Wednesday, December 12, 2018

"On the Town" Gets Its Due

The 1949 movie musical On the Town is one of the oldest, and greatest, NYC-centric classics. Starring Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Ann Miller and Vera Ellen, it's the story of three sailors on shore leave who only have 24-hours to explore the city and fall in love -- and, thanks to the magic of the movies, they do just that.

It's hard to believe but, until today, this movie was not part of the National Film Registry run by the Library of Congress (it's a designation given to movies deemed "cultural significant"). But now it takes its rightful place on this exclusive list.

On the Town certainly is a great NYC movie but it's also just a great movie musical -- period. Beautifully shot, amazing acting, dancing, and singing, and a fun storyline, and you have a fun movie that's timeless and fresh -- and it's almost 70 years old! If you haven't seen On the Town yet, and love movie musicals and NYC and movie musicals about NYC, go stream it or rent it or even buy it -- you'll love it! 

Oh, and Donald Trump's ex-lawyer was sentenced to jail today. More good news! (He won't be "on the town" much longer -- more like in the pokey.)

Monday, December 10, 2018

Subway Impeachment: New Yorker vs. New Yorker in DC Faceoff

This has to be unprecedented.

The President of the United States, Donnie Trump, is from NYC and is under threat of impeachment (if the latest batch of court filings mean anything) for directing his lawyer to coordinate illegal payments to former mistresses in order to buy their silence right before his election. This violates campaign finance laws and, by any right, should lead to his impeachment and removal.

And if that happens? If the POTUS is impeached?

The first step in the process falls to the House Judiciary Committee, who would have to vote to recommend impeachment to the whole House before they could vote to impeach the POTUS and send him to trial in the Senate. In 1974, this same committee recommended sending articles of impeachment to the Senate and, shortly thereafter, President Nixon resigned (when it became clear that the whole House would vote to impeach and the Senate would vote to convict/remove). If a similar amount of political pressure can be mustered, then a vote by this committee could lead to Trump's premature exit from the Oval Office (and I'm sure it wouldn't be the first thing he's done prematurely). 

The person who will chair the House Judiciary in 2019 and possibly to lead to Trump's premature evacuation from power will is another guy from NYC -- Congressman Jerrold Nadler from Manhattan. He's been in Congress for over 25 years and has enormous clout, respect, and, very soon, power. And Donald Trump's fate, one way or another, will fall into this hands next year.

As mentioned, this has to be unprecedented -- a New York President under threat of removal by New York Congressman. 

If it comes to this, it'll be the biggest "subway" event in American history, making any kind of "subway series" seem like nothing at all. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Mrs Maisel & Memories of NYC Past

Specifically, the show turns the streets of 21st century NYC into 1950s NYC -- and this big article shows how that particular magic happens, from renaming restaurants with new signs and removing street signs, etc.

The second season of "Mrs. Maisel" just dropped on Amazon and I'm itching to watch it and hope to soon (ever noticed how things like jobs, family, friends, the holidays, houses, etc. always have this way of preventing us from doing what we were put on this earth to do -- watch TV?). 

If you're still feeling nostalgic, you might also want to read this short conversation about the Upper West Side in the 1970s between two writers who grew up then and there and wrote novels about it.

Ah, memories ...

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Mr NYC in Texas

Twenty years ago a buddy and I took a road trip to Texas (followed by some other places). We drove south from college and, after a couple of days, arrived in this vast, fascinating state.

Texas is big. Real big. Like, crazy "wow" big. 

We drove forever, and forever (sometimes I think we're still driving through it). We drove through towns like San Antonio and Abilene, through small towns made up of nothing but trailer parks (I remember one called Sheffield), and through hundreds of miles of west Texas where there was literally nothing at all except roads -- no trees, no people, no houses, no stores, no civilization at all, nothing for miles and miles and miles and miles but flat land ... until you occasionally hit a much-needed gas station. 

Our destination was Big Bend National Park, and it was worth the drive. This is a massive and stunningly gorgeous place with mountains and canyons and stunning natural landscape after stunning natural landscape. We backpacked through the trails and came upon mountain views that went forever and simply stupefy you with their beauty. We did this for a couple of days, sleeping in a tent, until we took off for Houston en route to New Orleans.

Big Bend is not an easy place to get to -- in fact, it's the least visited national park in the country for precisely this reason -- but I urge you to go if you can, words cannot describe how life-changing it is to be there. It reminds you of how amazing the natural world is, how vast and overwhelming, and how us mere people are simply part of a greater design. You feel a great inner peace being in this gorgeous yet quite space. It's very special. (By the way, Big Bend is also the same place where Supreme Court Justice, and New York-native, Antonin Scalia died in 2016.)

