Saturday, July 22, 2017

Op-Ed: NYPD Hero Represented Real New Yorkers

Text and photos by George Molé

(An edited version of this article appears in the July 20, 2017 issue of The Riverdale Press.)

Less than a mile from the now-hallowed location on East 183rd Street where Detective Miosotis Familia lost her life is the five-story Bronx walkup where I was raised. Both are in troubled neighborhoods near the Grand Concourse, the faded but still regal boulevard lined with Art Deco architecture that once symbolized middle-class elegance.

Coming of age in the Bronx, I knew that most of its residents were workers and strivers, people trying to get bills paid and kids schooled, and maybe get a little bit ahead tomorrow or next year or someday. That remained true even as communities “changed”—to use the standard euphemism—with many of the long-time Irish-American and Jewish and Italian-American residents finding better lives in the suburbs as the old neighborhoods sank into violence and squalor.

And it was still true later when I worked those same and similar areas on an EMS ambulance or wearing an NYPD uniform. To the casual observer, the rough crowd loitering on the streets at all hours may seem to be the face of the neighborhood; but the people who really make the community work are less visible, seen only when trudging to or from bus stops or subway stations on their daily or nightly commutes, or holding their children’s hands on the walk between home and school.

One of New York’s best-kept secrets is the high level of support for law-enforcement by residents of crime-afflicted predominantly-minority neighborhoods. In my years serving such communities, I’ve rarely attended a public meeting or had a conversation where folks demanded that cops be less assertive; almost invariably, they implore the police to address the quality-of-life issues that plague them, and to remove the hoodlums and drug-dealers from their hallways, from in front of their buildings, and from the parks where their kids play. And they are thrilled when they see results.

But those who appreciate the police don’t get much press, sadly, being too busy taking care of their families to become protesters or activists. And, perhaps, because they don’t fit the anti-cop narrative that dominates so much of the media. They’re just ordinary New Yorkers.

We all know now, of course, having learned much about her since her death, that Det. Familia was an ordinary New Yorker herself, striving to support and nurture her family as a working mother in the Bronx.

Det. Familia’s wake and funeral took place at the World Changers Church, which occupies the old Loew’s Paradise Theatre on the Concourse, one of New York’s stunningly ornate golden-age movie palaces. The name of the church, and its majestic setting, were fit for laying to rest a warrior queen whose example may yet change the world.

At a Sunday vigil in front of the nearby 46th Precinct, and the next day at her wake, the community was out in numbers to pay respects, holding up candles at the vigil or lined up for hours to file past her casket in the church. And on the day of her funeral, as thousands of cops from across the world filled the Concourse for a final salute, and police helicopters and motorcycles shook the wide boulevard, the people were there too, coming out to say goodbye to a martyred protector who was also an ordinary New York woman.

A tradition at a police funeral in our city is that the legendary NYPD Pipes and Drums, making no sound but a muffled drumbeat, their instruments covered in mourning drapes, leads the procession as it leaves the church, bound for the cemetery where the hero will rest. But when they’ve keened a farewell dirge, and the procession is on its way, the band turns and parades back again, past the rows of mourners, bringing renewed spirit with them. And so they marched strong up the Concourse on that Tuesday, swagger back in their step, wailing old songs of lament and resilience—“Hard Times Come Again No More,” prays one—into the weary Bronx streets.

We prevail, the music says; death doesn’t win. We’re better because she lived, and because we knew her, and stronger for what we’ve endured.

She lived, we knew her, and we endured. Good reasons to work for a better, stronger city.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Theater: Rocky refs stop the fight, but the show is a winner

Text and photos by George Molé

Rocky, the Broadway musical version of Sylvester Stallone's 1976 boxing film, is closing next month.  It shouldn't be.

I had been intending to see it for a while, but finally got in gear and caught Saturday's matinee at the Winter Garden when I heard it only had a few weeks to go.  It's not quite a masterpiece, but it's very well done, and carries much of the energy, pathos and inspirational power of the original film. 

The two excellent leads--Andy Karl and Margo Seibert--evoke Stallone and Talia Shire without quite imitating them.  The sets are brilliant, bringing the audience into working-class 1970s Philly with masterful detail, down to the old-style console TV in the living room.

 I don't think any standards will come out of this musical, but the songs are still very good.  And the climax of the play is amazingly done--a boxing ring is projected out from the stage, taking up the first several rows of the seating area, and the audience members from that section are brought onstage to sit in bleachers.  And then the fight takes place, perfectly choreographed and realistic as hell.

I also like the very subtle Christian imagery, as Rocky, afraid and believing he may end up crippled or otherwise irreparably damaged from the fight, prays, as a pattern of light in the background unmistakably evokes a cross.  Someone in this creative team understands Christ's role as brother to the underdog.

