Thursday, December 24, 2015
Centre Street in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, an August afternoon: on the sidewalk outside a storefront full of elegant high-heeled shoes and boots, a sandwich board announces Fall Shoes Arriving Daily. In the daze of late summer, a parade approaches me––brand-new sling-backs, platform shoes, patent leather slippers, alligator pumps, silver stilettos, suede winter boots––down the sidewalk with a steady click and tap. Must be coming from the Post Office, I think; they’ve vaulted out of their packing cases to head straight for the shoe store.
Pair by pair, the New Fall Shoes process sociably along, past the toy store, the yoga studio, the barber shop. Maybe they are making appraising remarks about ordinary pedestrians’ dusty sneakers and unfashionably blunt-toed pumps; they sneer at my sockless feet in square-cut Birkenstock sandals. ”At least she ought to paint her toenails,” they chatter, in French, Italian, Hebrew, and Chinese; do shoes speak an international language, converse in Esperanto?
They disappear into the dark alcove of the shoe store doorway, tappity-tap, tappity-tap, leaving me out on the sidewalk with shoppers, kids in strollers, office workers returning to their cubicles, couples on their way to a late lunch. A vision of high fashion has passed among us and vanished, to reemerge on the feet of stylish Boston women. Trudging home in my sandals, in a different foot-world, I ponder: how does one walk and dance, balanced on those tapered heels?
In subsequent walks on Centre Street, I observe the sandwich board continuing to announce new arrivals. I see in the bold black letters the turning of the seasons, a call that demands some response, just as the crying of Canada geese in their great V, flying south, demands that I run outdoors and see them off.
And so I greet them: Welcome, Fall Shoes, as you sashay down the street, broadcasting your glamour, drumming your challenge in the tapping of your heels, reminding us—It’s a new season, ladies! Streamline your toes, be sexy and daring, risk your accustomed balance. Next time I’m going to enter the shadowed doorway and get introduced. I’ve already borrowed my granddaughter’s toenail polish. Any day now, I might be arriving somewhere—chic, au courant, sophisticated, in my new fall shoes.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
The Chintz Age: tales of love and loss for a new new york. ( Cervena Barva Press, Somerville, Mass. 2015)
Review by Doug Holder
I was just having breakfast with an artist acquaintance at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville, Mass, when the subject turned to where we would move to if we were forced out of our city. We thought of isolated burgs like North Adams, an old mill in Lawrence, far flung nowherevilles in the western part of the state. But of course none of these places are like our hometown of Somerville, where both of us have lived for many years. Across the country artists, low income folks, and others are being forced out of their communities due to the hungry tendrils of gentrification.
In “ The Chintz Age...” (published by Somerville's Cervena Barva Press), this short story collection gets deep into the heads of punks, beatniks, hipsters, junkies, derelicts, artists and others as they hold on to the threads of their community with its bodegas, bookstores and all night cafeterias that once heavily peppered the streets of New York City. The author Ed Hamilton knows of what he writes. Hamilton, the author of “ Legends of the Chelsea Hotel” is still a resident of the Chelsea, known by many as the last bastion for bohemians. It is now gutted and a shell of its former self—as it waits to be turned into a boutique hotel.
Hamilton doesn't abandon his characters, and let them vanish into the ether. They reinvent themselves. They take their careworn carcasses and prop themselves up. Hamilton, in his title story “The Chintz Age,” writes about a middle-aged East Village photographer being forced from her long time apartment. She is long past the beauty and promise of her youth, but she is able to rekindle friendship and more with a figure from her past—a minor league comic book artist now gone to seed. Here, with a tender yet brutal honesty Hamilton describes their tryst:
“The battle-scarred warriors looked at each other for a long, silent moment. Then they drew themselves together—all the years dropping away as the barrier between them dissolved. They fumbled like two teenagers, kissing and struggling out of their clothes in a car because there was nowhere else, embarrassed by their middle-aged bodies, their lumps and cellulite, their wrinkles and scars and age spots and sagging skin. It had been a long time for both of them and neither was young any longer, though they felt reborn in those brief few minutes, the lingering sin of betrayed idealism washed away in the surge of quickening blood through their freshly supple limbs, and rapidly-firing brains....When they grasped each other they reached through time to grasp, as well, the final shreds of their forgotten selves.”
In his short piece “ Fat Hippie Books,” a long-time East Village used bookstore owner, an unapologetic acolyte of all things Kerouac and the Beats is being forced out from his hole- in- the- wall bookstore. He manages to find a smaller space and some peace of mind albeit with compromises:
“ His life underground would represent a winnowing, a stripping down, a belt-tightening as he reduced his desires to match his straightened circumstances... He would not need to make as much money... He would lead a smaller, more compact life, subsisting on bare necessities and nourished by the strength of his soul, waiting for the cycle to come back around, enduring middle-age, old age, even death if need be—waiting to take his place in a better world that was ready at long last to listen to him when he emerged lean, and wiry, a Holy Barbarian, a wild-haired prophet of Beatitude, from the solitude of his urban grotto.”
