Category Archive 'New York City'
03 Jun 2020

Helpless and Besieged in Midtown Manhattan

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Looters running out of the Moose Knuckles store at 57 Greene St. in New York City.

Sohrab Ahmari spent an evening besieged by roving gangs of looters at 55th & Lex. NYC’s strict Gun Control laws, and prevailing hoplophobia, assured that he would be unarmed and defenseless.

As every parent knows, children can sleep through anything when they’re tired enough. So it was with our two kids Monday night. They snored away, oblivious to the buzz of helicopters overhead, the constant wail of sirens — and the distinct crack of gunshots that rang out at around 10:40 somewhere in Midtown East, where we live. Their parents, on the other hand, were bundles of racked nerves.

I went downstairs to see for myself. In the four hours that followed, I felt the insecurity of lawlessness and disorder more acutely than I ever had before — and I’ve filed datelines all over the Middle East, including from the front line of the Iraqi Kurdish war against the Islamic State.

But I wasn’t the hero of these four hours. That role belonged to our two doormen, whom I will call Alfonso and Johnny — unarmed, upright, working-class people of color who were all that stood between the families in our building and the savagery of a depraved mob below.

I’d ventured out earlier, before the 11 p.m. curfew, which we’d soon learn was a toothless fiction. At the corner of Lex and 55th, a few neighbors and I watched young men and a few women heading somewhere, typically in packs of four or five. A Cohen’s Optical and a Verizon store were already smashed in, and some of the, er, protesters would walk through the broken glass and loot whatever struck their fancy; we avoided eye contact.

The NYPD had a presence at that corner, mind you: A regular squad car had blocked off 55th westbound, and we saw police vans going about this way and that. At one point, riot cops even got out of two of their vehicles and geared up, but then they got right back in and drove away. Not one officer confronted the ongoing looting, either because they feared being overwhelmed, I suppose, or because they had bigger fish to fry elsewhere.

They won’t come to our block, I thought. We have no sexy stores to loot.

My optimism was misplaced. When I went downstairs that second time, Alfonso looked alarmed: “Unless you absolutely have to go out,” he said, “please stay inside.” He needn’t have said anything: Instantly, I spotted more of those roving packs walking, sometimes running down our block, some heading west, some east — and some staying put and observing us through our glass entrance before moving on.

As I arrived, Alfonso’s shift was about to end and Johnny’s was about to begin. Johnny, it seemed, had no idea what was awaiting him. An agreement was reached: Alfonso would stay for an extra hour, partly to buck up and prep Johnny, partly because he wasn’t sure it was safe for him to go home (in a different borough). I decided to stay, too.

“Can we lock the doors?” I asked.

“Well, sure,” replied Alfonso. “But if they wanted, you know they can just break the glass and walk in, right?”

RTWT

27 Mar 2020

Auden Was Apparently a Slob

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Seamus Perry, in Paris Review:

W. H. Auden had rented variously inadequate apartments since arriving back in New York at the end of the summer of 1945, and had most recently been living with Chester Kallman in a warehouse building on Seventh Avenue, an especially unsatisfactory place that lacked both hot water and a functional front door. So when he and Kallman moved to 77 Saint Mark’s Place on the Lower East Side, in February 1954, it promised to be a significant improvement; and he was certainly very pleased with the place from the start—“my N.Y. nest,” he called it. Auden would stay there until his ill-fated departure for Oxford in 1972, making it his longest single habitation. From 1949 he summered in Europe—in Ischia until 1957, when he bought a small farmhouse in Kirchstetten in Austria, which delighted him: he devoted a sequence, “Thanksgiving for a Habitat,” in his collection About the House (1965), to a celebration of his domestic existence there. It was in these summerhouses that he tended to write poems: New York was largely for his distinct life as a “man of letters,” a label he applied to himself. “It is a sad fact about our culture,” he once wrote, “that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it”; but at the same time he prided himself on his professionalism as a reviewer, essayist, anthologist, and commentator, work that in turn often suggested subjects for poems; and that work principally happened on Saint Mark’s.

Freshly installed, he excitedly invited round his young friend Charles Miller (“Come! I’ll take you on a tour”):

    The large first (entry) room with high ceiling had a green marbled fireplace flanked by built-in bookshelves, which also incorporated Wystan’s battered turntable with speaker equipment and his much-used collection of records and albums. A big shabby sofa and a swamped antique coffee table centered the cluttered room. I followed Wystan through an arch into a similar room at the front with another green marbled fireplace. This room was hardly furnished, except for built-in bookcases and Wystan’s small work table just touched by sunlight from the generous nineteenth-century windows. To the right of this room, as we faced Saint Mark’s Place, was a small room with its door to the stair hall nailed shut; the room had only a cot bed, on which Wystan slept, he said.

