Saturday, February 8, 2014

Tenement Tales of New York

Tenement Tales of New York
James William Sullivan

reviewed by Mick Mykola Dementiuk

    “Pat Murphy, boy of eight years, whose clothes were dirty, whose hair was tousled, face smudged, and hands blackened…” Thus begins Tenement Tales of New York, an out-of-print book, published in 1895, and whom we have to thank Ephemeral New York for bringing it to our attention.
     I enjoyed reading this book of tales; it brought old New York to my touch and grasp. Such as Slob Murphy, the rowdy boy of New York streets in the late 1880-90s, who injures his hand and is at death’s door as a result. He has remorse for all the street fighting and shenanigans he’s done over his short years and seeing a vision of his dead mother, says the Lord’s Prayer and passes away.  A bit maudlin but I suppose that fits in with the time. His friends and acquaintances sadly look upon his passing, till someone says, " Wot's dey a-goin to do wit' his old cloze ? " Each hungry for getting something or other to take care of them; a shrug at the dead boy. Meanwhile his father, who is angry, but dares any police office to get at his son’s dead body. He speaks with a typical Irish accent, reminiscent of Charles Dickens characters, declaiming, avowing, and swearing. In a way, it sounds like a pleasant blarney which we no longer hear in these parts. (Oh, how New York has changed…) We follow the funeral procession to a solemn burial and what else? his father ends up dead drunk, and life in New York goes on…
     In another tale, Minnie Kelsey’s Wedding, a girl sits in a tenement all bundled up from the chill and looking out a window. “(D)oors slamming, children wailing, women scolding, boys hallooing, all mingling with the endless clatter of kitchen labors.” She had arrived in the city expecting a very different life but very quickly was trapped in its poverty and go-nowhere existence, nothing but a factory girl working day after day at the same tedious labor. Still, she has friends who invite her to attend a ball, and though she isn’t sure of going she says yes. At the ball she sees the man of her dreams. At first she intimidated when she hears other gossiping about his fiery nature and that he has a different girl every weekend. But alone with her the two-timing man proposes… A schmaltzy story, still with the rest of the tales in the book it fits right in.
     Cohen’s Figure is about a sewing machine operator, a boring lackluster job, but which has been done for countless year after year, while Luigi Barbieri concerns a new Italian merchant at Mott Street fruit emporium, who arranges every fruit on his stand but still can’t get any customers, just a few. “If he could but learn to speak fluently to the Americans, like his padrone, he might some day become a man of influence himself. He might even aspire to an East Side grocery store, with a stock of Italian goods.” He helps a little girl from getting run over by a truck and he himself is struck down. The only tears someone sheds is the vague obituary "I wonder what killed off the last one — laziness or bad whisky?"
      Leather’s Banishment is about a boy pick-pocketing a woman on the subway and disappearing with her screaming behind him; he’s done this countless times and will do it again. In Not Yet dreamer Ivan, whose always dreaming of ‘castles in Spain’ reads the paper and takes the subway each morning to work, where he labors before his sewing machine and reads reports from Russia and Germany.  At work it’s payday and suddenly he feels cheated, being fined for a ruined jacket collar which did didn’t do. Is outraged by the injustice but what can he do? He sinks back into his socialist dreams of the future where the world is all right and fair. Instead “…from the open doorways of the tenements, and falling into the broken lines of passers- by hurrying along on the sidewalks, were poor-looking work-people,— men, women, children.”
    While in A Young Desperado a rich 7 year old boy accidentally wanders into the poor neighborhood where the poor kids attack him. He meets other boys; one takes him around the city, on buses and cars and tells him that he eats about once a week. Teaches him the way of the streets...
     These different tales about immigrant life in New York City in the 1890s show that the city is always throbbing and booming, and always one step ahead of everybody. In many of the stories we get glimpses of what it was like among the poor folk. What this book does is bring the street life into clear focus and vision, the different crowds, the traffic on the street, the rubbish, the debris and the countless other little things which were a part of living in New York, uptown, downtown, the poor are everywhere, East Sire, West Side, all around the town…so to speak. Still, I enjoyed it very much; captures the mood of New York and how it was so very long ago. As it is drastically changing now it has been constantly changing on and on…  

An aside: Though I very much liked reading this there is a more recent book about New York in the early 1900s The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker A book that will certainly set your old New York imagination spinning. A grand book!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Raiding The Sanctuary

