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The Paper of Record for East and West Villages, Lower East Side, Soho, Noho, Little Italy and Chinatown

April 16, 2015 • FREE Volume 5 • Number 4

Alleged gas siphoning only further fuels turmoil at another E.V. building BY TINA BENITEZ-EVES


128 2ND AVE., continued on p. 3

Planning chief downplays upzoning’s impact; Critics are still all hitting the roof BY LINCOLN ANDERSON


he de Blasio administration’s stated plan to “modernize” contextual-zoning districts by boosting their building-height caps would simply create “better housing,” according to Carl Weisbrod, the city’s planning czar.


early three weeks after the deadly explosion and fire at 121 Second Ave., which leveled three buildings and killed two men, tenants across the street from the site at 128 Second Ave. are still without heat and hot water.

On March 30, the city issued a full stop-work order for work in the building’s basement — meaning the tenants may be left without heat and hot water for an extended period of time. One of these tenants is Stage Restaurant, a counter deli that has been on Sec-

In addition, the scheme would help spur the creation of more affordable senior housing for the city’s growing older population, as well as affordable housing in general, Weisbrod and other officials say. Because seniors need elevators, which are not ecoZONING, continued on p. 8

Patti Smith and guitarist Lenny Kaye rocked the East Village fire benefit at Theatre 80 St. Mark’s Sunday night. See Page 4.

Four of the East Village Eight cats still missing BY YVONNE COLLERY


our extraordinarily lucky cats who went missing for a week during the aftermath of the Second Ave. explosion are not quite “home” yet, but all are all safely recovering with their “people.” Sebastian and Kitty Cordelia are now happily purring and snuggling up with Kathleen Blomberg at their temporary home. My Laszlo and Lulu are

doing very well, although Lulu and Catarina, one of our host cats where we are now staying, are at loggerheads and growl and hiss at each other whenever their paths cross, which is often. Laszlo has made fast friends with Angus, our other host cat, and they take nightly walkabouts side by side and have been spotted happily napping together during the day. Sebastian, Kitty Cordelia, Laszlo and Lulu have

all suffered though and miraculously survived a major disaster, but the same may not be true for Ryce, Leather Face, Sylvie and Sago. The ASPCA and Animal Care & Control said they are holding out the most hope for Ryce at this point since he is also from our building, 125 Second Ave., which is still standing unlike the buildings that Leather Face, Sylvie and Sago came from. That being CATS, continued on p. 13

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READY, SET...GO! Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, left, and Jenifer Rajkumar, co-chairperson of the Ready for Hillary National Finance Council, were all smiles at the final Ready for Hillary event on Sunday at a Battery Park City restaurant. “Three hundred-plus people came,” District Leader Rajkumar e-mailed us afterward about the turnout. “Did you see us on TV? Our event was even on the TV screens on the back of the taxi cabs. Most of the major news channels ended up coming to the event and even elected officials from other boroughs. SouthWest NY was packed.” Earlier in the day, Hillary Clinton had announced her campaign for president in a segment that was rolled out online. Former governor candidate and progressive darling Zephyr Teachout promptly tweeted out her assessment: “Clinton ad announcing campaign is surprisingly free of content, lacking autobiography, policy, vision. Hope she quickly holds press conf.” ROCK-STAR READING: Speaking of progressives, Senator Elizabeth Warren, above right, drew an equally big and enthusiatic crowd last Thurs., April 9, when she was at The Strand bookstore on Broadway in Noho to plug the release of the soft-cover version of her autobiography, “A Fighting Chance.” “She was ostensibly promoting the paperback of her book,” a source tells us. “She read from it. But it sounded like a campaign stump speech. It was in the rare books room at The Strand. Three hundred people were lined up outside around the corner to get in.” Needless to say, most in the crowd were hoping that Warren will eventually throw her hat in the ring, and that someone will give Clinton a strong primary challenge — if not more. Some of them wore “Run Warren Run” T-shirts, sporting a Web address, G.O.P. candidate Rand Paul will be visiting The Strand next month.



alone. The columnist and reality show host got that title after writing about her boy’s remarkable experience safely getting from point A to point B without an adult by his side. But not everyone thought this was a good idea, and in response to the media blowback, she founded the bookblog and movement “Free-Range Kids.” Her feisty belief that our kids are safer and smarter than our culture gives them credit for has landed her on talk shows including “Dr. Phil” and “The View.” She has lectured internationally, from Microsoft’s headquarters to the Sydney Opera House, and she’s also host of “World’s Worst Mom,” a reality show airing on Discovery-TLC in most of the world (but, surprisingly, not America!). Now, Skenazy brings her brand of fun, engaging writing to the Community News Group and New York Community Media, where her new column “Rhymes With Crazy” will appear each week. A graduate of Yale, she lives Queens with her husband and two teen sons. Her writing has appeared in the New York Daily News, where she was a columnist for 14 years, the New York Sun, NPR and, of course, MAD magazine. So check out what Lenore has to say this week and every week in The Villager.


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CRAZY ABOUT SKENAZY: Google “America’s Worst Mom” and you’ll quickly learn that Lenore Skenazy once let her 9-year-old son ride the subway

Stage faces eviction over alleged gas tampering 128 2ND AVE., continued from p. 1


ond Ave. for 35 years. Not only has the restaurant been closed for more than two weeks, but Icon Realty Management, the building’s owner, is accusing the Stage’s owner, Roman Diakun, of tampering with the building’s gas line, and issued him an eviction notice on April 13. Stage must vacate the space by April 30, according to Joe Goldsmith, a lawyer for Icon. Just days after the explosion, Con Edison shut off the gas line to 128 Second Ave. on March 29, as a safety precaution after a tenant reported smelling gas. On March 30, a city inspector visited the building and discovered a gas pipe and fittings without a permit and issued a stop-work order for work in the basement. For its part, Icon says that it never sent anyone to work on the gas line and believes that a Stage “employee or agent” was tampering with it. “We’ve uncovered a device installed without the owner’s knowledge or consent siphoning gas from Con Edison directly to the Stage Restaurant and bypassing Stage Restaurant’s meter,” Goldsmith said. “We’ve also ascertained that the gas pipe connected to Stage Restaurant’s meter, and through which gas should be provided to Stage Restaurant, is not actually connected to anything.” Icon took action against Stage for what it called “unauthorized and dangerous alterations,” according to Goldsmith. The Villager contacted Diakun’s son Andrew Diakun, who was unable to comment because they are in discussions with a lawyer. Closed since March 28, Stage Restaurant was already struggling to reopen in the disaster’s aftermath, and a petition was recently launched (https://www.change. org/p/stage-restaurant-to-reopen) by Andrew Diakun to help reopen it. The recent stop-work order and eviction notice against the restaurant follow more than a year of court battles involving several other tenants of No. 128 and the landlord after Icon purchased the building in October 2013. Tenants claimed that after Icon purchased it, the building’s condition has declined drastically. Fire-escape steps and railings are broken, an extra front door for security at the building’s entrance swings open and there’s excessive construction dust, they say. Fire alarms and windows are also broken throughout the building, according to several tenants who spoke to The Villager. Attorney Goldsmith, however, said the landlord is working on all

Stage Restaurant, closed since March 28, is accused of gas siphoning and is facing eviction.

the building repairs, but that the main concern right now is getting the gas working again. “Step one is to the get the gas turned on,” he said. “Unfortunately, with a building of this age, whenever the gas gets turned off, Con Edison has to come for a pressure test before they turn it back on,” he added. “These type of pipes, because of the age of the system, are not capable of holding the pressure required under current testing. Most of the pipes will have to be replaced.” Meanwhile, John Serdula, who heads the building’s tenants association, charged that Icon is trying to clear out one half of the building, whose tenants are still rent-controlled or rent-stabilized, in order to renovate and rent out apartments at a higher market value. “We always had heat and hot water,” Serdula said. “Once Icon took over, we didn’t have heat for a month and then longer. They’re trying to drive people out.” Regarding the recent heat and hot water shutoff, Goldsmith said the landlord sent notice to tenants about temporary arrangements — including a boiler, hot plates and reimbursements of $200 per day and hotel-room stays — until all the services restored. However, Serdula said that these notices were sent only to tenants of the newly renovated apartments that rent for upward of $4,000. Hot plates for cooking were delivered to tenants on April 5. “They’re running a heating system that takes forever to heat up, trickling hot water,” said another tenant, Jonathan Jones. “Living here is such a negative feeling,” said Jones, founder of 2001Films, an East Village production company. Jones, who has lived in the building with his wife since 2009, has also been in and out of court with Icon for more than a year, and said he may have to move out by the end of this

month. He claims that Icon has been trying to overturn his unit’s rent-stabilization status, saying that he owes more than $50,000 in back rent. Jones said he has always paid his rent on time and has proof, and that Icon’s claims stem from the fact that they did not have full access to the previous landlord’s rental records. Tenants were further concerned when, on April 3, Icon suddenly posted fire guards from Epic Security on each of the building’s six

floors. “The guys were walking around standing by our door, saying really loudly, ‘We smell smoke. We smell smoke,’ ” Jones said. “First of all, we don’t know why they’re here. Maybe we should call 911 if there’s smoke.” Serdula spoke with other tenants, who were hearing the same thing. He called 911 and request for police and firefighters to respond, and they arrived moments later. There was no smoke or fire. Goldsmith said Icon hired the fire guards to help maintain some order in case of an emergency after D.O.B. notified them that there were some issues with the building’s fire escapes, and that they would want fire guards to be posted at the building until things were repaired. Goldsmith said most of the tenants are exaggerating conditions. “The reason that they’re being so vocal is retaliation against the landlord for bringing cases against them,” he said. “They’re total dirtbags,” countered Roman Kaniuga, who has lived in the building nearly 20 years. There is a broken step on the section of the fire escape outside his window. Tenants and Icon went to court on Tues., April 14.

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Clockwise from above, Alan Kaufman, left, and Aron Kay, the “Yippie Pie Man,” at the East Village fire benefit, with performers Mollie King, Jesse Malin and On Ka’a Davis.





Rockers raise the roof for fire victims A benefit for the victims of the March 26 East Village gas explosion and fire drew a capacity crowd of 200 people to Theatre 80 St. Mark’s on Sunday night and raised $11,000. Taken together with a $36,000 contribution by Sting and others by Yoko Ono and Gertrude Stein of the Boris Lurie Foundation, the effort — led by writer Alan Kaufman — has raised more than $50,000. The funds will be given to GOLES (Good Old Lower East Side), the local tenant-advocacy group that has been working with residents displaced by the disaster. The evening's headliner was the legendary Patti Smith. “As I was getting dressed today, I touched everything I put on,” she said after taking the stage, “my T-shirt, my socks. I imagined what it would be like to go off to work or to shop and everything was gone — photos of my daughter...perhaps even my beloved cat.” Check for full coverage of the night.


