paul la rosa

True confession: I was a Hamilton ticket scalper…

by , on
Aug 18, 2016

In case you missed the 14 million stories written about it, the Broadway musical “Hamilton” is a hot ticket.

New York scalpers are making a nice living out of reselling tickets to the show. In fact, an article in this week’s New York Times claims that scalpers are making $60 million annually in the re-sale market. Not too shabby.

Earlier this summer, I found myself sitting in the proverbial catbird’s seat, seeing that I was the lucky holder of two tickets to “Hamilton” which I bought last December. Back then, the show wasn’t quite as hot as it is now–after all those Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize–so I was able to get two seats in the middle of the orchestra on a Friday night at face value which means I paid around $550 for both tickets.

I should pause here to mention that I am not a Broadway fan. My standard line is: “They killed vaudeville; what’s taking them so long with Broadway?” I see my share of shows on the Great White Way but here’s what it’s like from my perspective. I go into a theater, sit there for two hours, go to the bathroom halfway through and come out mildly entertained. Then I never think of that experience again. I’ve never knowingly hummed a show tune in my life.

I can still recall the day I saw “Five Easy Pieces” or hum the theme song from “Rocky” but Broadway? Nada. There is one exception to this–“Jersey Boys”–but that’s because I know all the songs from my youth.

I don’t hate Broadway; it just does nothing for me.

So last June, those two “Hamilton” tickets for August 5th began throbbing in a way that said, “Hey I’m worth a shitload of money.”

My wife and I were about to take an extravagant trip to Bali, Indonesia so I suggested to my wife that we cash in our “Hamilton” tickets. She agreed. I put them on Stubhub for $2,500 each!! I’m normally opposed to scalping and will always sell tickets at face value but, as I said to my wife, “if some hedge fund guy wants to give me $5,000, who am I to say ‘no?’”

I forgot about the tickets until the week before August 5th. They were still on sale and I could tell from other tickets still on sale, that I’d have to lower my price. On August 5th, they were still on sale and I decided if I could not sell them for $900 each, we were going. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

And then, after noon on the day of the performance, I got a congratulatory email from Stubhub. Sold!! I wound up getting $1,620, not the $5,000 I envisioned but I was happy. It was a tidy profit and I did not have to go to Broadway where I’ve taken some of the most expensive naps of my life.

Is paying too much attention to bad news harmful to your peace of mind?

by , on
Oct 25, 2016

I know, I know. You’re sick of hearing the word ‘wellness’ or maybe it’s the phrase ‘wellness lifestyle’ that makes you grind your teeth. But it’s a real thing and, as I get older and perhaps wiser, I find myself trying to surround myself with more good than bad.

That includes food, exercise and what I watch and listen to. More and more, when it’s time for the local news just before bedtime, I find myself watching the umpteenth re-run of “Seinfeld” instead. That show unfailingly makes me laugh and feel good and that’s a priceless gift. Seinfeld and Larry David deserve all that money.

I realize this may sound out of character coming from a television producer who works on a crime/murder broadcast but that’s just my point. I do enjoy what I do but, as I write and produce these stories, I try to concentrate on the relationships of those involved in crimes rather than the murders themselves. What drives a person to murder another is something I still find fascinating. And you’ll perhaps be heartened to know that, for every killer out there, there are tons more noble cops, lawyers and family members trying to do the right thing.

That said, in my quieter moments or reflection, I try to live a more healthy lifestyle. I don’t instantly read my email the moment I wake up and I certainly do not listen to all news radio or watch any of the morning shows. I also don’t want to read a newspaper immediately.

What I do instead is look at my overnight Instagram feed which, thanks to those I follow, is filled with beautiful photos of people and landscapes from all over the world.

It’s a quiet and refreshing way to ease into the day. I also listen to nature sounds radio on Pandora and then, at some point, I begin to read the New York Times and listen to NPR radio. Most days, I find a lot of it fascinating but, on other days, the news from around the world is so depressing that I just turn the page or turn it off.

