Binghamton and Albany, NY

140 miles

I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in upstate New York, specifically Binghamton and Albany.

A while ago, Kelly sent me a link to Walking America, part 2: Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott. Photos and thoughts from Broome County, New York.

Of course, Binghamton is my hometown. But I can’t argue with the first sentence. At all. “Binghamton, Johnson City, and Endicott are either the northern-most cities in Appalachia or the eastern-most in the Rust Belt, depending on what expert you talk to.” Even when I lived there, there were people suggesting the Appalachia designation.

(It doesn’t help that there is a Census-Designated Place called Apalachin in neighboring Tioga County. It’s less than 10 minutes west of Endicott and 15 minutes from JC. Apalachin is 20 minutes from Binghamton, the Broome County seat, and the only one of the Triple Cities which is actually a city, as the other two are villages.)

It can only get better

At Binghamton’s nadir, in the 1990s, the Boscov’s was the only major retailer keeping downtown Binghamton afloat. It depressed me greatly.  In fact, for years, I just didn’t go downtown at all. I’d be in Broome County attending the Olin family reunion. But it was held in one of two parks in Endicott. And we’d stay in Endicott or Vestal, or even an hour away in Oneonta at my in-laws.

When I was a Binghamtonian, Harpur College/SUNY Binghamton seemed remote. (It’s technically in the town of Vestal.) So it didn’t have that economic stimulus some colleges provide to their locales. I’m thrilled the new businesses downtown, driven by the college kids now living there, has created new opportunities.

Still, as the article notes: “They are struggling towns with good people trying to keep their heads afloat. Towns that haven’t recovered from all the lost jobs that were once here, like making shoes [Endicott-Johnson, where my mother briefly was employed]  or making computers [IBM, where I spent five months before college], and all the good people that left because of that.”

Capital city

I saw this article in the Albany Times Union: Ex-Capital Region news anchor schmoozes with extremists in a bid for Arizona governor. Ugh.

“Former WNYT Channel 13 television anchor Kari Lake… is greeting supporters who include a Jan. 6 insurrectionist, an anti-mask advocate, and a Nazi sympathizer… ” Of course, she’s being supported by 45.

“In August 1998, she moved to the Capital Region… At the time, Lake told the Times Union she ‘just wanted to live in a real nice place. And that is Albany.’ Some 15 months later,  Lake was finished in Albany…”

But I think she was right about one thing at the time. “‘It is so parochial here. I could be here 30 years and feel sort of new… We came all the way across the country, to find out just how much we miss home.'”

I used the P-word when I wrote about the place back in 2013.  My theory was that it does take about three decades to fit in with the unspoken norms. I moved here in 1979, so I’m nearly as close to a native as can be.

98 acres

Still, I wasn’t present when 98 acres were leveled to build the Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, “a massive modern office complex” designed to transform ‘historic but shabby’ Albany into a ‘brilliant, beautiful, efficient and electrifying capital.'”

Well, there are modern office buildings, performance spaces, and many other amenities. But at a cost. “7,000 people, old and young, black and white, immigrant and native-born” were displaced as well as “more than 400 businesses, most of them small—neighborhood groceries, grills, taverns, tailors, and shoemakers.

“Over the course of two-and-a-half years, as the State demolished 1,150 structures to clear 40 city blocks, residents and businesses were forced to move out.” Occasionally, I STILL find someone who will lament the loss.

Two visits

Walking America has made TWO visits to Albany, The first contains this paragraph: “Here, the poverty and wealth are juxtaposed against a downtown filled with politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists who claim to care about the very inequality they are surrounded by, making it a physical metaphor for the failures of our political class.” Ouch. 

And he had avoided the aforementioned Empire State Plaza the first time, so he came back. “Avoiding it wasn’t fair though, because the Plaza dominates Albany, both spatially and as the manifestation of a technocratic philosophy found in every modern political center: The idea that government, empowered by the best and brightest, wielding ‘Science!,’ can mold humans, cities, and societies into their better selves…

“While the [surrounding] blocks are poor they also have what the Plaza doesn’t have. A genuine humanness.” The last part, alas, is certainly true. This doesn’t mean I don’t care for the place – and changing it back is impossible -but the downtown, in particular, is a bit soulless.

Still, I’m not looking to live elsewhere. Given the vagaries of climate change, being here suits me just fine.

Dad’s observation

Here’s one thing my late father, who grew up in Binghamton, but moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974, noticed. He made a comparison between his old city and his new one. Binghamton is near the Pennsylvania border, just as Charlotte is close to South Carolina. One has to travel northeast to get to the state capital, 140 miles to Albany, 175 to Raleigh, NC.

Writing your own obituary

You matter

ObituariesWriting your own obituary? First of all, I should note that I’m not in imminent danger of dying. As far as I know. I suppose I could be mistaken. In any case, I’m betting against living another six decades.

