Transitions

Transitions

by Elizabeth McLaughlin

The Autumn colors arrived and vanished quickly due to unusual warm weather. I was disappointed with this season, felt betrayed and robbed by unnatural forces. However, it was now time for a change and very thankful for my sisters decision to visit this Christmas. It set the stage for me to act as a NYC tourist guide. The day we decided to go into Manhattan the weather changed from cold to frigid cold! Newscasters reported that a mini ice age was ramping up and warned the public to be prepared and dress for severe winter chills. I layered at least four tops, two pairs of socks and pants, woolen hat, knitted earth tone neck wrap and pink fiber gloves. This brought me back to the Bronx childhood memories of being stuffed into bulky down snow suit, toes forced into shoes covered with plastic bags and then squished into red rubber boots. Usually following such time-consuming layering many kids from the neighborhood took to hand carving igloos with interior slides onto the sidewalk, fierce snowball fights, snowman making or sleigh riding, skating at the park.

The train schedule into the city read ninety minutes but it could last longer with all the stops and weather related delays. We arrived early so I inquired at the ticket window to be pointed in a direction of a local coffee shop. The sound of Christmas carols in the Spanish language blasted from metal cone shaped speakers that were mounted on lamp posts. I dashed across the commuter filled parking lot and over to a town bakery. It was a first time experience to enter into a Spanish bakery. The line was orderly but fast. The bakery featured two large long glass counters. One displayed rolls, pastries, fancy cakes with small signs hand written in Spanish that described the confections. The other counter displayed what a customer would normally find in a neighborhood bakery. I decided to be daring and ordered a pastry labeled in Spanish. With a few words and hand signals the clerk and a customer tried the task of translating the ingredients. They both could not tell me in English what embellished this stuffed pastry but it looked sumptuous. Interestingly enough the woman at the cashier could understand how to make change in US dollars. Oh well, back at the train station we ended up sitting inside the unheated antiquated waiting room, coffee in one hand and Mexican pastry in the other, anticipating the train would accept passengers on time. I felt the rich taste of coconut and cinnamon melting inside my mouth with each sip of warm fresh roasted coffee. We could view from the oak framed glass window that the train idled on its tracks with doors still closed. Brave passengers stood outside, appearing totally unprepared for the weather, dressed in thin clothing and summer cotton sneakers. Arctic gusts of wind whipped across the open station platform and the passengers stood firm waiting to hear the vacuum train doors swish open. For many years I traveled on the Metro North from Westchester County into Grand Central Station but this was my first time traveling on the NJ Transit Line into Penn Station. xmas21This meant about a walk of approximately twenty blocks to Rockefeller Center. Not a real problem because my hiking boots could undertake subway grates, concrete stairs and any obstacle on this urban trail. I worried about my sister, her ankle swollen from leg surgery that it would be too much of a walk, however, she insisted on making the trek regardless of any discomfort to her leg. Taxis were at grinding halts and lost in traffic. The city blocks were short and the walk refreshing even in this frigid weather. My sister dragged me into a few tourist shops along the way because she wanted to bring back T Shirt gifts for her friends. I did not seem to mind her request because the shop stops offered a heated relief from the cold and she could rest a leg. Shop rents are high for these retail establishments so every inch of space is utilized to display something for sale. I could not help missing a zillion magnets of the Statue of Liberty. It came in a variety of sizes and after much thought decided on one for about four dollars.

It was awesome the prices were not designed to gouge tourists wallets! The army of tourists thickened as we naturally formed into moving groups that lead us to the bright flashing lights of Times Square. I do recall the day when it was often frowned upon to visit such a place because Times Square was noted for seedy pornographic businesses. It only took time for Times Square to gain movie theaters and cleaned out most of the riff raff. Even though the sky was gray, huge assorted sized digital media billboards lit up Times Square transforming the streets into a bright summer day.

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Psychologically everyone felt a few degrees warmer with light and people had good spirits and smiled. Red ribbon tape roped off the staging area to handle the large crowds for New Years Eve. People were everywhere and I never experienced so many on the streets, crossing intersections in swarms like buzzing bees, trying to reach places of work/business, theaters and eateries. Emergency sirens, honking horns and the intimidating sound of rumbling metro buses vibrated against the tall skyscrapers windows and the noise echoed down long side streets. It’s a common New York City sound!

