Thursday, March 28, 2013

Weekly column: 3.28.13

It was 11:30 on a Friday morning in December and the children were in the school playground making believe they were monsters, or earth men, or chasing each other in a game of tag.

In the apartment complex across the street from the playground at St. Peter’s Elementary School, building super Jim Rodgers visited George McCode in his second floor apartment to discuss a $102 rent bill that was due. Seventy first- and- second –grade students were across the street playing their outdoor games.

The stores on Broadway and inside the Pyramid Mall were preparing for the holiday season. For residents in and around the city there was a lot going on. There was a local screening premier of Diana Ross’ “Mahogany” at the Saratoga Cinema at 7pm and Louis and Sally Killen were staging their style of British folk-singing downtown at Lena’s café. Some simply decided to cash their paychecks and set the four bucks aside it would take to purchase the tickets to see Asleep at the Wheel at the Great Saratoga Music Hall later in the month.

McCode told the super he thought his wife had already paid the bill, paid it before she left with the couple’s young daughter and headed for Georgia. She had not, the super informed the 32-year-old McCode, who a month earlier received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy after serving at the Kesselring site in West Milton. As McCode called his wife on the telephone from his residence inside the Gaslight apartment complex, third- grade teacher Lillian Pratt led 40 more students to the playground outside, where they joined their younger elementary schoolmates shortly before noon.

In the late morning on the first Friday in December 1975, McCode hung up the telephone after talking with his wife. A demolition crew tore through the Empire and Brooklyn hotels north of his apartment on Hamilton Street. The Saratoga Springs Urban Renewal Spring Valley North Project was leveling land to make way for a city center. On South Broadway, Natale American hosted a used car sale in a lot parked with Camaros and Gremlins, Hornets and Torinos. A ’69 Volkswagen Bus could be got for $1,595. Realtors offered four-bedroom Victorian-style colonial homes fitted with fireplaces for $29,900, financing available. At City Hall, the council voted to cut $7,500 in appropriations to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, sending venue general manager Craig Hankenson to embark on a grass-roots fundraising drive to meet budget demands.

Shortly before noon, in the playground on St. Peter’s, third-grade teacher Lillian Pratt heard what she thought were fireworks, coming from the Gaslight Apartments across the street. Second-grade teacher Judy Vetrano heard four pops. When she looked across the schoolyard, she saw a little girl lying down in the corner of the playground, blood streaming from her foot. Daniel Insetta, the school guard on duty, heard the pops – first one, then another, then two quick shots - and called police. The children were hustled back inside the classrooms of the elementary school building. Some were crying. Two 7-year-old girls were injured. Kim Bemis was brought to Saratoga Hospital to remove the bullet from the heel of her foot. Moira D’Andrea returned to her classroom with a slight wound from a ricochet bullet which caught her in one of her feet.

When police arrived and sealed off the area, they headed for the housing complex that overlooked the schoolyard across the street. Forcing their way through the barricaded door of McCode’s second-floor apartment, police found four spent 22-cal. shells next to an open living room window. A fifth shell was located next to the 32-year-old man, who was discovered lying on his bedroom floor, bleeding from his head. He died early the next morning at Ellis Hospital in Schenectady.

“Every time somebody acts like, hey, it can’t happen in Saratoga Springs, I say, it already has happened in Saratoga Springs,” city Assistant Police Chief Greg Veitch said, 38 years later.

Forty-five minutes after the shooting the building superintendent received a money-telegram from the man’s wife with payment for the rent bill that was due. Kimberly Bemis recovered from the bullet wound, graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in 1987 and later relocated to Stillwater. Moira D’Andrea became a three-time Olympian speed skater in the 1980s and 90s. She relocated to Canada, where today she instructs others in the sport.
From: weekly column by Thomas Dimopoulos 3.28.2013

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Saturday, March 09, 2013

Skating a Blue Streak

You see them out here, their last time together, a lot of them having played together since they were five or six years old
- BUT -
it doesn't hit you until it actually happens,
when you’re at your last practice, for an hour-and-a-half
and then
- BANG -
It’s over.
This is when the memories hit home."

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A Tale of Loss, A Tale of Love

The crowded vessel lurched atop the Black Sea, a Red Cross flag flying high above the mast to disguise the Jewish refugees it carried within as Isadora Rosen climbed on to the deck of the 130-foot cargo boat to escape the groping hands of strangers. The skinny 20-year-old girl from Romania, one of 600 orphans aboard the ship, could not have known what the future would hold for her.

She could not have known that on that cold December night aboard the ship she would meet a Czechoslovakian man named Joshua Benanav, himself an escapee of a Jewish slave camp, and that despite their language barrier she would marry three days later.