I contribute money to worthy causes but, other than that, there’s not much I personally can do about the bombing of Aleppo or the hurricane that hit Haiti. I feel for those people but I find myself not wanting to dwell on all that suffering. It’s mentally draining and, well, not too healthy to gorge on, in my opinion.

If that makes me shallow, so be it. We all need to find a way to survive that feeds our souls and, after a lifetime of being on the front lines of news, I find myself turning away. Besides, I live in New York so I get all the reality I need on my subway commute each morning.

Goodbye bodega…hello ‘caffe, ristorante’

by , on
Dec 3, 2016

There once was a bodega on my Brooklyn corner but then it closed more than a year ago and the windows were papered over. Someone was in the process of a very serious renovation but none of us could see inside. Rumor had it that an Italian caffe was opening there but it was just a rumor. The rehab was taking so long–well over a year–that I began to suspect the storefront was some kind of artistic performance piece. That or a crazy money laundering scheme. But then–almost on cue–the New York Times ran yet another story on the demise of the city’s bodegas and voila, the little caffe on the corner opened its doors.

Bodegas, for anyone not from New York, are the Latino equivalent of the 7/11. They are ubiquitous here; you can barely walk two blocks in Brooklyn in any direction without running into one. So the opening of an elegant caffe on my corner was fine with me but, as usual, there were a few grumblings from the permanently disgruntled among us who mumbled about gentrification and all that. I’m not one of those people. I like having a new caffe on my corner. Aesthetically, it looks a lot better than the bodega it replaced and there’s another bodega right across the street.

Besides, the gentrification wave hit Park Slope a very long time ago. Gone are the people who gave the block some of its character and by that, I mean the drug sellers, alcoholics and former inmates. They were amusing–I like watching a fistfight in the middle of the street as much as the next guy–but they cashed in to relocate. And they were not complaining when given hundreds of thousands of dollars to move on. They gladly accepted. (I admit here to missing some of the older ladies whose full time job it was to sweep the leaves off the sidewalk. There was, for instance, Louise and Little Louise, both in matching housecoats, sweeping away. Sometimes I see them in my dreams. If there is a Heaven, the streets will be leaf-free, I can tell you that.)

My view of New York City is that change is a constant. Stores come, stores go and sometimes people do too. New York was founded on commerce, not religion, and I think it will always be that way. For now, I’m happy with this fancy Italian caffe on the corner but someday it too may go, only to be replaced with who know what?. And that’s fine with me, so long as its not a real estate office.

As a young reporter, I remember city council members (Hello, Ruth Messinger) actually proposing commercial rent controls with a straight face. The proposals were taken seriously and debated and then roundly rejected. These days, no one dares even raise that idea–they’d be laughed out of City Hall even with our progressive leaders in charge.

Personally, I get a bit excited when a new store or restaurant opens in my neighborhood. (A cute little bookstore also opened up, replacing an old video store and that too was a nice addition.) The only thing I don’t like is when blocks grow stale. Let’s mix it up and let the best stores win. My approach is best summed up by a recent Q & A with comedian Sarah Silverman in Manhattan magazine. Here it is:

Do you prefer old New York or new New York?
Sarah Silverman: I have a story for this. … I love staying at The Bowery Hotel—which most people don’t realize used to be a Chevron station—because it’s in my old neighborhood. I was staying there not long ago, and [musician] Chrissie Hynde was also staying there and we had tea. I asked her, ‘Can you believe that CBGB is now a John Varvatos store?’ And she said, ‘I don’t give a f*ck. New York is always turning over. That’s what makes it New York.’ She was so right. We love New York, but it’s always going to turn over and change. You have to embrace it.

Amen sister.

[BTW, most of the comments about this blog happen on Facebook. Please ask to join my group if you’re interested in more discussion. Thanks.]

Best TV series and books of 2016, according to me….

by , on
Dec 11, 2016

I love end of the year lists and I have a lot of opinions and I have a blog so here is my ‘Best of..” list for 2016. Feel free to disagree or tell me your favorites.