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MOMA always became a destination for me and like all businesses in New York City, changed. A part of it is under construction and from what I could remember prior to this altered state the book store location was conveniently situated on the ground floor. Now, it is on the second floor. After passing a large MOMA billboard highlighting good things to come, xmas41I noticed a MOMA Design Store across the street from the museum. And they were having a spectacular Christmas Sale! Scarves were now on sale for sixty dollars and up, unfortunately, way beyond my budget. However, it was nice to see the trending watches, Japanese lanterns, modernistic wall clocks, unique gadgets. A dream purchase for most that require a specific contemporary piece to accent a Manhattan apartment. It is also utterly important for the urban chic to engage a visit to this store for name dropping about it at roof top parties and exclusive art gallery shows. My sister was in a New York rush to see the Saks Fifth Avenue light show and skaters at Rockefeller Center. therefore, after strolling through the museum lobby I vowed to return in a few months by myself and spend hours at the Design Store and MOMA.

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Rockefeller Center had waves of people taking pictures of skaters but something bothered me about the Christmas tree. xmas31For some reason it visually felt not as large or wide as most other years. I kept questioning myself about the lights and if that underwent a board’s decision to be changed. The skaters glided across the ring of ice as if they were stiff and obviously very cold. Wherever large pockets of people formed it was a guaranteed children’s window display magnet, such as LEGO. It was packed with parents and kids. The early evening light was dimming, the lights began to sparkle on Christmas tree, a corridor of angels and office building windows glowed against its stone facade. People began to point and shuffle weary feet in the direction of Saks Fifth Avenue because they did not want to miss the fabulously spectacular Saks Fifth Avenue light show!

Saks Fifth Avenue windows were elegantly decorated with a Snow White theme. Children screamed with joy or were crying as parents clutched small hands to walk the length of the building. Across the street the populace thickened to shoulder to shoulder standing room and then all of a sudden over a loud-speaker a circus ring master type voice received everyone to the show. Music chimed in and the entire Saks Fifth Avenue building lit up to form the shape of an enchanted castle. The castles tastefully colored lights flickered to music and songs.

A very impressive display that should not be missed! After the show we walked the exterior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, more lines, lines, lines, the Atlas Statue, back to Rockefeller Plaza to view their shop windows and then off to hunt down a place to eat.

All restaurants were packed with standing lines. Our best option was to try to purchase a sandwich at Chik-fil-A. I never experienced this eatery and was so glad to have found the freshest chicken sandwich ever tasted. The service at the counter was cheerful, helpful and welcoming! Our day was winding down as we approached Madison Square Garden. Penn Station is located below the Garden and at this hour people were heading to a show, concert or home.

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The lobby was packed and with each intercom announcement the station became instantly empty and refilled again at breakneck speed. It was almost comical how fast this room filled up, emptied and refilled. Our train track number was announced and confirmed by viewing the computerized displays. People formed into swarms at the gate, passed two doors and quickly ran down the platform to find a seat. I watched as far as my eyes could see and noticed this train was not in short supply of double-decker cars to service any type of traveler.

New Years Day came and now vanished into the past. A new year arrived and of course one has to make plans. This year is going to be a transitional year and I welcome it with open arms.

