Go Home, Byron

I’ve got a bee in my bonnet.

This morning I was scrolling though Twitter and one of the local news stations mentioned an upcoming Q&A with India Walton and Byron Brown.  Some background:

Brown is the current mayor of Buffalo, where I live.  He has been such for many years, and brought great progress to the area.  However, despite the fact he’s a democrat, he’s always been the career-politician sort, and that leaves a slight sour taste on my tongue.  Then I investigated a little and found a bunch of things he could definitely be doing better with, so when I heard Walton would be challenging him in the primary, I was pleased.  New blood, so to speak.  She won, and I thought “awesome!  Buffalos first woman mayor!  What a great stride for the party and city!”  But, no.

See, Brown threw a hissy-fit.  The man barely even campaigned before the primary, and he was SHOCKED to have lost.  But instead of conceding and supporting Walton like he should’ve done, he ran a campaign to get on the ballot.  When the courts struck that down, he started a write-in campaign…with a healthy dose of smear, mind you.  Now, there are signs on every other lawn in my neighborhood that say “Write Down Byron Brown!”  Where were you people during the primary?!  My own parents have one on their lawn, not because they are necessarily supporters, but because their landlord put it there, which seems shady to me, frankly.  (Sidebar: my cousin G saw it yesterday and said “hey isn’t that guy my mom doesn’t like?” Yes, sweetpea.) Anyway, the whole city is now split Brown/Walton and it’s ridiculous.  1. They’re on the same damn team, and 2. What are you even doing here, Byron?  Which brings me to this morning.

So, some newscaster posted a tweet asking what qurestions he should ask the candidates.  I only have one, honestly.

Byron-what makes you think you have the right to be an option?  You didn’t win it; you don’t deserve it.  Dude is doing the same thing “that last guy” did…refusing to concede after a fair election.  Maybe, just maybe…we don’t want you anymore.

I wrote before about how the male ego plays a part in this and I stand by that but I think a lot of it is a thirst for power and control.  I just can’t imagine it: ”Oh, I lost?  Well, I don’t wanna.  So I say I didn’t.”  That’s not how adults behave, folks.  That’s the logic of a child.

Anyway, I can’t wait until election day when India Walton stomps the crap out of Byron Brown.  No, that doesn’t seem plausible where I live because South Buffalo is very pro-Byron, but the rest of the city is a different story from what I have seen.  I am hopeful…hopeful all these signs were put out by a handful of landlords.  Hopeful that Walton can weather the storm Bryon has created for someone from his own party.  Hopeful that Brown come to his senses and concedes, though I know that’s the most unlikely outcome of all.

Buffalove

I couldn’t concentrate yesterday to work on the blog.  Usually I can’t find a topic; yesterday I couldn’t decide on one.  Midmorning I went on a hike with Kevin to the Owen Falls Sanctuary in East Aurora, which I was hoping would maybe clear my head a little but really only made me want to write about how pretty trees the trees were.  I felt very brave as I climbed down and over and up a creek.  I felt very energized and healthy and such too because I haven’t been smoking and it made the hike so much easier.  So, then I wanted to write about that, too. 

I also wanted to write about my interview that came out yesterday but you can just check that out HERE if you’d like.  Anyway, I never made a decision, so I never wrote a blog, so here we are today: Friday.

Deadlines were never my strong suit.

Today, I didn’t know what to write about, so we were back to the comfort zone.  Then I was watching the news, and Gabby (who does the community pieces on Channel 4 that I like) was talking about 716 Day.  So, let’s write about that.

If you don’t live here in Buffalo, you don’t know what I’m talking about.  See, 716 is our area code.  So, we have an unofficial holiday on July 16th called 716 Day.  I mean, really, it’s a marketing ploy.  Shops have sales and there’s this big “Give 716” charity initiative which is cool, but mostly it’s just a stupid little thing like Pi Day or Star Wars Day or Columbus Day.

(Sometimes, I wonder how my humor translates via text.  But I digress…)

So since today is 716 day, I will celebrate it by writing about the 716, where I have resided all my life.