The idea of writing my obit appeals to me. It’s mostly because I recognize that the task can be onerous. Writing it yourself alleviates the stress of your family and friends having to take on the task. Of course, you also have to face up to your accomplishments. You might say, as  Peggy Lee did, “Is that all there is?” Conversely, you might be forced to consolidate the bullet points. That racquetball trophy I won in 1989 won’t make MY list.

I love a good obituary. It’s like any compelling story. I remember leafing through The Last Word: The New York Times Book of Obituaries and Farewells: A Celebration of Unusual Lives by Marvin Siegel. Where this happened, I don’t remember, but it was several years ago. Thrift Books reviews speak to me.

“Rather than an ode to death, this book cherishes lives once lived by all kinds of people. Whether brilliant or simple, rich or poor, actions great or discreet, each of the people written about contributed to society in a meaningful (and often surprising) way.”

“You wouldn’t think a book of obituaries would be entertaining, but it is when the obits are well-written and celebrate the lives and characters of the 100+ people found in this collection. The subjects are most often unknown to the majority of us, but the various authors (including well-known NYT obituary author Robert McG. Thomas, Jr.) humanize each subject and inspire you to contemplate your own life.” Yeah, that.

The recent prompts

I started thinking about this – again – because of a May 14 New Yorker article, Telling the Stories of the Dead Is Essential Work. This was a COVID-19 -related tale.

Then there was an October 15 commentary in the Albany Times Union. “On the obituary pages, reflections of lives fully lived” was written by Karl Felsen, a local retired public relations executive. His daughter, in the time of COVID, had asked Karl and his wife to write their own obits. “If you have a favorite picture, include it.”

Felsen quotes poet Jim Harrison. “Death steals everything except our stories.” He started perusing the longest obituaries in the TU. Charles P. Rougle lived a fascinating life “that ran from Montana to Moscow, from Sweden to Slovenia. A translator and expert in my many languages, a woodworker sand cello player on the side.” Someone Felsen wished he had met.

Of the collection of obituaries that he read, “They were here. They lived. They mattered.” So Felsen’s going to write his own obit. “It’ll be long, celebratory, and mostly true.” He’s “come to the conclusion that crafting your own final story is one way to stay busy living.”

I’m inclined to do this. Maybe not next week, or next month, but probably in the next year. Have any of you done this? Any pointers? This could be an interesting posthumous “ego trip.”

Death of the Times Union community blogs

Information without the Bun

times unionI got this intriguing email from Casey Seiler, the editor of the Times Union, the local (Albany, NY) newspaper, a couple of weeks ago. “Nothing urgent, but please give me a ring if you have a few minutes — cell is … Thanks.”

He’d never contacted me before, so I was most curious. The purpose of the contact was to tell me that the entire page of community blogs located on the TU website would be going away on Friday, February 5.

The Community Blogs started early this century, in 2006, I’m told. But even before that, I had been participating in a program of community websites hosted by the TU. I was creating the ones for my then-church, Trinity UMC, plus Albany United Methodist Society, the FOCUS churches, and one of the other member churches of FOCUS. Since I left Trinity in 2000, this would have been in the late 1990s.

Mike Huber, who had been running the community websites became the majordomo for the blogs. Since I had started this blog in 2005, he knew that I could create content with sufficient frequency. He nagged me regularly, and in January 2008, I finally capitulated.

But what to write? I didn’t want to necessarily replicate this blog. So I tended to post things that were Albany-centric and/or ephemeral. Say an event at my church or offered by the Albany Public Library.

Information without the Bun
ROGER_GREEN_3
Courtesy of the Times Union

There were definite upsides. I could plug events important to me. Occasionally, on the front of the B section of the print newspaper, the TU would print a pull quote from my post. I’d generally learn about this before I saw it. “Oh, you’re in the paper again.” While mildly ego-boosting, it was occasionally frustrating that some people didn’t recognize that it was only a small part of what I wrote.

And the bigger the platform, the more chances for the blog trolls. I’ve seldom experienced this on rogerogreen.com, but a fair amount on Information without the Bun, an obtuse referral to me being a librarian and eating hamburgers. Even when the content was exactly the same, the nasties would always come from the TU audience.

Still, it was fine. I’d write something a couple of times a week. And the newspaper seemed to care about their unpaid community bloggers by sponsoring an occasional event. I remember one at the College of Saint Rose maybe a decade ago where there were short videos of each of us. They created bios of us for the print version of the paper.

The interesting thing was that the agreement read that the TU wouldn’t edit what the bloggers wrote, as long as what we posted wasn’t libelous or profane.

Herder of cats

Then… stuff started happening. J. Eric Smith, who has been blogging since the word was invented, had made what seems to be a reasonable request to keep political mads out of his blog space. It could have jammed him up at work. He explains this in a series of posts here. He ended up leaving in 2010.

