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BY MICHAEL LYDON
late night East Village.
Rain glistens off shattered street glass
like fallen stars.
—from “Dancing on Razor Blades” by Phillip Giambri
When the author of the above walked into Veselka (144 Second Ave.), his grin widened and warmed, and so did mine.
Phillip Giambri is the kind of guy you can’t help liking! He’s easy to spot, too: a small, bright-eyed man with the trim figure of a bantamweight boxer, a black cane in hand but barely used, a knowing grin on his face, and a baseball cap with “Ancient Mariner” stitched above the brim.
Born in South Philadelphia 76 years ago, Giambri has spent many of those years in the East Village — in the bars, yes, but also at a bewildering number of jobs, including actor, hairstylist, janitor, drifter, recording engineer, hired hand, traveling salesman, submarine officer, barfly, banker, biker, bronco buster, announcer, mail-order minister, photographer, and computer guru. “I’ve always liked to figure things out,” Giambri said over a cup of coffee. “A restless mind, you could say that, I’ve got a restless mind. And now I’m working harder than ever. I know I’m in a race against time. I’m trying to get everything done.”
Giambri’s love of poetry has come to the fore in recent years — some call him the Muse of St. Mark’s Place — taking him from reading his work at open mics organized by others to open mics he organizes himself, including a three-year run of his “Rimes of the Ancient Mariner” reading series at the now-defunct Three of Clubs. His first book, “Confessions of a Repeat Offender: Musings on a Life Gone Right in Spite of Myself,” came out two years ago. “Giambri has mastered the voice of the sad luck loser,” wrote one reviewer, praising his “moments of enlightenment” and his unique blend of “bitterness, humility, honor, and pride.”
“Reading my work for an audience,” Giambri said thoughtfully, “that’s the best way I can what I can rethink what I’m trying to get listeners to understand.”
For much of the spring Giambri will be out of the city (“I’m going to Poland for the annual International Submariner’s Association Convention,” he told me) — but he’ll be back for a scattering of gigs in April and May, plus an evening at the Cornelia Street Café on June 18. For more info, pay a visit to ancientmarinertales.com. So all you landlubbers, prepare to go down to the sea in ships this June with the Ancient Mariner — Cornelia Street will gladly supply the rum, ho, ho, ho!
THEATER FOR THE NEW CITY | Veteran actors Crystal Field and George Bartenieff founded Theater for the New City (155 First Ave.) in 1971, and in its five decades “TNC,” as fans and friends call it, has put on countless plays and pubic events in a half-dozen theaters. For all its ups and downs, and there have been many, TNC has hewed closely to its core commitment to community. Week in week out, season in, season out, Crystal and her gang of actors, directors, designers, and playwrights (George Bartenieff left in 1992) have mounted play after play after play, all varied in content and style, but all declaring the group’s dedication to human equality. And, along the way, the TNC has won dozens of Obies and a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Over the years I’ve been to many TNC endeavors, even taken part in a few — most memorably, playing carols with our band when a jovial crowd cheered the lighting of the Tompkins Square Christmas tree. Sometimes TNC’s political message is a bit heavy-handed for my taste, but I’m always impressed by the dedication of everyone involved.
Plus, I know of no theater that gets more shows up on their feet, no matter the obstacles in their way. For example, in the Cino Theater, “Verzet Amsterdam,” a play by Barbara Kahn about Dutch artists resisting Hitler, opened April 5 and continues through April 22. “The Confession of Lily Dare,” a comedic love letter to the “confession film” genre written and starring Charles Busch, will continue through April 29, followed by the May 3-20 run of “Fat Asses: The Musical” — touted as “three larger-than-life ladies who find themselves ostracized from their friends, families and even their weight-loss support group.” Whew — I get breathless just listing the names and dates!
What do I recommend? Well, the Charles Busch show for sure! He’s always outrageously funny. What else? I say, take a smorgasbord approach. Whatever you taste at TNC will be so new and different that on the way home, you’ll feel like a whole new person! More info about their many productions can be found at theaterforthenewcity.net.
DOGS ARE SO GOOD! | We humans invented the wheel about 3500 BC, then two-wheeled chariots, then four-wheeled ox carts — but why did we wait 5,500 more years to invent the bicycle? Did Carl the Caveman try a two-wheeler, fall off, crack his skull, then toss his prototype into the nearest tar pit?
That question brings to mind another: Why did it take so long for dog runs to catch on? Think back a few decades. You clip Fido onto his/her leash, out to the street and round the block, pee here, poop there, sniff here, sniff there, and home we go. Poor Fido got almost no exercise, met canine pals only for brief hellos with you tugging on the collar in the opposite direction — all in all, a dog’s life.
But dog runs? Little slices of doggie heaven! You get to the dog run, and Fido can’t wait. Off the leash and away he/she bounds, barking with joy. You throw a ball, Fido scampers away at top speed, grabs it, trots back, and drops the ball at your feet. You two do it again, oh, maybe 30 times. Fido spots a pal, dashes over, flattens his/her forepaws, chin on the ground, issuing an invitation to play as clearly as if spoken. That leads to some goofy wrestling and chasing while you read a book, chat with a friend, or look up to see buds swelling on the trees, puffy white clouds floating eastward to the sea.
My wife Ellen and I have a black cat, Bobbie, but no dog (our work schedules wouldn’t be fair to a canine pal), so we make up for the loss by enjoying the friendship of every dog in the East Village — well, maybe not every dog, but almost. Ellen’s mantra: “Dogs are so good.” She often forgets the human’s name, but seldom forgets either the dog’s name or what inexpressibly cute thing he/she did the last time we met.
Dog runs large and small dot the Villages East and West. I’ve no statistics to prove it, but I’m sure that the exercise, companionship, and canine joie de vive our furry friends get from daily dog run sessions add significantly to their (and your!) health and longevity.
So whether you have a dog or not, get yourself down to the dog run nearest you — for us, that’s the run in Tompkins Square Park (500 E. Ninth St.) — and hang on the fence for a quarter hour or so and see these sweetie-pies cavort and leap and bark and trot until their tongues are hanging out and their lips pulled back in happy smiles. Keep your eye out for Bluebell, a handsome, well-trained border collie who loves to hide behind people’s legs then jump out and catch a Frisbee in full flight. Woof, woof! Good Bluebell, good dog!