We only spent a night in Houston and I don't remember much about it, we got there at night and left early the next day. We ate a Fudruckers and I had perhaps the biggest cheeseburger ever. However, I do recall we drove briefly around downtown and I saw a huge statue of a cello, a modern art exhibit, that seemed very Texas, very non-NYC.

So the saying is true: everything's bigger in Texas. A lot bigger. And, despite its politics, it's a place worth checking out. 

Oh, and if you want to see the definiate movie about Texas, watch Giant from 1956 starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, as well as James Dean in his last movie and a young Dennis Hopper in one of his first.

Bleecker Street ...

Past and Future

Monday, December 3, 2018

Nixon & George Bush: December 31, 1971

Former President George H.W. Bush died this weekend. He was the first president I remember seeing elected and taking office (I was too young to remember the Carter presidency or the early days of Reagan's). Bush was VP and President for most of my childhood, a constant presence, until he was suddenly defeated by Bill Clinton and vanished from public view for a long time. 

Now he's gone for good, and he had a long, incredible life -- a true American story (whatever you thought of him).

Bush lived in NYC in the very early 1970s when he was the UN Ambassador under President Nixon. (He only did the job for two years before being recalled to DC to head the Republican National Committee.) This phone call between the then-current and future presidents from New Year's Eve 1971 is fascinating (it was recorded on the very same taping system that would bring Nixon down 
a few years later but, at this moment, the Watergate break-in hadn't happened yet).

Nixon calls Bush at the ambassador's residence at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC (the same hotel where I spent my wedding night decades later) and wishes him a "happy new year." Bush is overwhelmed by Nixon's thoughtfulness to call. Nixon asks him how he likes "fighting that New York society crowd" and Bush says that he hates the "New York society crowd" and he doesn't like his family living in NYC but that he is "ensconced in royal splendor", a reference to life at the Waldorf.

I wonder if Bush was just saying that to play up to Nixon's well-known resentment of "New York society" i.e. rich liberal Jewish people -- I hope that's the case. Either way, it's fascinating to listen to this moment in history between two momentous historical figures.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Interview: Billy Procida of the The Manwhore Podcast

Sex! Love! Comedy! You'll find all that, and much more, on The Manwhore Podcast with Billy Procida!

More to the point, you'll find an intelligent yet sexy untangling of the complicated emotions, pitfalls, and opportunities of being a sexual creature in 21st century NYC and America. I've never heard anything quite like Manwhore: on the one hand, it's very titillating (i.e. lots of sex talk) but the podcast is also about the emotional and societal complications of sex and dating in a time of social media, #MeToo, and social/economic/political insanity. Billy and his guests obviously love to talk about sex but the show isn't really "pervy" -- it's more existential, asking "who are we as human beings and what does our sex lives tell us about ourselves in this crazy time?"

Billy is an NYC-based comedian and was kind enough to answer a few questions for Mr NYC about his comedy, his life, his podcast, and NYC.

Tell us a little bit about your background and career in comedy. Who are some of your comedy idols and influences? 

I grew up listening to George Carlin and Chris Rock. I stumbled up on Carlin simply by searching 'comedy' on Napster. Whatever files weren't broken became my comedy library. Being as prolific as he was, there were many albums I became acquainted with. With Rock, I thought he was hilarious in Dogma and then discovered his stand-up. I think I had Bigger and Blacker memorized when I was 13. Today, I find myself falling asleep listening to Doug Standhope—which probably explains all the nightmares.

What inspired the creation of the Manwhore podcast? What in your life and career made you decide to do this?

I had this very peculiar problem: women would sleep with me, but they wouldn't date me. So I wanted to find out why. Because I wanted relationships; I wanted love; but anytime I wanted to get more serious, it was always the woman who told me she wanted to keep it casual. This rarely ended things—I was still told to come over and do that thing that I do with my tongue. When it happened for the umpteenth time, I decided to start this podcast where I reconnect with former flames and find out what went wrong. 

Your podcast, while obviously being about sex, seems to also be focused on how sex and fun should be enjoyable without being exploitative or demeaning to anybody. Do you consider yourself and the podcast "woke" or just smart? 

I'm just a comedian with a fuck show. But a lot of people have described me with a variety of adjectives from woke to feminist to problematic. 

You and your guests have done some pretty wild things on your podcast. What's the craziest interview or thing your and guests did? Don't spare us the details!

