The Diary of a Mad New Yorker

I’ve decided to share some stories of my life in New York City on this blog. 

Broadway 1974

Broadway 1974 Photograph by Mary Clark
Are love and rage the same passion?
They are the same in me
- William Blake

Why a diary of this place, at this time? Why my story?

Because the people of New York City are going through a tragic time. While I don’t live there now, I have friends who do. One of them told me the city is a “very sad place.” I want people to remember what a vibrant and inspiring place it was. And will be again. I know New York will come back, and its people will create an even more luminous city.

So, at the age of 71 and in the time of COVID-19, I want to tell my story of how I became a mad New Yorker.

The Broadway Cat

raulcat

Forrest S. Clark

The Broadway Cat appears in Hell’s Kitchen Slices of Life, edited by Mary Clark, digital edition available on Scribd.com, and paperback on Lulu.com. Watercolor by Raúl Manzano.

Ferocious was an adventurous cat even when a sickly kitten. He loved people and was by nature playful, but living in Hell’s Kitchen, he had to act tough – and it turned out, acting was in his blood. He earned the name Ferocious and then slowly revealed his true nature to those he loved.

Everyone liked Ferocious upon first contact. He was an alley cat and liked to explore. Nevertheless, most of his life he was confined to a West Side apartment where Sally, his owner, did some writing and carried on an in-house business.

On very good days the cat was allowed to go up to the roof of the apartment building overlooking Ninth Avenue.

Then, one day, Fero, as he was now called, disappeared. Everyone in the neighborhood searched for him, but to no avail.

Several days and nights later at a Broadway play quite unexpectedly a cat appeared on the set and ran out of the wings onto the stage at a critical point in the drama. The audience after the initial shock broke into laughter.

After that incident the same cat was observed making entrances and exits at a number of Broadway shows. It seemed to prefer certain theaters more than others and serious drama rather than light comedies.

The play-going public became familiar with the cat. In many cases the audience came to expect the cat to appear about the second or third act at a point where the drama on stage was lagging. The cat had perfect timing.

The cat entered the theater through the stage door with the other actors, and from a central perch, was seen observing the stagehands preparing the sets, the costumers checking their wardrobes, and the ushers gathering their playbills.

Sometimes, at night after the show, he slept in Nicolina’s Boutique on a comfortable couch covered with little brown wool teddy bears.

One night the news reached Sally and she decided to check this stage-struck cat to see if it could indeed be the long lost Fero.

The cat had appeared a number of times at the Martin Beck Theater. Sally decided that if she was ever going to identify the cat she had to attend a play at the theater.

She went to the theater, to wait for that magical moment when the cat appeared on stage. She decided to get a seat in the front rows so she could make a positive identification of the mysterious cat that had become the talk of Broadway by this time.

Some Broadway wit named the cat “Miss Sarah” and devoted several columns to its stage appearances. One columnist suggested that the stage feline be given a Cat Award similar to a Tony Award.

Drama critics always included a bit about the cat in their reviews. They agreed that the cat had a reputation as a scene-stealer and in a few cases even saved a disastrous play from closing.

More than once the cat got a billing on the theater marquee, many times directly following the names of the leading actors.

When the night came for the show, Sally got to the theater early, determined to talk to some of the ushers or theater personnel. She found that the cat was surely a favorite among them.

One stagehand said, “That cat always takes curtain calls, and once or twice we had to raise the curtain for the cat to make one more appearance to the sound of applause.”

The play had gone well enough until the second act when Sally noticed there was some commotion on the set before the curtain. The setting was a typical New York street scene with an alley dominating the stage.

There, before the scene began, Sally saw the cat sitting atop a garbage tank at stage right. The cat appeared to be surveying the audience with a haughty manner as if to say, “What do you expect? Cats and alleys go together.” The cat remained in position on the lid for the entire scene.

As the stage lights came up, Sally got a better look at the cat.

Sure enough, it was Fero.

“Fero, come home,” she was about to whisper from her seat in the second row when she realized the cat had its role to play in the scene.

Unbeknown to her the press had picked up the story and was in the theater that night waiting to see if there would be a reunion of cat and human.

As soon as the final curtain came down, Sally ran to the stage door to coax Fero back to her. She waited with the press photographers. Finally, Fero appeared, ran out the door and leaped into her waiting arms. The photographers had their photo opportunity. It made a great front page story in the tabloids the next day and even got a few paragraphs in the New York Times.

One tabloid carried the headline, “Miss Sarah Comes Home. Concluding A Triumphant Season.”

Another read, “From Alleyways to Broadway.”

Fero’s acting career is over, but on dark nights not long after final curtain calls a cat is often seen prowling Shubert Alley, mixing with the late night theater crowds.

A Time To Mow & Other Stories

There is austerity and mystery in A Time To Mow, by Zdravka Evtimova, where the pen is the scythe in the reaper’s hand. These modern gothic tales rage over a harsh land like storm winds with passion and desire.

Her warts-and-all characters, vivid imagery and use of metaphors, evoke a world reminiscent of Chaucer’s old England, mixed terribly with Brave New World. In a constrained society where options are few, women are the ones who assess the value of those around them, bring change and create relationships. Evtimova’s women have strong sex drives and rebellious spirits, but most live in rural, poor areas of Bulgaria where young men are either married or trapped by physical or social limitations. The old decaying villages and agricultural life are described in both grim and starkly beautiful detail. Contrasted with this arid land is the wild abandon of youth. This is exemplified by the title story, “A Time To Mow,” and later in several other stories where the author takes the motif to its extreme.

These young women have no role model to guide them in their womanhood, other than the older women whose relationships have often failed. The married women are either abandoned for another woman or widowed. Some of the women are in abusive relationships. How they respond to this leads to several twists in the stories. One of the most effective of these is told from the male point of view.

Although many of the women are fixated on finding a man, they do so with fierce integrity. They continuously evaluate their motivations and behavior with an honesty that is refreshing and allows them to move through life with youthful innocence.

Read more of my review at: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/632806349

Hell’s Kitchen: Slices of Life – The Book

hksolcover

In 1999, I published Hell’s Kitchen: Slices of Life, a collection of stories, poems, and art from Manhattan’s famous West Side neighborhood. Hell’s Kitchen is bordered on the east by Times Square, the Broadway Theater District and Fashion Avenue, on the west by the Hudson River, on the north by Columbus Circle, and on the south by the Chelsea neighborhood. I lived in HK for twenty years, working for community organizations. In January 1993, I started a monthly newspaper, the Clinton Chronicle, which I edited and published until early 1998. These stories, poems, essays, photographs, and artwork are drawn from editions of that paper.

Fiction includes Darryl Croxton’s “When Eagles Scream & Roses Bleed” about an unforgettable former Follies dancer, Forrest Clark’s feline adventure “The Broadway Cat,” and Chris Brandon’s edgy take on HK living, “The Kitchman.”

Non-Fiction includes Carrie Amestoy’s “The Color of Difference,” and Clayton Brooks’ “10th Avenue.” George Spiegler wrote of the infamous murders of neighborhood teens in “The Capeman Murders.”

Poets included are: Chocolate Waters, Shannon Mullen, Jameson Currier, R. D. Thomas, Raymond St.-Pierre, Marc A. Thomas, Bernie Steinman, John Newsome, Forrest S. Clark, and David P. Duckworth.

Artists: Raul Manzano (see his watercolor of The Broadway Cat), Cyn McLean, Forrest S. Clark, and Philip Levine.

Originally published in 1999, a second edition is now available for free download – Hell’s Kitchen: Slices of Life on Scribd.com – or in print form – Hell’s Kitchen: Slices of Life on Lulu.