Raiding the Sanctuary
Redcatchers in Cambodia, May 12th-June 25th, 1970

by Robert J. Gouge

reviewed by Mick Mykola Dementiuk

     In thinking of writing this review I quickly realized how little I know about one of the main characters Ihor Dopiwka, whose jangled voice, one of many, echoes throughout its pages. I knew Ihor back in grade school for maybe seven, eight years, fifty years ago, when afterwards we quickly lost contact with each other and went our separate ways. Adulthood was upon us, holding a job, getting a girlfriend, playing out our adult responsibilities, like being married, raising kids, or else going off to war. Ihor went to war and fought; I stayed home and demonstrated against it. Two paths were taken, two opposite lives were being lived.
      This book is about one segment of the Vietnam War, America’s secret invasion of Cambodia May-June 1970, but to me the book is about one soldier in its ranks, Ihor Dopiwka, E/5-12, of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, a young man with whom I went to grade school. Ihor found me on the Internet and I instantly responded. It’s a miracle he didn’t get killed, as so many with him did in battle, but who had something I didn’t have: the courage to leave his home behind and go off to fight a war.
     Because the closest I ever came to the Vietnam War (1961-73) was in going to see the movie Apocalypse Now (1979) in my usual drunken state. Man, was that film totally weird but in a way was awesomely great! I saw it a few times afterwards, trailing the complicated story of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) as he followed the trail through Vietnam and Cambodia, going after the elusive American renegade/officer Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) who even the American military wanted dead. This almost existential portrayal of the characters had me imagining Vietnam couldn’t be such bad place to be in, deadly and dangerous for certain, but morbidly seductive. Now who wouldn’t want to be in a Saigon hotel room drinking and fighting your own demons as Willard was doing in the beginning of the film? What valor, what pride, what bravado! Buaoh! (Throwing up…) Shaking my head, I think, “What drunken idiocy…”
     I spent most of the Vietnam War years drunk and inebriated, having successfully beaten the draft and once in a while going to an anti-war demonstration while trying to pick up a cute demonstrating girl. But to little or no avail. No War meant the same as No Pussy. I did see Ihor at one time as I marched on Fifth Avenue screaming/chanting at the blasé crowds sneering at us. Ihor stood looking at me, shaking his head, “Nicky, Nicky…” he muttered (using my childhood name); I instantly recognized him but just lowered my head, trying to disappear in the protesting crowd.
     The years went by; I graduated from college, cleaned my act up and struggled at becoming a writer. Yet being a writer was a snap, but still no publisher cared with what I had written, the manuscripts simply kept going out and just as easily they were returned. Time passed, new wars started, new demonstrations began same as it ever was. It didn’t matter whether I was old or young the angry world did what it wanted to do. Eventually, I did make a tiny headway into the publishing world and won the Lambda Award/Bisexual Fiction for my novel Holy Communion, which was about a young boy going through his religious ceremony at the innocent age of seven, an age when Ihor and I would’ve been, when we were just still obedient classmates.
     Ihor and I spent one summer together marauding on his street, 9th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue, playing tag, hide ‘n seek, stickball, if we could manage that since they were digging up his street for pipes changes. After the workers were gone in the evening, the mass of holes on the street must have looked like the foxholes of Ihor’s inquisitive imagination, a reality of his foreboding future, a reality that was now quickly approaching. On the street with Ihor lived other classmates, Bohdan, Zenon, Jaroslaw, and many others. We lived in a neighborhood which was crowded with other Ukrainians, 6th Street, 7th Street (where our church and school were), 8th Street, 9th Street, that if you went up or down a block someone would be there who knew you simply by your nationality; I myself lived with my parents on 13th Street, we weren’t that much far away from the Ukrainian community, still sort of living on the edge, you might say. Still, I played with Ihor and his buddies most every chance I got.
    But the years came and went and we shuffled in different directions, other high schools, other girlfriends, other interests and goals. This was the late 1960s and a new explosive world was beckoning, calling to us from different directions. Hair was getting longer, skirts were rising higher and higher, and Love was everywhere in the air.
     Since the draft was close upon him I suppose Ihor joined the military, as I’m sure many of the boys in the neighborhood were doing. I myself had drifted to California, joining the new Haight-Ashbury Hippies movement. Ihor went through boot camp and found himself with other new soldiers “in the hellhole of the world” (as it was called in Apocalypse Now), the country of Vietnam, with constant helicopters going chuck a chuck a chuck a chuck… 

“(With) a unique mixture of whites, blacks, Native Americans and Hispanics, the average age of the combat infantryman in Charlie (Company) was 20.5 years old. Nearly all had graduated from high school and a substantial number of them had earned college credit or had attended trade-schools before being drafted. Several of the “older” men were four-year college graduates.”

     Really, no different from the rest of American young society…
     Ihor’s service with the Redcatchers was as a sniper, hiding in the bush and firing at an unsuspecting Viet Cong, while still going through the turmoil of the rest of his men, waging in a constant battle they were under.
     This book Raiding The Sanctuary, is dated as May12th-June 25th, 1970 when they killed scores of enemy soldiers but themselves lost countless close friends and comrades.   
     I don’t know if Ihor continued serving with the Army afterwards or whether he himself was wounded in battle. All I can say after so many, many years, “It’s great that my friend, Ihor Dopiwka, is still alive!”


