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Showing posts from December, 2010

Three Carnations

There’s a body buried in the Carver Houses.

The George Washington Carver Houses belong to the New York City Housing Authority, a city agency which houses New Yorkers and their families in sometimes tired and worn down but solid, singular-looking buildings throughout the five boroughs.

Like the pigeons that used to nest in coops on top of apartment buildings, rumors have flown for years that Mount Sinai Hospital has plans to take over the Carver Houses and use the apartments as housing for their medical residents. I heard these rumors 10 years ago; I still hear them today.

But the Carver Houses are still here and so is the body. Three weary pink carnations mark the spot underneath a windowsill, lying on the dirt grounds of a housing project named after a peanut farmer. As with all gifts of flowers, there’s a story behind these, too.

Wrapped in plastic, the corpse lies buried in the soil beneath a thousand heartaches of working people. I passed by the other day, and there were the gh…

Customer Service, Delhi Style

Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street in Manhattan sits squately 160 or so blocks from my apartment, the equivalent of nearly eight miles, a $35 cab ride, a 25 cent telephone call, a four hour stroll, or a $2.00 subway ride. We share the same crowded and complex island. At this personable little shop, a furniture salesman calls me by my first name, thrilled that at least one wanderer has given him commission for the day and simply perhaps, because my credit is good. My careful research has finally netted me a couch, a large red leather one fashioned mostly in Italy to replace one that looks like several cats used it as a scratching post and with a large indentation in the center. I have no cats and I’m not that large.

My new couch landed in my living room, courtesy of two delivery men who attempted to shake me down for extra money. I live six flights up and only a narrow loveseat could make it into the elevator without trepidation. The extortion didn’t make it past a $20 bill in my wa…

No cows graze in Columbus, but did you see the unicorn?

I’ve been listening to people complain that Columbus, Ohio is too big.

Others complain about its reputation as a cow town.

I haven’t seen any cows.

But then again, I’m from New York. I’m not sure that I would recognize one.

I haven’t seen anyone wearing overalls Downtown, except me.

But Columbus is beginning to sound like New York City.

Cars head north or south on High Street with every window rolled down for cross-ventilation and the pounding beat of a stereo thundering out into the street. When someone drives by at night, the windows rattle and the walls vibrate.

In New York, these deafening car stereos are considered a mark of success by arrogant teen-agers, most of whom have never heard the smooth sounds of Frank Sinatra and couldn’t care less about James Thurber.

Once newly minted musicmobile, piloted by a young man who wouldn’t have heard three firetrucks wailing behind him, was so loud that I swear I saw the unicorn in the garden move.

Well, it’s not an actual unicorn.

The unic…

Arlene's 13 Point Writing Manifesto

The time to write is NOW.
Write every day.
Only cooking utensils belong in the kitchen drawer - not your writing.
Take a pen and notebook with you or use a PDA to write down your thoughts, ideas or observations. You never know when a creative thought will come to you.
Read. Watch films. Listen to music.
You never know what may inspire you so leave yourself open.
Don't make excuses for not finding the time.
It's okay to make mistakes.
Write about subjects that inspire you.
Banish cynicism and negativity.
Be encouraging to others. You never know when you may need their support.
Use your five senses - and your sixth - to find your voice.
A little humility goes a long way - and so does humor!

Book Excerpt: Cop on the Beat

Cop on the Beat: Officer Steven Mayfield in New York City

Written and Photographed by Arlene Schulman
Published by Dutton

His shoes are flawlessly shined, his shirt is precisely ironed and neatly tucked in, his shield gleams, and the creases in his dark blue pants stand so razor sharp they look dangerous. His paces from a cautious walk to a brisk run, through sheets of rain, mounds of snow, and the glare of a hot sun. His hat, its brim neatly dusted, usually conceals the top half of his eyes, making him a bit mysterious. His six-foot-three, 235 pound frames imposes but doesn't threaten. At night, he moves quietly among the dark shadows of trees and buildings, stepping out into the soft light of street lamps and disappearing back into the darkness. He moves so stealthily that local residents have dubbed him "the Shadow." But at the moment, something suspicious has caught the eye of New York City police officer Steven Mayfield, and he freezes.

Officer Mayfield is tr…

Book Excerpt: RFK: Promise for the Future

Robert F. Kennedy: Promise for the Future

Written by Arlene Schulman
Published by Facts on File

Kennedy listened to people whose voices were rarely heard - poor blacks and whites, people without jobs, farmers, Indians on reservations suffering from alcoholism, Mexican-American migrant workers, college students protesting against the Vietnam War, Hispanics living in public housing projects, the children of the slums. "Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured," he said, quoting the writer Albert Camus. "But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you believers don't help us, who else in the world can help us do this?"

In a speech in California, he said, "Our brave young men are dying in the swamps of Southeast Asia. Which one of them might have written a poem? Which one of them might have cured cancer? Which one of them might have played in the World Series or given us the gift of laughter …

Book Excerpt: Muhammad Ali: Champion

Muhammad Ali: Champion

Written by Arlene Schulman
Published by Lerner Publications

They would sit at night, and he would tell her that he was going to be the champion of the world. In their ramshackle house in Louisville, Kentucky, when the sun had set and the lights were out, 12-year-old Cassius Clay told his mother of his dream. He would knock out opponents one by one, raise his hands in victory as the ring announcer introduced him as the new world champion, and become rich and famous.