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April 16, 2015

Biz crawl helps shell-shocked shops get cooking BY TEQUILA MINSKY


Cook Diego Rivera was cooking up “a hunk, a hunk of” flaming burgers.

Ink to make you think PHOTOS BY TEQUILA MINSKY

t the northwest corner of Second Ave. and E. Seventh St. rubble removal has been going on steadily for the past two weeks. Just down the block from there, a handful of businesses are open — but most people wouldn’t know it. The stores are largely hidden from view behind tall plywood barriers. The gas explosion that has left a hole in the heart of the East Village has also heavily impacted the businesses on this block. To let people know that these places are “open for business,” the online campaign #SaveNYC organized a “Small Biz Crawl” for the Second Ave. explosion business mom-and-pop store survivors. Beginning at noon on Saturday, those who arrived promptly received #SaveNYC placards to carry. Fliers listed four stores on the avenue’s west side — Gem Spa, Paul’s Da Burger Joint, B&H Dairy and Himilayan Visions — that have been particularly impacted, as well as other nearby restaurants. Hungry patrons stopped at B&H Dairy restaurant but were disappointed to find it gated. The restaurant was still shut last Saturday. Andy Reynolds wore a T-shirt with “Challah! por favor” in green lettering. “It’s the same font as the awning,” he said. And he should know. A graphic artist, he designed the shirt for free — B&H info is on its back — so that the shop could make some money selling the T-shirts. “They’re supposed to open next week when they turn the gas on,” he said. “I normally eat here five days a week.” B&H Dairy has been in the E. Village since 1938, and is known for its challah. E. Seventh St. resident Jaime Vasquez, who was also milling around, said he eats there at least three times a week. He came out to see how things were going, stopping at Gem Spa for a chocolate egg cream. Many of those on the crawl were locals who live just blocks away. Kimberly Schwab of St. Mark’s Place and her boyfriend planned on stopping at most of the places on the list. Supporters came from other boroughs and neighborhoods, as well, to spend their money and show solidarity with the small shops. Carrying a placard, actress Pamela Dayton, who traveled from W. 181st St., stopped to refuel at Paul’s Da Burger Joint where Reynolds had just eaten. Business for this funky East Village staple, featuring 21 specialty burgers and seven specialty fries, has been really slow since the March 26 catastro-

Jaime Vasquez, with an egg cream at Gem Spa, thinks it’s hip to sip in support of the impacted businesses.

phe. The attention and buzz created by the crawl was a big help for them on Saturday. Cook Diego Rivera was working nonstop assembling burger creations. #SaveNYC’s flier included a brief history of the East Village, mentioning it as an incubator of the ’60s counterculture and a home to bohemians, artists, hippies and students, all attracted by the once-cheap rent, and the punk and Nuyorican movements. “In recent years,” the flier read, “there has been a cultural decline due in large part by gentrification, overdevelopment and rising rent.”

Read t the Easr! Village April 16, 2015


POLICE BLOTTER E.V. bodega bandit bagged A suspect responsible for a recent rash of robberies of East Village delis and bodegas has been collared, according to police. Cops finally caught up with the gaunt suspect, whom they identified as Kenneth Nottage, 47, of 347 E. 18th St. He was charged with four counts of robbery, pertaining to the third, seventh, ninth and twelfth heists in his eight-day one-man crime wave. According to police, Nottage usually displayed a knife or simulated a firearm when he hit the stores, demanded money, removed cash from the register, then fled on foot. Following his seventh attempted job, a failed robbery at East Village Fruit and Vegetable, 229 Avenue B, on Tues., April 7, at 1:45 a.m., in which he failed to score any cash, Nottage may have felt the East Village was starting to get too hot for him. So, he set his sights farther Uptown. He went on to stick up four more stores, stealing $200 from Irish Green Cleaners, at 226 E. 53rd St., on April 8; and $190 from Crumbs Bake Shop, at 775 Columbus Ave., on April 9; plus an undisclosed amount of money from a Subway sandwich store, at 301 Cathedral Parkway North, also on April 9. But his downfall may have been going near donuts. He did two more robberies, at separate Dunkin Donuts shops on April 10, at 1630 Madison Ave. and 2103 Eighth Ave., making away with $294 and $100, respectively. But it proved to be the end of the line for Nottage. Police soon closed in and arrested him.

Armed man accosts her On Tues., April 7, at 10:45 p.m., a man followed a 24-year-old woman into an elevator at 78 Fifth Ave., between W. 13th and 14th Sts., police said. Once inside the elevator, the suspect brandished a firearm and demanded that the woman lead him to her apartment, A surveillance-camera where he would take image of the suspect in an her cash. But she told attempted armed robbery him she did not live inside 78 Fifth Ave. on there, and the suspect April 7. Here he is shown then demanded that going through the turnstile in the subway at 14th she follow him to an ATM, where she would St. and Sixth Ave. remove money for him.  As they exited the building, the suspect held the victim’s hand while hailing a taxi. As the cab pulled to the curb, the victim broke free from the suspect’s grasp and fled to a nearby store. The suspect fled the location empty-handed. Anyone with information is asked to call the Police Department’s Crime Stoppers Hotline, at 800-577-


April 16, 2015

TIPS. Tips can also be submitted by logging onto the Crime Stoppers Web site, www.nypdcrimestoppers. com, or by texting them to 274637(CRIMES) and then entering TIP577.

Former Pastis site fatality On Mon., April 6, at around 12:14 p.m., police responded to a 911 call of an aided male at 9-19 Ninth Ave., between Little W. 12th and 13th Sts., in the Meatpacking District. Upon arrival, officers discovered a 22-year-old male unconscious and unresponsive. E.M.S. was on scene and transported the male to Lenox Hill Hospital in critical condition where he was pronounced dead. The Medical Examiner will determine the cause of death and the investigation is ongoing. The New York Post reported that, according to police, the man was a construction worker who was killed when he was trapped by an avalanche of dirt at the site, the former location of Pastis restaurant. He had been shoring up a wall at the location when unstable soil gave way and he was buried, according to sources, the newspaper reported. Councilmember Corey Johnson said, “I am saddened and angered to hear of a worker’s death at the construction site located at 19 Ninth Ave. in my district. Preliminary reports indicate multiple safety violations on the work site. This loss of life reinforces the need for even stronger workplace protections and safety procedures. The safety of the public depends on it. I thank city authorities, including the N.Y.P.D., F.D.N.Y., E.M.S. and Department of Buildings, for their response to this terrible event.” Restoration Furniture has reportedly signed a 15-year $250 million lease for the full property, which is being reconstructed and vertically expanded. A partial stop-work order is currently in effect.

Sharp showdown Police said two men clashed with a machete versus a big knife in front of 80 University Place on Fri., April 10, around 2 p.m. Two witnesses said that a man wielding a machete cut another man brandishing a butcher knife on the shoulder and forearm. The police report stated the incident was also caught on video. Esmeling Baez, 20, who allegedly had the butcher knife, was charged with misdemeanor menacing. Felix Leonardo Martinez, 33, the man with the machete, was charged with felony assault. A Sixth Precinct officer could not immediately say what prompted the fight.

Gunshots on Avenue D On Mon., April 6, at 2 p.m., police said, Frank Maldonado, 16, exited 178 Avenue D, brandished a gun and fired several shots at a group of people. No one was struck by the gunfire and the suspect fled the location.

Police did not say what prompted the shooting. Anyone with information is asked to call the Police Department’s Crime Stoppers Hotline, at 800-577TIPS. Tips can also be submitted by logging onto the Crime Stoppers Web site, www.nypdcrimestoppers. com, or by texting them to 274637(CRIMES) and then entering TIP577.

Frank Maldonado is wanted for a shooting incident.

Wheels of fury A driver, 24, allegedly hit another man, 53, with his car near the northwest corner of W. Eighth St. and Sixth Ave. on Mon., April 6, around 6:20 p.m. after the two argued. According to police, the older man got in front of the younger man’s car in order to photograph him. But once the light turned green, the driver reportedly hit the gas and took off, striking his adversary. Two witnesses pursued the driver for six blocks, then caught up to him and held him at the corner of Sixth Ave. and W. 13th St. until police arrived and arrested him. Yusofjon Tuychiev was charged with misdemeanor hit-and-run.

Photo rage, Part II

A man did not take kindly to being photographed in front of 19 University Place on Thurs., April 9. He allegedly approached a 51-year-old man just before 2 p.m., requesting that he desist and delete the photos already taken. The photographer refused. Police said Correy Holder, 25, then allegedly put the man in a headlock. Holder was subsequently arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault.

Zach Williams a n d L i n co l n A n d e rs o n

Public housing awash in flood protection cash BY JOSH ROGERS



ine Lower East Side public housing complexes will be able to tap into a $3 billion federal fund to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy, Senator Chuck Schumer and Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced in Red Hook. The nine developments are part of 33 NYCHA projects around the city that will receive the Federal Emergency Management Agency money to repair and protect places damaged three years ago. At the March 31 announcement, the mayor and Schumer said it was the largest single grant FEMA has ever made. In Downtown Manhattan, the NYCHA complexes that will get this funding include the Smith Houses, LaGuardia Houses, Baruch Houses, Two Bridges, Wald Houses, Riis Houses 1 and 2, and Campos Plaza 1 and 2. “I know we have to protect our boilers because we had no water during Sandy,” said Aixa Torres, a tenant leader at Smith Houses next to the Brooklyn Bridge. “I am very happy about the 3 billion,” Torres said last. “I’m sure there’ll be another Sandy with this crazy weather… . “I think for too long the federal government has ignored public housing in general. We’re taxpayers like everyone else.” Underscoring that last point, NYCHA estimates that there is an additional $18 billion shortfall citywide on needed repairs at more than 300 developments.

In November 2012, Smith Houses residents grabbed emergency rations trucked in by the National Guard three days after Hurricane Sandy hit, knocking out electricity in southern Manhattan.

It’s not yet known how much money each housing project will get, but the average is slightly more than $90 million. Torres said all the needed repairs at Smith will cost $623 million, though not all of that is connected to Sandy damage. Smith needs backup generators and protection for its boilers, two projects eligible for the FEMA funds. Torres said the complex’s water tank was first damaged in 2011, first by an earthquake and then by Hurricane Irene, which did not hit New York City particularly hard, and then, a year later, by Sandy. After the superstorm, most Smith residents lacked power or water for a week. She said only half of Smith’s leaky roofs have been repaired and the elevators also need replacing.

