May 2014


McSorley's Old Ale House on a Wet Afternoon



"i was sitting in mcsorley's.          outside it was New York and beauti-
fully snowing."


reads the first line of an E.E. Cummings poem written in 1925, in that fractured grammatical style as only he could. This historic ale house was only 71 years old at the time.


When I sat there one afternoon last month in its now 160th year, in lieu of poetry, a live violin solo of Bach's Adagio in G minor broke out at our table. Followed by other classical pieces that cut through the din of voices that spilled across the room. Outside it was New York and beautifully raining.


And where I sit, so too might have Lincoln. He was invited here by Peter Cooper, at whose college across the street, Cooper Union, Abe had given an important campaign speech back in 1860. Or maybe Ulysses S. Grant, known to take a drop or two, had a few in this back room on his visit. Or Teddy Roosevelt. Or John Lennon. Or Woody Guthrie. Or the enigmatic writer Joseph Mitchell, who frequented and immortalized the bar, in a 1940 piece in The New Yorker and in a subsequent book three years later, McSorley's Wonderful Saloon. Or those renowned Irishmen of letters from the old sod, Brendan Behan and Frank McCourt. And if here on a cold day, they may have sat near the still working pot bellied stove.


John Sloan was a regular, and among the five paintings he made of the place, his 1912 classic McSorley's Bar, hangs in the Detroit Institute of Arts.



And I wondered where exactly the New York Rangers had clustered when they drank ale from the Stanley Cup they had won, on that June night in 1994. The cup allegedly got dented in the festivities, causing the National Hockey League to take the trophy back for several days. Boys will be boys and such things will happen when they gather, even though embossed in metal above the fireplace, is the house motto: Be Good or Be Gone.


And here once was a place where only boys and men could be good or be gone, as it also had a slogan which used to boast: "Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies."


On my first visit fifty years ago—when the legal drinking age in New York was 18—I must admit to a somewhat heady feeling, of being in a place of male exclusivity that wasn't a locker room— a place of decidedly sweatier feelings. Though any sort of alpha male euphoria coming from standing at the bar (there are no stools) talking "man talk," man to man, would all end on August 10, 1970 after the National Organization for Women won their anti-discrimination case against McSorley's in District Court.


The ultimate irony here, was at the time, the place was owned by Dorothy O'Connell Kirwin, who never stepped foot on the premises while it was open for business. When her son suggested that she now be the first woman served following the court's decision, she refused citing the promise she had made to her father who had left the her the bar, following his death in 1939. Dorothy died in 1974.


The men's restroom (with urinals to make you weep so dramatically sculptured in fine porcelain are they, and here since only 1910), would go coed for 16 years. Finally in 1986, a women's restroom was put in. One far less awe inspiring I'm told.


McSorley's is nothing if not about dates and passing through time. It is nothing if not a preserve of a gritty culture, that tells us by the pictures and artifacts that hang from its walls— an original WANTED poster for John Wilkes Booth— by the sawdust on the floor, by the restrooms themselves, something about who we were and to where we've come. And that it is still standing in the same spot it always has, is remarkable in itself.



Go to London and stop in a pub that was around in Shakespeare's time, and it's no great shakes. In our still young country, establishments boast of being around since Reagan.


But perhaps its most unique and endearing feature, is that in a modern world which revels in its having infinite choices, McSorley's offers but two: light or dark. The house ale. That's it. And served two at a time from the tap. No bottled beer, no wine, no Apple Martinis. (A soda for those who insist.). And as Cummings goes on…

"and i was sitting in the din thinking drinking the ale, which never lets you grow old blinking at the low ceiling my being pleasantly was punctuated by the always retchings of a worthless lamp."

When Annette the violinist put her violin away, our table went back to its eclectic conversations. The guy next to me was a chess teacher, because of course, that's the sort of profession one runs into every day. And before long, we were talking about the great chess match of Fischer vs. Spassky in 1972. Which was about twenty minutes ago in McSorley time.


When I left, it was still beautifully raining. And I couldn't get a cab. And I couldn't care less.







