by Justin Samuels
Wendi Niad is the founder of Niad Management. Niad Management counts among its clients actors, screenwriters and novelists. Ms. Niad also teaches a course on screenwriters at UCLA.
Justin Samuels: How did you first become a manager?
Wendi Niad: With the help and support of a lot of people! I just did not like who I had become as an agent. There was much more of a maternal, nurturing side to me that I knew would be better put to use and better served and appreciated as a manager. So in 1997, I jumped ship and never looked back.
JS: Did you start out representing actors first, or writers?
WN: Writers and directors.
JS: How should an actor go about getting a manager? What exactly do you do for actors?
WN: Network! That is so key! I couldn’t tell you what, exactly, I do for actors, because each one requires different things at different times. I do whatever needs to be done to get the job done to get them to the next level within the parameters of the law.
JS: What are some ways for screenwriters to break into the industry?
WN: Don’t be afraid to have your work read! The more people who read you and talk about you, the more well-known you will become. People become too paranoid about “stealing” material. The key is really networking and having people like your work. If people like your work, they will talk about you and recommend you.
JS: How do you find your writers? Do they query you, do you approach people who have made names for themselves or are they referred to you?
WN: Anywhere and everywhere. Yes, they query, but I rarely ask for a script unless the query really piques my interest. I just read A LOT!!!
JS: What sorts of scripts do you look for?
WN: Quality. Page-turning quality.
JS: For screenwriters, do you just find work for them in film, or do you find other kinds of work for them like television, animation and video games?
WN: Anywhere you can get it… and always in conjunction with an agent.
JS: How should someone interested in being a writer learn how to write?
WN: Learning the technicalities of writing is the easiest part. There are books galore on that subject. Having the talent for the dialogue and story-flow is where the practice and talent show through, and that takes work and practice, practice, practice… and there is no other way to do that than to write, write, and then write some more!
JS: Can you name some of the projects your clients have recently completed, either as actors, screenwriters or novelists?
WN: I sold Ender’s Game, coming out in November. Haley Ramm is currently starring in Disconnect with Jason Bateman and will be seen on ABC Family in a show called Chasing Life in January. Writer/Director Jennifer McGowan begins shooting her feature film Kelly & Cal at the end of this month with Juliette Lewis, and we are out to the male leads now. Writer/Producer/Director Lee Zlotoff’s franchise MacGyver is at New Line in Pre production as a feature film.
JS: Networking is extremely important to screenwriters. For those just starting out, what are some good ways to network?
WN: Always get out! Go out, be amongst fellow writers, assistants at agencies, assistants at production companies, Facebook friends, social networking–but don’t stay in the house. Actually get out and socialize. Get to know people. The more people you know in this town, the better your chances are. It’s a numbers game as well as your talent.
JS: Do you have pay attention to things like film festivals, screenwriting contests and screenwriting labs? You mentioned it being important to sort of build up a writer’s name.
WN: Yes. If it’s a well-known, good-quality contest, then go for it.
JS: Does having a name or success in other medium, such as being an author, online web series creator, playwright or blogger, give one a boost in one’s screenwriting efforts?
WN: It helps in that it shows that you are prolific, but if you want to make it in a certain area, then [it’s] best to stick to that area.
by Bob Schneider
The Pharaoh, warned by his astrologers that the liberator of the Jews had been born, ordered all newborn, penis-bearing Hebrews to be thrown into the Nile and drowned. To save him, Mo’s mom Jochebed placed him in an ark of reeds and sent him floating down the river. His wails caught the attention of Bithiah, the royal daughter, who was baby-crazy but lacked the means of production—she was either a leper or barren; it’s not clear which. Either way, she looked on the baby in the bulrushes as a gift from the gods, took him home, raised him as her own.
In the Midrash, it is told that when Moses was three and sitting on (grandpa)
Pharaoh’s lap, he grabbed the crown from off the king’s head; the potentate of the pyramids ignored the calls of his sycophants and soothsayers to off Kid Yid and instead ordered a trial by fire. A diamond and a hot coal were placed before the child. If he picked the diamond, he was toast; if he picked the coal, all would be forgiven. Just as Moish was about to pick up the shiny bauble, the angel Gabriel intervened. He guided the hand to the hot coal, and in so doing, saved Moses’ bacon.