"One night I heard (heavyweight champion) Rocky Marciano fighting on the radio," he said. "It sounded so big and powerful and exciting."

Cassius Marcellus Clay was born on January 17, 1942 in Louisville. The first of two sons born to Odessa Clay and Cassius Clay Sr., Cassius Jr. demonstrated his fondness for attention even at an early age. Mrs. Clay, exhausted from a difficult delivery, could hear her young son cry and scream and wake up the other babies in the hospital.


Book Excerpt: T.J.'s Story

T.J.'s Story: A Book about a Boy Who is Blind

Text and Photographs by Arlene Schulman
Published by Lerner Publications

My name is T.J. Olsen. You can see me, but I can't see you. That's because I'm blind.

People who are blind can see very little or nothing at all. Some people are born blind. Others lose their sight when they get older because of illnesses such as glaucoma and diabetes. I was born with a disease called retinoblastoma. It's a kind of cancer. It affects babies when they're born.

When I was 11 months old, doctors had to do surgery to get rid of the cancer. They removed my eyes. Instead of real eyes, I have plastic ones. Most people don't know that I'm blind until they see me with my cane. It's white and red and it looks like a walking stick.

Your eyes work like a camera. There is a lens at the front of each eye. The lends focuses on what you're seeing. The colored part of the eye, called the iris, opens and closes to …

Book Excerpt: Carmine's Story

Carmine's Story: A Book about a Boy Living with AIDS

Text and Photographs by Arlene Schulman
Published by Lerner Publications

My name is Carmine. I'm ten years old, and I have AIDS.

My mother had AIDS, too. Her name was Florence. She died when I was a year and three months old. I don't really remember her. But sometimes when the wind blows the front door open, I say that it's my mother.

I don't know who my father is. My mother never told anyone, not even her mother. We think he might have been from Puerto Rico, but we're not sure. Wherever he is, he doesn't know me.

My grandmother, Kay, told me that my mother was her favorite. She was fun and she liked to talk and she could make friends with anybody. Then she met a man - maybe it was my father - who was using drugs. She started to use drugs, too. I don't know why. I wish I could ask her.

My mother used a drug called heroin before I was born. She injected it into her body with needles. Sh…

The Solitary Shopper

I am one of those people to whom many stories are told.

From dusty tales of Mexican laundry folders who drink too much on Saturday nights to one very nervous cop aiming his gun at me as I exited my apartment to dispose of recyclables, to my traveling companions on overstuffed M100 buses, to under appreciated and aggravated secretaries, public school teachers with unruly students, to Wall Street workers coming off an exhilarating trade, the shopping bag of disclosure is open and ready for unpacking.

It happens most often while I shop. From tomatoes to turtlenecks, the hordes corner me like some sort of exalted celebrity when I’m preoccupied with finding the right size, shape or shoe. Dapper shoe salesmen complain about women who spend their weekends being waited on hand and well, feet, and who send these hard working men scurrying to the storeroom; chubby cashiers at Target, Saks and Duane Reade point out their swollen ankles; and the chic who shop at the Gap and Henri Bendel invite me…

Book Excerpt: 23rd Precinct: The Job

23rd Precinct: The Job

Written and Photographed by Arlene Schulman
Published by Soho Press

"Being a cop is a culture, it's a way of life. You did nothing before. You have no time for a fuckin' schedule. Your life is this job. You become the culture," insists Sergeant Charlie Columbo. "I can walk down the street in any neighborhood and people say 'Here comes a fuckin' pig.' A lot of young kids don't have what it takes to become a cop. I'm a cop. You live it, breathe it, you fuckin' bleed it. Intelligence is a rarity on this job. You need adrenaline and excitement. Once in a blue moon, you'll get it.

"There isn't a guy on this job with fuckin' time who doesn't need a psychiatrist. The Job doesn't want to recognize what happens to us." Sergeant Columbo pauses to light a cigarette. "Most cops are crazy. If you weren't when you come on, you become crazy. The first person through that door…

Book Excerpt: The Prizefighters

The Prizefighters: An Intimate Look at Champions and Contenders

Written and Photographed by Arlene Schulman
Introduction by Budd Schulberg
Published by Lyons & Burford Press

The wolf loses his teeth but not his inclinations.
- Spanish Proverb

329 stitches

11 broken noses

2 broken cheekbones

8 cracked ribs

The stigmata of sixteen years in boxing are retold in the face of Chuck Wepner. From the beginning, he was marked. He fought Sonny Liston - and lost - in Liston's last bout, six months before Liston was mysteriously found dead. That bout gave Wepner 72 stitches, a broken nose, and a broken left cheekbone. "These were the kinds of guys that I was fighting," Wepner said without apology. "Why?" he repeated, his eyes searching around his living room filled with plaques and trophies. "Because I liked it."

They were born to become prizefighters and nothing else.

"I was born to fight," said Roberto Duran. "I don't know what els…

Matisyahu in Concert at Yeshiva University, Moshav Band Opening Act