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  • My Advice

    Some years ago, in conversation with two close friends, I proposed what I thought was a unique idea – set up and offer advice on the streets of New York City. They loved the idea and heartily agreed to give it a whirl. I felt confident in the venture primarily because of the experience and background of my two friends, a married couple. One of the couple, Leslie Gold is not only an old friend from my college days, but also an avid reader of this blog and subject of one of my stories (White By Design).

    Coming from a quite unsophisticated background in New England, I always felt privileged to know her and her family, who were well educated, steeped in the world of psychotherapy and Manhattanites. Leslie’s grandfather, Fritz Perls, along with his wife Laura (with a doctorate in Psychology), founded the school of Gestalt Therapy.

    Laura had a classic 6 room apartment on the Upper West Side near Central Park. I stayed there a number of summers while Laura toured Europe and gave lectures. My first exposure to classical music was that which Laura played for us on her baby grand piano. She was a concert level pianist.  Leslie had been born in Manhattan, daughter of an art director. She would later become a graphic designer and would have a profound influence on the imaging of my company, now in its 39th year. In fact, she designed my company logo, the subject of another New York Story*. Knowing the Perls family was a formative experience for me, for which I will be forever grateful. That is how, at 19 years old,  the son of a Maine woodcutter was delightfully catapulted into the upper crust of New York City and was privileged to have a bit of it rub off.

    In planning our advice giving venture, we agreed that it was important to charge something believing that people would take the advice more seriously. We settled on $1 per question on any subject, but favoring interpersonal relationships, the strongest suit of my companions. And so, sometime in the late 1990s, at Bleecker Street and 6th Avenue in the Village, we set up shop. I had made signs with our biographies which I displayed on a music stand. Our first client asked where he could find a bathroom – not exactly the type of “advice” we were looking to give, but we made a nearby recommendation and waived our $1 fee. The first evening was a learning experience and we promised to continue the venture, which we never did.
    I later found out however that the idea of dispensing advice on the streets of New York City had already been done and done quite well by three women who authored a book about their experiences and toured. The book, Free Advice – The Advice Ladies on Love, Dating, Sex and Relationships, by Amy Alkon, Caroline Johnson and Marlowe Minnick, was published in 1996. Amy now does an advice column, syndicated in over 100 newspapers.
    On November 16, 2013, advice and conversation hit critical mass in Washington Square Park. Here we had the folks from freeconvo on their inflated couches just a stones throw from a group of offering free advice and another seated with signs asking for $.25.
    Freeconvo was featured in Forbes Magazine in an article, The Lost Art Of Conversation And Connection. The writer, Donna Sapolin, sees the phenomena of things like freeconvo, free hugs, etc. as a forced effort:
    The fact that the founders of FreeConvo find it necessary to force engagement in this bustling metropolis is a true sign of the times —  there’s no shortage of opportunities to encounter and talk with others here but, evidently, authentic connection is in short supply.
    It seems the younger generations are deeply hungry for meaningful face-to-face interactions but feel they have to devise a new approach in order to get beyond shallow chit-chat. This isn’t exactly surprising considering that the bulk of Gen X and Y communication takes place via texts, social media posts and email, and camaraderie takes the form of things watched or played together on screens. We’ve deemed these generations to be the most connected, but they may, in fact, be the most disconnected.
    Of course, they aren’t the only ones living virtual lives. These days, many of us are swapping out true friendship for superficial fans and followers and substituting short typed comments for full-blown conversations.

    Sapino goes on to discuss the Free Hugs Campaign of Juan Mann. She sees his activity as more desperate than anything else and concludes about these various contrived efforts:

    Personally, I only welcome hugs that express true caring and affection. I prefer spontaneous, unstaged interactions — genuine, unprovoked acts of kindness …
    To some extent, I agree with Donna, however, I see any campaign or project to engage people face to face, be it conversation or advice, to be a good thing. A bit forced perhaps, but who knows where the encounters or efforts will lead. Try it in any form, would be, for whatever it’s worth, My Advice :)
    *Note: In an ironic twist of fate, my logo was modeled after Bloomingdale’s. I never dreamed that 39 years later I would find myself awarded top 10 classic businesses of New York City and that I would share that honor with Bloomingdale’s itself!

