Tag Archives: New York City

a story about an amazing woman.

My grandmother is one of the strongest women I’ve ever known, and I’m not just saying that because she’s mine.  I honestly believe she’s probably one of the toughest, most stubborn woman I’ve ever met.  Today, I kissed her forehead for probably the last time.  At 102 years old she has lived an incredibly long and full life.

With every shallow, slow breath she took this morning I thought about the number of moments she has taken in; the amazing events she lived through; the number of people she’s affected.   I remember the stories she told me when I was a little girl, and how vivid they were.   She had an incredible life story and I told myself I would one day write about it.   What better way to honor her life than to retell some of her most fascinating moments.

Here is her life abridged…

She was born, Visitacion “Visi” Rodriguez on July 6, 1909 in the small town of Coamo, PR to a Spanish father and a mother of French, Italian, and Taíno decent.  They were a poor family and her father whom we know very little about, died just three years later in a horse carriage accident.  By the time she was  9 years old her mother left her with family friends after becoming ill with consumption.   She recalled crying desperately for her mother  every night, asking her caretakers when her mother would return from the hospital for her, to which they replied, “Your mother will come for you when the green horse arrives.”  One day while she was playing by a nearby stream two young girls approached her and told her they could take her to her mother.  The three of them walked 10 miles to Ponce, and she was lead straight to her dying mother’s bedside.  My grandmother never saw those girls again and she swears they were angels.

Her mother died shortly after, and Visi was taken in by her aunt who was already looking after her sister and three cousins.  As the oldest of the cousins, she helped to support the family by quitting school after the eighth grade to work as a housekeeper for a rich local woman.  She worked for very little pay but it was enough to buy shoes for the rest of the girls to continue attending school.

At 16 she was approached outside of the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, by a black vehicle she has described as something out of the old television series, The Untouchables.  Inside the car was Lieutenant Commander Virgil Baker; he was seeking a housekeeper/nanny to help him look after his estate and raise his children as his wife was mentally ill. My grandmother accepted the position and for a period 19 years she was their “Maria”.

What was most curious about that period of her life was that the Baker’s home in which she lived was located on an old spanish fort.  U.S. Lt. Baker, who was in charge of all naval activities on the island, acquired El Fortín San Jerónimo (San Jeronimo Fort located in San Juan) and its surrounding land in 1921 as an assignment or ‘free lease’ from the U.S. Government (a “gift” as described by my grandmother), and on top of the historic fort was where he built his home.

During her appointment, Lt. Baker asked her to marry him several times but she viewed him more like a father and felt it was time for her to move on with her life, so he found her a secretarial position at the U.S. Naval Base where she learned shorthand, typing, and improved her English skills.

The year was 1945 and WWII had recently come to an end when a handsome captain walked into her office.  He was unable to take his eyes off of her and begged her supervisor to have her accompany him to dinner that evening.

His name was Capt. George Thomas Dungan, a Merchant Marine during the War, who had been at sea nearly his entire life, keeping with  family tradition.  In fact, during the 1920s he was the youngest captain on the entire eastern seaboard.

My grandmother was not initially taken by him, as her heart had recently been broken by an American Soldier who had informed her earlier that week that he had to return to his wife, but  George was a persistent man, and convinced Visi to see him every night that week.   On their last evening out, she told him she was moving in several days to New York City for a change of scenery.  He offered to take her to NY but informed her that his ship would need to port in New Orleans first.  She declined his offer as she had already booked her passage.

She left her sister in her position at the Naval Base, just in case she hated New York and needed to return, and got on a boat packed with other passengers also looking to start new lives.  The journey was awful, and it was no luxury liner with plenty of sea sickness going around.  When she arrived in New York City, things did not improve.  It was the dead middle of winter and she began to question her decision.

She moved in with her aunt and cousin who had moved to the city a few months earlier and took a job as a seamstress.  Six months later there was a knock on their apartment door.  Her Aunt opened the door to a tall, dark, and handsome Captain George T. Dungan.  He had contacted her sister at the Naval Base to get her address.  My grandmother says he swept her off her feet, taking her to all the best restaurants and night clubs, making her feel like a princess.