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The ACID JAZZ MAN

The Acid Jazz Man
by Elizabeth McLaughlin
Phillipe studied with the best that Paris had to offer. Dodging from night clubs to smoke-filled lounges, sneaking back stage and performing among the greatest. He had the talent of translating everything into cool and in demand by the coolest entertainment personalities globally. Everyone loved his groovy pitch black dyed goatee and fedora green velvet hat. It added to his intoxicating addicting persona. This Thursday afternoon was practice and after catching the red-eye from London to New York City his hometown, Phillipe was preparing for a special jam. His antiquated warehouse roof top sandwiched in-between brick apartment buildings transformed into a well-known hot spot for musicians to gather and gig. A loud horn honked and door alarm buzzed. Phillipe ran across the wooden loft floor to open up the steel framed window and yelled down to his new band to take the freight elevator over to the left and that he would meet them up on the roof top. The group of  disheveled musicians piled out of a renovated dark grey cargo van, grasping black musical instrument cases and headed for the huge rusted freight door. Phillipe finished his lemon plunge martini over lunch while the band unloaded equipment and then headed for a spiral staircase over by his front door and ascended up to the ceiling and swung open a silver aluminum roof top hatch.
There Yvonne da Bomb Bomb greeted him with a long huge wet kiss on the lips and sultry hug. Yvonne da Bomb Bomb was just that a Bomb and known for her smooth vocal tones, tribal linguistics and animal tones to blues, funk and soul. Her afro bounced up and down along with every mechanism a woman would love to achieve developing at a local spa. Yes, Yvonne, capital “Y” for short possessed it all, therefore, her stage name. The “Y” was from Nairobi, Africa and very gifted by ancestry. Aiko another vocalist but from Japan, known as “love child”, smiled and gently tugged on Phillipes ear and whispered something wild but quiet. Lucca shouted over to Phillipe, “hey man when you can break away, show me where to set up the drums, we gotta get this beat going.” Phillipe dislodged his grip on both girls and joyfully flipped his arms upward and said, “man, over by the water tower stage, is where we will be setting up.” Skinny Bean, a clarinet player offered to assist Lucca with the bulky drum set-up. Skinny Bean was known at his home town, London, as Skinny and in the New York City jazz circles, Bean. Hence, the combination suited his physical appearance as well as geographic playing location perfectly. Skinny Bean and Phillipe go back many years meeting at the .famous Blue Note Club in London. Skinnies  parents originated from the Caribbean, he grew up on the ghetto streets and as a young boy would street play for tourist dollars over at Piccadilly Circus. He performed at the best under-ground jazz club caverns where it was quite common for famous musicians to make surprise appearances. Some clubs even closed, its doors but Skinny would never take a closing for granted. Skinny would stand outside the padlocked doors and still perform for undying clubbies and fans, collecting tips all night long until the club reopened under new management.
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A one two, a one two, three, four, and with a nod of his head Phillipe pursed his narrow lips up to his horn. The rest of the band chimed in as neighboring pigeons began to take roof top flight and circle above the stage. That is until there was an abrupt door slam and out shuffled Pete, late as usual, rolling his keyboards along his side. Phillipe turned and fingered for Pete to come to the stage, “hey man, don’t ever do this to me again or your out.” Pete travelled from New Orleans, Louisiana, and his resume offered a one time musician for the great Elvis Presley. After the Presley experience Las Vegas was usually his gig town but he never fit in with the country band scene and longed to do more free style creative work. Phillipe met Pete while performing at a Las Vegas lounge, found him stooped over a whiskey filled glass and the rest is history. They somehow bonded as musicians do and Pete was offered to show off his stuff and then to play in a new upcoming acid jazz band. It was the break that Pete needed, especially after a turbulent divorce from his wife,  and business associates.  The two girls did a dagger glare stare at Pete as he approached them to set up, side stage. Phillipe once again signaled for a start and the band harmoniously clicked as if apart but one. “Y” – opened up with soothing bird noises and the roof top was transformed with a following of flute, horns, base, and drums.
It became a ritual for the neighborhood and as word got out on the street that a gig was in place., people of all ages began to fill up the roof top with heads bobbing, clapping and break dancing bodies spinning against the polished wooden dance floor. Legs and arms tightened and contorted to the beats. Sweat began to pour from Phillipes face as he blew his horn, thoughts wandered into a different emotional plane that transformed into the perfect blend of music. It was the genre of music, calling him to transform, distort, reach, familiar notes into something quite unique. Notes repeated and then glided off into a higher extreme, the crowd loved it and Phillipe then knew that his band was in the gold. Skinny grabbed the mike, de, bop, de, de de, bop, bop, bop as “Y” wrapped her long legs onto the silo stairs and snaked up to the top of the air conditioning units. In the distance old iron fire escapes offered groupies the perfect balcony view.  Lucca looked up at “Y” and repeatedly sang, “hey babe I’m gonna kiss you tonight, hey babe, hey babe” “Y” pointed down to him and teasingly responded with, “hey babe, who do you think you are, come on over and try.” And then she screeched out a loud leopard noise. Everyone cheered  and laughed while continuing to hold the beat. Then the melody changed very quickly as it first started. The beat changed and so did the vocals,  In a high-pitched voice, Aiko proceeded to anchor the crowd in harmony singing “Sisters, Brothers, we are all together.” Scratching noises were produced from a turntable, as “Y” took to the cowbell. Horns blared in the background. Phillipe yelled, “It’s all about the beat babes, the beat, the beat…” (to be continued)

