Thursday, November 16, 2017

"... This has been one of them."

"There are eight million stories in the naked city ..."

If you ever wondered where that famous line comes from, it's from the 1948 movie The Naked City. It's about a murder and the detectives who solve it, a pretty simple story. 

It's a fascinating movie. As the narrator of the film indicates, it was shot in the streets and inside the buildings of NYC. If you want to get a sense of what day-to-day, on-the-street life was like  in the city back in 1948, this movie is a perfect guide. Not only is it a great NYC film but it's also really ahead of it's time: the story is told in a neo-realist, almost documentary style that was revolutionary at the time, and, if you ever wondered how procedurals like Law and Order and it's countless imitators came to be, this movie is the Rosetta Stone. 

Of course, today there are now 8.5 million stories in this town so it's a tad outdated. And talking about NYC stories, here's one more

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Their Stories

If you've seen (probably more likely heard the soundtrack to) the musical Hamilton, then you know the song that concludes it: "Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Stories."

We all live, we'll all die, and, if we're lucky, our life stories will be told -- by our children, our families, our friends, anyone who thinks our life story is worth passing on to future generations. No, we won't all have great musicals (like Hamilton) or movies (like Goodfellas) made about us that enshrine us in cultural legend -- but, if we're lucky, someone who thinks we're worthy of being remembered will talk about us. I think about my great-grandmother, dirt-poor immigrant from Ireland who raised eight kids and managed to give them good enough lives that one of them graduated from college and now her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have achieved the American dream. Her story was worth learning for me and, in my opinion, she'll live forever (even though she died in 1959).

There are 8.5 million people in NYC and all them have great stories. We can't know all of them but these two articles, one about an artist, another about a young man killed in the recent Halloween terrorist attack, tell the stories of interesting lives. We should remember them because, in many ways, they were just like us. Their stories were told and, more importantly, will hopefully be remembered.   

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Big Town, Big Time

While I'm not the biggest fan of tabloids in general, the Daily News does have one big virtue: it is truly NYC-focused. More than that, it still practices hyper-local, on-the-ground, beat reporting, covering on what's happening on the streets as much as the halls of power. 

It understands that events, the daily grind (or the news) shapes our city and our lives.

That's why it's really cool that the Daily News has a continuing feature called Big Town, Big Time: An Amazing History of NYC. It is a comprehensive index of some of the most famous and important events in the history of NYC. It's a collection of pivots points and it goes all the way back to the year 1600 to today.

Some of what's covered: how Brooklyn went from its own city to one of the five boroughs, the ticker tape parade for Charles Lindbergh, the Hoovervilles of Central Park -- and the death of former New York Governor and US Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller in 1979. 

His death was a scandal. The official report is that he had a heart-attack while working quietly on his memoirs. The real reason? He was a dirty-old man who was shagging his very young secretary and, uh ... got overwhelmed. The story of how this titanic figure -- one of the richest men in the world, scion of a legendary family, four-term governor, vice-president, you name it -- died while "doin' the nasty" is just too perfect. It also reveals how, once upon a time, the rich and powerful could keep their scandals, it not out of the press, then at least toned down. 

Today? Not so much.  

The times are always changing. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Liz Smith RIP

Back when the world felt like a classier place (it wasn't really, but never mind) part of the reason was because of people like Liz Smith. She was the doyenne, the grand master of NYC gossip. Her brand of gossip wasn't scandalous rumor mongering, attacking or embarrassing people -- it was good old-fashioned "dish". She had the "inside scoop" or "the goods" on what was going on in this town, and she told everybody it first in her column. Before the Internet, before social media, columnists like Liz Smith were real sources of, as you might say, all the rest of the news that was fit to print.

Liz Smith came to NYC from Texas, a young woman who got on a bus with little more than a dream to her name. She could have made it anywhere but she made it here, the classic-up-from-your-bootstraps American dream, and she was the ears and eyes for NYC society for decades and decades. She knew everyone, everyone knew her, she was the pulse of what was going on. Like many a New Yorker, she was itinerant, working for the Daily News, Newsday, and the New York Post, and appearing on TV all the time. She was the brassy dame who could hold her own with any man -- and often got the better of them. 

I loved Liz Smith, what she represented, and what she meant to this town. I wrote about her several times on this blog and you can find those posts hereLiz Smith died yesterday at the age of 94. She was too young in my opinion. Doubtless she was dishing until the end. This city will be lesser place without her and her particular voice. 

Liz Smith loved NYC and NYC loved her.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mr NYC Just Keeps on Truckin'

It's been a crazy week in NYC and elsewhere. Lots of events -- some happy (like the elections), some sad (more great artists that I admire turning out to be dirty pervs). Lots to look forward to, other things to ... well, not fear exactly but not look forward to. 

Still, we go on. Like K-Billy of Super Sounds of the 70s ... we just keep on truckin'.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Art of the Deal ... Sorta

Once upon a time, roughly 340 years ago, a business and a government got together to do a deal. The English East India Company controlled an island off the coast of Indonesia called Banda or Run -- and the Dutch government wanted it. 


Because it had nutmeg, lots and lots of nutmeg. Nutmeg, and other yummy spices, could only be found here, and they were tres valuable. So much so that the Dutch sent ships to the other side of the world to try to get control of this and other "spice islands", and the British returned the favor by sending ships to take away the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in North America.