Like Moses, we start making our choices young and we never stop making them. It is this ability to make critical decisions that positions opposable-thumbers at the top of the hominid heap. Whether they are rational, instinctual or providential, the choices we make are determinative; they define us and in turn define the world. Soren Kierkegaard, who had broadened the discourse of despair for young, alienated nihilists back in the mondo-mad day with titles like Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death (both had been available in a single paperback—part of the Metaphysical Mischugass series of Ace Doubles), laid it down this way: Subjectivity is Truth.
Truth is idiosyncratic and is sometimes projected at twenty-four frames per second. It is up to us as critical thinking homo saps to determine which ones offer the satisfying emotional truths that derive from the Fuller-Godard film formulary.
It was my experience living on Mongo that shaped my choices.
When we are little tykes and tykettes we take our choices for granted, or, perhaps more accurately, we are unconscious of the act of choosing and simply see the world as a series of discrete a priori truths: It was, for example, intuitively obvious to this cub reporter that there was no comparison between a glorious Knickerbocker Milky Bite—raspberry gel enrobed in luscious milk chocolate—and a joyless Joyva Jell Ring; it was equally obvious that an otherworldly full-sour from Hollander’s had way more umami than its more pedestrian counterpart from Guss’. I held these truths to be self-evident, and if you didn’t agree with me you were a retard.
There comes a time when you become aware that within any manifest string of things—baseball players, peers, war movies—you are making judgments, creating hierarchies, deeming some within any given group really good and others really shit: The french fries from this place are crisper and creamier than the ones from the place over there; the lemon ices from the basement bakery have a lemony-er flavor than the ices from the Italian bakery next door. It is as natural and involuntary as breathing.
Even though you might be lacking the sophisticated critical vocabulary to defend your choices with anything more than because I said so, once you become conscious of this critical knack you never go back—from that moment you’re hooked. My addiction to judgmental aesthetics began the day I contemplated To Hell and Back for the first time.
© 2013 Bob Schneider
by Justin Samuels
Catie Lazarus is a writer/performer. ECNY awarded her “Best Comedy Writer” and Lewis Black called her “More Brilliant Than She’ll Ever Know.” She does voice overs and hosts the podcast EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH, which is taped live the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (UCB). Lazarus is a member of the WGA, Women in Children’s Media, ASIFA, The Moth, and UCB.
Justin Samuels: What did you study at Wesleyan?
Catie Lazarus: Oppression. My undergrad major was a joint degree in psychology-sociology. My master’s was in psychology. Whatever you major in at Wesleyan, you’re studying social stratification. So even if you’re a math major, you’ll learn how the number eight oppresses the number seven.
JS: You’re a WGA writer. What’s your main WGA type of writing, film, TV, new media, or news?
CL: Yes. I became a WGA member working on MYC! (http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/5caa1368d0/m-y-c-mice-york-city
JS: What sorts of things do you typically cover in your articles?
CL: Well, I tend to write about work, comedy and whatever falls, for lack of a better term, within the cultural zeitgeist. I love interviewing people, be it for an article or my podcast Employee of the Month. I also enjoy writing a monthly column for TheBillfold.com.
JS: Were you always a funny person? How did you develop yourself as a comedian?
CL: I was a tortoise, but underwent a species op. Despite the scars from surgery and obvious flack from fellow tortoises, I feel more comfortable in my own skin. I am much happier now. (I am not really sure how to answer your question. But between you and me, I am still developing and sporting a training bra.)
JS: How has joining the WGA helped you develop as a writer?
CL: The WGA provides valuable legal resources. Plus, meeting fellow members enables me to delude myself that I might one day make it.
JS: How has participation in other organizations helped your career?
CL: I’ve never gotten a job as a direct result of paying membership dues. I’ve learned a great deal about the craft(s) and met incredible folks through the UCB, WGA, The Li.st (http://theli.st) and Children’s Media Association. http://www.cmanyc.org.
JS: What advice would you give people wishing to launch a career as a writer?
CL: Take your work seriously and, if possible, get in good with the Hewlett-Packard family because printer cartridges are expensive.
JS: Are there any new projects from you that we should be on the lookout for?
