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Ben Fong-Torres
The Facts on Larry Ching
May 2003

'Better Luck' This Weekend
April 2003

Old Memories, a New Museum
March 2003

'Twixt Teen and Michael Jackson
February 2003

In a Confused State of Mind
January 2003

In the Trenches with Trent, Jon Lovitz, and Johnny Rivers
December 2002

The Pioneering Performers of The Forbidden City
November 2002

A Letter to Writers, and How the Wiest was Won
October 2002

A Singing Career? I Think Not.
September 2002

Sheryl Crow: All She Wants to Do is Have Some Lunch
August 2002

Bruce Springsteen: Still the Boss
July 2002

Commencement Speech at Thurgood Marshall College
July 2002

A Senior Moment and a Reunion with a Pop Star
June 2002

We Love New York, Part 2002
May 2002

A Flick, a Rock Fantasy, and An Alternative to the Laptop
Apr 2002

March Madness, the Musical, and a Joint Effort with Willie Nelson
Mar 2002

Bringing in 4700 with a Parade of Wild Horses
Feb 2002

Taking a Q from Quincy Jones - It's His Party
Feb 2002

Asian American Males on TV: Old News is Bad News
Dec, 2001

Life's Lessons from a DJ and a Songwriter
May 2001

Gawk and Roll at the Hall of Fame
Apr 2001

Shakin' It Up at Harvard
Mar 2001

Creole Ladies and Crazy Times Down in New Orleans
Feb 23, 2001

A Parade of Dragons, Lions, Serpents -- and Strippers?
Feb 5, 2001

We Love New York, Part 2002
by Ben Fong-Torres

AsianConnections is proud to present the adventures of Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine. This guy's our hero! Ben was a featured character in the movie "Almost Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron Crowe.

A midtown fire station remembers.

Our first morning in New York City, early in May, a headline in the Times read: Post-9/11 Pain Found to Linger in Young Minds.

Never mind the young. The pain is still everywhere you go in and around Manhattan. I was there with Dianne, on a makeup trip. We'd originally planned to visit around her birthday late last September. Now, we'd be celebrating our 26th wedding anniversary by going to the big, bruised Apple.

We were there to see friends and to have fun, and we had plenty. We were also there to pay tribute to the city and its people.

In other cities I've visited recently - Los Angeles, San Diego, Austin - one sees flags in storefronts and in windows of cars, homes and public buildings. In New York, flags, written signs, and memorials are everywhere.

As I said, we did have fun. We stayed at the apartment of a friend, a friend so wealthy he bought an apartment in the Upper West Side with a 20th floor view of the glorious Manhattan skyline, with Central Park just below; this expansive, contemporary space used to be occupied by the actress Faye Dunaway. A friend so thoughtful that after treating us to dinner at Daniel, one of New York City's finest, our first night in, he left town, so we had the run of the apartment for four nights.

Those nights were filled with more great dinners. One of the best was at Babbo, Mario Batali's showcase. As we arrived, Mario, on the eve of receiving the James Beard award as the best chef in New York City, was chatting with customers on the sidewalk. Another high point was Tabla, one of the jewels in Danny Meyer's collection of hot dining spots.

Amy Tan, Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark run over a song at Amy's loft

On Saturday night, the Rock Bottom Remainders, the glitterati rock band fronted by Amy Tan, Stephen King, Scott Turow and Dave Barry, performed a benefit concert, and they invited me to join in on backup vocals. The evening before, Amy and husband Lou DeMattei hosted the band at their loft in Soho. Having never sung with the Remainders, I was looking forward to their rehearsal Saturday morning. But at the dinner, Lou asked if I wanted to join him at Yankee Stadium for a game against the Mariners. How could I turn down a chance to see that fabled ballpark? Besides, as Amy said, "The less we rehearse, the better we'll be."

So, with Lou, John Tan (Amy's bro) and his wife Pamela, I subwayed it out to the Bronx and soaked in the sun, the game, and the unending emotion that attends the seventh-inning stretch, which now includes the playing of "God Bless America."