I had a listener 'blow her way to Brooklyn.' A woman slid into my DMs on Instagram earlier this year. She lived in a nearby city and really wanted to hook up with me. It was late one night and I suggested she find a friend to give her a ride to New York City and how she could "thank" him. Then I thought...what if she 'thanked' a series of drivers all the way to Brooklyn just to hook up with me? Fueled by an overinflated ego, feeling flattered, I pitched her this scene where I would coordinate several rides to driver her different legs of her journey. She was to give a blowjob on each leg to show her thanks. Then she'd get to my door and 'get' to blow me (I personally don't think I'm much of a prize, but hey, whatever gets you going). So we documented it through her solo recordings in-between each driver up until she was standing outside my bedroom door talking about the anticipation of meeting me. We had a super fun night together and the next day recorded a surprisingly intimate and raw episode. Having a hot chick suck some dicks just to suck mine might be the craziest thing I've done on the podcast. 

That's pretty wild! Who are some of your dream podcasts guests that you haven't interviewed yet?

Dan Savage. Charlotte Clymer. Janet Mock. Laci Green. Kevin Smith. Louis C.K. Barack Obama. 

What's been the biggest surprise or thing you've learned -- about life, relationships (and, obviously) sex -- in doing the podcast?

I've learned to listen better—which is difficult when your job is seemingly to talk. But my job is in fact to listen, because this show is nothing without the women from my life. The more I listen, the more they talk. The more they talk, the better the episode. At least in my opinion. The same holds true in dating (and sex). 

How do you think the Trump presidency and ugly political environment has affected sex and relationships? 

Oh god, don't get me started. My sex and my relationships don't really change—I'm a cis straight white guy. I'll be fine. But the lives and relationships of many of my friends and colleagues might change, if they haven't already. I don't want to speak to those changes, because I don't really experience them and others can speak on it better, but it's no surprise that the Trump Administration—as well as the Republican Party, since it's in their 2016 party platform—is anti-queer. If you're a Republican who is openly for LGBT rights, you're a deviation of the party, since the GOP put it in their literal party platform. Explicitly. Trump tweeted a trans military ban. His vice president has attacked queers when he was the Governor of Indiana. Trump even put money back into abstinence only education (even though it's been proven time and again that it does not work). A lot of 'sex-positive' people want to say that they support LGBT people and are sex-positive and all that jazz...but vote Republican (or, ugh, third party). If you were able to and didn't vote in this most recent midterm election—and didn't vote Democrat—I'm willing to say that you are not sex-positive. Full stop. 

What are your thoughts about #MeToo? 

Dude, you gotta tighten this question. I think it's great that women are stepping forward with their stories. I'm glad that it's raised the topic of consent into many people's consciousness, enough that we might try to teach kids comprehensive sex education so they can learn about consent at younger ages. 

What are your hopes of the Manwhore podcast moving forward? 

I'm super excited for ManwhoreCon 2019. We just wrapped up my second annual fanwhore weekend in August, but I'm already so stoked to do it again! Fans are already talking about it in our secret Patreon-only communities. I also want to do more live shows in other cities next year and, of course, some fun episodes. I'm thinking The Pepsi Challenge of Cocksucking. 

Finally, tell us about your life in NYC and what you love about the city. And tell us anything else you'd like us to know! 

I love New York City. I've lived here 11 years and I always feel the magic—even when I spend 95% of the day inside. It's both a historical city and a modern city at the same time—and you can feel that all the time. I feel connected to hundreds of years of stories when walking down a street I know used to house the city's largest orphanage, or sitting in McSorley's Old Ale House, an institution that's had its doors open since Lincoln. My favorite book on New York, Lowlife by Luc Sante, describes this city in the most beautiful way I've ever seen. And I quote it often. "The firmament that is New York is greater than the sum of its constitutent parts. It is a city and it is also a creature, a mentality, a disease, a threat, an electromagnet, a cheap stage set, an accident corride. It is an implausible character, a monstrous vortex of contradictions, an attraction-repulsion mechanism so extreme no one could have made it up." 

Great quote! Thanks Billy! You can find Billy on Twitter @TheBillyProcida and download The Manwhore Podcast on ITunes.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Memo from NYC

Hey Donnie -- we don't miss you! 

Please don't come back! But, if you do, I hope your new home is:

Metropolitan Correction Center
150 Park Row, New York, NY 10007

Perhaps you'll share a cell with El Chapo. You can talk about broads and money laundering all day long!