CL: YES! Employee of the Month Show will be live at The Bell House in Brooklyn this September and, I hope, more episodes of MYC. http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/5caa1368d0/m-y-c-mice-york-city
by Bob Schneider
During the following years, on most Saturdays, post morning prayer, once freed from the shackles of an itchy, off-the-rack Robert Hall suit (where the value goes up, up, up, and the prices go down, down, down), stuffed on a lunch of chopped liver, double-boilered pot roast, and canned Spanish rice, after the Mr. Moto or Charlie Chan feature had played itself out and there would be nothing more on the tube (except for the endless repeats of Million Dollar Movie) until Saturday Night at the Movies, I would jaunty jolly to the Deuce and study the titles that were verboten. Allusive and poetic, they promised me worlds of wonder: Who was The Thing from Another World? What happened on The Day the Earth Stood Still? Would a Steel Helmet keep me safe on the road To Hell and Back? And would Fixed Bayonets be the only way to stay safe on the Sands of Iwo Jima? Would we be able to repel the Invasion of the Body Snatchers or survive an Attack of the Crab Monsters? In The Naked City could Gun Crazy * Killers from Space make their Pickup on South Street? Why could Abbott and Costello Go to Mars but I couldn’t? And was the sphere they landed on The Angry Red Planet or simply Red Planet Mars? When was Bedtime for Bonzo? Was it later than mine? How would I ever be able to identify Invaders from Mars if I couldn’t see them in 3-D?
This was the nature of my thirst for knowledge, and I had to figure out a way to slake it. As usual, the answer came in an unexpected way. One afternoon as I waited for Lenny the Barber to cut my hair, I grabbed an outdated issue of TV Guide from among the periodicals littering the store. When I opened it, I saw that it had a section detailing the movies playing on TV at all times and on all channels. As I studied it, I realized to my amazement that had I possessed this mag at its most relevant point in the space-time continuum, I might have been able to watch both The Day the Earth Stood Still and Sands of Iwo Jima not only in the same week but on the same day!
At dinner that night, after numerous reminders that children were starving in Europe and that I was too smart for my own good, I told the nukes that my continued obeyance of their (oppressive, fahrcocktah, provincial, arbitrary, hypocritical, inhibitive) codes of behavior and study was contingent on the purchase of a subscription to TV Guide. To my surprise, they agreed.
From then on, I was in the business of watching movies: I got the titles from the Deuce and the time and place from the Guide; I had motive, and the DuMont gave me opportunity.
During the party sequence at the beginning of Pierrot Le Fou, Godard places Jean Paul Belmondo, Gauloise in one hand, champagne glass in the other, next to Sam Fuller, who wears shades and nurses a stogie.
JPB leans over to Sam: I’ve always wanted to know exactly what cinema is.
Fuller explains: A film is like a battleground . . . love, hate, action, violence, death, in one word—emotions.
Well played, Monsieur Godard, well played, particularly from the auteur who had offered his own, Bartlett’s-level epigrammatic definition of film: Cinema is truth at twenty-four frames a second.
And they were both right—once movies began to unspool before me on my tiny home screen, I was hooked, jonesing for hits of emotion and truth.
When I found out that The Thing From Another World was an intellectual carrot, it boggled my mind just as it did Scotty the Newsman’s.
I blissfully soared on the winds of absurdity when, in Attack of the Crab Monsters, the babe Ichthyologist’s beau cited Darwin to explain why the disappeared had been incorporated into the collective crab consciousness: . . . preservation of the species—once they were men, now they are land crabs. I felt the same bliss of meaninglessness as John Agar swung deliriously between protag and possessed in The Brain from Planet Arous.
I was moved to tears when Mr. Rodan chose death with the missus rather than life alone, just as I became similarly weepy when Dr. Serizawa nobly sacrificed himself at the end of Godzilla, King of Monsters, so that his oxygen destroyer would never fall into the wrong hands once it had successfully dispatched der König der Monster.
My idea of a hero was personified by Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly. He was a one-man gang of hard-boiled destruction as he swept through Los Angeles in his covetous pursuit of the great whatsit. I identified (perhaps too much) with Jack Palance in Attack. Once his arm had been ground into hamburger by the treads of the Nazi tank he had bazooka’d out of commission, the only thing that kept him alive long enough to (almost) realize his quest for vengeance was his adrenaline-fueled rage.
Yet I never made the connection between either hero’s lower-chakra energy and Forbidden Planet’s monsters from the id. Had I been more perspicacious, I would have noted that my introduction to Freud’s self-centered Trinity also served as the (SFX) objective correlative for the source of both my heroes’ animus.
