Tag Archives: new york

Official Outrage Meets the Belt-Whipping Klansman of Route 208

I belonged to the first generation of kids who were taught racism was bad. By that I mean taught formally, officially, in school. By the time I began kindergarten, the civil rights battles of 1960s had entered the realm of Settled History, with clear victors and losers, heroes and villains. There was once a time, we were told, where discrimination based on the color of one’s skin ran rampant, but now racism had been vanquished thanks to Martin Luther King Jr. and Bill Cosby.

Around the time when the first MLK Day was celebrated, my elementary school hosted a presentation wherein someone who bore a remarkable likeness to the man himself reenacted the I Have A Dream speech, and led an entire cafetorium in the singing of “We Shall Overcome.” As a budding history nerd and self-righteous soul, this presentation genuinely moved me. In a fit of Lisa Simpson-esque civic earnestness, I felt compelled to write a letter to the White House, asking the president what I could or should do for the cause of civil rights. Because the president at the time was Ronald Reagan, I received a photo of The Gipper and a form letter that made no mention whatsoever of Civil Rights.

This setback notwithstanding, the message that Racism = Bad was constantly reinforced throughout my childhood, both in school and in kid-aimed PSAs like One To Grow On, wherein the ethical quandaries of the age were resolved by Nancy McKeon and Soleil Moon-Frye. The belief of the inherent equality of all humans seemed less a belief that needed to be held, but a fact that I acknowledged. I never encountered anyone who felt otherwise.

And then I met my bully.

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Excerpts From the Only New York Novel Ever Published

The bees are in full voice today, Jim thought to himself as he tended to his rooftop apiary. The customers at Freyja, the café he owned in Ridgewood, would soon be clamoring for more of the bounty of these hives. It came from a special breed, Apis laboriosa, native to the Himalayas, who produced a honey less sweet than store bought, with strong notes of tartness. How like life itself, Jim thought. How like his life.

When he first opened Freyja, there was nothing around it for miles. They told him he was foolish to quit his job at Goldman Sachs and open a café where no one lived. Back then, the café’s only neighbors were a check cashing business, a down-in-the-mouth community center, and a hospital that would soon close down. Now people lined up at dawn on days when the honey was available. Jim could produce more of it, but the bees were sensitive. You could only ask so much of them. Also, he had received  complaints when some of the oversized bees broke away from his colony and built their own hive in the jungle gym at the local playground.

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Citi Field, 4:12pm

citifield3Citi Field has a bad rap, I think, because people confuse the stadium with the mediocre (at best) team that’s played there for five seasons, and the hated ownership that pushed for the stadium’s construction. As far as I’m concerned, however, there are a few things to recommend the place.

I like that when I go to Citi Field, I see a New York that I recognize, and one I don’t see or hear about anywhere else. What this New York is, exactly, is difficult to express, which is part of the reason why you don’t hear about it. Another part comes from the fact that most people who write about New York are either transplants or move in lofty circles, and so they barely come into contact with this New York. And it would never occur to most of the people who are part of this New York to express what they are. As far as they’re concerned, there’s nothing to express. It would be like asking a fish to tell you about the ocean.

I see a New York I recognize at Citi Field because the crowd there has diversity, an overused word but one for which I can find no suitable substitute. But that diversity is only a very small part of what I mean. For all these surface differences they possess, there is something shared among those who make up the crowds at Citi Field. You saw it at Shea once upon a time, too. It’s not Mets fandom, really. That’s part of it, sure, but fandom is only a reflection of something deeper.

There is a feeling that I get when I go to Citi Field, surrounded by the kind of people who choose to go to Citi Field, the kind of people I come from. I get this feeling nowhere else. It is an odd mix of nostalgia for the past and a jaundiced eye at the present. In those stands, you hear grumbling when The Opposition goes deep, or a shortstop lets a grounder zip through his legs, but the grumbles are accompanied by smirks. It has the unspoken undercurrent of, Did you really think this would work out?

And yet, all you need to do is run a video of Piazza or Gooden or Seaver on the scoreboard and the fans begin to nod reverently. And they’ll tell each other, I was at that game, even if the guy next to you was with you at that game. They must speak these words aloud because they can scarcely believe that they of all people were allowed to witness such things. They are people who are willing to allow that great, impossible things can happen in their lives. They just don’t expect them to happen any time soon.

I attended the first Mets game ever played at Citi Field, an exhibition against the Red Sox. I wandered into the Caesar’s Club that night, an enclosed bar/restaurant area behind home plate. There I saw people who got what they thought they wanted, a first class modern facility to replace outmoded, crumbling Shea Stadium, only to feel immensely confused. They were people uncomfortable with comfort. One man lowered himself into a lounge chair slowly, as if he was afraid it would disappear if he moved too fast.

Some say the iconic phrase coined by Tug McGraw in 1973, Ya gotta believe!, was originally said in jest to mock an exec making a lame clubhouse pep talk, that it only became a rallying cry when the Mets went from worst to first at the tail end of that season. I’d like to think this is true. It says so much about the people who choose to follow the Mets. It is a joke always threatening to become serious.

