Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Classic Mr NYC

Happy New Year!

Tonight we ring in 2009 and bid 2008 a well-deserved adieu. As usual, a million or so people will huddle in Times Square tonight, risking hypothermia to watch the ball plunk down into the new year.

Presiding over this event, as always, is Mayor Mike Bloomberg. (Sadly it will be only confetti raining down on the crowds and not dollar bills falling out of our billionaire mayor's pockets.) His special guests tonight will be former our President, and our soon-to-be former Senator, Bill and Hillary Clinton. The three of them huddling together should be quite a sight.


As this little blog enters its third year, I went back to see what I wrote about on this date in 2007. Interestingly it was about our Mike planning to run for president. I had speculated about the possibility of a Subway Series Presidential Race -- Mike vs. Rudy vs. Hillary. Well, none of them made it, as we know. Rudy is back making money and licking his wounds, Hillary's wounds are licked and she's headed off to run the State Department, and Mike is gearing up to run for Mayor yet again.

Mike was twice elected as a Republican but now he's an Independent who is governing and plans to run again as a Democrat in everything but name only (although who knows, maybe he'll run as a Democrat now). He's hired almost all Democrats to run his next campaign. He's more liberal than most Democrats even dare to be. The Times quite rightly calls him a political chameleon.

I gotta hand it to this guy. He plays all sides beautifully. Besides the West Side Stadium and congestion pricing, this cat gets almost everything he wants. He's got the touch. No wonder he's a multi-billionaire. Kudos Mike.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Interview: Cheryl Harris Sharman and Russell Leigh Sharman of "Nightshift NYC"

My recent post on Nightshift NYC has happily yielded a short interview with scribes of this book and blog, Cheryl Harris Sharman and Russell Leigh Sharman. As you might remember, Nighshift NYC is about the men and women who labor through the night so that the rest of NYC can sleep comfortably and wake up with civilization still intact. Below Cheryl and Russell tell us about what made them pursue researching and writing about this unusual topic, and about some of the interesting things they've discovered about New Yorkers who work the night shift.

Considering what an intriguing topic the night shift in NYC is, it's hard to believe that no one else wrote a book about it until now. What inspired your book as well as the blog?

It is hard to believe that no one has written a book on the workers who make possible the city that never sleeps. The idea for the book came from two or three different all-night businesses within a block of where we living at the time, in East Harlem, and wondering how difficult that life would be. There was a 24-hour bodega, a 24-hour laundromat, and a 24-hour taxi mechanic. None of these sites made it into the book but they sparked our interest in the topic. As writers and researchers, we’
ve always been interested in telling the stories of people who are often overlooked. In some ways, that’s what led to the blog, because there were so many stories that didn’t fit in the book, and we’re still meeting more night shift workers with equally interesting lives, so the blog allows an ongoing exploration of New York at night.

What are people's biggest complaints or favorite things about working such exotic hours?

Most of the people we interviewed worked the night shift because it was the first job they were offered. In 24-hour businesses, the day shift often comes with seniority. On the one hand, the kind of person who works the night shift is someone who will eventually switch to the day shift once they’ve gained some experience; we’ve already seen that happen to some of the folks in the book. On the other hand, many choose the night shift or to remain on the night shift because they come to see its many benefits. The benefits include things such as sharing childcare with a day shift spouse, a night pay differential, more autonomy and, especially in the service sector, fewer customers. Of course some people are just night owls, and may as well be at work when they’re most alert. Then again, there are those who never adjust to the taxing lifestyle and will take a day shift the first time it’s offered.

Do you think working overnight in NYC is different than in other cities?

We think that working overnight in NYC is similar to working the night shift in other cities all over the world. We’ve heard from night shift workers in other places about the lack of sleep, the strain on social relationships, the lack of seniority, the cherished autonomy, the benefits for childcare, and many of the same things we found in NYC. We just did a reading in Chicago where we met a former night shift nurse who felt the book resonated with her experiences, and a current night shift auditor at a hotel who wrote a guest blog for us on his experiences, many of which find overlap in our book. That said, there are aspects that are unique to NYC. New York has one of the only train systems in the world that runs 24 hours, so there’s always someone out, no matter the hour, creating a sense of safety and community that you don’t necessarily find in other cities.

Tell us something about the night shift in NYC most of us don't know.

Most people don’t know that NYC feels much like a small town in the wee hours of the morning, because of that sense of safety and community that comes from working nights in such a densely-populated city. In a city with a car culture, for example, everyone is insulated from everyone else and 24-hour businesses are few and far between. In New York, every block has several arenas of all-night activity, whether a doorman or a drugstore or a diner, making it safe to walk down just about any street at any hour. This sense of NYC at night feeling like a small town was a surprise even to us and was one of our favorite discoveries of writing Nightshift NYC.

Thanks!

Monday, December 29, 2008

New York vs. LA on Turner Classic Movies


Thursday nights in January, TCM will be showing great old movies set in either New York City or Los Angeles. Each night, the films will concentrate on similar themes mostly (crime noir, showbiz, romance) and will show how these things existed in these two great, distinct towns back in the day. Some of the movies they'll show include Anchors Away and On the Town (covering the sailors on shore leave genre), Shaft and The Big Sleep, Annie Hall and Modern Romance, and many others. In between these movies, with short documentaries about the films and filmmakers.

New Yorkers like me have a lot of fun "dissing" LA but instead of trying to prove one city as superior to the other I will just say that both have their virtues and flaws, their pros and their cons, and aren't we lucky to live in a country where New York people and LA people can co-exist? And ever the twains shall meet.

P.S. In tribute to the great city of Los Angeles, New York City's West Coast counterpart, here's a great song by Aimee Mann about that most LA thing, the freeway!

P.S. Can you name the great New York-born director who this picture in 1945 when FDR died? He directed some of the greatest movies ever ... and his films be included in this series.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Blog Info

I've updated and refined my various links to the right. Please check them out.

