Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Albert Einstein

Street Seens: LISTEN HERE!


All Capital Letters are considered rude.  But the headline for this Sunday’s walk together might sound similarly cross or dictatorial.  Let that just underscore the difficulty of finding a brief few words to capture the topic suggested for our conversation by the past week’s events. Take it that this observer of Street Seens has lately been a sort of semi-shut-in continuing the daunting task of liberating her home from the tyranny of papers and all the other things that have, over the years, disguised themselves and crept in to files and folders naively labeled “Keepers.”  Join me in affirming that since there are no coincidences in life these fragments that floated to the surface last week could have the potential to enrich kindly readers as much as they have me.

The happy news is that I stumbled upon, found or resurrected some marvelous jewels that I will now share with you and hope you find them soul-nourishing, or laugh provoking, eloquent, renewing or just plain great to come upon as second chances to savor something worth remembering.

Think of what Proust made out of the remembered fragrance of madeleines! And speaking of Proust, that’s as good a place as any from which to start.  Once upon a time, now nearly three years past, I sat across the aisle on a Southwest flight to Chicago and when, towards the end of our flight, I could no longer restrain my amazement, said to the man sitting across the aisle that I could not help but note that he was reading Proust. “Have you seen Alain de Botton’s wonderful book on How Proust Can Change Your Life?, I asked.  He had not, and so I resolved to get the book to him.

Then life intervened, and I could not safely send the book to Tom Post who had moved on from his office at Forbes.  Next, in a notable non-coincidence I stumbled upon news of this amazing person on LinkedIn and learned that he is an Author and SVP Content Strategist for a firm that offers counselling to client executives on the art of “storytelling” that lies at the very heart of successful marketing.  Now, I need to find a bricks and mortar bookstore that will set up what I hope will begin an alliance between two champions of highly imaginative insight captured in the pages of a book that qualifies as a definite “keeper.” I even found the handwritten note from Mr. Post that recommended how I might take some next steps in my own pursuit of writing.

This mixed bag of sayings and observations came via radio waves, file folders, television interviews, pulpits and sources as varied as they are unsurprising to this person who becomes surer by the moment that there are no coincidences.

Hudson, Ohio is a singular place and it was a reference from Hudson-born Farrell Fitch-Cosmas that made me take a second look at a print-out I requested her to find about her childhood neighbor from Hudson.  The New Yorker “Double Take” that (again no coincidence!) was entitled, Magnificent Jewels featured a multi-carat square cut sapphire (making it in my estimation, a double-barreled “no-coincidence”) signaled the magazine’s offering of “Eighty-Five from the Archive: Ian Frazier.” And so, I rescued for the real “Keepers” file an addition to the many “Shouts and Murmurs” written by Frazier that have given me so many laughs courtesy of one described as a master of “the tough representation of Idiocy.”  That same humorist also said, “Words are charms…It’s like a song you didn’t know you knew.”

Writing in a different vein of the death of Crazy Horse, Frazier told of the Chief’s refusal to lie on an army cot when he breathed his last. Lying on the floor of an Army office, Ian Frazier described him and the scene in these words,” With his body he demonstrated that the floor of an Army office was part of the land, and that the land was still his.” It fortified my own conviction regarding the proposal by the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to rescind President Obama’s order to protect Native Americans’ sacred lands and instead “return them to the states.”   That, I think, goes what might be paraphrased as “a bridge not far enough.” Wouldn’t it be far better to return them to their original occupants?

On the positive side of the ledger during the semi-imprisonment imposed by the work of “clearing” was the chance to hear a video interview with Walter Isaacson.  The iconic media executive and biographer of giants such as Einstein and Steve Jobs ended a conversation with an encouraging observation that is especially consoling in our turbulent times.  He expressed his belief that in the worst of times (and he cited the period of McCarthyism, when lies were the rule of the day) that there seems to be a saving “gyroscope” at the heart of our brave adventure of democracy, that somehow rights our nation and resets it on its path to achieving its Founders’ hopes.  I think I remember that Isaacson told his readers that the last word of Steve Jobs, was “Wow.” I choose to believe that that leaves us realizing that the great inventor, at the end, came face to face with the Supreme Creator. And was in awe.

Last Sunday was observed as “Good Shepherd Sunday” and so in the Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer, the gathered community heard the following words from the Gospel of John. They came as the climax of a description of the contrast of a true shepherd committed to the safety of the sheep, “I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” That is the motto of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, who since 1849 have been dedicated to going wherever there is need, from the streets of Beziers France, to classrooms, court rooms, community centers, hospitals, even the United Nations offices for NGOs.  I don’t need files or papers to have those words be a permanent part of my life.