I was born at Milliard Fillmore Hospital, named after our 13th president.  He is buried up at Forest Lawn Cemetery, where my mother would take me to feed the ducks when I was a little girl.  We lived first in the Riverside neighborhood which was, shockingly, along the Niagara River!  I lived on Tonawanda Street, named after a Native tribe of the area, across from the park.  It was idyllic to me, but not so much to my parents because the neighborhood started getting dicey in the late 80s.  We moved out to the suburbs…the “first suburb” of Buffalo, Kenmore.  I lived there for something like 17 years and I actually know tons of history about it because we learned it in school and such but I’m not going to tell you anything because it’s pretty boring, actually.  (Except for the part where three people were murdered in Kevin’s childhood home, but maybe that’s a different blog.)  

I went to school in Eggertsville, another suburb, much fancier than the one I lived in.  At least, the area where the school stood-I had lived in an inner-city neighborhood, a middle-class suburb, and now went to what me and the kids from Riverside would have called “rich kid school.”  There were many periods of adjustment, but my point is that the 716 takes all kinds.

Eventually we moved to Lackawanna, just south of the city, and then I moved back to Buffalo, coming to a rest in South Buffalo, the home of my father.  There are five sections of the city, see…the four directions and downtown, which is actually in the middle, sort of.  It confused the hell out of me as a kid…oh but how I loved going downtown!!

We would take the train, which is a single route subway that runs from University of Buffalo South in the Northwest corner down Main St.  It surfaces in the theater district, my favorite of all districts, then takes you down towards the Naval Park.  There’s big ships there that you can tour, and I even spent the night on them twice with youth groups.  The buildings along Main St. are tall and beautiful because Buffalo commercial architecture is unsurpassed, in my opinion.  On an early date with Mark many moons ago after he first arrived in the city, he wandered down the street staring up at the buildings in amazement.  It made me like him, the way he appreciated the city the same as I did.  To me though, the crown jewel of downtown is City Hall. My grandmother worked there when I was young and I have many fond memories of visiting her.  Yes…it does kind of look like it’s giving you the middle finger, but you have to go inside and see how amazing it is.  Much like a real Buffalonian, it has an attitude, but it’s still beautiful.

Downtown has changed.  In the 80s and 90s I got the distinct impression from adults that there was some sort of decline happening.  However, since the start of revitalization along the canal and river, things have been booming.  There is never not something to do…I have had actual hour-long arguments with folks who talk about wanting to vacation in Niagara Falls vs. Buffalo…OH MY GOD, WHY?! I mean, yes, I know, they are part of the 716 too so I should be showing them some love, but aside from the cataract and the casino there is very little to see this side of the falls.  All of which makes a lovely day trip, should you be vacationing in the real hot spot, Buffalo, NY.

Hm.  I’ve been rambling for two pages now so I suppose I should wrap it up.

Listen, I feel very deeply about my city.  Not only is it my home, but it is a part of me: it is a character in my story.  And I think everyone in the whole wide world should come and experience it, and maybe everybody feels that way about where they live, but…I’m right and you’re wrong.  Buffalos the best place on earth.

(Still hoping my humor computes.)

Sunday Surprise

I used to keep journals, religiously.  Until one day, a terrible thing happened and I destroyed them all in an effort to burn away my memories.  It didn’t work at first, but with time and no pages to look over I gradually let go of things that I held onto for too long.

I have one journal left, that chronicles a chunk of my 20’s.  I don’t read it; I just keep it because someday there might be a story in there.  Aside from my journals, there are my blogs.  I have kept many blogs over the years, ranging from the personal to the professional.  I suppose this is as close as I come to journaling these days.

Now, if I did still keep one, I would certainly have written in it about yesterday.

I was sitting in bed eating carrots and watching 30 Rock on Hulu when my dad called me.  “Are you sitting down??” he says.  Oh, no.  Someone is dead.  Wait, no, he doesn’t sound upset.  Must be good news?  What could it be??  I, of course, run crazy with thoughts in that moment, but then he says something about the newspaper and it takes me a minute to put the pieces together and suddenly I realize what he is telling me.

I am in the newspaper.

Now, I’ve been published all over the web.  And I have a book of poetry out.  But I really don’t think anyone was as excited about any of that as much as they were about me being in the paper.  Mom came and took me to the gas station to buy a copy.  When I got home, the poetry editor from the News sent me a friend request, with an image of my poem.  He tagged me in a Facebook post that I shared on my socials.  And still…I was in shock.

See. I dreamt of this before anything.