The Best Radio Station You're Not Listening To

More and more New Yorkers aren't listening to music radio anymore; instead they tune into the literally thousands of songs that their IPods can hold. Everywhere you go, you see New Yorkers with little white buds coming out of their ears and white cords running down their necks as they ride the subways and buses, work out at the gym, stroll through the parks, or walk along the streets. Living in NYC today is like living amongst several million Secret Service agents.

But what's really wrecked havoc on music radio today is media consolidation. Here in NYC, Clear Channel owns Z100, Q104.3, WKTU, Power 105, and Lite FM. CBS Radio owns WCBS FM and AM, WFAN, 92.3 K-ROCK, 1010 WINS, and Fresh 102.7. Think about it: only two radio conglomerates own a huge swath of the airwaves in the country's biggest radio market. And most of what they play is either Top 40 or old hits, the same songs being repeated and overplayed, ad nauseam, ad infinitum. There's very little really good, interesting music to be found on the city's major airwaves today.

Except for one station: WRXP 101.9 FM "The NY Rock Experience" (yes, it used to be CD 101.9, the "smooth jazz" station that is mercifully no longer). WRXP easily plays the best music on commercial radio in this town today. It's the same station where you can hear a great old Beatles tune followed Linkin Park. They play Radiohead right after Janis Joplin and right before Bob Marley. You can hear tracks off the new Killers album and then a great Van Halen classic. It even plays good Stuff White People Like music such as R.E.M., Coldplay, and Tom Petty. It also plays some songs you won't hear on other radio stations, like Lou Reed's classic "Dirty Boulevard" or ZZ Top's "Tube Steak Boogie." It's just great music, period (heck, that could even be the station's slogan).

What really impresses me about this station is that you get the feeling the programmers respect their audience. They know that people who appreciate good music want to hear stuff they might not have heard before. WRXP also doesn't have "wacky" DJs or stupid jingles -- just straight to the point announcements and very little talk. Oh, and it doesn't have a lot of commercials either, so it's almost all music all of the time.

WRXP isn't getting very good ratings right now but hopefully that will change. But if you're feeling bummed about listening to music on the radio in NYC, give this station a listen, you might like it.

P.S. This has been a public service announcement. WRXP has in no way paid me for this plug. Wouldn't it be nice if they did though?

The Infinite Dial

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Elmos on the Loose!




Yesterday we were strolling around Rockefeller Center (more like wading through the crowd, actually) when what caught my eye but ... Elmo! Right on the end of the block where the giant Christmas tree stands, the cuddly furry red monster was waiving to passersby and hugging and taking pictures with little children.

At the end of the block, turning north onto 6th Avenue, we then came upon ... another Elmo! Ditto with the waiving and taking pictures with kids. Standing right next to him was a very thin looking Cookie Monster too, looking a little shy as two kids hugged him tight.

And then up the block, crossing right across from Radio City Music Hall ... yet another Elmo! He was getting crushed in the crowd but looked happy nonetheless.

Elmo, Elmo, and Elmo. Who knew there was more than one? Perhaps it was an Elmo family outing.

So if people ask you what, amongst other things, makes NYC such a great place at Christmas time, tell them that you can see real live Elmos (three of them!) right on the street and not, you know, in a mall.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

NYC on Christmas Night

On this Christmas evening, there is a distinct quiet hanging over our beloved city. Coming home tonight, the streets were barren of people and cars, most of the businesses were shut tight, and the usual New York volume was definitely turned down. In some ways it was nice, in other ways a little scary.

It feels, on this holiest night of the year, like there is a kind of pall covering this town. It's not doom or gloom exactly, but instead a unusual degree of worry that is seizing this already neurotic place The financial and housing crises, etc., have left many New Yorkers feeling blue. The holiday season is always an emotionally trying time, and this year our economic travails has made it all the worse. People are losing jobs, wages, and benefits, homes are going into foreclosure, stocks and retirement portfolios are plummeting -- you name it, it's tough out there.

What can we do? As 2008 draws to its end, how should we feel?

I wish I knew exactly how to feel or how to tell others to feel. 2008 has been tough and 2009 is shaping up to be even tougher. If things are gonna get better, it'll probably be another couple of years. If the future is going to be bright, it's a long way off. But I know it's out there ... somewhere beyond the horizon.

So on this Christmas night, as we look to the future, Mr NYC is counting his blessings. He has many wonderful people in his life and many things to be grateful for. The soul can be temporarily lifted by money but only the richness of life can truly nourish it.

And on this Christmas night in the greatest city in the world, I'm feeling strong.

Happy Holidays.

Ouch

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Metropolitan

My favorite Christmas movie ever is A Christmas Story (fra-gee-lay!) but my favorite New York Christmas movie ever is easily Metropolitan.

Whit Stillman's 1990 classic centers on a collegiate shlub from the upper west side named Tom Townsend who befriends some very rich and annoying upper east side debutantes during Christmas time. Drawn into their social circle, Tom quickly becomes the object of affection to the sweet and innocent Audrey. Their potential romance is complicated by Tom's ex-girlfriend, the infamous Serena Slocum who is still hovering around Tom, Nick Smith (snob extrodinaire who becomes a kind of mentor to Tom), and the odious Rick von Slonecker. Add to this a preppy named Charlie who also loves Audrey and it all becomes a hilarious and timeless comedy of manners.

Oh, and New York in winter has never looked more realistically beautiful.

Metropolitan probably isn't for anyone (parts of it are quite stagy) but if you love Christmas in New York and funny intelligent dialogue, you'll love it. It's a very sweet movie that makes you smile at the end. Plus, it's got the great Chris Eigeman in his first big role.

There is one thing about this movie that is very dated: up until the late, early 1990s, the class/economic schism between the rich upper east side and the middle class upper west side was still very real (believe me, I lived during it). No more. Today the upper west side is as wealthy and snobby as the upper east side - if not more so.

... and the reasons? There are no reasons!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New York Power

My first post this month was about Hilary Clinton and Eric Holder, two New Yorkers who will be serving in the Obama administration. Since then Tim Geithner, president of the New York Fed and a Brooklyn native, has been appointed Treasury secretary, and Shaun Donovan, the NYC commissioner of housing, will become the new HUD secretary (Bloomberg may be a billionaire but Obama's gonna be president; "poor" Mike loses on this one).