Best books:

“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman — I haven’t finished this novel yet but, unless it completely falls apart, it’s my favorite book of the year. Unique style and a lot of heart–a lot of heart! A Swedish bestseller that is not a crime procedural. Just the story of a grumpy but lovable widower trying to kill himself who keeps getting interrupted by his neighbors. Ove is hard to love until you realize why he acts the way he does. Brilliant storytelling.

“Ways to Disappear” by Idra Novey — Describing this novel will probably not want to make you rush out and read it but it is magical and fun and exceptionally well written. It starts off with an eccentric Brazilian writer climbing a tree to enjoy a cigar. From there, she vanishes and the entire country–especially her children, publisher and translator–are captivated with trying to find her. Rather than say more, you can read my ‘official’ review.

“The Girls” by Emma Cline –– It’s rare that a book lives up to the hype of a $2 million advance but this one certainly does. The story is as strong as the writing and Emma Cline has come up with a relatively new way to take a peek inside the Manson cult and see what it operates the way it does. Along the way (actually on nearly every page), we are treated to a fascinating look into the mind of a 14 year old girl who sees the cult as dark, dangerous and exciting. Why? Read the book. The writing is blow away.

“Beatles ’66” by Steve Turner — The only non-fiction book that made my list this year. I’d agree it’s mainly for Beatles fans but even if you’re a casual fan, this book is primer on how the Beatles went from being great pop singer/songwriters to true artists It was so smart of the author to take one pivotal year and examine it in microscopic detail. I ate it up and here’s the official review.

Best TV programs/series:

“Good Girls Revolt” — This series about girl researchers at News of the Week, a fictitious weekly magazine, takes place in 1969/70 and is a period piece with overtones of “Mad Men.” It’s not done as well as “Mad Men” but it is more episodic. It ties up stories together in a way that “Mad Men” never did. Basically, the story is about how the girls want to be reporters as well as researchers, something that was prohibited in those days, at least at this magazine. I worked at a newspaper around the same time and recognized a lot of the male behavior to be dead on. Amazon has already cancelled this series but the producers are trying to get someone else to pick it up. In any case, it’s worth watching.

“The Crown” — I did not think I would like this series about Queen Elizabeth’s rise to the English throne back in the 1950s but it won me over. The series is clever in how it pulls you into the royal family until you care about the little things they care about. Fascinating to see the backbiting and deal-making that goes on between the Crown and the English government. As many have written, John Lithgow as Churchill is fabulous but for my money, the series was stolen by Vanessa Kirby who plays Princess Margaret like a wild vixen. I can’t wait for the next five seasons. By that time, Charles may finally be king.

“Search Party” — This ten-part series on TBS sneaks up on you. Essentially, it’s about four millennials in Brooklyn who are trying to find their own way through their shallow 20s. The only one who has a clue about how empty their lives are is Dory who becomes obsessed with trying to locate a missing college acquaintance. You get the idea her search is more to give meaning to her own life than to actually find the missing girl. What develops is fun to watch and I hope they’ll be another season. Alia Shawkat as Dory is the breakout star.

“Insecure” — Issa Rae plays a 29-year-old black woman trying to make sense of her life and loves in contemporary Los Angeles. A rarity in that the series is an honest portrayal of black woman’s search for love and meaning. It’s funny but also has a lot of heart and Issa Rae is perfect in the lead role. Definitely worth watching.

[For more discussion, please visit my Facebook blog group and please share this A LOT! 🙂 And read my memoir if you haven’t already. Thanks! ]

Surry down….

by , on
Feb 20, 2017

Trapped inside a very crowded subway car, I was feeling cranky, annoyed and even a bit nauseous. I was ass-bumping the person behind me (which is, I believe, a felony when one is below ground), and could smell what the person next to me had for breakfast.

It was impossible to hold a book and read so i plugged in my earphones, hit shuffle, closed my eyes and out came the sublime voice of Laura Nyro singing “Stoned Soul Picnic.”

“Can you surry, can you picnic?”

And just like that, I was transported out of that cramped subway car to a hot summer’s day when I was teenager, back on the bench with my friends in the projects where we spent a ton of time waiting for our favorite songs to play on small transistor radios.