I like that when I left Citi Field on Sunday, the last game of the season, readying myself for a long winter, I caught a brief glimpse of something over the Promenade roof. I could see the relics of the World’s Fair in the distance, the Unisphere and the NY State Pavilion and the cone of a spaceship that once circled this earth and came back again. Those structures rose alongside Shea Stadium, at a time when people—in Queens of all places—still believed in the future.

Jean Shepherd: Strange Tales of New York

shep2I have often waxed at great length about my love of Jean Shepherd’s radio show, here and elsewhere. I’ve written about and shared many kinds of programs of his over the years: nostalgic, anti-nostalgic, childhood tales, army tales, philosophical meanderings, and various combinations of the above.

Another thing he did well on his shows—something I haven’t really touched on before—is his ability to convey a mood of eeriness, of creeping, unnameable terror. Around Halloween, he loved to dedicate shows to stories about the Jersey Devil (and occasionally its lesser known cousin, the Kentucky Devil). He did many other shows about the pull of the supernatural and the fear of ghosts. But more often, he would talk about the terror of the everyday, the weird, creepy things happening right under our noses.

For no good reason at all, I want to share one such show, which aired on April 14, 1970. It starts with Shep sharing a bone-chilling news story from New Orleans, where creepy things tend to happen with some regularity. But then he shifts into a tale from the days when he first moved to New York, and his somewhat desperate attempts to find friendship in a city that can make newcomers feel crushingly alone. The story starts out amusing, involving wild parties, random encounters, and lapsed drunken monks (really), but it quickly deteriorates into a sad and chilling arena. Shep closes out the show with another story, this one about helping a friend investigate an apartment he’s interested in renting. Finding a place to live in New York is terrifying enough, but this story goes beyond even the usual level of terror and into a special, weird place.

Though Shep’s stories in this show refer to things that happened in the 1950s and 1960s, there’s something eternally New York about these stories, a very New York brand of loneliness and sadness and squalor that few people wrote about then and even fewer write about now. I found it genuinely unnerving to listen to because it all felt so real to me, and I find it amazing he was able to convey this feeling with only his voice (although a creepy Stockhausen composition helped, I suppose).

Enjoy (if that’s the word). Just don’t listen to it with the lights off.

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Never Forget (The Condiments)

In my brief time working in the Wall Street area, I’ve discovered that the shortest route between two points is not always a straight line. Certain streets are completely choked with tourists and narrowed by incessant construction, and should be avoided at all costs unless you want some homicidal inspiration.

Broadway is particularly awful, so if I need to get somewhere on that street, I will often double back on a parallel avenue, walk as far up- or downtown as I need to go, then cut back to the main drag. Though this might seem unnecessarily complicated, it’s actually much faster than trying to wade through acres of gawking Midwesterners (no offense, Midwesterners).

On Tuesday, I ventured away from the office to grab some lunch, and on the way back, I walked uptown on Trinity Place. While not completely crowd free, you can actually move along this street faster than a snail’s pace. It runs behind Trinity Church, at a lower elevation than Broadway. A majestic stone wall marks the church’s western extremity, and a beautiful walkway connects it, mysteriously, to a much more modern office building across the street.

As I walked past the stone wall, I noticed one entrance–called Cherub’s Gate–was wide open. I realized that I’d never been to Trinity Church, somehow, and that nothing was stopping me from going now. So I climbed the stairs and found myself on a tiny little green island of the 18th century in the middle of downtown Manhattan, filled with crumbling headstones, most of which are more than 200 years old.

It was bizarre to walk among the dilapidated tombstones and read their somber, weirdly spelled inscriptions. (“Here lyes Goodye Price, ded of Consumption aged thirty-fyve yearf.”) It was even weirder to see people spending their lunch there, yapping on cell phones, chowing down on deli buffet food in clamshell trays. Though odd, this didn’t seem disrespectful, really. It was a surprisingly quiet, calm oasis in a very noisy part of the city, and one of the few spots in that neighborhood where a person could truly get away from it all for a little while.

I should also add that as I strolled between the graves, I was listening to a Jean Shepherd show from 1960 on my iPod. During that period, Shep’s shows were particularly philosophical and dark. The setting plus the soundtrack combined to give me an eerie, melancholy feeling.

And then I felt something else. Actually, I smelled something else. Something acrid and pungent. Such smells are not unusual in New York, of course, but this smell was not bad per se, just unwelcome. And yet also strongly familiar.

And then I remembered: There was a Subway franchise right next to Trinity on Broadway. I was smelling the unmistakable reek of pickled Subway vegetables wafting through the churchyard. I have smelled that smell many times, coming from my own hands, several hours after eating a six-inch Veggie Delight. I don’t know what they use to preserve those vegetables for longhaul truck travel, but you need auto mechanic-grade abrasive soap to remove that stench from your fingers.

