Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Street Scene, Death By Stiletto, Drive Time and Hiding Out in Plain Sight

Sylvia Sidney was my father’s favorite actress. Perhaps that explained part of my mother’s attraction to him. Her name was Sylvia as well. My mother did not reciprocate. Kopel, or Karl, was not among her heartthrob names. Like most women in the 1930s and early 1940s, she was partial to Clark Gable. She also favored Tyrone Power. When she’d see one of Powers’ movies, with his dark, languorous eyes and chiseled veneer, she’d say, “He could park his slippers beside my bed, anytime.” 

But back to Sylvia Sidney. A few years ago I watched Street Scene, a 1931 movie about life on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Though not the lead, Sylvia Sidney had a central role as a daughter seeking escape from the tenements to a better life. Much of the movie, adapted by Elmer Rice from his Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name, takes place on the stoops outside a walk-up apartment building.

As The NY Times reported last Friday, streets in Park Slope, Brooklyn, hardly resemble “a mean quarter of New York,” as Rice described the venue of his work. But that didn’t stop the Brave New World Repertory Theater from choosing the front of 568-570 Fifth Street from serving as the backdrop for a street theater production of Street Scene this past weekend (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/21/nyregion/with-the-street-as-a-stage-a-fictional-murder-plays-out-in-brooklyn.html?_r=0). 

Why do I bring this to your attention? Because 568 Fifth Street is where our daughter Ellie and husband Donny live. If you’ve taken the time to open up the link provided, you’d have seen a woman perched in the window to the right. That’s the window of Ellie and Donny’s apartment!

Some who saw Ellie perform as a teenager always thought she would make it to Broadway. She chose not to pursue that line of work. At least her apartment window has made its mark on Broadway, er, Off-Off-Off Broadway. 

Did anyone else find it salaciously ironic that just days before The Times ran a story in its Thursday Styles section entitled, "Going Toe-to Toe in Stilettos", about over-the-top designer shoe sales at Bergdorf Goodman and other fashionable emporiums, a Houston woman was arrested for allegedly killing her boyfriend by piercing his head, repeatedly, with her stiletto heels? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/10/ana-lilia-trujillo-stiletto-stabbing_n_3417097.html

None of the articles I saw detailed how long the stiletto heels were. 

There’s an old saying, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. Gilda and I found this out last Friday on our way north to visit Dan, Allison and our grandchildren. 

We thought we left pre-rush hour, around 2:30 pm. But no sooner did we hit the Connecticut border on the Merritt Parkway that traffic backed up almost to a standstill. We checked our car’s  and our phones’ GPS traffic reports. The highway would be turtle-like for miles on end. So we opted to try to beat the system by taking back roads past the tie-up. 

Mistake. It took us more than an hour to go what normally takes 15 minutes. Wherever we turned, local streets or the Connecticut Turnpike, we got stuck. A three-hour ride to Massachusetts took five hours. Had we just plodded along on the Merritt, I’m sure we could have shaved, oh, maybe 30 minutes off that time. But then, we wouldn’t have seen the back roads of Greenwich and Stamford and wondered about the people who could afford to live in mansion after mansion.

Traffic, or more to the point, inconsiderate drivers, are becoming the bain of Gilda’s daily commute home up the Harlem River Drive. She expects traffic from cars headed toward the George Washington Bridge. They should be in the left and center lanes. But those going to the end of the Drive, as Gilda does before crossing the Harlem River on the Fordham Road Bridge, expect the right lane to be free of GWB commuters. Not. Too many of those New Jersey bound are clogging the right lane, waiting to dart into the center lane at the last possible moment. Trouble is, when the center lane is locked down tight, they wind up jamming the right lane and making it impossible for Gilda and her fellow northern travelers to pass gently on their way home. What is normally a 45 minute ride can turn into a two hour-plus end-of-the-day-hell, as it did last Thursday. Arghh!!!

There’s another old saying, not as common as the previous reference but still appropriate to recent news: “hiding in clear view” or its alternate, “hiding in plain sight”. 

Those descriptions come to mind because of the trial of Boston organized crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger who evaded detection and arrest by the FBI for 16 years. He was nabbed two years ago only after an alert neighbor in Santa Monica, Calif., tipped off authorities. 

Bulger’s case preceded the latest claim that an alleged Ukrainian Nazi war criminal has been hiding in plain sight in Minnesota since 1949. According to an Associated Press investigation, “94-year-old Michael Karkoc entered the U.S. in 1949 by lying to American authorities about his role in the SS-led Ukrainian Self Defense Legion, which is accused of torching villages and killing civilians in Poland.”

 Let’s leave it to the judicial systems of the United States, Germany and Poland to determine the veracity of the claims and denials. But my family can tell you from experience that choosing Minnesota to hide out in plain sight was a smart choice.

In the early 1920s Jack Fursetzer, a cousin of my father, came to New York. Illegally. Within a short time he was alerted to a roundup of illegal aliens planned by immigration authorities. He asked an acquaintance where would be a good place to hide. Minnesota, he was told.

Off he went to the wilds of the upper Midwest, specifically Minneapolis. He changed his name to Brushman; he switched back to Fursetzer after an amnesty was declared and he became a legal citizen. He started a furrier business, married and had six children.