Sunday, December 27, 2009

'Tis the Season

You may have noticed that I haven't blogged much recently and the reason is simple: I've been really, really, really busy. Blogging has taken a back seat lately. The next few days promise to be busy ones too and then the wife and I will be headed off to a sunny place for New Year's.

So this will be the last blog post for 2009.

(I'll give you a moment to dab your eyes and clear your throats.)

This has been a good year at Mr NYC, both online and off. And it's so hard to believe that March 2010, only a few short months away, will mark the third anniversary of this blog. The time it is a'flyin'. And next year promises to be an interesting only. So I wish you all a happy new year and I will see you then.

Please keep an eye on NYC while I'm gone.

Jean Shepherd: A Christmas Story WOR Radio 1974 1/5

This is a little late but, since we're still celebrating the Christmas season, I think it's okay.

If you grew up like I did loving the great movie A Christmas Story then you might know that it originated as a series of stories by New York radio personality Jean Shepherd (who narrates the movie). The stories were published in a book "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" and, on Christmas Eve 1974, Shepherd read some of these stories live on WOR radio -- nearly a full decade before the movie. Here is the first of these stories, about the Red Rider bebe fun, and it's a hoot.

Merry (belated) Christmas!

Unhappy New Yorkers?

There recently was a survey in the journal Science that reports New York State as the most "unhappy" state in the union. It actually ranks 51st because this survey included the District of Columbia (which clocked in as the 37th most unhappy place in our country, right behind Washington State and right before Missouri). Stuck at the very bottom, only Michigan and Connecticut ranked close to New York's misery.

I HEART NY -- not, I guess.

However, this survey does not say anything about NYC. On the one hand I can totally understand why New York State might be the biggest sad sack state. After all, the upstate economy is miserable with high unemployment, it freezes most of the year up there, and the state government is more corrupt than Louisiana in the 1930s and only slight less comical than a Monty Python sketch.

But the State of New York is not the state of NYC. Our city has certainly been hit very hard by the economic crunch but we have a dynamic service economy where new jobs are always being created. Plus Wall Street is doing much better these days so the tax revenues should be a little bit better in 2010. Crime continues to go down, down, down. And even though the city remain expensive, home prices have stabilized a bit.

So I hope the city is a little happier than the rest of the state. And actually New York City is better off in the long run than supposedly "happy" states like Florida and Arizona. Those states exist purely on housing and government support. If people and money keep coming in, they do great. If not, they die. This year the New Yorker dubbed Florida America's Ponzi State.

Our only Ponzi scheme here is (was) Madoff. Not the entire economy.

Now no one should ever live in NYC for that thing called "quality of life." People live here for other reasons -- like the reason this whole blog exists. But I think this survey shows something that's perennial about New York: in tough times, New York gets hit REALLY hard but in good times we prosper more than anywhere else. Right now we're obviously going through very tough times. But one day soon ... New York will be the happiest place in the world -- again.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Jazz Loft Project

One of my biggest hopes is that someone someday invents a time machine so that I can go back to see first hand what New York City was like in the years, decades, centuries before I was born. High on my list of temporal destinations would be the 1950s, a time when New York City was a living dream, when Frank Sinatra was literally singing its praises, when its government was corrupt, its apartments were cheap, its nightclubs were swinging, its public schools amazing, when this town was the center of the world at a time America was taking its place as the great world superpower after World War II. Basically, when New York was at its most New Yorkish -- before the dark days of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

In this mix of 1950s New York City was the Jazz Loft. This was literally a loft, an apartment located on West 28th street in the Flower District, where jazz greats and wannabes came and jammed into the wee hours of the night. A man named W. Eugene Smith took a vast number of photographs and made numerous recordings of the jam sessions, enshrining the incredible music and personalities of this particular time and place.

WNYC and NPR got access to this amazing archive and have turned it into a radio series called The Jazz Loft Project. Broadcasting the original recordings and interviewing many of the participants, this series is a wonderfully nostalgic look at a slice of New York Americana, and of time that was both great and not so great but something that we are all the richer for remembering.

Blizzard Conditions in Times Square, New York City

New York City is always beautiful, rain or shine -- or snow.

