Garcia’s Store

Garcia the storekeeper
below my window every day at the curb
sweeping before the sun gets up,
patiently gathers bottles,
the broken shiver-stars
of yesterday’s do-nothings,
who sleep as ever, across the hoods
of parked cars.
His wife, getting up late, with gummy eyes,
stands in the doorway trading the time of day
with customers, children, loafers and dogs.
Garcia’s indolent son, a sort of tire-man of waist fat,
will squat upon his black motorbike.
It’s his third this year. His Fu Manchu mustache
and unshaved dirty cheeks will squeeze out
from under the helmet,
shading a cloud of greasy black hair.

Every day, Garcia watches it all serenely,
his hollow cheeks are withered.
He sells coconut bars and chicken wings,
peers through his dirty glasses
across sales slip figures, with his
naked gums and two teeth.
Twice this year they’ve come in under the floor
next door from the basement,
and skipped away with a dozen cases of his beer.
He shrugs, sniffs, and nails up a network of two by fours.

At nine in the night, he stands by the adding machine
figuring the day, talking to Anselmo
the numbers runner, who leans over his cane,
rubbing his white fuzz of hair.
Garcia fumbles the numbers into the machine,
takes out the paper,
peers at it under his glasses,
licks his lips, says OK, shakes his head
with a sort of benediction.
Then he puts on his red woodman’s jacket,
slams the gate and sets the burglar alarm.
Never does it go off with a moonlight celebration
of a burglar. It rings by itself
many a night at 4 a.m.
Garcia will patiently rise up out of his bed
and float like a wraith around the corner to set it again.
When he leaves, he will hesitate,
then pat his door gently,
like quieting a restless, sleepless child.

© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore

This poem is a description of life just outside our Manhattan apartment at 803 9th Avenue and 53rd Street. We arrived there in 1962, and left in the early 1990’s. Our former neighborhood still goes by the nickname of “Hell’s Kitchen”, but by the ‘70’s it contained a blend of theater performers, artists, and Puerto Rican and other ethnic groups as residents, restaurants with lofty goals, the sound stage for the TV soap opera “All My Children”, an off Broadway Theater called the Cubiculo, and a music studio where singer Carly Simon oten recorded. 

Our narrow 5 floor walk-up building had two apartments on each floor and ours was the entire right side of the 2nd level. Immediately below us was a store front that changed renters every few years. By contrast, Garcia’s store was a bodega below our neighbor’s apartment. The burglar alarm went off frequently, seemingly for the sheer joy of it. The store was tiny and looked like it had been there since the dawn of time. The merchandise consisted of Hispanic menu ingredients, cans, milk, bread, and fruit that was well on its way to becoming compost.

Cigarettes, cigars, and beer comprised the major part of Garcia’s sales. In the summer the door to the store stayed open, Garcia was always up for a chat, and a local group of drunks would assemble to socialize just outside his doorway. The sound of laughing voices would drift up to the windows of our living room where my father had a desk and a typewriter. When we approached to enter or exit the building, they’d apologetically move their crate seats out of our way.  Scrawny, and smiling, the most creative of the drunks was named Gene. His occasional requests for financial donations had humor. “Hey, Irish, can you spare a quarter? I’m starting to sober up!” was his method of addressing my teenage brother.

When we first moved into our apartment, the store below us housed a Puerto Rican barber named Benny. Whenever my parents sent my brother downstairs for a haircut, he’d leave looking like one of the Beatles, and come home looking like Charlie Brown in Peanuts.  We concluded Benny only knew one haircut.

Garcia and Benny were just two of the many Hispanic store owners in our area. Each store specialized in something, but they all looked vaguely similar. My brother Peter used to patronize a newspaper and magazine store a block away.  He recently wrote:  
“When I was a kid growing up in NYC, there were a lot of Puerto Rican immigrants in the neighborhood, along with a lot of little Hispanic newspaper/magazine stores and “bodegas.” I used to stop at one such store every Monday morning on the way to school, with my allowance in my hot little hand, to buy baseball cards. 

I started noticing a little book hanging up by the cash register titled, “The Dream Book.” I became fascinated by this book, which was $2.00, assuming it to be a manual of dream analysis, wherein I could find out what my dreams meant. I had heard that dreams had special meanings, and I thought for sure I would now be able to find out why I once dreamed that an alligator peed on me — but that’s another story.