That same week he proposed to her and asked her to wait for him for 6 months until he returned from his next trip at sea.   She did, and they got married on a gold mining tour in Mexico.  After they moved to New Orleans to start a family, but due to my grandmother’s age of 35,  they had difficulty getting pregnant.  After several years of trying, and a miscarriage of twins, my grandfather left the shipping industry and they relocated to Birmingham, Alabama where at age 43 my grandmother finally  gave birth to their first and only child, Gazelle.    And the rest is history…

My mom, Gazelle, has been an amazing daughter – taking care of her mother over the past 5 years.  Two very amazing women.

Grandma Visi, I will never forget you.

Visitacion “Visi” Dungan
July 6, 1909 – August 9, 2011

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a new york minute = a week of catching up.

As I mentioned last weekend – I was in fact in NYC and of course it was a crazy, amazing time!  I caught Lady Ga Ga in concert at the XL Center in Hartford, CT with my friend Matt – we had front row seats courtesy of my friend Rob and his ever so gracious boss, Chin.  As if the tickets alone were not enough, Rob hooked us up with a driver so we wouldn’t have to brave the bus/train for at least half of the trip.  Rob if you’re reading, Matt and I can not thank you enough.  YOU ARE the bees knees!

The concert was fantastic!  Ga Ga was captivating, and the show was of course a giant, ridiculous, spectacle – and I loved every second of it.  No lip syncing at this concert – but ‘shock and awe’ was rampant.  I liked Lady Ga Ga before, but now I will honestly admit I am a fan – a ‘little monster’, so to speak…  I think the shining moment amongst the spectacle was when she announced that a portion of all tickets sold was going to her charity of choice – a group that provides support for gay and bi-sexual teens who have run away from home because their parents didn’t understand them.  I was really moved by that.
During the rest of my trip I met my girl Dorothy for lunch in Midtown, treated myself to a manicure, and partied with Rob and Co.  We were supposed to end up at a party in Brooklyn but I never left Manhattan… oh well, maybe next time.

On Saturday evening I returned to Orlando – and I met up with Rima to get the highly anticipated photos she took of me in August!  They turned out great and you can see the best of the best on the FB page!  After that I went downtown to hang out with JP and Wendy.  We ended up running
into another friend of mine celebrating her high school reunion and ended up at I-Bar… where I met a cutie named Brad.  And that evening spiraled into a very strange series of events, which I have decided not to describe in detail but I will say that it began to resemble a scene out of a bad movie… and ended with myself and the cutie walking over 2 miles at 4:45am.

So after a 3 day escapade with very little sleep and lot’s of running around – I officially ran myself down.  ;\  Oh go ahead and laugh now – I knew it was coming.

In other news – I met my new boss, who will be taking on the position of Director for the Orange County Arts Education Center (I think he’s a shoe in)  and I spent this past weekend out with friends, rehearsing, and working on the new branding… website updates coming soon, but most importantly I’m getting very close to releasing my first official EP/Album Woop Woop!

If you’re local or you happened to be in town this coming weekend (Oct. 1 – 3) check out the ELLA Fest taking place at Orlando Brewing Co.  It’s a celebration of  Female Musicians – kind of a local “Lilith Fair”, and it’s sure to be a good time!  My band and I will hit the stage on Sunday, OCT 3 @ 7:00pm.  Be there!  All the cool kids are going.

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daley does nyc…

HeYO! Yes.  It has taken me about a week to recover from my NYC excursion, only to turn around and hit Miami just this past weekend, but I’ll save that for the next blog post.  “Recover” is probably not the word to best describe my return to my regularly scheduled plethora of activities … it was more like rehab with severe withdrawal.  I was on a “Manhattan high” and forced to quit cold turkey at 36,000 feet on the return.  Painful.  New York is a place that has always been on the top of my list of places to one day call home, and I’ve lost count of the many times I’ve been… but this last visit was particularly invigorating.  The energy was incredible…

Wednesday afternoon I hoped on the Long Island Rail (LIR) and headed to Penn Station – from there I checked into my hotel, and got ready to meet up with my friend, and Dog Powered Robot music collaborator, David.  He was in the city for the kick-off of his yearlong tour with Blue Man Group, so we thought it would be fun to catch up in the city.  As many of you are aware, being in Midtown Manhattan can be an expensive proposition, so I suggested he and I take advantage of the free appetizers in the Executive Lounge.  After that we headed down to the Village, and we enjoyed some good wine at one of his old stomping grounds, The Room, located in SoHo off Sullivan St. near Prince.  It had a great vibe and allure, and I understand why it’s been described as dark and seductive.   It certainly has my seal of approval, if that’s worth anything.

