Last night, after the memorial for Frank McCourt was just ended--pictures to be posted in a separate article--I was inspired and decided to walk up Broadway--the spine of New York City--like Pete Hamill touring Downtown. I had just said goodnight to Peter Quinn--a favorite author of mine--after finally getting to talk to him about the Tammany Hall incident at Gotham Center that happened a few weeks before.
There was too much to think about: Quinn and Tammany Hall; Frank McCourt and the teacher's union; the state of New York City today; legacy and responsibility; exemplars and work to be done. I was jazzed, walking in the drizzle along Broadway and really on the verge of talking to myself, like a crazy New Yorker under the spell of metropolis, when I came upon City Hall.
The grand edifice above me, a reporter then appeared out of nowhere and approached me with the NBC logo on her microphone and started asking me my opinion about City Hall.
Tammany Hall? did you say? Close enough for what amounted for me in that moment as a mad meaningful conflation of random events.
You can watch my sound bite from the eleven o'clock news in the video at the bottom of the page,(at 0:21 or thereabout, don't blink or you'll miss it).
I have to say one thing about my City Hall spiel on TV last night. It's about my accent.When I was at the memorial for Frank McCourt, Larry Kirwain of Black 47 fame walked in, and we were introduced and had a quick chat. We joked about being rivals, after I congratulated him on his new book, because we write for two different Irish periodicals. No, I said, we're not rivals, I've done a story on Ó Muilleoir, with whom Kirwain works, and we're all simpletons in the one cultural complex.
--You have an Irish accent, Kirwain said to me.
--No, I just said "Ó Muilleoir" like you'd say it in Irish, I said.
I usually abhor fake Irish accents, but I sometimes mix my New York dialect like first generation Russian kids in Brighton Beach. (Kirwain, incidently, has American inflections, kind of like Lou Reed.) I know other people with Irish parents that have a similar problem. I think it's under control and comes from an honest place. Still I'm conscious that I have a lot of Irish phrasing to my speech--my parents taught me my English, and I never got around to "correcting" what I learned in their Kerry and Dublin dialects I guess.
The reporter asked me what I thought about City Hall crumbling, and I said:
"It's like a metaphor for the city. So much is falling apart here. They could take care of so much infrastructure you know. It would be great if they did."
Not my most eloquent moment, but I think the accent is pretty much a New York accent.
Some of the speakers at the memorial for Frank McCourt reminded everyone at the United Federation of Teachers building where the event was held, that Frank McCourt was passionate about investing in teaching. Over-crowded classrooms with 34 students usually. Over-worked teachers, getting more than 200 pages to correct each weekend, and spending much free time in class preparation. The system needs more investment. Teachers are paid squat in relation to the function they play in society, and are having their pensions stolen from them with cute schemes like vouchers and charter schools to undermine their collective power and public education like some old fashioned thing from old New York.
I was thinking about the tax breaks given to the biggest banks who threaten like jerks to abandon Manhattan unless they get pay-outs. Read about Goldman Sachs' $1.8 BILLION gift of city money from Mayor Bloomberg here. They're granted these things by the city's mayor and council, while it takes decades to get a Second Avenue line built and while our historic buildings are left to crumble. In Tammany's day, they dug scores of subway lines without heavy machinery in lightning speed, and built things like the Empire State building to last. Infrastructure came with mosaics in the days of Tammany. The robber barons robbed unscathed because Tammany was a decoy for indignant journalists in the pay of the robber barons. And like in those days, the robber barons of our own age get little scrutiny, while our public treasury is looted and our infrastructure crumbles.
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