Tag Archive | "Manhattan"

Celebrity Apprentice: A Win-Win Situation

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I cry at commercials.  Not all commercials, only those that are shot in and include familiar touchstones of my beloved New York City.  Thus, did this geek whose TV viewing once relegated primarily to documentaries and concerts get suckered into watching The Apprentice.  Understand that for most of my life, midtown Manhattan was my old stomping ground, career-wise, while the rest of the city was my playground.  The closest that I ever got to The Donald was to ride his escalators in the Trump Tower like a human yoyo, just to see how often I could get away it with it.  I suffer from altophobia, you see, and the side panels on those escalators are clear.  The higher I climbed and the more I gazed downward, the longer the drop to those gorgeous, sun-splashed peach tiles (splat!).  A stone’s throw from the Trump Tower sprawls the emerald jewel of Manhattan — Central Park — where I’d romped often as a kid, a teen, and an adult who’s refused to grow up.  You get the gist.  I began to watch The Apprentice for those quick, bittersweet scenes of my beloved city spliced into each week’s competition.

However, the show quickly became a guilty pleasure, a modern-day Coliseum set in boardrooms and other corporate venues in and around the city of my birth.  Having not watched the show religiously for every single season, I nearly bailed when The Donald instituted celebrity contestants instead of the normal cutthroat crew of gladiators, such as Omarosa, the “love to hate her” 14-karat you-know-what.  This season, however, I’m more or less glued to my set because this final round of celebs includes three rockers, and I do love my rock n’ roll.

Frankly, I’d wanted to see Bret Michaels, Poison’s glam-rock front man, Sharon Osbourne, music producer and Mrs. to Ozzy, and most of all, Cyndi Lauper, iconoclastic punk rock goddess, kick the other contestants’ butts.  The battles unfold in the Big Bad Apple, so I reasoned that it was time to pull off the gloves via the rockers.

I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much of Bret, as glam-rock ceased being my bag the minute that The Man Who Fell to Earth (Bowie) actually came down to Earth to show the world his musical chops.  But Bret quickly grew on me.  He seemed a pretty logical guy and a very loving father yearning to contribute his knowledge, skills, and creativity to his team’s efforts.  Having eschewed other flashy rocker-icons as well as so-called reality shows, including the one that stuck its cameras under the Osbournes’ noses, I didn’t know much about Sharon.   But she had an edge to her that, despite her proper British upbringing, I appreciated.

As a fellow New Yorker, Cyndi Lauper was another story.  In fact, she is a beautiful success story highlighting how it was once possible for an artist who did not march to anyone else’s drummer to get airplay on commercial radio and carve a career in music.  Born in Queens, Cyndi struggled early on in her career, wondering if she’d actually be able to sell a record.  Captain Lou Albano of the WWF, and Cyndi’s then-father figure, advised the girl who just wanted to have fun that maybe people didn’t want to hear the same type of voice on the radio over and over, and since she was unique, she should go for it.  She did, and the rest is history.  While Cyndi’s accent and seemingly scatterbrained perspective has put a few noses out of joint on this season’s Celebrity Apprentice, I find her a breath of fresh air.  She could have sold her soul to the devil, as so many radio-friendly voices have done.  But she remained true to her craft, speaking her mind at every turn and promoting other artists along the way.

This past week, The Donald mixed up the remaining members of Tenacity (the women’s team) and Rock Solid (the men’s team) so that Bret and Sharon were partnered with Maria Kanellis, a young, very pretty WWF diva and model.  She’s also a hard body (they don’t get much harder than hers).  Blend these ingredients into the natural fire in her belly, and Maria made a great addition to the rock contingent, particularly for this week’s dual-focus task.

The teams were directed to create as well as deliver an exercise routine for a New York fitness club, and to garner donations for each project manager’s charity of choice.  The monkey wrench was that for each donation, there had to be a live human being participating in the workout.   Although Sharon took the helm on this project, Bret pulled out all the stops, trading on his bad-boy rocker persona to brainstorm and design “backstage passes” for the workout participants, a hot-cool promo piece that contained a few typos no one cared about, and the foundation of a hilarious and effective regimen that included such moves as the “tour bus trust,” “air guitar,” and “praying to the porcelain god.”  Sharon assumed the job of hitting up business associates for donations.  Maria took the routine and ran ably with it, to the point where the execs at 24-Hour Fitness, the task’s sponsors, are seriously considering implementing it into their own program.

