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I read the Times today, oh boy!


The “Sunday Styles” section of The New York Times is not about Sunday and not much about styles. It’s as close as the Times gets to gossip.

I don’t mean gossip in a negative sense; I mean gossip as in finding out what neighbors are doing.

The New York Times views itself as America’s “newspaper of record,” but it’s also one of only three English-language general-circulation dailies serving our city. So some pages are devoted to New York.

The daily “Metro” section carries news about local politics and crime.

The daily “Arts” section covers our entertainment. The daily obituary list tells us who’s died, and the daily weather page, when it doesn’t accidentally cover Washington, D.C. (as happened recently), offers advice on clothing. But “Sunday Styles” is, perhaps more than any other part of the Times, our hometown paper.

Its front page today had a story about who has gotten together with whom since September 11, who’s broken up, and why (“When they talked of his getting a new fence, he told her it would cost $400, a lot of money. ‘I was thinking to myself, the shoes on my feet are $400′”). Another front page story was about Park Avenue “mummies” trying to figure out which of them might have been the model for “Mrs. X,” a character in a book called “The Nanny Diaries.”

As always, the “Evening Hours” page showed who was partying with whom.

The “Weddings” pages showed happy brides and grooms and gave details of one marriage ceremony. The “On the Street” page showed what actual New Yorkers are wearing these days. Twelve photos confirmed this paragraph by Bill Cunningham:

“In a time of fashion conformity, a few uncorralled free spirits remain who dress for self-expression and fun. They wear clear plastic shoes with patterned socks, a plastic apron over a plaid skirt, a plaid wrap skirt with plastic gussets doing duty as a cape, a scarf trailing yardlong ribbon streamers, a doll hat, a hat camouflaging the head in peacock feathers or a doughnut-shape shoulder bag. These are a sampling of sights that brightened New York this winter.”

Moondog used to wear full Viking regalia, complete with horned hat and spear, as he hung out on Sixth Avenue at 54th Street in Manhattan. That blind, bearded musician was more famous than “Sticks,” a character who used to drum nearby on Seventh Avenue on anything that was handy at the moment. Buses would stop so he could play a riff on their doors, headlights, windshields, and mirrors as he banged and tapped his way across the street.

Adam Purple, our most-famous community gardener, could be as easily recognized by his long flowing hair as by his eponymous clothing as he biked through our neighborhood. Cat Man used a tricycle, felines perched on the handlebars or sitting in an attached wagon (he also sported colorful large birds on his shoulders).

With my penchant for hot-pepper-pattern pants, tee shirts, and sandals throughout the year (I have sandal overshoes for deep snow), I suppose I qualify as a minor character on the local scene. Until Thursday, I also had fairly long tresses and a greater-than-Taliban-length beard. But, once a year, whether I need it or not, I trim my above-neck hair.

Thursday was convenient as Annual Cut Day, because I was working on a television show at a theater where my tonsorial artist is based. She’s in charge of wigs there and has, on occasion, turned my hair into a beard for someone else. It’s possible that you’ve seen my hair on TV or in a movie (she also works for one of the TV networks and on feature films).

Newly shorn, on Friday I was walking down the street when a woman behind me said, “Excuse me.” I slowed down. I enjoy talking to all of New York’s characters. Sometimes the conversations are educational. Often they’re amusing. Always they’re human contact.

She spoke slowly and deliberately.

“I’m from… the… movie.”

“You’re from the movie?”

“I’m sorry. I had a stroke. I can’t find the right word. I’m from… the… director….”

“The Directors Guild?”

“Yes. That’s it. I saw you at the movies Wednesday night. You’ve cut your hair. It looks good.”

“Thanks!”

“Well, that’s all. See you at the movies.”

As I mentioned once before, I get to go to the Directors Guild screenings, thanks to my wife’s membership. I like movies; my wife does, too, but would rather go to concerts. Someone for whom we’ve both worked sometimes arranges concerts of movie music, including Bernard Herrmann’s magnificent score for Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.”

In one scene of that movie, Cary Grant enters United Nations headquarters in Manhattan. A murder ensues.

“North by Northwest” came out in 1959, but the UN didn’t install x-ray machines and magnetometers in response. Like Cary Grant’s character, I used to enter the UN without having to pass through airport-type security procedures. But, by the time I’d started working on television shows there, the screening equipment was in place. It was not in response to September 11.

My wife and I have both worked on televised concerts from the UN General Assembly. Last Saturday night, we went to a concert in a concert hall

— not movie music, but fun pieces anyway. There was a larger than usual crowd waiting to have its tickets taken, and we were moving very slowly, because a security guard was checking certain bags. That WAS in response to September 11.