Alley Cat

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Alley Cat by Elizabeth McLaughlin
He usually hung out perched on top of a worn white washed wooden fence in the backyard facing a kitchen window, crying every morning. Until one day that old man Flanigan picked up his hard worn leather shoe and threw it at Alley. The cat was owned by Marcy, a young woman who rented a room in the downstairs basement apartment. It was a foreign environment for Alley because he was used to being a barn yard cat and living on a prestigious horse farm. One day the feed truck pulled up to the stately designed colonial to drop off the paperwork for final delivery and the driver left his side door wide open. Alley jumped in and the metal door slammed shut and life was never the same. The truck zoomed away down the long topiary tree-lined driveway, onto the main highway, and headed back to the processing facility. Feeling very much alone, Alley started to cry which prompted the delivery man to toss the poor cat out the door and onto a cold damp city street. Nothing looked familiar to Alley cat, even the noises were frightening so he ran very fast to the nearest shelter found under a pile of lumber in an alley-way.
Marcy loved to paint and this is what attracted her to SoHo in the city of New York. The room was expensive but affordable, close to museums, trendy cafe, chic boutiques, transit and the bartending job at Mercer Kitchen on Prince Street. It was a go to restaurant by affluent hipsters for drinks and eats, they tipped heavily and helped support her main objective, creating art. catphotoSunday was usually a light day for Marcy because she worked the brunch shift. This made it possible to meet up with a friend she met from work at MOMA. Chad was also a struggling artist, but a musician at night, he generally performed in the neighborhood circuit. A highly talented and an extremely likeable personality attracted Marcy to Chad. After a short yellow cab ride to Mid Town, Chad could be seen standing at the modern stylized entry. Quickly they approached the museum collection of cubism, Henri Matisse, and Claude Monet’s Water Lilies that enhanced the blank white museum walls. The day passed like a flash and this was a good sign that it was a mutually exceptional time. Thunder could be heard in the distance as the brief bouts of lightning flickered and danced against the tall skyscrapers architectural facade. Marcy decided to save the cab fare and take the long walk back to SoHo. The street lights reflected off of rain slicked streets and the intervals of awnings from construction projects helped to keep her dry. She approached a funky violet tiled concrete entry and a painted red wrought iron gate which led to the stair-well of her basement residence. All of a sudden a faint unsettling cry could be heard coming from the dim alley-way.
Alley was a tough cat, could take on the fiercest raccoons and muskrats that invaded the barn. However, he was now in a new surroundings and for many weeks trembled with fear. His aging nerves prevented him from movement, afraid to venture from the pile of lumber because of intense police sirens, discharging buses and booming music.  Weak from lack of food, Alley remained helpless and lost. Marcy ventured over to the cries, stooped to the ground, and pried apart a wooden board to find Alley near death. She quickly took off her rain coat and gently pushed Alley onto it and slid him out from the rubble of wood. After many weeks of care Marcy decided to give Alley his famous name. They became close and even Chad upon his first visit commented on her cool find. Chad gifted Marcy with an antique bell to adorn the old cats neck. Alley inspired Marcy to paint his portrait, depicting a grumpy old cat. As time went by the painting faded, tattered and torn, lives grew, flourished and ended but his picture remains.

Fall-icious part six

Over the weekend I went on a trip to New York and took a few photos. My battery went dead very fast which was a disappointment. I did not have the time to charge it up fully prior to leaving New Jersey or I would have been very late for a dinner engagement. However, sometimes a few captures turns out best and I will return to that location at winter time. And, I had some fun doing photo editing on just these few New York captures.

Now back to New Jersey and my unedited trail-side photos –

It is amazing how nature imprints its own question mark on a leaf! A very precious find!