© 2013 Bob Schneider
At a demonstration on Wed., May 29, Guild staffers and members joined local activists to protest the potential sale of Tribune Company newspapers to the conservative Koch brothers. Filmmakers Tia Lessin and Carl Dean, whose film Citizen Koch was recently pulled from PBS—David Koch is a donor to and trustee of WGBH-Boston and WNET-New York, two of PBS’ flagship stations—predicted a “chilling” effect if the Kochs were able to preside directly over their own media empire.
Whether you are telling a story about the Koch brothers for PBS or producing a show for Discovery, our union is committed to protecting your rights and the rights of all the creative professionals who work in this industry. Those rights include the right to bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of your employment and the right to have your work shown—even when it is critical of the influence of billionaires.
by Justin Samuels
Ingrid Jungermann is co-creator of the award-winning Web series The Slope, as well as F to 7th, a “Homoneurotic Web Series.” Originally from Palm Bay, Florida, she is a thesis student in the Film Program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Justin Samuels: What originally got you into the film industry?
Ingrid Jungermann: My first film job was as a casting assistant for the Tim Burton film BIG FISH. I learned a lot on that film – and John’s August’s screenplay, before things were altered/shot/edited, was pretty much perfect. That script was an inspiration.
The set hierarchy also struck me. The director sets the tone. I wanted to set my own tone because I understand how people feel at the bottom of the barrel. Most of my jobs have been there.
JS: What do you think new media specifically does for filmmakers?
IJ: It’s true freedom. You call the shots, and what you wind up is imperfectly yours. I’m a firm believer in disappearing into your own head — working out all the details and seeing how that comes off rather than sharing the process with a lot of people. That said, I’ve learned how to give and take notes, and I had to experience intense insecurity – a creative breakdown. I had to fail numerous times to understand how I needed to work.
I will continue to fail and move forward. New media provides a space to do that and try again, all the while making public your artistic flaws. It proves that online audiences don’t necessarily need slick – they just need personal; they need a voice.
The trade-off is that you don’t make money on it. There are companies popping up that will offer royalty structures, but that’s far from making a living. If you want to make money, there will always be some sort of creative compromise, and that’s okay as long as you’re prepared to give up some freedom.
JS: What was your goal in doing Web series? Is your Web series an end to itself, or your wanting to build up a platform for other things as well?
IJ: The goal with THE SLOPE was to practice, to make something fast and hard. We wanted to have fun and get our work out there without waiting on a festival to reject us. With F TO 7TH, my goal — along with practicing — was to build a platform for a television series or feature film.
JS: How do filmmakers use new media to either make money or launch mainstream careers?
IJ: There is no money unless you want to pitch a show to a company like Above Average, but even then, it’s ultra-low-budget and you’re not going to pocket much. You also have to pitch an idea that caters to their audience. Another way is to do branded content, which I think could be cool if you plan it before you start writing. For example, if I believe in animal rights, I don’t mind writing an F TO 7TH episode where one of the characters talks about or works at PETA.
Another way is doing what I mentioned before and signing with companies like Indieflix, who offer producers small royalties, wider distribution and some marketing opportunities.
JS: You’ve spoke on the need for filmmakers to make money from their work. What are the best ways to do this, new media–wise?
IJ: Besides the above, I would say – write yourself and the producer(s) into the budget. When you do your Kickstarter or Indiegogo or Seed and Spark campaign, along with crew and food and equipment, etc., you should say – I need to get paid.
There is a very flawed attitude toward paying the very people who make content – that it’s shady or selfish. People think the filmmaker’s payment is: You get to make your work. That doesn’t make any sense to me. I go broke to make this stuff, and yeah, my work’s out there, but that means I won’t make more stuff until I work another job I don’t like so I can go broke again to make more stuff. And you know who has accepted that process? Artists.
This country generally doesn’t believe in supporting artists financially, and I’ve always thought if you don’t respect the arts or education, you’re screwed. Thankfully, there are the Sundance and IFP labs, Tribeca All Access, Cinereach, Chicken & Egg, Astrea, etc. – companies that are extremely supportive and invested in filmmakers’ futures. But everyone I know applies for those, so best of luck.
JS: Do you think the Internet has broken barriers for LGBT filmmakers and other talent?
