Thursday, August 27, 2009

My Son, the Stand-Up Borscht Belt Comic in Berlin

Big Babe, my 25-year-old freelance writer son, has cultivated two new talents in his adopted city of Berlin: trumpet playing and stand-up comedy.

Borscht Belt-style.

As the most overtly Jewish New Yorker in Berlin, Big Babe was tapped to deliver the inimitable zingers immortalized by Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield, Woody Allen, Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld...and the rest of the gang. And he mixes it up with post-Shoah, edgy, expatriate American wry observations that are his and his alone.

As he felt moved to send a clip of a recent performance, I am posting it here. Check it out: yiddishe naches, 21st century-style:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Night and the City

At 3:40 in the morning the traffic on Amsterdam Avenue is light; hushed, like a thick broom sweeping briskly across a rough wooden floor.

I am awake because I am beset by a midnight-of-the-soul mission -- turning a matter over in my mind while begging my body to cease its strong surge of adrenalin, fueling my brain and my wakeful state.

I'm not thrilled to be up -- restless yet in need of rest -- still, I tend to be philosophical and pragmatic about such situations.

At the risk of sounding Pollyannish, I seek the silver lining of sleeplessness -- more time to do stuff that I cannot accomplish during the day.

Better yet, the possibility of insight.

Shortly after midnight, I set up my bed on our black couch, taking two pillows and a sheet. At the foot of the couch, Alfie the Pomeranian slumbers happily. Nala, his sister, is curled up nearby on the floor.

In the midst of distress there are moments of grace, even comfort.

The landscape of this night is vastly changed from last night, which I spent in the bungalow with Little Babe. We stayed up until 1:30 am watching old music videos on my computer, which I set up on the porch, singing along with Elton John, Don Mclean, David Bowie, Duran Duran, the Beatles and Weird Al.

We found footage of fascinatingly horrible auditions for American Idol.

And then I remembered The Gong Show.

Searching through Youtube, I located several episodes and watched this wacky seventies television fare with my 14-year-old son, shrieking with laughter at the insane antics of the performers, judges and stoned-out-of-his-mind host, Chuck Barris.

Eventually we found, where we were introduced to stories about elephants who got trapped in manholes, puppies born with five legs, a newly-discovered miniature deer, turtles who blocked a runway at Kennedy International Airport and other amazing dispatches from the animal world.

Observing the late hour, I closed down my laptop, ordered Little Babe to brush his teeth and go to sleep. I fell into bed giddy, sprinkled with magic, happily exhausted.

The sweet Catskill mountain air blew my curtains outward in billows. The refrigerator in the kitchen just outside my bedroom hummed reassuringly. I heard the scuttle and rustle of nighttime animals across the lawn outside my window. Before I knew it, morning had dawned, sweet and sunshiny.

Little Babe and I drove into the city today during the lunch hour. Setting foot outside our car was a punishment. Manhattan was abominable today, a classic August day -- sticky, hot, heavy with moisture and bad smells; conducive to crankiness.

Even walking across the campus of Columbia University this afternoon -- an oasis of civility and beauty -- I nevertheless longed for the carpet of lawn stretching from my front porch to the woods, the staggered Adirondack chairs, our neighbor's Big Wheel, the sight of Alfie and Nala scampering freely.

Sitting at my dining room table working on my laptop, I felt robbed of my regular summer work space. The cocktail party I later attended at a swanky Upper East Side location -- surrounded by important works of art -- seemed the epitome of everything shallow and meaningless in New York; peopled by the gorgeous glitterati, gauche and gaudy in an era of belt-tightening.

But the yearning for my rural retreat really took root this evening as I lay wrapped in a sheet on a leather couch, hearing the whoosh of traffic below, seeking comfort from the indifferent night of the chrome and concrete city, tasting disappointment, closing my eyes in search of a dream lover, friend of my soul.