I only received 60¢ a week allowance, so I had to save for more than three weeks (and sacrifice baseball cards!) to buy the book, but after carefully hoarding my money I finally had enough. I walked in that happy Monday morning, bought the book, and continued walking to the subway station. I eagerly opened the book and started reading as I rode the train, but imagine my dismay when this is what I saw on page after page:
….
Alligators — 27, 86, 32
Ancestors — 12, 22, 08
Antelope — 81, 96, 112

Bison — 03, 76, 104
Burglars — 16, 98, 25, 
Butter — 07, 107, 32

I had no clue what this was about, but I knew it had nothing to do with MY dreams.

I forget who I finally asked, possibly my father, but I eventually found out that this was a book for numbers runners, and people who played the illegal numbers game. These were the numbers you were supposed to bet on if you dreamed about those specific things.”

I still get a laugh when I imagine what those guys at the store must have thought when the little 10-year-old Anglo kid came in and bought a book on numbers betting.”
— Peter Glaze

By the 1990’s, the original Latino flavor of the neighborhood was fading.  As the bodegas closed they were replaced by Korean fruit markets and new higher priced stores.  More and more young professionals arrived in the area and rent prices rose accordingly. Our former building still stands firmly in place, but currently the stores below it have merged into one large and trendy Mexican restaurant.

—E. Glaze

Christmas

More than anything in the world
I say, let there be more Christmases!
I have this terrible hunger for festivals!
Let there be one each month,
even a little one,
with perhaps garlands
and fruitful craziness.

We have let something away from the world.
How did that happen?
Now we have got to make it all up again
out of rocks and paper with tasting and smelling.

Our very first illusion of meaning
came from a holy burning
passed to our hand
by a hand hot from the fire.
Now we miss that forge-dream of prophecy.

New joys have only to be invented.
They’ll be believed Hi!
The Christ Child,
is he, or is he not?
It’s of no importance.
Something is born,
when two or three come together
in his name or any other name.

© Andrew Glaze 1970
Tribune Magazine, UK, December 25th, page 9, 1970.

My father always enjoyed Christmas, although church was never a part of our family routine and he was a born skeptic his whole life.  We described ourselves as “agnostic”, and our outgoing Christmas cards were never religious in theme.  This is because he was born into a family of skeptical modern thinkers who were way ahead of their time and century, despite the fact that they lived in Tennessee and the Deep South.  He was spiritual, deeply moral, and highly ethical, without being religious.  Which is why, as I’ve gone through a large number of his poems over the past two years, I’ve been surprised to realize how many of his poems mention God, or Him. Clearly there was a part of his mentality that was curious and intrigued, and wondered about it all, despite his professed skepticism and rising disbelief.  There is a book “Earth That Sings” that is a compliation of my father’s poems, interviews, and essays up to 1985.  It is edited by William Doreski, a poet and writer who enjoyed my father’s lectures on poetry at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and later became a friend.  The second chapter, written by my father, is an entertaining tale of his childhood and youth titled, “Pagan-Protestant:  Notes on growing up in Alabama.”

The fact that the poem was published in a British magazine is not surprising as he worked for the British Tourism Authority and had poetry friends and fans in the UK.

As for the poem, I came across it on the internet in 2011. I’d never seen it before, and I’ve never seen copies of it elsewhere.  This is not surprising, because it was written in 1970 while I was living abroad, and over the years my father downsized his paperwork by archiving his past work at the libraries of Harvard and the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

When I found the poem online, it was part of an archived magazine and the entire page, including the poem, was miniscule.   Fortunately, the text of the poem was printed beside it, and punctuated, but the sentences were broken up into odd segments and parts. 

It took me awhile, but with the help of a magnifying glass, and the knowledge that my father would have found my situation extremely funny, I finally managed to piece the poem back together.  This is it in its original state.  Had he been around to comment, self-depreciating as ever, he’d have chuckled and said, “Thanks Sweetie, I’m highly flattered that you think it was worth the effort”.

—E. Glaze

IMG_20181210_0001
Photo from December of 1959, Property of the Andrew Glaze Estate.
L to R: Dorothy Elliott (Glaze) Shari, Peter Glaze, Elizabeth Glaze, Andrew Glaze, in our Greenwich Village apartment on Bleecker Street.
The photo was taken by a friend or family member, but I have no memory of who. My artistic work using spray snow is visible on the window. We look pensive, because we were listening to Peter trying to talk to us at that moment.