Monday, January 20, 2014

Tollbooth by Bud Smith


Piscataway House Publications

by Bud Smith

reviewed by Mick Mykola Dementiuk

     A manic, uproarious novel very reminiscent of the drunken novels of Charles Bukowski but Bud Smith takes his character’s mania a little farther and more deeper than Bukowski ever could. In Smith the mania is seductive, teasing, after all who would not want to lead the boring repetitive hum drum existence the toll collector leads? No wonder he gives in to his depraved madness, I surely would.
     The toll collector lives his rather dull life, taking tolls on a New Jersey highway, mumbling to himself hour after hour with his wife (in his fantasies), the few friends he has accumulated over the years and most of all the seductive teenage girls he knew once upon a time or happens to know right now. Needless to say the reader can’t help but look at these girls and ask are if they fantasies, these future hookers which he drools over anyway, big-breasted, high-haired, tight-pants and very short-skirted, a jerk-off dream come true right before his eyes? Perhaps, but still this reader was sucked in by the euphoria of that life, following the tale as it shifted far beyond New Jersey. The madness held me on every page; I very much wanted to know where he eventually was going.
     I thoroughly enjoyed Tollbooth, even the 300 or so pages seemed too short for the depravity displayed, I certainly would have read a few hundred more. A beautiful book, Bud Smith, with the Tollbooth you have collected your final toll and no more are you forced to mindlessly mutter, “Pay your toll!” No, let the miserable future collectors repeat it for you. Bravo, a great novel!  

Available in Kindle but I would get it in paperback, it's something you would want to hold and cherish over the years  

Friday, January 17, 2014

Two Lambda Awards

Lambda Awards for Holy Communion Bisexual Fiction 2009 and The Facialist Gay Erotica 2012 (press picture to get full photo)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Sweet Snow

Sweet Snow

by Alexander J. Motyl

reviewed by Mykola Dementiuk

Much as Dostoevsky's House of the Dead and Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago Alexander J. Motyl looks upon Soviet prisoners in his novel Sweet Snow but these prisoners are very different, since the year is 1933 and the worst enforced state famine, the Holodomer is tearing through the Ukraine while Stalin sits and smiles, smokes his cigarette and does absolutely nothing.

Four prisoners are being transported to the prison camps, a Jewish Communist from New York City, a German nobleman from Berlin, a Polish diplomat from Lwow, and Ukrainian nationalist from Vienna. But their Russian guards are notorious vodka drinkers who crash and overturn their transport truck until the guards are dead or dying, freeing the prisoners from their captives. And oh, what a freedom it is! The frozen wasteland of Siberia lies before them, an emptiness every which way they turn. Still scarred and shaken from the accident they start trudging their way back, whichever way that might be.

The description of the four surviving prisoners is grueling, even a few times this reader squirmed in revulsion from was being portrayed, lost men trying to make in back into life, if such a thing still exists.

Along their way they do come upon people, dead children holding on presumably their dead mothers, all emaciated, their bellies distended and dead of slow starvation. This is not a book for the careless, fickle reader but one who dares to look upon and learn what really went on at the time, mass organized starvation by the powers that be, the 1933 Soviet Elites.

I've read many of Motyl's books, Whiskey Priest, Who Killed Andrei Warhol, The Jew Who Was Ukrainian and others, but never before did I read one such as this, Sweet Snow, showing him at his masterful powers as a writer.

Well done, Alexander Motyl, literary greatness is certainly yours!

Alexander Motyl is a writer, painter, and professor. He is the author of five novels, Whiskey Priest, Who Killed Andrei Warhol, Flippancy, The Jew Who Was Ukrainian, and The Taste of Snow (forthcoming); his poems have appeared in Mayday, Counterexample Poetics, Istanbul Literary Review, Orion Headless, The Battered Suitcase, Red River Review, and New York Quarterly; his art­work has been exhibited in solo and group shows in New York, Philadelphia, and Toronto and is on view at Motyl teaches at Rutgers University-Newark and lives in New York.

See review for Motyl's Flippancy click here

  order My Orchidia here

Monday, December 9, 2013

The 42nd Street Jerking-Off Club-Out Now!

Another masterpiece of Times Square in its gay heyday by the two-time Lambda Award winning author!

I looked out the window on to 42nd Street. The crowd was still walking up and down the crazy, forgotten boulevard. Prostitutes, transvestites, hookers and hustlers of every sort paraded and marched back and forth on the hectic sidewalk, looking for another trick as they struggled through the dawning hours.

Where would they sleep it off tonight, some shabby Single Room Occupancy where they could just pass out for a few hours of troubled sleep, or in a lavish soft Park Avenue apartment where they could relax and laze in the lovely passing warm morning hours?