  • La Cabane à Olivier

    In 2008, in Just Like Everyone Else,  I wrote about the Quebecois who encamp on the streets of NYC at Christmas time to sell trees. I see these operations yearly, however, this year I came across a couple of vendors whose makeshift homes were more substantial than anything I have previously seen. On Bleecker Street, near the LaGuardia Corner Gardens and the Morton Williams supermarket, I found an operation run by Olivier Moreau and his friend, Carl.

    I peered through his window and greeted Olivier in the best French I could muster with, I am sure, a French Canadian accent. His ears perked up, much like the feral child who hears the familiar sounds of nuts rustling, and I sensed in his response that he immediately saw me as one of them. I suppose I am, and I explained to him that I was born in northern Maine, where French was and still is the lingua franca of that region. I grew up hearing French spoken, particularly among family gatherings when younger and to this day, my mother still speaks to me in an amalgam of Franglais, French, and English.

    I was drawn into his amazing little abode, La Cabane. His rustic quarters was outfitted with all the comforts of home – a bunk bed, an easy chair, a stove, lights, a desk/table, and a wall of tools. It was a balmy, unusually warm evening, and for the Quebecois, no more than a T-shirt was needed. We discussed his business, where he gets his trees (Douglas and Frasier firs from North Carolina), and his top selling ornament (a crossection of tree that proclaims “Mom, I’m Gay”). I quickly guided the conversation towards my favorite French Canadian slang, all of which, to my delight, they were well familiar with. I asked about the unusually spirited French music they were listening to, and they introduced me to an artist I was unfamiliar with – Mononc’ Serge – apparently quite popular, known for his irreverent and vulgar lyrics and sardonic humor. The meeting and conversation was another great New York moment, befitting the Christmas season.

    It is amusing to see the lavish homes in New York City often marketed as a possible pied-à-terre, places that most can only dream of as a primary residence. But here, on Bleecker Street, was a true pied-à-terre: the small, modest second home of a Frenchman on his brief stay in New York City, La Cabane à Olivier :)

  • Fine Looking Forest

    The old adage, you can’t see the forest for the trees, applies as well in NYC as anywhere else. The best vistas of Manhattan are from outside the borough – Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey afford some spectacular views. This photo was taken on a recent trip to Jersey City, just across the Hudson River. From there, it’s a Fine Looking Forest :)

  • Money Talks and Dogs Walk

    I have an old friend who virtually pioneered the business of dog walking in the early 1980s. The money was so good that she declined any media exposure for fear that others may learn about a business that was enjoyable and the money too good to be true. But the cat has long been out of the bag, and dog walking is a mature, competitive industry, alive and well in New York City. The city is not kind to pet owners, particularly when traveling. Dogs need to be fed and walked daily, and unlike the suburbs where a neighbor can adopt or look in periodically, this kind of solution is virtually nonexistent in New York City.

    Like nearly every dilemma or difficulty here in the city, throwing money at the problem will usually solve it, and the more money you have, the better a solution you will find. Dog owners are notoriously indulgent, and for those with the money, there is no end of services and products – dog grooming, doggie day care, dog walkers, dog dating, pet boutiques, dog spas, pet chauffeurs, and even a bakery for pets. Here, you can buy diamond-studded dog collars, cashmere sweaters, and gourmet pet food. There are those with hounds so large that owners have rented separate apartments just for their dogs.

    Recently in SoHo, I witnessed a pack walk – frowned upon by walkers who market themselves as walking only 2-3 dogs at one time. But there’s a lot more money to be made in pack walks, I am sure. This is NYC where Money Talks and Dogs Walk :)

    More dogs: Water 4 Dogs, White by Desire, a la Chien, Robin Kovary Run for Small Dogs, Dachshund Octoberfest, Wolfdog, Dog Run

  • The Shroud of Kors

    My business, Dubé Juggling, has been in operation since 1975 – all 39 years in Manhattan. A legacy brand, we are fortunate to have over 100,000 names in our database, including many well-known performers such as David Blaine, Penn and Teller, Cirque du Soleil, and Ringling Brothers. But none of this matters much when up against a Goliath and the real estate market of New York City.

