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  • Category Archives Only in New York
  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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 :)

  • 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

  • The Cronut

    In 2008, I wrote Where’s the Special, about my feeling that special things were disappearing from New York, the kind of things that made the city unique and why many traveled or settled here. After all, what’s the point of expending time, energy, and expense to visit a place if its merchants and restaurants are nothing but regional chain stores that one can find as easily where one lives? Sure, there is culture here and unique cultural institutions, but one cannot dismiss the importance of restaurants and shops to the visitor and resident. As these merchants become more commonly found outside New York, there is an erosion of the specialness of the city.

    And so, when something unique in New York City catches fire, it becomes a wildfire. The special takes the world by storm, like the international craze for the cronut, the invention of celebrated chef Dominique Ansel. By now, this is old news to many readers here – the cronut has been featured everywhere on TV and in print. It has been copied worldwide. But the real story, apart from the merit of this delectable pastry, are the lines that form daily for this croissant/donut hybrid.
    The pastries are made at the Dominque Ansel Bakery at 189 Spring Street in SoHo, where the cronut debuted on May 10, 2013. The shop opens at 8AM, lines form as early as 5:30AM. Within a short time, the daily production run of 250 cronuts at $5 a piece is spoken for. The croissant/donut hybrid is not made by simply frying croissant dough. From the Dominique Ansel website:

    The Makings of a Cronut™…
    Taking 2 months and more than 10 recipes, Chef Dominique Ansel’s creation is not to be mistaken as simply croissant dough that has been fried. Made with a laminated dough which has been likened to a croissant (but uses a proprietary recipe), the Cronut™ is first proofed and then fried in grapeseed oil at a specific temperature. Once cooked, each Cronut™ is flavored in three ways: 1. rolled in sugar; 2. filled with cream; and 3. topped with glaze. Cronuts™ are made fresh daily, and completely done in house. The entire process takes up to 3 days.

    There is only one flavor of Cronut™ every month. The inaugural flavor in May was Rose Vanilla, and for June it is Lemon Maple. In July, we introduce the Blackberry Cronut™, and in August it’s Coconut.

    Recently, one of my customers arrived at our shop. She was a flight attendant who had flown to New York City specifically to get cronuts. Our shop was abuzz, and I asked to get photos of her prize acquisitions, which were housed in an elegant, metallic gold box. I did not ask for a sample. I was happy just to see them in person – something special from New York City. The Cronut :)

  • Plastic

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I saved articles, maps, and books of the island groups of Oceanica’s tropical regions – Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia. I became fascinated with islands like Fiji, Rarotonga, Tahiti, the Marquesas, Tonga, Bora Bora, Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Moorea, Yap, the Solomons, and the Marshall Islands.

    The palm fringed beach was iconic for me, symbolizing an idyllic, paradisical, tropical, fantasy world. Like many armchair travelers on the cold nights of the temperate zones, I dreamed of creating a self-sufficient life where I lived in a natural state, living off the fruits in my personal Eden, much like Thor Heyerdahl dreamed and wrote about in his adventure, Fatu Hiva. Not nearly as ambitious, I settled for numerous visits to many isles of the West Indies in the 1980s. What I found was disappointing – the real life of natives working to survive. Many of the most beautiful islands, like Dominica, were incredibly poor, with per capita yearly incomes of $200 at the time. Heyerdahl was also disenchanted rather than enchanted with the reality of island life. He and I both learned that home is truly where the heart is, not ….

    On December 17, 2009, in Manhattan Island, I wrote:

    One of my favorite t-shirts was designed with a tropical motif, including palm trees blended with a New York City skyline. Below it were the words Manhattan Island. Perfect. I love the tropics, islands, and New York City. The shirt is long gone, but the spirit of Manhattan Island remains.

    In recent years, however, I weary of the summer and the heat. I do not long for the tropical heat of the West Indies or of the South Pacific as I once did. But my love for the coconut palm remains. Here, however, on the other isles of New York City archipelago, I must settle for fake palm trees, like those in today’s photo on the manmade Water Taxi Beach on Governor’s Island. Like many other aspects of New York City life, enjoyment often takes imagination and, perhaps for some, lowers their expectations. The vistas are not like the magnificent mountains of Moorea, but instead the monoliths of Manhattan. The beach is not the naturally occurring white sand of the island atoll, but manmade. And palm trees do fringe the beach, but rather than grow and produce coconuts, they are Plastic :)

    More islands and tropical plants, real or fake: North Brother Island, Bamboo Big as Pipe, Banana Too, Winter Garden

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Oy Vey!