And Hamilton is a keen observer. A master of the telling detail. Here he puts a microscope to the archetypal New York City dive bar; a place where a long gone-to seed failed writer takes refuge in:
“ Past the thin corridor that contained the bar, its row of stools, and not much else, the room opened up sufficiently to hold a pool table, a row of booths along the wall, and a scattering of wood tables and chairs. The back part of the space was dimly lit by a beer light over the pool table and by tiny red lamps on the wall above the booths. There used to be a steam table along the wall of this Ninth Avenue dive, but that was long gone. Instead, on a card table beside the bar sat three warming urns. Taking a plate from the stack, Theo lifted the three lids in turn: chicken wings in a reeking garlic sauce, disgusting-looking stuffed mushroom caps( shriveled, probably poisonous), and frozen pizza squares with crisp little pepperonis on top.”
Hamilton has an uncanny ability to show how the inroads of time, age, etc.. forces choices in our lives. His characters find some sort of redemption, and keep on keepin' on.
In the long and distinguished catalogue of Boston movies Spotlight will take its rightful place at or very near the top. Like that other great Boston movie, The Verdict, it derives its dramatic energy from a clash between a powerful Boston institution, the Roman Catholic Church, and its seemingly powerless victims. Boston is ground zero for the discovery of the world-wide epidemic of child rape by priests. It was due to the valiant, dogged efforts of the spotlight team of The Boston Globe, another powerful civic institution, that these ugly crimes were brought to light. No one wanted to believe it; not even The Globe could digest the information when it first fell into its lap in the 1990s, and Editor Walter “Robby” Robinson, played by Michael Keaton with subtlety and nuance, buried the story on the Metro page.
Then a newcomer arrives on the scene to take over editorial management at The Globe – Marty Baron, played with phlegmatic doggedness by Liev Schreiber, is an outsider: he’s not from Boston, he’s not married, he doesn’t even follow baseball, and he’s Jewish in a town run by Irish Catholics. Baron immediately recognizes the potential of this story and redirects the spotlight team to pursue it. This is their second chance to get it right. Enter Phil Saviano, played with intelligence and intensity by Neal Huff; he is head of SNAP (Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests). He brings to a meeting with the spotlight team a box full of books about pedophilia in the priesthood, documents, court records – all the information is there but no one has bothered to connect the dots. No one except the attorney for the plaintiffs, the indefatigable Mitchell Garabedian, played by Stanley Tucci with amiable bluntness. He is “not a people person”; like Marty Baron he is an outsider (“How many Armenians do you know in this town?”); but he’s a careful lawyer and is able, through a mistake of the opposing counsel, to make public sealed documents which prove the complicity and the guilt of the Archdiocese of Boston. Garabedian has connected the dots; he knows that “if it takes a village to raise a child it takes a village to rape a child”. Director Thomas McCarthy, who has to his credits another journalism movie: Good Night and Good Luck, about Edward R. Murrow, along with the TV drama, Boston Public, has somehow made a compelling drama out of library research and the hunt for court records. As we all know the Devil is in the details; and the Devil it seems is alive and well in ye old Puritan stronghold, which has furnished plenty of material from real life and legal proceedings for a long list of gothic horror stories from the Salem witch trials to the Winter Hill gang.
This is a movie about the importance of information, and the importance of the kind of investigative journalism it takes to discover and piece together fragments of data into a coherent narrative that demands reform, that pricks the conscience of the public, that brings to heel powerful institutions, that sends priests to prison and cardinals into exile. It is hard to overestimate the importance of this function to a democratic society; and it is easy to take for granted that it will somehow be done by somebody. One comes away from this movie feeling that a vital function of our democracy – “the Fourth Estate” – hangs by a thread. The spotlight team is nothing if not a modest bunch – they drive to work in Toyota Camrys, the wear chinos, rumpled sweaters and bad coiffures; but they do some of the most important work in this democracy. It makes you wonder where things are trending in the age of cable news, the facile mix of opinion and fact, news aggregator services, and slickly produced propaganda presented as fair and balanced journalism.
Michael Keaton brings a keen intelligence to the role with a clipped Boston accent. Mark Ruffalo, as Michael Rezendez, from Portuguese East Boston (another outsider), conveys powerful feelings with close ups of his face; just as Rachel McAdams, as Sacha Pfeiffer, with her bad hair and rumpled sweaters, conveys earnestness – they both walk the fine line required of journalists between involvement and objectivity. John Slattery (of Mad Men) plays Ben Bradlee Jr., whose father was a major player in exposing the Watergate story at The Washington Post. But it is Michael Cyril Creighton who will make you cry for his portrayal of a victim of child abuse. He conveys both the vulnerability and the resilience of Joe Crowley, a gay boy who was repeatedly raped by the infamous Paul Shanley, and then passed around to Shanley’s friends. If you are a human being this movie will bring a tear to your eye and put a gulp in your throat. If you are a Bostonian, or have once lived in Greater Boston, you absolutely must see this film; it will rip your heart out and make you feel both shame and pride. Interspersed in the tepid applause at the end were the muffled sounds of catharsis: sniffles, sighs, audible moans. And for those who have never lived in this great city – you should see this film, which ends with a powerful punch in the gut by silently posting an astonishingly long list of sister cities that have been touched by this scourge, illustrating once again the power of cinema not only to inform but also to enlighten the public.