    I have leased at 520 Broadway in SoHo for 23 years and was the first “upscale” tenant in my building – a departure from the type of tenancy in the building up to that time – primarily sewing factories. For sometime, I became the showpiece for management as they toured prospective new tenants through my space as an example of where the building was going. My pioneering efforts there were valued and rewarded by more favorable rents. However, as a commercial tenant, there is no rent protection, and business life in a market of rising rents can be harrowing.

    When my management called to set up an appointment in person with my landlord, I was worried. I was sure that there was no problem with our behavior as tenants, no complaints nor any outstanding debt. The landlord would not make a visit for such matters. As scheduled, on July 25th, one day before my birthday, my landlord visited me at 520 Broadway. He sensed my angst as he said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” and explained that my property was being leased to clothing retail giant Michael Kors and that my lease was not being renewed. A few days later, I received a termination of lease, effective August 31, 2013. Online, the story was already old news. Kors had leased the ground floor retail and second floor. But, the company later opted for the 3rd floor, which my business occupied. 520 Broadway was to be their international headquarters and flagship store.

    This was our banner year for media exposure. We were featured in the New York Times (see here) as well as the Wall Street Journal, and, on October 16, 2013, I was honored to be named one of the “10 Best Classic Stores In NYC” by Gothamist. I was in good stead, alongside legendary shops such as Bloomingdale’s, The Strand, Pearl Paint, Bigelow, and FAO Schwarz. However, at the time, writer Rebecca Fishbein had no idea that I was being given the boot when, ironically, she wrote:

    It may seem strange that one of the city’s standout old school stores caters specifically to jugglers, but at least there’s some proof New York still has a unique soul, even while it seems poised to be eaten alive by banks.

    When I emailed her, the staff of Gothamist, who knew me well, was horrified and immediately requested a phone interview for a follow-up story, which you can read here.

    I have negotiated a stay of execution until January 6, 2014, only a few short weeks away. I have been combing the boroughs of New York City as well as New Jersey to find appropriate space for my business. It has been a daunting task; I occupy an entire floor of my building – 5000 square feet. I have not only a warehouse full of inventory, office equipment, furniture, and machinery to contend with, but I also have to consider employees, a showroom, and a brisk walk-in trade in my relocation. Rents everywhere have soared. Areas of Brooklyn and Queens are as expensive as Manhattan. I have explored a myriad of possibilities. There are simple options available to anyone outside the city, such as just moving the contents of my business temporarily to one’s basement and garage. But in NYC, every square inch of space is coveted and priced accordingly.

    Construction has been underway in the building, seemingly everywhere around us. Everything in the building is about Michael Kors. Time is running out, and I am feeling very closed in as a black netting covers the building for exterior work. Our light, as well as our prospects, have been substantially dimmed by the Shroud of Kors

    Note about the Numbers: My rent is $12,500 per month. However, the market for SoHo is TWICE that (about $25,000 per month per floor). Michael Kors will be renting three floors at $350,000 per MONTH in a 15 year leasing deal. That’s $4,200,000 per year.

  • Brooklyn Is The World, Part 1

    The Game is Afoot

    There was a book that I once gifted to a Brooklynite – When Brooklyn Was the World 1920-1957, by Elliot Willensky. It was a patronizing token effort, because really, at the time, I disliked Brooklyn. To me, having moved to New York City from New England, Brooklyn was always the place where those who could not afford Manhattan lived. Or those too xenophobic or provincial to know better. Manhattan was the epicenter of the universe. How ignorant and foolish I was. Because now, it is known, throughout the world, that Brooklyn is the World. Again.

    For most New Yorkers, chasing or avoiding the next new neighborhood is just reading material. The story is replayed constantly and is, frankly, rather depressing. Pioneers and artists discover new hoods, move there, others follow, developers move in, rents rise, the media reports it, retailers move in, the culture moves in, the hood is finished for all but the lucky and the wealthy. Newcomers stroll, shop, and eat in the trendiest of spots, and are befuddled as to why the hood was ever considered undesirable or dangerous.

    In the 4 boroughs networked by trains, not many stones have been left unturned. Some of the city’s worst areas, like the South Bronx, have long been discovered. In Queens, industrial areas, like Long Island City, are nearly as expensive as Manhattan.

    In Brooklyn, it’s a return to its former glory. Perhaps a little less polished in some ways, but that suits today’s culture just fine. Everywhere throughout the world, people know that Brooklyn is the place to be or to want to be. Williamsburg, East Williamsburg, Bushwick, Gowanus, Sunset Park, Red Hook, DUMBO, Vinegar Hill, Greenpoint. Other areas are long well established: Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Manhattan Beach, Dyker Heights, and Bay Ridge.