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Sometime in the early 1970s, I found myself in the unenviable position of being in New York City with no place to live. For a time, I lived, or, better said, crashed, with a number of people in a variety of scenarios, living out of a suitcase.

    One brief stay was as the guest of four women, at least one of whom was clearly not a New Yorker. One evening, this girl was busy finishing her shower in the bathroom and overheard the Yiddish expression, Oy Vey iz mir, I’m chalishing (oh my, I’m fainting). Unfamiliar to her, we attempted to teach her how to say it. Her interpretation went something like: Ova schmear, allava hallashing. I wondered whether an ova schmear was some medical procedure unfamiliar to me. From the living room, we urged her to repeat it over and over. On each telling, she popped her head out of the bathroom and proudly volunteered, “Ova schmear, allava hallashing.”

    As she retreated, we laughed hysterically and secretly, never revealing how severely crippled her mispronunciation was, perhaps the worst bastardization of Yiddish I have ever heard. The scene was hilarious and reminiscent of a sophomoric prank in Wayne’s World where Mike Myers and Dana Carvey trick their mother to repeatedly announce a phone call from a mythical “Mr. Sphincter.”

    Some Yiddish is a rite of passage in New York City. Certainly a working knowledge of basic words and phrases is a necessity. The lack of familiarity is a dead giveaway that an individual is an out-of-towner. If you doubt how much Yiddish is part of the fabric of the city, note the sign on the Williamsburg Bridge which proclaims, Leaving Brooklyn, Oy Vey!, below which one finds the names of the Borough President, Marty Markowitz, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, both Jewish. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has the world’s largest enclave of Satmar Hasidic Jews, estimated at 60,000 of the world’s 150,000.
    The sign leaves no doubt of where you are. You should know that iz mir bears no connection to a schmear, which is a thin coating of cream cheese on a bagel, and that ova are eggs. And if you don’t, we New Yorkers can only say in despair, Oy Vey!

    Related Posts: Essen or Fressen?, Hakafot, Chutzpah, Bagels

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • The Tipping Point

    It was a year ago or so that a friend recommended The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I had long ruminated and been very perplexed as to the reason that certain phenomenon, trends, etc, suddenly and inexplicably hit critical mass and really took off. Things such as the hula hoop – invented in 1957 and a fad by 1958. Then, interest lay relatively dormant for over 40 years. In the last few years, there has been a renaissance in hooping, but now with a much more serious interest for exercise and dance. Yet, it is difficult to ferret out any particular reasons to explain the resurgence in interest now. One may cit interest in exercise, material availability, etc., yet all these elements have been in place for decades.
    Gladwell seeks to explain such mysterious sociological agents of change that mark everyday life with his three rules of epidemics: The Law of the Few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context. Gladwell’s thinking is also based on the 1967 Six Degrees of Separation study by social psychologist Stanley Milgram. However, despite the books popularity and Gladwell’s financial success (over $1 million dollar advance for the book and subsequent speaking at $40,000 per lecture), the scientific community is not in full agreement as to the validity of Gladwell’s analyses and for many, the reasons for a tipping point in social phenomena still remains a mystery.

    I see this tipping point concept in my business as well as the innumerable trends I have witnessed in the last 44 years I have lived in New York City. Frozen yogurt shops, gelato, and most recently, aerial arts – a relatively difficult and somewhat dangerous activity to gain an audience with the general populace. Until recently, such interest in things like trapeze, wire walking, lyra, and silks has been limited to circus professionals. People such as Hovey Burgess have been steadfast in training a small number of those with a passion for flying high.