About half of the FEMA money will go toward repairs, and the rest will be for flood-protection measures, which is especially important for Smith, LaGuardia and Two Bridges. All three developments have been cut out of the first phase of the “Big U,” another federally funded project that aims to build a “U”-shaped barrier of protective berms and deployable walls around the southern half of Manhattan. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has earmarked $335 million to build at least part of the first section — along the East Side from Montgomery St. up to E. 23rd St. In a press release, Schumer said, “For thousands of hard-working New York families and seniors in some 200 NYCHA buildings from Red Hook to Coney Island to the Lower East to the Rockaways who were displaced and devastated by Superstorm Sandy, this massive and historic federal investment...will both restore decent living conditions to their buildings and fortify them against future storms and disasters.” Joining the release from the mayor were a long list of politicians, including on the local level, U.S. Representatives Nydia Velázquez and Carolyn Maloney, Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Margaret Chin. Chin said the money “represents a huge step toward improving the lives of thousands of Lower East Side NYCHA residents who are still struggling with post-Sandy damage and the fear of being left unprotected.” With the funding, she said, “We can get much closer to truly protecting those public housing residents for generations to come.”

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Planners play up upzoning’s potential positives ZONING, continued from p. 1

nomically efficient to install in small buildings, the buildings would need some added height and so have to be at least four to six stories to accommodate the lifts, city planners say. Over all, though, the proposed changes “are very, very modest,” in Weisbrod’s view. However, the administration’s new plan — called Zoning for Quality and Affordability — has sparked a firestorm of protest from local community activists and preservationists. These critics say the proposal, if approved, would undermine the entire point of hard-won contextual districts — namely, their already-existing height caps. In short, this plan basically would be an “upzoning” of building heights by up to 15 feet (for market-rate housing) to 25 feet or more (if senior or affordable housing makes up 20 percent of the project), or from two to three stories, for wide swaths of the city, opponents charge. About 15 percent of New York City is currently covered by contextual zoning. All of that area, under this proposal, would be rezoned in one fell swoop.


April 16, 2015

Carl Weisbrod, director of the City Planning Department, called the proposed height changes “very, very modest.”

In an informational meeting with members of the local media on Monday, Planning Director Weisbrod

and other top Department of City Planning officials, laid out what they described as the proposal’s benefits, then answered reporters’ questions. Howard Slatkin, deputy executive director for strategic planning, gave a powerpoint presentation of the scheme. Partly driving the plan, the officials said, is that by 2040 it’s predicted the city will have 400,000 more seniors than today. Due to current conditions for new construction — such as the standard width of prefab concrete floor slabs and the need to pack in more utilities in between floors — ceiling heights over the years in contextual districts have shrunk by a few feet, while it’s more convenient to make new buildings only 60 feet deep rather than the allowable 65 feet deep. Combined with the strict height caps of contextual districts, this all somehow translates into developers currently not being able to use all of the available F.A.R. (Floor Area Ratio) — or the maximum square footage allowable under the zoning — in their projects. As developers struggle to squeeze enough floors into their heightcapped projects, what often gets squeezed out is affordable and senior housing, the agency representatives argue. And that kind of housing is always a challenge to get built, due to the lower profit margin, they note. Also, Slatkin said, the city’s proposed zoning change would correct a current “issue” where first-floor apartment windows are at pedestri-

ans’ eye level, meaning some residents “keep their blinds shut all day.” Similarly, having retail at street level isn’t as good as when a store is up about 5 feet above street level, he said. As a result, the scheme calls for boosting the first floor up by this amount. According to the planning bigs, under the plan, for straight market-rate projects, 75 percent of the city’s contextually zoned districts would see a height-cap increase of from zero to 5 feet. But the other 25 percent could see a bump-up in height of 15 feet or higher. Residential districts that are zoned R7A — and equivalent commercially zoned areas — which would potentially have among the greatest increases for straight market-rate projects, predominate in the Village and East Village. The zoning tweaks would also allow for street-wall setbacks, such as to allow small courtyard-like entrances for buildings, which haven’t been allowed for some years in contextual districts. The city’s zoning was put into place in 1961, while contextual zoning — with height caps and uniform street-wall regulations — went into effect in 1987. Tobi Bergman, chairperson of Community Board 2, has warned that the new zoning could lead to “teardowns” of old buildings in contextually zoned areas that are not also included landmarked historic districts. However, Weisbrod countered that this would not happen. “We don’t see teardowns now,” he said. “We’re in no way increasing F.A.R. We’re in no way increasing development rights. We’re making affordable and senior housing more profitable. That’s not why people tear down buildings — to create senior and affordable housing. “We’re building better housing,” Weisbrod stressed. “We’re building affordable housing — and that’s a major difference.” (Another Planning official later said that the only places where demolitions might happen would be “soft sites,” properties built to less than 50 percent of their potential F.A.R.) “I think that the changes here are very, very modest,” Weisbrod stated. “And, frankly, they are intended to make contextual districts more contextual. You get [a few] more feet for a much nicer building. No historic districts get changed at all by this. “You’re not going to see much in the way of changes,” Weisbrod assured of the overall plan. Much of the Village is protected by historic districts. ZONING, continued on p. 14

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16 is the new 6; Treating teens like toddlers RHYMES WITH CRAZY BY LENORE SKENAZY


hen Walt Disney was 16 he forged his parents’ signatures and lied about his age so he could join the American Ambulance Corps, which was part of the Red Cross. That’s how he found himself in Europe, just after World War I ended, driving ambulances. He loved it. He said it “added up to a lifetime of experience in one package.” And as he later put it: “I know being on my own at an early age has made me more self-reliant and less of a the-world-owes-me-a-living type than I otherwise would have been.” I have to thank the book “Teen 2.0” by Robert Epstein for that story, and for putting the whole idea that teens are lazy/incompetent/irresponsible selfies on trial. Is it that “kids today” are really so immature? Or is that we treat them as if they are, and they re-

spond the way most of us do when dissed or diminished: We disappoint. Over the past generation or two we have come to think of young people as less and less competent. I usually notice this with younger kids — how we drive them to school, as if it’s always too cold or too far. How we insert ourselves into their squabbles, as if they couldn’t sort things out by themselves. How we organize their lives for them — I’ve done this myself — as if leaving them to their own devices would mean wasted time, a teachable moment that we failed to fill. But teens, man! Lately we act as if there’s no difference between 13 and 3. Here in New York City, there is no specific minimum age for latchkey kids, thank goodness. But Illinois law states that no one should be home alone until age 14 — an age when many kids in my generation had already been babysitting for two or three (or four!) years. Now the 14-year-olds are the babies themselves. Or how about crossing guards? My crossing guard when I was a tyke was a 10-year-old. Now, in every place I’ve lived in New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens), the 10-year-olds are the tykes and the guards are all adults. Deliver newspapers? The folks who

bring ours here in Jackson Heights do it by car. Most newspapers require their delivery people to have a license and liability insurance. If you’re just a kid with a bike? Too bad. And as for the laws about sex, we act as if anyone with any stirrings of anything before 18 is either a perp or a victim. Sometimes they’re both. A case in 2006 involved a 13-yearold Utah girl who had consensual sex with her 12-year-old boyfriend. I don’t know of anyone who loves the idea of kids that young sleeping together, but here’s something worse: She was found guilty of having sex with someone under 14.

And so was he! That makes them both sex offenders (and both victims). As I learned from Nicole Pittman, an expert on the sex offender laws I heard speak at an N.Y.U. Law School symposium on Monday: Of the 800,000 or so people on the sex offender registry nationwide, 200,000 are under age 18. That’s because teens have sex with other teens — a fact that shouldn’t be news and, when consensual, shouldn’t be considered rape. Shackling a teen with the label of Sex Offender often means they are not allowed to go to school (because there are other kids there) or even live at home, if there are younger siblings in the house. Sometimes they can’t live near a park, a church, a daycare center...even though it’s not that they ever raped a toddler. It’s that they slept with someone around their own age, as teens always have. It’s only now that we’re treating teens like toddlers themselves that we are stunting them as humans, and hunting them down for having sex. Really, it’s time for someone to grow up. Us. Skenazy is a public speaker and founder of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids”

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Natural gas vs. heating oil To The Editor: Re “Illegal gas tapping eyed in deadly E.V. explosion” (news article, April 2): My building recently switched to natural gas as opposed to heating oil, for whatever reason. Then the gas was shut off, more than a year ago. Somebody smelled something. We have heat and hot water, but no gas for stoves. We’ve had


endless changes and inspections. Heating oil is a liquid and safer? Natural gas is a gas and therefore more volatile, especially in our old Lower East Side buildings?  The Villager might serve a community service by finding out how many buildings in the L.E.S. have gas shutdowns. There are many. What’s going on? It seems some folks, perhaps meaning well, or not, just don’t know how dangerous and flam-

mable the technology being forced on them is. Thomas Walker

Committed to her cats To The Editor: Re “How one cat survived the Second Ave. catastrophe” (news article, April 2): There are many heroes in this disaster, as the writer points out, not the least of which are the F.D.N.Y. rescuers who went the extra mile to even provide Laszlo with a can of tuna! But surely there is another hero (modestly unacknowledged here): Laszlo’s owner — or should I say Laszlo’s human? — Yvonne, who worked tirelessly to find him and the other cats as well, never giving up for days, up to the point she wrote this article. She obviously has as big a beating heart as Laszlo! And thanks to her, we have at least one happy-ending story to this terrible event. Katherine Cole