    The neighborhoods closest to Manhattan, well-serviced by subway, are the first to go. In recent years, the areas along the L subway line are being progressively sought after. As one neighborhood becomes played out, it’s on to the next subway stop. Only the neighborhoods most resistant to the tide of gentrification are left, places like East New York, Canarsie, or Far Rockaway.

    Recently, for reasons which I will divulge in part 2, I found myself in East Williamsburg. Like Gowanus, I found the low rise, one-story buildings a pleasant respite from the towering, crowding, imposing edifices of Manhattan. Like the Village, where I live, the scale of architecture in places such as Gowanus and East Williamsburg seems to befit humans best.

    A veritable army of graffiti soldiers were busy waging war against the tired, decrepit surfaces of the buildings, with spray paint as weapons. I chatted with a number of them and confirmed that they were working with the approval of the building owners in a welcome trend that respects the rights of property owners. In fact, many owners now solicit and pay for the work of better artists who they know by name. Ironically, I was on Waterbury Street – Waterbury is an industrial town not far from my where I grew up in Bristol, Connecticut. Waterbury always seemed to be poised for discovery, yet it has yet to see the gentrification that Brooklyn has seen and struggles to reinvent itself.

    But I was here on a mission, and a discouraging one at that. I was learning first hand what many others knew and had experienced. I was chasing neighborhoods while being chased and losing ground. It is like a nightmare, being pursued by something large and ominous, all the while being squeezed by time. Fool that I am, I thought, that I would find easily what I needed in Brooklyn. However, as I will explain in Part 2, I am much too late, because, as everyone knows, Brooklyn Is The World :(

    Click here for my complete photo gallery.


  • Poor Cousin LD

    For fun, I once asked a number of friends and family what type of person they found more irritating – the cocky, arrogant braggart who has achieved what he or she claims, or the braggart who has achieved little but attempts to boost his self-esteem and image in the eyes of others with exaggeration and lies. Certainly the very talented, gifted, and fortunate who rubs achievement in other’s faces is, to me, a very cruel display of insensitivity and lack of humility. Yet, all of whom I asked the question found the braggart with nothing but empty victories to be the most offensive, perhaps because two sins, boasting and lying, are greater than one.

    This is why my cousin, whom I will call LD, was so offensive to everyone who met him. He had no friends, only family to suffer his excesses. For me, he comes to mind often when I hear excessive bragging. LD was a borderline pathological braggart, if such a thing exists. To hear him speak was to hear of a man who had done everything and had scaled the walls of human achievement. In actuality, LD had numerous jobs, primarily in the food industry, managing small local restaurants.

    He was not just guilty of inflated claims, but also of stepping on others if it served his need to impress and boost his ego. One day was particularly disturbing because LD decided to punish someone for his own gain. And, like a lion on the hunt, he chose the weakest, not the deserving, as his prey for dinner.
    It was a Sunday afternoon, and on this family visit to his home, LD began a rant about an employee who was not performing to his liking. As he provided us with details of the man’s work, he whipped himself up into a frenzy, telling us how this employee should be fired. Hell, he said, I’m going to fire him right now. He picked up the phone, and in a most humiliating way and for all to hear quite well, LD fired that poor helpless chap. When through with the call, he strutted like any peacock, so all would know, firsthand, the power that he wielded. On occasion, we found his bragging humorous or entertaining, but on that day, like most, it was only embarrassing and sad.

    Recently, while touring the Bronx, a real estate agent pointed out two art storage and shipping companies that had enormous inventories of fine art and were virtually unknown: Transcon International and New Yorker Warehouse. Why the Bronx? It is an excellent location for in-city and out-of-city transport, the rents are cheap, and the Bronx is the perfect locale for the business wanting to keep a low profile. I was told that one of these places may inventory as much as a quarter BILLION dollars of art, dealing with the major museums of New York City. Yet they are virtually unknown, with barely a placard on the door and a name which tells passersby nothing about what really lies behind those walls. New Yorker Warehouse’s truck displays an enigmatic and nondescript “N.Y.W.” I found nothing online about either company, except one article in the New York Times that gives very few details.