I never knew what “surry down” meant, never mind “sassafrass and moonshine” so, when I had time, I did a little research. Turns out that Laura Nyro, who was born in the Bronx, made up the word because she liked the sound of it. She could have changed ‘surry’ to ‘hurry’ but that wasn’t the way Laura rolled.

She had a complicated history as a singer/songwriter/person and was very much a shooting star. She scored big time when, at the age of 17, she sold “And When I Die” to Peter, Paul and Mary for $5,000.

She then released several albums with a host of classic songs covered by other artists like The 5th Dimension. “Stoned Soul Picnic” was one of the group’s biggest songs and they were astonished it was written by a white girl. Other songs like “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Eli’s Coming” were covered by…just about everyone. But Nyro was a unique artist. By the age of 24, she retired but five years later, unretired and released a couple of other albums.

Her personal life was no picnic. She lived with Jackson Browne for a year, married, divorced, had a son and, when she died at the age of 49 from ovarian cancer (same age and disease as her mother), she was a committed lesbian and had lived for years with another woman.

When Nyro’s lover died soon after, the singer’s estate fell into the hands of a friend, not Nyro’s son. The two feuded over the singer’s estate and, for a time, he was not invited when his mother was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Using the name Gil T, Nyro’s son became a rap artist…perhaps echoing Nyro’s prescient lyric “And when I die, they’ll be one child left to carry on.”

Laura Nyro was a true New Yorker who sang doo-wop on the streets as a teenager so I know that somewhere she’s smiling at having made my subway commute just a little bit sweeter.

R.I.P. Jimmy Breslin, his own best character….

by , on
Mar 20, 2017

Rest In Peace Jimmy Breslin.

I saw him first-hand at his best during the days when Son of Sam was writing Jimmy those crazy letters. I was then a copy boy scouring all incoming mail for yet another letter from the serial killer. Opening mail was never as exciting again.

Breslin was in his prime in the days reporters smoked cigars, drank whiskey (and just about everything else) and cursed a blue streak. I miss those days but I am so fucking grateful I was there to work in the same newsroom as Breslin and the great Pete Hamill.

It’s funny what you remember. Mine is a tiny silly detail. One night, the great Breslin was hungry and the only game in town was the 4th floor cafeteria which defined the term greasy spoon. Breslin didn’t care what he ate. He sent me down for his favorite sandwich–grilled cheese with tomatoes. I thought it sounded decent and began eating them myself and, whenever I do, I think of Breslin.

The thing about Breslin is that he never broke character, at least not around me. He growled, he cursed, and made mysterious references. But he was always Breslin and that was more than enough. A Pulitzer Prize winning columnist who owned this city. God bless….maybe I’ll have a grilled cheese with tomatoes today.

One final note. When writing about Breslin, everyone mentions his early column about JKF’s gravedigger but I always thought Breslin’s most affecting piece of writing was about his dear daughter Rosemary Breslin who died of a rare blood disease at the age of 47. I also knew Rosemary a little, met her in Los Angeles when she worked out there….check out Jimmy’s column below about his daughter’s death.

As it was with the mother who went before her, the last breath for the daughter was made before an onlooker with frightened eyes.

First, there were several labored breaths.

And here in the hospital room, in a sight not distorted by passion, was the mother sitting on the end of her bed, as the daughter once had sat on the mother’s in Forest Hills for a year unto death. They both were named Rosemary. When the mother’s last breath told her to go, the daughter reached in fear, but her hand could not stay the mother’s leaving.

By now, Rosemary, the younger, is married to Tony Dunne. He knew she was sick when he married her. He then went through 15 years of hospital visits, stays, emergencies and illness at home and all he wanted was for her to be at his side, day and night. His love does not run. And now, in the daughter’s hospital room, as it always does, fear and deep love brought forth visions of childhood.

The daughter is maybe 4, sitting on the beach. She wants money for ice cream. The mother’s purse had money to pay the carpenter at day’s end. Earlier, the mother had tried to pay a carpenter by check and he leaped away, as if the check was flaming. The daughter plunged into the purse and found no change for ice cream. With the determination that was to mark every day of her life, she went through that purse, tossing large bills, the carpenter’s money, into the air, digging for ice cream change. She sat there infuriated, throwing money into the sea wind. The mother was flying over the sand trying to retrieve it.