In addition, it appears that Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion will be headed to the White House as the head of urban policy. This hasn't been announced yet but is expected soon.

So for the first time, probably since FDR, New Yorkers will be wielding a great deal of national and international power. Let's hope they do it well.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Gotta Love New Yorkers

Who said there's no good news?

New York City school children won several national chess championships down in Florida last week. They came from all over the city too, from schools public and private, including I.S. 318 in Brooklyn, Hunter College Elementary School and P.S. 116 in Manhattan, and the Horace Mann School in the Bronx. They competed in the National Scholastic K-12 Championship sponsored by the United States Chess Federation.

The kids from I.S. 318 won the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade championships, and the kids from Hunter won the 2nd grade championship. It was a really impressive feat by a bunch of young kids -- even more impressive still, considering that a lot of grown-ups, myself included, don't even know how to play chess. These kids' parents must be so proud.

In these hard times, with so little good news out there and creeps like Bernie Madoff dominating the headlines, it's heartwarming to read about a bunch of New Yorkers, in this case the youngest New Yorkers, who we can be proud of. Congratulations guys! May each of you have great futures.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Interview: The Dateable Dork

Dating in NYC is like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car in an amusement park -- your strives towards perfection is continually interrupted by the realities around you (Stanley Kubrick said this about making movies but I think it's an apt comparison). And talking about movies, movies like When Harry Met Sally ... and TV shows like Friends and Sex and the City make dating in NYC look really glamorous -- everybody's rich and beautiful, with great jobs and apartments and oceans of free time, and the weather is always perfect.

These movies and TV shows might be fun to watch but they sure ain't reality.
The realities of dating in New York is both funnier, scarier, and a lot more complicated than any fictional rendering could ever be. And no one talks about the realities of dating in NYC better than the Dateable Dork. Her blog has to be the most honest and most hilarious forum about love and lovin' in NYC that I've ever read. With great wittiness and energy, she takes you into her life and makes you laugh and think about the craziness of love in NYC. The Dateable Dork reminds you that not all New Yorkers are characters straight out of a Candace Bushnell novel but are people who can be more interesting, more intriguing and, yes, more dorky, than anyone could imagine.

She agreed to answer my questions about what makes her a dork and why dating in NYC is a such a crazy adventure.

I have a hard time believing that any woman can really be a dork. Convince us that you're one of my breed.

You've never met a female dork? Wow, you don't know what you're missing! I really am a total dork, in all the typical ways you would imagine for a male. I'm uncoordinated, too tall, I snort when I laugh, my fashion sense is always two (or ten) seasons behind, I talk about science at cocktail parties (which never fails to get groans from the crowd), etc. The only thing I'm missing is the pair of glasses with the Band-Aid in the middle. Believe it: I'm a dork.

According to Jerry Seinfeld, 95% of all people are "un-dateable." What makes you part of the other 5%?

First of all, I love Seinfeld. Just had to get that out of the way. Despite my dorky persona, I really do think I'm totally dateable. The caveat is that I'm dateable to other dorks. I'll never get the super slick guy who dates supermodels, but for the average, normal, somewhat nerdy guy, I think I'm a great catch! I'm smart, interesting, educated, fun to be around, and I look great in heels and a miniskirt. I'm the girl you can bring home to your parents and then have all sorts of kinky sex with afterwards. I've got my shit together, I have a dorky but respectable job, and I'm not afraid to laugh at how ridiculous I am. What's not to love, really?

So tell us how your blog the Dateable Dork came to be – and why it went away and then came back (that is, if you want to tell us about that).

I started the Dateable Dork because I realized that I need an outlet for all the crazy dating drama that had completely taken over my life. I had been emailing my dating stories to my friends on a daily basis, and I think they were getting really, really sick of it. At first they were interested, but eventually I could tell that they were about to disown me or something. So I started putting all my drama out into cyberspace, and it made me and my friends much happier people.

Now... do we really want to get into "the incident?" I'll make this short and sweet: when a guy I had been dating found my blog, read all the dirty details about my dating/sex life, and dumped my ass in a raging ball of flames, I kind of went into a state of shock. It was as if my whole world had imploded. I lost a guy that had real potential, my secret identity had been discovered, and I was pretty much a total mess. I didn't know what to do... so I just deleted the whole thing. It was the only thing I could think of that made any sense.

I always knew that I'd be back ... eventually. I just needed some time to get over the shock, which (to be perfectly honest) took a lot longer than I thought it would. I spent a lot of time being sad and depressed until I finally decided that I was overreacting and needed to get over it already. And I did. I started writing again, and it made me feel so much better.

Books, TV shows, movies, and now blogs like yours have made dating in NYC a cottage industry, and it seems like finding love in this town is a frustrating, time consuming, expensive, hopelessly complex adventure in Social Darwinism. Do you agree? What are your thoughts?

Yes, I completely agree - dating in New York is very much akin to survival of the fittest. It's so hard just to come out of it in one piece! Despite all my adventures in dating, I never seem to come out of it with anything to show for myself (clearly I am not at the top of the evolutionary scale) except for credit card bills filled with cute outfits and my half of expensive dinners. But here's the thing: I have a theory about dating in New York. It's so simple, but so true. There are millions of people in this city, which you would think would make it easy to find someone. However, in reality, the abundance of available dates makes every one's standards impossibly high. I'm guilty of this myself. If you don't like someone, throw him back! There are millions of others. Too short, too tall, too much of a mama's boy? Next! Realistic standards go out the window when there are just so many people to choose from. The perfect one has got to be out there, somewhere... right?

The (sad but true) joke is that "nice guys" finish last, and it does seem like a lot of women prefer to date "bad boys" who end up making them miserable. As a woman, why do you think that is? Are most nice guys just too boring?