    In a world of social networking, tireless self-promotion has become the norm. But for those who have achieved much, whether individual or business, their work or enterprise speaks for itself – no need to self-promote, for the accolades will come. And, at one extreme, there are those who deliberately shun notoriety, feeling that only ill can come of publicity. For companies like Transcon and NYW, there is no benefit to notoriety, only risk to extraordinarily valuable inventories. Keep a low profile, don’t brag, just run the business. And, were he alive, I am sure they would have no interest in hiring a man like Poor Cousin LD

    Getting down to business: Don’t Bet Against Many Goods, Trimmings for Sale, Instincts, Brawling Over Brands, Because I’m The Best (Part 1 and Part 2), Released From Captivity, Pearl Paint

  • The Man Himself

    In 2002, I negotiated the sale of my business which operates under my own name. After extended negotiations between parties, the deal ultimately fell through. The sticking point? My attorney would not give the buyer exclusive and perpetual right to my name, the way the contract was drafted. When I asked why, she was so obstinate about this point. After all, they were buying the business, which was built around my name, were they not? She said there was extensive case law where former business owners were prohibited from opening new, unrelated enterprises utilizing their names. It was a good offer financially, and for years I have blamed myself for allowing my lawyer to “lose the deal.” Until this morning, when I read the story of Patsy Grimaldi.

    On February 9, 2011, I wrote Zero Minutes!, about my visit to the legendary Brooklyn Pizzeria, Grimaldi’s. The story title referenced the unusual and fortuitous lack of a line, which was typically hours long. Now visitors have a new option – Juliana’s, which operates from the same spot that Grimaldi’s once did. Grimaldi’s is located around the corner, located in the landmark building, One Front Street.
    I assumed that the new pizzeria, typically less crowded, garnered its traffic from those who mistakenly went to the original location, or, like I did last night, opt for a shorter line. Online reviews for Juliana’s were quite high, surprising, until I learned the reason why.

    In 1998, Patsy Grimaldi sold the naming and branding rights to Frank Ciolli. Disputes between Ciolli and the landlord led Ciolli to move Grimald’s to its current location at One Front Street, leaving the original coal oven behind. Regretting his departure from the business and seeing his name negatively portrayed in the media, Patsy reopened in 2011 at the original location. Unable to use either Patsy or Grimaldi in the name, he settled for Juliana, Patsy’s late mother.

    The pizza was delicious and the waiter very cordial. In conversation at the meal’s end, he informed me that the older gentleman walking throughout the restaurant was none other than the man himself, THE Patsy Grimaldi. Stunned, I immediately told him of my previous story on the pizzeria and asked if I could meet the owner. The waiter, in spite of a very hectic environment, made it a point to arrange a meet and greet. And so, a few minutes later and, after he posed with patrons for photos, I met Patsy Grimaldi. I complimented his pizza, and he told me a little about the back story  and how unhappy he was at the way events had unfolded in the Grimaldi saga. He suggested that I come back at a later date if I wanted to discuss the story at length. I told him I would come back and shoot video as well. He agreed.

    And so it was another New York moment, all due to a serendipitous sequence of events. After a day of touring in Williamsburg and Bushwick, I was ready to return home in Manhattan. My girlfriend, however, tired of eating in the same old haunts, suggested taking a chance to see how busy Grimadl’s would be. When we arrived at Fulton Ferry, it was the typical mob of patrons, which meant either trying Juliana’s or returning home. At Juliana’s, there was no wait, as we were immediately ushered in by an older man waring a cook’s smock with Patsy Grimaldi embroidered on it. I assumed it was a relic of the old Grimaldi’s and evidence of a competitor capitalizing on the location of a previous owner. But alas, I was wrong. We had, in fact, stumbled upon the real thing, run by The Man Himself :)

    Food Note: How’s the pizza? Excellent – one of the top pies in New York City. A signature coal-fired thin crust with the ingredients and toppings in perfect proportions – not too cheesy (and thereby oily), the bane of nearly every pizza in town.

    For more pizza, check out my list of the Best Pizza in New York, on which Grimaldi’s is included.