Just touched by sunlight, one imagines: as an undergraduate at Oxford, Auden had preferred to keep his curtains drawn at all times, and he seems to have adopted the same policy in America. When Stephen Spender had visited him in the forties he unwisely attempted to open the curtains and brought them crashing to the ground: “You idiot!” Auden scolded him, “why did you draw them? No one ever draws them. In any case there’s no daylight in New York.” Wystan’s succession of rooms gave his friend Margaret Gardiner “the sensation of brownish caverns, a brown that seemed to pervade everything, even the air itself.”

Auden’s territory was the front of the apartment; Kallman’s, the kitchen and the music room at the back of the flat, where there were also separate bedrooms for Kallman and for a tenant. Auden was especially pleased with the fireplaces, and he liked the porcelain tiles in the kitchen. The area had lots of Italian, Polish, and Ukrainian stores selling good food. And the building even had a history: Trotsky had once published works from its basement, a fact that seemed to please Auden; and, some more recent color, an illegal abortionist had been its previous inhabitant. (The flat was buzzed from time to time by would-be clients.) Auden placed his father’s barometer on the mantelpiece, and hung over it a watercolor by Blake, The Act of Creation, a present from his rich patron Caroline Newton. But his evident pride in the place did not translate into any instincts to be house-proud, as Miller’s retrospective account, despite its touches of fine writing, communicates well enough:

    The coffee table bore its household harvest of books, periodicals, half-emptied coffee cups scummed over with cream, a dash of cigarette ashes for good measure, and a heel of French bread (too tough for Wystan’s new dentures?). An oval platter served as ashtray, heaped with a homey Vesuvius of cigarette butts, ashes, bits of cellophane from discarded packs, a few martini-soaked olive pits, and a final cigarette stub issuing a frail plume of smoke from the top of the heap, signature of a dying volcano. This Auden-scape reeked of stale coffee grounds, tarry nicotine, and toe jam mixed with metro pollution and catshit, Wystanified tenement tang.

And this was his new flat. “The speed with which he could wreck a room was barely credible, certainly dangerous,” observed his friend James Stern. He spoke from experience. On one occasion he had left Auden in his flat for the day, dropping back shortly afterward to pick something up: “If it hadn’t been for the pictures on the walls I wouldn’t have known where I was,” Stern remembered: “Frustrated burglars could not have created greater chaos … God, Wystan, was a mess! ‘My dear, I do love this apartment, but I can’t understand why it doesn’t have more ashtrays!’ ” The Saint Mark’s apartment rapidly came to resemble what Robert Craft, Stravinsky’s right-hand man, had witnessed with some incredulity in Auden’s previous place, a litter of “empty bottles, used martini glasses, books, papers, phonograph records.” Dinner with them would be boozy and delicious (Kallman was an excellent cook); but the cutlery would be greasy and the plates often only imperfectly washed. “He is the dirtiest man I have ever liked,” said Stravinsky of Auden, a touching if qualified mark of regard.

RTWT

17 Feb 2020

Excessive and Deranged Government in Action

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What the offending building would have looked like when completed.

This classic New York City real estate story has attracted international news coverage.

The Independent:

In an extraordinary ruling, a state supreme court judge has ordered the developers of a nearly completed 668-foot block of flats in New York to remove as many as 20 or more floors from the top of the building.

The decision is a major victory for community groups who opposed the project on the grounds that the developers used a zoning loophole to create the tallest building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A lawyer representing the project said the developers would appeal the decision.

Justice W Franc Perry ordered that the Department of Buildings revoke the building permit for the tower at 200 Amsterdam Avenue and remove all floors that exceed the zoning limit. Exactly how many floors might need to be deconstructed has yet to be determined, but under one interpretation of the law, the building might have to remove 20 floors or more from the 52-storey tower to conform to the regulation.

“We’re elated,” said Olive Freud, the president of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, one of the community groups that brought the suit.

“The developers knew that they were building at their own peril,” said Richard Emery, a lawyer representing the community groups that challenged the project before the foundation was even completed. Mr Emery said this decision sent a warning to other developers who proceed with construction despite pending litigation.

The question at the heart of the suit was whether the developers had abused zoning rules to justify the project’s size.