I wanted to be on that poetry page since I was a teenager, discovering it one afternoon while searching the Gusto for acting gigs.  It seemed…attainable.  And yet…my early poetry was only published at the now defunct poetry.com. (Side note: the website still exists, but I don’t know where my poems went.)  I didn’t think any of the early stuff good enough, anyways.  Then, after my self-imposed writing hiatus and comeback, I saw the news as UNATTAINABLE, because I just wasn’t good enough.  I didn’t have a book yet, or a signing, or an interview.  I was nobody.

Now, I disagree.  I have stats to back my writing up, a little.  So, I composed an email and sent it to the poetry editor and waited, hopeful.

And then this.

The poem was the one I won the Poesia contest with, too.  So that little guy is having a good summer.

I am reminded a little of the tale “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  In it, her father tells her “If you see it in The Sun [their local newspaper,] it’s so.”  That is how I feel today.  I saw it in the News.  It must be true.

So, if I kept a journal, that’s what I would write about today.  Maybe a little about how E is spending the week and I am looking forward to lots of time with her while Mark is at work.  Today we are going to the park to do a photoshoot for a new author pic for me.  Tomorrow she wants to go fishing.  She has never been here solo before, so this is a really fun new experience for us.  I would write about it, because I would want to remember it.

I don’t keep journals anymore, and by default, I don’t do scrapbooks anymore either though I still have about seven of them.  I kind of wish I did, so I would have somewhere to put my newspaper clipping.  Ah, well. 

A frame will have to do. 

Cancelled

I’m maybe six years old.  I am sitting on the curb on Delaware Ave. and Allen St. in downtown Buffalo, with my cousins, and I am drinking a Shamrock Shake for the first time.  It tastes like magic.  We are waiting for the St. Patrick’s Day parade to start.  Our grandfather is walking in it, and we are excited to see him.  Afterwards, we go to Early Times, where Grandma works, for corned beef and cabbage.

I am 13 years old and my friend Sabine and I decide to ride on our school’s centennial float.  Poor Sabine had to wear her cheerleading uniform, and it was a particularly freezing day.  Snow and everything.  We had to walk several blocks to find my father after, and he bought us hot chocolate to warm us up.  After that we go to the Blackthorn, formerly Early Times, where Gram no longer works, but they still serve great corned beef.

I am 20…something.  The night before, I closed a show and got a little drunk at the cast party, which resulted in me literally stumbling out of a bar and popping my knee.  And yet, the next day I trek the ten or so blocks from the theater to the spot in front of New Era hat store where my family has gathered.  Instead of going to dinner, I, like an idiot, walk about twenty blocks to hear my favorite local band play.  My grandmother’s parting words: “Don’t flirt with any men in skirts!!” (She was referring to kilts.)  Oh, Gram.  That was kind of the whole point.

I am 33, and I have just gotten married.  I have stopped going to Delaware Ave. because none of the family makes it down there anymore.  It’s too big.  It’s too cold.  I have started going to Buffalo’s other, smaller parade in the valley.  I have started taking Hubs and the kids with me, and we are met by my parents.  The family has also given up on dinner at the Blackthorn, which is for the best because there’s about 50 of us now.  Instead, we have a corned beef cookoff at my grandparent’s house.  It’s better than the Blackthorn, in my opinion.

I am 36.

There will be no corned beef cookoff, because my grandfather had a stroke last month and is in the hospital.  That band I loved so much way back when was also supposed to be in town, but the gig was cancelled.  And then today, they cancelled both of the parades.  Adult brain and kid brain are arguing pretty intensely right now.  On one hand, I am annoyed.  It’s an outdoor event, and we have no confirmed cases in the county.  On the other hand, I can’t get sick.  If I get sick, any kind of sick, then I get SICK, and that’s unacceptable.  And my parents aren’t exactly spring chickens.  They can’t be out there getting coughed on.  And the kids!  What would I do, make them wear latex gloves and masks?

So yes, I’m mad the thing is cancelled, but I understand why.

And truth be told, I think I’m just mad that I won’t see my family altogether.  They’re all taking shifts at the hospital, and I can’t go for a myriad of health reasons.  If they move Poppa to a nursing home, that might be a possibility.

But this brings me back around to the parade getting cancelled.  I shouldn’t be around anyone who could make me sick.  And also, I do remember learning about Spanish flu parade in 1918.  So adult brain figures this was a good call on behalf of the city.

Kid brain wishes I was sitting on the curb sipping a Shamrock Shake, and waiting for Poppa to walk by.

Ode to a Theater

The way I see it, we go through life collecting people and places we love like a mental scrapbook.  Today I shall write about a place and a person.