I don't know how much stock I take in the whole "nice guys finish last" adage. A nice guy is exactly what I'm looking for, and I think most of my single female friends would say the same. Yes, most women have that irresistible desire to hook up with a "bad boy" -- we love the taboo and the drama of it all. But we don't want to date bad boys, we just want to use them and then throw them away (sorry, boys). If I'm looking for an actual relationship, I want a nice, normal, stable, professional guy who will actually enjoy my dorky science jokes and who my mom will be crazy about. Nice guys may be more "boring" than bad boys, but "boring" is not necessarily a bad thing.

What do you, the Dateable Dork, look for in a guy – or are your standards too high?

Oh my god, my standards are way too high. I'm just as guilty of this as everyone else! Earlier this year, I wrote a post about exactly what I look for in a guy, and everyone seemed to think that it read more like a job interview than anything else. My standards are focused on narrowing down the pool of available men to those that meet my basic dating requirements. From there, I just cross my fingers and hope that the chemistry is right! "Requirements" include things like never being married before, no kids, a college degree, non-virgin, non-smoker, lives close to my apartment, and the ultimate deal breaker: does not live with parents. What's hilarious is that I actually manage to find these date-worthy men, and I still always wind up striking out! Clearly I have no idea what I'm doing and am just as hopeless as everyone else.

Your blog is very funny and has generated quite the fan base. Is being funny a help or a hindrance for you and other funny women when it comes to dating?

Hahaha, it's so strange to hear people say that I'm funny because I am so NOT funny in person! I guess it comes out in my writing but not so much in my real life. I have a weird sense of humor in person, and no one really seems to get it. Oh well. In fact, I think that if I were funnier in person, it would probably help me out in the dating world. Guys like funny chicks, right?

As for my blog generating quite the fan base ... I'm flattered, really. : ) It's amazing to me that anyone is actually interested in reading about my dating drama, but whatever, I can roll with it. I love my readers -- everyone I have encountered in the blogosphere has been totally awesome. Thanks, guys!

Tell us something about the Dateable Dork we don't know.

Hmm ... this is a tough one because I usually spill everything on my blog! Here's something that I know I've never written about - I didn't lose my virginity until age 20. I just had absolutely no interest in sex! I was so busy studying (I'm a big dork, remember?) and concentrating and being productive that sex was just not even on the radar. Sure, I dated, but I probably frustrated the hell out of all my boyfriends because I would never sleep with them. Aww, poor guys. If I only knew what I was missing.

Finally, what do you love about NYC.

Although there are endless things to love about New York, the thing I love most is that it's home. Cheesy, I know, but it's true. I love that every time I cross Houston street I think of my grandmother who grew up downtown. I love that office buildings in midtown remind me of my mom working as a secretary in the 80s -- it's all very "Working Girl." I love that some people think of Bryant Park as the home of fashion week, but I think of it as "that park where I had a great second date." It's not surprising that, after all these years, I'm still here in New York - it's home, I love it, and I'm here to stay. (Oh, and I love that New Yorkers are angry. There's nothing like some good old-fashioned angst to wake you up in the morning. Hahaha. Move aside, bitches! I'm late for work!).

Thanks Dork!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New Yorkers are All Shoe Throwers Today

Remember the first lines Tommy Lee Jones uttered in The Fugitive? "My oh my, what a mess ..."

That basically describes the fiscal reality in New York today. Wherever you turn, on every front, the full mendacity of this economic crises is punching us in the face like Scott Farkus in A Christmas Story.

First, to fill the ever widening state budget gap, Governor Patterson is taxing everything -- everything -- that moves. Things you wouldn't imagine like soft drinks, massages, ITunes downloads, you name it. Needless to say, people are outraged by this but hey, what's the guy supposed to do? Do you really think he wants to impose these taxes? Don't you think he knows this will make him unpopular? But it's worth (for now) if we can keep more cops on the beat, more hospitals open, prevent bridges from falling down, etc. Let's just keep the big picture in mind.

But the pain doesn't end there. Ohhhhh no. The MTA is proposing some nasty service cuts and big fair increases. None of this is final yet (hence proposing) but the MTA wants to eliminate the Z and W lines, reduce service on the G and other lines, and increase service on some lesser used lines like the Q (which actually makes sense; what's the point of having a subway line that ends at 57th street?). Now the real pain: $2.50 fairs and $100 a month Metro cards!!!! New Yorkers like yours truly are going to feel a brutal hit in the wallet and, once fairs go up, they never go down. Oh the humanity!

To top it all off, our real estate industry is now in crises as well. And I'm not just talking about falling home prices. This nozzle Bernie Madoff -- this hedge fund manager/investor extraordinaire who masterminded the biggest Ponzi scheme in history and lost $50 billion dollars somewhere -- has caused many commercial developers to loose their metaphorical shirts. A lot of them had money they used as collateral for projects invested with this jerk and now ... it's gone ... no collateral ... can't borrow any more money ... can't build anything ... figure it out.

Do you realize $50 billion is more than the economy of some countries? Where did it go? It sure didn't come my way!!


I'm sure this won't be the last of the bad news but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we've seen the worst. But I guess we'll all have adjust to this new reality.

Welcome to the new NYC.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nightshift NYC



New York's popular moniker is "the city that never sleeps" -- but have we ever really thought about the people in our town who live and work through the night? Russell Leigh Sharman and Cheryl Harris Sharman have, and they are the authors of the new book and blog Nightshift NYC.

In both, they have interviewed some of the quarter million New Yorkers who keep this city going at night -- cops, EMTs, cab drivers, waiters and waitresses, you name it. I recently heard them interviewed on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show and they told stories about the fun and scary things that our city's overnight workers do and encounter during their work "days." In addition, several callers talked about working the nightshift, and how it takes a toll on their lives and relationships -- but can also be strangely wonderful at the same time.

As someone with a shameless romantic nature, particularly for all things NYC, New York in the middle of the night has always held a special allure for me. Perhaps I've seen too many movies. Perhaps I'm naive. Perhaps, since I've never worked at night, I've had the luxury of visiting late night New York more as a tourist than a resident. Still, it entices me.