It is common for developers to purchase the unused development rights of adjacent buildings to add height and bulk to their project. But in this case opponents of the project argued that the developers, SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan America, created a “gerrymandered”, highly unusual 39-sided zoning lot to take advantage of the development rights from a number of tenuously connected lots. Without this technique, the tower might have been little more than 20 storeys tall, instead of the nearly finished 52-storey tower that now stands.

The decision also sets an important precedent, said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the Municipal Art Society of New York, one of the advocacy groups that brought the suit against the project.

RTWT

If you were ever wondering why big cities have constant shortages of housing and why real estate prices climb into the stratosphere, this particular story illustrates just how costly, difficult, and risky real estate development can be in places where zoning and regulation reach levels that Imperial Austro-Hungary Bureaucracy could have envied, and where “community groups” made up of self-appointed trouble-makers, busy-bodies, environmental fanatics, and communists can operate much like arms of the government.

17 Sep 2019

The NYC Woke Elite Meets the Revolution in Their Children’s Schools

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Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza and Mayor Bill de Blasio announce the abolition of the NYC elite high school entrance exam.

George Packer (Y ’82)‘s poignant essay, in the Atlantic, on haute bourgeois parenting Manhattan-style is simply chock-full of information on the parental aspirations, obsessions, and the heads full of liberal nonsense of the new Upper Class.

The oblivious Packer delivers an appalling look at the world the douchebag elite left of my own generation has made. The characteristic combination of status-hunger, sanctimony, and stupidity of the new Woke Elite leads directly to the totalitarian egalitarian denouement that leaves Packer depressed, conflicted, and confused. What is a pious bourgeois bohemian to do when his children’s future status and the fanatical egalitarianism of the radical left come into conflict?

People of Packer’s ilk inhabit a very insular thought world, entirely molded by fashion, the elite media, and elite Academia. They are intensely competitive and ambitious, driven by their need to have, and to be, the best. They have to attend the best schools, have the best careers, raise the most successful children, eat the best dinner at the best restaurant, all the while having the best values and faithfully taking the most politically correct positions. They have no clue concerning their own provinciality and their own spectacular combination of naïveté and arrogance.

They lead lives of constant struggle and desperation, but they think there could be nothing worse than not being members in good standing of their own type and class.

When parents on the fortunate ledge of this chasm gaze down, vertigo stuns them. Far below they see a dim world of processed food, obesity, divorce, addiction, online-education scams, stagnant wages, outsourcing, rising morbidity rates—and they pledge to do whatever they can to keep their children from falling. They’ll stay married, cook organic family meals, read aloud at bedtime every night, take out a crushing mortgage on a house in a highly rated school district, pay for music teachers and test-prep tutors, and donate repeatedly to overendowed alumni funds. The battle to get their children a place near the front of the line begins before conception and continues well into their kids’ adult lives. At the root of all this is inequality—and inequality produces a host of morbid symptoms, including a frantic scramble for status among members of a professional class whose most prized acquisition is not a Mercedes plug-in hybrid SUV or a family safari to Maasai Mara but an acceptance letter from a university with a top‑10 U.S. News & World Report ranking. …

“If you fail a math test you fail seventh grade,” our daughter said one night at dinner, looking years ahead. “If you fail seventh grade you fail middle school, if you fail middle school you fail high school, if you fail high school you fail college, if you fail college you fail life.”

RTWT

Personally, I’d rather be a free American living in the worst shit-hole in Appalachia with normal ordinary American Trump-voters for neighbors than be a brainwashed zombie living among the kind of nincompoops that would elect Bill de Blasio.

06 Aug 2019

Like a Celibate Writing About Sex

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Nathan Heller

Leave it to the New Yorker to assign appraisal of some automotive-think books to a Jewish nerd who doesn’t know how to drive and who is afraid of cars.

Was the Automotive Era a Terrible Mistake?

For a century, we’ve loved our cars. They haven’t loved us back.

According to Heller, the triumph of the internal combustion engine was just another expression of toxic masculinity. He looks forward approvingly, from his Blue perspective, to a future of self-driving cars. No more autonomy. No more individualism. What could be more Blue State? What could be better?

You kind of wonder if the New Yorker would have given John Ruskin space for a column on making love to a woman or assigned Helen Keller to review Impressionist paintings.

Come friendly bombs and fall on Brooklyn!

27 Jul 2019

“Anna Delvey” Conned Members of the NY Community of Fashion Out of $275,000

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Left: Rachel DeLoache Williams; right: “Anna Delvey,” really Anna Sorokin in Marrakech.

