Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What's Past is Present

A couple of recent WNYC segments are worth listening to if you're interested in drawing a line between NYC's past and present. They beg the questions:

What's changed? What's stayed the same?

And what might have been?

This segment is about a recently rediscovered list called "101 Things to Love About New York City." Every year New York magazine and other publications put out similar lists but this particular one is from 1976. This was the year after the financial crises had rocked the city and when Son of Sam and Travis Bickle were terrorizing the city. Still, people found reasons to love what Annie Hall would call the "dying city" -- and some of these reasons still ring true today. Namely: really good street musicians, hating ConEd, losing yourself in a crowd, and, like 1976 itself, "being nostalgic about things in New York that were never so great." A few things are definitely dated, like "East Siders on the West Side" (there is no longer a rich/middle class divide between the East Side and the West Side -- both are stinking rich) and "flipping the change tray in the plastic taxicab divider" (today most people pay for cabs with credit cards). But something things we love about NYC are perennial.

So what might have been? What happened in the past that affected our present? 

Specifically, NYC lost out to Northern California when it came to the tech industry. Silicon Valley is much bigger and more powerful than Silicon Alley.

This fascinating segment featuring sociologist Richard Florida gives a comprehensive history about why the tech sector moved out West. Basically, it came down to two things: space, and Stanford University. First, Stanford was the incubator for the tech industry, and many of the original brilliant minds in tech came from there. Second, many of these companies wanted to build campuses and there just wasn't enough room in NYC. This is changing, of course, with Google and other big tech firms opening offices here. Still, this city is a generation behind California when it comes to tech and we're still struggling to catch up. But what if NYC had been the leader in tech to begin with? What might have been? We'll never know. A lesson we can't always been #1 in everything.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Mr NYC: The Interviews

No one would mistake Mr NYC for "60 Minutes", and I'm no Babwa Wawa -- but in the seven-plus years of this blog's existence I've interviewed a wide variety of people.

These include fellow bloggers, comedians, sex writers, book writers, public radio hosts, even Richard Bey -- yes that Richard Bey -- himself. One of my first interviews was with Kenny Kramer, inspiration for the iconic TV character, and a New York legend.

Here's a look back at several of the interviews over the years. I think they still hold up and hopefully you'll enjoy reading them: 

Jesse Thorn

Zack Hample 2
Simone Grant
Imogene Lee
Urban Infidel
Suzannah B. Troy
Arianne Cohen

Richard Bey
Stefan Lawrence

Cheryl Harris Sharman

The Dateable Dork

Kurt Andersen
Russ Smith
Michael Musto
Rachel Kramer Bussel
Kenny Kramer
Stephanie Sellars
Zack Hample

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"The Magic Garden"

Back when local TV still did children's shows, "The Magic Garden" was one of the most popular. Broadcast weekday afternoons on WPIX Channel 11 in NYC, it ran from 1972-1984.

It starred two cute ladies named Carole and Paula who sported totally awesome hairdos (having long ironed hair was very popular with women back then) and who wore bell bottoms and funky shirts. The set was a psychedelic, very trippy garden where Carole and Paula would sit on toadstools, alternatively singing songs and talking with dandelions and trees. While it was a show for kids, I would imagine that people smoking or ingesting various substances would have enjoyed this show too.

This is a classic bit of NYC, a piece of our city's lost past. Maybe things weren't so much better or innocent back then, but they sure were colorful -- and fun.

Classic Mr NYC

A few years ago, I blogged a tribute to George Plimpton, the late writer/magazine founder/actor/pitchman/participatory journalist/society maven and all around great New Yorker. 

George Plimpton was a true iconoclast, a real original. A decade since his death, he is still remembered as the quintessential "professional amateur."

Recently, the PBS series "American Masters" did a great episode about his life and work. If you can't find it on the tube, you can watch it here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

We lost Gilda Radner 25 years ago today ...

... and the world's been a little less funny since then.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Wanna Guest Blog?

Are you a blogger?

Do you like to write about New York City -- or anything else?

If so, you should guest-blog!

If you have a great idea for a blog post, I'd love to hear about or post it. Obviously you will get any and all credit for the post plus any and all links that you wish to include with it. 

If so, please email me at
You can write about anything: NYC, relationships, politics, business, personal hygiene, TV, movies, the Internet -- let your imagination run wild!