For when I think of New York at night, and all the people who inhabit it, I think about deliverymen flinging stacks of newspapers from trucks towards stationary stores and newsstands; I think about the illuminated diner on the corner that's a like a lively heartbeat in the otherwise dead calm of night, a place where you can always get pancakes and a bottomless cup of coffee and chat up a friendly waitress; I think about the cops and cab drivers patrolling our streets, keeping us safe and making sure we get home; I think about the 24-hour grocery stores and delis where you can get some chips and water and perhaps hit an ATM; I think about the bars where you can sit at a table with friends or a l'object d'amour and talk for hours; I imagine how the people working in hospitals, on the subways, at the electric and phone companies, the firefighters and the security guards, the people helping us to sleep soundly since we know they're there doing these jobs -- how these people are working hard and can't wait to get home to their families; and for some reason (again, too many movies), when I think of late night NYC, I always hear melancholy jazz saxophones wailing away somewhere far off and those first blushes of dawn that warm the city and take us into a new day.

Again, I've never worked at night and I'm sure the reality of it is really tough. That's why I'm grateful for all those New Yorkers who do and keep this city whirring. And that's why you should check out Nightshift NYC. There's a whole other city out there, a reality that exists while most of us are dreaming.

A Convent Closes in Brooklyn

After 146 Years, a Brooklyn Convent Is Closing

Thanks to the Walking Sisters for all they've done for nearly a century and a half.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is this funny?

I'm not as outraged as some about this SNL skit but, then again, I'm not blind. And does Governor Paterson really love cocaine? I didn't know he was that cool!

That said, David Paterson "saw" the economic crises coming before a lot of other so-called leaders with perfect vision. He was talking about it back in July and he has been working really hard since then to keep this state afloat. He hasn't been shy about making tough decisions and standing up to special interests. And while SNL might not like him, Governor Paterson's approval rating among New Yorkers is high.

Compared to the Governor of Illinois -- who when he's not busy shaking people down for cash doesn't even bother showing up for work -- or our current soon-to-be-ex-president who has shown zero leadership in this crises, New Yorkers are lucky to have David Paterson who's actually, you know, trying to solve our problems. What an original idea.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: "Don Giovanni"



Recently I went to see Mozart's great opera Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera. Widely regarding by many as perhaps the greatest opera ever written, Don Giovanni is better known as infamous Don Juan, serial seducer and evil Cassanova. When Don Giovanni tries to seduce the wrong woman, Donna Anna, her father "the Commendatore" tries to stop him and Don Giovanni brutally murders him. Anna makes her fiance Ottavio swear revenge. Meanwhile Don Giovanni continues his wanton ways, aided by his hapless servant Leporello. He steals away a young peasant girl named Zerlina from her good-hearted love Masetto. And when another woman wronged by Giovanni, Donna Elvira, encounters both Masetto and Donna Anna, they conspire together to bring down Giovanni. That and more brings the story to a stunning end.

This being a Met production, needless to say the singing was first class. Uraguyan bass Erwin Schrott is impressive and forceful as the unrepentant Don Giovanni. Italian Ildebrando D'Arcangelo was a funny, lovable, sad-sack Leporello who is really the emotional center of the story. But the greatest performance by far was by Tamar Iveri from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Her strong, powerful voice and impassioned performance created a dimensional, sympathetic character who you also sense is tough as nails. Ms Iveri is someone who I would love to see again in another role.

Going to the opera, obviously, is not cheap but if you've never been to the Met then you must. A beautiful, gorgeous theater, with chandeliers that rise at the beginning of the performance, it takes you into a world of class, refinement, and high taste. The opera may be old fashioned but not irrelevant. It is a theatrical experience like no other. And it makes me grateful, once again, to live in this city.


Classic Mr NYC

The new movie Frost/Nixon is based on the play that ran on Broadway last year. Here's my short review of it from June, 2007.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Little Bit of Good News



New York City Grew, but Traffic Didn’t

Not that traffic in this town isn't still a problem, but it's great to hear that more and more New Yorkers are using mass transit and that our traffic levels are remaining static. If we can keep it this way, New York should be able to grow in a sustainable, sane way.

In this lousy economy, the federal government should make huge investments in public transportation in NYC and around the country. This will create thousands and thousands of new jobs that can't be outsourced and help boost the economy. It will get more Americans out of their cars which will be good for the environment, lessen our dependence on foreign oil, and improve our national security. And it will help build a infrastructure for long-term economic growth.

I think that President-elect Obama wants to make such investments and let's hope this happens. We could begin by building new subway lines in areas like Flushing, Maspeth, Red Hook, and Staten Island, as well as creating rail links to La Guardia and JFK. The answers out of economic doldrums are literally in our own backyard.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Trinity Church Hallelujah Chorus 2006

These are dire times -- in NYC and everywhere else. The awful economy, terrorism, endless war, political corruption -- you name, we've seen better days. And while things may improve eventually, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is a long way off.

Plus I'm fighting a nasty cold that just won't quit -- sort of like the Governor of Illinois.

This is generally an upbeat blog but it's getting increasingly hard to keep it that way when there's so little to be upbeat about. Yet it's important at this time of year to count your blessings and be grateful for what we do have. Things could always be worse ... a thought that's both comforting and depressing at the same time.

And while things might be bleak right now, I try never to forget that there is and always will be beauty in it. Beautiful things like Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. This was recorded two years ago at Trinity Church on Wall Street. Listening to it makes me happy and I hope it will make you happy too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Man Who Could Stop Mike

Great story today about Bill Thompson, the NYC Comptroller who promises to run against Bloomberg for Mayor next year. If there's one guy who can prevent Mike from getting a third term, it may be Bill.

He's a great public servant and a nice guy. I shook his hand once at a subway station three years ago when he was running for re-election (where he got 92% of the vote). He was as friendly and personable as could be, by no means a "slick" politician. Although he won't have Mike's money, Bill's smarts and charisma, not to mention his excellent qualifications, could make him a surprising formidable contender next year. Mike shouldn't be so confident that his re-election is in the bag.

... the rest is still Unwritten ...

Just got a friendly comment from a blogger in Singapore who spent a year living in NYC and writes wonderfully about it -- and other things. Her blog is beautifully written and thoughtful. You should check it out.

the rest is still Unwritten

Monday, December 8, 2008

Who Runs New York?