She posed as a German heiress planning to lease for her own foundation a Manhattan building for a visual-arts center dedicated to contemporary art, which would also house a lounge, bar, art galleries, studio space, restaurants, and a members-only club.

She met fashionable young New York professionals at chic restaurants and bars where, Ooops! her phone failed to work when trying to charge the check, and she hadn’t bothered carrying a credit card. So her new friends obliging picked up the tab this time.

She took the dazzled Rachel DeLoache Williams, who worked at Vanity Fair, on a little outing to a [£5,485 a night] villa she’d booked at Marrakech. But it did not work quite the way Rachel was expecting.

Stylist:

On the morning we were supposed to leave, she asked for my help booking the flights because there was a problem with her card. I didn’t think too much of it; this was just the way she was: disorganised. I’d seen her book things last minute so many times and I knew she would reimburse me.

From there, it was a trickle effect. At the airport, Anna ‘accidentally’ checked her wallet, which meant I had to pay for everyone’s dinner (she brought a photographer and her personal trainer, too). Her card still wasn’t working for the rest of the trip, so I began adding things to a tab (dinners, kaftans). I had presumed our villa was pre-paid, but at some point the hotel manager began asking to speak with Anna.
The penny drops

On the third day of the trip, I walked into our villa and the hotel managers were standing in the doorway. Anna was sitting with her phone on the table in front of her, like she was waiting for something. A call, apparently. One of the managers turned to me and asked if I had a credit card. They were firm. I looked to Anna and she said ‘use it for now’. My stomach sank. It would have felt weirdly ungrateful to show my annoyance, so I gave it to them. I was told the charge was only temporary – it wasn’t – and I left the next morning, a day before she did.

This is when everything started to unravel. Every day I asked her for the money back and every day she promised it would arrive. I thought she was just doing a characteristically bad job of following through with logistical things. It was $62,000 [about £48,800] in total.

This went on for an excruciatingly long time – two months – and my life started falling apart. I was having panic attacks constantly, not sleeping. It took me a strikingly long time to even ask myself the question: what if she never pays you back? Because that would mean I’d have to look at how that would impact my life, and I knew if I did that, I would’ve lost it. I already wasn’t saving any money – New York is expensive, and I was barely breaking even – so to be set back 60-something thousand dollars? It felt like, ‘I am never going to get out of this hole. This is where it ends for me. I’m not going to get to buy a house, I’m not going to get to be a real adult, I’m never going to have kids.’

——————-

More book excerpts at Crime Reads.

But, cheer up, Rachel wrote up the story of her misfortunes as a book, My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress, and she will probably come out ahead in the end.

10 Dec 2018

Boxing

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Women Boxing on Roof, New York City, 1930.

02 Nov 2018

Rockefeller Center

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Rockefeller Center in 1933, before it was surrounded by tall buildings.

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01 Nov 2018

There’s a Mandarin Duck Visiting New York’s Central Park

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Mandarin Duck ((Aix galericulata), native to East Asia, photographed in Central Park by Dennis Newsham.

NewYork.CBSLocal.com:

A rare duck is going viral online after finding a new home in New York City.

The Mandarin duck, known for its multicolored feathers and hot pink bill, is native to East Asia. The big question: Why is it here, in the middle of Manhattan?

Photographer Dennis Newsham can’t get enough of the duck.

“I took a couple hundred [pictures] because it’s a rare bird and I was trying to get some action shots, and I got some of it flying,” Newsham said.

The Harlem man isn’t the only one flocking to the park to get a glimpse.

The bird was first spotted on Oct. 10th and videotaped in a now viral video.

Since then, New Yorkers and tourists are swarming to the pond in the southeast corner of the park near 59th and Fifth.

31 Oct 2018

Taki’s Anti-NYC Rant

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Taki is just a trifle negative about today’s New York.

NEW YORK—In the dark she still looks good. The mystery and magnetism linger until dawn, and then you slowly see the lines and the harshness. Like a lady of the night who has smoked 10,000 cigarettes, the coming of the light is the enemy. New York ain’t what she used to be, that’s for sure. She’s a tired old place, with the upper-class vertical living gone to seed, and the honky-tonk fun side of the city gentrified and made boring. Michael Bloomberg as mayor did his best to ruin the glamour of the city, allowing glass behemoths to make the Chrysler Building, one of the world’s monuments to architectural brilliance, be buried amidst glass monstrosities. Bloomberg was and is a lowlife who knows how to count to 50 billion but couldn’t tell you Admiral Nelson’s Christian name if his miserable life depended on it. The present mayor, de Blasio, is a lowlife wop without the billions.

