there is something else.

The state mandates local municipalities and school districts contribute, sometimes mightily, to their employees’ retirement. For school districts, implementation of the Common Core learning standards has been state compelled.

For these things, things these taxing entities must do, the state provides zero funding.

And everyone has to stay within the state calculated property tax levy cap. Which isn’t really a cap, but you get the point.

Still want to be mayor, Spock?

Now, if I’m going to be charitable to the state, I might say all of this is designed to, let’s say, encourage local governments and schools to find ways other than property taxes to fund their budgets. A town might try to impose a hotel tax, for example, or maybe a school district could put a utility tax in place.

Except Gov. Cuomo, who recently unveiled a plan to try to freeze property taxes for the next two years, pledged not to allow any new taxes in the state and getting such things passed has proven almost impossible.

So essentially, Spock, here’s the deal, in your terms. I want you to lead a landing party to Talos IV to survey the geological makeup of the planet. The party will consist of you and six other crewmembers, but five of those crewmembers have to be armored security guards, everyone has to carry a crate of tribbles and a hypospray of Retinax no matter what else they need, and you can only beam back 1.76 percent of any soil samples you take. Unless 60 percent of the party agrees you need more.

Enjoy.

I’m not a tax and spend guy, and I suspect Spock wouldn’t be either, but it would take Surak to figure out the logic, or the benefit to the taxpayer, in the state’s tax relationship with its schools and local governments.

CONTACT: jason@hometwn.com

 
Jason5

Column: Thanks for nothing, Bow Tie

Jason-Column2Sometimes progress isn’t.

Last year, I wrote a profile of the Mamaroneck Playhouse movie theater for a special edition of the Review. I took some time to get to know the place and some of the people who’d been affected by it. If you’d like to visit the Mamaroneck Playhouse, you may do so, it’s right there in the village at 243 Mamaroneck Ave.

Oh, one thing; it’s a dead hulk now. The last night of operation was Sunday, April 20. The last movie to end there was “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

The Playhouse was owned by Clearview Cinemas when I wrote the piece last year. In June 2013, Clearview sold the playhouse, and several other small theaters in the area, to Bow Tie Cinemas which described plans to renovate its new acquisitions but—in light of the quick sale and condition in which I found the Playhouse when I visited it for the last time on April 17 of this year—does not appear to have had any intention of helping the ailing theater, which was once a palace.

I’m not at all happy the Mamaroneck Playhouse is gone. I think it’s a terrible thing to see an institution that has stood since 1925 reduced to a façade and condominiums which, according to published reports, is Bow Tie’s plan.

Saying that, I think it’s easy to blame Bow Tie for the theater’s passing, and I do to an extent, but let’s look at a couple other factors, too.

While it’s true my wife and I found the Playhouse to be in near condemnable disrepair when we saw Captain America on the 17th, we also saw “Argo” at the theater last year, shortly before my profile ran, and things weren’t much better then. Clearview was apparently only willing to go so far, if any distance at all, to make the Playhouse resemble anything it had once been.

And certainly United Artists, which owned the Playhouse before Clearview and carved it into four screens and two floors, never had the village’s history with Lillian Gish and D.W. Griffith in mind.

That’s all well and good; the almighty dollar reigns. I get that.

What I don’t get is why didn’t any of these companies understand they were tilting at windmills for the last two
decades?

Bow Tie, like Clearview before it, owns three other local movie theaters: The Larchmont Playhouse, Bronxville Cinemas and Cinema 100 in White Plains. Let’s examine some schedules.

At press time, the three theaters I just listed are showing, among a few other, more commonplace things, Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Dom Hemmingway,” a British comedy with Jude Law; “Le Week-end,” an English-French dramedy and “The Lunchbox” an Indian romance set in Mumbai.

The plot of that last one sounds good, by the way; have a look.

For its last week of existence, the Mamaroneck Playhouse, an analog to those other theaters in terms of size, physicality and native demographics, showed Captain America, “Rio 2” and “Muppets Most Wanted,” which is fairly
terrible.

Do you see the point I’m making?

By programming the Larchmont and especially the Bronxville and White Plains theaters counter to the mainstream fare found in the bigger, modern theaters like those found at Ridge Hill in Yonkers and City Center 15 in White Plains, Bow Tie’s other theaters in the area continue to, you know, exist.

Why couldn’t that have been done for Mamaroneck?

Would it have been feasible for the Mamaroneck Playhouse to continue with art and independent programming? Perhaps. Could a nonprofit organization still buy the building, restore it to its single-screen grandeur, and turn it into something like the wonderful Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville? Perhaps.

We’ll likely never know though because to do things like that, you have to love movies. You have to care.

I’ll never say companies, or individuals, don’t have the right to make a profit, but it sure seems like Bow Tie bought at least the Mamaroneck Playhouse with the intention to do violence to its insides. That’s a shame because, once 243 Mamaroneck Ave. is an elegant, 90-year-old false face over little boxes of granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and stand-up showers, a community will lose a keyhole to its past.