The Trash Dragon of Shensi

There was an ancient worm
on the hills of Shensi
which had six spines upon its back
that flowed red when it flew
at the Spring moon
ballooning and unballooning its awful wings
in the brick-hearted sun.

Now it has been caught.
They climbed the rootless cliffs
beyond Sian
(they were very brave and very determined)
and someone flung the silken ropes
while he was sleeping,
(dreaming of water and cloud spurts)
over the spiny angles of his rough heads
steaming like fire hydrants.

They damped him with fog,
and a promise of the disk like moon
for his own on Mondays.
They led him with milk.
And now he toils.
He is the eater of garbage for a whole prefecture.
He is known to every corner
as the Trash Dragon of Shensi.
And he is too full of old watermelon rinds
and millet straw to pay any attention
to his wings.

Only in sleep
vibrating his spiny reptilian pinions,
does a little steam nicker about his nozzle,
does he buzz a little, throb a little like a train.
He is thinking of red searchlights
in a fishlike moony sky,
and the mountains looking like
great flopped-over turtles below
weaving their legs and heads.

But he no longer believes in flight.
He has accepted his silken attachments.
He has even come—almost–
to believe in the ultimate dignity
of the transmutation
of fish bones and broken squash pods.

© Andrew Glaze, from The Trash Dragon of Shensi, 1978

If Picasso had a “Rose”, and a “Blue Period” for his paintings, then my father went through an “Asian Period” for his poems. In the ‘70’s and 80’s he periodically dabbled in writing Haiku poems and owned several books in that style of poetry. He took great pleasure from one or more large coffee table books on Asian Art around this time, and loved a newly acquired statuette of a little Hahn Horse so much that he eventually wrote a poem about it.  Years later, when it was thought that the statuette was lost during a move to Birmingham, he shed tears.

In a twist of fate, in 1978, when his book The Trash Dragon of Shensi was about to be published, they needed artwork for the cover design.  At the time, my brother was dating a Fine Arts Major from Brown University, named Kate Rivingston.  By happy coincidence, dragons were a favorite art subject for Kate, and so she became the cover artist for the book.  Ten years later, in 1989, she also became my sister-in-law.

Poet Madeline Kumin later said that this poem was a favorite of hers, and in 1978, the entire book received a rave review in The New York Times from writer Peter Schjeldahl.

 “Trash Dragon” is probably the closest my father ever came to writing a fable or fairy tale.

—E. Glaze

Trash dragon copy
Cover art © Kate Rivingston, 1978

Damned Ugly Children

My poems, you are damned ugly children.
I love every one of you anyway—
your scabby hook noses, wall eyes and crab feet.
I could swear I didn’t make you for their judgment,
and I’d only half lie.
I mean what do I care what they say?
And it’s true—somehow I never thought of us
as having business with their war of traffic.

We were being most ourselves,
I was making you for someone to talk to.
–Someone to stare with through that dirty window
out in the courtyard where the impossible squats
dressed in long rainbow-colored questions.
She was the only prophet I ever thought much of.

And because I made you against every possibility,
we shall never give up our old secrets, god knows.
Didn’t I get you out of the iron claws
of my own possessive guts
to give to myself for a birthday present?

© 1963, ’64, ’65, ’66, Andrew Glaze, from his book Damned Ugly Children.

Damned Ugly Children was my father’s first major book.  Poetry Anthologist Oscar Williams was the original force behind the decision for Simon & Schuster to print it in their Trident Press division. They did so with very little expectation of selling many copies of the book. Then, to their shock, The New York Times gave it a rave review, the American Library Association gave it a Notable Book Award for 1966 and libraries around the country and abroad ordered copies.  Insiders from the Pulitzer Prize organization told the publishers that the book made it to their final decision rounds for the 1966 Book of Verse prize. In the end, poet Richard Eberhart won that year. Ironically, he was the same person who wrote the rave review of Damned Ugly Children for The New York Times a few months earlier.

Suddenly the world went crazy and my father was in demand for interviews everywhere. Reporters from around the country were contacting him, and the first tongue in cheek question they all asked was, “Are your children really ugly?” In theory the reporters all knew that the title poem was actually referring to my father’s poems, but that depended on whether they’d read the title poem or not. When he couldn’t stand it any longer my father came home one day and asked me to find wallet photos of my brother and myself.  His response from that point on was to whip out the photos and allow interviewers to decide for themselves.