The buzz around the city and state today is that JFK's daughter, Caroline Kennedy, might get appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's senate seat. Obviously the idea of putting the daughter of one of our most beloved presidents as our senator is kind of irresistible (I mean ... she's friggin' JFK's daughter) but I don't really think she's paid her dues in public service yet. Besides, she hasn't been tested in the public arena yet and going right into the senate might be too big a leap. Remember, she'll have to run in 2010 and 2012 and raise a LOT of money. Not sure if she's the right choice but I could be wrong. We shall see.

Certainly no one envies Governor Patterson this decision. He's bound to disappoint someone -- if not just about everyone besides the person who finally gets the seat. Stay tuned.

And here in New York, control of the state senate has finally been decided. Some rogue Democrats agreed to some bizarre deal with Malcolm Smith who will now become the first Democratic State Senate Majority leader in decades. Many are grumbling about this deal but, for now, the Democrats have complete control of New York State. Let's hope absolute power won't corrupt absolutely. We've had enough of that!

Finally, The New York Times today asks a great question: just who has real power in New York today? No one really. There used to be a number of people in this city and state who wielded great influence and Got Things Done: political bosses like Carmine De Sapio and Ed Flynn, Governors like Rockefeller, labor leaders like Victor Gotbaum and Albert Shanker, Mayors like LaGuardia and Wagner, and public officials like Robert Moses. They transformed New York in was inconceivable today. And those days are long, long over. Witness the hole at Ground Zero more than seven years after 9/11 and the state's rotting infrastructure. The problem is that our public institutions have gotten so decentralized and our government so complex that no one has that much power over anything to get things done.

I guess that closest we have to a real power broker these days is Mayor Bloomberg, and that has more to do with his money than anything else. Money, of course, rules everything.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

New York: International City




During my recent trip to China we watched a lot of BBC World and CNN International in various hotel rooms. And it was in China where we learned about the awful terrorist bombings in Mumbai, India. Obviously this great tragedy made me very sad and brought back memories of 9/11 here in NYC.

It also got me thinking about the shrunken world in which we live. Here we were watching American and British TV in China and were learning about something that had happened in India. This was something unremarkable and routine in our day but, a century ago, would have been unimaginable. Globalization it's called, and it's here to stay.

And in this global culture, we have seen the rise of more and more "international cities" -- cities like magnets which attract people from around the world. These cities are political, business, and cultural capitals where millions of people come in pursuit of greatness. And for those of us, like New Yorkers, who are citizens of an international city, the rest of the world is literally outside our window and on our streets.

In centuries past there were only a tiny handful of international cities like London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and maybe Istanbul (once Constantinople). Most of these were capitals of the great empires, literally ruling the rest of the world. But today there are many such cities and they span nearly every continent and time zone. Cities like Sydney, Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow, Bangkok, Mumbai, and many others. They may not literally rule the globe anymore but, in many ways, their grasps are greater than ever. These cities excite the imagination and fire up ambition. Almost everyone wants to be a part of them.

Even terrorists. Obviously what has happened in New York and Mumbai, as well as in London and Madrid in recent years, shows that international cities have been and will forever be targets. Clearly, it's important never to forget this.

However, we must never live in fear. Fearful is what terrorists want us to be. We defeat them by our optimism, by our energy and ambition, by our just getting up in the morning and continuing to lives our lives and build our societies. Those of us who live in the international cities of the world, while always being cognizant of its dangers, should be thankful and grateful that we get to live in such a place and should never forget what a blessing it is to have the rest of the world at our feet.

I know I will.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Election Night in Harlem

Obviously I'm a little late in posting this but felt I should do it anyway. It was only a month ago and it's still hard to believe this actually happened. What an amazing night it was.

If you want to have some extra fun, go on YouTube and watch some of election night videos of Republicans moaning and complaining. It's a hoot!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rumblings at the Plaza


Interesting article in Vanity Fair about how turning the Plaza Hotel condo became a debacle.

Eloise Sheds a Tear

Eloise was a fictional girl created by Kay Thompson who lived in the Plaza and got into all sorts of adventures. It was actually turned into a TV movie a few years ago with Julie Andrews.

The Ravitch Report

The big news around town today is the Ravitch Commission Report. It proposes to save that glistening jewel of public service, the MTA (Richard Ravitch is a former chairman of the MTA FYI). This report has been months in the making and is one of these nonpartisan, apolitical commissions designed specifically to give politicians cover (in this case, our dear Mayor and Governor).

So what's in the report? Pain. Lots of it. It includes new taxes, service cuts, and "automatic adjusted" fare increases. Ouch!

But the proposal causing the biggest hubbub is that all East River bridges will now have tolls on them. This includes the Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Queensboro bridges (the Triborough already has tolls on them so nothing will change there). So now, no matter how you go (unless it's by foot), it's going to cost you to travel between almost each borough (although I guess the Staten Island ferry and bridges between Manhattan and the Bronx will still be free).

Obviously people who commute between the outerboroughs and Manhattan by car will loath and despise this change. How could they not? Small businesses located in Brooklyn and Queens that depend on customers in Manhattan will take a brutal hit.

The only positive thing about this proposal (I guess) is that hopefully it will force more people onto public transportation. It's almost a back door congestion pricing tax like Bloomberg wanted.

Doesn't that guy always win in the end?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Attention Publishing Industry: You're Not Dead Yet

According to The New York Times, the publishing industry is not being destroyed by the Internet -- it's just "evolving."

How to Publish Without Perishing

That's a relief to those of us who work in publishing but that doesn't mean publishing jobs will still be plentiful in the future. Considering that publishing is a major NYC-oriented business, let's keep our proverbial fingers crossed.

I guess F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong ...

Anyone can have a second act in American life -- or at least in New York life.

Meet Slate's New Columnist: Eliot Spitzer

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Noah and the Whale @ Bowery Ballroom

I don't know if you've heard of Noah and the Whale but they're a relatively new band out of England.

They'll be playing the Bowery Ballroom this Thursday night and, if you're interested, you can get more info here.