We've had a number of blizzards in the last few years and this weekend we had a big one. The city woke up this morning to a beautiful white blanket covering their streets, truly making this a winter wonderland.

Feeling brave, my wife and I went out last night during the height of the blizzard and had fun kicking up the fresh white powder and making snow angels. This morning, I popped out and saw people operating shovels and snow blowers full blast.

The streets are gradually clearing and the city seems to have done a good job keeping things moving. Soon it will melt away, becoming but a memory, doubtless to be replaced by another snow storm sometime later this season. But this particular snow storm has been so beautiful that I think myself and others will remember the blizzard of December '09 has a happy memory.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy 110th Birthday Mr. Bogart

He was one of the greatest actors who ever lived and uttered some of the cinema's most classic lines: "Here's looking at you kid." "It's the stuff ... dreams ... are made of." And so many more.

Humphrey Bogart made great movie after great movie in the 1940s and 1950s: Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo, To Have and Not, The African Queen. And many more.

He was married four times, drank like a fish, smoked himself to death at age 57 -- and yet he burnished an enduring image in the America psyche. He epitomized cool before we even know what the concept meant.

Humphrey Bogart was also a native New Yorker and, on December 25, Christmas Day, it will be his 110th birthday. He also grew up only about ten blocks from where I did so (he and George Carlin both grew up in my neighborhood so I'm kinda like them. Right? Right?)

When it comes to Bogey greatest movie, there are too many classic lines to remember but one in particular is relevant to this blog: "I was born in New York City ... There are certain sections of New York, Major, that I would advise not even you to invade."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hard Times

Remember a few months ago the MTA averted doomsday when the state bailed it out? Well, it turns out it wasn't enough. Revenues have come in well below expectations and now doomsday is back. There will be nasty service cuts in 2010 and there's basically nothing that can be done now to avoid it.

But it's not just straphangers who are having it rough. As I accurately predicted right after his narrow re-election, things aren't going so smoothly for Mayor Bloomberg. His proposal to turn the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a shopping mall was overwhelmingly defeated by the City Hall. He was threatening to sue the Manhattan DA over money in its accounts it says needs to go into the city's coffers -- and then had to retreat. And there have been other setbacks for the man who has it all.

So it looks like 2009 is going to end as one of the roughtest years for NYC in recent history -- rich and poor alike. Let's wish all of us a better 2010.

Review: "The Royal Family"

Although it's just closed, I thought I was would post a short review of the Manhattan Theater Club's delightful recent production of "The Royal Family." I saw it late last week anda it was a great deal of fun.

Set in the 1920s, it centers on a famous acting family called the Cavendishes who are not-too-loosely-based on the Barrymore clan (John, Ethel, Lionel, Diana -- and Drew) who were famous for their drinking, carousing, and brilliant acting. There really isn't one plot but several concentrating on the matriarch of the family (played by the amazing Rosemary Harris) whose daughter has become a great actress (the hilarious Jan Maxwell) and whose granddaughter is struggling between wanting to be an actress and having a normal life. Into the mix are their creepy friends (humanized by the funny John Glover and Ana Gasteyer) and their overly loyal lawyer played by the wonderful Tony Roberts. In addition, an insane (literally) son hides out with the family, having escaped Hollywood after having an affair with his director's girlfriend and then punching him out. Hilarity ensues but also does a certain pathos -- the things people sacrifice for art, how love and ambition collide, how one can never escape one's family no matter how hard one tries.

You might call "The Royal Family" classic American theater at its finest. The play was originally produced in 1928 and was written by the legendary George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Kaufman wrote many plays and would go on, in 1936, to co-write (and win a Pulitzer Prize for) "You Can't Take It With You" with Moss Hart. Ferber is most famous for writing novels including Giant. In this production the performances were first-rate the set -- the living room of a duplex apartment in the East 50's -- was absolutely stunning. Although it has now closed, I greatly enjoyed "The Royal Family" and am glad I was able to see this rarely seen classic.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Shake Shack

For reasons beyond my control, I hadn't been able to get to Danny Meyer's Shake Shack. This hoity-toity version of fast food where you can get a burger, fries, hot dogs, shakes (obviously) -- along with a glass of perseco or 2003 Sonoma Valley Chardonnay if you'd like -- has become very popular since its first location opened in Madison Square Park in 2004. Since then it has expanded to the Upper West Side and the new Citi Field. I believe that more locations are planned.

