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Carol Channing


Sadly, Carol Channing died this week at the age of 97. In my 2014 book of short stories, Moments of Truth, I wrote about an enjoyable encounter on a train with Carol Channing in 1963, when she was 42. For over an hour I was her sole audience, albeit a captive, receptive, and appreciative audience.


Carol Channing


     Late in the summer of 1963, I was in the dining car on a Pennsylvania Railroad train bound from Washington for New York. It was early in the evening. I was sitting alone at a table for four, the last table in the car, and had just been served my meal when the train pulled into Philadelphia. There was the usual clamor one hears on a train as people rushed on and off, moving bags and themselves. Amidst the clamor I heard a high-pitched laugh and a loud mirthful voice coming from behind me.

     "Oh dear, there seems to be no room at the inn," the funny sounding voice said.  The next thing I knew,  a caricature of a tall overdressed woman with large eyes and silver hair flowing out from under a wide-brimmed hat was looming over me.

     "Are you alone, sonny?"

     I swallowed hard and opened my hands as if to welcome her and her male companion. "It's Carol," she said extending her hand, "and, this is Charles."

     I swallowed hard again, overwhelmed by this dominating figure. "I'm Neal, please join me."

     "What do you do, Neal?" she said.

     "I'm in my last year at Georgetown Law School."

     "Well, just what we need, another lawyer," she said laughing.

     I was off my game and well, speechless, when she said, "Don't let us disturb you. Go on with your dinner."

     I looked down at my food and continued with my meal all the time wondering who was this formidable woman sitting across from me? I racked my mind and then it came to me: Carol Channing. She was playing on Broadway in The Millionairess. I finished my meal and was waiting for the waiter to return so that I could order coffee and dessert.

     As I waited, I listened to their conversation. Most of the people in the dining car were hearing part of the discussion, too, given her loud voice. Charles, sitting next to me, who turned out to be her husband and manager, kept raising his right hand and then quickly lowering it, signaling her to lower her voice. Something had happened in Philadelphia that day that had her in great spirits and she was finding it hard to curb her enthusiasm. I never did find out what that was.

     When the busy waiter finally arrived and took their orders, I placed mine for coffee and apple pie. It was then that I got up the courage to ask her if she was Carol Channing. Ah, the moment of truth. When I did, her face widened into the biggest smile that I have ever seen. Along with the smile she raised her hands to chest level and clasped them together as she thrust her chin up and swiveled her head back and forth all the time holding her smile. "Yes, darling. It's me, the one and only. How'd you guess?"

     I laughed and continued laughing for the next hour as the train sped towards New York. She invited me into their conversation and I left the train in Penn Station feeling like I had known her forever. What you see is what you get, and she is one memorable person, a genuine star.



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Now You Know, Joe - Things Have Changed

The results of the recent Democrat primary in New York surprised many, but it was a change in the making for many years.

The media and many political savants were stunned when 56-year old Joseph Crowley, the powerful chairman of the Queens Democrat Party and the 20-year incumbent Member of Congress representing New York’s 14th Congressional District was pummeled in his 2018 primary contest by a 28-year old savvy and articulate Latina, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who up until a few months ago was tending bar in a taco restaurant in Manhattan’s Union Square.

There’s a lot happening here that Ocasio-Cortez obviously knew and Crowley should have. Obviously a keener observer, she seized on Crowley’s hubris and his energetic support of New York’s financial community and its generous support for him. Crowley had made the classic mistake of moving his family from Queens to Virginia, which she made issue of in their only debate, noting he didn’t live here and he’s the big bankers go to guy and vice versa. Simply put, he’s not one of us. Another and important factor was that she was a key organizer in the Bronx for Bernie Sander’s 2016 Democrat presidential primary campaign. Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in many parts of the 14th Congressional District. Further, more familiar with social media, she doubled Crowley’s effort both in Spanish and English on Facebook and Instagram. She effectively waged a digital door-to-door campaign. The ground was plowed and the seeds had been firmly planted.

I know the area well. I was born in Jackson Heights and raised in Woodside. Whenever I visit New York, I stay with my sister Carol in Woodside. Three of my father’s sisters lived in Parkchester, a huge Bronx apartment complex where Ocasio-Cortez resides. I have many cousins living in the Bronx. My sister Carol being treasurer of the Queens Historical Society, a few years ago I was invited to address the Society on the significant demographic changes in Queens. The demographic data was eve-opening. What Crowley didn’t recognize was quite obvious. All you had to do was ride the subway, which he never did.

My lecture, The Changing Face of Queens, also appearing on this blog, notes that the seeds of change were planted by the U.S. Congress in 1965 when it liberalized U.S. immigration policy. In the space of 50 years, Queens became a haven to immigrants. Now more than 50 percent of its residents are foreign born. The experience in the Bronx is similar.

It was there for all to see, new faces, new ideas, and different needs. Another important factor is the escalation in the costs of housing. Young people, with rental costs in Manhattan, and now Brooklyn, soaring, found refuge in the close in Queens’ neighborhoods of Astoria, Sunnyside, Woodside, and Jackson Heights that have more affordable rents and access to the subway. These new arrivals, the Bernie Sanders supporters, became change agents. Ocasio-Cortez scored better in these neighborhoods than she did in her native Bronx. She beat Crowley 59 to 41 percent in Queens, five points better than her 54 to 46 victory in her native Bronx.

As Bob Dylan said, Joe:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
For the times they are a-changin.  Read More 
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