Monday, November 5, 2012

I’m John Conway, and I disapprove of this message…

By John Patrick Conway, Jr.

Last week I was asked by someone what I thought of the Presidential debates on television. I just stared back at this person with a blank look upon my face. Obviously, this was yet another who does not read my weblog. While I allowed this pregnant pause to stew for effect, I debated with myself as to how far I would go in answering my assailant’s question. In the end, I simply countered with a question of my own: What Presidential Debate?

I was going to let it go at that, but my inquisitive party started to answer what I thought to be an obviously rhetorical question. They didn’t get five words out before I stifled them with an answer that would make it plainly clear as to why I was apparently so disassociated with current events, and it went something like this:

“Look, what you’re referring to as a “debate” for me constitutes an affront upon my sensibilities and is an insult to my intelligence. Instead of rewarding the gratuitously-ad revenue hungry Networks with fodder by which they will justify their rate cards to corporate advertisers intoxicated by their thirst for money, and all the power it buys, I just assume do something really important with my time like, oh, I don’t know…maybe shave my Junk for my next blow-job at the latest Gentleman’s Club to favor my patronage…”

To me, a debate of this nature would broach subject matter both relevant to and bracing of America’s attention. It would air and vet differences central to their message, making the case as to why they can, and will, best serve Americans as a whole. What the Networks and their Pimp’s at both the Democratic and Republican Parties serve up, however, is a carefully scripted and embarrassingly empty Dog and Pony show that neither addresses the concerns of everyday Americans, nor offers any pragmatic means by which they will accomplish their mandate of embracing the will of the majority…whatever that may really be!

So since I’m now on a roll and all fired up, let me tell you what I would’ve heard if I watched that portion of the debate where the incumbent and his challenger would make their final plea for the nation’s support…only this time with the volume on mute.

We’ll start with the challenger, Mitt Romney:

“Thank you, my fellow American’s. Blaa-blaa-blaa, lie-lie-lie, I’m a privileged and preening rich douche, born into and hope to continue as a proud member of America’s 1%, who lives off the passive income of interest and dividends; who has never really had to work for anything my entire life, and is living proof that in the real America I know and love, it takes money most Americans will never see to make money…and I plan to keep it that way because, lets be frank, the less for you – the more for me...and that’s what it takes to stay at the top of America’s New Monarchy.

But, make no mistake (as my predecessor George Bush used to love to start his sentences with), I have had enough success in political life by falsely aligning myself with whatever it is the voting public wishes to hear. For the most part, I have no real common ground with most Americans as evidenced by and borne out of my recent uncharacteristic moment of honesty where, even I have to admit, caught me by surprise when I was quoted as saying that 47% of Americans see themselves as victims. That maybe all well and true, but it doesn’t serve me or my ilk to admit it. I prefer to see the world the way it should be: you, the “voting public,” as commoners to the 1% Masters, like me and mine, that comprise our New Monarchy. So in closing I’d just like to say sit down, shut-up, and do as you’re told…

Oh! And one more thing before I go. I wish to make it patently clear to Americans in general, and Republicans in particular, as to why they should show at the polls and vote Red come this November 6, 2012. Our Party has committed unprecedented resources and man-hours to stifle and usurp the efforts of President Obama these past four years and for no good reason than to show that we can, and as an added benefit to serve warning upon those who even remotely should demonstrate the least amount of initiative where rocking the boat of the Status Quo is concerned. That’s right my bitches.”

…ah, thank you, Governor Romney? And now we’ll hear from our incumbent, his honor, the President of the United States, Barack Obama:

“Thank you, my fellow Americans. Four years ago, I came to you with a message of hope and a plan for change; to usher in a new era where the privileged and disenfranchised alike could not only peacefully coexist, but thrive in a partnership that benefited all in a fair and equitable manner, and where the success of one would lay in the hands of the other. And despite the fact that there was nothing within my Congressional record to justify the heady and fanciful claims where I professed to possess the talent and wherewithal to be a vehicle by which to effect such change…you all bought it! Hook, line and sinker…Suckaaaaaaas!

In all fairness, though, one only has to look at the absolute Retard and his eight-year administration I replaced. So starved were you for a change that I could’ve said 2+2=8 and you would’ve bought it. And lets not forget all those celebrity endorsements. It truly is amazing what the stewardship of Oprah Winfrey and the like can accomplish. Isn’t it? If it should make you all feel any better, Oprah didn’t get as much access to the White House as I’m sure she would’ve liked either. Wifey pretty well saw to that…

Look, lets just be honest here for a change (pun intended) and look at the situation for what it is. I’m a realist, and I understand better than you think what side my political slice of bread is buttered on. I am, first and foremost, a Wall Street Democrat. That’s right, money talks and bullshit walks. I’ve a future to think of and nothing says Well done, Uncle Tom like a nice, big, fat retainer from J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Goldman Sachs for legal services yet to be rendered.

