Category Archive 'New York City'
25 Feb 2021

A Walk Through Civilization’s Ruins

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Alexander Zubatov takes a walk through the Dante’s Hell that is Bill de Blasio’s New York City and reflects on the experience of living in the ruins of a formerly great civiization.

The subway is on the next block, and there should be at least two or three more trains stopping here before the 1 a.m. post-pandemic subway curfew hits. I descend one flight of steps, turn the corner past the curled-up form at their base, take another flight down and arrive at the turnstiles by what I know no name for other than the manned “token booth,” though tokens have not existed in years, the function of dispensing their MetroCard replacements (themselves already on the way out) was ceded to machines long ago and, so far as I can tell, the individual “manning” these booths does little more than grudgingly give out occasional traveling directions. As though to prove the point, a young thug wearing an expensive jacket and sneakers rushes past me and vaults the turnstile, sagging jeans and all, and the bloated woman in the booth sits stone-faced. I flash my hands in a half-hearted “are you really gonna do nothing?” gesture. She fails to manifest so much as recognition.

I turn away, pay my fare, and go through. I think of the politicians who’ve betrayed us, who’ve shamelessly lied to us and told us that punishing fare evasion penalizes poverty, as if it’s the poverty of put-upon unfortunates rather than the apathy of an entire society that has led to a whopping 13.6 percent of subway riders not bothering to pay their fair share, costing the MTA nearly $40 million a year even as it faces a near-unprecedented budget crisis and contemplates fare increases that only we paying customers will have to shoulder.

This is what this entire city, this nation, has become: a shrinking reserve of law-abiding citizens shouldering every burden for a growing mass of fat, lazy leeches, slugs, thugs, gangbangers, rule-breakers, whiners, and perpetual ne’er-do-wells comically beatified by walled-off, gated-away elites who never set foot in the subway and spin out contemporary fantasias on Rousseau’s theme of the “noble savage,” virtuous “oppressed,” “marginalized” and “vulnerable” victims heroically bearing their daily yoke while living in fear of the mythical, perpetual great white crackdown. This is our modern-day version of Joseph Goebbels’ “big lie”—an audacious, supremely ironic, 180-degree reversal of reality that only a well-off, sheltered, would-be white savior could possibly believe, blinded by opaque layers of ideology and inexperience borne of never having walked warily alone through a sketchy urban neighborhood at night.

A moment’s reflection—bolstered, if need be, by reams of statistical data that would only prove the obvious—would reveal that we are the ones living in fear, of course. The chances that an unarmed civilian, regardless of his race, will be brutalized, much less killed, by police is vanishingly low (particularly if he avoids doing the kinds of things that tend to garner police attention) when weighed against the chances that that same blameless civilian passing through the same urban neighborhood will be the victim of a crime.

The biggest duh-story of the past several years that somehow remains less than perfectly apparent to many muddle-headed blatherers today is that the far greater danger all of us face is from criminals, not from cops. But because that simple truism would tend to reverse the racial polarity of the media’s favored narrative, this is not a question facts and science can be brought into the picture to address. To do so would dispel the hysterical conspiracy theories on the Left—“systemic,” “institutional” and/or “structural” racism, “white supremacy” and so forth—that are the equivalent of Trump’s election fraud and his supporters’ Q-Anon conspiracies on the Right.

RTWT

20 Dec 2020

The Revolution Arrives at Dalton

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The New York Post reports that Dalton may be about to go Woke and therefore go broke.

One of NYC’s poshest private schools is in an uproar over an anti-racist manifesto signed by dozens of faculty members with a sweeping list of demands.

The Dalton School — which boasts stars Anderson Cooper, Christian Slater and Claire Danes as alumni — is wrestling with eight pages of “proposals” to overhaul the staffing, curriculum and treatment of black students.

Yearly tuition for grades K-12 at the Upper East Side institution is $54,180 a year.

The proposals — first reported this week by The Naked Dollar blog — grew out of the George Floyd police-brutality protests and long-simmering student complaints of racism at the prestigious school.

But some parents say the backlash has become oppressive.

“My ancestors experienced white supremacy by being slaughtered,” a Jewish parent told The Post. “The idea that being white automatically means you are privileged or a white supremacist is ridiculous. My child comes from people who had to fight for everything they got.

“It’s just about skin color now.”

Those who disagree remain silent, the insider said. “Parents are terrified to speak up for fear of retribution. Parents are acting like spineless wimps.”

