January 2009


Through Time Descending


         That light doth so transform a man’s whole bent     


— Dante, Paradiso





The Long Acre days of livery trades

When a single gas lamp lit the square

Died of a pen stroke in proclamation

An April day under pastoral skies.

This long before that month was said

To be the cruelest of the year.


Soon a beast below the street

Would arrive on the sparks of friction—

A scream of wheels:

“Forty-Second Street/Times Square, 1904.”


Fireworks celebrated that first new year—

We were not yet so savvy as to drop the ball—

And thus we gathered as if reborn

Missing only Billy Sunday’s

      tent above

This great big sea of assimilation.


The Heatherbloom Petticoat Girl would soon show us

A sign of things to come—her dress whipped up

In the eye of an electric light bulb storm.


A primal nerve touched, we arrived in a rush

At the Ziegfeld Follies door.

The zeitgeist now being that

      more was more.





How the nights arrived in all their brilliance

On the incandescence of a million bulbs.

How the rooftops came alive with cabarets

      and Castles in the Air

Irene and Vernon taught America to dance.

“Moon in June” were fresh words in romance.


And we could hear the music rising

      in the tinkling of ivories

From down below on Tin Pan Alley

Which turned Israel Baline

      into Irving Berlin—

Beckoning us all to come on along

To Alexander’s Ragtime Band.


It played the day “Beansie” Rosenthal was

      gunned down.

It played the day Martin Beck built a Palace

It played the day came the First World War.


Cohan, while giving regards to Broadway,

Shot an arrow through the heart with his clarion call:

Send the word, send the word, over there.

And off went the “Doughboys”

      in their pie-tin hats.


The Eighteenth Amendment stayed behind.

The rhapsody in booze born of Prohibition

Played in the speakeasies off

      the “Great White Way.”


The ball descended

The Twenties roared.





Of Broadway nights and a thousand plays

That moved in sprightly step across the stage,

Their plots long dead and buried

Though their song sheets remain;

The work of young lions on their game.

Gershwin, Porter, Kern, Rodgers

      and Hart.


Black boxy cars—

Sporting spares on their backs—

Pulled up at the curb before

      the bubbling arch

Of the Warner Theater on opening night.

The Jazz Singer was all the talk of the town.

In the beginning was the word:

Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain’t heard nothing yet!

From the almighty Jolson to God’s ear.


Arnold Rothstein, the reputed mastermind

Behind the Black Sox Scandal,

While leaving Lindy’s

      on Election Day

Got shot up like a Roman candle.

He died soon after without singing

      a word.


By night, a new band of bulbs

Curling around Times Tower

Spelled Herbert Hoover with votes to spare.

Some in the crush threw fedoras in the air.


But every hat on every head

Would remain in place the following year.

The news this Tuesday, dark and drear.





Say don’t you remember they called me Al,

It was Al all the time.


And amidst the Great Depression

Billy Minsky brought burlesque

Up to “The Main Stem” and respectability.


Pretty girls—once like a melody

Were now out of work

To the tune of a dime a dozen.

So they shed their feathers and the business flourished.

I wasn’t naked. I was completely covered

By a blue         spot      light.


Death by disobedience

Came to Prohibition

Smoking out hoods in pinstriped suits

From back rooms out into a sky on the rocks.

Winchell might have called this the end

      of an error.


The ball fell atop a cauldron coming

      to a full boil. 

A war even bigger than

The war to end all wars.




The crowd at the Tower was one of heavy heart

In the aftershock of “The Jap Attack.”

Colbert and Milland starred in Skylark down the block.

Harry James and his band, the stage show to follow.


Just another Sunday of war and Hollywood

      and music.

Just another Sunday at the center of the earth

With our feet in the fire, bent on catching

      our breath.


In the aftermath, to soothe our nerves

The Camel sign blew perfect smoke rings

Like silent shots across the bow.

It puffed away for well over two decades

Til the Surgeon General marched into town.


Bobby Soxers in saddle shoes

Stormed the Paramount to have at Sinatra

In the days before the man who would be king.


On V-J Day a sailor taking liberties

Bends a nurse at the waist

      forty-five degrees

Kissing her as full on the mouth as you please,

As she yields to this advance

      in shock and awe.


The good fight fought;

      the better war won;

            the best picture worth

A million words.


At the center of this centrifugal force

We opened up a recruitment station

To defend the postwar streets of gold.

Is our good fortune not the envy of others?