Hope to hear from all of you!

11 Madison Park

Recently the beloved wife and I hired a babysitter, got dressed to the nines, and headed out to 11 Madison Park. I'm still not sure how to write about this dinner since it was less of a meal and more an experience of sensory overload. I've gone to movies and seen shows that were less entertaining than this. And certainly not as delicious.

Located right off of Madison Square Park, the restaurant is situated on the ground floor of the grand art deco Metropolitan Life Building. The dining room is a yawning arch of marble with huge tables spaced far apart. Honestly though, we didn't have a lot time to look around and get a vibe for the place since, from the moment we got there, the wait staff pulled us into easily the most unique dining experience we've ever had.

11 Madison Park is a tasting menu restaurant so you don't order a thing. There are only about 80 tables and the diners are seated at different intervals across the evening so each table gets an enormous amount of attention. The first thing the waiter asked us to do was to open a small envelope -- they even provide a letter opener -- and to select a flavor. Our choices were, if I recall correctly, strawberry, celery, raspberry and coffee (I chose strawberry, my lady selected celery). Then we got the extensive booze list and ordered a couple of cocktails. Shortly thereafter, the first of MANY courses came out.

I could write a lot about each dish but, in the interest of time, will simply list them and provide some commentary where I feel its helps. The menu consisted of:  

Cheddar - Savory Black and White Cookie with Apple: a wonderful little treat that loosens the taste buds and preps you for the food to come.

Oyster - Baked Potato Ice Cream and Caviar

Morel - Custard with Maine Sea Trout Roe

English Peas - Warmed with Meyer Lemon and Egg Yolk

Beef - Pastrami with Ramps, Rye, Mustard, and Strawberry: this was really fun. It was served in a basket and designed to be a high-end picnic. Think a very, very, very high-end deli sandwich. Also, the flavor that we had selected earlier was the flavor for a cola that was served with the sandwich. Very cool. It even came with an fake artisanal paper plate!

Foie Gras - Cured with Orange Chamomile, White Asparagus and Bitter Almond

Apple - Waldorf Salad with Celery, Rhubarb and Walnuts: they prepare this right at the table and the ingredients are very finely sliced.

Lobster - Poached with Beets, Ginger and Nasturtium: if I recall correctly, this was a little soup served underneath the Waldorf salad.

Asparagus - Braised with Potato and Black Truffle: this was actually cooked in a bladder and they showed it to us as it was being cooked. Mmmmm ...

Duck - Broth with Cured Duck and Watercress Roasted with Rhubarb, Shallots and Scallions: this was the highlight of the night. It was a freshly prepared duck (again, they wheeled it out to show us during its preparation) that was very carefully seasoned and amazingly tender.

Fresh Cheese - Pretzel, Parsley and Strawberries: a nice palette cleanser.

Whey - Sorbet with Caramelized Milk and Milk Foam

Almond - Baked Alaska with Rum, Caramel and Strawberry

Pretzel - Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt

Chocolate - Sweet Black and White Cookie with Mint

But wait - 'dere's more!

After the meal, we were given a bag containing two huge jars of fresh granola with dried fruit. This was a small present to take with us and, for the next week, I ate it for breakfast each morning (my wife took it to her office as a snack).

Then the most fun part: we were given a tour of the kitchen. It is a huge beautiful modern factory run with Swiss efficiency. Best of all, we were taken to a special place of honor, where they cut up some apple, used an old-time ice grinder, and created delicious natural frozen ices for us. Again, delicious. The wait staff was beyond polite, kind, and considerate. It's almost like they mad us part of the 11 Madison Park family. This is a place that truly views food and service as an art. At the end of the evening, we left the restaurant in a daze. It was an amazing, dare I say almost sensual, experience.

Besides the great food, wonderful service, and fun experience, 11 Madison Park isn't just another fancy restaurant: it's a New York-inspired restaurant through-and-through. Our waiter told us that 11 Madison Park is celebration of the city, and its food reflects this: the beef pastrami, the oysters, the Waldorf salad, the pretzel and the ices all have a literal and figurative NYC flavor.
This isn't a "brand" restaurant that can be franchised. This is a unique place, the food and experience found in only one place -- and one city.