Gotta Love New Yorkers

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Grande Dames

New York City has never had a female mayor (hopefully it'll have one, a good one, in my lifetime) but, nevertheless, NYC women persist. They persist in racking up, along with their male counterparts, great accomplishments across the fields of finance, culture, politics, education, and so much more.

As a father of two daughters of NYC, I seek strong female role models for them to admire.

Case in point -- Tish James, the current NYC Public Advocate and New York State Attorney General-elect. Soon she'll be one of the most powerful women in this state and country -- a ground breaker in so many ways. 

Or Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former New York City Council Speaker who has recently declared that she will run for Public Advocate once Ms. James vacates the post.

Beyond politics, few women in NYC are as powerful as Anna Wintour -- an English immigrant and editor of Vogue magazine, she rules the fashion word in NYC and, in many respects, the world. Reports of her demise are constant -- and forever premature. Men in positions of power come and go but Ms. Wintour goes on.

But great NYC women are just powerful -- they're also funny. Sure, there's lots of women comedians in NYC but my favorite NYC funny lady is Roz Chast, the legendary New Yorker cartoonist. Now she's getting her own exhibit which runs in Chelsea until December 15th. In a city and industry where careers rise and fall quickly, she's endured -- persisted -- for more than 40 years.

In the movie Love, Actually, the lead character says "Love, actually, is all around us." 

In NYC, grande dames are everywhere, all around us, making our city and world a better place.
And let's appreciate them, not when they're gone, but now. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Mr NYC in Bermuda

Yet another from the memory file!

I went to Bermuda with my parents for a week many years ago. While I can't say it was the most memorable trip of my life, I did enjoy my time on that tropical island in the Atlantic Ocean.

If you don't know much about Bermuda, here's a little background: it's small island with about 64 miles of coastline about an hour's flight from NYC with subtropical temperatures and is in the midst of the "hurricane belt" (the "Bermuda Triangle" etc.). It's also one of the last outposts of the British Empire, technically an "overseas territory" that rules itself but has no foreign policy or military (the UK takes care of that).

I don't remember much about resort we stayed at except that it was at one of the far ends of the island and had beautiful views of the ocean. There numerous resorts on the island you can stay at if you ever care of visit, ranging in price.

Small as it is, Bermuda has two towns: Hamilton, the capital, and St. George's. I remember Hamilton was quite grand and St. George's was small, funky, and had great streets with lots of local life. We also did a lot of walking trails and saw much of the lush, local scenery.

The highlight of the trip was the submarine tour where you can go down deep into the ocean and see the amazing, gorgeous, eye-popping sea life that exists off the shore of Bermuda. If you ever go, this is a defiant must, no matter how "touristy" it might seem.

Lots of wealthy people have homes in Bermuda, including former Mayor Bloomberg. I doubt you'll run into them as most stay in their secluded mansions. I hope to go back to Bermuda again sometime with my own family and, considering how near it is to NYC, it's a place that all New Yorkers should check out.

P.S. One distinct memory I have of my time in Bermuda was, one afternoon after we got back from a day of sightseeing, we were relaxing in the main room of the resort when I went over to the big table that had lots of newspapers and magazines on it. I picked one up and saw the big news of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow breaking up and hurling nasty accusations at each other, etc. etc. etc. It was the first time I had heard about this "scandal" (it had just broken) and it would go on to dominate the tabloids for the next couple of years (before OJ, Monica, etc.). It was an interesting, totally random thing to happen during my time in paradise. 

The New Yorker on NYC

It should probably come as no surprise that I'm a subscriber to The New Yorker magazine and a listener to its radio show/podcast. It is, without a doubt, the best media outlet in America today, a repository of great investigative reporting (it took down Harvey Weinstein!), cultural reviews, personal profiles, fiction, cartoons, and so much more.

Each issue is like a candy box of intellectualism, different and tasty morsels to excite each part of your brain. 

Despite its name, The New Yorker is rarely about NYC. Except for "Talk of the Town", most issues are about people and places far away, it's focus international in score. But this week's issue, which you can read here, is "all about the town." It's a collection of articles and essay about life in the city from the past several decades, a love letter to the town. 

Normally I read an issue of The New Yorker in a couple of days but, for this issue, I plan to read each article one week at a time -- to extend the joy. This issue will make you remember why you love this city and why it's a place that can't be written about too much.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Living History

One of the pleasure of living in a city like New York is that history is literally all around -- and alive!

It's alive! 

