There’s hope yet for Binghamton

I stayed in a hotel that was once the old city hall.

Binghamton, NY, as I’ve noted once or twice here, is my hometown. Almost every year, I go to Broome County to attend the Olin family reunion – that’s my mother-in-law’s people who can be traced in what is now the United States back to the 1680s.

Those trips, however, were to a park in Endicott, part of the Triple Cities, to be sure. (Endicott and Johnson City, though, are villages; only Binghamton is incorporated as a city.)

When I did venture to downtown Binghamton in the 1980s and 1990s and even the early part of this century, it was depressing. The anchor department stores of McLean’s, where my late mother worked as a bookkeeper, and Fowler’s, were magic to visit on Christmas Eve in 1970 and 1971. When they left, and smaller stores followed, the downtown was overrun by vacant spaces. If it weren’t for Boscov’s, in the old Fowler’s, there would have been no downtown retail to speak of.

The building of a new Route 17, which will become Interstate 86, made it easier to get through Binghamton, but the city wasn’t a place to go TO. The State University of New York isn’t even in Binghamton proper, but out on the Vestal Parkway on old Route 17/Route 434.

But an interesting thing happened:

“Downtown Binghamton, by most accounts, is in the midst of a revitalization. After years of decline, a boom spurred largely by masses of Binghamton University students leaving the dorms of the Vestal campus for the city has filled once-vacant storefronts downtown and chipped away at blight there.’

And that has spurred numerous coffee shops, tattoo parlors and the like catering to that population. I stayed in a hotel that was once the old city hall, not far from the current city hall, where I was a janitor for a few months in 1975, and there are blocks around there that have been totally transformed.

“But further away from the city’s core, other neighborhoods are waiting to see whether the ripple effect of the downtown boom will reach them.” I noticed that too, particularly in the part of town I grew up in.

Still, I felt hope that there is a chance of economic revival in my old hometown. That made me quite happy indeed.

MOVIE REVIEW: Wonder (R.J. Palacio’s books)

WONDER could easily have been an exercise in treacle, but it most assuredly is not

#Choose Kind is a precept of the movie Wonder, based on a series of books by R.J. Palacio. I was pretty sure my family had to see this. The Daughter loves the books, as does my wife’s principal.

I’ve read a later set of chapters in the first book that focus on Augie’s chief antagonist, Julian. But he speaks of his treatment of Augie to his grandmother. So I felt a certain early connective tissue as well.

Wonder is the story of August (Augie) Pullman, played by the extraordinary Jacob Tremblay from the movie Room. Augie has facial differences, despite more than the two dozen surgeries he’s had, and the Pullman family has Augie’s hospital IDs hanging on the wall like a piece of art.

Mom Isabel (Julia Roberts) has put her life on hold since Augie’s birth and dad Nate (Owen Wilson) tries to be the pal Augie otherwise doesn’t have. The decision to mainstream Augie into fifth grade, instead of Isabel homeschooling him, is met with understandable trepidation, and initially for good reason. He makes a friend, or so he believes.

Meanwhile, his older sister Via (Olivia), played by Izabela Vidovic, feels that she’s not getting the attention she needs from her parents. And at her school, she has unexpected difficulties of her own.

You know, life is hard sometimes. All most of us really want is acceptance, and maybe a dose of compassion. As Augie’s classmates struggle to find theirs, the viewer is drawn into the ebbs and flows of many of their lives.

Wonder contains a few cameos by Chewbacca from Star Wars. The Thorton Wilder play Our Town, which I’ve been in back in 1984, is a significant plot point. The daily precepts of the teacher Mr. Browne (Daveed Diggs) are always true.

This could easily have been an exercise in treacle, but it most assuredly is not. As Dr. Wayne Dyer once said, “When given a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”

Musicians: Cassidy, Hendricks, Reese, Tillis…

I knew Delloreese Patricia Early primarily as an actress

A lot of noteworthy musicians died in November 2017.

As the New York Times obit notes, Jon Hendricks brought a new dimension to jazz singing. I knew him best as part of the vocalise trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. “They recorded a version of Ross’s 1952 song ‘Twisted‘, featuring her lyrics set to a Wardell Gray melody”; it was later recorded by Joni Mitchell.