IJ: Yes. LGBT filmmakers — any filmmakers — were at the mercy of film festivals. Understandably, festival programmers are into coming of age and coming-out films – those stories are important and I get it – we still have a long fight ahead of us. Go, Minnesota.
There’s a “but” in there. With breaking down barriers comes a whole lot of crap — LGBT or otherwise. A lot of lazy scripts because the director likes to go with the flow and “improv.” A lot of bad comedy with bad actors. A lot of heavy drama about 20-something lesbians who judge other 20-something lesbians at 20-something lesbian parties. A lot of gay men who have hot sex and more hot sex and then text about it. Each is own, but all that bores me and I think it bores the kind of audience members I want to have a drink with.
I’m ready for the “LGBT” to be dropped from LGBT filmmakers and for all of us to be challenged and rewarded by the same rules.
JS: Were you excited when you joined the WGA?
IJ: Super excited. I still don’t know what it means, but I love it.
JS: What sorts of things should we look out for from you in the future? Any feature film or television plans, or do you intend to stick with new media?
IJ: I’ve written a feature film based on F TO 7TH, but it’s a crime comedy. It’s sort of a Brooklyn Murder Mystery – same tone and characters as the show, but with more sadism. I’m talking to producers now and hope to shoot within the year.
But I don’t like to place all my bets on one thing, so I’m working on a TV version and working on another feature. New media is always there for me, so if I get inspired and we find production funds for a season two, I’m all about it.
* * *
Justin Samuels graduated from Cornell University with a BA in History. After working in financial services for three years, he worked at various temp jobs before deciding that he liked writing. Justin has published four books and filmed three documentaries, which are available on Amazon.com. He continues to work on his screenplays, and he is taking graduate classes at Lehman College.
by Bob Schneider
On subsequent recon trips, I expanded the perimeter as far east as Fifth Ave., as far north as 49th Street. Tad’s, between Broadway and Sixth, was dark, mysterious—with flocked, red-velvet whorehouse wallpaper (though I didn’t know brothels from broccoli at the time). It smelled like a charnel house; yet it made my mouth water and my soul yearn for a taste of the proscribed, charred flesh. The kid’s room in the library of the double lions (which later turned out to be the logo of my favored Lebanese hash) initiated me, through circulating picture books of gods and goddesses, into the mysteries of the pagan mythos.
On Sixth between 42nd and 43rd, there was a used periodical dump, a treasure trove of back-issue comix—Uncle Scrooge, Plastic Man, Sgt. Rock, Blackhawk, and banned ECs—as well as secondhand stroke-zines which I would eventually get up the courage to buy and secrete back at cellblock Schneider. Next door was a record outlet where I got my first earful of the New Lost City Ramblers, Dave Van Ronk, Cisco Houston, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Woody Guthrie, as well as Italian baroque and be-bop.
On Broadway, the Pepsi sign (the lighter refreshment) featured a built-in waterfall, the Camel sign a dude blowing a smoke ring. To my mind they just had to be two of the who-knew-how-many wonders of the modern world. (The year after I first saw the smoke-blowing sign, I discovered the principle art follows life, when I made the womb take me to the first run of Artists and Models and saw the sign and the smoke, inside and out, used as a Technicolor prop; the plot had an ur-Philip K. Dick premise—Jerry sonambu-screeches actual rocket-science supersecrets and becomes the target of bad-guy spies; and it featured a standing room only, Frank Tashlin busload of childhood faves: Martin and Lewis, Comic Books, commie spies and Shirley Maclaine.)
No voyage to the va-va world would have been complete without a visit to Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, where the Iron Maiden, an inquisition torture/murder device (that I didn’t know at the time was built for the likes of this little Yid), always gave my spine a tingle and sent me into a meditative swoon on the nature of man’s inhumanity to man and (more to the solipsistic point), on the question of how would I/could I, through either cunning, daring or deus ex machina, survive an encounter with this objeto del dread.
But it all served as mere sideshow to the truly awe-inspiring main attraction—those ten movie theaters. It made me dizzy to look at all of those marquees so close together, like I had discovered the elephant graveyard of cinema. But none of the ten theaters sold tickets for children under thirteen. This vast mass of spinning celluloid would remain so close, yet so far away. And, by the looks of the paying customers it might be another dozen years before I could take my seat before the altar of the grindhouse gods.