After another fine dinner, this time at the Italian restaurant, Beppe, I hit the stage at Webster Hall, with no clue about what I was supposed to do. Fortunately, it didn't matter much, since the audience of 2,000 or so were there for the stars. They expected to laugh at this garage band of authors, but wound up cheering and dancing through most of the two-hour set of oldies. The laughs came for Amy Tan's dominatrix act on "These Boots Are Made for Walking," for Mitch (Tuesdays With Morrie) Albom's Elvis/Jailhouse Rock getup, and for Roy Blount's band introductions (sample, for Stephen King: "He proved that you can run him over, but you can't stop the music." For me: "He may be 'Almost Famous,' but tonight should put him over the top."). King killed the crowd with his post-accident cult hit, "Stand By Me," and the creepy "Teen Angel."

Dave (Book of Bad Songs) Barry on stage at Webster Hall

At one point, while thriller-writer Ridley Pearson sang "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," the guitar-wielding Dave Barry turned around and yelled at me: "I love this song. Dylan's a genius with the simple songs!" I loved all the songs and had a blast catching up with the real backup singers on tunes like "Wild Thing," "Nadine," "Mustang Sally" and "Gloria." After two hours of remarkably capable music, the band filed backstage, and the crowd clapped for more. After only about 30 seconds, Barry yelled, "Let's get back on stage before they stop."

In New York, you never stop. Dianne and I got in some serious shopping on Fifth Avenue, and on other days, while she shopped elsewhere and saw friends, I checked out the big Book Expo at the Javits Center and a book party on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building; I visited friends at Rolling Stone and MTV, had coffee with Lia Chang, the writer-actor-photographer (see her work elsewhere on AsianConnections) and a drink with Arista, the actor-director I met when we did a panel together for the Asian Pacific Law Students Association at Harvard a couple years back.

I had barbeque with the New York staffers of my company, Collabrys, Inc., dropped in for a chat with the managing editor of Parade magazine, saw the awesome "Baseball As America" exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, and checked out Winnie's in Chinatown, where they go karaoke-crazy every night.

What I did not do was go to Ground Zero. I simply didn't feel the need to. In New York, Ground Zero is pretty much wherever you go, and "9/11" isn't a date, but a constant presence, from the first sign you see at the airport indicating Manhattan, depicting its skyline, with ribbons emblazoned over the twin towers, to the flags fronting almost every apartment building on the Upper West Side. Asked how long it took for New Yorkers to get back to some semblance of "normal," friends would say that it's an ongoing process. Their memories are still vivid. Several reminded me that the last time they saw me at a book reading, it was at Borders on the ground level of the World Trade Center, in late 1999.

In Chinatown, words of gratitude for the FDNY

On this visit, I went to a bookstore in midtown. The first books on September 11 are out now, including Portraits, a collection of the New York Times' finely etched sketches of the victims, originally published as "Portraits of Grief." Any one of them can break your heart, and I'm not sure I could bear to read them again.

Two young women were browsing and came upon a display for Portraits. "Wait," said one. "My friend's in here. Prince." She lifted one of the heavy volumes and leafed through, looking for the name. "Ah, here she is," she said, pointing to a photograph of a 30 year-old woman. She stayed with the page for a moment, then closed the book and put it back.

Celebration Time

On the eve of Asian American Heritage Month, I spoke at the University of San Diego. Sponsored by the Asian Students Association, my talk began something like this: "This is a celebration that came to be 25 years ago, and it is, indeed, a celebration. We've come a long way since 1763, when the first Filipinos established a community in the Bayous of Louisiana, before this was even the United States. A long way since the 1830s, when Chinese were in New York and Hawaii. A long way since 1843, when the first Japanese immigrated to the U.S.

"Sometimes, it does seem like we haven't traveled all that far since the anti-Chinese riots and the Exclusion Act; since the internment camps of World War II. We think of Vincent Chin in Detroit; we remember the post-Rodney King plundering of Korean businesses in Los Angeles; we consider the Wen Ho Lee case. We read, with dismay, about a survey that finds that 25 percent of fellow Americans hold "very negative feelings" toward Chinese and Asian Americans. And this is not a poll taken in 1970. This was from a cross-section of people throughout the country almost exactly one year ago.

"What to do about this? Among other things, like education and outreach, I say we celebrate. We take pride in ourselves and in each other. We raise our profiles and increase our activities in the community, in politics, in media and in the arts."

Thanks to the board of the Asian Students Association for having me, and, especially, for taking us to dinner and karaoke afterwards. We did celebrate.

For more insights by Ben, visit his official website at www.benfongtorres.com


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