One day my father was contacted by another “Andrew Glaze” visiting New York City from out of state. They had different middle initials, but his namesake wanted a signed copy of the book to put on his coffee table as a conversation piece when visitors came.

The cover of Damned Ugly Children was by famed commercial and graphic artist John Alcorn. His career was at a high point during the ’60’s through 80’s and among other things he designed posters for Fredrico Felini movies.  The design he create for my father’s book was inspired by a poem titled, “Cats” on page 34. 

However, by far the most interesting link between my father and his book “Damned Ugly Children” was that of Fant Thornley, the Director of the Birmingham Public Library system between 1953 and 1970. I have no idea how they originally met, possibly through family, possibly through my father’s former job as a reporter, possibly because Fant was also a writer.

In 1964, Fant arranged a special exhibit when my father did a joint venture of poetry and art titled “Poems / Lines” with Colombian artist Umaña. The oversize artisan hand printed pages were displayed in a large glass display case just inside the entrance to the library.  When Damned Ugly Children was published in 1966, and the American Library Association loved it, it was a match made in heaven. Fant created another exhibit to showcase the new book at his main library building in downtown Birmingham.

Sometime in 1966 Fant Thornley visited us at our 9th Avenue apartment. He was on a business trip to Manhattan and I think he came to dinner. In any case, I remember meeting him at some length.  He died a few years later in 1970, at home, of a heart attack.

So imagine my astonishment in 2011, when I typed “Fant Thornley” into Google one day on a whim, and learned that Fant now haunts the Birmingham library Linn Henley Building where he worked for twenty years.

Reports have him using the elevator late at night. Several random people have reported seeing an apparition of him, and multiple people swear they have smelled his signature Chesterfield cigarette smoke in parts of the building when no one else was around. Fant has become a legend in Birmingham history, and the man who once indexed books is now the subject of books himself.

I happened to visit the Linn Henley building a few years ago. Originally the main library building, it is now where the library archives are stored. I was amused to see a very large bust of Fant Thornley placed in a prominent location. I can’t remember why, but I immediately had the impression that everyone is quite fond of his memory and whispered “Hello Fant” as I walked past at one point. If my own reaction is anything to go by, it would probably explain why his ghost is perfectly happy to stick around.

 In 2015, my father was still alive, he was the Poet Laureate of Alabama, his latest book was recently out, and he’d just been inducted into the inaugural class of the Alabama Writer’s Hall of Fame. That autumn, the Birmingham Public Library organized an exhibit titled, “Days of Glaze”. It showed highlights, photos, and Birmingham links in my father’s career as a writer and poet. The exhibit was in a new building, built after Fant’s days as Director, but the glass display cases were probably the same ones he’d used. Some of the items in the exhibit had no replacements, and yet I somehow felt confident that, from his world or ours, once again Fant would approvingly keep an eye on it all for us.

—-E. Glaze

Damned Ugly children
Damned Ugly Children‘s cover design by famed commercial and graphic designer John Alcorn. Copyright Simon & Schuster publishers 1966.

IMG_20161023_0048
Press release photo, used on the back of the jacket cover of Damned Ugly Children. Photo by Susan McCartney. Copyright 1966, by Simon & Schuster.

 

Reality Street

Reality is something like me carrying
the bicycle down the steps in the morning,
with a grip at the seat socket on the left
and the stem of the steering post on the right,
carefully placing my recently broken right foot
on the tattered step covering,
crazing open the doors with a little help
from my Puerto Rican neighbors,
“Gracias, gracias!” saying, especially if it’s
the dark white-bearded one who shaves only once a week.
He will hold the beer can in the sack
with a far-away eye which seems to say
it is not I drinking this beer, opening the door
for this American with the suspiciously Spanish-looking wife.
Who rides a bicycle but a boy or a fool?
Help a fool is a kind of harmless custom.