Not just in the structures or the institutions -- literal and figurative -- that inhabit our city. It's also the people and their creations, some quite grand, some quite idiosyncratic. 

Two very different but notable examples:

The Payne Whitney Smith mansion on Fifth Avenue, right across from Central Park and The Met, hosts a room that is perhaps the most spectacular one in all of NYC -- dubbed the Venetian Room. This article provides pictures and history of this room that was designed by the legendary Stanford White and is a living artifact of the Gilded Age, a time once distant but also familiar to NYC today.

Then there's Swine Bowl. Yes, that's what it's called. It was an annual football game played by  childhood friends every Thanksgiving weekend since 1954. It started to Westchester but migrated to NYC in the early 1960s and has bonded these old friends through marriages, careers, children, and grandchildren. After 65 years, Swine Bowl has come to an end but it's an example of living history in NYC, one of many, that will never die.

In NYC, history lives side by side with its residents, and you'll find it in the most unexpected places.  

Friday, November 23, 2018

Interview: Greg Young of The Bowery Boys Podcast

Easily the best podcast about New York City history is The Bowery Boys, created and still hosted today by Greg Young and Tom Meyers. On each episode, these two uber-NYC enthusiasts deep-dive into so many aspects of this city's history: the people, neighborhoods, events, and eccentricities that have formed this most amazing of places. They go way back in history and make it relevant to life in the city today. The enthusiasm and joy that Greg and Tom bring to each episode is infectious, and the show has gone beyond the podcast into books and tours. 

It's brilliant and extremely fun, and I get excited every time I see a new episode pop up in my IPhone. 

The Bowery Boys, still going strong after more than a decade, is extremely popular with listeners from all over the world. Greg Young was kind enough to answer some questions for Mr NYC about the podcast, the city, its history, and his favorite NYC-related things.  

Tell us what inspired you and your co-host Tom Meyers to create The Bowery Boys podcast. What makes you keep doing it after 11 years? And why call is the "Bowery" boys? 

We started the podcast in 2007 as a way to keep us inspired about the city and to learn more about our neighborhood at the time (which was the Lower East Side). We have not been exhausted by the information we continue to find about the city, so we keep doing the show! The Bowery Boys were a 19th century gang that roamed the streets of Five Points, the notorious slum that once sat near Chinatown today. Although we like to also consider ourselves in the tradition of the ‘Bowery b’hoys’ and ‘Bowery g’hals’ of the 1830s and 40s, Irish-phrased slang for the new young Irish immigrant populations that were moving into lower Manhattan at the time.

While the podcast is about the history of NYC, it seems focused on how the history of the physical city intersects with its cultural and social history -- as well as its "mystique." Is this is a good way to describe the podcast or am I missing something? What else would you say the podcast is about? 

All of that – and more! I’d say the meaning of our show has evolved as well, especially now that we’ve done it for 11 years. Things we talked about at the beginning have changed or are now entirely gone. It’s interesting listening to our early shows just to compare how the city has developed – in some ways good, others bad. For instance, it’s almost amusing to hear our early shows on the High Line and the Meat-Packing District, recorded years before Hudson Yards project was dreamt up. 

How do you guys go about finding subjects to discuss and what is your research process like? How do you avoid being repetitive? 

Topics develop out of research or are inspired by current events or pop culture moments. For instance, our next show is on the history of the New York comedy scene, inspired by our affection for the The Marvelous Mrs Maisel on Amazon. And it’s okay to be a little repetitive, we have discovered. Sometimes it’s worthwhile to approach subjects again from a different point of view. We just recently did a show on Emma Lazarus, incorporating the history of the Statue of Liberty into that, but from the angle of immigration (a hot button issue these days). 

The podcast goes pretty far back into the history of NYC. Are you guys most interested in NYC before the 1950s and '60s or do you ever like to get into recent history? 

We do whatever interests us. When we do recent history, we like to interview people who remembered the history. Sometimes, due to time constraints, its just easier for us to talk about older topics but technically no decade is off limits. Our comedy show in two weeks will have a whole section about the 1990s. 

Do you have to fight the urge to make the podcast Manhattan-centric and is it harder to do episodes about the outer boroughs? 

It drives me crazy because I’d love to do more about the outer boroughs. But we have such a diverse audience at this point – with as many listeners outside New York City as in – and Manhattan tales are still the most popular. PLUS you can’t overlook how important New York (which was just Manhattan until 1898) is in American history. That said, there will be a LOT more Brooklyn and Queens in the coming year. 

Tell us about some of your favorite episodes and what made them so special? 