Deadlock. Stalemate. So they played let's make a deal.

In 1677, the British gave the Dutch control of Banda (Run) island and the Dutch gave the British control of New Amsterdam, an island otherwise known as Manhattan. 

Yeah ... that happened.

These days, of course, Banda is no longer controlled by the Dutch and Manhattan is no longer controlled by the British. Still, it's amazing to think that what is now the financial and cultural capital of the world was considered less valuable than a small (albeit gorgeous) Polynesian island. Once upon a time, such a world existed. Who thought it would ever change?  

It did, as it always does. But to think, if not for nutmeg -- nutmeg! of all the friggin' things! -- if not for that particular seasoning you can find on your spice rack, Manhattan would probably have remained under Dutch control and the course of American history would have been very different. It's crazy to think about. But of such trivial things are the pivots points of history made.

Oh, that reminds me, if you've ever heard the great song "Instanbul" but They Might Be Giants,  you know the lyric:

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam

Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way

Well, now we know why they changed it: nutmeg.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Election 2017 Wrap-Up

If you want a comprehensive list of last night's NYC election results, the Daily News has a handy resource here.

The up-shot: almost all incumbents were re-elected (and the vast majority are Democrats) at all levels of government -- the one exception is a City Council race out in Queens that's probably going to go into a recount.


Well, it was a good night for the status quo. Status quo is usually a pejorative but, if the status quo is low crime and improving schools, it's hard to argue that it's bad. Of course, the status quo also includes massive income inequality and the challenge of affordability, and that needs to change.

Mayor De Blasio promises it will, as he stated in his victory speech. He also wants to tax millionaires to improve transportation but that probably won't happen. We shall see.

Here's the real loser of this election: the NYC tabloids. Once upon a time tabloids like the Post and the Daily News were powerful enough to elect and defeat mayors. In 1977, the Post endorsed Ed Koch and he credited it with his election; in 1993, the constant negative coverage of David Dinkins certainly contributed to his defeat. Newspapers used to be so ubiquitous, their power so absolute, they made politicians quake and could sway elections.

No more. 

It's a new world. The decline of newspapers and tabloids and the rise of the Internet and social media have voided their power. We can go above and around them. Every single day for the last four years the NYC tabloids (mainly the Post, the News, and the Observer) have blasted Mayor De Blasio with relentless negative coverage. They've gone after everything, calling him a communist, an idiot, corrupt; criticizing his family, his punctuality, even his eating habits; smearing him with lies and half-truths and all sorts of nasty headlines, day after day. The tabloids did EVERYTHING they could to whip up an atmosphere of crises in this city and drag down the mayor's popularity, leading to his defeat. 

They tried. They tried hard. And they failed.

As the president would say, Bigly. 

The tabloids are now officially irrelevant. 

De Blasio won a landslide in spite of the tabloids and the negative coverage. The people are smart and they ignore the loudest voices in the room. There are otherwise to get the truth out. The nonsense the tabloids spewed about the city being in crises, about rampant corruption, about all sorts of mean nasty stuff, were at odds with the reality of a city that's thriving more than ever.

The truth will out or, in this case, win. Bigly. So what comes next? We have four years to find out.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Election Night Live Blog

9:00 PM - Okay, here we go! Polls are closed and now we await the results ...

9:11 PM - Right now De Blasio has a 40+ lead but with only 2% of precincts reporting.

9:26 PM - NY1 calls election for Mayor De Blasio, first Democratic to win a second term since Ed Koch in 1981.

9:30 PM - Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Tish James both re-elected. Expect their rivalry for 2021 to begin ... now ... 

9:36 PM - City Council incumbents all ahead in their races or already declared winners. 

9:41 PM - There will be one more very important election in NYC after tonight -- for City Council Speaker. Who will it be? We'll find out in January when the newly-elected Council takes office.

9:44 PM - Manhattan DA Cy Vance re-elected (he had no opponent).

9:57 PM - Nicole Malliotakis, GOP candidate for mayor, is conceding. She talks about conitnuing to "fight" for what she believes in. Problem is, she doesn't appear to believe in anything. Unless I'm mistaken, she didn't congratulate De Blasio in her speech which is totally classless.

10:09 PM - Mayor De Blasio is being introduced by his wife at victory celebration.

10:16 PM - De Blasio giving his victory speech, saying that the people who predicted doom when he was elected four years ago were wrong.

10:28 PM - Well, that's it. The status quo rules. And in this case, that's a good thing. 

The 59th Street Bridge

Taking a pause from the political happenings of today, I thought it would be nice to simply appreciate the beauty of NYC -- specifically, the romantic allure that is the 59th Street Bridge (otherwise known as the Queensborough Bridge or the Ed Koch Queensborough Bridge. Whatevs). 

F. Scott Fitzgerald memorialized it in The Great Gatsby, Woody Allen did so again in Manhattan, and Simon & Garfunkel wrote one of their greatest songs about it. 'Enuff said. 

NYC Past/Future in Real Time

Four years ago I did a live Election Night Live Blog and followed it up with a Memo to the Mayor-Elect. If you want to revisit the moment De Blasio was elected mayor and the various expectations/beliefs/hopes/fears it resulted in, these are interesting trips down memory lane.

But we move forward. Tonight I plan/hope to do another Election Night Live Blog so "tune in"!