  • Friendship Lights

    A running theme of my life in New York City has been seeking out those small gestures of kindness, consideration, love, humanity, and joyfulness. Why do I say small? On September 4, 2012, I wrote Humanity Comes in Small Bites. From that story:

    New York City is much loved by many. However, it is no paradise, and the slings and arrows can easily outweigh the pleasures. I cannot speak to the experience of living full-time anywhere else, but this is no heaven and unless a masochist, the resident is best to lower their expectations for bliss and look for Pockets of Joy and Small Gestures, not Eden. Random acts of consideration will stand out and become noteworthy events, set against acts of rudeness. Here, acts of humanity come in small bites, not large meals.

    On October 1, sitting in Washington Square Park with a friend, we noticed an individual place a small light on the ground clipped to a white card. Everything about it seemed deliberate. It beckoned to be picked up, so I did, handing the light to my friend while I kept the note. On one side of the small white card it said:

    If you are lonely, sad or missing someone special,

    please take this free Friendship Light.

    On the reverse side:

    A year ago I had a dream of people united, playing and having fun. People of all races and creeds were tossing and wearing this little glowing light. This moved me deep inside. I worked day and night for a year to make this dream come true. They are called Friendship Lights and represent love and friendship.

    If you are feeling alone, missing someone special, ill or need a smile – please take one. It will warm your heart and help to get you focused on positive side of life. It has for me and many others.

    I do not want anything in return. Your happiness will make me happy. And I believe good deeds make you a better person. We all get down sometimes and need someone or something to get us back on track. If you are interested in reading my story and why I do this: http://www.friendshiplight.com/maker

    God bless,

    We delighted in the impromptu gift and positive, life affirming message. And so, Jack has decided to make an industry of Small Gestures with his Friendship Lights

    About the inventor: Jack Giambanco is a Gravesend, Brooklyn resident where he makes the lights in his garage in various colors from a biodegradable plastic. You can read more about Jack and the story behind The Friendship Light here.

  • 40s or 50s

    I recall a visit to a local pub in England which dated back nearly 1000 years. I sat at a table adjoining a stone wall. As I ran my hand across the unfinished wall, it occurred to me that this very stone had likely been touched by someone 1000 years before. I questioned the waiter if, in fact, the structure did indeed date back to the time that I had read. As I ran my hand over the wall again, I asked if, in fact, this very stone would date that far. When he confirmed, I expressed my awe that it was incredulous and seemed almost unfathomable. He laughed and left, perplexed, I imagine, since the very old is very common in Europe, with reminders everywhere to be seen.

    America, however, is a very young country, and 100 years or even 50, is a big deal.
    In my case, 44 years, to be exact. That’s how long I have lived in New York City, and nearly all of it in Greenwich Village. My mind’s eye, however, like most, fabricates images as best it can from memorable scattered bits and shards. There’s nothing like a photo(s) to fill in the detail and bring to full resolution the sketchy sketches of the past. Today, I am featuring three antique photos of the Village from the 40s and 50s. And, since we’re not in an English pub, I really don’t have to specify which 40s or 50′s :)

    More antique photos: Blocks of Ice

  • Eternal Malcontents Find Only Malintent

    Where could you place an enormous eight-foot mushroom on a sidewalk and get nary a glance from most passersby? The streets of Manhattan, of course. Here, given a combination of busy lives in conjunction with a populace that is inured to just about everything, a giant mushroom will easily go unnoticed or, at best, treated as a minor irritant. Some stopped and took photos. But most navigated around it while deep in thought, engaged with their smart phones, or chatting with companions. Some taller individuals ducked to avoid being struck, without even breaking stride or knowing what they ducked for.

    The mushroom and tiny lawn, located on Fifth Avenue and Washington Square, were accompanied by a small poster announcing a new TV series on ABC – Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, airing October 10. Most who noticed the display were charmed and, in a childlike impulse, took advantage of the opportunity to be photographed underneath a mushroom on the streets of NYC. Nearby was a plainclothes security guard, hired by ABC to keep an eye out for vandals and dogs who invariably wanted to do their business at the base of the artificial treelike growth. I chatted with the guard for some time as we watched amused at the various scenarios that played out and the reactions of passersby. His work shift was overnight until 8AM, when the mushroom would have to stand on its own.

