Wednesday, December 28, 2016

THE PEOPLE YOU MEET - Bad (Very Bad) New Year's Eve Date

When I moved to New York, I knew a few people from Texas who had moved up there as well as a few New Yorkers that I met through business, but I thought it might be nice to have a date for New Year's Eve with a native New Yorker who knew some quiet place where we might have dinner.  

Since I worked at home with little opportunity to meet anyone, I looked at the ads online and picked out a fellow with multiple degrees who worked as a psychotherapist. I will call him Drake, which may actually be his name because I've blocked it. I contacted Drake. We emailed a couple of times which led to chatting on the phone. During that call he learned that I was living in Brooklyn, and I guess he assumed that I would prefer to live in Manhattan because he told me that his roommate was moving out and he had a 1500 square-foot, 2-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side that I could share. This wasn't such a ridiculous invitation as it would be in another town or city that isn't quite so rental-scarce. And he did explain that he was only in the City a couple of days a week and spent the rest of the time at his house in Connecticut. But still, it was a bit forward so I told him I was eager to explore Brooklyn and turned him down.

He then suggested that we meet in Manhattan at the northeast corner of Gramercy Park at 6 pm on New Year's Eve and go for dinner. His thinking was that we'd enjoy a meal more if we were in a restaurant that wasn't crowded. I happened to agree which is why I like to have lunch in restaurants at 3 pm.

Anyway, I got to the corner at 6 pm and he joined me a few minutes later. He was over six feet tall and wore a long, tan, wool coat and a felt fedora. Before going to dinner, he asked if I would like to see the apartment he had just purchased in a building nearby. Sure.

The apartment was in an old brick building down East 21st Street. He explained, as we entered, that he also had his psychology business in that building. I realized that from the window of his office, he could see the northeast corner of Gramercy Park and he had scoped me out before joining me there.  I guess I passed his test for appearance.

We traveled up the elevator to the fourth floor of the building where he opened the door to a 300 square-foot apartment, explaining that the last tenant had lived there 30 years and the place had just been cleared out. There were squares and rectangles on the wall clearly contrasted against the dirty and toned paint where artwork or photos had been removed. The baseboards were cracked and coming loose from the wall.  One of them had what looked like a rat hole in it. Could have been a mouse hole. The paint on the wooden window frames was peeling in the most severe way and the windows were filthy. The linoleum in the kitchen had a couple of worn spots so that the four layers of linoleum beneath were visible. The stove was so old I thought maybe it used firewood. Not exactly House & Garden.

Drake suggested that if I wanted to rent the apartment and fix it up myself, he would only charge me $1500 a month in rent. And, he explained, I would have a key to Gramercy Park. This is the only private park in Manhattan - two acres of loveliness that the rest of us could only see through the iron fence. And, even though I was well-aware even that that early stage of living in New York that this was a steal, I politely turned him down. I was beginning to wonder if he was a licensed realtor on the side. Turned out he was.
Rolf's Restaurant
After that real estate rejection, Drake walked me over to Rolf's Restaurant. He said he had not made reservations and we might not get a table, but I should see it. Rolf's is well worth seeing, as I've stated in a previous post, and we did not get a table. I'm pretty sure Drake didn't make reservations because Rolf's is expensive. I know that because two days later I went there for lunch with a friend.

At any rate, we walked up Third Avenue to a restaurant where Drake was sure we'd get a table, and we did. As we read our menus he explained that the portions at this restaurant were pretty big and he wasn't that hungry. "We should split an entree," he suggested. Well, who am I to argue with a psychotherapist/realtor. And, he was right. There was ample food for both of us.  No doggy bag needed.

During dinner, I asked what happened to his roommate. It was just conversation, but he explained that she had moved to his house in Connecticut because she was pregnant. With his baby, I might add. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. The hilarity didn't stop there, though, because he wound the conversation around to his psychology practice. He told me that he had begun offering sex therapy to his female patients and was having success. He offered me his services. At this point I was pinching myself to keep from laughing.

So, I am invited to have sex with a stranger who had become immensely unnatractive and pay for it too. Who could turn down such an offer? Me. I did. I said, no thanks. He did not appear to be crestfallen. He must have been putting his mind onto some other way that he could get money from me.

Oh yes, we split the bill. That, I think made his New Year's Eve complete. I said goodnight and never saw him again. The end.