The sidewalk is reality.
We have lost the last tree. The only one
to survive being pissed on and beaten.
And was getting to be a pretty good tree
in front of the shoe store, but obviously
rot had gotten in somewhere.
It failed in the wind last night,
and of course will not be replaced, except by
the beer cans and candy wrappers which seem to be
the true proofs of human occupation and human interest.
The bums in front of Garcia’s are watching to see if Anselmo
will continue to sleep when the sun
comes over the roof of the Brittany building
and shines hard in his eyes.
Their interest isn’t unkind.
Our bums take good care of one another around here.
I’ve seen two of them pick up a third
who had fallen off his egg crate in the street
and set him tenderly back up on end, teetering crazily,
and put his beer can again in his hand.

First, setting the bicycle off the curb,
I look back in the bus barn to be sure
nothing is coming out. With a quick hop and push
I set off against the traffic on the wrong side,
to the corner of 54th Street, then sweep
to the East, before them all, on that street, the one street
I know as I know my face or my kitchen table.
Reality! This is Reality Street—littered with
dog shit and broken auto parts, full of holes
and broken glass to protect a full block
of private cars of policemen in no-parking spots.
They know each other by their lodge signs.
Then the Youth Center, that used to be the night court.
I gather speed, sliding between the front bumpers
to the right, and the outside doors of cars to the left,
banking and spinning the pedals,
I’ve forgotten my broken foot, I’m flying!
Then I must wait to pass the paddy wagon,
they’re loading up with girls-the wigged and raincoated haul
from last night’s war sweep on Eighth Avenue.
The clean up! They’re cleaning up the Avenue,
and professional fucking is being abolished again.
It will have to stand for whatever is being washed this week.
The girls are bored and angry,
they don’t laugh when the cops joke
and the boys from the brick Greek church whistle.
The girls want to get on with their job,
of which this is a piece of the red tape.
I squeeze by and brake it at the corner.
Stopping, I rest, I beam at pedestrians.
It’s 9 a.m.—Exuberant senseless beam—
these are not natives, but people going to work.
Four cops discuss departmental gossip.
They cross against the red light.
No-one in this city obeys any law of any kind.
Cops less than anybody.

And then, I’m off again, going down
in the maelstrom of Reality Street. Everybody turns
at this place into 54th Street from Eighth Avenue.
Why? Are they going to the Municipal Parking Lot on the right?
Or to the unemployment office for waiters and dishwashers
on the left? (a mysterious place full of crises
and explosions). And there’s Bryant Hotel.
Alan Hovhaness lived there briefly last year.
I used to see his tall, hesitant, disjointed walk
mooning along thinking of distant extreme musical space.
“Hello Alan!,” I’d yell, he’d turn and look as though
he’d never seen me before or anything before
and grin shyly. “Hello,” he’d say.
Did he really know what was talking to him?
And now he’s living in Seattle. That’s reality.

Crossing Broadway is a sort of adventure.
This invincible instantaneous daredevil in me
is quite boiled down into a sort of egg-cup
of security and dutifulness,
but Broadway now, is something else, is always being excavated.
Don’t you suppose the Mafia is holding a secret convention
down one of the holes, or digging a mysterious subway to Sicily?
They pave it again with asphalt and sand
as soft as chewing gum.
My bicycle rises up and rolls down
through hole after hole like waves,
honking bravely at all the pedestrians.
They look offended. Impudent motorless wheels!
They defer to cars, they respect trucks.
They’ve been converted to a religion of pure weight!

I skid to a stop at Seventh, and hurry across
through the taxi line for the airport trade
from the Hotel Americana. I park outside the crazy poster store.

Inside, I’m surrounded by Raquel Welch’s breasts,
girls with steak quarterings on their rumps,
blonde nudes climbing cliffs, Nixon taking a dump,
calendars of Kamasutra positions, one per month,
four foot long inspirational zen poems on purple banners,
red fire-lighters a foot long.
I buy my paper, I fold it neatly behind my seat.
The clerk asks me about my foot. That’s how
I’m fated to be remembered. The paper customer who broke his foot.
I walk the wheels to the corner
by half a dozen kegs of Schaefer beer booming down
in the belly of the cellar of a bar.
I cast off past the Half Note and Jimmy Ryan’s
to the Hilton, with its bus loads of Japanese tourists
craning their necks, casting about
at a crazily tilted perspective with sore ears
and sleep-confused eyes.
In these full, hurrying streets, what a difference!
Everyone is spruce, sure, full of purpose,
upholstered with money and sex in green,
knowing how to enjoy a breeze and walk hearty.
The flagpoles on the ABC, CBS and Burlington Buildings,
the Warwick Hotel, flap with taut-natured snap.
This too is reality—or is it adventure?
I’m sailing in rash seas.
The light changes, four cabs crash through the red,
but we’re wise to them—we wait,
and avoiding the dip in the street by the Athletic Club,
I nod at the doormen of the Dorset,
and now at the top of the rise, it’s home-free,
I sail past the back garden and the trees
of the Modern Art Museum, avoid the driver-training car
of the Rhodes School, look up the skirts
of the girls with their books and their backs to the walk,
neatly slip past the back corner of a growling truck,
and up to the curb at the service drive.
There’s a no-parking sign across the street
from the University Club. Really reality!