Interestingly, Noah and the Whale took their name from the great 2005 move The Squid and the Whale, set in Park Slope. Noah refers to Noah Baumbach, the guy who wrote and directed the movie.

"Five Years Time" (shown here) is the band's big hit song and is a charming diddy about young, evanescent love. It's also currently being used in a car commercial so if the auto industry recovers, it'll be because of them.

Monday, December 1, 2008

And as Hillary and Holder move up ...


... Plaxico Burress goes down.

How did Plaxico fall so far, so fast?

He may be a Super Bowl winning player and I guess we Giant fans are lucky to have him (I guess) but this guy is a walking -- or limping right now -- disaster. Plaxico doesn't show up to practice, acts bratty on the field, has had various scraps with the law in the past, and now is probably headed to jail for shooting himself in the leg!

I know that American culture is all about winning, beating the other guy and basking in glory; we put this ethos above anything and everything else. And perhaps it's not for us football fans to judge any player beyond their performance in games (judge not less he be judged, etc.). Still, he's a an embarrassment for NYC and a poor role model for the young'uns. Sad.

New Yorkers In Da' Cabinet

Our gal Hillary, New York's junior senator, is leaving us and will become President-elect Obama's Secretary of State, thus vacating her senate seat. Now the race begins to succeed her and Governor Patterson will play kingmaker. Decisions, decisions.

Also, native New Yorker Eric Holder, a guy from East Elmhurst in Queens, will be our new Attorney General. A graduate of Stuyvesant High School and Columbia University, he's a really inspiring success story. Hope he does a good job.

Obama may be a Chicago guy but he realizes that some NYC grit is what's needed to turn this country around.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Near Rests the Lodging: Tales of China




Yeah!! I'm blogging again. Limited Internet access plus difficulties logging onto Blogger in China (think the government had something to do with that? Hmm? Hmmm??) made blogging impossible but I had a great trip and am here to tell all.

Right now I feel like Ross Perot's 1992 running mate -- who am I? More specifically, where am I -- and what time is it?

Got back from China last night and right now the body is suffering some major jet lag. My mind and the clock say it's 3:30 PM but the body says it's 4:30 AM and, like so often in life, the body will probably triumph over the mind shortly. Anyhoo, a short recount of my trip, then this blog will get back to its regular NYC-oriented business:

1. First stop, Beijing. Saw the usual tourist sites: the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Mao's Mausoleum, and the Ming Tombs. Climbed the Great Wall and walked around some of the city's lovely parks. Engaged in a Chinese tea ceremony. Beijing certainly has great stuff in it but, as a city as a whole, it's pretty dull.

Thing learned: the Dragon is the historic symbol of China's power, hence the Emperor's Dragon Thrown. The Chinese Dragon is actually a composite of the following most powerful animal parts: the head of a lion, the antlers of a deer, the claws of a bear, the body of a snake, the tail of whale, the wings of a bird, eyes of a hare, the scales of a fish, and some others I can't remember. Also, the number 9 is the symbol of power since it is the highest individual number. Go into any Chinese palace and most staircases will have no more than 9 steps. Hence the reason old world China didn't have many tall buildings.

2. Next stop: Pingyao. This is an ancient city, almost 3000 years old, surrounded by a 700 hundred year old wall. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the city is largely preserved as originally built. We visited the enormous Wang family compound and walked on top of the entire city wall, looking at this amazing piece of living history from every vantage point. We also visited numerous temples and learned more than I can remember about each Buddhist god. As we were leaving, we visited another old compound where they filmed the movie Raise the Red Lantern. To top it all off, this city surprisingly offered some of the best food on this trip. Pingyao Beef is easily one of the very best dishes -- Chinese or otherwise -- ever created by man. In NYC they'd charge $40 a plate for it or something but it was less than a $2 a plate in Pingyao.

Thing learned: Pingyao is located in Shanxi province, one of the most polluted places in the world. If you ever go there, take a mask for your face and lots of facial and body scrub.

3. Yantai: my family has some connections there and this was the most emotional, happiest part of the trip. I may write about this sometime in the future but, for now, would prefer to keep private.

Thing learned: Chinese Communist officials can be very nice people.

4. Tsingtao: this a gorgeous coastal city that was once a German colony until WW1, then later was occupied by the Japanese until after WW2. Thanks to German influence, Tsingtao is most famous for Tsingtao beer and the highlight of our time here was a visit to the Tsingtao Brewery where, amongst other things, we saw the bottles being processed, went through the drunk walk, and samples some beer. We also visited the German Governor's mansion (beautiful) and Mount Lao which is one of the highest points in all of China.

Thing learned: people off the street in China will come up and talk with you like they've known you forever. Be prepared.

This short recap doesn't do justice to the full experience of this trip but it gives you a good idea. I hope that every person in the world has a chance to visit China once or twice in their life. It's a life changing experience.

P.S. You might be wondering about this blog entry's odd title "Near Rests the Lodging." This was from a sign I saw in Pingyao giving directions to a hotel. Most store fronts and street signs in China are both in Chinese and English but the English translations are poor and sometimes incomprehensible. Hence we saw signs directing us to "Beauty Saloons" and other interesting non-existent things. A couple of other favorites:
  • A beauty salon in Beijing that was probably trying to say it was a unisex salon but, instead, billed itself as "a sex shop."

  • Another sign at a restaurant in Pingyao sold what it simply called "a round mass of food."
A good English proofreader could make a fortune over there.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mr NYC Goes to the Orient

Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. - Confucius


So I'm packing my toothbrush and a pair of comfortable shoes and getting ready to leave for the land that invented ink and paper (and the noodle), China.

For the next two weeks I'll be walking on the Great Wall, wandering around the Forbidden City, sampling beer at the Ching Dao brewery, visiting the Ming Tombs and Temple of Heaven, and seeing lots of really amazing stuff. Obviously blogging, particularly in a country that likes to sensor the Internet, won't be easy to pull off but I will try to if possible.