Whatever anyone may think of Stallone's later work, Rocky is the quintessential American fable.  And it's been brought to the stage quite effectively in this production.  If a musical based on the work of ABBA can run for years and years on Broadway, then this show should have had a chance.  I'm sorry to see it go.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

New York: Fried dumplings and Five Points

Text and photo by George Molé

Many of my friends in New York law-enforcement (Manhattan's courts being rather close by) will know the storefront on the right in this photo:  FRIED DUMPLING.

It's on Mosco Street, Chinatown, New York City, USA. Behind the counter in the closet-sized restaurant, a couple of Chinese ladies crank out delicious dumplings by the hundreds, all day long, and sell them at five for a dollar. You can get them to go, or perch on stools along a narrow shelf and eat there.

The park you see at the end of the block, Columbus Park, occupies what once was the heart of the infamous Five Points slum, made famous in the movie "Gangs of New York." If you follow Mosco Street into the park, and follow the street's trajectory to the other side of the park, you will be at the formerly-five-pointed intersection that gave the area its name.

In the 1800's, Five Points was notorious throughout the nation as a place squalid and violent beyond imagination. A photojournalist named Jacob Riis wrote a book called "How the Other Half Lives," and focused so much attention on the area's conditions that the center of it was razed and replaced by the park. But on the streets surrounding the park, you can still see rows of tenements old enough to have witnessed it all.

This area is one of the very best places to get a feel for old New York. And be sure to have some dumplings while you're there.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Op-Ed: "The Fair Plus 50: Time to preserve icons of 1964" (New York Post, Tuesday, April 1)

Text and photos by George Molé

I was thrilled to have the New York Post run my opinion piece, "The Fair Plus 50: Time to preserve icons of 1964," in yesterday's edition (Tuesday, April 1).  As you might infer from the title, the piece advocates for preserving and restoring the landmarks of the 1964 New York World's Fair that are still to be found in Flushing Meadows Corona Park--most notably, the New York State Pavilion and the Fountain of the Planets (sometimes called the Pool of Industry).

This is a great cause, and I hope adding my voice helps it along.  You can click here to read the article.  And below are a few excerpts, with present-day photos of some of those landmarks. 

"I was amazed, several years ago, when my work took me to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, site of the Fair, for the first time in decades.  As I approached the walkway from the Willets Point subway station to the park entrance, I suddenly was three years old again, awash in a memory I didn’t know I had: We’d just gotten off one of the special blue-and-white Fair trains, kids in Hertz-provided strollers made to look like Corvettes, everyone making their way toward the Fair, inexpressible anticipation in the air . . ."

The New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere rise above the Number 7 subway line, as seen from Citi Field, home of the New York Mets.

The Fountain of the Planets (sometimes called the Pool of Industry).  The Fountain / Pool is actually a segment of the Flushing River, which is partially covered; the two openings in the wall, and two matching openings on the opposite side, allow the river to flow through.

"More recently, working inside the park, I came upon what looked like a duck pond surrounded by an iron fence — and then recalled standing by that fence in the dark as a kid, waiting for the fireworks to begin.  This was the Fountain of the Planets, a wonder of its time, where crowds were awed by nightly pyrotechnics combined with breathtaking water displays..."

The Fountain of the Planets / Pool of Industry, with the Unisphere visible in the background.  The island in the Fountain / Pool once held equipment used to create high-tech displays combining water, light and pyrotechnics.

"Many of the great corporations, thriving then, were at the Fair — Ford, Chrysler, Kodak, Sinclair, General Electric, DuPont — each with a spectacle that seemed like imagination itself.  Disney’s 'It’s a Small World' ride embodied the Fair’s motto of 'Peace Through Understanding.'

"Then there was the Vatican’s exhibit, in which people stood on moving walkways and were brought slowly past Michelangelo’s Pieta.."

Monument marking the site of the Vatican Pavilion.

New York State Pavilion.

"And the New York State Pavilion, with its three space-age towers and huge mosaic map of the Empire State...

New York State Pavilion.

"The iconic Unisphere is well-loved and well-kept..."

The Unisphere--"largest model of the Earth ever created."

"Fifty years since the Fair opened, you can still feel the electricity as you walk the park, on the same paths fairgoers strolled.  Yet too many of the treasures from that magic time have been left to deteriorate..."

This stone near the Fountain of the Planets marked the Court of the Universe, one of the "courts," or plazas, at the Fair.

"Imagine the park as it could be, a recreational oasis with some of its World’s Fair swagger restored.  Markers everywhere to show visitors the site’s history...

Time capsules deposited in 1938 and 1965, intended "to endure for 5,000 years."

But enough of these excerpts--if you find this topic as interesting and important as I do, go to the website of the New York Post--one of New York's, and America's, great newspapers--and read the whole article.  And then speak up for the preservation of these irreplaceable treasures--a good place to start is the website of the organization People for the Pavilion.