Another labored breath.

Then I could see her later, and with even more determination. Typing a script with tubes in her arms. Writing, rewriting, using hours. Clearly, being attacked by her own blood. She said that she felt great. She said that for 15 years.

I don’t know of any power that could match the power of Rosemary Breslin when sick.

Suddenly, the last breath came in quiet.

The young and beautiful face stared into the silence she had created. Gone was the sound of her words.

The mother took her hand, and walked her away, as if to the first day of school.

Blogging about not blogging….

by , on
Apr 8, 2017

A couple of my friends recently mentioned to me that I hadn’t been blogging as much lately and that’s true.

So why is that, I ask myself. I often talk to myself as I’m assured only the most intelligent people do. The main reason I find myself blogging less and not on Facebook as much is not because you know who is president although, truth be told, I don’t want to add my opinions to the zillions out there. And besides, you know what you think. I’m not going to change your mind. I also don’t want to give someone like that space in my brain–it’s crowded enough in there. So I skip pretty much every story about him and still know way more than I’d like.

I think the main reason I’m blogging less is because I’m playing guitar more. I took up guitar about three years ago. I’m not really sure why. It just happened and, since then, I’ve been taking lessons, watching Youtube videos and strumming away. I practice every day. I’m far from good but I’m getting better and now find myself with a set list of about 15 songs. (And no, kumbaya is not on there.)

I find it relaxing, playing and singing to myself. I do sometimes imagine a giant hook coming to yank me by the neck and out of the room but so far, my wife has resisted 🙂

I’ve also been taking swimming lessons for the first time in my life, trying to get beyond the one lap I can (barely) swim. I’m going for two. That’s my rather modest goal although I’d love to be able to go back and forth like some of you can.

Between swimming and playing guitar and yoga and, oh yeah, work, I find myself with less time to blog. But I do still enjoy it and interacting with all of you so I thought I’d let you know where I’m at these days. You’ll be hearing more of me although, hopefully, not when I’m singing.

2017– The Summer of Hate

by , on
May 21, 2017

Fifty years ago this summer, the baby boomer generation went through its infamous Summer of Love. It was 1967 and anything seemed possible. Minds were being expanded with the use of LSD and Sgt. Pepper was in the air, along with a slew of other great music from the most classic of the classic rock bands. People advocated loving one another, not just physically but mentally and emotionally and anyway that was possible.

It sounds naive now but it felt possible in that long ago summer. I was a bit too young at 14 to appreciate it all but I was aware of it. In the words of Stephen Stills, “there’s something happenin’ here.” Really, there was.

I’ve been reading a lot about that year in a new book “In Search of the Lost Chord: 1967 and the Hippie Idea” by Danny Goldberg who argues the legacy of 1967 lives on today. I’m not so sure.

Fifty years after that glorious summer, the United States is about to go through what can only be described as the Summer of Hate. We’ve never been so polarized in this country. The president hates the press and the press hates him back. The left hates the right and the right hates the left. On and on it goes. I don’t have to tell you because, chances are, no matter what side you’re on, you are convinced you’re right and the other side is a bunch of numbskulls. There’s no room for compromise in anyone’s eyes.

To run a country, I heard someone say, you need to be elitist and intellectual but you also need to be populist, to be aware of what the working class cares about. I think that was true when this country was founded and for much of its history.

The elites cared about the working man. Today, that notion, it seems to me, has flown out the window. Sure the elite class cares about the poor but the working class? Fuck ’em, they voted for Trump. They’re ignorant. They’re racist. They deserve what they get.

I can’t say it’s a one way street. The working man (and yes, I’m using vast generalizations here to make a point), think the elites are full of hot air and feel their disregard. Ask Hillary if you don’t think that’s true. They knew all too well what she was saying when she called them “deplorables.”

Bottom line: it’s terribly sad and terrible for this country. What happened to the ideals of the Summer of Love? I’d rather be naive than cynical. How and why did we devolve into this Summer of Hate?

