February 2013


Grand Central Station Arrives at 100

Technically it is named a terminal, though more colloquially referred to as a station, or simply Grand Central. But by any name, it turns one hundred on February 2nd. And by any name, how sweet it is! And the day before will kick off a series of celebrations and new features, that will continue throughout the year.


And to put a signature on this occasion, a logo was designed using its famous concourse clock set at 7:13, or 19:13 in military time, reflecting the year of its opening in 1913.


Journalist Sam Roberts, whose book Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America —due for publication last month— wrote a long piece for The Times recently, which spoke to the gargantuan undertaking Grand Central was, from its inception to its completion over a decade later.


There are references to the arduous process of demolishing existing structures, the massive acreage required, the engineering problems that had to be solved, the horsepower needed to make it all go, the astronomical expense of it all, etc.


Not surprisingly, all that resulted in the largest train station in the world in terms of number of tracks, platforms and an area that covers 48 acres. But that is not what makes it "the world’s sixth most visited tourist attraction, with approximately twenty-one million visitors annually." (Travel & Leisure survey, October 2011).


I suspect the lure for those visitors, as it is for me, would probably be something along the lines of: That a place of such grand utility, can also be a place of such grand artistry and aesthetics.


In the words of historian Jill Jonnes, it is “a great Doric temple to transportation,” which was modeled on the public baths built in Rome 1,700 years earlier, and architecturally defined as being in the Beaux-Arts style. And if God is said to be in the details, the details here then speak of something divine.


It starts with a classical façade embellished by statuary such as the


mythological figures of Mercury, Hercules and Minerva, an American eagle perched atop a white ball, and a clock which contains the world’s largest example of Tiffany glass, to name a few particulars.



And upon entering the building, one is struck by the beauty in that pinkish granite, the star constellations built into its ceiling that at certain times will light up and twinkle, those windows in the shape of bishops’ miters, that might form diagonal shafts of light on a sunny day— again, just to name a few.



Even the hustle bustle of crisscrossing people, seems as if some sort of performance art within in this “poem in stone,” as its brochure unabashedly proclaims it.


As a frequent visitor, one who has no need of long distance commuter trains, I might pass through on the way to one of the connecting subway lines, or to meet a friend by that signature clock, or to stop off at one of the forty retail stores on the premises, or simply to rest with a glass of wine at Michael Jordan’s on the eastern balcony, and take it all in.


On the western balcony a new Apple store has appeared. And it works surprisingly well here, I regret to admit. And with Apple, if you build it they will come. And in this case, they join the 750,000 that already pass through some point in the terminal complex daily.


December 9, 2012 10am; Opening Day of the Grand Central Apple Store


Sadly, we don’t build anything like Grand Central Station anymore.


Today’s economics, the demand for speed in construction, the taller-is-better philosophy (FEBRUARY, 2010 Muse-letter), the obsession with minimalism in all modern design—all seem to work against a marriage of utility and grand art. Which should then at least lead us to revere the historical and magnificent structures we do have. As they do in Europe. Instead, we have become exceedingly comfortable with the idea of disposability.


If God indeed is in the details, I wonder who then is in all those plain, endless, sheets of glass that seem to mark every new structure in our cities?


Perhaps Jackie Onassis said it best, when Grand Central was being threatened with demolition (imagine?!) in 1975, and she became the face of the preservation campaign to save it:

"Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty…


Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won't all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes."

Unfortunately, the new World Trade Center, though well intentioned, exemplifies one of those glass boxes of which she speaks. And to be perfectly honest, the tragic Twin Towers lived in that uniform world of those other boxes, the ones made of steel.


What would have happened, had those preservation efforts for Grand Central been in vain? For an answer to that question, one look no further than Penn Station, torn down in 1964 and rebuilt and adjoined to Madison Square Garden. A simple before-and-after picture comparison speaks volumes.



As Kurt Vonnegut might say, “And so it goes.” But with Grand Central Station turning 100, it goes well.







Quote of the Month









Safety: Obama's vs. Ours



Guns are now ‘ablaze as you knew they would be, on such a volatile issue regarding what action to take in the aftermath of the latest massacre, that being Newtown. As of this writing.


There has always been mudslinging in politics, especially around election time (DECEMBER, 2011 Muse-letter), but in this case, “bullets” are being slung in lieu of mud. Mud is messy but can easily be washed off. Bullets on the other hand…well, you get the idea.


This became especially apparent in the ad run by the NRA last month, which brought the Obama children into the fray, while calling their father an “elitist hypocrite.”


Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the beloved 34th President of the Unites States, who knows something about secret service protection, responded succinctly in a piece she wrote in The Washington Post.