By contrast, project manager Holly Robinson-Peete led a team sorely lacking in creativity, both in the conception of its proper but blasé workout routine and its promotion.  Tenacity also suffered from the absence of Cyndi, who’d had a prior commitment to Lady Gaga (from whom Cyndi extracted a donation of $25K and thus contributed greatly to this task; so much for her scatterbrain, huh?).  From Day One, Holly has been nasty and insensitive to Cyndi, so I’ve decided I don’t like her one whit and will pop a champagne cork when the actress-Autism crusader is sent packing.  I also didn’t enjoy watching Holly wheedle money out of her contacts for her charity while her two team members, trendy Australian chef Curtis Stone and 1992 U.S. Gold Medal Olympian Summer Sanders, ran their rumps off across town doing everything else.  I really didn’t get it when Holly — who has been so critical of many other contestants, and who claims to have quite of bit experience fundraising — appeared to be making a botch job of what is known in the philanthropic world as “the ask.”

I warmed up slightly to Holly as, once in the boardroom, she tearfully and genuinely praised every one of her team members, including Cyndi.  But I still wanted to see her eat crow and jump into that big yellow taxi heading toward where she’d be leavin’ on a big ol’ jet airliner.  Much to my amazement as well as Holly’s, her crew won the task by reaping nearly $80K more in donations than Sharon’s team (24-Hour Fitness gave each team $24K for their charity, which figured into the final coffers).  No one saw this upset coming!

Set upon by Trump and his progeny like the velociraptors of Jurassic Park, it looked as if someone’s head on the rocker’s team would wind up on the chopping block.  Sharon, who had been ill previously and who had taken on the role of project manager for the first time, was loath to let Bret or Maria go.   As Sharon very decently and righteously offered herself as the sacrificial lamb, The Donald went gunning for Maria.  Just when I sure he was going to fire Maria’s oh-so-toned butt, New York’s richest man announced that, since everyone on both teams had done such a fine job, he wasn’t canning anyone that night!  All parties survived to duke it out for another round, next week.

So, Celebrity Apprentice is a guilty pleasure.  The show exists to make money for its network and advertisers, probably gives The Donald a good chuckle, and stimulates awareness of various worthy charities as well as much-needed donations to those organizations.   Rarely has this reality show focused so much, as it did this past week, on that latter goal.  For one bright, shining moment, all the gladiators threw down their swords and bonded over their success in pumping funds into their charities.  Although Sharon Osbourne’s team was only supposed to walk away with the sponsor’s $24K, Holly Robinson-Peete graciously promised Mrs. Ozzy another donation, apparently from the pile her own team had raised.  These charities are the HollyRod Foundation for autistic children and their families, whose website is http://www.hollyrod.org/ and Sharon’s foundation of choice for the prevention and treatment of colon cancer, which can be accessed via http://www.cedars-sinai.com/Patients/Programs-and-Services/Colon-Cancer-Program/.


As that rarified, warm and fuzzy moment is over, lovers of blood sport and lovers of the Big Apple need not fear.  We can all tune in to the next installment to see who goes for whose throat in the race to win Celebrity Apprentice.  Before you tune in, say a prayer please, for Bret Michaels.  Although the competition is taped, we are down one kick-ass rocker.  As of this writing, the intrepid Bret Michaels remains on the critical list of an unnamed hospital, attempting a valiant recovery from a brain hemorrhage. 

Stranger in a Strange Land

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Nineteen years ago, my husband’s corporation, headquartered in New York City, distributed booklets to their workforce in preparation for the influx of their Asian brethren, both co-workers and new clientele.  A primer for understanding the mores of India, China, and other Eastern nations, the booklets were a proactive move to facilitate the integration of distinctly different cultures.   Unfortunately, when Corporate deigned to ship their employees out to New Jersey, no manual was provided to instruct die-hard New Yorkers in the art of integrating into what I had then referred to as “the wilds of New Jersey.”


Anticipating the relocation, my husband dragged me repeatedly to South-Central Jersey, journeying deeper and deeper into the Garden State in search of the perfect home.   Along routes that were then largely undeveloped, we whizzed by sights and other sensory slaps upside the head unseen in the City that Never Sleeps. Men sporting long beards and riding tractors through cornfields, horse farms juxtaposed with large manufacturing facilities, the air redolent of an odd mix of what makes the grass grow green and whatever the factories were spewing.  We passed strip malls, which did nada for me, for my battle cry had been, “Give me Lord & Taylor (Fifth Avenue) or give me death!”  In utter denial of the impending move, I’d shove a punk-rock tape into the car’s deck, using The Pogues’ rather earthy lyrics to belt out how I felt about leaving my beloved New York.


But leave I did.  My husband embraced home ownership, including that gleaming new barbeque grill and lawnmower, with glee.  Me?  I felt like a clam pried out of its shell …while still alive.  What strange land was this that existed a relative stone’s throw from the greatest city on Earth?   When I accidentally bumped my shopping cart into that of another consumer, she was the one who apologized profusely.  When I slowed my car to admire at the lamas (lamas!) living up the road from me, another vehicle pulled up beside me, its occupants asking sweetly if I were lost and needed directions.  I was lost, all right.  If someone pulls up beside a savvy driver in the city, she will roll up her windows and get the hell out of Dodge, or at least off Seventh Avenue.