What happens in the sky is felt in the streets below. The once-exclusive Vanderbilt Avenue, where stores sold expensive tennis gear and hunting shotguns, is now a dark and dreary place, and just as well. The Vanderbilt was the hotel where the swells met—under the clock—since before Fitzgerald’s time and long past Taki’s. It was gone with the wind when Bloomberg types descended on the city like the northern jackals who went down south.

RTWT

07 Oct 2018

An Interesting Anniverary

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My 1983 arrest photo, taken at 4 in the morning. I look tired and disgruntled.

I’m a Baby Boomer and consequently, at this point, a geezer. My original Yale class arrived with short hair, wearing jackets and ties, at a non-coeducated Yale featuring strict parietal hours (meaning no girls in your room after 10 PM). I was, by the merest of accidents, at Woodstock.

I am going to confess, reluctantly, that I very recently turned 70. 35 years ago today, when I was 35-years-old, half a lifetime ago, I made a citizen’s arrest in New York City which involved reducing the culprit to possession by shooting him in the leg, causing me to be arrested, thrown into the NYC jail system, and charged with First Degree Armed Assault, plus some firearm possession charges (which –oddly enough– were never really discussed as the whole thing proceeded).

My shooting incident occurred a year earlier than the famous Bernhard Goetz Subway Shooting. I could easily have been what Bernhard Goetz became: a nationally-famous test case involving the private use of force against the then-epidemic minority violence terrorizing New York City.

I was, of course, smarter than Goetz. I used the threat of publicity to persuade the Manhattan DA’s office to back down and actually follow the law. Publicity was not in their interest. And it was not in my interest. Had the story broken, no doubt they would not have backed down, the Grand Jury would have indicted me, and I’d have been convicted, gotten a criminal record, and served time for something.

I saved the local CT newspaper article, some of the legal correspondence, and other material related to the event in a scrapbook at the time, and a few years ago, scanned the most interesting bits into my computer.

If anyone wants to read the story of all this, here it is: Shooting a Rapist.

05 Sep 2018

WSJ Reviewer Eats a $180 Steak Sandwich

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Somebody has to try these things for the rest of us. Jason Gay did.

I ate a $180 steak sandwich. Not for me; don’t be ridiculous. I did it for journalism.

Let’s dispense with the obvious: A $180 steak sandwich is an indefensible purchase. It is a foodstuff strictly for vulgarians, a decadent symbol of 21st-century gluttony and the over-luxurification of everything. To buy it is to wallow in one’s privilege, one’s shameless indifference to the plight of humankind.

Other than that, it’s pretty tasty. …

Unlike, say, the beignets at New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde, the Don Wagyu $180 sandwich seems to be less of a foodie’s bucket-list experience than a freak-show curiosity: How could a sandwich cost as much as a plane ticket to Florida? This is, after all, the type of thing that makes the rest of the planet think New Yorkers are out of their minds. Was the $180 sandwich a legitimate food experience or some kind of commentary on late-stage capitalism?

I should call the sandwich by its real name: the A5 Ozaki. The “A5” is a reference to the summit-grade of Japanese beef, and “Ozaki” is the farm from which Don Wagyu gets the meat (the only U.S. establishment to receive it, the server says while I’m there). Don Wagyu also serves more affordable Katsu sandos—there’s a $22 off-menu burger, for example—but the $180 Ozaki is the cleanup hitter at the bottom of the menu. It is served medium-rare.

Ordering the A5 Ozaki is not a showy experience. The lights do not dim, the kitchen does not clap; it does not require much more of a wait than a turkey club at a diner. A slice of beef is encrusted with panko, fried, placed on toasted white bread and served quartered, like a preschooler’s PB&J. Nori-sprinkled french fries and a pickle spear are the only accompaniments.

Breaking news: I liked it. I’m not a food critic. I hardly know my cuts of meat, and I cannot offer a detailed analysis of why the A5 Ozaki is $100 more of an event than the closest-priced item, the A5 Miyazaki. I will not try to justify paying such an absurd amount for a single piece of food, especially one that can be tidily consumed in the space of five minutes. But the A5 Ozaki was light and buttery to the point of being almost ethereal, as if the sandwich knew the pressure of delivering on its comical price.

Which, of course, it does not. There is no sandwich that is possibly worth $180. But that’s the thrill (and the crime) of extravagance, is it not? Eating this thing felt right and completely wrong—more like a caper than a lunch.

RTWT

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