Monday, January 19, 2009

An Open Call to Barney Dunn

Having moved to the city after Giuliani sold Times Square to Disney, I have the feeling that I will never be able to call myself a true New Yorker.  I am one of those people who moved in with the racks of clothes stitched by Taiwanese children.  The brushed aluminum facade that morphed into computer fed high rise plans.  In certain pockets of the city, the streets have the bizarre utopian plainness of architectural drawings.  The trees grow straight, planted in their grid.  The dogs are walked by women wearing Juicy Couture.  And the men in their Hugo Boss suits stride blithely toward the next $million.

Whenever I watch movies shot in New York in the 70's and 80's I marvel at the grit.  Midnight Cowboy, Mean Streets, The Pope of Greenwich Village.  As far as I can tell the grit provided character.  Take the world's worst ventriloquist, Barney Dunn--- the poor schlemiel who Broadway Danny Rose gives up to gangsters in Woody Allen's movie from 1984.  Now Barney Dunn may have been a  paradox back in '84-- how does such a horrible ventriloquist pay the rent in Manhattan-- today he would be a total figment.  He would live in the Catskills like Rip Van Winkle and walk down arm in arm with the school teachers, artists and mimes.  

Barney Dunn has disappeared from day-to-day life in Manhattan.  Maybe he found some snug rent controlled den on the Lower East Side and became a shut-in, maybe he's moved to the outer rings of Queens or is playing pinochle in the lobby of a senior living facility in Yonkers, but no one has shown up to take his place.  New York has lost its bad ventriloquists (granted: if they ever existed beyond film) and its mimes (is that a loss?).       

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