“… any thinking person has to be disgusted by the NRA ad…suggesting that the president is an “elitist hypocrite” because his children have the benefit of armed protection at school and the nation’s children as a whole do not. This is absurd. The nation’s children are not individually at risk the way the Obama children are.”

And she more or less concludes on…

“This brilliantly diabolical non sequitur hurts more than the president and his family. It hurts our democracy by twisting the nature of the public debate.”

Actually, if you carry the NRA logic a little further, Obama is even an “elitist hypocrite” for having himself protected, whereas you and I have to fend for ourselves with our own Uzis.

On a philosophical level and as enunciated in our constitution, and in accordance with most religious tenets, yes, we are all equal. Yet in the flesh and blood of a real world comprised of leaders and followers, are we really? And should we all be considered to be on the same playing field?


One reader last month wondered why the lives taken at Newtown were any more important or special than those taken in other massacres. Though the question for me wasn’t really “why?” (twenty children killed maybe?) but rather, thankfully, it struck a nerve and finally opened up an issue in much need of attention.


Is there nothing special about the Presidency, and therefore he (and one day she) and family should be a target for venomous sniping, with all logic—not to mention respect for the office— be damned?


Is there any doubt that the assassination of JFK, had more impact on the nation (and the world) than that of the police officer killed by Lee Harvey Oswald about forty-five minutes later?


I would imagine 99.9% of Americans could not give you his name. Though that will probably change this year as the 50th anniversary of that gruesome day arrives this November, and will once again be looked at in great detail, now in the context of a half-century gone by. (His name is J.D. Tippit. And I didn’t have to Google it. Fifty years later, that day lingers).


The wounding of Ronald Reagan—and I’m going to go out on a limb here— is much more important than would be that of Ronald McDonald.


The potential impact of the assassination or abduction of a President, or anyone in his immediate family, should seem obvious. And therefore the need for special protection and concern should follow. Yet, when you see an ad like that, you realize that it actually does need to be addressed, because there are those out there with a rather truncated view on reality, to be kind. And their misguided “thinking” can be dangerous.


Further, when the President and his family, or more broadly the Office of the Presidency, is addressed with such contempt— despite a democratic political process which voted this president in—twice— then we really have lost our way.


And you can’t help but wonder, when did all this begin? When was the tipping point exactly?


Certainly there was a focus on the gun issue in ’68 what with Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy having been assassinated within a couple of months of each other. But I don’t recall any vitriolic exchanges at the time anywhere near what we see and hear today. And the issue quietly went away.


But now this kind of discourse is the norm. And as we are talking about guns here, and in this climate, and call me paranoid, but I have concern for Obama’s safety.


This is what President Kennedy saw in the Dallas Morning News while having breakfast in his hotel room on the morning of November 22, 1963.


This is typical of the things Obama could have seen on line this, or on any other, morning.




With all the hype of another stolen election by the traitor known as Barry Soetoro aka Obama, what was not reported was the fact that he was formally charged in the state of Tennessee as a traitor and for high treason.

                                                       —Planet Infowars, November 10, 2012







March 4th



As an historical note preceding this poem, the first President Inaugurated on January 20th, after a change made by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, was Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. Prior to that, it had been on March 4th. This poem was written over fifteen years ago.



March 4, 1881


When men of mien wore muttonchops
and you were the belle of the inaugural ball
James A. Garfield flirted with you.
The twentieth President of the United States
said how lucky a young man I was as he swept you
clear across the floor. The minions parted.


Your goldenrod gown was a whirl of taffeta,
as the eyes of a nation and spouses were upon you.
Lucretia in her gown of lavender lace
that in time would fade to an oyster white—
now on display at the Smithsonian as I speak—
smiled, fulfilling, the vow of First Ladies.


And I played my good-natured card to her ace.
I remember the applause when your grand waltz was over.
And how later in the backroom over a snifter of brandy
and the good coarse smoke of fresh-cut cigars
the theme was reprised of your beauty…my lucky stars.
His assassination soon after would wound you forever.

                      —Ron Vazzano







Word of the Month



Whenever I come across a word that doesn’t know when to quit, and has consonants banging off each other like bumper cars, it seems to be rooted in the German language. No offense intended here, just a personal observation.


In reading a book review in The New Yorker last month, one sentence jumped out in particular: “It’s a large, captivating, amiably peopled bildungsroman, apparently, the first in a trilogy.”


I wondered immediately if the peopled bildungsroman in the second part of the trilogy, would be equally as amiable.


Then I went to And here’s more than anyone will want to know about this word.



The next time I’m in Barnes & Noble, I will be sure to ask a clerk where the Bildungsroman section is.

(Note to the grammar police: I confess to having ended two sentences in this Muse-Letter on “is.” Look, it is what it is.)





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