The ball drops on

The Death of a Salesman




…and rises on a musical fable

Of the Guys and Dolls

Of Runyan’s Times Square.                                         

On the brink of The Beats no less.                                       


Who when they got bored with their poetry

      and polemics

Went up to the Pokerino and Playland arcades.

Kerouac and Ginsberg in an existential struggle

To get the balls to go their way.


Afterwards at the Automat,

Apple pie in amber light—

Airtight behind a small glass door—

A still life waiting to be painted.

A few nickels in the slot and


A slice of America was yours.


James Dean with Cigarette, Coat and Collar:

An Unstill Life. 

               Alone in mid century

Haunting Times Square; Times Square haunting him.

The street shellacked with rain plays back his image.

A poster in the making of an icon crossing over.


The ball begins a downward spiral.

A man walks by with a sign:

Jesus Saves.





The lads from Liverpool

Landed in our living room.

They came by way of Broadway

Through a broadcast studio live.

Black and white and gray-on-gray—

The Paleolithic age of Ed Sullivan.


Seventy-three million turned on

      their sets

As if to witness a miracle unfolding.

A second coming? Life found on Mars?

“Get a haircut,” the alpha male barks.


The Beatles would end up down the block

That fall at the Paramount

Soon to close its doors.


Enter stage left: the Peep Show King 


Who set about to retrofit

Some kinescope machines.

He aimed to show the unwashed masses

What was decreed to have been obscene.


They swallowed daily—60,000 quarters

These newly transformed kinky slots.

And spit them back out as if Monstro sneezing

Flooding the Chemical Bank on the corner.


The Midnight Cowboy rode into town.

The Battery was up. The Bronx was down.





The peep shows got bolder, as did those

Acquainted with the night.

A Taxi Driver cruising “The Deuce”—

Or “Forty Deuce” as some pimps preferred—

Could see illicit trade on every corner.

Could see strings of white-hot movie marquees

Steaming with smut and prurient promise—

While the men in blue stood by with both hands tied.


In this thicket of times so uncertain

The TKTS booth appeared as if

      a mirage

To offer a ticket for the price of a song.

For the show must go on. And it did.

And Sardi’s continued to feed us before

      and after.


Sanctuaries for soul and body

Where folks and celebrity might intertwine.





The ballyhoo made a comeback on Broadway

On the heels of a Buzz Berkleyesque

42nd Street revival.

The rat-a-tat rhythms of our past aspirations—

The razzamatazz that cut across generations—

Renewed the sense that theater itself

Had a life embedded in the stone.                                       



Let us sound a low moan on a tarnished trumpet

For those lives sacrificed

To the wrecking ball.


         The Casino and the Knickerbocker: 1930

         44th Street: 1945

         The Adelphi: 1958

         The New Century: 1962

         The Ziegfeld: 1966

         The Astor: 1972

         The Morosco, Bijou, and Gaiety

         And the Helen Hayes all in ‘82

         The Mark Hellinger: 1989


Remember thou art dust;

And to dust thou shall return.


Though the good news now

Was that the ball was finally falling

On the mission of Redemption.

Though some sought to limit

The scope of redefinition.


A Ferris wheel on Forty-second Street?


Cried Koch in despair.





Good Morning America and Global Village!

And good afternoon from Total Request Live!


The media giants have opened up shop

Where people gather at the window

To have a look at the goings on


To have the inside, in turn

Look back out at them.


Welcome to a new crossroads born

Of that timeless imperative:

Something must be done.

And something has.


A new arc in the parabola

      of possibilities.

The good money has driven out the bad.                 

The sleazy dragon has been slain.

The Second Circle has been broken.                                    


The once feared Ferris wheel

Takes its turns in Toys R Us.

            As bountiful and pulsating a venue as any

That the old world impresarios could muster.

Only the clientele has changed.


            Even the eccentrics have cleaned up their act.

                        The Naked Cowboy, the new dude in town

                        Has branded his backside, but his briefs don’t come down.


                                   The young men from Harlem put on a display

                                   Of their acrobatics and breakdancing skills.

                                   And pass the hat. And the hat gets filled.


                                               The Lion King is the new beast in town

                                               On a stage recreating the Serengeti

                                               At the New Amsterdam Disney restored.

                                               New hands resounding in old applause.


Room has been made

For the ball to come to rest

Atop the family tree.





It will always be not so much a place

But a churning kaleidoscope of shards of glass;

A sequence of squares each lighting the way to another.

Where energy ignites the human transition.


A clustering spirit

From in and out of town

That stops in mid stream

For the sheer joy

Of looking up.


A metaphor made flesh each New Year’s Eve




      ball all

    aglow in

      a slow






—Ron Vazzano



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