I said a final goodbye to David wishing him lot’s luck on his tour, and decided I was not yet ready to retire for the evening… It was my first night in the city and I was energized.  I decided to keep my earlier plans to meet up with a friend from the “oh-so-long ago days of youth group” whom I hadn’t seen in a decade… we’ll call him ‘Joe’.  So I sent Joe one last text to see where his evening had taken him.  He was out with clients and they were at a private party.  Our phone conversation consisted of the following; “You are more than welcome to join us but I don’t think everything going on here is entirely legal…” hmm… this did sound interesting… hmmm ok….I’m in.   It was a very, very private party in midtown – lots of white-collar shirts, and “cocktail waitresses” – as for illegal substances, I saw nothing.  Those of you, who know me, know that’s not how I roll.  And No, NYPD did not bust down any doors, and now that I think about it… that would have been extremely tragic.  I may need to re-think some of my more questionable and spontaneous decisions.

Thursday morning I grabbed breakfast and walked down Avenue of the Americas to Bryant Park to check out the Broadway in the Park, (FREE public performances during the summer of highlights from currently running, yep you guessed it, Broadway shows).  One of the lead cast members of American Idiot, Tony Vincent, had posted the event on Facebook, and I figured it would be a good way to spend part of the day.  The lineup was Mamma Mia! | American Idiot (A.I.) | La Cage Aux Folles | West Side Story and Mary Poppins.  All of the performances were great, but I thought the cast members from Idiot, La Cage, and West Side Story were particularly good.  Other than watching the show, I met some cool random people, took photos, talked to some of the cast members (including Tony Vincent), met a couple of cute boys (one of which I scored a date with for Saturday night), and was approached by two people who asked if I was famous, or at least in one of the shows.  I’m not kidding, one woman in particular insisted she have her picture taken with me anyway. 

That evening I decided to make a mad dash to the St. James Theatre to put my name in the lottery for a $27 ticket to American Idiot – I didn’t realize a ticket this cheap was even an option, and I wasn’t planning on seeing a show for sure – but when Tony Vincent asks if you are going to see his show, and you answer, “I’m gonna try”… to which he responds, “you really should.”  It kind of obligates you a little bit… well, at least it obligates me,  because, well, I’m a push over, that and I figured I should at least try to get a $27 ticket.  So I signed up and got in line… only to not hear my name called.  Boo.  But there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel – if you did not win a $27 ticket you could purchase a partial view seat for $37.  I figured what’s $10 more?  At least I would see the show….well most of it.  And I have to say, I actually loved it.  In my mind the show had serious potential to be campy, but it wasn’t, it was great!  I wish that Omar Lopez-Cepero was on that night, as it would have been cool to see an old college classmate up there, but it was still great and Tony wasn’t half bad either.  I even ran into a girl, Shira, that I met earlier that day – She had asked if I wouldn’t mind taking her picture with Tony in Bryant Park – and remembered that I’d had so much caffeine, I could barely hold the camera still – or maybe Tony simply made me nervous…

After my Broadway adventure, I headed over to meet up with another classmate from my University of Miami Musical Theatre Conservatory ‘glory days’, Mr. Matt Gregorio, fka Matt Noblin, aka ‘Italian Stallion’.  He was participating in an “Idol” style karaoke contest at New World Stages.  I met a bunch of his super cool friends, and I even hopped up on the stage to bomb on my own karaoke version of “Magic Man” by Heart – not the crowd pleaser I would have suspected.  Apparently people living in NYC under the age of 26 have never heard the classic.  But best of all was Matt singing the Frankie Valli hit, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”.   It was stunning and it got him to the top 10.  Kudos Matt ❤

On Friday I headed out to Brooklyn Heights to meet up with my girl Dorothy and her little minion, Alfie, a 4 month-old French bulldog/ Boston Terrier mix.  We walked around the very posh neighborhood over to the riverside and back, and both the weather and the company couldn’t have been more perfect.  Dorothy is the kind of friend you could go months without talking to, but every time you pick up the phone or get to see her in person it’s like picking up right where you left off.  I love that girl.  Before leaving the awesomeness that is Brooklyn Heights, we stopped in the famous Crumbs Bake Shop for a cup cake sample, a free coffee, and a massive red velvet cupcake to go.  It was wondrous to look at on the train ride down to Atlantic City, and it took every fiber of my being not to eat it – the goal was to take it to my family in Jersey – the cake made it in tact – I guess I do have will power.