Monday, December 12, 2016


New York knows how to celebrate Christmas and how to decorate for it. There are ceremonious unveilings of department store windows that are marvels of ingenuity. I was at the Bloomindale's reveal one Christmas when they had hired a famous musician and his band to play for the event. They were on a bandstand in front of the store and people were crowded around to listen, which ironically kept most people from seeing the windows.

I don't know if New York sleeps or not, but it certainly goes home after nine. When everyone has had dinner, the street start to empty. It's the best time to see the holiday windows. You can take your time looking, studying, seeing the artistry and the story behind the glass. And you need to do that, especially at places like Lord & Taylor where the windows are small and the exhibits are minature. At that hour, you can step close and stare. They even put up a divider on the sidewalk to keep the viewers from being trampled by the regular pedestrians.

I've devised a little Christmas-window stroll here, beginning dinner at Rolf's German restaurant. The restaurant creates a fantasyland of Christmas decor every year that is worth stopping in to see. Dinners are on the pricey side, but you can split one because they are large portioned and New York restaurants have no qualms about setting down that extra plate.

Start here: Rolf's 281 - 3rd Street (at 23rd Street)

Then walk over to Fifth Avenue and hear north:

1.Lord & Taylor 424 - 5th Ave. at 39th Street

2. Saks Fifth Avenue 611 - 5th Ave. between 50th and 49th

3. Tiffany's 727 - 5th Ave just south of 57th St.

4. Bergdorf-Goodman at 5th Ave and 57th St. [It was built on the site of the demolished Vanderbilt mansion].

After your walk, go north to Central Park and take a carriage ride to top off the evening.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


When I was just a visitor to New York, I explored the streets and saw people doing their jobs or shopping. I noticed the delivery trucks, little grocery stores, and street vendors. Tons of activity. Everything was moving - the traffic, people, buses, trains. Keeping things moving explained what appeared to be indifference, as people passed by without a glance or a smile. At that time, I marveled at what surely must be a huge amount of cooperation among New Yorkers to manage the lives, livelihoods, transportation, entertainment, housing, and feeding all those people.

After I moved to New York, I had a different perspective. I wondered, with all the resistance, bickering, complaining, and dare I say it, laziness, how in the world did this city get the needs of its people met. The only response was that you learned to push. Push. Push. The traffic pushes the pedestrians. The riders push against other riders getting on the subway and in the subway. The lines push behind you with whispers of "c'mon, c'mon." The food servers push by putting your check on the table with your food.

The City absorbs all that pushing and moves.

Nowhere is the push and resistance more evident than in construction - public or private. One excellent example of this was in the building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  It's an elegant suspension bridge Staten Island and Brooklyn. This is the bridge that Tony Manero talked about in Saturday Night Fever. The bridge that he and his gang of friends jumped around on after clubbing. It's the bridge that one of them jumped from. It happens still.

For the creation of that bridge, 800 buildings were torn down in Bay Ridge and 7000 people pushed out of their homes. To understand how difficult this was, you have to understand that New York neighborhoods are like little towns within the City. People get used to their coffee shops, dry cleaners, bodegas, pizzarias, their bars, neighbors and their noise.

Trying to prevent the building of the bridge, there were ineffective protests at government meetings and ultimately a few displaced (i.e. evicted) people held out until the rest of their blocks was smashed down. But everyone finally moved and the bridge was built. This is like the people on the subway that don't want to move to the interior of the car, but they finally do because they're pushed. It's like maneuvering on the sidewalk in Manhattan - you walk straight until you have to take a curve around stacks of delivery boxes, spilled trash, or people (usually tourists).

Unlike Brooklyn where the bridge was protested, the Staten Island folks wanted the bridge. Something good for some people feels like the end of the world to others. That's New York. There is a lot to deal with and you just deal with it or you leave.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is more than a tale of how New Yorkers get past resistance and link together though. The building of that bridge in itself is a story and Gay Talese wrote a series of essays  about it that were published in a book. [THE BRIDGE by Gay Talese - highly recommended]  It's about the bridge-worker fraternity - their skills, their tragic losses, and how they had come from generations of construction workers in New York. Their grandfathers worked on the Chrysler Building or the Flat-Iron Building.

So, if you visit New York, it may seem that New Yorkers are indifferent as they rush past.  They are just keeping the City moving.  But try asking for directions from a New Yorker.  You'll get a verbal map better than any GPS.  Or ask someone local to recommend a restaurant and you'll get several restaurant reviews.  And, if you can find a bar that caters to construction workers, step up to the bar and ask about the history of building in New York.