When we drive, in fact, it’s a common practice to flip someone the bird.  The use of one’s middle finger has evolved, in the city, into a sort of tribal greeting, an obligatory ritual. It translates as, “I cut you off and you cut me off and now we’re even, so have a nice day.”  Here, such a gesture is akin to road rage, and was in fact pooh-poohed by Jersey’s then-incumbent Governor who benefited, ahem, from her private chauffeur.


Transplanted into the most congested State in the Union, I had to learn that “jug handle” was a sort of U-turn, and not what one particular and rather offensive relative-by-marriage gripped when chugging down his mass-marketed Chianti.  Yes, in Jersey, jug handles abound and are usually blocked off by accidents or construction.  Witness Route 1, from New Brunswick well through Avenel.  The Romans had to have built the Coliseum in a shorter time span than it’s taking these crews to widen and modern this *#$%*^ road!


When you really need all this traffic and car honking, it’s nowhere to be found. For the first month as a new homeowner in Jersey’s heartland, I could not sleep.  It was too damned quiet.  Birdsong rent the air, as did the gentle whispers of the pines in my backyard.  Gone was my nightly, familiar lullaby of screams, curses, boom boxes, and arguing beneath my window.   By daybreak, the quietude of the ‘burbs left me a wreck.


Bleary-eyed, I’d enter the supermarket for a yogurt en route to work, only find the entire process of food shopping also foreign.  Instead of going from store to store, as city dwellers shop for the best bread, the tastiest cheese, the freshest fish, etc., here I could get everything under one roof, everything but gourmet food, that is.  Gone also were the amazing bookshops such as the Forbidden Planet on the outskirts of the Village and the tiny independent book peddlers I’d patronized. Gone was the magazine shop in Grand Central Station, purveyor of journals on a dizzying array of topics from nations worldwide.  Gone were the little record stores where I could put my mitts on the hottest new artists as well as some truly fine literature written just for musicians.  Gone were the hot dog vendors, the pretzel hawkers, the dudes pushing the designer handbags that had just fallen off the truck, and oh, those guys selling warm chestnuts on a bitter cold Manhattan night.  Gone were the lights of Broadway, the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge.


Gone was St. Mark’s Place in the Village, where I could stroll unmolested long past midnight on a Saturday night, getting virtually anything I wanted (and everything I did not want) in a big city. (A warning to out of towners: for the love of God, do not attempt this on your own!).  Gone was the tiny lush pocket park tucked away beneath the shadow of the gorgeous U.N. building.  Gone, the miniscule ethnic restaurants up and down Third Avenue. Gone, the annex of the Whitney Museum, overshadowed by Grand Central, a little-known oasis in the Big Apple.  Gone, the buskers (musicians, singers, and stand-up comics) in the bowels of the subway, asking for nothing but an appreciative audience and some spare change from the commuters.


Nineteen years after my move to Jersey, I have gained a true appreciation for the State and its citizens.  All of that is best left for another article.  Appreciation notwithstanding, I remain a stranger in this still-strange land.  Manhattan flows through my blood like the water in the Hudson Bay, like the trains through the tunnels; it beats in my heart like the wild cacophony of the city streets.


Most of you probably choke when you drive through the Lincoln Tunnel.  Me, I cry.  I weep for the beauty of those aging tiles.  I weep with joy, I kid you not, when I am deposited into the gritty sunlight of the city of my birth, beneath the belly of the Port Authority’s mighty rabbit warren of a building.  I grin like a mad loon just to bop down the streets, shimmying like a frenetic ballet dancer fighting for a toehold.  The heart constricts in my chest when I pass the hole in the sky and the hole in our hearts where once rose the Twin Towers.  After countless plays on and off Broadway, I still thrill to see a show there, though a concert at the Beacon is more my cup of tea.  I still elbow tourists with not so quiet glee when clueless, they engulf me during my annual pilgrimage to the great Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center.  Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” still stops me dead in my tracks in Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), and every time my feet cross the museum’s threshold, I remember the day that I stumbled, speechless and humbled, upon the 90-foot canvas of Guernica, Picasso’s brilliant and disturbing masterpiece depicting the Spanish Revolution.


The dinosaur bones in the Museum of Natural History remind me anew that there were, and yet are, beings greater than myself to whom I am beholden for having been born into this magnificent city.  The sun coming up over Central Park, particularly in winter when it turns the starkly frozen trees to diamonds, still lifts my spirit inexplicably.  And the sight of that beautiful Lady of the Harbor, beckoning “your poor, your tired, and your hungry” makes me exceedingly proud to be linked to an old world that has made a new world struggling yet to reinvent itself.


To me, the ever changing and yet enduring face of New York City will forever be like the woman immortalized in the beautiful old Leonard Cohen song of the same name:


“And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers.
There are heroes in the seaweed.
There are children in the morning.
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror.”


Suzanne, or a die-hard New Yorker. 

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