Shake Shack isn't just a yuppie McDonald's or Burger King -- it's more like a pretentious New York version of In'n'Out Burger. Because of the weather and my location, I wasn't able to go to the original Shake Shack but I went to the one on the Upper West Side. Also, because it was so cold, I wasn't able to have an actual shake -- I will have to return sometime soon and have one and will report on it ASAP.

Danny Meyer doesn't have the greatest track record with me. I found the BBQ at Blue Smoke mediocre and the Alsatian cuisine at The Modern less than stunning. But I'll admit that Shake Shack is popular for a reason. The food is really good. The burger was tasty and filling, and the fries -- WOW! These are the best fries in town, fluffy and delicious, and you get the feeling that someone had just peeled, cut-up, and thrown them in the fryer right before serving them up.

Though the Shake Shack I went to was crowded, they did a great job of crowd control and getting people their food quickly. The lines are clearly roped off. They quickly ask the next "guest" to come up to the cash register. They ask for your name to put on the receipt. And they give you a little device to hold while you wait for your food and, when it lights up (or starts "shakin') then your food is ready (it invites you to come up to the "shack").

I do have a couple of complaints. First, if you want lettuce and tomato on your burger you must remember to order it. The burgers don't automatically come with them and they don't ask you if you want it -- you gotta remember to order it. Second, as you might have guessed, the prices. Okay, so if you want cheap fast food then go to Mickey D's but still ... it cost my $9 for a simple cheeseburger, fries, and a regular drink that was literally a cup of soda. Seemed a little over the top to me.

Still, if you're a burger fan like me, than I recommend checking out Shake Shack. It's very good and shows that this town knows how to make a great burger.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Powers That Be

Politics in New York City is tough -- and also tough to understand. It doesn't fall along neatly predictable liberal Democrat vs. conservative Republican lines. There are lots of conservative Democrats (see those scumbags who voted against marriage equality last week) and a few semi-liberal Republicans (some of the biggest opponents of over development are the few Republicans on the city council). So forget everything you hear about Red vs. Blue when it comes to city politics -- it's more a goulash of turf battles and personal jockeying where party and ideological labels are irrelevant.

But if you want to get a better idea of what drives politics in New York, forget about the Democratic and Republican parties and instead pay attention to the little known but very important third parties that influence politics here. The Working Families and Independence Parties are basically extra ballot lines for the major party candidates and most voters could care less about them. However, once you understand who funds these parties and what their respective agendas are, you know everything you'll need to know about the candidates that accept their ballot lines.

When it comes these parties, as it always does in this town, it's all about real estate.

The Working Families Party is a pro-labor/anti-landlord organization funded mostly by unions. They have an agenda of higher taxes on the rich, lower taxes on the poor, strong rent regulations, and a living wage.

The Independence Party is a pro-business/anti-tenant organization funded by landlords and big businesses that want lower taxes on the rich, higher taxes on the poor, no rent regulations, and a no minimum wage.

City Hall News and The New York Observer both have long (and I mean long) articles about these parties and how they are both rising in prominence and power in this city. They've been around for a while but this year they both scored some impressive victories. While a number of city council candidates and the Public Advocate and Comptroller candidates on the WFP ballot won, Mayor Bloomberg won (again) on the Independence ballot line and the city council added two Republicans, one of whom had the I's endorsement. When a third party ballot helps you win, obviously you're going to help those who put you in power. You dance with them that brung ya.

So you should read these articles to see just who is behind these parties, what they are up to, and what their agendas portend for NYC's future. Because whichever one gains the upper hand in the years to come could greatly affect how New Yorkers live in this town in the future. And that could be great for some but devastating for others.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Bloomberg Vetoes Grace Period for Parkers

Pacino in the Park

Great news! Hear ye! Hear ye!

Next summer the one and only Al Pacino, one of the greatest actors to have ever breathed air, will be performing FOR FREE in next summer's Shakespeare in Central Park in The Merchant of Venice.