So many ways to answer this! We love our ghost story shows of course – we get to be melodramatic and over-produced – and we love our big infrastructure shows the most (like the subway, Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs, the grid plan). Personally speaking, I love the music shows. I come from a career in the music industry and was so thrilled to do shows on Billie Holiday and The Cotton Club that were brimming with music. 

What are some of your favorite pieces of NYC historical trivia -- and what things about the city's history do you think are important for anyone who lives here to know? 

I’m currently obsessed with the origins of place names. Find an interestingly names street and go down a rabbit hole of how it got its name. For instance, there are a row of streets in Greenpoint that are alphabetical north to south (Ash Street, Box Street, Clay Street etc.) and its all to do with the 19th century industry that once lined the waterfront there. 

Have you ever read The Power Broker and what are your thoughts on the legacy of Robert Moses? 

One of my favorite books of course! I’ll say this – our city could probably use a 1930s Robert Moses right about now, to erase and reverse some of the damage that 1950s and 60s Robert Moses did to this city. 

What are favorite NYC neighborhoods and why?

I have about a million, but I always suggest people visit Roosevelt Island. You’d be surprised how many native New Yorkers have never been. It’s got a ton of history and some excellent views. Plus – SMALLPOX HOSPITAL RUINS. 

What are some of your favorite NYC movies, TV shows, and novels? Which movies, in your opinion, show off the city the best or makes people really understand why life is (or was) like here? 

The aforementioned Mrs Maisel, Mad Men, The Knick – are all excellent portrayals of New York. The Alienist was often good, even though it was filmed in Europe. In terms of recent movies – believe it or not, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them actually does an amazing job at re-imagining 1920s New York. Loved the Saiorse Ronan movie Brooklyn, the Oscar Isaac movies A Most Violent Year and Inside Llewyn Davis. I just recently re-watched Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence and thought it really held up. 

As the city becomes more and more gentrified, do you think NYC is in danger of losing parts of its history or has historical preservation done enough to, well, preserve it? Tell us your thoughts about how you think NYC should keep its history while also moving into the future? 

New York City always needs to keep changing; it can’t afford to be a museum artifact like Paris or Rome. We’ve got excellent preservation laws in place and well-regarded community groups fighting to save those artifacts that are most endangered. But I do worry about classic mom-and-pop places disappearing with skyrocketing rents. There are some excellent ideas in play to help save them, but the best way to save those types of businesses is to actually frequent them, spend money at them. We can’t lament the loss of a classic diner or a deli if we’ve never bothered to step foot in it. 

What are your hopes for The Bowery Boys podcast moving forward? What does the future hold? 

More live shows, a new spin-off show for 2019, and another book! 

Finally, what do you love most about NYC? 

My answer changes every week. Last week’s answer – the beauty of snow falling in a brownstone neighborhood with a canopy of trees. The week before – my local bakery’s bagels. Next week’s answer – visiting the American Museum of Natural History on Wednesday to watch workers inflate the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade floats. 

Thanks Greg!

You can find podcast episodes and more info about where to download them here

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Mr NYC in California

This is another "blast from the past", my memories of traveling in California in the 1990s and early 2000s. 

I've actually been there several times and love, love, love it. Sadly I haven't been in over 15 years but, here they are, my favorite places to go and things to do that, if you ever find yourself in the Golden State, you might enjoy as well:

Los Angeles: I didn't spend a lot of time there but my main memories of LA were doing the Universal Studios tour (got to see the backlot where Back to the Future was shot) and the Nixon Museum (where they sanitize the disgraced man's legacy). I also went to the taping for the pilot of a very bad TV show where the warm up comedian was funnier than the actual show.  

The best part of LA -- leaving it, and driving up to Northern California. We drove along the Pacific Coast Highway, one of the most mind-blowing vistas in the world. We also saw Monterey and Carmel, two gorgeous towns between the state's two major cities (Clint Eastwood himself was Mayor of Carmel at one time). 

San Francisco: the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood was interesting. This was ground zero for the counter-culture, where The Greatful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and other great bands came to define the 1960s and American rebellion. My brother, his friend, and I walked around there on a Sunday night and we saw lots of young white homeless people who asked us for money for "kitty food." Then we went into an ice cream store where the young lady behind the counter wore just overalls and sunglasses -- at 9 PM at night. I don't remember the flavor of ice cream I ordered but I do recall her telling me that my selection was "mellow." I kid you not, this happened. I don't remember much of the food I ate in SF but the Stinking Rose restaurant was amazing. It's a place where they serve garlic on everything so be sure to go with people who really like you. Palo Alto: I loved Antonio’s Nuthouse, an “iconic” bar with lots of peanuts on the ground. There was also a gorgeous movie revival house (don't remember the name) there where we saw a screening of Lawrence of Arabia. Before the show there was a man playing music on a beautifully restored organ.

