Tim Russert, My Brother Buffalonian, SWAK

Despite being a generation after him, I was convinced that I took Driver’s Ed in the same car with the same instructor as Tim Russert had. Being Buffalo, we stretched resources and there was no point in using a new car for Driver’s Ed if the Chevy Impala, despite it being decades old was still useful. That was good enough for Canisius High School and Buffalo. The nine-fingered Industrial Arts teacher who taught Driver’s Ed to me as his second or third job from Canisius’ parking lot across the street from the sister school where I attended – Nardin Academy – was also Russert’s teacher in the 1960s, I’m sure of it.

When Russert autographed my copy of “Big Russ and Me” at his signing at Barnes & Noble’s Union Square store here in NYC three years ago I told him I was a Nardin girl. He looked up from the stack of books he was signing and extended his hand to mine to shake it. “You were well educated,” he said.  I know he meant I was as well educated by the French sisters in my school as he was by the Jesuit priests across the street, not by the Driver’s Ed course I’m sure we shared once they let us girls take the class (if not learn to drive) at the boys’ school.

I was shocked when the NY Times alert hit my In Box this afternoon after 3PM. I’ve avoided the television since that news because the mawkish pablum I expected to witness would not only make his death real but would wrap this improvising man with a too-tight ribbon.

He made it out of Buffalo and made it big. Each native Buffalonian felt nothing but pride that this South Buffalo boy made it so far. I was born in North Buffalo, far from the factories and mills and blue collar life of South Buffalo. But the snobbery that was my neighbors’ to claim was justifiably laughable later on when we saw how far Russert went on his own brilliance and excellence. I left the city at an age younger than Russert’s when he left, but like it or not one of the tattoos that Buffalo leaves on its native born is the phrase, “Fairness First.” He and his career embodied that.

We were so proud of him. He got out and look how far one of our own went. It’s a comfort that the nation saw the best of our native city, and the world saw the best of our nation in him.

My New York City Vacation

Let’s work backward, starting with today.

I succumbed to the hype and last night bought a ticket for this morning’s 10AM showing of “Sex and the City” at the AMC Loews Cinema on the Upper West Side (Miranda’s old neighborhood, pre-Brooklyn). My strategy was to avoid the hype, actually, by going to the first showing on the day it opened. Oh well. By 9:20 there was a line on Broadway from the locked front door of the theater around the corner. We were at last having breakfast with the girls.

It was a sister-fest. Gal pals attended dressed in costumes of the characters, including a woman wearing a curly-haired Carrie wig. Such beautiful shoes. Such sparkly blouses so early in the morning.

(Phewy to Rex Reed and Manohla Darghis for their cruel and cranky reviews, respectively. This movie is about more than the narrative. It’s pulling all us Carrie-watchers out of our apartments and into communal space. I’ve watched enough of these episodes in contented repose on my sofa. In the theater I could hear a pin drop for almost the full 2 1/2 hours, except when others laughed where I laughed. As we revisited the girls’ lives we also discovered each other as New York neighbors. Could this be how Trekkies felt when “Star Trek” launched from TV to big screen?)

This week I also wiggled into the Whitney’s 2008 Biennial Exhibit that closes this weekend. How exciting to see what new artists and beginning artists are creating. Too much video for my taste, and installation art just makes me wonder about its pragmatism for the collector be it an individual or a museum. Where would one hang a plywood cottage interspersed with mirrors? By its form it is clearly a work for an institution or the rich with land. Despite this, there was a very interesting video installation that played with memory; an Iraq war veteran recalled shooting at a family in a car in Iraq but also confused the facts with those from a date with a crazy young woman near an Army barracks in Germany. It was troubling and spellbinding.

I saw the movie “The Visitor,” which took me by surprise with its 1970s-style character-driven narrative that sucked me in. Why can’t more movies be like this one? It’s May but it’s the first film I’ve seen this year mainly because it’s the only one I was curious about.

I visited Wave Hill in Riverdale, the Bronx. More popular sites to visit have always been the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the Bronx Botanical Garden, but this is a little-discovered new treasure in New York that is glorious in the Spring and New England-perfect in the Fall.