To be completely honest, though, I was really out-classed by the Office I hold, but you should still be willing to drink my Cool-Aide for another four years because, well, you just heard my friend and colleague, Mitt, from across the political divide…

Seriously, I would love to live in a world where the character of following through on your promises actually means something but, my fellow Americans, we do not live within that world. Truth be told, an Ivy League education and a Doctor of Jurisprudence is not the make of a leader. I believe I have shown them for what they really are: commodities to be bought and sold as tickets where one barters for access to a system that demands you check your principles at the door.

...Are you listening, boys and girls?

So in closing I’d just like all of you out there, who wagered upon their faith in my promises, to know that I really did try and be a good President. I’m not really sure where I lost my way. I suspect it was somewhere around the time where my realization that the Public Option on my Heath Care Reform Bill had run up against the cold reality of political life here in Washington D.C. In the end, I prostituted my values in the name of political expediency on so many issues that after a while it just seemed second nature. For what it is worth, I was only able to sleep at night when I had finally convinced myself that this is the way the game is played inside The Belt, and that a lesser President would not have fought as hard as I…

Boo-hoo-hoo, have mercy and vote me some love. Right on. Yo be cool. 

Besides, what else do you have to do? It's not like many of you out there have real jobs to go to, or homes to tend anymore...right?”

So, yeah, there it is. Was I really missing out on anything? I didn’t think so…

Copyright November 6, 2012. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Happy Accidents in New York

By John Patrick Conway, Jr.

One of the advantages of living in a city like New York is that every now and again you may brush up against someone of interest, a place noteworthy in history, or a location from a scene in a favorite movie.

On days where I’m not sure want I want to do, but I know I want to stay the hell out of the house, I sometimes explore places like these. In fact, I’ll usually make a theme day of it by visiting places related to a particular person, or a movie of interest.

As of late, one of the people I’ve come across in my daily commute was Greg Mocker from Channel 11 News (WPIX). He was doing a report on the No.7 subway station at Court Square, and as I’m stepping onto the platform there I saw him with one of his stations cameramen. We shook hands and briefly spoke. He was a nice guy.

On another occasion a few weeks back while riding on the No. 4 or 5 train uptown, a funny looking guy with green plastic, round-rim glasses steps on, and though I couldn’t remember his name at the time I recognized him from any number of movies and television shows I've seen in the past. Turns out that it was Ron Rifkin from the television series Alias that starred Jennifer Garner. I didn’t try to say hi because, frankly, he didn’t interest me, but I did get a chuckle out of those stupid looking glasses he was wearing and that just screamed, Look at me! I’m famous so when I wear such silly things it’s not quirky, it’s cool! Whatever…

But yesterday after work while running around Manhattan I came across a place I’ve been meaning to visit for quite some time now. I just got off the No.5 at 14th street, Union Square, and was heading south on 5th Avenue in the Village just north of Washington Square Park. I was on my way to a store on West 8th Street between 5th and MacDougal Street when off to my left I recognized a building that I must have seen in pictures a hundred times before: The Brevoort Apartment Building. Talk about your happy accidents!

At first sight, I just glanced at it and kept walking. But a moment later my pace decelerated as I thought something familiar about that building. I stopped, looked back at the glass entrance with the Brevoort sign just above it, then turned and slowly started walking away again. I’m thinking to myself that there’s something important about this place and that I’ve must have been here before…but I just couldn’t remember. As I crossed 5th at the northwest corner of West 8th Street it hit me like a clap thunder. I stopped dead in my tracks and wheeled around in astonishment causing a couple people who were walking behind me to pile up. 

You’re probably asking yourself the question right now, What’s the big deal about that, Johnny? And for the most part, you would be right. But for me it holds a special significance in that it was the New York home of Buddy Holly and his new bride Maria Elena from August 1958 until his untimely death in February 1959. It is to me what the Dakota Apartment Building is to Beatles fans the world over in general, and John Lennon fans in particular.

To me, Buddy Holly was The Man when it came to Rock’N-Roll. I think that must be because if a geeky looking guy from the likes of Lubbock, TX can use his talents to make such an impact in the world, and a success of himself at the same time, then maybe, just maybe, there’s hope for the rest of us.