She could not have known a decade later they would emigrate to America, that her husband would become a real estate developer and she a top saleswoman at Lord & Taylor in Scarsdale, N.Y., that together they would raise a family. And she couldn’t have imagined that nearly 70 years after her journey of escape from the Nazis across the Black Sea that her grandson would visit a university in Saratoga Springs to share her story of survival. 
“It's unbelievable,” says her grandson, Michael Benanav, a New York Times travel journalist and photographer, who penned the couple’s story in his book, “Joshua and Isadora: A True Tale of Loss and Love in the Holocaust.”

“I've been re-reading the book to get ready for this (at Skidmore College) and it’s still an unbelievable story how they survived and met each other,” he says. Benanav returned to Eastern Europe to visit the places where his paternal grandparents suffered during World War II and escaped the Nazis. Musician Howard Fishman, Benanav’s Connecticut childhood friend and former little league teammate, accompanied the travel journalist on the month-long trek and recorded a 13-song album, “No Further Instructions,” based on the journey.
Fishman’s haunting and hypnotic musical odyssey recalls “the strange and beautiful adventures we had there,” the musician says, about the sonic document which teeters between the Romanian revelry of the wonderfully unknown to the avant-minimalism of “Baia Mare,” in an explosive orgy of melancholic strings.

 The Brooklyn-based songwriter with 10 albums to his credit says what he saw during the journey was a people who despite lacking material possessions were rich in soul, warm, complete, and who didn’t seem to be lacking anything at all.

Benanav as an author and freelance photographer has immersed himself in foreign cultures and brought compelling images and stories back from distant lands. His work has appeared in The New York Times, and on, among other places.

He caught the travel writing bug at an early age. “A lot of it started when I was a kid. My dad would read these classics - “Around The World in Eighty Days,” “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” – in those stories it was easy to place myself in the title role. I thought if some people can do this stuff, then why can’t I? And, in a practical sense being a wilderness instructor, I love wilderness and walking place to place, so it’s a natural fit to be pursuing those subjects.”

His work began primarily as a writer and increasingly gravitated toward photography out of necessity since his travels to remote locations meant a photographer wasn’t usually available.

We are different, but there are things which unite us, Benanav says. “Basically there are vast cultural differences and vast differences in world views, but in most places people have a sense of humor.”
The humor is evident on the faces of the people in his captured images whether it comes from simple joy, or as an act of defiance in difficult circumstances that says: we are alive. It is captured on the faces of the people along the camel caravans in Timbuktu to the nomadic water buffalo herders of the Van Gujjar tribe; from the Himalayas to Kenya and Egypt to Romania.

“If you can connect to people on that level, laughing together, a kind of connection is made.”

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From The Beatles to Bowie

Hordes of screaming girls stood outside the studio on London’s Abbey Road. Inside EMI Studios, The Beatles were recording songs for their album “A Hard Day’s Night.”

“My beginning with The Beatles could have been embarrassing. My immediate reaction was to scream like the girls outside,” Scott recalled with a chuckle. “It was awe-inspiring, but it was also terrifying.”


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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hollywood comes Closer to Home

“My favorite thing Billy Crystal said to me was, ‘hey you write good, kid. You're funny,’” says Chris Millis. “I was psyched he did the movie. I think we caught him at the right time. He had never been in an independent film before, so I was really honored that he chose my script to do that.”
The nature of a screenplay is that it’s a collaborative venture which requires flexibility, Millis says. The novel was set in Buffalo, but the film’s setting was changed to Los Angeles, which helped to secure actors for the roles.

The movie adaptation of "Small Apartments" was screened at The South by Southwest Film Conference & Festival in Austin, Texas in 2012 and promptly nabbed by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions for distribution. The Los Angeles premier, attended by the film’s featured star - Billy Crystal - was held earlier this month. Millis has written several screenplays, cartoon books, celebrity biographies, and a second novel. He got to meet his boyhood idol "Doc" Gooden and party with cast members of Jersey Shore during the TV show’s height of popularity.
The fun part is I got to spend time with 'The Sitch,'  We also hung out in L.A. where I got to see him do his thing at the clubs,” Millis recalls. “I had this surreal experience where we went out and the cast of ‘Twilight’ happened to be there. This was when ‘Twilight’ was the number one movie and (instead) everyone at the club lined up to get their picture with The Situation, you know, lifting his shirt and doing The Thing. That's the power of reality television. Here's the cast with the number one movie in the world right now - they're right here - and they want their picture with this dude lifting his shirt,” he laughs.
- More of The Story HERE 

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