Very exciting. Being a huge movie star and all, Pacino's stage performances are rare but the Bronx native started his career in New York theater so he's really a theater actor at heart. I believe he's done Shakespeare in the park before, like twenty years ago, so he's not unfamiliar with this terrain. And I'm sure all theater fans are happy he's returning.

It's hard to believe that it's been almost FORTY YEARS since The Godfather. Pacino's career has had its ups (The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon, ...And Justice for All, Dick Tracy, Angels in America) and downs (Revolution, The Godfather Part III, The Recruit) but he always gives a great performance.

The Merchant of Venice runs from June 9 to August 1, 2010. Start planning to camp out for tickets now, the demand is going to be insatiable. This is an offer that can't be refused.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

District NYC

The physical, political, and societal composition of New York City is complex. Its geography encompasses over forty islands and part of mainland America. It contains five boroughs that are spread over five counties in New York State. And imposed upon this huge mass are over 300 neighborhoods, from Far Rockaway to Chelsea, from Bayside to Red Hook, from Riverdale to New Dorp, it's quite a jumble.

But wait -- there's more! If you've familiar with this city, specifically Manhattan, you've probably heard of various "districts", mostly areas centered around certain kinds of businesses. You probably have a rough idea of where they are but didn't want to admit you didn't know exactly what blocks they lay on. These districts were hotbeds of economic activity back in the days when NYC was more of a manufacturing town. Today, some of these districts endure while others exist mostly in name only. So here is my short little guide to these districts and where to find them.

The Diamond District: West 47th street, between 5th and 6th avenues. This is still as bustling and busy an area as it was fifty years ago.

The Silk-Stocking District: Better known as the Upper East Side, stretches from 59th to 110th streets, east of Central Park. While it used to be home to the richest zip codes in the world, neighborhoods like Tribeca and Soho have surpassed it in wealth -- although it still retains Old New York charm.

The Meatpacking District: Runs from West 14th street to Gansevoort Street. Today it's better known for being the place where lots of bars and nighclubs are in residence but there still are one or two meat packers still plying their trade.

The Flower District: West 28th street between 6th and 7th avenues. It used to be much bigger and has been basically reduced to one little block. But if you go there during the day, you will be struck by one of the most unlikely and beautiful sights in the city -- a greenhouse in the street.

The Financial District: Yes, it's still there. Goes from City Hall Park to Battery Park. You know what goes on there.

I'm sure there are some other districts that I'm forgetting but these are the most famous ones. If you know of any other districts within this city, please let me know!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

NYS Senator Diane Savino speaks on the Marriage Equality bill

This is an amazing speech. State Senator Diane Savino, who represents parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn, gave a funny, heartwarming speech about why she supports marriage equality. It's not angry, it's not defensive, it's not mean -- it's a simple laying out of why grown men and women who love each other should share the same civil rights as everyone else.

She also makes some great points here that I've also made in support of "gay marriage" (I hate the term "gay marriage" actually -- it's really civil rights). She says that people are absolutely right to be concerned about the state of marriage in this country but that it's not gay people who are a threat to it. It's we heterosexual people who have turned marriage into a laughingstock and are doing our best to destory it.

Our divorce rate is egregiously high. So are our levels of spousal abuse. We have a "wedding industrial complex" that hijacks the meaning of marriage, making it more about that "one special day" rather than the planning of a life together. On TV, there are these repulsive reality shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette where pathetic men and women who no one wants to marry make fools of themselves in order to "snag" a spouse. And these are the people who have the right to marry!

As Senator Savino says here, if we looked at the quality of the most couples applying for marriage licenses, 75% of them would be turned down.

How are gay people a threat to this? How does letting them marry "redefine" or "destroy" marriage? I just got married this year, and I don't think a couple of gay people getting married threatens my marriage or redefines or in any way imperils the sanctity of this institution I entered into.

Do you know who is a threat to the institution of marriage? David Letterman, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, and Tiger Woods. We even have websites that cater to men and women who want to cheat on their spouses!

But back to Diane. Her speech was truly a star turn. She has my vote for anything she may ever run for. I'd rather vote for her for president than, oh say, a certain former governor of Alaska. And there are lots of people encouraging her to run for higher office and I sure hope she does.