    On Sunday, January 13, 2013, I had been wandering the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on a trip to visit the Domino Sugar refinery. I was intrigued by a one-story industrial building with a colorfully painted door with the words The Muse Performance Center brandished across its face, the huge Domino Sugar building in the distance looming over the place. I wondered what may lie behind this door when I heard my name called. I am recognized on occasion by a customer from the large number of contacts I have made over the last 38 years in business. But nonetheless, it is quite infrequent and certainly unexpected on a Sunday afternoon on a deserted street in an industrial area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
    I did not recognize the individual, but he was in fact a customer and informed me that he had just been to my place of business in the last week. He was, quite conveniently, associated with The Muse. I asked if it would be possible to enter the space and take photos, to which he said yes. He introduced himself as Ryan and gave me his card: Ryan Shinji Murray, it said, along with the words: pleasure to meet you. let’s keep in touch. I learned that Ryan is a very talented working professional and was leaving for a 3-month tour that week – I was fortunate to have met him just before leaving.
    I entered the small industrial space and saw that it was, in fact, one of a number of spaces I had heard of that was used for the training and teaching of aerial arts. In the last few years, there has been a renaissance in interest in all manner of aerial circus arts. Studios in inauspicious locations around New York City provide space for such activity. In the five boroughs of New York City, you will find STREB, The Trapeze School of New York, Circus Warehouse, Skybody System, Aerial Arts NYC, Helium Aerial Dance, Kiebpoli’s Aerial Class,The Sky Box, Body and Pole, the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and The Muse, located at 32D South First Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. STREB, one of the most well known, is only two blocks away from The Muse.

    I thank Ryan and the cordial staff of The Muse for letting me take photos of their space. And I will let others explain why now, among the other particular current trends and fashions of New York City, that aerial arts has reached The Tipping Point :)

  • I’ll Take Care of You

    Have you been in a restaurant where any special request, no matter how small, is met with hesitation or a negative? And where it is particularly irritating because you know that your request can be easily met? Don’t you already have plenty to do and worry about? When you are a customer of a service establishment, shouldn’t they shoulder the burden, troubles, and responsibilities? Why should you feel uneasy or worried that your needs and requests will go unmet and worse, that you may have to help solve the problem that you are paying them for? In short, why should you be doing their job?

    Early Saturday morning, I lay awake in bed and reflected on the unpleasant chore of going to have my car inspected. In New York City, something as simple as inspecting your automobile can be very troublesome. Often an appointment in advance is necessary, there are long waiting periods, or a service station is out of inspection stickers. Many times I have spent hours trying to get my car inspected, only to return home defeated, having to try again another day.

    I called Salerno Service Station and asked for Ryan, the general manager – a man who had forever changed my attitude towards the auto repair business and led me to write an extensive two-part story – Jacked. It was Ryan who had answered the phone. I asked if they could do an auto inspection that morning. He said, Don’t worry. Just come in. I’ll take care of you. That is when it hit me hard. He had given me the key to ultimate customer service when he said I’ll take care of you. It was the reason why Salerno had hundreds of five star reviews online.

    HE HAD SHIFTED THE RESPONSIBILITY FROM ME TO THEM. All of the responsibility. Completely. 100%.

    That was the key, because in that way and only that way can a customer fully relax while the service provider does their job. Even with good customer service, there is often a nagging worry that something may go wrong. In auto repair, so many things can and do go wrong – a bigger problem will be discovered, a part will be unavailable, there will be no time today for the repair, the cost will be too great, you will be cheated or lied to, you will be sold something you do not need, etc. But with great customer service, at a place like Salerno Service Station,  you will be insulated from any hassles servicing your car because they are taking care of you. You can relax. Like my first visit when I was told by Ryan to go have a nice breakfast at the Willburg Cafe while he took care of my muffler job.

    It is like the days of old, when people spoke of being in the doctor’s care. There was great comfort in those words because it meant that someone competent was going to take care of you. People love to be taken care of. This complete taking over of responsibility from the customer or patient is characteristic of the Italian culture and their approach to service. Now I saw how it was at the core of the No Problema attitude that I wrote about.