Meanwhile, back in the world, I had treasured latchkey larks to the movies. There were three—the Apollo on Clinton featured westerns and war movies; the Loews Canal screened newsreels, serials and cartoon marathons; while top-of-the-ticket features would travel from Radio City to my part of the city to play at the Loews Delancey. All three had sections reserved for kids, sections ruled by an iron matron, short, squat, mean, dressed in white like a nurse out of a Hammer horror film. Armed only with a flashlight, a booming voice and a requisite hatred of children, she ruled her world through fear like any good movie monster, like Kong, Rodan or the Blob.
Short of the womb acting as matron—she too possessed a sincere hatred of children—movies on the Deuce were beyond my reach. But since necessity is the mother . . . and since it was absolutely necessary for me to be in rapport with the flickers (once again, see Creation of the Humanoids, see the hero/simpleton Cregis belch “My sister is in rapport with a clicker!”), I developed a system by which I could vicariously enjoy the Deuce’s bounty without ever crossing the threshold of any of its theaters.
© 2013 Bob Schneider
White-collar workers who face greater job insecurity, worsening wages and benefits, and diminished control of their jobs and influence with management will be the “next wave of union protesters,” according to a recent article from the Los Angeles Times. It is yet to be seen whether this mass movement of white-collar unionization will materialize, but the problems of the lawyers, judges and insurance agents profiled in the article echo many of reasons why WGAE members say they need the Guild in order to maintain a middle-class lifestyle.
A new video series from the Center for American Progress Action Fund demonstrates what union membership means for white-collar workers by profiling two WGAE members, writer Susan Kim and Vice President Jeremy Pikser.
We are all dealing with health issues, with family issues, with trying to save money for our retirement, with trying to save money when the job market gets really terrible and all the things the Guild does very much addresses these things. It draws a line in the sand so that everything we fought for over the years doesn’t get rolled back every time an individual needs to re-up a contract, because you have more power when you are bargaining collectively.
Unfortunately, union membership rates are at record lows—largely because the legal and political environment prevents workers from freely exercising their right to join a union. As unions have become weaker over the past four decades, the middle class has suffered, with the share of income going to the middle class falling along with the percentage of workers in unions.
Critics of unions like to argue that unions are a relic of the past and largely irrelevant in today’s economy. Still, last year, more than 14 million American workers exercised their right to participate in a union, thereby allowing them to maintain a middle-class lifestyle—that is, 14 million Americans used their collective voice to ensure that they are paid fair wages and benefits, receive the training they need to advance and are considered in corporate decision-making processes.
And increasingly, unions are helping workers respond to the shifting economy by organizing in growing sectors of the economy—including both professional workers and low-wage, service workers—and helping workers with non-traditional employment relationships, such as freelancers and independent contractors, win important benefits.
by Bob Schneider
Read ”Part I”
But first I had to get past the parentals.
The grunts in the Nam spoke of home as back in the world. The Lower East Side was my back in the world. And there I had been a latchkey kid. I fully expected to be so on Mongo as well. Womb and seed had a different idea. But after a lot of breath-holding and blue-turning, they relented and so, on a lazy Shabbos afternoon, they gave me a key and laid down a pair of categorical imperatives before releasing me into the wild: I was not to talk to strangers, and I must not conduct my cloacal business anywhere but home base—529 Ninth Ave.
As I left the house that afternoon, I was super-excited. In my hyperbolic mind I was Rob-it Magellan about to map my Brave New World.
One day in the twilight of the sixties, my Friend-the-Film-Critic and I were strolling the Deuce trying to decide between a blaxploitation double feature or a pair of spaghetti westerns, when we noticed that Freaks was headlining a theater on the north side of the street, closer to Seventh over by the porno Bijou and the Ilse-She-Wolf/Olga’s-House-of Fleapit. J waxed rhapsodic: Do you realize that Freaks has been showing non-stop on this street for the past forty years?
While what J said was not literally true, he totally nailed the it-ness and that-ness of Times Square: Freaks and the Deuce were made for each other, like Barnum and Bailey, like Martin and Lewis, like the turkey and the axe.