And then, since summer's coming, go explore the park yourself.  You'll find a bit of history around every bend in the path.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Cops: 2014 NYPD Holy Name Society Breakfast educates and uplifts

Text and photo by George Molé 

Below are the Pipes & Drums of the NYPD Emerald Society, one of the best pipe bands in the nation, arrayed this morning on Sixth Avenue, in front of the New York Hilton, for the annual NYPD Holy Name Society Mass and Breakfast.

This annual event begins with Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, often presided over by New York's Cardinal, as it was this morning.  His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, was his usual warm and gracious self as he acknowledged the members of the NYPD in attendance who, with their family and friends, filled much of the great cathedral.

NYPD Emerald Society Pipes & Drums

After Mass, a few blocks of Fifth and Sixth Avenues were closed to allow the entire assemblage to march from St. Pat's to the New York Hilton for breakfast, led by this very same pipe band.  Last year's Breakfast featured two amazing speakers--Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and former Senator James Buckley--who would have been hard to top.  Nonetheless, this year's speakers were excellent, and addressed related themes.  A detective from the NYPD Cold Case Squad recounted the successful investigation into the years-old Baby Hope murder case.  And a nun from the Sisters of Life order described her group's ongoing battle against the institutionalized murder of babies through the abortion industry.  Moving, thought-provoking, uplifting, this event, almost 100 years old, always is, and was again today.

The funniest moment came from legendary talk-show host Joe Franklin, who appears at the breakfast every year, upon receiving a plaque to show the organization's appreciation.  "I'd just like to say that out of all the awards I've ever received, this one is the most recent."

And, yes, whenever I attend this event, I can't help but remember one of the greatest privileges I've yet had in life--attending in 1998 and hearing the late, great John Cardinal O'Connor incorporate into his homily at Mass an article I had written on the challenges and satisfactions of police work.  I hope to have a copy of that homily with me at the Pearly Gates, just in case there are any quibbles about my getting in--and here's the digital version.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Links to samples of George's published writing

To see samples of George Molé's published writing, click

here, for George's foreword to the fun and useful book, Secrets, Tips, and Tricks of a Powerful Memory: The Memory Shock Oh-So-Easy How-to-Remember User's Guide for Your Brain by Barry Reitman (and click here for purchase inf0); or

here, for a few thoughts on a New York woman whose work continues to entertain, educate, inspire--and get some folks rather annoyed (The Riverdale Press); or

here, for a persuasive (but ultimately unsuccessful) plea to save an American landmark (New York Daily News); or

here, for a longer and richer version of the same piece (Norwood News); or

here, for a dated but still interesting dissection of a particularly offensive Bruce Springsteen song (The New York Times).

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Music: Jay Traynor, RIP

by George Molé

Just about a month ago, on Saturday, December 7, I attended quite a colorful doo-wop concert at St. Athanasius Church, Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. In the house was what you might call the old Brooklyn--a lot of white-haired guys sporting their black leather Fonzie jackets, and yellow-haired ladies rocking their leopard-prints and furs. And a nice enough crowd to make you wish the old Brooklyn wasn't being replaced so rapidly by the new.

After the show, I got to take a photo with a highly respected singer--Jay Traynor, who, back in the days of early rock, replaced Paul Simon as lead vocalist of the Mystics, and then went on to be the original "Jay" of Jay and the Americans. That photo is below (and, no, it's not blurry, it's soft-focus, like an Impressionist painting). And Traynor's voice can best be heard in this 1962 hit by Jay and the Americans, "She Cried."

Traynor performed at the December show as a member of Jay Siegel's Tokens (yes, another Jay), with whom he had been touring, and who were among the best of all the great groups to grace that school auditorium that evening. The original Tokens, with Siegel as the lead singer (but long before Traynor was on board), were best known for their 1961 hit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." They did that song that night, and Siegel got all the notes, with the able assistance of Traynor and the rest of the group.

Now it's been announced that Traynor has passed away, on January 2, having succumbed to the liver cancer he had been battling. This is not an original observation--but, man, life is short and fragile. RIP, Jay Traynor, and thanks for the fine music.

Photo: Less than four weeks ago, I was lucky enough to take a photo with this respected musician, Jay Traynor, the original "Jay" of the early rock group Jay and the Americans. He was currently touring with The Tokens, best known for the old hit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." This photo was taken after their December 7th appearance at a doo-wop show in Brooklyn.

Now it's been announced that Mr. Traynor has passed away, having battled liver cancer. This is not an original observation--but, man, life is short and fragile. RIP, Jay Traynor, and thanks for the great music.
Singer Jay Traynor (right) with yours truly at the December show in Brooklyn.

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