    One couple was particularly offended that the streets of New York City were being used for corporate advertising. This reaction is to be expected, particularly in the Village, the cauldron for political dissent and home of a general cynicism of all things government or corporate. The guard assured them that whatever permissions needed to display and promote on the streets had been gotten by ABC. Not persuaded, the couple fumed and complained for some time before leaving. I imagine this was a recurrent theme for them, disgruntled at being victimized and their powerlessness over the excesses and greed of corporate America.

    And so it was, like it has been for eons in this neighborhood. Some come to play here while not over thinking, and, like Alice, they find wonderment in the world around them, while others, more political, look as deeply as need be to find sinister connections to commerce in everything – the world where Eternal Malcontents Find Only Malintent

    Related Post: You’re Not Gonna Find in Bristol

  • Bohemia

    I recently had a conversation with a real estate broker regarding Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I was making a case for my thinking that the neighborhood was oversold. I referenced those awful-looking small homes with vinyl siding and aluminum awnings fetching a million dollars or more. He said that any analysis along those lines was irrelevant and that the people, the culture, and the retailers were there. Williamsburg had arrived.

    I also recall years before, foolishly making an argument for the bohemian nature of the Village over that of Brooklyn to a Brooklyn resident. What was I thinking? There are vestiges of the bohemian past living among those who have been in the Village for decades, benefitting from rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartments with dramatically under market rents. Small shops like Padma Tibetan Handicrafts still exist, but largely the neighborhood retail environment is dominated by large chains and cater to tourists or wealthy residents, not struggling artists.

    With an average 2-bedroom apartment selling for $2 million and rentals virtually nonexistent, how much bohemia can one expect in Manhattan? And any artistic community that exists in New York City, is likely to be found in Brooklyn.

    I have made a number of recent visits to Williamsburg. The neighborhood is shockingly developed and populated. The streets, restaurants and cafes are brimming with young people who appear quite confident that this is the place to be. In 1992, a New York Magazine cover proclaimed: The New Bohemia – Over the bridge to Williamsburg.

    As far back as 2003, however, articles already surfaced that Williamsburg had topped out and had lost its cool. One long-time resident, Robert Lanham, the author of ”The Hipster Handbook,” called the neighborhood a “pseudo bohemia.” From the New York Times:

    “Williamsburg is having an identity crisis,” Mr. Lanham said. ”It’s kind of absurd that these kids who went to fancy schools are dressing like they’re construction workers. The struggling artist is a myth. Williamsburg is a pseudo bohemia.”

    With even the fringe Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Bushwick played out, where’s the hipster to go? In February of this year, the New York Times, in an article, Creating Hipsturbia, reports that real estate brokers speak of a mass exodus from Brooklyn to the suburbs of New York City along the Metro-North corridor of communities on the Hudson River – Hastings-on-Hudson, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, and Tarrytown. I personally know of a number of city residents who have made the exodus.

    Some brokers claim a reverse migration back to Manhattan, to areas like the East Village, where real estate is only marginally more than Williamsburg. Others contend that this is folklore created by the self-serving interests of Manhattan real estate brokers. I think regardless of whether we speak of the East Village, Williamsburg, or other NYC neighborhoods, real estate prices alone make it delusional to call anyplace in the five boroughs Bohemia

  • Assistant Pigeon Feeder

    A friend loves quoting a comedy piece from the late 1990s from New York’s TV comedy program, Saturday Night Live. In their Weekend Update, news anchor Norm Macdonald reports:

    Well, the magazine P.O.V. came out this week, with a list of the best and worst jobs to have in the next century. The three best were, in this order: Multimedia Software Designer, Management Consultant, and Interactive Advertising Executive; while their worst, for the third year in a row: Crack Whore.

    Later in the segment, Norm was handed a piece of paper and announced, “Correction to the story earlier: The actual worst job is Assistant Crack Whore.”

    In a recent conversation with Ferris Butler, I asked for suggestions in writing a comedy piece for a story idea I had for this blog. He pointed out that a key element is often absurdity and suggested that I take an absurd twist on my idea, rather than what I was thinking. If absurdity is effective as a comedic element, what is more absurd (and worse) than “assistant crack whore” as a job position?

    On August 22, 2012, I wrote Easily Washed Off, a story about a Washington Square Park habitué known as Pigeon Paul. Apparently, many visitors new to Paul and his feeding spectacle find it novel, quaint, and endearing. Personally, I find it rather unsettling and avoid looking at Paul when he is feeding pigeons. Even using the walkway near Paul’s bench is disgusting, as it is covered in pigeon excrement.