After Lambert died in 1966, Hendricks continued to be a genre pushing vocalist.
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I’m pretty sure that my sister Leslie had a Partridge Family album. It may have been Sound Magazine with the hit I Woke Up in Love This Morning.

While I didn’t care much about the music, I was vaguely interested in David Cassidy, mostly because he was the son of actor Jack Cassidy, who was constantly on TV in the 1960s and early 1970s. Jack’s second wife, actress Shirley Jones, became David’s stepmom, and she played his mother on the Partridge Family.

I learned later that only David and Shirley actually sang on those records. The backing vocals were by The Ron Hicklin Singers.

When David was arrested in Columbia County, near Albany, this decade, and then had to make a subsequent appearance in court, it was cause for a lot of local buzz.

My favorite performance of his was on the theme song for the John Larroquette Show in the late 1990s. Dustbury pegged Bandala.

Check out Arthur’s recollections and Mark Evanier ghostwriting for David.
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Like a lot of people, I knew Delloreese Patricia Early, a/k/a Della Reese, primarily as an actress, most notably on the TV show Touched by an Angel. But she had a stellar singing career before that. Her big hit was Don’t You Know.
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Mel Tillis died, and I thought I’d read more about him. He was a Country Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry member. When I thought of country music, he was among the first I thought of.

He wrote, among many other songs, Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town) that was a big hit for Kenny Rogers. I’d see him on Hollywood Squares. Here’s Coca Cola Cowboy, a #1 country hit in 1979, from the movie Every Which Way But Loose.
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Pete Moore was the bass singer for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and co-wrote some of the hits, such as Ooo Baby Baby and The Tracks of My Tears, and also Ain’t That Peculiar and I’ll Be Doggone, with Marvin Gaye.
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Sha-ZAM! Jim Nabors died. He played Gomer Pyle on two TV series that I watched regularly. The Impossible Dream
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I wasn’t a big AC/DC fan. but I appreciated their impact. In fact, the only related album I ever owned was an album of bluegrass covers of their hits. I’m sorry Malcolm Young passed away at 64. When you’re 64, you tend to hate almost ANYONE dying at that age.

V is for Victory blindness (ABCW)

The battle against bigotry and inequality continues.

ANDI MACK – Disney Channel’s “Andi Mack” stars Sofia Wylie as Buffy, Joshua Rush as Cyrus, Peyton Elizabeth Lee as Andi and Asher Angel as Jonah. (Disney Channel/Craig Sjodiin)
In any civil rights struggle, it is natural to want to celebrate the victories, the accomplishments. Yet when I first heard writer Michelangelo Signorile talk about “victory blindness,” probably on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I knew immediately that it was fundamentally true, and not just with regard to LGBTQ justice.

In this 2015 HuffPo interview, Mike says, “Victory blindness is …a term I use to describe the phenomenon in which we focus on the wins, so starved for validation, that we allow them to blind us to the continued bigotry we face. We become enthralled, intoxicated — spellbound by even a little bit. The effect is that it obscures our reality — literally our vision — and it makes us lose our gumption, not wanting to rock the boat, fearful that we’ll lose what we’ve gained and not get what little bit we think we need, when in fact we need a lot and we should be strong and confident knowing our allies will stay with us.”

I would add that engaging in victory blindness often leads to great surprise and disappointment when there is the inevitable backlash. Signorile was speaking specifically about LGBTQ rights. After the victory of marriage equality being confirmed by the Supreme Court comes a county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue some marriage licenses, e.g.

More recently, the US attorney general was asked if federal workers blatantly discriminate against LGBTQ people. Jeff Sessions wasn’t sure.

I think America suffered victory blindness in another arena, BIG TIME, when it elected Barack Obama. Racism is solved! We’re in a “post-racial” society! That did not quite turn out to be the case.

I suspect that the optimism following the November 2017 not-evil election results won’t lead to overconfidence. The battle against bigotry and inequality continues. Perhaps November 8 will, in someone’s words, empower and excite, not satisfy and placate.

Still, I was oddly pleased to see the so-called One Million Moms announce a Disney boycott over a gay character. My family happens to watch Andi Mack regularly, and the one boy’s feeling of jealousy that his male friend is interested in the girl who’s the title character rather than himself is just a small part of the texture of the series. The boycott seems to have had little impact on the enthusiastic fan base of the program.

For ABC Wednesday