The Brevoort Apartment Building, Eleven 5th Avenue, New York, NY - Check. Now the only other Buddy Holly sight I need to visit in Manhattan is PJ Clarke’s on the northeast corner of 3rd Avenue and 55th Street where, during Buddy’s and Maria’s first date, he asked for her hand in marriage…and she said yes! Somehow they must have known that time was of the essence, and that they needed to live as much as possible in what little of it they had left together…or so I wish to believe.

And since I’m on the subject of visiting the homesteads of famous composers/musicians, there’s one more I’ll share with you today. Though this little adventure saw me visiting a few sights unrelated, as they were in relatively close proximity to one another within the neighborhoods of Tribeca and Soho, I resolved to throw them in all together and visit  each individually one fine Spring afternoon.

After yet another day crammed within the Options and Futures Pits of the New York Mercantile Exchange with all the yelling, screaming, elbowing and shoving that was my daily existence, I’d usually wind down after work with a Captain & Coke at my favorite, shall we say Gentleman’s Club… Oh, who am I kidding - it was a Titty Bar! Plain and simple! That’s right, cause that’s the way Johnny rolls! Know what I’m say’n? Know what I’m say’n? Anyway, lets just move on…

So on this one day in particular I realize that, during one of my favorite booty-pops, I’m drinking on an empty stomach which is never a good thing for a number of reasons. So I head to the corner Pizza place for a bite, and then on up the block to the ATM to reload the old billfold…cause Johnny was heading back to the Doll House to play! Whatever, so as I’m walking up West Broadway, I’m taking in what a beautiful Spring day it is. Standing on the southwest corner of West Broadway and Chambers Street I take a deep breath, exhale, and decide to take a late afternoon constitutional around Tribeca.

I head north on Hudson until I reach North Moore Street where I turn east heading for Varick Street. It’s on this corner (southeast) where you’ll find the Fire House used in the movies Ghost Busters and Hitch. On the way there, though, I pass 20 North Moore Street (between Hudson and Varick): the one time residence of John F. Kennedy, Jr. and his wife Carolyn Bessette. From what I understand his loft is now owned by the actor, writer, and producer Edward Burns.

A block further to the east on the northwest corner of North Moore and West Broadway is the same location where they shot the Coffee Shop/Diner scenes for the movie It Could Happen To You. The Diner was never real; it was a set built for the movie and torn down a few weeks after filming ended.

While standing around and taking in the sites here, I lament not having a camera with me at the moment and resolve to return another day with one in hand.

I head back west on North Moore and once again turn north at Hudson Street. I figured that since I came this far I’d just keep going…sort of like Forrest Gump. I’m now heading for Spring Street where I’ll turn west until I hit Greenwich, and it’s on Greenwich I turn south. Why? Because it is here on Greenwich Street, just south of Spring, where the musician and composer Jonathan Larson lived…and died.

If you do not know who Jonathan Larson is by name, I’m almost certain that you’ve probably heard his work. He was the guy who wrote the musical RENT.

Like Buddy Holly before him, Jonathan Larson passed way too soon. Suffering from an undetected heart ailment that went misdiagnosed twice shortly before his death, he had just arrived home late after final rehearsals the night before RENT would open for its first real Off-Broadway performance at the New York Theater Workshop on January 25, 1996. It was then that an Aortic tear caused his heart to give out. He was discovered later that same night by a friend, and just ten days shy of his 36th birthday.

The rest is history. The NYTW presentation of RENT was an immense hit selling out its entire Off-Broadway run. Only four months later, in April, the production would open at the Nederlander Theater on the southwest corner of West 41st Street and 7th Avenue, its Theater District home over the next 12 years, beginning a run that would make it the ninth longest running show on Broadway at that time.

To be honest, I can’t say that I liked any of his work prior to RENT. At least not the stuff I heard on YouTube. But even if he never did anything else in his life, his score for RENT is the product of musical genius meant for the ages. IMHO, it stands among the likes of Westside Story and Phantom of the Opera. In the end, it was his Magnum Opus. We should all be so fortunate.

As I stood across the street from his place there on Greenwich, I tried to feel some of that magic I hoped still emanated from that top floor shit-hole he lived in. Alas, it must have left with him. But as I continued south on Greenwich Street that glorious Spring afternoon I felt a peaceful sense of contentment knowing that I would be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor for the rest of my life…just as I would Buddy Holly’s.

Well, that's it for today. As to where I may venture off next in the future...I'm not too sure. Lets see, now. Where to next. Ah, yes! The United Nations on the Upper East Side for its association with the movie North By Northwest (you know, I’ve lived in New York almost my entire life and I’ve never taken the tour…), Serendipity on East 61st Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues for, well, Serendipity, and I think I’ll swing by Holly Golightly’s at 169 East 71st Street  between 3rd and Lexington Avenues for Breakfast (At Tiffany's) and see what that old whore has been up to as late…just kidding ;) 

Copyright September 8, 2012. All rights reserved.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Where were you July 20, 1969?