Which hurts, because the playhouse could have also been a bridge to broader minds for the future.

 

Reach Jason at jason@hometwn.com and 

follow him on Twitter @jasonchirevas

 
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Column: In defense of Captain America

I love Captain America. Let’s start there.Jason-Column2

A week or so ago, the pop culture website Vulture published an article in which the writer, Abraham Riesman, posits Captain America is, in essence, a boring character and can only be made interesting if he’s portrayed as, for lack of a better word, a jerk.

If you want to Google “Vulture, Captain America, interesting” I’ll wait here while you do it, but that’s the gist of what he said.

This, to me, is a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes Steve Rogers, that’s Captain America’s real name for the uninitiated, so special.

It also may be a misunderstanding of something else. We’ll talk about that in a bit.

Just so we’re all on the same page, Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and made his comic book debut in 1941’s Captain America Comics No. 1 from Timely Comics, an ancestor of Marvel, placing him contemporary with World War II in both story origin and real world genesis.

In that first story, Steve Rogers, a 98-pound weakling, is a young artist who’s lost both his parents at a young age. When he sees what’s developing with the Nazis in Europe, Steve is determined to join the war effort, but the army rejects him due to his physical frailty. Steve’s resolve catches the attention of the leaders of Project: Rebirth, a government program to create a super soldier. Steve joins the program and becomes that super soldier, but the serum used to enhance him to the absolute limits of human physicality is lost when its creator is killed by a Nazi spy.

The only one of his kind, Steve and the government create the costumed identity Captain America and Steve becomes a soldier, and a symbol, alongside U.S. forces in Europe.

Captain America is a man out of time and perhaps you can see where the Vulture writer might think casting him as a blunt anachronism would be interesting, dare I say dark, edgy and cool.

That’s what we’re supposed to like these days, right? I guess that’s because we’re all so dark and edgy and cool ourselves.

That must be why.

Anyway, this assertion, wh-ich Vulture does make, is wholly off-base for two reasons. The first is, before he was Captain America, Captain America was Steve Rogers and it’s from Steve Rogers that Captain America draws his inner strength, his sense of justice, his morality and his belief in doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

That’s what Steve wanted before the Super Soldier Serum, when he almost certainly would have died trying to stop the biggest bully the modern world has ever known from advancing one step further.

That’s something Vulture, and I’d say most of the rest of us, forget. Steve Rogers is Captain America for one reason; he wanted to do it before he even knew such a thing was possible.

Think about that. While you do, you’re likely to realize the other reason the Vulture article is the opposite of correct.

Though there was never an actual costume or a Super Soldier Serum, there were real Steve Rogerses. Lots of them.

Most of the staff of your newspaper is just back from the New York Press Association conference. I mentioned it here a few weeks ago. What I didn’t mention then was the keynote speaker at that event was Morley Piper who, before he worked for the Boston Globe, landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and watched so many of his fellow soldiers destroyed as he fought his way onto shore with no air support, most of the boats that delivered him gone and constant pounding from the German gun emplacements. Piper made his way inland after D-Day and helped liberate and secure devastated French villages along the way.

Piper volunteered for his service, hoping to gain a better position in the army than if he waited to be drafted.

Rye resident John Carey has worked at the United Nations. He’s also been a Democratic Rye City councilman and mayor, and a New York State Supreme Court judge. He is currently a columnist for the Rye City Review, still influencing policy in his community and sharing the lessons of the history he’s lived.

John Carey has lived, and is living, what I would call a singular, quintessentially American life; the kind of life Theodore Roosevelt described as strenuous in the best sense of that world.

But he wouldn’t have lived any of it if he, like his older brother, was killed in World War II. Carey joined the Navy Reserve soon after high school in 1942 and saw action, and typhoons, in the Pacific.

Fifty years later, in 1992, I was deathly afraid of what might happen when I was made to register with Selective Service.

Above, I said Carey would not have lived the life he has had he been killed in World War II. I think that’s wrong, actually. Rather, it was his willingness to volunteer for that war—the last, and perhaps only, one in which the forces of good had to rise to meet the dark advance of the forces of evil—that falls right in line with what it takes to do the things John Carey has done and be the things John Carey has been.

I asked Carey what drove him to join the war effort as a high school grad in 1942.

“I wanted to do my part in defeating our enemies,” he said.

No costume. No Super Soldier Serum. No shield.

And that’s why, at the end of the day, I know that Vulture piece was wrong. I might like to think otherwise, and now I’ll never know, but I don’t think I would have been Steve Rogers—or Morley Piper, or John Carey—lining up to be stacked against Hitler’s surging tide.

The things that make men like that men like that is, to me, one of the most interesting things in the world.

Reach Jason at jason@hometwn.com and follow him on Twitter @jasonchirevas