Sunday, April 20, 2014

Mission: Find the Riviera!

From the 1930's to the 1950's there was a nightclub called the Riviera atop the cliffs overlooking the George Washington Bridge. Its acts included Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Vic Damone. It had a revolving stage, a secret casino on its top floor, and a dining room with a retractable roof and a view of the NYC skyline. It was razed to make way for the Palisades Parkway and Palisades Interstate Park.

Samuel is on spring break this week, and I'm currently unemployed, so we decided to trek to New Jersey with fellow urban archaeologist Elyse with one goal: locate the ruins of the Riviera!

We started at the base of the GWB, heading up pedestrian stairs into Palisades Interstate Park. We had a vague idea of where the Riviera was supposed to be, but we saw nothing but brush and thorns and trees--and a nice view of the bridge.

Suddenly--our first clue! A patch of curved, dark pink cement peeking out from under the eroding asphalt and gravel park trail.

It matched up perfectly with an old photo of the Riviera's entrance. The approximate location, angle and orientation all fit.

From there it was pretty straightforward to get our bearings. The building extended from here to the cliff, angled somewhat toward the bridge.

Our next find was about twenty feet away. See the planter and flagpole in the photo above? Now look at the photo below. We believe that's the raised brick edge of the planter. We found traces of yellow paint on the concrete at the soil line, underneath the leaves.

Here's a color shot showing the planter and flagpole in the driveway, and the entrance behind it.

From there we trudged into the brush, hoping not to step on any snakes. I'll tell you what, if you weren't looking closely you'd never know anything had ever been there. But we managed to find some bricks and broken pieces of concrete under the brush. (We also found what were either deer bones or the remains of a mob hit in the '50s. Either way: creepy.)

The most exciting find: a few small fragments of stone or stucco covered in flaking yellow paint that had been hidden under the brush. We believe these came from the exterior of the building. I'm holding up a photo of the building, just to belabor the point.

Do you recall that the other exterior color was blue? We found a few fragments with blue paint as well.

It would've been fun if the entire foundation were still there, but I think the bigger thrill was that it wasn't. It's fun to be amateur sleuths and piece together clues. It's fun to see into the past, to see something that no one else can see unless they look really, really closely.

And of course it's nice to hang out with fellow adventurers, including a boy that I love dearly.

Monday, April 14, 2014

If Mister Rogers had been a singer

If Urkel had been a been a rockabilly guitarist...

I gotta admit, corny as these videos are, it's impossible not to like Neil Sedaka. And as for the Collins Kids, who never had a hit record, they were pretty damn good! The kid could play a mean guitar for a 12-year-old, they had great voices, and let's face it, Lorrie was pretty hot, in a '50s cowgirl kinda way.

And thus concludes my entire weekend productivity.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Battle of the Newberys: Flora & Ulysses vs. The Year of Billy Miller


Tale of the Tape:
  • Flora and Ulysses is the 2014 Newbery Winner. The Year of Billy Miller is a 2014 Newbery Honoree.
  • Both are supposedly for ages 8-12/grade level 3-7. (More about that below.)
  • Both are terrific in different ways.
Flora and Ulysses is wacky-silly, with lots of physical humor involving a flying superhero squirrel. You have to suspend disbelief from the moment you open the book. Its gravitas comes from the fact that Flora's parents are divorced and her mom--a writer--seems to have abandoned her emotionally in favor of an antique lamp. So on a basic level you have a silly story about a superhero squirrel who can type poems on Flora's mom's typewriter--whatever that is. And on a deeper level you have a story about a girl who wants to be loved, and who longs for a life more magical than it is. Author Kate DiCamillo loves to mix the dark and light sides of life, generally by making her lead characters the victims of broken families. Hey, it seems to work: this is her third Newbery recognition.

The Year of Billy Miller is a simpler, sweeter book, reminiscent of Marc Brown's Arthur series. There are no flying superhero squirrels, and nothing that requires imaginative leaps of faith. It follows a boy named Billy through his second-grade year. (This would be an appropriate time to point out that this is really for 6-8-year-olds, unless your 8-12-year-old enjoys reading about second graders.) Two things make it unique. First, it has deep characters, including an emotionally unfulfilled dad, a pitch-perfect 3-year-old girl, and an insecure title character whom you can see growing up over the course of the year. Second, the book is broken into four parts: Billy's interaction with his teacher, his dad, his little sister, and his mom, allowing a deeper dive into each relationship.

And the winner is:

Both are wonderful books. I'm giving the nod to Flora and Ulysses. It's more off-the-wall, and has more of an emotional whomp: its highs are higher and its lows are lower. The Year of Billy Miller will make you smile and want to hug someone. Flora and Ulysses will make you laugh, then cry, then want to hug someone. Read Flora with your 4th grader and Billy with your 2nd grader, and everyone will be happy. And wistful. And want to hug someone.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Highlight of my day

I passed a mom on the sidewalk with a stroller. The toddler looked at me, smiled and said, "Da-Da!"

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What rhymes with ninja?

My agent said no more ninja manuscripts. Two years ago there were no ninja-themed kids books, and I said, "This is an untapped market. This is a gold mine." Now you can't throw a ninja star in any direction without hitting a ninja kids book.

But I've been working on one final ninja-themed masterpiece for the past three months.

And I'm finished.

So I'm going to share my most creative rhymes with you. For free. Because that's just how I roll. Also, because they're now worthless, apparently.

Here goes:

Defend 'ya
Befriend 'ya

Whew. That was tough. You have to work pretty hard to work one of those into a story. I did, but I'm a genius. You may want to go for the plural:


I was on the subway when I thought of "hinges," and I blurted it out loud in a fit of ecstasy. Some of those toward the bottom of the list--yeah, I know, they don't technically rhyme, but sometimes that makes it more fun.

Good luck, ninja writers. Remember me in your acknowledgements.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Long Island weekend

We drove out to Riverhead, Long Island on Friday evening to join some friends from school for a night at the Hyatt.

We ate sushi and pizza, then the boys (four of them, woo-hoo) and I explored the pool while the rest of the adults were--well, who the hell knows or cares?

At the pool we were joined by three more girls, so we had quite a rocking pool party.

We compensated for the lack of a Jacuzzi by heating towels in the shower.

The next day the boys and I dropped $20 at a crappy arcade, then we stopped for ice cream on the way home. Oh, and we bypassed the barriers and snuck into the parking lot at the closed-for-the-season Splish Splash waterpark, just to say we did. I'm too old to want to attract the police, so that was as mischievous as we got.

I needed a little fun and distraction from the harsh realities of life.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Just me and Samuel

Pardon my cell-phone photography skills.

Jen and Ethan left yesterday for a weekend retreat in Long Island. Samuel and I are joining them tonight.

Last night Samuel and I had the city to ourselves, so we took advantage of it by having dinner at Shake Shack.

Samuel had a big presentation at school earlier in the day, which he said went well. He was tired from staying up so late. He said it is School Spirit Week, culminating today with some sort of athletic event in the gym, for which each class has to wear its own color. Sophomores are wearing green. I asked him if he even has a green shirt. He said yes, his Minecraft Creeper shirt.

Fair enough.

There's nothing like a Shake Shack burger and a boy you love.