By John Patrick Conway, Jr.

At dinner tables all across America, usually while having coffee and dessert after supper, topics of conversation like where you were and what you were doing at some particular time in history are all too familiar. For those of my parents and grandparents generation the question was where they were and what they were doing the day Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941 and/or the day President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX on November 22, 1963. I imagine for today’s generation it’s all about the morning of September 11, 2001. But for those of my generation born in the mid 1960’s, it’s primarily where you were and what you were doing when Astronaut Neil Armstrong first set foot upon the moon July 20, 1969. A momentous event in history that stands out not because of a national tragedy, mind you, but rather because of a nation's combined effort in achieving a goal once they’ve set their mind to it. 

Over the years I’ve heard a few good stories on this very subject and there are a couple that stand out in my mind. But none more so than the ones I learned of from a bunch of guys I was hanging out with at Spadaro’s airport on Long Island in the summer of 1990. I was working as a Jump Pilot for a skydiving operation back then and there was a lull in operations due to winds in excess of those stipulated by federal regulations. While standing around with nothing to do while waiting for the winds to calm, an F-14 launching out of the near by Grumman-Calverton airport comes roaring by just west of us heading southbound over the Atlantic. Not surprisingly, the topic of conversation turned towards the Grumman Aerospace Corporation which, not long before that time, had been the largest private employer on Long Island. As I remember it, the conversation went from lamenting the painful demise of the company to how cool some of the machinery it cranked out over the years was…like that Tomcat that just flew by.

We talked about the company’s rich history of producing carrier based aircraft for the US Navy like the Wild Cats and Hell Cats of the Second World War, the F-9 Panther jet of the Korean War, and the early warning E-2 Hawkeye that were then still in production. But when I mentioned the Lunar Module of the Apollo Program that was designed and constructed by Grumman at their home in Bethpage, Long Island...well, that really got everyone fired up.

It didn’t take long before the subject of the space program took over and everyone is recalling where they were and what they where doing the day America served up a huge plate of Crow for the Soviet Union to eat in our unofficial but very real race to the moon. I was really surprised at how everyone in that group, that day, all of a sudden just lit up with excitement.

Of the two I recall off hand, one was a guy who stated that the day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon - he landed in jail for hitting a cop. As a result, the judge presiding over his case gave him a choice: Go into the military or go to prison. And so it was off to the Marines and a tour in Vietnam for him. Ironically, this very same fellow would later apply his military training to a career in law enforcement…as a cop. Go figure.

Another guy remembered the day Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon because it was the very same he finally landed his girlfriend for his first lay. It was also on this day that he became a father because he got his girlfriend pregnant as a result. So for him it was off to the wedding chapel to start a new life as a family man, and one in which he proudly proclaimed for the product of said dalliance to hear as he was then standing right next to him. I still smile when I think about those two standing there together with their arms folded across their chests, a father and son on a day of skydiving adventure, the father knowing full well that as he’s telling this story his boy is rolling his eyes and shaking his head with a half smile on his face because, even though he has heard it a million times before, he  understands how much his dad likes telling it and there’s no stopping him once he gets started.

As for me, my recollection of that day isn’t anywhere near as interesting. I was only a little more than three years and nine months old, but it’s the forth oldest memory I can recall (the first is a brief recollection of trying to stand in my fathers shoes as a toddler in Maryland; the second is a horse paddock in New Jersey where my mother explained to me that we were moving to Fresh Meadows, NY; the third being a neighbor in Fresh Meadows asking how old I was once having moved there and holding up three fingers). But it holds for me a special significance in that it was one of those rare happy times during a childhood where I do not remember there being much happiness, especially later on.

If I’m not mistaken my mother had taken my sister, my brother and myself to what we referred to back then as the “World’s Fair” due to the fact that it was the park that housed the very 1964-1965 event that my parents attended and for which my father actually had an official connection with as a junior executive for General Motors. Up to that point it was my favorite place on earth. It had this really cool merry-go-round near the entrance, a little zoo, wide open spaces to run around, reflecting pools, and the Unisphere. But not the least of which was the Hall of Science where NASA had left behind some boiler plate models of various rockets and spacecraft from its contribution to the Fair five years earlier.