In January 2017, Mike Huber, herder of cats, left the Times Union. I’m left to wonder how events of that year would have otherwise played out.

Chuck Miller had a clearly marked April Fools post in 2017 involving Kellyanne Conway which got pulled down, despite eight previous 1 April posts, at least one of which had been picked up by Washington Post. He departed, but he subsequently was always the instigator of promoting local bloggers on his site, and meetups, at the Gateway Diner, a pizza joint, and even at Ken Screven’s lovely apartment.

#Metoo

I was most infuriated when Heather Fazio’s post about sexual assault from October 2017 was deemed too graphic. Or was it libelous? The narrative kept shifting. Chuck and I both reposted Heather’s words: my version is here. Chuck quoted her response to the TU here, and you should read the comments.

I even complained about Heather’s treatment on my Times Union blog, because I could. The headline, I believe was, “Rex: you’ve got a lot of ‘splain’ to do.” Rex being Rex Smith, then editor of the paper, and a guy I actually liked the few times I’ve met him. But this was a crappy decision which he felt obligated to defend. Heather, of course, left, and she too has her own blog.

Yet this conspiratorial flake – whose name had fortunately been exorcised from my brain, Donna something, I think – kept writing absurd post after post for months until even she crossed the line. She was actually brought on board to provide a more conservative position, which I endorsed, but she was a true wingnut.

By then, I had really lost my TU blogging mojo, even as the newspaper abandoned the community bloggers. Periodically, I would literally forget I still had the page, and my recent spotty posting there was proof.

The long goodbye

What seems to have been the last straw from the Times Union’s POV was the Lale Davidson post about Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY). The member of Congress “demanded the Times Union retract what she called a ‘heinous and wildly inappropriate’ blog post. Apparently, the work of fiction pushed a button, not about Stefanik’s absurd challenge of the 2020 election, but her being described as “childless.”

As TU blogger Lawrence White wrote: “I think most people had no idea this was going on. The blog in question does not have a vast readership and nothing had been posted on any of the social media sites I frequent. Clearly, the sting of the original piece would have gone away with only a handful of people even reading it if Ms. Stefanik had let it slide, or dealt with it in a more private manner.”

When Casey Seiler called me to tell me the TU had put the kibosh on the community blog pages, he noted this story. Last spring, one of the bloggers had “swerved from their totally innocuous chosen topic to instead use his platform to spread the looniest conspiracy theories about the origins of COVID-19 that you can possibly imagine. We shut it down immediately.”

So the TU community blogs are dead. Actually, it’s been dying for a while. Of the 80 or so blogs on the page as of January 30, including the staffers’ pages, about a quarter had not been updated in over a year. It seems as though the TU stopped caring about the blogs, and maybe vice versa. While I feel a little wistful, the demise was no surprise.

Legendary New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint

Naomi Neville

Allen ToussaintSurely, I understood. For his November 1 piece, Casey Seiler, the editor of the local newspaper the Times Union, was looking to write about almost anything except the election. November 10 “marks five years since the death of Allen Toussaint, a true renaissance figure in American popular music.”

As an avid reader of liner notes, I know the musician more as a producer and songwriter of great renown than as a performer. He once said, “I always take forever to do an album, because when I do an album, I don’t plan to do another.”

Allen Toussaint worked with the legendary Meters. He produced, arranged, and/or played piano for artists such as Etta James, Albert King, Elvis Costello, and Joe Cocker. His horn arrangements for the Band, Paul Simon, and Little Feat greatly enhanced their work.

“A blessing”

Seiler interviewed Toussaint “in 2014, as a preview of his appearance at Mass MoCA… He talked about losing his home in Hurricane Katrina nine years earlier, a catastrophe that forced him to leave New Orleans and resettle for an extended period in New York City. He spoke of the collaborations and friendships he had made during his exile as ‘a blessing.’

“Near the end of our interview, I asked the 75-year-old Toussaint if new songs and compositions were still occurring to him as readily as when he was younger.

“‘Now more than ever before! I wake up in a hurry to get to the pen and page,’ he said. ‘Yes — I’m inspired because I move around more than I used to, and inspiration is every door I open, every corner I turn, every other way I turn my head to look. And I enjoy inspiration all the time; it makes life so wonderful… All the new things that happen around me — everything is a surprise.’

“I’ve interviewed a lot of people, including artists whose work has inspired me immeasurably. But I don’t think I’ve ever gotten an answer to a question that has stayed with me like Toussaint’s.”

