25 Years Ago, Grandma and Me

Grandma and I, September 26, 1987

Yesterday, I talked about the importance of my grandfather on my belief in of voting. And today, my Aunt Ann posted this lovely photo of Grandma Olly and I from her wedding – 25 years ago, today! Crazy!

Grandma affected me in so many ways – mostly with the way she was always there for the entire extended family. But also.. so many other ways. She was a strong woman, and I always admired that.

I love this photo. My aunt said when she posted it that it was “So Olly… So Erin.” It took me a little while to understand why. But I think it is – she is holding me close, telling a story. I’m listening, but ready to talk in as soon as she is done. I still bite my tongue like that when I’m thinking. However, that may be the only major social occasion I have worn white to.

I don’t have many memories from Aunt Ann’s wedding – something about dancing on my dad’s shoes but that might be more from a home video than an actual memory. However, my memory is littered with memories of my Grandma, many of them bittersweet, because of her current health.

I’ve been meaning to blog about Grandma basically this entire year. I have snippets in my notebook that refer to her:

  • sky-blue pink (her favorite color)
  • “Better than canned beer”(a phrase I adore, and had never heard, until I took part of an oral history)
  • Reading “The Summer Without Men” and seeing “4000 Miles” in New York – both of which dealing with an aging parent or grandparent

Right now, I have to run because I’m going to the Amanda Palmer concert. But I’m promising myself, I’m going to do a full post about her, possibly tomorrow. But for now, I’m going to leave you with this awesome, if blurry, photo.

They Wore Their Best

I take transit every day – usually MUNI in the morning and BART in the evening.  And I love it. I love it more, having moved from New York, because I have the option of driving when I want to – especially to go grocery shopping or on other errands involving schlepping. But mostly, I love it.

I love having time to myself for 20-30 minutes twice a day. Usually that time is used to prepare for the day at work, to read (I just finished Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying which was phenomenal) or listening to audiobooks/podcasts (recently started At Home by Bill Bryson, which is great). And when I do the latter, I play a lot of Scramble with Friends and Draw Something.

But sometimes, I start random conversations that lead to new found obsessions (as I detailed in my post about Maximum Fun and Bullseye here) or end up doing my makeup (I only do this if I have two seats to myself).

But, although I love transit, rarely do I get to learn something new or see something moving or beautiful. And especially, I very rarely think about the world beyond my own day-to-day life.

San Bruno BART has changed that with “They Wore Their Best”  – twelve then-and-now photograph comparisons about the Japanese interment in California during World War II.

The photos from the 40s were taken by famed photographer Dorthea Lange and the modern photos were taken by Paul Kitagaki, Jr., who discovered that his own family’s interment had been documented by Lange. San Bruno’s Tanforan – then a race track – was converted into a detention center where many gathered before being sent to the interment camps.  All the images are moving and strong and, I think, an important reminder of the past.

120,000 individuals  of Japanese descent- two-thirds US Citizens – were sent to interment camps under presidential Executive Order 9066 two months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Upon discovering Lange’s photos, Kitagaki “wanted to find out the rest of the story: how the internment had changed the lives of people who’d lost their homes, businesses and sometimes their families.”

I’m afraid I don’t do either photographers’ work much justice with my camera phone, but I recommend taking a little transit trip to San Bruno to see this exhibit. You can use the time on the train for yourself, and the time in the station to connect to this important and sad part of our American and Californian history.
“The issei (first generation) are all gone and the nisei (second generation) are in their 80s and 90s,” said exhibition organizer Richard Oba, of the Tanforan Assembly Center Memorial Committee. “I felt like this was the last hurrah. These pictures were frozen in time. But now Paul has unlocked them.”

SFGate article (where the above quotes are from) about the exhibit:
Photos illustrate effects of WWII internment camps by Patricia Yollin (May 12, 2012)

Billy and Teddy and other antics at Pop-Up Magazine

Being an American History devotee, I had heard the story of Teddy’s Bear more than a few times. Basically, then-President Theodore Roosevelt, an avid hunter but also a burgeoning environmentalist, saved the life of a bear whilst on an exhibition.  This led to Morris Mitchtom’s creation of a stuffed, plush bear named in his honor.  The toy flew of the shelves and became a national phenomenon.

