poised before the new year

Leonard Durso

I would like to have
only good memories
of this day
this time of year
but I just see hospitals
both parents dying
this first month bodes heartache
for me
so I approach January
tentatively
like a door on a house
one fears might be haunted
for ghosts reside here
and though I see candlelight
a woman dancing naked
friends huddled around fondue pots
three floors of live bands
parties with casinos
and people dressed as elves
dinner at the Duck House
a woman in a tuxedo
and fishnet stockings
tap dancing her way
into my heart
there are still those ghosts
hovering
like birds of prey
waiting for another soul
to stumble to fall
in the desert
that is sometimes
life

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from Downtown: My Manhattan by Pete Hamill

Leonard Durso

And yet, in many separate ways, the people of the city express certain common emotions. The forms and details are different for every generation and every group, but certain emotions have continued to repeat themselves for centuries. One is surely greed, the unruly desire to get more money by any means possible, an emotion shared by citizens from stockbrokers to muggers. Another is sudden anger, the result of so many people living in so relatively small a place. Another is an anarchic resistance to authority. But far and away the most powerful of all New York emotions is the one called nostalgia.

The city is, in a strange way, the capital of nostalgia. The emotion has two major roots. One is the abiding sense of loss that comes from the simple fact of continuous change. Of the city’s five boroughs, Manhattan in particular absolutely refuses to remain as it was…

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Pete Hamill on rules working class people follow in New York

Leonard Durso

There was a sense among those working people,almost from the beginning, that you would do all right in New York if only you followed the rules. Where I came from, the rules were relatively simple. Work. Put food on the table. Always pay your debts. Never cross a picket line. Don’t look for trouble, because in New York you can always find it. But don’t back off either. Make certain that the old and weak are never in danger. Vote the straight ticket.

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from Downtown: Pete Hamill on American humor

Leonard Durso

The creators of the American Yiddish theater also provided what earlier entertainers had given to the Irish and the Germans: the immense gift of laughter.  They used gags, skits, slapstick, and wit to make fun of one another.  Romanians made fun of Hungarians.  Both made fun of Poles. All made fun of Russians.  They skewered the greenhorns, the pompous nouveau rich, the greedy landlords, the humorless goyim, the corrupt politicians; and they added something else, an attitude that forever shifted the New York mind: irony.

That is, they made jokes out of the difference between what America promised and what America actually delivered. Irony remains the essence of American humor to this day.

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from Downtown (2) by Pete Hamill

Leonard Durso

The summer I was sixteen I got a job in Times Square. I worked with a man named Butler, who was heavy, growly, with a whiskey-hurt Hell’s Kitchen face. He said he was fifty-one, but he looked seventy. Our job was to change the show cards in the lobbies of movie houses. Together we would pry out staples and take down the old show cards, which were five or six feet high, four feet wide, all in color. Good-bye, Joel McCrea; so long, Yvonne De Carlo. . .Then I would hold the new show cards steady while Butler stapled them into place. Hello, Rita Hayworth; enjoy the run, Glenn Ford. Then Butler would have a nice long cigarette break before we moved to the next theater.

I loved the job. There I was, at the crossroads of the world, with the breaking news moving around the face of the Times…

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