    Over many decades of owning a car in the city, I have grown to despise the auto inspection ordeal. However, now, for the first time in my life, in the hands of Ryan and the Avallone family, Mario and Salvatore, I actually looked forward to this year’s inspection. In a harsh environment like New York City where comforts have to be actively sought out, there are no sweeter words than I’ll Take Care of You :)

  • Serious Business

    I was recently informed by my office staff that we would be visited by Ringling Clowns and a film crew to shoot a promotional spot for the 2012 Boss Clown Election Debates. The individuals who were running for office were Ringling clowns Michael Richter and Todd Zimmerman. The moderator/MC was Joel Jeske. The debate, which toured nationally prior to the national Presidential election, was an educational effort to inform young students about the political process using comedy and clowning.

    What may perhaps come as a surprise to some, is that the competition to become a Ringling Clown is quite fierce. Typically, clowns possess a wide range of skills and talents that go far beyond those demonstrated in the ring for a given show. For 29 years (1968-1997), Ringling clowns were auditioned, admitted, and trained within the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College – around 1,400 clowns were trained during that period. Since the closing of Clown College, clowns are hired through a more conventional theatrical audition practice. Having been a teacher or graduate from Clown College has had a certain cachet – a veritable feather in one’s cap, a fait accompli and demonstration that an individual had the raw talent to be one of the chosen few. There have been many notable alumni who have gone on to work in other venues, such as Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller) and Bill Irwin. You can find Joel Jeske’s bio here.

    I have often been asked if my business needs to be located in New York City. The answer is, of course, NO, however, I do have a small but significant retail business which helps offset some of the premium we pay for a Manhattan location. It certainly is a luxury and a privilege to be located here. We enjoy the surprise visits of the illuminati of the entertainment world, most of whom are typically happy to share a little shtick with us – like Bill Irwin, who recently dropped in. To the audience, clowning is light-hearted, whimsical, and fun. But do not be deceived. Clowning around, just like any craft or performance art, is Serious Business :)

    More people from the juggling/circus world: A Special Serendipitous Meeting, Look How Tall He Is, Fountains of Success, Just Like Them, Smile By Fire, Please Rub Off on Me Just Like Steve Mills, Think Big, The Women, Really Smart Guys, Kind Words, Viktoria’s Secret, Artiste Extraordinaire, Circus Amok

  • This Hood is a Done Deal

    I recall a conversation many years ago with an artist who lived in Brooklyn and said that she found Manhattan over gentrified and fundamentally uninteresting. I was angry, defensive, and took this as sour grapes from someone who was not fortunate enough to live in Manhattan. After all, Manhattan was a mecca for so many human endeavors and the center of the universe, was it not?

    Unlike the stereotypical Manhattan resident, I have visited Brooklyn and Queens often. And, over the course of the last six years that this website has been in existence, I have spent much more time in the outer boroughs, exploring and canvassing for subjects and potential stories. Now, in fairness, I must admit that the cultural brew in Brooklyn and Queens feels much richer than that of Manhattan, which has become more much more business and tourist oriented. If you seek an authentic New York and ethnic enclaves, the outer boroughs are where you must go. Neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights, Astoria, Richmond Hill, or Flushing in Queens and Borough Park, Sheepshead Bay, or Bay Ridge in Brooklyn have virtually no parallel in Manhattan, save Chinatown. In these neighborhoods, you will find a variety of merchants and restaurants catering to the local ethnic groups.

    Regardless, Manhattan residents are a remarkably and classically xenophobic bunch, so you know things have changed when Manhattanites start traveling to Brooklyn and Queens for cultural and recreational activities. There are plenty of good reasons: the Brooklyn Museum, the Mermaid Parade, Coney Island, Dead Horse Bay, Floyd Bennett Field, the Queens Farm, the Queens Museum, Flushing Meadows – Corona Park, and perhaps one of the biggest draws and hottest neighborhoods in the five boroughs, Williamsburg.