As we know, that craze lasts till today.  What I did not know, until Wednesday night, was that the toy industry assumed it would end with Roosevelt’s presidency. To combat the possibility of a loss in sales, when William Howard Taft became president Billy’s ‘Possum came to be.  Yup, everyone’s favorite cuddly… opossum?? (this did not work out so well, as you can imagine.)

That tale, told (much better than the above) and in essay form by Jon Mooallem, was one of the many excellent stories presented at Pop-Up Magazine No.5. 

When I was living in New York, I had read a little about this live magazine event, saw the great list of past contributors and was curious but couldn’t really grasp what it actually was.  So, when I had been back in the Bay for about two weeks, and issue number 5 was announced I bought tickets.

Jump forward 5 weeks, and this past Wednesday, Catherine and I saddled on up to the lovely Davies Symphony Hall (where, sadly, I hadn’t been since a field trip in grade school).  The first thing I noticed was how young the crowd was.

Being a theater-geek, I often play the “Under 35 Game” when sitting in an audience.  Sometimes, like at this past Sunday’s matinee of the great “How to Write a New Book for the Bible” at Berkeley Rep, I am one of but two who meet that requirement – the other being who I am seeing the show with.  Instead, at Davies, the whole audience seemed to be in their 20s and 30s, which was just… great!  There was a wonderful energy and excitement, and everyone seemed to be looking forward to hearing and seeing what would happen.

(There was also a serious hipster contingent present, as would be expected with a literary and young audience. But my God… this one beard caused a serious pause in our conversation, as we contemplated the commitment not only to growing it out but maintaining it).

What did happen at Pop-Up Magazine?

Douglas McGray, Editor-in-Chief, came out on to a relatively bare stage – microphone, projection screen, and some sort of unique contraption SL – to explain his and the magazine’s vision.  The reason why I had been able to find so little about the show was that they do NOT record it in any capacity.  The essays and stories and photos and videos are unique to this one event.  In this age of constant sharing, and constant nostalgia-lizing, McGray and his compatriots are creating something ephemeral – his word.

So, why am I blogging about it? Doesn’t that ruin the idea?

I hope not, and I really don’t think so.  Instead of my post just being a series of links, the event persists only via re-telling.  And that is special in and of it self.  (Plus, I needed to write in order to remember everything for myself.)

Now, a live event is not unique.  How often in grad school did we speak about creating good performance work – that  changed each night, based on each audience/space/moment?  And often, we spoke of the inability for any live event to be captured well.

Yet, we spent as much time trying to figure out the best way to document, to share, that work.  After all, a piece with no documentation risks being lost, being stagnant, and isolated to a small audience. And, fundamentally, it is not profitable.  No commercial or non-profit organization would do just one show without the possibility of a repeat, because it couldn’t sustain the production or company.

Thus, there was magic in Pop-Up Magazine’s unique experiment. And I think the audience knew that.

As far as I could see, every seat in the Davies Hall (approximately 2700 seats) was full.  I don’t know how full the initial 4 issues were, but by number 5, Pop-Up Magazine had the word-of-mouth to fill their house.  Plus, the show was sponsored by two liquor companies, advertising of which was handled in a unique and cute way, with little asides on the stage itself.

So I imagine it is making money? Or at least enough to sustain? Boy, do I hope so. I will be back for issue number 6, and I will evangelize to as many of my friends as possible to get them to go as well.

The contributors were smart. The topics were interesting. (Like a magazine, each piece fit under a category like “Books” or “Music” or “Food.” And the whole evening was broken into SHORTS and FEATURES)  The tech aspects (images or video or sound) were integrated well.  At points it was funny, or sad, or shocking. And the time flew by. (My only critique was that: at the after party, with bars on multiple levels, there needed to be more staff.  We waited in line for quite a while before we gave up, even though I had pre-purchased drink tickets).