Can’t forget seeing the Superheroes exhibit at the Met Museum. Alright, it was a marriage of nerds to superhero costumes. I sought and then was done with it once I saw Wonder Woman’s costume from the 1970s television show. The cape obscured her magic bracelets, which I was coveting and so wanted to see. Again, this is as close as I was getting to being a Trekkie.

With all the Europeans touring through town – especially the French-speakers (from France or Quebec?) – I felt like I was really on a foreign vacation. If you have the chance, visit Smith Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn for the row of French cafes that have cropped up there. In Manhattan we dined at Le Jardin Bistro’s outside garden in NoLiTa for a bite of Belgian-style mussels, frites, and Muscadet.

Stay home in New York every so often and the world comes to you. All you need is a Metrocard and a tourbook to have as much fun as the tourists are having.

Columbia University 2008 Commencement Slideshow

Smarty Pants at the Natural History Museum

Inside at the spectacular “Water=Life” exhibit, Woman 1 says to Woman 2 “I’m not watching Jon Stewart until after the election. He’s so pro-Obama.”

Get used to it sister. He’ll miss you as a viewer.

On the steps of the Central Park West entrance: Looking up at the grand statue of Teddy Roosevelt on his horse, a different woman says to her two friends: “Look at him. He cheated on Eleanor.”

Friend #1: “That was Franklin.”

Brainiac: “Yeah, he CHEATED on Eleanor!”

Museum-goers. Huh.

Bill Clinton’s Preoccupation: Screwing

Reading this morning’s paper while watching NY1’s coverage of the Pope’s visit to Ground Zero, an article popped out about how the Clintons are divining who are and aren’t their true friends.

The same could be said of the friend that Bill Clinton has been to registered Democrats.

Related to that is an article about how far apart Al Gore and Joe Lieberman have migrated since the 2000 presidential-vice presidential ticket.

Then it occurred to me: Bill Clinton’s doing it again. He’s screwing the nation. Despite Democrats’ desires and labor to get their nominee elected, Bill’s determined to be the one and only Democratic president in our mind’s recent memory.

In 1999-2000 the nation was held hostage by Ken Starr and Bill Clinton’s teasing dodges with the truth. Because she blew it, he blew it. The Democratic line of succession, that is.

Now he’s screwing Democrats again.

Who can understand the psyche of that man – mommy issues, daddy issues, prepubescent obsessions with sex. Is it an act of omission or commission to subtly sabotage his wife’s electoral bid as he surely sabotaged the Gore-Lieberman ticket in 1999-2000?

If voters could control the system so we elected vessels who would deliver the policies we know will restore our nation then America would stand a chance in the 21st Century.

As it stands, as this past week’s “debate” on ABC News revealed, voters are being shuttled into corners forced to choose between personalities and manufactured points of disagreement.

What would it take for the voters – there are more of us than them, after all – to be able to elect policymakers instead of empty celebrities?

Should we give the parliamentary system a try?

Elephant Graveyard in Inwood, North Manhattan

The Times reported that someone chopped and mangled 35 cedar trees on the bluff overlooking the south end of Inwood Hill Park in March.

I climbed the hills this afternoon on a sunny Friday afternoon to scout around for the site. The further shame of what this(these) miscreant(s) did was to spread the violence out over several areas. I’d imagined it was a concentrated area but, no, there are felled trees along the paths and deep into the hills.

How it was done remains a mystery to me. The trunks are shattered as if a lightening bolt hit them, not as if someone took an axe or electric saw to it. There are still only buds on the trees so to have felled so many enormous trees in such a ragged way had to been seen or heard by those only a couple hundred yards down the hills on the soccer field, basketball or tennis courts.

There will be a flock of tree huggers and naturalists in Inwood Hill Park in two Saturdays, May 3rd, for the annual Drums Along the Hudson festival of Native American dance and traditions. Hopefully some will climb into the hills and do CSI Cedars for us.

In the meantime, I climbed down from the hills to watch All Hollows High School play Cardinal Hayes High School in baseball on Diamond 2. This, and the sun, and the Mister Softee truck, made sense to me.

Spitzer, How Could You?

For those of us who are proud New York Staters, the expression on Mrs. Silda Spitzer’s face at today’s press conference said it all. Does anything cross a man’s mind before he acts in a way that not only degrades himself but also his marriage and children?

Our sadness is palpable. I’m no puritan, but to betray a bond – to a spouse, a child, an electorate – is, in a word, mean.

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