I put down my parking stand with a clang,
unlock the chain, unscrew the front half of my French bike,
it’s beginning to rust from too much rain,
and I lay the front half beside the back,
chaining the two with a $22.50 hardened steel five pound chain.
This is reality too. Adventure with prudence.
Standing here, I think, I’ve made it once again
without re-breaking my foot.
—Look how they’re watching me-. You actor!
A bicycle in two pieces! Such elan!
I stalk and limp to what will happen today.
Oh Fifth Avenue!

© 1991, Andrew Glaze, from his book Reality Street.

In 1974, “Reality Street” was the longest poem ever published by The Atlantic.
(Three years later The New Yorker published the companion poem “Fantasy Street” ; the longest poem they had ever published in their magazine.)

In an interview my father explained they were inspired by 17th century poet John Milton.  “I was trying to figure out how Milton would tackle “L’allegro” and “Il Pensero” if he were doing it in the second half of the twentieth century”.  “Reality Street” was written before “Fantasy Street” and my father referred to them as “Two Odes”.

I don’t remember exactly when my father first decided to bike to and from work, but I know it involved several generations of bicycles.  For a while he worked on his poetry and plays early in the morning, before work.  Eventually he decided lunchtime was a better choice, when the weather cooperated.  Since his office was at 5th Avenue on the corner of 54th Street (a one way street going East), and 53rd Street (a one way street going West) led to our apartment building on 9th Avenue, a bicycle was the obvious solution.

In the ‘70’s, creatively designed bikes for city dwellers became available.  They had smaller wheels, and you could easily take them apart for storage.  I remember a day when he chained the two main pieces of his bike downstairs to a lamp post and thieves stole the seat. After that he brought the seat up to his office.  There were other times when he brought various parts of his bikes upstairs as well.

Alan Hovhaness was a highly respected orchestral composer. They were acquainted, because Alan’s wife was from Birmingham. In the early 70’s they collaborated on a small musical that Joseph Papp wanted to produce.  It never happened, because Papp insisted on a small orchestra, and Hovhaness insisted on two pianos.

The entire poem is a poetic documentary of life in mid-town Manhattan in the early 1970’s. Eighth Avenue no longer has a prostitute on every corner, each wearing a more elaborate wig than the next. There is no longer a bus barn depot across the street from where we lived.  The bodega (grocery store) on one side of our building has been gone for decades, although the ghosts of the local drunks still linger.  The Brittany Restaurant on the other side of our building had excellent French food until a fire put them out of business.  Schaefer beer was bought out by Stroh’s and then Pabst.  Even the Rhodes Preparatory School for girls no longer exists; with an entrance up a few stairs, and a trend towards wearing the shortest skirt possible, up skirt views of the students were pretty common.  I’m not sure when the Hotel Americana disappeared.  And yet, as with all major cities, despite constantly evolving, the flavor of New York City always stays the same.

—-E. Glaze

1975 smaller size file
Andrew Glaze, with bicycles, in the living room of his apartment at 9th Avenue and 53rd Street.  His desk, typewriter, and working area is immediately behind him.  The rest of the living room is behind the photographer.
Property of the Andrew Glaze Estate.