The fix is in for our subways…

by , on
Jul 28, 2017

The MTA has a new boss–Joe Lhota–and the guy has a plan to fix the subways. That’s a good thing.

I’ve been riding the subways my entire life and it’s true–they’ve become more crowded, less civil and full of panhandlers. It’s pretty intense down there and I wouldn’t blame anyone for embracing the handlebars of a Citibike and hanging on with all their might. Of course, as rough as the subways are now, the ride is nothing compared to the late ’70s and early ’80s when they were covered with graffiti and had no air conditioning. Now THAT was rough.

(As an aside, it reminds me of the time then-Mayor Ed Koch, who used to be considered an outrageous politician in the pre-Donald Trump era, suggested he would have wolves guard the train yards to keep out the graffiti taggers. Wolves!! He settled on dogs and razor ribbon but I digress.)

One of Lhota’s ideas is to take out some of the seats and stuff more commuters into each car. As someone who often does not get a seat, I can’t say I’m opposed to this idea. While I’ve been mostly standing, I’ve become a student of how commuters find seats, give up seats and where they sit.

Here are a few observations:

— A woman will never sit next to a man if she has a choice.

— Certain ethnic groups will pretty much kill you for a seat. (I know, I know, it’s not very PC of me but, hey, I’ve been watching you!) The same ethnic groups do not respect the right of commuters to exit the subway car first and rush in like an angry herd of cattle late to the trough.

— No one wants to get up if they have a seat–not for a pregnant woman, an old man or a kids on crutches–but they will, grudgingly. Why do you think so many sitting commuters ride the subways with their eyes closed? They do not want to see anything that might force them to give up their seat.

— The only group guaranteed a seat are children. Now this makes me a little crazy. I can understand rising for babies and toddlers but I do not stand for anyone above the age of five. They can stand and build up that New York toughness.

— I don’t know why but older people do not ride the subways. I often play this game where I look around the subway car and count how many people I think are older than me. I’ve never gotten to five.

The new wave of feminism….

by , on
Nov 13, 2017

The powerful men are falling like dominoes, seemingly every day, from accusations by women who were very young and very vulnerable but are not any longer. To me, this feels like a new wave of feminism, one that might even be more powerful than the waves that have washed over us for decades.

What’s different this time is social media. Facebook, Twitter and social media in general take a lot of abuse (and they certainly have their flaws) but has any other medium given these sexually abused women such a powerful forum? Today, any woman who was sexually abused or harassed by these men decades ago, is now able to make the accusations public in a way that was simply unthinkable before.

It’s true that most of the allegations (hello Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein & Louis CK) have surfaced first in fine publications like the New York Times, the Washington Post and the New Yorker, but the way the stories have spread and been added to would not have been possible without social media. And that goes for the publications themselves. Would they have been able to get those stories out and read by so many without Twitter’s help?

A side note here about Twitter. It feels to me like it’s the most powerful social medium there is. Not only does it have the President of the United States in its thrall but by facilitating hashtags like #metoo, it is responsible for this latest cultural revolution. I can see how Facebook might someday be passe and I can certainly live without it, but I would dearly miss Twitter. It’s all the more amazing that the company cannot figure out a way to make money. It is akin to the creation of broadcast television and there would be a giant hole in our culture without Twitter. The days when people made fun of it because some posted their morning meals is long gone.

What is going on today with the endless charges of sexual abuse, harassment and yes, rape, is breathtaking. This may actually have lasting repercussions because, thanks to social media, any young woman can reach out and grab her abuser/harasser by the throat and bring him to his knees. Maybe this is what it took to teach men how to behave but fear and shame are powerful inducements and it feels like this revolution is for real.

Can anyone doubt the accusers are telling the truth? We’ve come a long way from the days when President Clinton’s paramours were met with scorn. To that end, I spotted a tweet by Juanita Broaddrick, who claims she was raped by Clinton, in which Broaddrick says that NBC withheld an interview with her until after Clinton’s impeachment hearings. The gatekeepers are now gone and the gates are wide open.

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