    You know things have really changed when, on a weekend, one Manhattanite runs across the dyed in the wool East Village icon, David Peel, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who both have crossed that river into another borough looking for a change of pace. Walking down Bedford Avenue, the main commercial artery of Williamsburg, I spotted David in a local pizza parlor, wearing his signature John Lennon-styled sunglasses.
    The neighborhood has gone through remarkable transformations and even has a lively street scene with street performers, unusual outside of Manhattan. David knows me from our frequent meetings in Washington Square Park as well as the stories I have done including him as a subject. I spoke to him briefly about the irony of meeting in Brooklyn. He showed little surprise at all, knowing that Williamsburg was obviously the place to be. After all, New Yorkers love the hot new place and This Hood is a Done Deal :)

  • A Special Serendipitous Meeting

    In the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

    Many of us who live in lower Manhattan and lost power during Hurricane Sandy, found ourselves leaving our neighborhoods and heading uptown, where there was power. Many stores and restaurants were open, and in some locations, it was business as usual – one would barely notice evidence of a major power blackout. Many photos were taken and articles written about this bizarre bifurcation in Manhattan – in parts of the Village, one needed a flashlight to walk, yet midtown was all aglow and abuzz.

    Two days after the hurricane, while on a journey midtown to a pharmacy, I spotted none other than Hovey Burgess.* He too found the blackout conditions quite depressing and was wandering in a world of light to pass time and brighten his day.
    Hovey is one of my very earliest customers, going back to the very inception of my business in 1975. He often came to my home (where I ran my business for the first 6 years) with his wife Judy to pick up juggling equipment. Hovey is one of the greatest supporters of his fellow artists and suppliers I have ever met. When I have called him over the years to tell him of some new prop or publication as a point of information, I would often find him at the shop immediately to peruse and purchase. Money was never a consideration – purchasing new juggling-related equipment or books, or attending juggling- or circus-related shows of merit, was always his number one priority. He is well known to often attend numerous performances of the same show. He is the quintessential patron of the arts and, if possible, he is someone that, ideally, you want to have interested in what you do. He was one of my earliest customers and advisors. I owe him a great deal.
    And so, that is why it was no ordinary occurrence -  it was a Special Serendipitous Meeting :)

    *Note about Hovey: For those who do not know him, Hovey is a circus aficionado, performer, juggler, and educator. For over 30 years, Hovey has taught circus arts at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is the author of the book Circus Techniques. Hovey has a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Pasadena Playhouse College of Theatre Arts.

    His skills and work includes clowning, juggling, equilibristic and trapeze work with Circo Dell’Arte, Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus, Electric Circus, Patterson Brothers Circus, and Toledo Zoo Wild Animal Show. He is a former President of the International Jugglers Association.

    He taught at American Conservatory Theatre, Juilliard, National Theatre School of Canada, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Clown College, and Sarah Lawrence College. He was circus choreographer for Robert Altman’s Popeye (Paramount). Hovey is currently a member of Circus Flora, based in St. Louis. In 1999, he was inducted into the People’s Hall of Fame, which honors living cultural treasures and is housed at the Museum of the City of New York.

    More on Hurricane Sandy: Yesterday’s Muddy Pants, Seeing Scenes Rarely Seen

  • Tardy to the Party, Part 1

    I had never been to the new Yankee Stadium, a replacement for the Yankees’ previous home, the original Yankee Stadium, which opened in 1923 and closed in 2008. Friends had purchased a set of four highly coveted Madonna tickets. One of their family, however, was unable to attend, leaving them with one ticket, which I was offered. I am not intimately familiar with Madonna’s music and so, I was somewhat unsure that I wanted to spend $189 to see a woman whom I was not particularly a fan of.  My friends persuaded me to go – after all it would be a Saturday night out, an opportunity to see Yankee Stadium, and an arena concert, something I had not done in many decades. To sweeten the deal, they said that I could decide after the concert what it was worth to me and pay what I like – essentially a ticket on consignment. It was a deal I could not refuse, and so, on Saturday, September 8, I found myself at my friends’ apartment in the Village, readying ourselves for the Madonna concert.

    There was a pre-show, but none of us were driven to see it, so a group decision was made to depart at 8:30PM. With travel time, this would leave about an hour before Madonna was to go on stage at 10PM. It was raining, but the concert was rain or shine. We planned and collected our raingear: umbrellas, ponchos, plastic bags, and raincoats, fully prepared for the worst – an evening sitting for two hours in the rain.