An Oxymoronic Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence


From at 4:32 pm EDT on April 17, 2014 (the emboldening, mine), came this dramatic announcement from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) organization:

"This discovery not only proves the existence of worlds that might be similar to our own but will undoubtedly shape future investigations of exoplanets that could have terrestrial surface environments."


Undoubtedly , I could prove they might be wrong.


The search for intelligent life goes on.




A Prompting of Remembrance of a World's Fair



The 22nd of last month marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the 1964-65 World's Fair. In commemoration, they allowed the public brief access on that date, to the ruins of the New York State Pavilion for the first time in 27 years. 2,500 people waited on line for a peek. This is said to be but a beginning in a series of events for the general public, that the World's Fair Anniversary Committee has planned over the next six months.


This pavilion was a featured site in the movie "Men in Black" some seventeen years ago, but otherwise, the three extra-terrestrial looking towers on its premises— the tallest at 226 feet which offered the best view of the fair grounds — have been standing there as if on death row awaiting some sort of culturally-inspired project to save them. So far, at an estimated 45 million dollar restoration cost for the entire pavilion, there have been no takers.



Truth be told, aside from the "Picturephone" exhibit by Bell Telephone wherein you could actually see the person to whom you were speaking— imagine that!— there is not much about the fair that I remember in "real time," including this pavilion.


Yes, I recall "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln." And along those same Disney lines, so too, "It's a Small World." This was a ride whose torturously repetitive theme song could induce suicidal thoughts, as I would one day come to experience as an LA parent in proximity to Disneyland, where it would wind up along with the "animatronically correct" Mr. Lincoln.


I might have eaten a Belgium waffle there, which as legend erroneously has it, was introduced to America at the time. All the same, they were going like hot cakes. And of course, I have continued to see that still standing Unisphere, usually in transit to and from JFK or LaGuardia. But in the main, my memory has been prompted and my facts have been found, by web searches and a book or two, most notably The 1964-1965 New York World's Fair by Bill Cotter and Bill Young. (Arcadia Publishing 2004).



Granted, fifty years is a long time. Memory may no longer serve as well as it once did. But if the fair's impact has long since faded, it may be grounded in the realization that not only do so many things we predict never come to pass, but there are so many more astonishing things we never saw coming. And that for me epitomizes the '64/'65 World's Fair. Somehow I think I would have remembered someone holding up a prototype of an iPhone and speaking of killer apps while taking a "selfie."


Yet, the fair's theme was after all, "Peace Through Understanding." Rather ironic given our increasing involvement in Viet Nam at the time, with the horrendous war that would follow. In any case, it was not: "This Can't Miss." So is it "fair" to take it to task for some of its wildly off base predictions? Huge underwater dwellings? Ubiquitous jet packs that would propel us as we went about our day? Colonies on the moon and Antarctica?


It was after all the Space Age and we were in a race for the moon, which no doubt tended to shape the conventional wisdom about the future. The emphasis was still on machines and structures, bricks and mortar, and that blessed monorail which was going to transform the way we got from point A to point B. Here in New York in 2014, they're still working on a traditional subway line along 2nd Avenue, which apparently no one alive now will ever live to see completed. But speaking of transportation, the Ford Mustang was introduced at the fair. It was a sight to behold.




Yes, of course computers were represented and demonstrations were given at the IBM pavilion on how they could be used to access massive amounts of information. Today we call this sort of thing "Googling." But there seemed to be no real inkling of how technology would evolve to shape our lives transactionally and socially. No discussions or demonstrations about a world wide web, with all its implications of turning the world into a global village (though Marshall McLuhan was prophesying that very thing as early as '62; no place for a man like that at a World's Fair?), social media, video games, eBooks, eBanking, E-tailing. Heck, no one even saw Post-its coming. Or stamps you didn't have to lick. (Insert LOL here).


Which raises a question about world's fairs in general: what are they supposed to be about anyway?


What is said to have been the first World Fair (or Expo), took place in the Crystal Palace at Hyde Park in London in 1851. Its theme of "Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations," is self-explanatory. Since then, some 63 world fairs or expositions have followed. The U.S. has hosted 20 of them.