11 Madison Park is the peak of excellence and a reminder of how eating great food in NYC can make for a memorable time. If you want a meal of a lifetime, you should definitely go there.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Should we ban the horse-carriages?‏

Should we ban horse-drawn carriages in NYC?

It's an issue that's been roiling the city for weeks. You would think that in these tough economic times that a "boutique" issue like this wouldn't be so important. But big money and a facile media has suddenly made it a big issue.

The reason is simple: Mayor De Blasio supports the ban. He wants to replace the horse-drawn carriages in and around Central Park with pseudo-vintage cars. That means tourists and romancing couples, instead of clopping around the park, would put-put instead.  Many animal rights groups, including PETA, have been pushing for the ban for years. Last year, during the Mayor's race, they raised and spent a lot of money bashing candidates who didn't support the ban and helped De Blasio get elected.

Meanwhile, since he took office, supporters of the carriages have been calling on De Blasio to halt his plans and keep the carriages going. The New York Daily News has been running editorials and petitions to stop the ban. Movie star Liam Neeson has been on a crusade to retain them. Many New Yorkers are wailing that this ban would be one more loss to the culture of our city.

It's a real battle. For the mayor, it's a real political pickle.

And, for once, I don't know what to think.

I have no idea if we should ban the carriages. I'm almost 40 years old and this issue has been debated ever since I was a kid. I remember seeing ads on buses with ugly pictures of dead horses, lying on the cold hard city street, leaking blood -- with a big picture of then-Mayor Ed Koch being called upon to ban the carriages. Personally, I've never really wanted to take a carriage ride. When I've walked past them on Central Park South, I've always thought it was a little cruel that these beautiful animals were being harnessed and kept there, being scared by the cars passing on the streets. Not to mention the smell - oy vey! Here you are, walking on one of the most beautiful stretches of the city, next to some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and you gotta smell horse doody. It's kinda gross.

And yet ... they're history. They're an intrinsic part of the city's cultural life. They're also a real money maker for the city, with the aforementioned tourists and amorous couples paying lots of dough for the privilege of living in the 19th century for a few minutes. And there's the jobs -- not just the carriages "drivers" or whatever they're called, but also the stable hands and hoof makers, etc. who support them. I'm sorry, but really, who wants to ride around Central Park in silly old vintage car? Horses have magic. Cars have none.

I've noticed that when the debate on any issue gets really inflamed -- like abortion, immigration, or horse draw carriages -- it's because both sides are right. So just because you take one side vs. the other

What do you think? Should we ban the carriages?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Memo from NYC

Today, everyone claims to be a nerd -- even some hot chicks. But if most people knew what being a nerd was really like, of what it entailed, they'd stop it immediately.

Nerds are not cool. If they were, they wouldn't be nerds.

To be a nerd is not a lifestyle choice. To be a nerd is a curse, a cruel sentence of rejection.

The old cliche of nerds as people who wear glasses and pocket protectors, who are interested in math and science, play video games, are big into science fiction fantasy and comic books, who do well in school and are masters of technology, who are "smart" -- that Weird Science 1980s version of nerds is as dead as Ronald Reagan.

Besides, that's not what being a nerd is about -- then or now.

To be a nerd is to be an outcast. And I don't mean a James Dean kind of outcast. I mean a real outcast. A loser. A reject. A leper. A nothing.

Nerds are people who know no one -- and who nobody knows. They have no friends. Their own families detest them. They are alone. Sad. Miserable. Boring. People hate them -- for no other reason than they exist. They are obnoxious, unlikeable, they posses no charm, they are social-sexual vacuums. They are ... ugh.

If you have a girlfriend, or boyfriend, or have any kind of social/sexual contact with other people, you are NOT a nerd.

If you are in band or are a member of a sports team or are accepted by any kind of group, you are NOT a nerd.

If you have money or wealth of any kind, you are NOT a nerd.

Nerds lead lives of total misery and quiet desperation. No one wants them. No one likes them. No one cares about them. They are nothing.

Most people aren't nerds. And, for that, they should be profoundly grateful.

Like everything in life, it all comes down to power. Nerds are people who have no power -- social, sexual, political, economic, etc. 

Nerds cannot conquer the world because that would mean they have power -- and they don't.

So for one who was born a nerd, who lived most of his life as a nerd, and who has struggled mightily to shed his nerddom, I beg ye all: stop claiming to be nerds!