Otherwise I'll be back on December 1st, ready to tell all. New York City will, I'm sure, do just fine without me. So for the next fortnight call me Mr China!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Welcome to NYC: The Real America Starts Here


The always great Kurt Andersen has a wonderful article in this week's New York magazine about the election of Barack Obama. You might also want to read my exclusive interview with Kurt from January where he said that this would be the most fascinating presidential election of our lifetime. How right he was.

One of the points of Kurt's article, and of a blog entry I did the Friday before the election, is that NYC and big cities in general have largely been marginalized in America politics. Cities like ours might be rich and fun to live in but, when it comes to influencing les affairs d'etat, we've taken a back seat to mostly rural states and the South for the last few decades.

Until now.

Think about it: the President to be is from Chicago, the Speaker of the House is from San Francisco, and two of the powerful people in Congress are Charlie Rangel (Chairman of House Ways and Means) and Senator Chuck Schumer -- New Yorkers both. The electoral map indicates that America is swinging in a more liberal direction, and the South and rural areas -- the "real America" -- are becoming less and less powerful in American politics.

Naturally people in the real America are freaking out. "Oh no!" the Republican culture warriors cry. "What's happening?"

Well, it looks like the "real America" is shrinking. Or maybe they aren't the real America anymore -- we are. Might need to dig up those signs in the boonies that say "The Real America Starts Here" and plant them in NYC.

They're losing the culture war.

Starting with the election of Richard Nixon 40 years ago, the culture war has been effectively used by the Republicans to divide America and put them in power. Play on middle class fears and hatred of taxes, gays, abortion, race, immigrants, and losing their guns -- plus throw in a lot of jingoistic chest thumping and religiosity -- and that'll get people to vote against their economic interests.

The late, great George Carlin put it perfectly: "That's the way the ruling class operates in any society -- they try to divide the rest of the people. They keep the lower and the middle classes fighting with each other so that they, the rich, can run off with all the f******g money. Fairly simple thing, happens to work."

And it worked for a long time. The Republicans won a lot of elections using the culture war. But now Americans are sick of it. They've seen the horrible economy, disastrous war, and broken government the Republicans have given us and they've run gagging to the polls to throw them out. That's why conservative places like Virginia, Indiana, and Colorado have been swinging hard to the Democrats in just the last few years. They're leaving the "real America" behind and coming over to us.

Now we're the real America and they're not -- nah nah nah nah. The culture war, like the Iraq War of the War on Drugs, is not "over" by any means. Sadly, it'll probably never end. But for right now, we're winning. And let's pray -- haha -- that this continues.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Avenue Q Rules

It's hard to believe that the Broadway musical Avenue Q is more than 5 years old now. This is easily the funniest show ever produced -- and it won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

This is a grainy, out of focus video from a live performance but it's still worth watching. The audience's laughter reminds me of what fun, pure joy this show is. And this song, well ... what else is there to say? "The Internet is for ..."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Special Veteran's Day

This Veteran's Day we remember and thank those men and women who have served our country and kept us free. We owe them a debt bigger than we can ever imagine and that we can never repay.

This is also a special Veteran's Day because, coincidentally enough, it's the 90th anniversary of the end of World War One. On this very date -- November 11, 1918 -- the armistice was signed to end "The Great War" or "The War to End All Wars."

My Brooklyn grandfather fought in World War One and was hit by mustard gas at one point. Fortunately, he survived and came home to marry my grandmother. He served bravely in a machine gun unit and saw some really nasty stuff. Whenever he had time, he would travel around the French countryside and organize baseball games with fellow soldiers and Frenchmen. And he gave up the one opportunity in his life to visit England when he traded his R&R pass with a British solider who wanted to visit his family. He was a great guy.

So on this special Veteran's Day, I remember him.

In Astoria Park, you can visit the Long Island War Memorial dedicated to the veterans of World War One. It was built in 1926 and stands there proudly to this day.

Oh dear ...

Sarah Palin: God will help me decide what to do in 2012

Let's hope He treats you better than the McCain campaign did. Good luck.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Best Arepas in NYC

I've had Venezualan food twice in my life, once at a fancy restaurant in the East Village and once this weekend in Long Island City -- and the one in LIC was easily the best.

Arepas Cafe is located on 36th Avenue at 33rd Street. It's very small, only has about three or four tables, and it's laid out more like a deli than a restaurant. However, the menu has lots of options and the average cost of an arepa is about $6. And they are so good!

Served in little corn pockets with melted cheese, you can get arepas with a variety of shredded chicken, streak, and pork, some of them made with vegetables as well. It takes a while for your order to arrive because they make them fresh, but the ingredients are of such high quality and they are cooked so perfectly, that it's worth the wait. I could have stuffed myself silly with them and almost did. My mouth is drooling right now just remembering how good they were.

Getting to Arepas Cafe is really easy -- just take the N/W to 36th Avenue and walk straight down it to 33rd street, just a couple of blocks away. The place is rather inconspicuous and no frills but, when you bite into one of these juicy, luscious arepas, you'll agree that it's as good if not better than anything you'll get at a fancy place.

Anthony Trollope @ Duane-Reade



In NYC, you see everything, and I mean everything. These things can be good, bad, naughty, nice, legal, illegal, whatever. And sometimes these things are just plain imaginative.

To whit: the new Duane Reade pharmacy in Manhattan on Grand Street and Broadway. Nothing special about that. But when you look through the huge glass windows, you see the following quote emblazoned on the wall, making all shoppers and passersby take notice:

"No other American city is so intensely American as New York. -- Anthony Trollope"

Naturally, I agree. But what amazes me is that in a Duane Reade of all the unspectacular places, you can actually find a quote by a nineteenth century English novelist thrown into your face. I don't know whose idea this was but it was brilliant and very, very classy. And it has an only in New York kinda feeling. It's cheezy but I like it all the same.

If you want to find out more about Anthony Trollope, you should visit the Trollope society website. His most famous novels are The Way We Live Now, the Palliser series, and The Small House at Allington. Many of these have been made into BBC miniseries and, interestingly enough, one of Trollope's biggest fans is failed Supreme Court nominee and archconservative intellect Robert Bork.

But since I think he lives in DC, I doubt he shops at Duane Reade.