I stepped out of the house, turned the corner on Ninth Ave., walked a block north, crossed the street, entered the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I walked east past the Food Fair, past the Book Bar and Leisure Time Bowling, past the massive bank of elevators and the always-busy ticket windows, and past the vast newsstand opposite Walgreens. There I took an escalator down into the bowels of the 42nd St. station of the IND. I headed north toward the uptown turnstiles, past the umbrella and sundries kiosk and the Latin Music emporium; opposite Cushman’s—where I would later discover that the best chocolate-cream-covered devil’s food cupcake on earth could be had for a mere ten cents—I walked up the stairs and through the pocket penny arcade. The mechanical howling from the Shoot the Bear games served as soundtrack as I climbed the exit steps. Finally, I emerged again into the light and saw for the first time the tack-tastic grandeur of Times Square.
Thousands of miles away, Disneyland-ia, Walt’s wet dream, built on the bones of an ancient orange orchard, was under construction. He envisioned it as the final frontier of fantasy, where kids of all ages could enjoy risk-free adventure; could experience Tío Walt’s bucolic vision of tomorrow, today. But here, on Mongo, the theme park of the Hell Planet was up and running, kitschy and crowded, as vibrant as the neon lights that shone everywhere, and all the time.
The street teemed—there were people on the stroll and people on the go; there were people gobbling fast food, people gabbing to and past each other, people who looked as late and loony as the Mad Hatter. There were movie houses, ten of them all told, on both sides of the street, all claiming to be Cooled by Refrigeration. If it were a 50s Sci-Fi movie I had found myself in (I was on Mongo, after all), it would have been titled The Cinemas That Conquered the World.
Between the theaters were businesses, but like this nabe’s butcherias, they were heretofore unimaginable variations on the ones I was familiar with. Back in the world I went to restaurants—I had three delis that I frequented, the one on Rutgers for their French fries, the one on East Broadway for their pastrami and corned beef, and Isaac Gellis on Essex for their franks. If it was milchidigs or pareve I craved, there was always the immortal, much mourned Garden Cafeteria, where I would invariably get my ticket punched for a vegetable plate—mashed potatoes, baked beans, and creamed corn—and wash it down with unlimited seltzer from the communal fountain, a stainless steel tub affixed with U-shaped push taps beneath the spouts. Here on Mongo, things were very, very different. Bizarro delis like the Grand Luncheonette and Grant’s had flat-griddle franks, but they also had onions (onions?), cheeseburgers, and malteds. Grant’s even had beer on tap! There was the incontrovertibly treyf—a diner on the northeast corner of 42nd and Eighth was named Ham and Eggs! Flame Steaks smelled like char, Worcestershire, and A-1, and Romeo’s Spaghetti Kitchen had a vat of boiling water just inside the window from which pasta was pulled and sauced non-stop: it was meta-entertainment—an action set-piece, framed for viewing, on the grindhouse strip.
There was Hubert’s Flea Circus and Museum of Freaks, admission 25 cents, closed Tuesdays, (its denizens documented for posterity by Diane Arbus who said: Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats), and nearby, Fascination, a penny arcade whose back wall was Skee-Ball alley. Across the street were two stores whose inventory consisted solely of gravity knives, R&B 45s and 33s, and Holocaust porn—paperbacks with titles like Auschwitz and Treblinka—a couple hundred pages each of black-and-white atrocity photos.
© 2013 Bob Schneider
by Bob Schneider
1954 in The Naked City: You could lay down 15¢ for a subway token, take the AA or the CC to 49th Street, flash your G.O. card and pay just four bits for a side-balcony seat at an NBA doubleheader or a Rangers game; 15¢ was the going price for a slice of pizza or an order of fries—always fresh, never frozen; a quarter got you a frank, mustard-and-sauerkraut; a chocolate malted and a pair of pretzel rods would set you back 20¢, cherry lime rickeys were a dime, a 6-1/2 oz. Coke was 6¢ with a two-cent deposit (sodas were a nickel in subway vending machines); and who ate Hershey’s when you could get a Chunky, a Knickerbocker Bar or one of Hollander’s sublime full-sour pickles for the same price—5¢?
Although I lived in a tenement on Suffolk between Grand and Broome, and my family might be (generously) described as lower middle class, I always had enough gelt in my pocket to get anything I wanted—candy bars, cartoon marathons, comic books.
In 1954, the NBA introduced the 24-second shot clock, Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile, and in the World Series that year (The Jints swept the Tribe), there was The Catch—the Say Hey Kid chasing down a blast off the bat of Vic Wertz in deep centerfield, snagging it over his shoulder, his back to the batter, cap flying as he spun round, firing the ball back to the infield—a mindboggler even when viewed on a twelve-inch DuMont console.