Some of the words I found written or recurring in memory during this period of winnowing through the records and memories embodied in the “too much paper masquerading as things I need to keep” evokes smiles, and even laughter. For example, the brilliant James Agee’s observation in his novel, A Death in the Family.  There, the central figure characterizes the difficulties of speaking with his brother in these words, “It’s like putting socks on an octopus.”  Every bit as memorable as his script for African Queen!

So, the challenge of “socking” the octopus of 8+ years of excessive “saving” continues. I celebrate the validated “keepers” and promise myself that I will use them as the litmus test of future “data storage.” And I remember the innocent remark of a young man struggling under the weight of the too many books a friend had hired him to remove from the fourth-floor walk-up he was leaving, “You know, Mister, all this information would weigh a lot less if it were in your head (or I might add, in your heart), and not in books.”

With all due respect to actual librarians, archivists and the Library of Congress, I think he got it right.  Stay tuned, and wish me well…preferably, verbally or via mental telepathy.

Incognito – Reflections On the Human Brain


Nick Payne’s Constellations, (on Broadway in 2015), poetically explored The String Theory of Quantum Physics: In layman’s terms, what happens to everything else when a single aspect of a scenario changes and is it happening simultaneously on another plane? The play’s program specified “Place: The Multiverse” = the juncture? of multiple universes. Still fascinated with questions of free will, time, memory, and the way we function, the prolific playwright/intellectual here takes the human brain as its subject. One again drama is the medium.

Four excellent actors: Geveva Carr, Charlie Cox, Heather Lind, and Morgan Spector play a multitude of characters including psychologists, scientists, patients, a lawyer, a journalist…with turn-on-a-dime American and British accents. The piece, like its predecessor, is episodic, here broken into three larger chapters: ENCODING, STORING, and RETRIEVING, each begun with robotic voguing (by Peter Pucci) and a walk around the circular staging area accompanied by spacey electronic sounds/music. (David Van Tieghem) It’s a kind of a human rondo.

Incognito Manhattan Theatre Club - Stage 1

Morgan Spector, Geneva Carr

Identifiable stories play through in fragments. When Albert Einstein died, Princeton pathologist Thomas Harvey, conducting his autopsy (Morgan Spector), had a carpe diem moment and, turning to the icon’s executor, asked whether he might take the brain…which ends up in the trunk of his car before being dissected and studied…to little avail.

Martha (Geneva Carr, whose natural stage presence allows her to morph with focus), the adopted granddaughter of Einstein’s son and a clinical neuropsychologist, is approached by self-serving journalist, Michael (Charlie Cox) with questions of her paternity. Might she, in fact, be Einstein’s illicit daughter? (Not so far-fetched based on evidence.) All she has to do is take a DNA sample from Einstein’s brain to find out. That is, when Michael tracks it down.

Incognito Manhattan Theatre Club - Stage 1

Heather Lind, Geneva Carr

The intrepid headline hound convinces Doctor Harvey to accompany him cross country with a piece of the brain in order to see Einstein’s daughter –no love lost there – Evelyn (Carr), and request that sample. They drive. (How is one to airline check a brain fragment?)

Martha is, for the first time, exploring a gay relationship with Patricia (Heather Lind with a butch persona), also an adopted child, who would like her to help a lawyer friend (Spector) with professional testimony in a murder trial.

Anthony (a credibly on-the-verge Spector) is in and out of therapy (including with a compassionate but helpless Martha) and on Dagwood combinations of medication… rendering him impotent. About to embark on his honeymoon, he stops his meds, is fine for several days, then strangles his new bride to death, remembering nothing.

Incognito Manhattan Theatre Club - Stage 1

Heather Lind, Charlie Cox

Henry’s (a wonderfully innocent and touching Charlie Cox) amnesiac brain is poorly wired, though whether before or after an operation is unclear. His attention span is three to four thoughts, then everything starts fresh. The patient’s fiancé Margaret (Heather Lind) tries patiently (and palpably) to help, especially wanting him to regain his music, but gives up in despair. Doctors change over time…until Martha appears, triggering a moment of clarity/progress or, perhaps, just in the right place at the right time.

I’m sure I’ve left people and connections out. All four actors are top notch, but this is an impressionistic piece. Emotions are felt only in passing except perhaps those provoked by Henry who appears throughout. The mechanism we call brain retains its secrets.

Director Doug Hughes brings what humanity he can to the passing parade, keeps things moving and characters from becoming static.

Ben Stanton’s Lighting, Scott Pask’s minimal Set and Catherine Zuber’s grey-tone costumes collectively create an ephemeral canvas.

Incognito Manhattan Theatre Club - Stage 1

Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Geneva Carr (back), Morgan Spector, Heather Lind, Charlie Cox

Manhattan Theatre Club presents
Incognito by Nick Payne
Directed by Doug Hughes
City Center Stage 1
151 West 55th Street
Through July 10, 2016