The music

He wrote these songs, some under the name Naomi Neville (his mother’s given name)

Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On) – Madeleine Peyroux
Fortune Teller – Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Freedom for the Stallion – the Oak Ridge Boys
From A Whisper To A Scream – Elvis Costello

Get Out of My Life Woman -Butterfield Blues Band
Java – Al Hirt
Lipstick Traces (On A Cigarette) Benny Spellman
Mother-in-Law – Ernie K-Doe

Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues) – Three Dog Night
Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley – Robert Palmer
Southern Nights – Glen Campbell
What Do You Want the Girl to Do? – Lowell George,

What Is Success – Bonnie Raitt
Whipped Cream  – Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass
Working in a Coal Mine  – Devo
Yes We Can Can – The Pointer Sisters

And more

He produced or co-produced these and many, many more

Lady Marmalade – LaBelle
Ooh Poo Pah Doo  – Jessie Hill
Right Place, Wrong Time – Dr. John
Ya Ya – Lee Dorsey

In his induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, his page notes, “A rare talent forged in the fires of New Orleans’ red hot music scene.

“Few people can produce, arrange, write songs or perform—Allen Toussaint did it all and then some with expertise and aplomb.”

The live album Songbook (2009) was the last one he released. He died in Madrid while touring. “A few weeks prior to his passing, Toussaint reunited with Joe Henry to cut material for a new record. Those recordings, combined with some solo 2013 sessions, were packaged as the posthumous American Tunes, released in June of 2016.”

American Tune  – Allen Toussaint

Siena Saints men’s basketball

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

SienaAs a perk of having a subscription to Albany’s remaining newspaper, I can enter a number of contests pretty much automatically. So I play. A couple months back, I scored a pair of tickets to a movie theater.

Then in November, I received a pair of season tickets to Siena College men’s basketball games. Siena is in suburban Loudonville. That’s pronounced LOUD-in-ville, not LEW-den-ville, or London-ville.

Siena plays in Division I. It’s in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, a league that generally gets only one team to play at the end of the season NCAA March Madness. Siena’s gotten to that tournament six times over the years and has won a total of four games.

But it’s one of OUR teams, along with my alma mater, UAlbany. I missed the first home game. I decided I should go to the second game on Tuesday, November 12 because there wouldn’t be another home game until December 21.

Not Charles

I decided to invite the only person I know who definitely knows something about basketball. Chuck Miller is a fellow blogger, but more importantly, an announcer for the Albany Patroons, defending champions that play in the oddly-named The Basketball League.

We met at the pizza place nearby. The owner ended up offering a free slice to a guy who asked almost everyone in the joint for money. The fellow claimed to be a homeless veteran; perhaps, perhaps not.

The last time I was in the Times Union Center was when I saw a football game of the now-defunct Albany Firebirds a couple of years back. Our seats at the basketball game, if it were a football stadium, would be in the end zone. In other words, we were almost behind one of the baskets. Yet we could still see pretty well.

The two teams, Siena and St. Bonaventure University, were playing for the Brother Ed Coughlin Franciscan Cup. Coughlin was Siena’s president before he died in July 2019. He had earned his bachelor’s degree at St. Bonaventure.

Siena started the game off really cold, even missing free throws. The Bonnies made a few threes and had a six-point lead after four minutes. But the Saints turned things around, as their opponents got sloppy. Siena, up three at the half, built an insurmountable lead in the latter stages, and won 78-65.

There was a young woman in front of us, a Siena alum, who knew far more about the team and their skill sets than we did.

What was that?

The school held a 50/50 raffle to help one of their baseball or softball teams. Chuck spent $10 on his tickets and wanted to know if I wanted to go in on it with him. I decided to buy my own $5 worth. With 15 minutes left, the scoreboard flashed the winning number. The announcement was that I should go to the VCfghfl jkgughjn. WHAT?

I wandered around the perimeter of the arena until I found a young woman and her daughter, who was under five. She verified my ticket and handed me $263. Ah, Christmas is saved!

I was reminded that, generally, live sport is more interesting than watching on television. The game, I later learned, was broadcast on ESPN+, one of those several tiers of the sports network.

Would you like to go?

These are the remaining home games on the schedule.

December
21 (SAT) 6 PM VS BUCKNELL
23 (MON) 6 PM VS CANISIUS
29 (SUN) 2 PM VS HOLY CROSS

January
3 (FRI) 7 PM VS MONMOUTH
9 (THU) 7 PM VS SAINT PETER’S
24 (FRI) 7 PM VS MARIST
26 (SUN) 2 PM VS QUINNIPIAC

February
7 (FRI) 7 PM VS FAIRFIELD
14 (FRI) 7 PM VS RIDER
16 (SUN) 2 PM VS MANHATTAN/DOUBLEHEADER WITH SIENA WOMEN (noon)
19 (WED) 7 PM VS IONA

March
4 (WED) 7 PM VS NIAGARA

It’s highly unlikely that I’ll go to all of them. Thursday is choir night, e.g. And I don’t really want to go alone. So if you’re local and want one or two tickets, IM me on Facebook.

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