    Recently, passing through the area, I noticed a well-known homeless man, Larry, taking over Paul’s work. Larry appeared to be reveling in the attention he was getting from both the birds and passersby. Watching the display somewhat reluctantly, Norm Macdonald’s comedy bit came to mind. Whereas I used to believe that Washington Square Park’s worst activity was Pigeon Feeder, after seeing Larry, I believe that a correction is in order. The actual worst activity is Assistant Pigeon Feeder :)

  • A Wonderful Life

    Rents soar and retailers are squeezed – small shops close or search for new pastures, moving away from well-established neighborhoods towards the edges of the inhabitable. Problem is, there are virtually no more edges, save neighborhoods very undesirable, riddled with crime, and with no housing worth upgrading. However, very few neighborhoods show zero promise, and so, Bushwick becomes the new Willamsburg, Gowanus Canal is heralded as the Venice of New York (someday), and Sunset Park is being called neo-SoHo.
    In Park Slope, Brooklyn, 7th Avenue is long well established. I remember visiting one of New York City’s few vegetarian restaurants there called the Gazebo. It was a big deal at the time to venture out to Brooklyn to eat. In recent years, small retailers and restaurants have moved further from 7th Avenue in an effort to find affordable rents.

    On a recent visit to Brooklyn, a friend and I happened upon Zuzu’s Petals, a flower and plant shop located on 5th Avenue, Brooklyn, the new go-to shopping thoroughfare where many of the shop names are as intriguing and creative as the wares themselves: Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company, Cog & Pearl, Cozbi, Eponymy. Matter, Life Emporium, Rivet, and Bird.

    Zuzu’s Petals was established in 1971 on 7th Avenue. From their website:

    In August 2004, a fire burned us out of our home of 33 years at 81 A Seventh Avenue. Our friends, neighbors, and customers held a “barn raising”, gave us seed money and a mandate to re-locate and rebuild.

    Zuzu’s Petals is from the movie ‘It’s A Wonderful Life”. Like George Bailey in the last scene, friends and neighbors came to our rescue.

    The shop was exquisitely done and a joy to peruse, even for those not active in plant cultivation. The outdoor garden was a special treat, particularly for anyone from New York, a place where concrete dominates and gardens are scarce or often hidden from view. The place was uplifting and, like its retail brethren along 5th Avenue and elsewhere in Brooklyn, herald a renaissance for the borough and the promise of A Wonderful Life :)

  • The Rarified Air of Rooftop Aeries

    In a city where real estate is so dear and precious and open land is not to be had, the only way to go is up.  And up is the way it has been since 1852, when Elisha Otis invented the safety elevator, enabling and facilitating construction of our vertical city. From the New York Times:

    Otis sold his first three elevators for $300 apiece and went on to the 1854 exposition at the Crystal Palace in Manhattan, where he demonstrated “the first elevator wherein provision was made for stopping the fall of the car in the contingency of the breaking of the hoisting cables.” In other words, if the cables snapped, the device would keep it from plunging.
    Otis installed the first commercial passenger elevator in the five-story Haughwout Building at 488 Broadway, at Broome Street, in 1857. It was a steam-powered machine that took more than a minute to climb to the top floor.

    And so, in a world dominated by smartphones where time is passed sitting, standing, or walking while looking down at a screen, to get a glimpse of another part of New York City life, it behooves one to look UP. Peeking above the roof lines, treetops can often be seen. And if you are fortunate, as I was, to be afforded a view of the city from above, you will be astonished to see a world of penthouses laden with all manner of gardens, trees, shrubs, patio furniture, and other accoutrement typically only seen in the countryside, but existing here in the rarified air of building tops. One or, at most, a handful of such penthouses exist in only some buildings, so this is a very privileged life.

    In today’s bottom photo, one can see the home of Alec Baldwin – his 4137-square foot home at the Devonshire House in Greenwich Village, purchased in 2011 for $11.7 million dollars. Ironically, in spite of such spaces being so highly coveted and in such short supply, one rarely sees anyone using these spaces. Busy lives, other homes, and vacations. So little time to enjoy The Rarified Air of Rooftop Aeries :)

    Related Posts: Affront to Dignity, Pied-a-Aire

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