I had no bag, so I wasn’t checked, even though my rain jacket was sagging on one side because of all of the large, heavy objects in one of my pockets. Could I have walked through with a gun or explosive device? Easily. But, if I’d had havoc in mind, I needn’t have bothered buying a ticket and passing through “security.” The bag-checking procedure had so slowed the crowd that a terrorist could have harmed about as many outside the hall as in.

This coming week I’ll be working on television shows in three different venues, each offering seating for thousands of people. None use airport-type security.

The first will be a concert in Temple Emanu-El, home of New York’s oldest reform Jewish congregation and one of the largest synagogues in the world. It seats even more people than does St. Patrick’s Cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. That’s where we’ll be shooting on St. Patrick’s Day (with the Vienna Philharmonic NOT performing traditional Irish music). In between, we’ll be shooting the New York City Opera’s “Porgy & Bess” at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center.

A few blocks away is the Sony Lincoln Square movie-theater complex.

Even with no security procedures at all to slow things down, on a typical Saturday night hundreds of people may be found in its lobby.

The $10 admission price doesn’t deter them at all. The most-popular movies are invariably sold out long before show time.

On the other hand, on a typical weekday afternoon, there will be more employees in the complex than moviegoers. But the admission price will still be $10.

There used to be an inexpensive movie theater on West 50th Street. It was crowded all the time. But it was shut down as part of a merger between two chains. I don’t know whether the employees were reassigned to other theaters.

That was long before September 11. Many New Yorkers lost their jobs before September 11. In my industry, employment here on January 1, 2001 was down 9.5% compared to the previous year. Last year, New York City lost another 132,400 jobs, many of those before September 11.

I read those figures in today’s New York Times “Job Market” section, which, curiously, also noted that New York City hotel occupancy as of March 5 of this year (81.7%) was actually UP slightly from a year ago (81.2%). Our bridge and tunnel traffic is also up.

A couple of weeks ago, the Times stopped running its daily tally of the dead and missing from the September 11 attacks. A story today says it’s 3,063 (158 missing), including the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the four planes.

There’s a full-page ad in today’s “Week in Review” section of the Times for an organization called “Americans for Victory Over Terrorism,” chaired by William Bennett. It identifies two enemies that America has. One is “those who are attempting to use this opportunity to promulgate their agenda of ‘blame America first.'” The other is perhaps best identified by the last of the “Fundamental Principles” of the

organization:

“10. Finally, we must understand our enemies better. AVOT will encourage scholarly research into various aspects of Islamic theology, history, and culture. AVOT will hold such scholarship to a serious and rigorous standard.”

Temple Emanu-El has been in the news recently as a result of alleged child sexual abuse. Catholic dioceses outside New York have appeared for the same reason. In India, Hindus violence against Muslims (and vice versa) has been in the recent news. In Vancouver, alleged Sikh terrorists are awaiting trial. Israel’s prime minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated in the name of Judaism. The “Army of God” condones murder in the name of Christ. But AVOT finds only one enemy religion.

Long ago, I mentioned the encouraging story of the Egyptian owner of a coffee shop in New York who refused to press charges against vandals who smashed up his establishment after the September 11 attacks. He said there was already too much anger.

The vandals returned, thanked him for not pressing charges, and repaired everything. Then they all talked through the night. The story was picked up by ABC’s Nightline.

It has often been said that on September 11 everything changed. There’d be no movies like “Collateral Damage.” Television networks would carry more news.

Last week’s news was that ABC might drop its Nightline news show in favor of the David Letterman comedy show (which actually gets a smaller

— but slightly younger — audience). Perhaps after September 11 everything didn’t change that much.

I don’t know whether the Egyptian coffee-shop owner is a Muslim. He might be a Christian. He’s had to go back to driving a taxi because frequent FBI visits to his establishment have driven away customers — those who haven’t been deported, one reportedly for driving a limousine with an international driver’s license.

The AVOT ad in today’s Times faces the “Views” page, which each week presents three editorial cartoons gathered from other news sources. One of today’s cartoons is a strip by Ted Rall. It’s called “Loyal Opposition.” It attacks Democratic Party officials for not daring to criticize George W. Bush.

There was a small news item last week about an action taken by the Times itself. Although the paper does not carry cartoons (except for the three “Views” a week), its web site does.

“For several hours on March 5, NYTimes.com carried a syndicated political cartoon by Ted Rall, a well-known cartoonist. It appeared in the cartoon section of the web site, a section that is not carried by The New York Times newspaper. The cartoon, which satirized the acceptance of money by the widows of men killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was removed from the site because it was deemed to be in poor taste. While NYTimes.com and its parent company support the right of free expression, we also recognize an obligation to ensure that what we publish, no matter its origin, does not offend the reasonable sensibilities of our audience. We apologize to our users and to all affected by the Sept. 11 tragedy.”

AVOT ad notwithstanding, you’ve just heard from the newspaper of inoffensive record.

TTFN,

Mark