Everyone’s nightmare — the IRS!! 10

April 16, 2015

The trials of collage artist Kasoundra Kasoundra BY PENNY ARCADE, DANA DAVISON AND MIKKI MAHER


suffocating and corrupt bureaucracy has grown up around social services for the elderly. Guardians, social workers, financial managers and other caregivers too often show a cavalier disregard for the welfare of their charges. And don’t imagine for a moment that it is only lonely, friendless, isolated denizens that become victims of abuse. If you are a senior caught in this bureaucratic quagmire, even your best friends can’t help you. Consider the case of Kasoundra Kasoundra. This very original New York Underground personality, now pushing 80, has been an avant-garde artist for more than half a century. When she arrived in Manhattan as a Midwestern college dropout in the early ’60s, she boldly knocked on the doors of celebrities such as Hermione Gingold and Bob Dylan simply to find out what made them tick. Modeling at the Art Students League to earn her living, Kasoundra inserted herself into the urban art underground, making friends with its creative geniuses while she perfected her own considerable talents as a witty collage artist. Brice Marden and Jonas Mekas, among others, collected her artworks, and Maurice Gerodias, founder of The Olympia Press, took her with him on trips to Europe. Kasoundra hung out with the Alice’s Restaurant crowd at the church in the Berkshires, and acted in Harry Smith’s “Mahagonny.” Her poster of Harry looking at himself in his own eyeglasses is a sought-after treasure. Flash-forward to January 2011, when Kasoundra was discovered lying on the floor of her kitchen and transported to Lenox Hill Hospital by Adult Protective Services. Kasoundra’s boyfriend had run off with her roommate, and despite her bad liver, Kasoundra had consumed an entire quart of vodka. When her friends finally located her in the hospital, she was yellow with jaundice. The physically feisty Kasoundra bounced back soon enough, but she was transferred to the hospital’s psych ward because she complained of depression. This proved to be a dangerous disclosure, because from that moment forward, Kasoundra was never to enjoy her freedom again. Although she has fought valiantly through three years of court hearings with three successive judges, Kasoundra remains marooned in a nursing home in New Rochelle with little hope of ever regaining her liberty. How could this happen? Kasoundra’s trials began with her landlord. As she stayed in the psych ward month after month, her rent fell increasingly behind, and the landlord sued for eviction. Kasoundra paid him $2,000 as a gesture of good faith until she could return home and get her affairs in order, but the landlord was not appeased and the eviction proceeding continued. Kasoundra had lived for 30 years in a rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper East Side, and under SCRIE (Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption) she paid $684 a month. With a modest renovation, Kasoundra’s four-room apartment —particularly in view of the new Second Ave. subway line — might easily fetch $3,500 per month in today’s inflated real estate market. Such apartments have become valuable assets to landlords, who often pay rent-stabilized tenants thousands of dollars to move out. Although the hospital helped Kasoundra acquire a pro bono lawyer to stave off her eviction

A self-portrait collage by Kasoundra Kasoundra.

proceeding, the better course might have been to help her set up an automated bill payment plan at her bank so her rent could be paid on a timely basis. Kasoundra’s next problem was that her medical condition, hepatic encephalopathy, caused her liver function to wax and wane. This condition (and/ or the medication taken for it) can cause symptoms of grogginess and occasional forgetfulness — side effects that dissipate once the liver returns to normal and the medication is discontinued. In the meantime, the psych ward social worker was reluctant to send Kasoundra home to her apartment, a three-flight walk-up. The staff considered that she might be better off living in Lott House, an elegant, assisted-living facility in her neighborhood, where she could occupy a studio apartment and have her meals served in the spacious dining room with windows overlooking Central Park. Kasoundra loved the park, and had once been a volunteer gardener there. An appointment was made for a visit to Lott House, but after Kasoundra’s initial interview, her social worker sat on the application for months. No one helped Kasoundra apply for “Community Medicaid,” which, in view of her meager Social Security income, would be needed to pay for homecare services or for her residency at Lott House. Instead, the hospital applied for and received a “hospital Medicaid” payment for the hefty bill Kasoundra now owed the hospital. As the year drew to a close, Kasoundra’s social worker, who was about to retire, was under pressure to dispose of her cases. Because Community Medicaid had not been set up, Kasoundra could neither return home nor move into Lott House, and her social worker decided to dispense with the problem by seeking a court-appointed guardian under Article 81. For this purpose, Kasoundra was given the short form of the R-Bans Mental Status Test, and the social worker said afterward that Kasoundra had performed poorly “on one component of the test.” On this flimsy basis, the hospital applied to the New York State Supreme Court for a court-ap-

pointed guardian. Since Kasoundra had been adopted and her adoptive parents had passed away, she had no one who could intercede on her behalf or halt the impending termination of her rights and ability to control her own destiny. The first guardianship hearing took place in December 2011. Although Kasoundra was never sent court papers (a procedural violation), she asked one of her friends to inform the judge’s clerk that she wanted a “trial by jury,” and that she did not want the “court evaluator” to have access to her medical records, if the evaluator was going to base a competency judgment on the results of the paltry mental status test. Kasoundra was legally entitled to both of these options, but her requests were ignored. At the hearing, one of Kasoundra’s friends offered to become her guardian, but the social worker spoke out against this prospect, and the judge decided to appoint a professional guardianship agency. Ironically, just before the hearing took place, Kasoundra’s latest liver test had come back “negative,” which meant that her medication would be discontinued and her sporadic grogginess would soon dissipate, which it subsequently did. But no doctor or social worker from the hospital brought up the results of Kasoundra’s latest liver test –– or its import –– at the hearing. In her ruling, Judge Visitacion-Lewis stipulated that Kasoundra should be returned home with appropriate homecare services provided, or, if that proved too difficult because of the stairs, Kasoundra should be placed in an assisted-living facility “in her community.” (Since Lott House was the only such facility that accepted Medicaid, it was not only the most desirable but also the only option.) The judge also stipulated that the guardian should confer on all important matters with Kasoundra and work closely with her friends to insure that her needs were met. None of the judge’s directives were followed. Kasoundra’s third problem was her guardian, Judah Samet of United Guardianship Services. Ignoring the judge’s orders, he promptly whisked Kasoundra to a nursing home in New Rochelle — far from her community and friends. Kasoundra was confined to a bed with a loud buzzer that went off every time she tried to get out of bed. She received no physical exercise, and soon her leg muscles began to atrophy. Even after her friends discovered where she was, they were unable to contact her because she had no working telephone. She remained isolated and alone for months. Finally one of her friends brought a psychiatrist to the nursing home to evaluate Kasoundra. He gave her a routine mental status test and determined that her cognitive functioning was normal. He saw no reason why she should not live at home if she wished to do so. But when this good news was communicated to the guardian, Samet said he was giving up Kasoundra’s apartment, and if her friends tried to interfere, he would take out an order of protection to prevent them from ever seeing Kasoundra again. He made no appointments for her at Lott House and, in fact, Kasoundra was a “no show” at two successive Lott House interviews that were set up by her supporters. Her friends became alarmed that the guardian intended to keep Kasoundra in the New Rochelle nursing home for the rest of her life. Even the nurses told Kasoundra that she didn’t belong there. KASOUNDRA, continued on p. 23 April 16, 2015


Clamp down on gas tapping and the crooks who do it



he disastrous, fatal East Village explosion and fire on March 26 has left a huge hole on Second Ave., two men dead and one huge question unanswered — namely, how could this tragedy ever have been allowed to happen in the first place? The investigation is focusing on suspected gas siphoning involving 121 Second Ave., where the explosion occurred, and possibly also 119 Second Ave., a building that was owned by the same landlord. Back in August, Con Ed inspectors found that the gas line servicing Sushi Park, the Japanese restaurant on 121 Second Ave.’s ground floor, had been illegally tapped with flexible hoses that were reportedly diverting gas to residential apartments upstairs. Smelling gas and finding multiple leaks in the jury-rigged system, Con Ed shut off the gas until the dangerous situation was fixed. A master-plumber self-certified that the situation had been remedied. The gas was then turned back on — but city inspectors never subsequently returned to check if the illegal practice

had recurred. Often, when a convicted felon gets out of prison, he or she is on parole for a while. People who knowingly — or even unknowingly — illegally divert highly combustible gas, similarly, should be monitored to ensure they are not continuing to do so as soon as the inspectors look the other way. Currently, tough, the Department of Buildings has no such safeguards. Con Ed merely alerts D.O.B. when it shuts off gas to a building — but the utility needs to provide much more detailed information to the city, in terms of why the gas was locked, specifically if it was due to a highly dangerous condition that could potentially recur. After all, if a person taps a gas line once, wouldn’t they just do it again given the chance — especially if there’s little-to-no follow-up? Con Ed, for its part, maintains it did its job properly at 121 Second Ave., but the utility now also says it is going to cooperate with the city to tighten up this process. In a statement to The Villager, Con Ed said: “We followed procedure by turning off the gas on Aug. 6 after finding the rigged-up hosing and finding leaks. We then notified D.O.B. within 90 days (Sept. 4, in fact). Also, we will be working with the city to see what other changes in the process


they want to make.” As for whether it should have raised red flags to Con Ed inspectors two weeks ago that the upstairs apartments at 121 Second Ave. didn’t have any gas service, the utility deflected that question; Con Ed was there only to check on the metering systems for a new second gas line to the building, but found that the new meters had been placed in too tight of a space, and so didn’t turn the gas on for the new line, the utility said. “Our inspectors who went to 121 Second Ave. the afternoon of March 26 were there to inspect work that was done in connection with the installation of the new service,” the utility told us. “They were not there to conduct a survey as to who had gas and who didn’t.” The city increasingly has been moving toward natural gas for heating. Yes, it’s better environmentally than heating oil — but what about safety? “Natural gas is a clean, safe source of energy,” the utility told us. “The delivery of any form of energy poses risks.” Con Ed also sent us a fact sheet about natural-gas conversions, but we didn’t find anything specific about safety in it. The city, not Con Ed, is conducting

the investigation into the explosion, the utility added. A recent New York Times article, “East Village gas explosion reveals problems in city’s inspection system,” reported that Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris says the city will now be trying to follow up “in a more focused way” regarding “people who have a history of problematic behavior.” Meanwhile, in the wake of the disaster — which felled three buildings, killed two young men and displaced scores of local families — landlord Maria Hrynenko, contractor Dilber Kukic and a plumber — who had been doing the actual work on the new gas-metering service in the basement — are all said to be frantically pointing fingers at each other as to who was ultimately responsible for the gas tapping at 121 Second Ave. It’s suspected that after Con Ed’s inspectors left on March 26, someone may have promptly tried to hook up the illegal system again, but botched the job, leading to the disastrous explosion and fire. Criminally negligent homicide charges are now likely, according to police sources, the Daily News reported. And these charges are entirely justified — two lives were taken, and many, many more could have been lost. Someone now must pay.

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April 16, 2015

Read t the Easr! Village

Four of the East Village Eight are still missing CATS, continued from p. 1


Leather Face is still missing.

Posters for Sago were the first to go up.