    We made the short walk to Union Square at 8:30PM, walking briskly in the rain. Our train arrived promptly, however, there was congestion, and our train stopped abruptly. To add insult to injury, the train was mobbed, hot, and humid, and we learned that due to equipment failure, there was no air conditioning between 96th and 125th Streets. Everyone made the best of it as we enjoyed a joint roast. Finally, after what seemed to be an interminable journey, we arrived at our destination in the Bronx – 161st Street/Yankee Stadium. As the train pulled into the station, Hellen, shepherdess of the tickets, made the most disturbing announcement that could be imagined. Yes, she had forgotten the tickets.

    So now, with only 45 minutes to concert time, we were in the very unenviable position of being at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx for a Madonna concert with $760 of tickets in Hellen’s closet in lower Manhattan, a distance that, even with the best of train fortune, was a long journey. To make the round trip journey seemed unthinkable, but the tickets were purchased via Ticketmaster, and with no recourse or ability to reprint them, only two options remained. Scrap the concert, or make the round trip and see what remained of the concert. A group management decision was made to do what we could to salvage the evening.

    So back on the #4 to Union Square. A nice connection to the #6 to Astor Place was making the affair look more promising. A jog to their home, a swift elevator ride up to their apartment, and a beeline to the closet, where, as Hellen predicted, four tickets laid waiting. It was 9:40PM. I took a quick photo of Hellen gleefully brandishing four tickets, and we bolted out the door to retrace our steps. The subway ride was uneventful, however, we had become quite weary of train travel – this was now our third subway ride between the Village and Yankee Stadium.

    We arrived at the stadium at 10:10, not bad, and in our seats approximately at 10:23 PM. Madonna had not gone on stage and so, through a miracle of fate, we had actually arrived 5 minutes before her portion of the concert. We had, with decisiveness and good fortune, accomplished our mission, avoiding what Hellen’s daughter had hoped – that we would not be Tardy to the Party :)

    See Part 2 here for the conclusion to the story and a video.

  • Hope Springs Eternal

    One World Trade Center, 9/11/2012

  • Skillful Management and Careful Husbandry

    In my favorite film, Bedazzled (1967 starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore), the Devil, on the first meeting with his victim, convinces him that he is indeed the Devil incarnate by telling him details and facts of his life that no mortal could know. He gives a brief genealogy of the victim, and at one point in the lineage he says:

    Your great-great-great grandfather, Ephraim Moon, sailed to Australia in 1782 on a ship of the Line. Set himself up as an apothecary. The business flourished, and by the time he died it was worth something in the region of 2,000 pounds – a large amount in those days.

    Your great-great-grandfather, Cedric Moon, by skillful management and careful husbandry, increased that sum a hundredfold.

    The Devil, in his devious and duplicitous ways, goes on to tell his victim that, unfortunately, all such wealth was frittered away by his grandfather, leaving the victim in his present plight – “penniless and on the brink of suicide.” The solution is, of course, to avail himself of the Devil’s services by selling his soul for seven wishes.

    I have always loved the phrase “skillful management and careful husbandry,” but I find no occasion to use it. After all, who and how many have the character, temperament, tenacity, and have, through their example,  made themselves worthy of such a descriptive? Not many. Perhaps some of  New York City’s more ambitious can collectors merit such words.

    This is a city of extremes – extreme contrasts and people taking things to extremes. Things unfamiliar, infrequently seen, or of a perfunctory nature elsewhere can become enterprises and industries here, like the collection and redemption of bottles and cans for recycling.  On February 1, 2010, I wrote Down on His Luck about a can redemption center in Harlem.
    On the collection side, bottles must be harvested, bagged, and transported from place to place and eventually to a redemption center. For greater efficiency and productivity, these treasure troves must be guarded and shepherded through the city streets. Accumulations are neatly stacked – these urban armadas and flotillas are relatively common sights in the city. On April 5, 2007, I wrote Caravan of Dreams, and on August 28, 2009, I wrote Trash and Treasure. On September 5, 2008, I witnessed a veritable wagon train and featured it in Property Owner.

    Recently, while walking on MacDougal Street, I encountered a can collector who took the enterprise to dizzying heights. Cans and bottles were neatly bagged and precariously stacked, in an enormous cache that could only have been done through Skillful Management and Careful Husbandry :)

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