The Coppola ranch is something you must see. It is, obviously, gorgeous, and you can buy lots of great wine from the vineyard there. Also, if you're a big fan of Coppola's movies, you can see the desk from The Godfather, the "solid gold telephone" from II, surfboards from Apocalypse Now, and the great man's Oscars and Palm D'Or awards.

Santa Cruz: this area is near SF and is, obviously, stunning. I remember eating two great breakfasts there: one a veranda of a beautiful house and another at a restaurant on the end of a pier, the moutains surrounding us. 

San Simeon or the ”Hearst Castle”: this is the great estate built by William Randolf Hearst that inspired Xanadu from "Citizen Kane”. The Castle is an incredible marble  monument to aquisition, paintings and fabrics adorning every wall. There are swimming pools everywhere where Heart, Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin and others used to party. The estate is massive, full of wild animals, and is roughly half the size of Rhode Island -- it's that big. San Simeon is a monument to American nobility -- an man-made tribute of a man to himself. I hope to return to California at some point in the future to see a lot more. And, when I do, I can't wait to blog all about it. 

P.S. California has a brand new Governor, Gavin Newsom, who was once mayor of San Fracisco and will take office in January.

P.P.S. Here's an interesting thing that happened to me in California: on my last night in LA, I returned late to the place where I was staying when I got a message from my mom that a "large package" had arrived from the top college I had applied to. The next morning, on a payphone at LAX next to the gate for my flight home, my dad told me over the phone that I'd been accepted. It was a life-changing moment -- a golden moment in the Golden State. 


I've become a big fan of the new New York City Transit head Andy Byford -- the affable Brit imported to our city to "turnaround" the ailing subway system. He did it in Toronto and other places so hopefully he'll work his magic here as well.

He seems to be doing so -- this amazing radio interview he did gives a great overview of the many improvements that have been made to the subways just this year and the concrete plans he has for next year. Also, he talks a great deal about how the new Amazon facility in LIC will affect the subways and commuting in the future. Byford has a great tactical mind, an ability to solve short-term problems with a long-term outlook. He's got transportation in his bones. 

You should listen to this interview. My favorite part, however, is when he talks about how, with the new Amazon facility, there might be a lot of "reverse commuting" that Byford calls "contra-peak."

So, whenever you're going against the grain, whenever you're going one way when everyone else is going another, tell them you're going "contra-peak."

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

"The World Before Your Feet": A Documentary

This blog celebrates all things NYC but perhaps no one has celebrated it quite like a guy named Matt Green -- who literally walked on every block in every street, and in every park, and passed  by every house and every building, across all five boroughs, some eight-thousand miles. It took him six years to complete and cost him his apartment, his job, and two girlfriends. 

This journey of a lifetime, this incredible accomplishment, is the subject of a recently released documenary The World Before Your Feet that is now playing in theaters.

I haven't seen it yet but, obviously, want to. According to the reviews, the documentary is less about a guy exploring his city but more a study of obession, of striking out to accomplish something while everyone else in your life things your crazy to do so.

I love NYC and would love to see a lot more of it but I don't know if I have the physical or mental stamina to do something like this. But this guy was brave enough to do it and it's literally made him a movie star. 

See, obsession gets you somewhere. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Andy Wahol & The Velvet Underground in the NYC Memory

This weekend the wife and I checked out the Velvet Underground Experience (it's not at a museum but an exhibition space). 

This exhibit is not just "about" the Velvet Undergound -- as the name denotes, it's an immerse experience that transports you back into the world of the downtown 1960s New York arts scene, the time and place from where the Velvets emerged. It gives you a good sense of the cultural excitement, the political tumult, the social experimentation, the wildness and sexiness of a very different time and city that birthed one of the greatest, most musically brilliant bands in history. There are photographs and videos of the leading cultural figures of that time, including Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, and Allan Ginsberg (you are greeted at the beginning of this exhibit by an audiovisual recording of Ginsberg reading his great poem "America"), to put you into the mood and mindset of 1960s NYC.