Sylvie was left behind as her building was exploding all around her. PHOTO BY LIPSKY


said, we believe that more can still be done and should have been done to find our cherished missing pet neighbors. Ryce is a gorgeous young Siamese-mix cat belonging to Stuart and Kayoko Lipsky and their heartbroken 12-year-old daughter, Hannah. The Lipskys were able to take their other cat, Muffin, but were unable to find Ryce when huge burning pieces of the neighboring building were already crashing down onto the roof of the boutique Enz’s, which is next to their second-floor windows. The Lipskys believe that Ryce could have gotten out the smashed windows later and fallen into Enz’s space. No one has looked in there yet despite their many pleas. Hannah is a very strong and brave young girl, who has not missed even a day of school throughout this horrible time. Hannah with her sweet, brave face is an inspiration to us all. Sylvie, a winsome and lovely Tortie, the adored pet of Nora and Matt Brooks, jumped away and hid when their roommate tried to get her out when she had to leave as her building was exploding from under her. I spoke with Matt — master puppeteer and puppet builder for Jim Henson — about five days after the explosion at the GOLES meeting held for all of the survivors. This couple had already lost everything that they had in the entire world, and yet a miserable-looking and forlorn Matt was exchanging info with us, the other pet guardians of the East Village Eight. Leather Face, with his piercing blue eyes, a young Siamese/tabby mix (who looks very much like Ryce), is the spirit cat and beloved muse of Donald Cumming from 123 Second Ave. I met Donald at the Red Cross emergency center two days after the explosion. Donald, a very successful musician (The Virgins), had lost everything, and yet he didn’t speak a word about any of that. He was only speaking of Leather Face, a cat that he found and rescued in Tompkins Square Park two years ago. Donald has been putting up posters all over the East Village and has also paid for postcards to be sent to every apartment unit in the surrounding area. He is desperate to bring Leather Face safely home to wherever home may turn out to be. Whenever I see Donald, he is holding a picture or poster of Leather Face. Donald is showing us all grace by example. Sago is a gorgeous 14-year-old Siamese. Sago’s poster was the first to go up after the disaster. None of the other East Village Eight people have met Sago’s people. That is because Tom Schmidt and Kim Modes were away from New York at the time of the ex-

Did Ryce fall into the Enz’s space during the catastrophe?

plosion. Their friend Tom Walker very quickly put up the posters and also handed them to local people. Kudos to Tom Walker for being such a good and kind friend. From the outset, we were pleading with the ASPCA and ACC to do a thorough search in the interior of our square block (borders being E. Seventh St. and St. Mark’s Place between Second and Third Aves.). Obviously, our side of Second Ave. was off limits, but access could have easily been gotten from the west and north parts of the block. Historically, many “alley cats” have resided in these areas, and some missing felines from days of yore have been found in some people’s gardens and returned. We were asking that catch-and-release cat traps be put in these areas. It was nev-

er done. The agencies in question said that they could not gain access. This is mindboggling since the F.D.N.Y. had all sorts of top brass working at the disaster site, and since it is the F.D.N.Y that grants access, and has access to almost every building in New York City. We, the people of New York City and the pet owners who were let down, need answers. Some extraordinary people have been working indefatigably on behalf of us (the displaced pet guardians of the East Village Eight and our missing cats.) Cathryn Swan, of the Washington Square Park Blog not only covered our plight and individual stories, but has actively helped in our ongoing search. She has made many many phone calls to the various agencies involved, has gathered facts and has

found people to help us who have expertise outside of the agencies that we have been dealing with. Another local advocate is Chrissy Hursh, a local dog walker with both feet and ears to the ground. Chrissy has relayed information about any cat that might fit the descriptions of the East Village Eight. She has combed the Web sites of all the city’s animal shelters. Chrissy also hooked us up with the Find Sugar Web site. Sugar’s people, desperate to find their beloved missing pit bull, gave the East Village lost cats space on their site. Many people also reported sightings of cats that they thought might be ours. Randi Klein of Whiskers Holistic Petcare on E. Ninth St. also linked us to her site and volunteered the Rescue Ranch as a drop-off spot. Bideawee Animal Hospital also linked our lost pets to their Web site and network. The Villager has been very helpful to us from the get-go, unlike the CATS, continued on p.15 April 16, 2015


Despite assurances, critics are down ZONING, continued from p. 8

Also, so-called “special districts” — Chelsea has one — would not see any changes in their height caps, he noted. In short, this plan is in line with Mayor de Blasio’s goal of creating 200,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years, the planners said. And, they further argued, it would help make contextual areas economically diverse, by creating housing with a range of income levels — assuming the senior and affordable housing actually would get built. It would allow older residents in areas like the Village to age in place in their neighborhoods. As for the criticism that the city seems intent on ramming the plan through as quickly as possible, Weisbrod dismissed those fears. Nevertheless, a scoping hearing for the rezoning held two weeks ago was packed with dozens of extremely concerned community activists and preservationists, who fear the public isn’t being given an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed changes. “We have to go through a very elaborate public approval process,”

Weisbrod assured. That process will take about six months, he said. The public can still comment on the project’s scope — basically meaning its size — until the end of this month. Furthermore, Weisbrod and the planners maintained that the mechanism for building senior housing and affordable housing — and getting a height bonus for it — already exists. For affordable housing, this program is known as “inclusionary zoning.” However, Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said that, under the city’s new proposal, R7A districts and commercially zoned areas that are “R7A equivalents” would see allowable heights go up 31 percent for inclusionary housing (including senior housing) and 20 percent for strictly market-rate housing. In 2004, G.V.S.H.P. successfully pushed to get R7A contextual zoning put in place for two areas in the far West Village, including a section of W. 14th St. Meanwhile, G.V.S.H.P. is currently leading the effort to get contextual zoning for the South Village, as well as along the University Place corridor, where developer Billy

Macklowe is now building a 23-story skyscraper on the old Bowlmor lanes site — which was the impetus for the G.V.S.H.P. effort. C.B. 2 and local politicians are all supporting these zoning modifications — to R7A and R8A — Berman said. “If this goes through,” he warned of the city’s plan, “that would no longer be an option. We would only be able to get the new ones with the much more permissive height limits.” Plus, Berman added, “What you get currently for building senior housing is a bulk increase and not a height increase.” More to the point, Berman added, the zoning envelope shouldn’t be expanded upward for straight market-rate projects just to accommodate developers’ whining. “I don’t know why it’s such a priority for City Planning to ensure that every luxury condo developer gets to squeeze out every single inch of luxury condos in every development,” he stated. “In the R7A zone — which is our most common zone — it’s a 20 percent height increase, and it will be noticeable.” “A lot of the components of this plan have been on the real estate industry’s wish list for years,” he added.

In 2008, more than 100 blocks of the East Village and Lower East Side were contextually rezoned, meaning they now have height caps, with an 80-foot maximum height (R7A) for much of the area, or 120 feet (R8A) along the bigger streets if affordable housing is included. “The entire East Village, with a few small exceptions, is a contextual zoning district,” Berman said. In other words, under the city’s plan, compared to what’s currently allowable, East Village construction would be able to be built from 5 to 15 feet taller for 100 percent market-rate projects, or from 20 to 25 feet taller if senior or “I.Z.” affordable housing is included. In Chelsea, parts of the Special West Chelsea District would be immune to the new plan’s changes, Berman said. “But there are other parts where it would apply,” he said, “and huge parts of Chelsea where it would. “The Chelsea Plan — that took 15 years to achieve and would be completely upended by this,” he said of the neighborhood’s existing zoning, which was approved in 2000. Plus, to ZONING, continued on p.15

Lois Rakoff, Community Director of the Poe Room, and NYU present:

CASTING LIGHT ON EDGAR ALLAN POE Friday, April 24, 2015 6:00 - 8:00 PM NYU School of Law 245 Sullivan Street Furman Hall, Room 216 (Between West 3rd and Washington Square South)

Join local artists and members of the community for an evening of entertainment that will illuminate Poe’s work and legacy through a variety of creative works. A reception will follow in the Poe Room. “Casting Light on Edgar Allan Poe” is free and open to the public and an RSVP is required. RSVP today at or 212-998-2400.

Community members and NYU come together and partner on the Poe Room event each fall and spring. For more information about other events, visit


April 16, 2015

on upzoning ZONING, continued from p. 14

win the Chelsea Plan, the community had to accept upzoning in other areas, he noted. What about City Planning’s contention that the rezoning would relieve future first-floor residents from the annoyance of having to keep their drapes drawn all day long? “Of all the problems facing New York,” he said, “I haven’t found keeping your blinds shut to be a major problem that New Yorkers have.” Berman sharply disagreed with Weisbrod’s denial that the rezoning plan is being rushed through by the city. “They’re fast-tracking this,” the preservationist accused. “They’re moving from the scoping to the public-review process really fast — and this is a plan that has such broad ramifications. And there’s no analysis on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis on what the impact would be. “The irony is,” he continued, “these areas are parts of the city where it was felt there was a special character to be preserved, and this proposal would upend those rules.” Would community activists and organizations sue to stop these changes? “I think it’s too early to say,” Berman offered. “But this is of enormous concern. And if this is adopted as is, we would look at all of our options. But I hope it doesn’t get to that point. Some very, very serious changes need to be made before this could even be considered,” he said of the city’s zoning proposal. C.B. 2 Chairperson Bergman was among the group of concerned community members who packed the plan’s recent scoping hearing to voice

their concerns, and to call for slowing down the process. “The contextual zoning that was put into place was the result of years of community planning,” he told The Villager. On the other hand, he said, this new rezoning is being driven, not at all by the community — but by the developers. On that point, Bergman said he attended a “borough board” meeting at City Hall in February, at which leading members of Manhattan’s community boards got their first presentation of the proposed zoning scheme. “They kept saying, ‘Practitioners tell us...,’ ” Bergman recalled with a wry chuckle. “By that, they don’t mean neurosurgeons — they mean developers. “The scoping shouldn’t have been done only with ‘practitioners.’ ” The board chairperson added that the “give” the city is offering the community right now simply isn’t enough. In other words, who’s to say that the senior or affordable housing — part of the whole justification for the plan, but which is only voluntary on developers’ part — will even get built? Other local affordable housing schemes haven’t panned out. “If this is truly about creating better buildings and affordable housing in contextual zones, let’s make sure we really get the affordable housing,” Bergman emphasized. “The Hudson Square rezoning turned out to be a bonanza for developers of luxury housing but the affordable housing isn’t getting built. “This plan allows a 20 percent height increase in R7A zones for developments with no affordable housing. That’s just a big mistake,” he said. “There has to be a give to get.”