This smell was not faint. The churchyard was drenched in it. The final resting place of Alexander Hamilton and Robert Fulton, overshadowed by the olfactory shadow of five-dollar foot-longs. If such great men can be overtaken by the thorny talons of Jared, what hope is there for a rest of us?

A Barehanded Grasp

delmonicos.jpgI have touchstones all over New York that immediately bring back incidents in my life. All it takes is an awning or a doorway to bring memories flooding back. That’s that theater I used to go to all the time. There’s that bar where my friend pissed all over the window late one night. That’s the corner where I pushed a huge metal cog into oncoming traffic.

Right now, I’m working near Wall Street, right in the shadow of Ground Zero. I’ve never worked in this neighborhood before, which is somewhat unusual in my family (between finance, insurance, and the courts, most of my relatives have worked downtown at some point or another). But I used to go down there every now and then, because my father worked here for most of his adult life (when he was working).

When I was in college, we started to meet up for lunch, and it continued as I entered the workforce myself. We didn’t eat downtown too often–as I’ve quickly found out, the meal options down there are slim pickins. More often, we’d get lunch in the Village–my dad was a huge fan of the Waverly Diner on Sixth Avenue, for reasons that escape me.

But before my current gig, my only ventures into the Financial District area were to visit my dad, and so when I walk around those narrow, sloping streets, I feel haunted by him. Particularly since he used to work in the World Trade Center. I visited him a few times there, when he worked in an office on the 102nd floor, where you could actually feel the building yaw slightly to each side. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to have lost someone on 9/11, but I think I know something like it when I look out my new office’s windows and see workers below laying foundations, paving things over, removing all evidence that anyone was once there.

I called his death years before it happened, at least in broad terms. I declared to my mother that he’d already put us through too much grief to go easily. It would not be a quick heart attack or car accident. It would be something prolonged and painful and probably crippling to all our wallets. I said these things as jokes, but I was 100 percent convinced they would come true, and I was right.
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Op-Ed: A NYC Super Bowl Is a Bad Idea, by A Giant Douchebag

Here to present his opinion on why a Super Bowl in New York is a bad thing is A Giant Douchebag.

sbdouche.gifI’m only gonna say this once, because time is money, capisce? Especially my time. I make more caysh in one afternoon than you do all year. I don’t know who you are, but if you’re 98 percent of the population, what I just said is true.

The Super Bowl should NOT be in a cold-weather city in an outdoor stadium in the middle of December, or whenever the hell the Super Bowl is. We have a Super Bowl so titans of marketing like yours truly can go schmooze and hob nob with other titans of marketing for a week. If you have it in a city like New York, I’ll be freezing for those 30 seconds when I’m getting out of my limo and climbing into the stadium shuttle bus.

Some people think snow and cold weather are great for football. Hey numbnuts, get your dicks outta your ears and listen: I could give two shits about football. Same goes for everyone else who goes to the Super Bowl. We’re here to party on the company dime and be seen. If everyone else in the industry gathered around a steaming pile of diarrhea, I’d go to that, too, and I wouldn’t have to pretend I like a buncha thyroid cases in spandex running around, either.

New York’s great, don’t get me wrong. Where else could I spend so much dough on so little? I know this place in Soho that sells $7000 fortune cookies. The same exact ones you can get from a take out place. I bought one, cuz I could and you can’t.

But how am I supposed to pull up to some hot club in my Maserati in New York winter weather? You know what road salt does to a Maserati? Of course you don’t, because you’ve never seen one. My Maserati’s even more special than all the other ones you’ve never seen, because mine has a special paint job. Oils mixed by Da Vinci. No shit. I have to get it recoated every time the temperature goes over 75 degrees. Costs me a fucking fortune, not that it matters to me.

Here’s the other bad thing about New York: the people who work here aren’t thrilled to see you. There’s too many big shots here already, so when an A-list mad man like myself shows up, no one gives a shit. Not like other Super Bowls I’ve been to. When I went to Jacksonville, I paid six guys to carry me around on their shoulders from club to club. In Detroit, I ordered foie gras at this one restaurant, ate it, and paid a waitress to let me regurgitate it back into her mouth, like a bird.

You can’t get away with that in New York. The waitresses there are all uppity. Even the strippers act like they got dignity!

Hold on, I gotta take this.

NO, I SAID 6:47 FLIGHT, NOT A 6:48 FLIGHT, YOU STUPID CUNT! I SWEAR TO ASS-RAPING GOD, IF I’M ONE SECOND LATE TO SUNDANCE NEXT YEAR, I AM GOING TO MAIL YOU MY SHIT IN A BOX FROM ASPEN AND MAKE YOU EAT IT, AND MAKE YOU VIDEOTAPE YOURSELF EATING IT SO I CAN WATCH IT WITH THE WEINSTEIN BROTHERS!

Gotta roll. Meeting a Murdoch for lunch. Can’t remember which one, doesn’t matter.

A Giant Douchebag demands to know if you know who he is.