Sunday, April 2, 2017

Mexican Radio

Yesterday, I walked downstairs from my apartment to discover that Mexican Radio, a restaurant next door to my apartment building whose customer I’d been since they’d opened in that location, had closed. This was the latest in a string of small business closures in my neighborhood over the last few years that included a newsstand, a laundromat, two delis and Spring Street Natural restaurant, which had been in its old location for over 30 years.
I wrote an email to Lori Selden, the owner of Mexican Radio, expressing my sadness at their closing, and the owner wrote back with a short history of her experience in the neighborhood, which I found absolutely fascinating. With Ms. Selden’s permission, I thought I’d share some excerpts from our email exchange here.

Good evening, Paul, and thank you for your sweet note.
It has been very sad and painful for us to shut the NYC doors after 21 years, 17+ at the Cleveland Place location.
We struggled for quite some time with excruciatingly high rent and overheads, not to mention just the onerous day-to-day routines that NYC requires.  As a long-time resident of the neighborhood, you know all too well what we’ve been witnessing the last couple of decades and, most recently, the last five years or so.  It happened to SoHo, it’s happening to the entire city—there’s just no way that small independent businesses can survive anymore.
What a different planet it was back then!
I think some our proudest (and saddest) memories are tied up in the fateful day when we all stood outside on Cleveland Place and watched The Towers fall.  As you well know, our guys were all First Responders, many of whom we lost that day.  The neighborhood was shut down with a Checkpoint Charlie on Houston (we would have to walk up there continually to vouch for our staff to come down into the restricted zone) and we felt honored to be able to provide a solid month of food, drink and the comfort of community to those of us living and working where the ashes fell.
When the cleanup was mostly over and the fire station received the gift of that sweet little Dalmatian, it brought a giant smile back into our lives as we all began to regroup and try to move forward.
We are both very grateful to have been in the right place at the right time.

I also asked Selden about 236 Lafayette Street, a building on the northwest corner of Lafayette and Spring Streets that had seemed mysteriously empty for years and which I was surprised some developer hadn’t bought and turned into luxury condos. She talked about that, as well.

Sam Salstein was the owner of 236 Lafayette until he passed away, and then I believe the family sold it to a developer of some sort.  Sam and the guy who used to own the bank building (now Duane Reade) owned a lot of downtown real estate.  In fact, the former owner of the bank building  (Saul?) inherited it from his father, who bought it for like $20k in the ’40s!  We had an office in that building for a short period of time back in the day.
236 was four “mini lofts,” super funky, with bathrooms in the hallway except for ours, which had been slightly improved upon at some point, so our bathroom was in the apartment. Thank goodness, as those hallways were FREEZING!  At one point it had clearly been an industrial building and, as per usual, Sam put zero $$ into maintaining it, so funky it most certainly remained.
The windows facing Spring (now with the continual screen ad banners hanging) were the bedrooms and on the Lafayette side were the living room/kitchen areas above what we used to call La Cucaracha, the greasy spoon Dominican place where they played dominoes and blasted car radios all summer.  Chris and Nora, who lived in the first apartment, always went crazy because the guys banged those dominoes so loudly that Nora eventually made them a felt pad to muffle the noise. It actually did help a bit!  The best thing about the apartments were they got a lot of light.  The worst thing was living above the 6 trains, especially when they power washed the stairs every morning around 4am right outside all our bedroom windows!  We lived there for about 10 years…lotsa stories, as I’m sure you have as well.

Mexican Radio continues to operate two restaurants in Hudson and Schenectady, New York. For more information, go to

For more posts on this blog about other New York businesses that have closed in the last few years, see also:

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Who’s Hotter, Joe Tippett or Billy Magnussen?

Last night I saw The New Group's production of All the Fine Boys at The Pershing Square Signature Center, where Joe Tippett plays a 28-year-old nuclear technician whose relationship with Abigail Breslin’s 14-year-old middle school girl takes a dark turn. I immediately recognized the hunky Tippett from his previous role as the bashful boyfriend in Playwrights Horizon’s Indian Summer, in which he was frequently shirtless.
That got me thinking. Who’s hotter, Joe Tippett or Billy Magnussen?
Magnussen, of course, is most famous for his role as the sexy Spike  in Broadway’s Vania and Sonia and Masha and Spike (where he was also frequently shirtless), as well as Second Stage’s Sex with Strangers.
They both have a certain “aw shucks” charm, in addition to their gym bodies.
What do you think?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Post Trump Stress Disorder