Night Walk To A Country Theater

Drop from the train’s bottom step onto the grit,
turn out of the wind, ravel the hood of the parka tight.
It’s gristly clear, the black night fizzes with frost,
Venus and Jupiter sit near the moon like steps.
There’s an old barge canal and water locks;
You cross on the steel plates, rubber soles clanging.
First, a shallow skitter over frozen mud.
Then a steady booming of timed trudge
over the long bridge across the Connecticut,
frozen about the abutment islands.
They extend white claws.
Smoke steams from a chimney like a solid cloud.
Nobody knows you in any of the passing cars,
no obligation keeps you from climbing the rail,
dropping in the coiled swirls of the water below.
Your breath comes fast, your spirit jumps
high above the network of girders.
On the far side, a strip bar, evilly lighted, waits,
and long sidewalks of the tight-closed houses of strangers,
growling dogs, a rustle of distant throughway,
long lurching alone.
Then, through the darkness, rises up at last–
like a reward, as though you knew
this was how it should have been arranged–
warmth, singing, a cavern of people.
Your feet will have lost all feeling.
But the joy will come flying.
It works every time.

© 1982, Andrew Glaze by permission of The New Yorker.
From the 1991 book Reality Street.

 

Originally published in The New Yorker in January of 1982, my father began writing this poem in 1978. He was inspired by a train ride to Connecticut, and the short walk he made to a theater in Stamford. He was about to see my stepmom perform in the out-of-town “try-outs” of the musical “Ballroom”. It was the last chance for the producers to tweak the production before previewing and opening the show on Broadway, and it was an exciting time for our family.

“Ballroom” came about when the producers and directors of “A Chorus Line” decided to see if they could strike gold twice. Inspired by a successful 1975 TV movie titled, “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom”, the story was about a widow who finds a brand new life, friends, and a lover, when she takes up ballroom dancing.

At our apartment, the phone rang one day to say that Director and Choreographer Michael Bennett needed retired older dancers who were once part of the Broadway circuit. My stepmother had been in the original cast of Camelot in the 1960’s, as well as other shows, and the grapevine had tracked her down. The dancers also included Liz Sheridan, who eventually became Jerry Seinfeld’s mother on the TV show “Seinfeld”.

As with “A Chorus Line”, the participants in “Ballroom” were part of the creative process of the production, and their contracts offered a percentage of all future profits. The original cast members of “A Chorus Line” are still receiving residuals to this very day and the participants of “Ballroom” hoped for a similar fate.

My impression was that no expense was spared. I remember my stepmom “oohing” over the fact that their shoes were all created by the elite, Paris born, shoe designer Maud Frizon. They were absolutely gorgeous, and had to be specially designed and reinforced for ballroom dancing, but must have cost a small fortune.

On the Premier night, all the stops were pulled out and a huge post performance party was held at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of The World Trade Center’s North Tower. The restaurant was only two years old at that point, and considered the very height of glamour. Family members were also invited to the party, which is how I ended up there. Traditionally, post-premier night parties go on until the early morning newspaper reviews come out. I think I ended up lying across a few chairs to take a nap.

The reviews were not unanimous in praise and, despite a score and lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, the song “Fifty Percent” was the only one that went on to post Broadway fame and fortune. Nominated for 8 Tony Awards, and 7 Drama Desk Awards, “Best Choreography” was the winner for both. 

But the main problem was the basic plot line. It featured an older cast, and a widow who finds a lover she’s happy with, but he’s a Catholic trapped in a loveless marriage. After an emotional struggle she decides to accept the situation. In the final scene she is voted “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom” and dances with her lover at her side, singing, “I wish you a waltz” along with the entire ensemble. 

Ticket sales struggled, probably because the subject matter mainly appealed to an older generation, a fan base of widows who were greatly inspired, and ballroom dancers.  I was in my 20’s and could see it was too realistic for dewy eyed young adults.  It also wasn’t something you’d take your kids to see for a family outing. The production ran for 116 performances on Broadway, before bringing down the final curtain.

Michael Bennett’s next endeavor struck gold in 1981. It was the original Broadway production of “Dreamgirls”.

—E. Glaze

indexAdriana Keathley (Glaze) wearing very expensive Maud Frizon shoes, and a Theoni Aldredge costume, with Victor Griffin. 1978 photo property of Ballroom Production.

 

Shipwrecked upon a Seacoast in Bohemia

— Hooper and Donna

 He spoke orations like a stream full of bumping logs,
sported legal erudition like a Blackstone larynx,
brave head wrapped like a turban in precedential fog.

Called Hooper, he was a tall, luminous paragon of the law
whose humor hovered over a quiver-full of jokes.
like a lion advancing a congratulatory paw.

He cheerfully scattered about himself as though from the roof
vast pronouncements like three-winged eagles,
absentmindedly shot them down with a hyperextended spoof.