While these expositions have tended to emphasize new technologies and advancements which promise a better life going forward, they have also served as venues to promote cultural and artistic achievements, offering participants the opportunity to "brand" themselves in the process. The Vatican Pavilion in 1964, for example, "just" offered Michelangelo's Pieta for viewing. Need it have said more?


A smorgasbord of iconic structures and life altering products, have come out of various fairs over the last 160 years, including perhaps first and foremost, the Eiffel Tower erected for the 1889 World's Fair. Others of some note in some regard, have included the 1893 fair in Chicago with the first Ferris Wheel that was a hit beyond all expectations …the 1939 fair with its formal introduction of TV sets, air conditioning and florescent lighting (not to mention Nylon) … Seattle in '62 offered the Space Needle … the first ever IMAX film was shown in 1970 in Osaka…etc.


The U.S. will participate in the next fair to be held in Milan in 2015, but we have gotten out of the fair hosting business. Various reasons have been offered for this, including one that suggests that since modern technology affords us such easy access as to the goings on in the world, there is no need for such on-site extravaganzas. But it just might come down to that ultimate reason— money.


While 51 million visitors came through the turnstiles in 1964/65, that number was far below the 71 million needed for the fair to turn a profit. Even the much heralded forerunning 1939 fair wound up in the red. And as for the last one ever held in this country, 1984 in New Orleans, it had the dubious distinction of being the only exposition to declare bankruptcy during its run.


Meanwhile in this regard, the world has gone on without us. The Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China with its theme of "Better City— Better Life," set a record for attendance with 73 million visitors. And with 246 countries and international organizations participating, it would seem to disprove any suppositions that world fairs have become passé.


Yeah, but do they have Wafels & Dinges carts like we do? I rest my case.








Quote of the Month

"The basic purpose of the Fair is to help achieve "Peace through Understanding," that is assist in educating peoples of the world as to the interdependence of nations and the need for universal and lasting peace."

 Invitation of Foreign Nations to the New York World's Fair, 1964-1965




                                                                        Photo by Ron Vazzano, 2014 ©







Chinatowner in the 4th


I was placing bets at college
In my swag sharkskin suits
On the phone through my uncle
Playing hunches on the horses.


The brothers of the Jesuit order
In their cardboard collars would have frowned.
This was after all a Catholic college;
Theologically       I was      on shaky ground.


Between courses in the lunchroom
Or smoking Pall Malls in the hall
I would contemplate the odds of just
One long shot coming home.


Others might wait for their ships to come in
On docks with planks built on spines of books.
I sensed a ship somewhere strewn on the rocks.
Hence the horses; hence the calls.


"At the 'Big A,' Chinatowner in the 4th."
"Win, Place or Show?"— his perfunctory reply.
"To win." And it did at 40-1!
My uncle was murdered that day with a gun.


Only stories written
In great big fonts
Beneath great big pictures
Have an ending and moral to tell.


But here, the horses are still running.
And there, my uncle is still dead.
Or there, the horses are still dead.
And here, my uncle is still running.


                                      — Ron Vazzano








In April, I performed a group of my poems under a collective title of "The Poem as Monologue" at:


  • • Artists Without Walls


                                                                         The Cell Theater
                                                                        338 W. 23rd St, NYC
                                                                         Tuesday, April 22nd, 7pm.


Violinist Annette Homann, recording artist and multi-instrumentalist Matt Turk, actress and playwright Michelle Macau, singer and pianist Sasha Papernik, the "Cajun Duo" Charles Perkalis and Michel Henry, actress and playwright Michelle Macau, poet Ron Vazzano, and writers Jim Rodgers and Richard Deane. Charles R. Hale, emcee.



This month, as a featured reader, I will be doing a number of my poems at:


  • • 19th Annual Lower East Side Festival of the Arts



                                                (The Community Space Theater)
                                                155 First Avenue, NYC
                                                Sunday, May 25th, 4pm-7:30pm






Web Maintenance by HK Creative Design
Copyright © 2004-2012