Since November 8th, I’ve been suffering from Post Trump Stress Disorder.
I’ve been having trouble falling asleep at night and getting out of bed in the morning.
This has come on top of the depression I’d already been experiencing for the last year and a half due to being unemployed/underemployed.
And the situation is even worse if you’re a stand-up comedian, like I am.
For the last year and a half I haven’t felt funny.
While I live for Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression (as well as Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway and Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer), it was hard to me to joke about Trump even during his campaign, because I was always aware of the dangerous possibility that he could actually become our president.
Now that he actually is our president, the situation is even worse.
Beyond that, I’m not sure if being a comedian is the even best use of my time and abilities anymore.
And, at my age, time is of the essence.
How can I make jokes when keeping track of all the shit Trump is doing on a daily basis is a full time job in itself?
I thought I would feel better after I took part in the Women’s March in New York City. But I felt like, at best, we were preaching to the converted and, at worst, we were marching in a canyon of deserted office buildings.
I took some consolation from the protesters who showed up at airports all over the country, seemingly out of nowhere, after Trump’s Muslim ban.
And I’m heartened by Michael Flynn’s resignation and the rejection of Andrew Puzder as Secretary of Labor.
But, as I said, there’s so much shit happening on a daily basis, it’s hard to keep up.
And I feel like the clock is ticking.
If I really want to get depressed, I think about how different a Clinton presidency would have been and the progress we’d already be making.
I don’t even dare to think about what a Sanders presidency would have been like. That would push me over the edge. And I know he’d have to deal with a Republican majority in Congress—but still. At least we wouldn’t have this disastrous cabinet and Supreme Court pick, on top of all of Trump’s other executive orders/policy blunders.
That’s what’s also so frustrating. The thought that we were uniquely positioned for someone like Sanders to win the presidency and we may never have that chance again. The idea that there was clearly a populist uprising happening (you could see it in the size of Sanders’s rallies—if the media bothered to cover them) and that someone as singularly unqualified as Trump was able to take advantage of this, while someone as singularly experienced as Clinton was tragically blind to the evidence all around her.
I had been prepared to spend the next four years holding Clinton’s feet to the fire, making sure she delivered on the progressive promises she made, only after Sanders succeeded in pushing her to the left.
Instead, we have Trump, whose first month in office (can it possibly be only one month? It feels like an eternity!) has been worse than I ever could have imagined.
And that’s why I have trouble falling asleep at night and getting out of bed in the morning.
It’s the sinking feeling that this is what the next four years are going to be like.
If not worse.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fag Hags and Disco Bunnies: A Meditation

I just came from seeing David’s Friend, Nora Burns’s autobiographical tribute to her best friend at La Mama, and I’m absolutely devastated.
Why did this show have such an effect on me?
First of all, it’s about death (David’s, from AIDS). It’s also about the larger death of New York City, a place where people came to find themselves in a world of sex, drugs and disco.
Watching the show was a very emotional experience for me because, in a way, this was my story.
Like Burns, I was a bit of a club kid in the early ’80s.
I, too, moved to New York City to attend college. In fact, the main reason I chose to attend NYU was because it was in New York City and it provided me with a means for moving there. And, like Burns, I eventually found that going to college was interfering with my nightlife (or, perhaps I should say, going to college was what allowed me to have a nightlife, since I didn’t have to get up early for work and my expenses were covered by student loans).
In fact, I suspect that pretty much anyone who lived in New York during this heady period will find much to appreciate in this show.
Burns has had a long career as a member of various comedy groups such as Unitard and the Nellie Olesons, and her writing and performing chops show. But this show takes her talent to a new level.
Because of this show, we get to know David, a stunningly beautiful man who died in the prime of his life.
So, while the show is very funny and entertaining, there’s also an undeniable poignancy to it.
Burns does a great job of recreating the era with the help of music, photographs, and her own journal entries.
The result is an important historical record of this unique time and place. (I’m reminded of the documentary Gay Sex in the ’70s or Brad Gooch’s book Smash Cut, about his lover, the film director Howard Brookner, who also died of AIDS.)
I was lucky that there was a cancellation for the last performance of this sold-out show, whose run was extended. But this is a show that deserves to be seen by a much wider audience.
It deserves to be seen by anyone who’s just moving to New York now and doesn’t know the exciting city it used to be before it became a boring city of rich people and chain stores.
And it deserves to be seen by a new generation of gay men who don’t know what it was like to lose an entire generation to AIDS.