4 catastrophe cats still missing after the East Village explosion CATS, continued from p. 13

mass media, which would not initially put our pleas to find our missing pets in their newspapers or on the network news. The major media only showed interest after Laszlo was saved by the F.D.N.Y., which I first wrote about in The Villager two weeks ago. At that point, the mass media were clamoring for interviews and photos of cute cats and handsome firefighters. I preferred to tell my story myself and stayed with the alternative media. The return of Kathleen Blomberg’s cats was covered by all the major papers, and later young Hannah Lipsky was interviewed, and that was very helpful, as she is

ate to find Ryce. We who have had the joy of having had our pets rescued and returned are feeling deeply for our friends and neighbors who are still waiting, hoping and praying for some happy news. Could we not as a community help them? Let us all put pressure on our elected officials to ask the ASPCA and ACC to go into the gardens, alleys and courtyards of the interior of the block and to also search Enz’s store and basement. We, the people of this disaster, may be feeling beaten down and battered, but we are nonetheless still strong and we are as one. We need to help our smallest neighbors and we need to do it now.


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Howl! gallery will blend punk and performance art BY TINA BENITEZ-EVES



April 16, 2015


andwiched between Extra Place — where bands once unloaded equipment through CBGB’s back-alley door — and the Bowery, a new art space, Howl! Happening, is supporting emerging artists and salvaging some of that oldschool, East Village sense of community. Conceived by Howl! Arts, a nonprofit supporting local art and artists, the gallery, at 6 E. First St., officially opened March 29, showcasing former Bowery resident — and designated the Fifth Ramone — Arturo Vega. “It wouldn’t be a gallery without Arturo,” said Ted Riederer, Vega’s longtime friend and collaborator and visual curator for Howl! Happening. “Not only did he provide a safe harbor to The Ramones, but he helped artists like me. He fostered this sense of family in the community.” “Arturo Vega American Treasure,” which runs through April 25, features one of the artist’s paintings depicting an outstretched hand holding a 1972 silver dollar. Like many of Vega’s pieces, the American eagle held a different meaning for the artist, who moved from a repressive Mexico to the U.S. in 1971. It was the Vietnam War era, a time when many Americans questioned their patriotism, but for Vega, the symbol encapsulated freedom. In the East Village, he found a place where there was open sexuality, where you could be who you wanted to be and dress the way you wanted to dress. Vega later designed one of the most recognizable band logos: the black-and-white Ramones’ eagle emblem. “Arturo Vega is a catalyst,” said Bob Holman, vice president of Howl! Arts and founder of the Bowery Poetry Club. “He’s an icon of what Howl! is about, an artist who was, in his own right, known more for his work with The Ramones — who, in their own right, are the essence of punk and the essence of the Lower East Side. Vega being their biggest support system is like how Howl! is the biggest support system for the Lower East Side.” The gallery is more than 1,500 square feet in size. Holman’s late wife, artist Elizabeth Murray, has a wall dedicated to her paintings and sculpture (which will be an ongoing installment throughout the year), which premieres with “Stay Awake,” inspired by the song by Dumbo’s mother in the animated classic. Murray’s piece complements what Riederer believes is the underlying message behind Vega’s work, particularly in the last decade of his life: love. “I was tired of the state of commercial art where this has been declared the age of the art fair, and galleries are forced to sell, which really pollutes the art itself,” Riederer said. “This project is really about love. I know that’s sort of a sentimental word, but how many people are talking about that — love —now?” In addition to the Elizabeth Murray Wall, Howl! Happening will also introduce some never-before-seen works by Vega every 15 to 16 months, pulling from the artist’s collection of more than 150 pieces, in addition to capturing new emerging artists throughout the year. “We want to show great art from artists who make their careers in the East Village and Lower East Side,” said Jane Friedman, a member of the Howl! board of directors and executor of Vega’s estate. “That’s the Howl! mission, to give exposure to neighborhood artists.” In the spirit of Allan Kaprow’s “Happenings” of

Quintan Ana Wikswo will have a book signing followed by an exhibit June 11-14. This will be followed by a show from June 19Aug. 14 by “outlaw artist” Clayton Patterson, who is known for using a handheld video camera to capture and expose police brutality during the 1988 Tompkins Square riots. “The idea of making this idea a physical place is what is happening,” said Holman. “And using the word ‘happening,’ in the verb form as an actual place, is the approach we are taking. It’s not a static establishment.” The Howl! Emergency Life Project (H.E.L.P.), which offers artists emergency financial assistance and social-service support, is another layer to Howl!’s mission. An ongoing series of workshops at the gallery, H.E.L.P. will cover everything from how to fill out housing applications, deal with landlords, rent-regulation issues and evictions, to how to buy real estate, as well as get affordable healthcare. The program will be held through an ongoing partnership with The Actors Fund and other groups. “That’s a very important part of the mission that sets us apart One of the late Arturo Vega’s paintings from the “American Treasure” from other galleries,” Riederer show at the new Howl! Happenings gallery. The untitled work is said. “You would never see a galacrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 76 inches by 60 inches. lery opening doors to artists in this way.” Above all, there’s always a sense of survival, which is the East Village way and the true spirit of Howl! according to Holman. He recited the opening line of “Howl!” Allen Ginsberg’s famous 1955 poem: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.” The “Beat anthem” inspired the creation of the Howl! Festival back in 2003, and the same spirit embodies the new gallery space. “That’s what this Howl! HapBob Holman — here being the high-energy emcee of the Second pening wants to be,” said HolAnnual Acker Awards for avant-garde artists — has high hopes man, “so that the best minds of this generation will not be defor Howl! Happenings. stroyed by madness but find that the 1960s, spontaneous gatherings that opened the they have a home. That’s Allen’s legacy and what he world of art to movement through audience partic- left to the Lower East Side.” ipation, the Howl! Happening space will also cater Now a fancier mercantile row, Extra Place, where to more performance art, including Vangeline The- the other four Ramones propped themselves against atre, a Japanese Butoh dance company, bringing the a mound of garbage for a band photo, is now a neattraditional dance form to the 21st century, running ly paved walkway. And CBGB was forced out in Ocfrom April 30 to May 3. tober 2006 and John Varvatos eventually moved in. “It blurred the line between art and viewer,” said “There’s an attempt at remembering, an attempt Friedman of Kaprow’s “Happenings,” which is also at continuing this vibe,” Holman said. “It doesn’t what she envisions for the Howl! gallery. “Anybody just start with punk, of course. The Bowery itself could be an artist.” was the street of populous art. That’s why I wantAlso moving into the performance space, Lydia ed to put The Bowery Poetry Club here, and that’s Lunch, dubbed “an everyday internal rebel in a sea of why the New Museum is here. There are elements blandness” by Holman, will occupy the Howl! space, of the Bowery and its relationship with art, and from May 9 to June 5, for “So Real It Hurts,” an in- Howl! Happening is one of the great signs that stallation and performance by the artist and friends. even in 2015, it continues.”

Two Sure Things, Sight Unseen

Have faith in these Tribeca Film Fest selections


L to R: Sage (Julia Garner) and Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) in “Grandma.”


GRANDMA Take the well-traveled but reliable road trip formula, place Lily Tomlin behind the wheel of a vintage Dodge, put Paul Weitz in the director’s chair and charge him with helming his own screenplay. That’s reason enough for us to place this comedy-drama at the top of our sight unseen, must-see list. Tomlin — who excels at playing difficult people redeemed by a sharp tongue and a sympathetic spark — stars as an “acerbic aging poet” still pining for her deceased partner and freshly burnt from a bad romance. Onto the back burner her own problems go when teenage granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) arrives, desperate for $600 and in need of grandma’s wheels. So off they ride, all around town, in a daylong quest to raise the funds. Laverne Cox, Sam Elliott and Marcia Gay Harden are

among the supporting cast of old friends and flames, each with a secret to keep or tell. Mon., 4/20, 9:30pm at BMCC Tribeca PAC (199 Chambers St. btw. Greenwich & West Sts.). Tues., 4/21, 6:30pm, at Regal Cinemas Battery Park (102 North End Ave. at Vesey St.). Tickets: $18 ($3.50 phone & web reservation fee). Visit or call 646-502-5296.

MAGGIE Love him or hate him — as an actor, husband or governor — you can’t say you weren’t warned. This summer, the man who ushered a thick Austrian-accented “I’ll be back” into the American lexicon makes good on that promise, yet again, when Arnold Schwarzenegger returns with another “Terminator” installment. We need another one of those like we need another zombie film. And we mean that — if

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Wade and Abigail Breslin as the titular character in “Maggie.”

the zombie film in question has as much potential to bring new life to the walking dead as “Maggie” does. Before he hits the screens as a cyborg this July, Schwarzenegger can be seen at the Tribeca Film Festival — playing dedicated dad Wade, who makes his way through the outbreak’s neighbor-against-neighbor chaos to check his infected daughter out of the hospital and back to a picturesque Midwest farm. Henry Hobson makes his feature film debut, with a “quietly observant yet thrilling approach” to the zombie genre. Betting on his inner strength to save the day as Maggie’s progressive disease turns her into a

ravenous and powerful threat, Wade attempts to guide her through that difficult age where kids care more about eating brains and ripping flesh than hitting the books and obeying curfew. Wed., 4/22, 6pm at BMCC Tribeca PAC (199 Chambers St. btw. Greenwich & West Sts.). Thurs., 4/23, 9:15pm & Sat., 4/25, 9:30pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park (102 North End Ave. at Vesey St.). Tickets: $18 ($3.50 phone & web reservation fee). Visit tribecafilm. com/festival or call 646-502-5296. On May 8, “Maggie” begins its theatrical run and becomes available On Demand.