It was a short but nice, mini getaway, just a 2 ½ hour train ride to Atlantic City.  It’s my home away from home, and nothing beats spending time with family.  We simply relaxed – very necessary for me as I had been going non-stop since Wednesday, and on Saturday I even got in some ‘sista time’ by the pool.    

Saturday afternoon, I of course, putzed around, which made me miss my return train by 1 minute.  I’m not kidding I watched in horror as it pulled away on the tracks while I frantically ran up the steps shouting and mumbling a few choice words… and in the process I dropped and lost my credit card.  Brilliant.  It all worked out in the end because I was able to catch a bus back and cancel my long-lost card in the process. 

Next stop, East Village, to my Cousin Shannon’s place – we caught up for a while, shared a beer, ran a couple of errands and got ready for our Saturday night.  As I mentioned earlier I had a date with a cutie I will refer to as “PR Dan”.  No, not Puerto Rican Dan… but rather ‘Public Relations Dan’ (that’s what he does for Clear Channel) – We met Thursday at Bryant Park.  I met up with PR Dan at an Irish Pub (I can’t recall the name of) a couple blocks away from Shannon’s and we had a drink before being joined by my extremely tall and beautiful cousin.  We headed over to another bar, ran into a couple of Shannon’s friends and had a few too many.  At some point in the evening Shannon needed to leave and dragged me with her.  Now here’s the part where I come off as a cold heartless bitch… I didn’t get to say, “goodbye, thank you for the drinks, or maybe I’ll see you again”, – Poor ‘PR Dan’.  I felt pretty bad, but I think he can forgive me…. meh?

Sunday was the big day!  My best friend from college was getting married!  I got up – tried to kill my hangover from the night before with a bagel and a screw driver, showered and caught the F train, eventually making it into Astoria  2 transfers and a delay later.  I emerged from the subway onto a street corner where I was picked up by Matt (Karaoke Matt) and Nick Cobey aka ‘Shnatz – both friends from my conservatory days.  The drive over to Wyckoff, NJ (wedding location) can be summed up in one word, ‘Hilarious’.  I thought I had been cast as the ultimate fag-hag in the prequel to Will & Grace.  It was raining, there was traffic, the GPS system was less than accurate, and Nick couldn’t navigate for shit – he couldn’t even act it.   I told them to get a hold of themselves and threatened to punch both of them.  Despite the insanity, we arrived on time and were thrilled to see that all who were invited from our college group were there, and everyone looked fantastic! 

Michal was glowing, and Marc was radiant…they are truly a couple in love and their wedding was beautiful.   Our group gift to the bride and groom was a song, “Make Someone Happy” and we even managed to throw in some parts, courtesy of Lilli’s musical arranging expertise.  It was a hit.  I didn’t get asked to dance by any cute Jewish Boys (they were probably all told to stay away from the shiksas) but I did have the pleasure of Dancing with Erica Dorfler, our own Broadway Starlet.  She leads well. 😉 The whole wedding was fabulous.   If you’ve never had the pleasure of attending a traditional Jewish wedding, put it on your list of to-dos. 

The end of my trip was near.  Monday was my last day to play in the city, and I was determined to make every second count – and even included some stupid touristy things into my day.  I grabbed coffee with Shannon, took the subway up to Rockefeller Center where I caught a glimpse of the Today Show, hit the MoMA shop, headed up to Central Park, stopped in FAO Schwartz, moseyed through the Garment District and Herald Square, then walked all the way down Broadway to Union Square and over through NoHo where I eventually got some lunch in a French Bistro called, Café Mocha – I had a crepe, it was très délicieux!, especially after walking for 4 hours straight. 

I headed back to Shannon’s to gather up my belongings, then I took the F train Brooklyn bound to hitch a ride to the airport with Dorothy, who’s mother happened to be on my return flight home.  Goodbye NYC, I’ll see you again real soon, and to quote a new friend, “I can smell it.”

 

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