Go Diane!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

What Meets the Eyes

New York is, amongst it's many wonders, a feast for the eyes. Whether it's our amazing skyline or our beautiful parks, whether it's our impressive bridges or interesting streets, NYC is never boring to gaze at (scary, sometimes, weird, often, but never boring).

But what about the things we're not supposed to see -- yet do anyway?

Like graffiti sprayed on the metal gates of stores: graffiti is illegal in this town, it's the defiling of property and community standards. When we see graffiti, we have, in essence, seen evidence of a crime.

And what about voyeurs? In this crowded city, with buildings stacked close to one another, people can look out their windows and see other people in their apartments, their inner sanctums, their designated zones of privacy and respite. When people look into other people's homes in this city, they're being nosy neighbors. And when people stare into other people's homes with binoculars hoping to see people naked, showering, having sex, naked and showering and having sex, or perhaps doing something else either sexual or nasty, then they become naughty neighbors -- otherwise known as voyeurs or Peeping Toms.

Considering what a crazy crowded city we live in, it's amazing the whole place isn't sprayed with graffiti and that anyone anywhere has any privacy.

Two articles today look at these dilemmas of that which we see in NYC but should not.

First, an article in the Times about new city council rule forbidding the use of metal gates on stores precisely because they are graffiti magnets. The city council has ruled that from now on stores must have open weave gates, gates with spaces in them that will hopefully deter graffiti artists and other such miscreants.

Second, a column by a young woman recently arrived in our fair city. She describes what it was like stepping out of the shower one day only to see her neighbor (someone Archie Bunker might call a "prevert") ogling her lithe young dripping person and about how she totally freaked.

Both stories got me thinking: we see so much stuff in this city everyday, our eyes are bombarded with so much visual data each millisecond, what-oh-what are we to make of those very few things we shouldn't see but do anyway? Granted there's a HUGE difference between looking at (even admiring creative) graffiti and intentionally staring at a naked neighbor. Still, they got me wondering: how much of what we see every day in NYC is meant for our eyes and how much of it is accidental or perhaps unintended? Who knows? It's just another one of the endlessly interesting things about living in NYC.

But then again, as a character in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors said "The eyes of God are on us always." So don't try to hide!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Disgraceful Day in New York

Today the New York State Senate continued to show why it is the most disgraceful, loathsome legislative body in the world. Today 38 state senators, these so-called representatives of the people, voted to deny all men and women equal rights under the law. Today they voted against same-sex marriage, further creating a gay apartheid not only in this state but in the country.

It's an outrage. The most despicable legislative act since the city council extended term limits last year. These 38 horrible people voted to discriminate against men and women and continue their existence as second class citizens. Evil.

There are NO good arguments against gay marriage. The only arguments I've heard are ones based in bigotry, hatred, and religious intolerance. When I hear arguments like
“the world belongs to the Almighty, and they have to reckon with his rules and his law” from some nut-job Rabbi, I can't take these prick seriously. And these same people wail that they're not bigots, it's mean to call them bigots!

My answer: YES, you are bigots. Anyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot and not a good person. End of story.

Just heard the columnist Bob Hebert say on TV that it's amazing that this same state senate that is so incompetent that it can get a budget passed had no problem at all when it came to voting against civil rights for all people. It reminds me of the Chris Rock joke that the dumbest people in the world become geniuses when it comes to getting high.

But this is not the end. You can't repress people forever. I remain optimistic that one day the tide will turn and men and women will be allowed to marry the ones they love. Until then I will keep the candle of hope burning.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The One that Gotti Away

Fourth Hung Jury in Gotti Case

John Gotti, Jr. eludes justice once again. Amazing.

Either the government has no case, or is totally incompetent when it comes to prosecuting this case, or the mob is successfully tampering with all these juries, or the jurors are just so freaked out about what might happen to them if they convict the son-of-a-bitch that they keep declaring mistrials, that I don't think he'll ever be found guilty. I can't imagine that the government will go after him again but maybe they will. Can't let Junior think he can evade the law forever. Still, this is becoming the longest-running freak show in NYC and trying him time and again is becoming something of a joke. Hopefully he'll face justice one way or another. Just don't know how long that will be.