April 16, 2015


Black and White and Deep All Over ‘Cronies’ is a confident, layered debut from Michael J. Larnell TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW CRONIES Written, Directed, Edited & Produced by Michael J. Larnell Runtime: 85 minutes Wed., 4/22, 6:15pm & Sat., 4/25, 8:30pm at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St. btw. 7th & 8th Aves.) PHOTO BY CRISTIAN CARRETERO

Fri., 4/24, 6:45pm & Sun., 4/26, 2pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park (102 North End Ave. at Vesey St.) $18 ($3.50 phone & web reservation fee) Visit or call 646-502-5296

L to R: Zurich Buckner (Jack), George Sample III (Louis) and Brian Kowalski (Andrew).



satisfying mix of documentary-style interviews, contemporary scenes, childhood flashbacks and music by local artists, this St. Louis-set film is as sharp and compelling as its two-color palette. Writer, producer, editor and director Michael J. Larnell juggles a multitude of obligations with far more success than his onscreen alter egos…or so it seems, at first. Slow to reveal the hidden depths of its characters, Larnell’s feature film debut — expertly shot in


April 16, 2015

crisp black and white by Federico M. Cesca — explores red meat matters of growth and stagnation, as three young men bond over the course of a 24-hour quest. It begins early on a day that’s already reached 93 degrees, with a web series host hyping his show from 82.0 on your radio dial. This week, the town’s roving oral historian will check back in with “a special group of guys who were involved in a very tragic accident a little over ten years ago.” Where are they now, he wonders, and are they still friends? As engines go, it’s a powerful driving force for the next 85 minutes — whose events, we’re quick to realize, have already happened. This puts

us one up on the trio, each of whom take actions that would be ill-advised if they had our grasp of the big picture…or so it seems, at first. There’s that phrase again, and it’s what gives “Cronies” enough chewy marrow to upgrade it from a well-done buddy movie to something that aims, and reaches, much higher. A vow to raise cash for his daughter’s birthday gift, and ultimately rise above his job washing cars, is what motivates “cool-ass nerd” Louis Johnson (George Sample III, channeling the ‘80s look of executive producer Spike Lee, but trading Mars Blackmon’s hyperactive bluster for introspective stares). When a clingy childhood pal arrives expecting to light one up and hang out, Jack (Zurich Buckner) suffers back-to-back indignities: first by having the front door shut in his face, then by encountering Louis’ new (corn-fed white!) friend from work, Andrew (Brian Kowalski). Marking territory he’s already lost but refuses to cede, Jack inserts himself into their plans by taking the back seat position in Andrew’s jeep. Now the stage is set for a day’s worth of carnal pursuits, recreational drugging and unexpected detours. With Jack and Andrew busy trading jabs in the custody battle for Louis, the object of their affections is slowly coming to regard his small world as

a relic of the past. This makes Jack a victim of his friend’s personal growth, especially when the jilted buddy casually reveals the details of that “tragic accident” as a way to one-up everything Andrew has to offer. What Jack regards as ultimate proof of their bond, Louis sees as a betrayal — but soon, he’ll have real trouble diverting from his high ground long enough to tell the difference between a bid for redemption and an act of loyalty. “I don’t see myself livin’ life without you,” Jack tells him. It’s the best of several sparse, quiet, well-written and wonderfully underplayed scenes during which Larnell uses old and new relationships to investigate the tense complexity of platonic love among men. After failing to muster the sort of courage that flows from Jack (easily and often), Louis sees his old pal in a new light. A comfortable truce appears to set in, made believable by an ensemble of actors who know when to pour it on or hold back. When both are invited into Louis’ house, only Andrew accepts. Jack stays behind and, seemingly in anger, walks out of the frame — but it’s what happens next that will leave you contemplating which of the three best embodies the definition of a true crony, fed to us during the film’s early frames: “a close friend or companion.”

Different People in a Common Pursuit ‘Autism’ plumbs the mysteries of human endeavor TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW AUTISM IN LOVE Directed by Matt Fuller Documentary Runtime: 75 minutes Thurs., 4/16, 5:30pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park (102 North End Ave. at Vesey St.) PHOTO BY SCOTT UHLFELDER

Fri., 4/17, 5:30pm & Sat., 4/18, 6:30pm & Tues., 4/21, 3:30pm at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St. btw. 7th & 8th Aves.) $18 ($3.50 phone & web reservation fee) Visit or call 646-502-5296



n March of 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new, alarming statistic. In the United States, one in every 68 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. That is nearly twice as many as reported in 2000. Current studies question whether autism is an unfortunate bi-product of modern immunizations, dietary shifts or genetic mutations, or whether our heightened awareness and knowledge have caused this

The next logical step? Lindsey and David, a couple for several years, are on the verge of considering marriage.

rapid increase in diagnosis. While much debate can be traced through the media these days, Matt Fuller’s spectacular film covers a less prominent aspect within this subject. “Autism in Love” explores the lives of four autistic adults as they pursue and manage romantic relationships. There is the twentysomething Lenny, who lives at home with his mother. While searching for the perfect woman, Lenny is battling various insecurities rooted in his obviously being “different” and not having been able to follow his friends to college and pursue a higher education. We also get to know Lindsey and David, who have been a couple for several years and who

are on the verge of considering marriage. It’s the logical next step to cement their union, and an especially important one to Lindsey. Finally, Fuller introduces Stephen, who had to face the loss of his wife and best friend due to cancer. The manifestations of autism affect everyone differently and Fuller’s film reflects this beautifully. In contrast to Stephen, for example, who works in manual labor and whose communication is abrupt and pedantic, Lindsey is highly reflective and insightful about her emotions and condition. She also is a classically trained pianist. No matter how different, Fuller succeeds in portraying all his sub-

jects with both respect and tender compassion. This is largely achieved through the words and gestures of the individuals portrayed, as well as through added reflections by some of their parents. This feature-length documentary doesn’t employ a narrator’s voice-over guide, nor do we hear the filmmaker’s prompting questions. Instead, the structure is somewhat loose and, like love, unpredictable. Though we rhythmically move from one individual’s contemplations and story to the next (and back around), the various portraits feel intuitive. This film is made of a series of conversations, but we only get to follow the interviewee’s side. Because there is no overall narrative, we stumble upon surprising facts slowly, each aiding in building the viewer’s compassion for the subjects. Autism remains a broad label for a vast spectrum of afflictions. Though it’s widely discussed, much remains unknown. If one looks up the term on Wikipedia, one reads: “Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication.” If you look up the definition of love on the same site, for example, you will find: “Love is a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes that ranges from interpersonal affection to pleasure.” These two descriptions seem incompatible with each other. However, by looking at Fuller’s four well-nuanced portraits, “Autism in Love” reveals that things are hardly this simple. The human endeavor is a mysterious one, and love most certainly so. This applies to all of us, no matter what our exterior and interior struggles.

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April 16, 2015


‘Far From Men’ Cuts Close to the Bone A journey through rugged terrain becomes a battle of wills TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW PHOTO COURTESY TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL




n a spare tale that considers the futility of neutrality during wartime, writer/director David Oelhoffen’s “Far From Men” (Loin des Hommes) is an absorbing look at the nascent Algerian War for Independence in the 1950s. Daru (Viggo Mortensen), an Algerian-born Frenchman, and Mohamed (Reda Kateb), his Arab charge who is due to stand trial for murder, find themselves paired unwittingly for an expedition through the desolate French-occupied North African country. Daru was a Major in the French army before turning to a reclusive life teaching language, history and geography to local Arab children in

In 1954 Algeria, Mohamed and Daru (L–R, Reda Kateb and Viggo Mortensen) attempt to act with honor based on codes from their own traditions.

a one-room French school. In this conflict-laden environment, education could be the key to uplifting their young lives. Bound by ropes, Mohammed is brought to the schoolhouse by officials with orders that Daru must escort him to the authorities in Tinguit, where he will likely be sentenced to death. Daru’s resistance to the task marks his refusal to be implicated, until he is left with no choice. What could have been a straightforward journey through

rugged terrain becomes a battle of wills and morals, as the two men attempt to act with honor based on codes from their own traditions. Subtle but powerful performances by a steely Mortensen and a languid Kateb elevate the film, along with handsome cinematography by Guillaume Deffontaines and a minimalistic score by Nick Cave and his frequent collaborator, Warren Ellis. Mortensen, a well-known polyglot, speaks convincing French and Arabic.

(In his recent turn in “Juaja,” we hear him speaking Spanish and Danish.) Inspired by “The Guest,” a short story by Albert Camus, the tale examines the idea of “the other” through Daru’s background as a Pied-Noir or “Black-Foot,” denoting that he is of European ancestry, living in French North Africa — the background Camus himself had. A Western of the international variety, “Far From Men” is the story of men in severe circumstances, with prostitutes the only women in a vast, dusty setting marked by violence and sacrifice, colonizers and indigenous peoples. Deliberately paced and slow to reveal itself, the film reaches its impact in its final scenes in which both men “trust in the Creator” and adhere to their convictions in personal ways. Written & Directed by David Oelhoffen. In French with English subtitles. Runtime: 102 minutes. Tues., 4/21, 8:30pm at SVA Theater (333 West 23rd St. btw. 8th & 9th Aves.). Fri., 4/24, 9:30pm & Sat., 4/25, 3:45pm at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea (260 W. 23rd St. btw. 7th & 8th Aves.). Tickets: $18 ($3.50 phone & web reservation fee). Visit or call 646-502-5296.

It’s The New Preview Revue

Coming right at you! THE WOLFPACK

Our First Critic Says: One is left with so many questions after viewing “The Wolfpack,” it’s hard to believe that no broadcaster is considering this. How can we know more about this odd group? Ingenuity has trumped consumerism in their lives. Is it possible that being indoctrinated by the fantasy world of Hollywood was better than being “contaminated” by the outside world?—Rania Richardson


April 16, 2015

Read the Full Reviews: Online, as of April 19. See it at the Tribeca Film Festival April 18, 20, 22. More info at


Synopsis: Amy Kohn’s documentary offers a peek into the practice of


Synopsis: Everything the Angulo brothers know about the outside world they learned from obsessively watching movies. Shut away from bustling New York City by their overprotective father, they cope with their isolation by diligently re-enacting their favorite films. When one of the brothers escapes, the world as they know it will be transformed.

Our Second Critic Says: It is both ironic and fitting that a family cloistered from the outside world by a delusional, alcoholic patriarch finds itself on the large screen. I left the film chilled with the knowledge that I pass their Lower East Side housing project every day. I was able to pinpoint it in scenes where they gazed out the windows, and was reminded of the many times we read of a “house of horrors” with nobody around to notice anything amiss. One can only hope that their journey towards claiming their lives continues.—Puma Perl

The Angulo brothers eat dinner while watching a movie. L–R, back: Narayna, Govinda, Jagadisa and Bhagavan. Front, from L: Mukunda and Krsna.