I can to this day remember the very moment, and feel that sense of boundless excitement, when I first learned of Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong’s successful landing of LEM Eagle upon the Sea of Tranquility. My family and I were standing on the Flushing bound side of the No.7 train’s 111th Street Station platform on its far eastern end heading back home from a day at the Park. All of a sudden everyone on the platform started cheering but none of us knew why. My mother asks someone near us and then, with a smile on her face, leans over to us kids to say that the Astronauts had just landed on the moon. I can still see her face at that very moment.

The rest of that day was spent back home watching the events on a Zenith Black & White television. It had a white plastic case that sat upon a gold aluminum stand on wheels and that also served as a magazine rack. It’s strange the things you remember, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that day since learning of my childhood heroes passing last night, and what a profound impact those events, and the emotions associated with them, had upon my life later on. Some seventeen years later I would leave home for college and flight training in pursuit of a life where I could live my dream of experiencing such joy on a daily basis.

Though I no longer work in aviation I am reminded of those times, and that day in particular, whenever I take the No.7 train as it passes the 111th Street Station on its way to Flushing.

I never did get to meet the Astronauts of Apollo 11. The one time that I thought I might try was back in 1999. On the 30th anniversary of their moon landing, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were to attend a function open to the public at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, but I was just two months into a new position at Salomon Smith Barney and I didn’t think it would go over too well my taking time off just to meet up with childhood heroes. I really wrestled with myself over the pluses and minuses of jumping a flight to Washington DC the night before and returning the next. In the end I chose to air on the side of caution. Bad choice.

On another but not completely unrelated note, there’s an excellent Australian movie that came out back in 2000 called The Dish staring Sam Neil and Patrick Warburton. Though the movie revolves around true events, the storyline is based upon the fictional recollections of one of the movies main characters, Cliff Buxton (Neil), on this particular day in history and the events leading up to it.

As a one-time director of the Parks Radio Telescope Observatory that, during the Apollo 11 mission (and others), was actually used to transmit video, audio, and data telemetry back to Houston, Buxton returns to his old charge on the 20th anniversary of this special occasion to reminisce. Shot on location in and around the actual site in New South Wales, Australia, the cinematography is just gorgeous. The elements of the story reach far and wide, and how they intertwine is both amusing and entertaining at the same time. I won't  go into any more details here and now, but suffice it to say that if you haven’t seen it yet then I highly recommend that you do so at least once (the DVD being accessible thru Netflix). It’s all at once funny, heartening, and exciting to watch IMHO. And if you’re a slide-rule geek like me, they even have a scene with one of those in it as well.

In closing this post I wish to extend my most heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Neil Armstrong. In many ways he was fortunate to be in the right place, with the right credentials, at the right time in history. Most importantly, however, he saw and believed in John Kennedy's assertion that great nations and their people do great things. That we, America, are defined not only by what we accomplish but the manner in which we accomplish it. To that end he stepped forward (as did others), dedicating himself as an integral member of a team effort, and displaying before the bewildered eyes of all who watched back in July of 1969 the grace, skill, and steadfast bravery of Aviators the world over. In having done so he brought honor to this country of ours, and in a way that many may attempt to emulate but only a scant few will ever equal.

What I respect most about Neil Armstrong was not his technical acumen or his piloting skills, but rather the manner in which he carried himself. A retiring and humble soul, he never sought the fame and fortune that could very easily have been his. It just wasn't in his nature. Without ever having met the man, my take on his character was that he understood better than anyone else his own self-worth, both inside and outside of a cockpit, and his silence on the subject spoke volumes for his faith in his own abilities. My assumption here extends from comments made in what has to be the best book I ever read about the X-15 program, titled At The Edge Of Space. It was written by a NACA test pilot and engineer named Milt Thompson who worked along side Armstrong when they were both project test pilots on this very program, and later on in the Dyna-Soar program from which Armstrong resigned once he was selected for NASA's 1962 Class of Astronauts. His take on Armstrong was that of all the test pilots involved, he was the most intelligent and talented.

I also think that Neil Armstrong was not the type to be given to self delusion. I  believe he understood all to well that, where his accomplishments in aviation were concerned, he stood upon the shoulders of a nation. From his flight training in the US Navy, to his in-house training as a test pilot for the NACA, and then again his NASA Astronaut training and experience in both projects Gemini and Apollo...all paid for by and in benefit of the good old United States of America. For him, the opportunity to reach for the stars was compensation enough. He didn't have a damn thing in the world to prove. He knew how good he was, and he knew that others with any brains at all could very well recognize it when it was starring them square in the eye. Nothing more need be said. 

So to my childhood hero wherever you are, may your spirit find only following winds and fair weather cumulus. I only wish we could have met and shook hands once in this life. The next perhaps... 

Copyright August 26, 2012. All rights reserved.