In Creature Feature news, Gog was a killer robot, Them were giant ants; The Creature from the Black Lagoon surfaced, carrying a damsel in distress, while Gojira roared out of Tokyo Bay to claim the title “King of Monsters.”
My favorite adult-type TV show, which I watched on my DuMont with the religious fervor appropriate for a kid starting the second grade in yeshiva (Jew parochial school), was I Led Three Lives, in which Herbert Philbrick (Richard Carlson) found commies lurking like zombies ’round every corner. I rooted for him all the way, because in 1954 I was also quite concerned with the Soviet threat to our way of life.
And even though it wouldn’t impact me in a big way for a bar mitzvah’s worth of years later, I would have been very upset, very gung-ho, had I known that in 1954 Vietnam had been partitioned North and South along the 17th parallel after the fall of Dien Bien Phu, which signaled the end of French colonial rule in Indochina; and that it was also the year in which the domino theory, the conceptual foundation for our tragic, mass-murderous, military intervention in Vietnam (and the cause of my Indochinese tzurris those many years later), was first floated.
I was a proud member of the tribe, and a bull-goose Zionist as well, and I surely would have been out-of-my-mind pissed had I understood the significance attached to the fact that Nasser had beaten back the Muslim Brotherhood and grabbed the reins of power in Egypt, or that Alfredo Stroessner had taken over Paraguay and made that country safe for Nazi war criminals including Mengele, Auschwitz’s Angel of Death.
But what I knew all too well was that in 1954, the father-mother (see Creation of the Humanoids, 1962) moved the mishpuchah from our edenic shtetl on Suffolk Street to Hell’s Kitchen, so that we might live above the store which made possible for us that day, and all other days, our daily babka. It was our own melting-pot Downton Abbey, and I was little Lord Rob-it. We even had a pair of tenants. There was an enclosed kiosk attached to the side of the building where a jovial ginger named Red, of course, shined shoes, and an extension at the rear of the building with a barber shop presided over by Lenny the Tonsorial Artiste, where I had my first experience with the joy and majesty that was the tittie magazine.
All we had done to get there that muggy summer morning was take the D to West 4th and there change for the A to 42nd Street. But the moment I stepped out of the Port Authority, with its cavalcade of belching buses, it seemed more like we had boarded a Stratosled with Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Dr. Zarkov, and landed on the Planet Mongo.
The legendary Bosco Brother Butchers—where sixteen years later Peter Kubelka bought numerous haunches of lamb, schlepped them up to the Southern Tier, and cooked All Through the Night an unforgettable feast for a cadre of enthralled avant-garde film acolytes who had already been captivated by his masterwork Unsere Afrikareise (Our African Trip, 1966)—was first among a brace of butcher shops that dotted the nabe, unlike any I had ever experienced in the kosher precincts of the Lower East Side. These places overflowed with offal and other exotic cuts—chunks of fatback covered in crystallized salt, oxtails, whatever the hell they were; bloody pans overflowed with livers and kidneys and brains and sweetbreads from lambs, pigs, cows and calves. And hearts, hearts! They didn’t let anything go to waste. There were cows’ hooves and pig trotters; dead, furry rabbits hung from hooks by their little lucky feet, big floppy ears pointing straight down; outsized rounds of cheese hung right beside them. One had a pie slice cut out of it, had black flecks all through it. I asked my father what they were.
“Maggots, Rob-it, maggots. The Telainishe like maggots in their cheese, dey say it makes the cheese taste better.” (Many, many years later, I learned that the cheese was provolone, the specks were black peppercorns, and they were dee-lish.)
I subsequently learned that the Telainische were part of the Bad Element, which included anyone who wasn’t a member of the tribe, all of whom, in times of deep economic or military crisis, would show their true, genocidal colors and scapegoat the chosen people at the behest of some latter day Führer, whose coming they await with as much conviction as we do that of Moshiach (Messiah to you members of the Bad Element).
I had been programmed to never forget the six million from the time I was a zygote. Now I found myself living on Mongo among the Bad Element who were itching to add the nukes and me to the body count. I had no friends, nor did I have the prospect of any; I was a displaced person on an alien planet. Is it no wonder my survival instinct kicked in and I became determined to get the lay of the land I had been dropped into? And so I went exploring.
© 2013 Bob Schneider