Christian courtship, wherein a woman hands over the responsibility of finding a husband to her parents and the will of God. Such is Kelly’s path, enlisting her adopted spiritual family to find her Mr. Right. Our Critic Says: In a world where swiping right on a photo connotes romantic interest, this beautifully shot documentary explores the concept of Christian courtship by following one

woman’s journey with her “spiritual parents” to find a husband. Director Amy Kohn told this paper that she wanted to use romance as a lens to look at religion and perhaps start a conversation. “A Courtship” could do just that.—Dusica Sue Malesevic Read the Full Review: Online, as of April 19. See it at the Tribeca Film Festival April 18, 19, 21, 22. More info at

‘Lampoon’ is a Seriously Good Comedy Lesson Documentary will satisfy longtime fans and the uninformed TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: THE STORY OF THE NATIONAL LAMPOON Documentary Runtime: 92 minutes Directed by Douglas Tirola Thurs. 4/16 & Tues. 4/21, 9:15pm & Fri. 4/24, 8:45pm at Regal Cinemas Battery Park (102 North End Ave. at Vesey St.) COURTESY OF NATIONAL LAMPOON

$18 ($3.50 phone & web reservation fee) Visit or call 646-502-5296



hile not everyone can claim intimate familiarity with the early work of National Lampoon, the highly influential magazine’s distinctive brand of humor and ideology is certainly still felt today. The Lampoon and its alumnus successfully reached their tendrils into almost every medium of entertainment, making the publication ground zero for modern American comedy. With everything from “Saturday Night Live,” “The Simpsons” and the films of John Hughes and Judd Apatow claiming ties to National Lampoon, preserving the history of this long-defunct publication for modern audiences seems all too important. Douglas Tirola’s new documentary attempts to catalog all of the crazy, live-wire, drug-addled energy and inspiration that went into producing the Lampoon in its ‘70s heyday. It’s a lively, irreverent and well-researched film that works as a zippy primer for any unfamiliar with National Lampoon, and an entertaining exercise for those already well-versed in its unique comedy styling. The film impressively captures the magazine’s tone and style through

L–R: Garry Goodrow, Peter Elbling, Chevy Chase, Chris Guest, John Belushi, Mary-Jennifer Mitchell and Alice Peyton.

its use of stylish animation, created via manipulations of actual Lampoon illustrations and photographs — giving the feeling that scenes from the film were ripped right off the page. In addition, rare archival footage from offices, stages and recording studios (often featuring comedy icons like Bill Murray, John Belushi and Harold Ramis) immerses audiences in the world of the Lampoon. Set to an era-appropriate soundtrack featuring the likes of David Bowie, the movie lives and breathes the Lampoon’s countercultural vibe. Tirola also does well capturing lesser-known, behind-the-scenes personalities — which were often just as outsized as any of the actors associated with the publication. Colorful characters such as the stoic and reserved co-founder Henry Beard, misanthropic writer Michael O’Donoghue, no-nonsense publisher Matty Simmons and straight talking art-director Michael Gross populate the Lampoon’s story, and watching the clash of personalities is thoroughly entertaining. Most importantly however, Tirola takes significant time to highlight the tragically short life of Doug Kenney, the brilliant and beloved co-founder and editor — who by all accounts provided the magazine (and

by extension this documentary) with its heart. In aid of this, Tirola assembles a wide swath of interview subjects, ranging from big-name celebrities (Apatow, Kevin Bacon, Billy Bob Thorton) to the surviving staff members themselves. The interviews are both nostalgic and celebratory. Everyone agrees that working at the Lampoon was something special and important, some of the best times of their life — and everyone who encountered the Lampoon cites it as a formative influence. While this is nice enough to hear, and the subjects often inject humor into their talking head clips, it’s more diverting than particularly illuminating. This lens of nostalgia becomes slightly problematic though, when considering some of the content of the magazine itself. For better or for worse, National Lampoon was a publication that pushed boundaries, coming firmly from the free speech, “everything can be made fun of” camp. While this certainly resulted in sublime satire (much on display here), it also produced some of the Lampoon’s more tasteless pieces (often dealing in ugly stereotypes and slurs that wouldn’t fly today).

In its adoration of the magazine, the film allows a lot of these pieces to be uncomfortably passed over without much critical scrutiny — only halfheartedly defending its status as satire. But things become more interesting when the subjects get more self-reflexive. This is illustrated best by a disarming sequence in which Chevy Chase describes the final days he spent with Kenney, his best friend, before his untimely death. Recounting a trip to Hawaii with bittersweet humor, Chase speaks candidly about their bond and struggles with substance abuse and depression. It’s a raw and emotionally affecting scene. “Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead” does a lot to convince audiences of the rock star status of the publication’s comedy icons, but is even more engrossing in these instances where it lets its subjects be relatable, and sometimes painfully human. By allowing these more emotional elements to come to the fore while tracing the magazine from its inception to its inevitable end, Tirola makes a compelling case for National Lampoon’s continued importance and vitality — and a fitting tribute to its legacy. April 16, 2015



April 16, 2015

The trials of collage artist Kasoundra Kasoundra KASOUNDRA, continued from p. 11


Shocked by the guardian’s disregard for the judge’s orders, and worried about Kasoundra’s bleak future, one of her friends went to State Supreme Court and filed an “Order to Show Cause,” asking for the removal of the guardian and the full reinstatement of Kasoundra’s autonomy. Friends wrote letters of support, and the psychiatrist provided a notarized letter detailing the results of the mental status test and his conclusion that Kasoundra had no symptoms of dementia and could successfully live at home. By taking the guardian to court, Kasoundra’s friend hoped to get answers to the following questions: (1) How had Samet been selected as the guardian? He appeared to have deep ties to Lenox Hill Hospital, which seemed like a conflict of interest since the hospital had brought the guardianship case against Kasoundra; (2) How had the guardian spent Kasoundra’s income? Due to her overly long hospital confinement, Kasoundra’s Social Security income had built up to $20,000 when the guardian took over, and $1,000 kept coming in every month for the two years he remained guardian; (3) Why hadn’t Samet followed the judge’s orders to return Kasoundra to her apartment or place her in Lott House? (4) Had the guardian been negotiating with the landlord to receive money for surrendering Kasoundra’s apartment, and if so, why hadn’t he disclosed this to Kasoundra? (5) Why had Samet purchased a $6,500 burial plot for Kasoundra when she had always wanted to be cremated? Where was the burial plot deed and/or the receipt for the purchase? (6) And perhaps most important, did her guardian intend to keep Kasoundra confined in the nursing home forever? Judge Visitacion-Lewis did not reopen the case, but it was transferred to Judge Kennedy of Landlord Tenant Court who was presiding over Kasoundra’s eviction hearings. Her pro bono lawyer was still ardently struggling to keep Kasoundra’s apartment from being lost. A lawyer from Mental Hygiene Legal Services (MHLS) was assigned by the court to represent Kasoundra in the guardianship matter. But when the friend’s Order to Show Cause came before her, Judge Kennedy threw it out, saying that it was not written in the proper legal language. Because the order wasn’t heard, the friend’s candid questions for the guardian were never asked or answered under oath, and Samet ultimately provided the court with only a very vague account of his disbursement of Kasoundra’s income. Judge Kennedy invited the MHLS lawyer to bring the same suit before her couched in the appropriate legal

A photograph of Kasoundra Kasoundra from Don Snyder’s book “Aquarian Odyssey: A Photographic Trip Into the Sixties.”

language. But when the new suit was filed, the MHLS lawyer did not ask for the reinstatement of Kasoundra’s autonomy; she asked only that the guardian be replaced. Then began a lengthy series of hearings that dragged on interminably and never seemed to go anywhere. Sometimes the hearings were about the guardian, and sometimes they were about the landlord’s eviction proceeding. Nothing ever seemed to get resolved. Judge Kennedy would tell the guardian to do certain things, and he would come to the next hearing two months later without having done them. A psychiatrist was appointed by the court to evaluate Kasoundra, but the hospital would not provide her medical records until they were subpoenaed, so his report was endlessly delayed. When the court-appointed psychiatrist finally testified, his assessment of Kasoundra’s cognitive status and her ability to live at home was virtually the same as the opinion provided three years earlier by the other psychiatrist. Meanwhile, Kasoundra, who could walk perfectly well when she was in the hospital psych ward, was now confined to a wheelchair that set off an alarm whenever she tried to enter

the elevator. No aide ever seemed to be available to escort her to the second-floor rooftop, which provided the only access to fresh air in the nursing home. Whenever she tried to walk, Kasoundra was told to get back in her wheelchair, and she spent her days wheeling herself up and down the hall. The staff members were apologetic but said they had to follow the written orders of the guardian. After considerable pressure was applied by Kasoundra’s friends, she finally received a brief, five-week stint of physical therapy. But when the therapist recommended that Kasoundra be transferred to the “walker program,” the guardian wouldn’t authorize it. Meanwhile, the guardian never visited Kasoundra in the nursing home except once, when her friends finally persuaded him to do so. Kasoundra begged him not to give up her apartment or dispose of her artwork and possessions. She pleaded with him to let her go back home. As the case dragged on, Kasoundra’s supporters began to reach out to foundations to help pay Kasoundra’s back rent when and if her case was ever decided. The HOWL! Emergency Life Project suggested that Kasoundra might like to live in the lovely Lillian Booth assisted-living home in New

Jersey. Kasoundra’s MHLS lawyer obtained a pass for her to leave the nursing home to visit the Lillian Booth, which was surrounded by acres of verdant grounds and had a resident cat. Its occupants were elderly actors and jazz musicians, and the ambiance was lively and attractive. The staff welcomed Kasoundra and placed her on the waiting list. When Judge Kennedy learned of the Lillian Booth initiative, she heartily approved, and she quickly replaced Kasoundra’s guardian with Integral Guardianship Services of Coney Island. She gave permission for the new agency to dispose of Kasoundra’s apartment, and instructed them to pursue Kasoundra’s application to the Lillian Booth. She then terminated the hearings, leaving Kasoundra with no judicial oversight. This proved to be tragically premature, because the new guardian, Alan Shapiro, immediately disposed of Kasoundra’s apartment but made little effort to acquire the documents needed for Kasoundra to be admitted to the Lillian Booth home. He said that it was just “too much trouble” and that there was “too much paperwork” involved. And although Judge Kennedy had ruled that an inventory be made of Kasoundra’s artwork, and its value professionally assessed, no such inventory was made before Shapiro moved it to a storage facility in Brooklyn. The MHLS lawyer told Kasoundra’s friends that she had seen many cases where guardians stopped paying the storage fees, and their clients’ possessions were then permanently lost. A final eviction hearing took place in Judge Masley’s courtroom, where it was determined that Kasoundra and a friend could visit the storage facility and make an inventory of her artwork and effects. But in spite of repeated requests, Kasoundra has not been allowed access to her possessions. More than six months have passed since Kasoundra’s case was closed, and she is still in the nursing home in New Rochelle, far from her community and friends. It is rare for visitors to make the time-consuming and expensive train trip to New Rochelle to see her, and Kasoundra often feels despondent. Four long years have elapsed since the fateful night she was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital and subsequently lost her right of self-determination. She worries about her artwork and how long it will be preserved by the guardian. She wonders if her furniture and memorabilia were put in storage or thrown away. She is fearful when she contemplates the very real possibility that she could remain trapped in the nursing home against her will until she dies. April 16, 2015




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April 16, 2015