When I was fifteen, I saw a flyer on a bulletin board at school, advertising an Explorer post.  Explorers are a group run through the Boy Scouts that specifically concentrates on a field of study.  It was also the only co-ed program the Scouts had at the time.  This particular post was for the study of theater.

I had been bitten by the theater bug when I was seven and sat in the balcony of the Kavinoky Theater all by my little lonesome, watching a production of Noises Off, while my father ran sound from the booth.  I did all the plays in grade school, and auditioned for everything in high school (no roles had come my way at that point, though that was soon to change.)  I was in the school’s drama club, but if you weren’t in the productions it was kind of useless, so I was happy to see that there was a hands-on program in my area. 

The meetings were held downtown at the New Phoenix Theater on the Park, which at the time also housed the Buffalo Ensemble Theater, the latter of which sponsored the post.

I went to the first few meetings and was elected Treasurer.  Every week I learned something new.  I met a woman named Rose who ran the group and encouraged me to follow my theatrical dreams-she was the first person outside my family to see a spark of talent. 

Anyway, about a year into it, Rose’s sister Angela came to us with a play she wrote.  We held auditions, and I didn’t think I would get a part…I just wasn’t quite right for any of the roles, and I knew that when we first read the script.  I was only dejected for a second, because Rose pulled me aside and told me she wanted me to direct the piece.  And so, at sixteen, I began directing my first show.

It was a couple days later that Rose told me I would be getting a stage manager.  Two girls were doing internships at the theater for their school, and would be joining us in the production.  My sixteen-year-old snap judgement was that they were going to be a problem.  We had a very cohesive group by this point, and two cliquey chicks from the suburb were going to come in here and mess up our vibe?  No, thank you.

At first, they kind of kept to themselves, as I suppose I would have if I was in a new situation and only knew one other person.  One girl, Ashley, would be acting in the show.  The other, Sahar, would be my stage manager.  The stage manager/director relationship is vital, because you really can’t do either job without the other, unless you’re trying to have a nervous breakdown.  I was learning this as I was directing for the first time, and as such, Sahar and I ended up spending the most time together. 

After the show opened, and her internship ended, I hoped she would stay in the post, but she couldn’t.  Sahar was unique in my friend circle in that she was probably the first Muslim person I ever met, having been raised in a strictly Catholic setting myself.  Her parents were immigrants, and very protective of their eldest daughter…which was probably a good idea, because I can’t tell you the number of times I tried to get her to sneak out to a club with me on a Friday night.  The thing was, because of the expectations and responsibilities she lived with, we didn’t get to see each other much after the show closed.  Somehow, though, we stayed friends.

Sahar lives in Kentucky now, which I complain about regularly.  Her husband is hoping to land a job in Cleveland, so I am crossing my fingers for that little miracle.  However, she is in town right now, so when I heard a friend was having a reading of her play at the New Phoenix, I immediately asked Sahar if she wanted to go.

I sat in the audience before the show and looked around the room.  After the show with Sahar, I did three Christmas shows there, finally flexing my acting muscles.  My fourth show with the post, which I wrote, was rejected in the eleventh hour, and the Explorer’s pulled my funding because they didn’t care for the subject matter…fortunately Richard, the owner of the New Phoenix, stepped in and saved the day.  The show opened on time.

The post dissolved not much longer after that, as there was no one available to run it anymore. At this point, I was 21.  I had learned invaluable lessons and made a dozen new friends.

Later in my 20’s, Richard would get in touch with me about stage managing, something I had only recently become interested in.  This led to me stage managing two shows there.  Which led to me stage managing at another company for four years.

The reading began, and I found myself instantly captivated as I usually am when presented with live theater.  It was a heartbreaking play, about the struggles of a nurse who witnessed the agony of loss firsthand during the early days of the AIDS crisis.  Beautifully written by the talented Kerrykate Able-Smith and masterfully performed by powerhouse Marie Costa.  I mean, I could be biased…I’ve worked with both of them before.

Which never would have happened if I hadn’t seen that flyer when I was fifteen.

You know what else wouldn’t have happened?  The woman who sat to my left, who stood up in my wedding, who has never let distance come between us, and who will always be the stage manager of my life. 

I don’t work in theater anymore.  It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t, it would just have to be the right project with the right people.  But the New Phoenix will always hold a special spot in my heart, right next to the one where Sahar lives.

Me and Sahar, in the place it all began,