Till the day came he met Donna, whose exciting battle of words
had been played out up north
in the home of the Broadway Theatre Birds.

Now she came flopping home like kingdom come
to settle for what was at hand
with ample illusion left to strike us dumb.

Unfailingly she was, as ever, theatrical, airy,
playing life off the tips of disdainful fingers.
Squirt, squirt, distributing the goodies, like a perspicacious fairy,

dropping one over there, two over here, ploop! ploop!
“So be it! If you don’t like it, dearie,
send an Email to my chicken soup!”

She was constructed like the bay bridge, all distances and loops,
in the clothes she made herself freehand, shaping the cloth
in romantic, visionary, scissor swoops.

Her full-length opera cloak,
included the hunt, the hunters, a dozen dogs, the deer,
and coming from behind, athwart the smoke,

a trumpeter signaling their approach
by honking the hours to his horse
and welcoming them to an inn with an approaching coach.

She’d happily turn and show you the panorama.
As she perceived it, life was the fluttery
festive commedia of a swiftly revolving diorama.

Their meeting—(it did come)—was as though Blackbeard the Pirate,
pistoleros smoking, climbed aboard
some gold-laden galleon with his shrieking parrot.

Such explosions! They huffed, joked, laughed, circled, sang,
challenged one the other, like craziness,
each clanging the other as though the Liberty Bell had rung.

Who was the audience, who were the performers?
At length, spent, like blown-out Etnas and Krakatoas,
they fell asleep in separate terra firmas.

If Bonaparte had entered the room with Pitt the Younger, no doubt
they’d have quickly learned the rule. One or both must depart.
Two grand styles cancel each other out.

© Andrew Glaze 2015, from Overheard In A Drugstore

 

I have to confess that I never saw this poem until January of 2015. As soon as I read it I thought, “Wow, I remember that party!”  It was either in the late 1960’s, or very early ‘70’s, and I had no idea my father had written a poem about it.

I’d love to tell you that I remember the real names of the people the poem is based on, but that information has long since left the building. “Hooper” had been to our home at least once before, was an interesting and entertaining man, loved to be in the spotlight, and knew how to hold his audience.

So I’m sure he was quite nonplussed by “Donna”, whose real name also escapes me.  I think our party may have been the first time I met her. She sat in a chair in the living room and held court.  And no, she wasn’t actually wearing a cloak with hunting dogs on it.

Between the pair of them, Donna won the living room territory. I remember initial moments when Hooper tried to interrupt Donna in her solo monolog, or start a dialog, but she artfully managed to evade him and disarm every attempt. Clearly this was not her first rodeo. Her theatre background gave her an advantage he did not have, and it was like watching a fencing pro parry and slide her opponents sword to the ground.

In the end she completed her reign seated in the living room, and he retreated to the opposite end of the apartment to hold sway in the kitchen. In any case, “Hooper” was the very last guest to leave that night.  I suppose that once “Donna” was gone he had the entire audience to himself once again and wished to linger in that glory. In any case, I still have a vision of my father saying “Goodbye, thanks for coming!” and then gently closing the door behind him.  In relief, we all leaned back against the nearest wall, looked at each other, burst out laughing, and agreed that it had been one of the most exhausting parties we’d ever hosted as a family.  It truly had been a battle of mega personalities.

Despite being shy, my father always loved parties, and hosted many of them in Manhattan. The collection of guests was varied, always interesting, and reflected my father’s circle of friends and supporters.  At age 94, when he’d become hard of hearing, his memory was beginning to fail, and it was often difficult to know if he was sleeping in his armchair or simply closing his eyes, I remember telling him “Catherine, your niece, and her husband are joining us later to celebrate your birthday”. He immediately looked up, as excited as an 8 year old, and exclaimed, “A Party!?” 

—E. Glaze

IMG_20180515_0007
Photo by Adriana Glaze. Property of the Andrew Glaze Estate.

A photo of one of our typical parties:
Don Nelson is in the foreground. He was a theater critic for the New York Times and his wife Ricki Fulmer wrote for magazines.  Poet and writer Norman Rosten was in attendance off screen and his daughter Patty is standing facing the camera. UN diplomat Cesar Ortiz-Tinoco is on the right in the background, wearing glasses. He was the husband of poet, cookbook writer, and Gourmet Magazine contributor, Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz. She was also in attendance somewhere off screen.