Basically, my take-away is, this event was great.  I learned about new topics, have discovered writers and contributors who’s work I would like to explore more, and I can’t wait for number 6.

Some of my favorites:

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Hey, its the Bowery Boys, hey!

As I move ever closer to my last day as a New Yorker (now only 13 days away), I have just passed my four-year anniversary in the City on August 22nd.  These four years have been pretty amazing, crazy, hard, wonderful… really, all sorts of adjectives.

As I think of all I didn’t yet do, I reflect on what made my four years here what they were.  Therefore, a short series on four years in New York shall commence.

On August 22, 2007, I arrived in New York, where I had previously visited for a handful of days in 2003 and for a 5-week internship in the summer of 2005.  That limited experience had given me a taste of the many possibilities New York contained, and when I was looking forward to New York from the safety and familiarity of California, I felt sure I could handle most NYC had to offer.  But after a night spent on Syche & Drew’s burnt orange couch, I was sitting alone in my new apartment on the only furniture I owned – a blue air mattress – feeling sad, worried, and adrift in this new City.

As, I began to explore my new surroundings, I stumbled upon a fantastic  guide to my new home – the Bowery Boys.

The Bowery Boys: New York City History is a brilliant podcast created by Tom Meyers and Greg Young.  Each episode the pair tells the story of a NYC landmark, person, or moment.  They do so with an incredible grasp of the facts, excellent storytelling, and a wonderful humor.

The podcast began in July 2007, just before I arrived, and was an excellent companion in those early weeks, and still to this day. (I actually finished listening to the most recent podcast #128 Hoaxes and Conspiracies of 1864 just this morning).

Admittedly, being a history dork (and at that time with a spanking new BA in History), this podcast was made more for me then most people. But any podcast that can convey serious, valid information and still turn Peter Stuyvesant and Robert Moses into running jokes, is in my good book!

The podcast helped me to learn about the world I was living in (#47 covered my neighbor in Grant’s Tomb, #54/55 covered Central Park – every New Yorkers retreat, & #90 covered Columbia itself) and others encouraged me to explore parts of New York I otherwise might have missed (African Burial Ground, Gracie Mansion.)

I recommend checking the podcast out, whether you live here or not, as it is a great glimpse of a great American city.  Here are some of my favorites (images taken, without permission, from the great Bowery Boys blog):

David Belasco and some of his lady friends

#18 Ghost Stories of New York City

Every Halloween, the pair puts together a set of scary stories from New York’s past.  I’ve loved each of them, but still think the first is the best.

Two of the tales teach us why ghost lights are so important – David Belasco still haunts his 44th street theater and Olive Thomas, a Ziegfeld Follies chorus girl, who haunts the New Amsterdam theater can still be glimpsed walking the long destroyed catwalks.

A Richard Serra piece from MOMA

#32 Museum of Modern Art

I love MOMA, both its permanent collection and special exhibits (seeing Marina Abramovic there will be its own blog post). And this podcast was a great tutorial on how a Modern museum could be birthed in the City, and a great story of a strong, important woman – Abby Aldrich Rockefeller – who battled enforced bed rest to create a cultural institution.

Henry Ward Beecher sits in Columbus Park in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall

#37 Henry Ward Beecher and Plymouth Church

Possibly my very favorite of all their episodes, and their descriptions sums it up best:

We’ve never done such a saucy show — full of sex, lies, and petticoats. Meet Henry Ward Beecher, Brooklyn Heights’ most notorious resident, and find out about the fascinating and provocative history of the church that turned him into a national celebrity.

I have listened at least a half a dozen times, and I still very much want to read Beecher’s biography The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate.

There are so many other great episodes – the story of the Bronx Zoo, Robert Moses, himself, movie making in New York. And each summer they have done a series of podcasts on theme – last summer the transit system that makes life possible in NYC, and this summer New York and the Civil War.

I highly, highly recommend a listen to this superb podcast.  And to the Bowery Boys – thank you for being an excellent companion on my four years in New York.  I will still listen long after I leave.