Throughout the exhibit you learn about how the VU came to be formed and their musical evolution. There are these wonderful booklets that you can read that are short bios of Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker -- the real Fab Four. There are also bios of the people who influenced and worked with the band, including the singer Nico. There is lots of "projection" in this exhibit, including a place where you literally lie on the ground (on pads thankfully) and look up at short films of the Velvets and The Factory's early years.

While the exhibit is amazing in many ways it also feels incomplete -- the exhibit focuses mostly on the Velvets early years and their relationship with Warhol (who only produced the band's first album). There is very little about the band's end or their penultimate album that produced perhaps the band's greatest song ever -- "Sweet Jane." Also, considering that this is one of the most influentual bands in history, the exhibit gives short shrift to its influence and legacy (there's only a wall with some posters and recordings of covers of the band's songs -- not much). Still, if you're a fan of the VU, and of this now legendary time and place, it's worth checking out.

And, if you can't get enough of Andy Warhol, you can go check out the big exhibit about him at the Whitney (I haven't seen it yet but hope to). You can also read these articles (here and here) about Andy Warhol and life at The Factory. When Warhol died in 1987, he went from man to myth -- and these articles try to seperate the two.

Perhaps it's not surprising that these exhibits are being mounted right now. The NYC of the 1960s feels like not only another time but also another planet, a world completely different from our own. Back then, NYC was a decaying city where culture was exploding. Today, the city is exploding (economically at least) but it has become culturally dull. We are no longer the city of The Factory -- we're the city of Amazon. No longer does someone like Andy Warhol define the future of NYC -- Jeff Bezos does (and he doesn't even live here!). 

And so we remember -- the history, the myth, the legacy -- of Andy Warhol and The Factory, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, of NYC then and now -- and of a past that haunts us, for better or worse, that still shapes the city we live in.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

More, More, More Reiki in NYC

New Yorkers, and all Americans, are a stressed out bunch. It's odd that, in the richest city in the richest nation in history, the one thing we don't seem to be able to purchase is genuine relaxation and peace of mind. 

Quite the opposite in fact -- the more prosperous we are, the more stuff we have, the more technological and sociological developments we accrue -- the more exhausted, the more tense, the more stressed out we are. 

More more more! How do you like it?

Progress comes at the ultimate price of our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Go to some of the least developed societies on earth and the people seem a lot more chillaxed.

Here in NYC, and elsewhere, whole industries exist to bring moments of calm to roiling lives. Masseurs, yogis, and spas all offer -- for a big price -- to temporarily relieve people of their stress. 

One of the weirder offerings to enter this fray is reiki, the "laying of hands", where people literally lie on table and a "specialist" lays hands on, or just above, the person in order to "re-channel energy" and relieve them of their stress and restore well-being. It's very "meta", very weird, very pseudoscience-y, and even people who enjoy other relaxation treatments find it strange.

But reiki is becoming mainstream. Even here in NYC, parents are apparently teaching their kids to do reiki in order to calm there school-related stress. I've never had a professional reiki session but I might and I might even teach it to my kids to relieve their stress -- but I don't necessary think it's worth the price tag to do it too often.

That said, I might try it and, if you want to try it out for yourself in NYC, just do a Google search and you'll find an enormous number of reiki specialists available to treat you. (Just keep in mind that some of them are, uh, well, not exactly legit.) 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

El Chapo In NYC

El Chapo, the big time Mexican drug lord, basically the Pablo Escobar of our day (although Pablo was Colombian), is now standing trial right here in NYC.

It was, as you might say, a long time coming. 

El Chapo has been in and out of jail down in Mexico for years -- he'd get busted, be put into a high security prison, and then escape. His power and wealth were such that he could bribe numerous Mexican officials and hide with impunity. Finally, he was captured and extradited to the USA. Now he's in supermax lockup at the Manhattan correctional facility and then, every day, is trekked across the Brooklyn Bridge for his trial. 

I'm guessing that El Chapo will be convicted but, like all defendants in the American system, he's entitled to the presumption of innocence (haha) and a fair trial (good luck).

It's interesting how there's been no outrage about El Chapo being tried here in NYC. I remember a few years ago they were going to try one of the 9/11 terrorists and it became this loud politically-charged controversy. Naturally, this happened because, at the time, Obama was president and his Justice Department had decided to give him a civilian and not a military trial. The Republicans, as is their wont, decided to whip up racist warmongering hysteria about it, trying to make us believe that having this trial in NYC was a huge security threat. Now, of course, a racist Republican from NYC is president -- and not a peep.


FYI - if you're interested in more of the history of the drug trade, the fourth season of Narcos, set in Mexico, begins soon on Netflix.