New York is like that, seeming to be at one moment a successful businesswoman going after deals, while at other times a deranged whore, slut, trollop, grabbing and stealing whatever she could get from you. I suppose that's why I liked it, the uncertainty of what can suddenly happen, a kiss on the lips or a stab in the back, same difference. In the end, a shrug and another day is stretching, yawning or else going back to sleep.

I noticed the lettered reflection of the window before me, even this high up it showed off what the window contained inside but at this angle, they were all mixed up, a reverse from what they actually spelled. I smiled, The 42nd Street Club, as if someone had forgotten the Jerking-Off part.

I smiled again and yawned. Yeah sure, but that's what I'm here for, jerking off!

Get it on Sizzler Editions

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

American Hipster

American Hipster

The Times Square Hustler
Who Inspired The Beat Movement
A Life of Herbert Huncke

Magnus Books

by Hilary Holladay

review by Mick Mykola Dementiuk

     There is a photograph of Herbert Huncke in New York’s 42nd Street, his eyes somewhat shut, a unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth, his facial cheeks all puffed as if from pummeling he may received from another's fists or else simply just the hazards of falling down in the big city streets. The picture was taken by Allen Ginsberg in the 1940s, when Ginsberg was himself an unknown poet and straggling through Columbia University while hanging out with the seedy shapers of life in Times Square. It shows the drug addicted user-friend Huncke, who would eventually come to be known as the originator and drive behind the Beat movement of the 40s and the 50s, influencing such writers as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, along with Ginsburg who he knew first hand, even at times going to jail for Huncke’s crimes and compulsive shenanigans. These three would come to be known as the Fathers of the Beat Movement, while the originator, the real soul, Herbert Huncke was left behind in the dirt and debris of 42nd Street.

     This wonderfully written biography, American Hipster by Hilary Holladay beautifully and patiently examines Huncke’s life in the dregs of society, though I focus mainly on 42nd Street, but it does not pass judgment of whether that life was well worth it or not. After all, it was a chaotic time in America after the war, the complacent 1950s exploding into the experimental 1960s when drug use was very carefully prevalent and society was cast into turmoil with the Civil Rights movement, demands for Women’s Rights, Gay Rights coming out and all forcing their way to the top which had been repressed and held back for so long. Huncke himself was notoriously queer but Gay Rights wasn’t his bag yet he didn’t suddenly appear on the street scene, that scene, 42nd Street was always there, which the wasted drug addict Huncke was always trying for one more fix. But this time Huncke came upon the scene with a coterie of young potential writers just hanging on to every word that he uttered to them. What they were looking for was to be like just him, to be a beatnik, mouthing things like, “Cool, heavy, beat…” with Huncke nonchalantly muttering the words they were hungry for, “Cool daddio…” They must have been charmed and fascinated by the somewhat illiterate drug addict, with a new hip language and giving them a different look upon post-WW2 life in America, which had shown itself as nothing but boring complacency and middle class deadness. No wonder they went on the road looking for adventure and very quickly found it too.
     Much as the movie character Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy who gives a very good idea of what Huncke was like and could’ve been a direct mimeograph of his Times Square existence yet Huncke was no mere movie character/hustler he was for very real, so much that he would steal you blind and even take the clothes off your back while blinding you as you’re looking right at him. A low down thief is what he was.

     Much as I experienced the seediness of 42nd Street and Times Square in the 1960s and 70s, when the sexual revolution was upon it, I don’t know if I ever met or saw Herbert Huncke in those shady movie houses, every slimy Times Square denizen looking just like him, and there were lots of them around. Going into a sex movie in those years was going into a standing room only venue; every seat was taken by men hungry for motion picture sex and intently watching close-ups of vaginal muscles, the lubrication released by female flesh heightened by the erotic scent smelling to high heaven, or it least it did to me. I’d sit and watch as sooner or later someone would change seats in the auditorium. After a while, as I moved aside to let them pass, I realized my wallet was missing, had I dropped it unknowingly while being so aroused just staring at the flesh on the screen? Wait a minute, what about the disheveled guy who sat next to me, of course, who else but him, he ripped me off!

     Who knows if I ever came across Herbert Hunckey or not? Had no idea who he was at the time or would I care?

     The phantom of Hubert Huncke still slithers down the balcony stairs of ghostly 42nd Street movie houses… Just let the chimera go past. Wait a minute, why’s it stopping and slithering closer? Oh no, time to get out of here!

     Herbert Hunckey lived 1915 to 1996, pretty much stoned and wasted all through his years.


Mick Mykola Dementiuk is a two-time winner of the Lambda Award, and his collection, Times Square Queer, was a finalist for the 2012 Bisexual Book Award. He is also the author of Times Queer, about 42nd Street, and The 42nd Street Jerk-off Club which will be released shortly. Visit him at or