One Dalton father, who said he’s removed his children from the school as a result of the manifesto, said Dalton “has totally failed in its mission to uplift the very people it professes to help.

“It’s completely absurd and a total step backwards,” the father, who did not want to be identified, told the Post.

“This supposed anti-racist agenda is asking everyone to look at black kids and treat them differently because of the color of their skin,” he said. “The school is more focused on virtue-signaling this nonsense than it is in actually helping students of color. More parents are going to be pulling their kids out.”

The wide-ranging faculty demands include:

    Hiring 12 full-time diversity officers, and multiple psychologists to support students “coping with race-based traumatic stress.”
    Assigning a staffer dedicated to black students who have “complaints or face disciplinary action,” and a full-time advocate to help black kids “navigate a predominantly white institution.”
    Paying the student debt of black staffers upon hiring them.
    Requiring courses that focus on “Black liberation” and “challenges to white supremacy.”
    Compensating any student of color who appears in Dalton promotional material.
    Abolishing high-level academic courses by 2023 if the performance of black students is not on par with non-blacks.
    Requiring “anti-racism” statements from all staffers.
    Overhauling the entire curriculum, reading lists and student plays to reflect diversity and social justice themes.
    Divesting from companies that “criminalize or dehumanize” black people, including private prisons and tech firms that manufacture police equipment or weapons.
    Donating 50 percent of all fundraising dollars to NYC public schools if Dalton is not representative of the city in terms of gender, race, socioeconomic background, and immigration status by 2025.

Dalton officials said the document is just “a set of thought-starters created last summer by a group of faculty and staff responding to Dalton’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution.

“The school does not support all the language or actions it contains.” it added.

“Dalton’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism is grounded in our deep appreciation for the dignity of all community members, an understanding of differing life backgrounds, empathy for one another, and the ability to engage and listen with respect across differences,” the school said in a statement to The Post.

But Naked Dollar blogger Scott Johnston, who first revealed the manifesto Thursday, said of the demands: “Dalton’s teachers are refusing to come back until they are met.”

The Dalton spokesman rebutted, “We’re expecting all teachers to return after winter break.”

Johnston — the author of “Campusland,” a humorous novel about the “woke” college climate — said the “meltdown” at Dalton reflects the angst and self-imposed guilt of elite private schools across the country. …

the Dalton parent who spoke to The Post predicted that 30 to 40 percent of parents of kids in the Class of 2025 will pull them out of the school and transfer them as a result of the manifesto.

Making the situation more tense, some Dalton parents are fuming over the school’s resistance to reopening classrooms since the COVID-19 outbreak, remaining fully remote while other private and public schools have resumed some or all in-person instruction.

RTWT

19 Dec 2020

Waldorf Astoria Clock Restored

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HODINKEE reports on the restoration of a famous New York landmark.

Hub of high society as well as industry and political power, the Waldorf-Astoria had as its centerpiece – both at the original location and at the new tower – a magnificent clock, originally created by the Goldsmiths’ And Silversmiths’ Company Of London for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition, better known as the Chicago World’s Fair.

The clock was purchased by John Jacob Astor IV for the original location of the Waldorf-Astoria, and after the demolition, it was one of the few surviving fixtures to find a new home on Park Avenue, where it shone like a golden beacon in the lobby – a landmark and the site of countless rendez-vous – for over 80 years. In 2017, the Waldorf closed for extensive renovations, and the clock, for the first time, was disassembled and moved to a studio in upstate New York for a thorough, and as it turned out, long-overdue restoration. The spectacularly restored clock is now on view at the New York Historical Society and will be returned to the Waldorf when renovations are completed.

Just getting the clock out of the Waldorf lobby and to the restoration workshop was logistically complicated. The clock is nine feet tall and weighs about 4,000 pounds. It’s constructed in four basic sections – the base, the middle, the clock section with four clock faces, and an upper section topped with a model of the Statue Of Liberty. (Lady Liberty was not part of the original design; she was a gift to Astor from the French government and added in 1902.) The disassembled clock was trucked upstate to Stair Restorations, where the actual restoration work took place.

One of the biggest challenges facing the restoration team was a lack of information from the original makers. The Goldsmiths’ Company was unable to locate any records in its archives. This meant that the restoration team at Stair, under the direction of head restorer Nigel Thomas (a 25-year veteran), had only written accounts and a few grainy photographs with which to evaluate the original state of the clock, and the changes it had undergone over the decades.

Original elements are missing – most notably a circle of animated figures which once marched around the top of the octagonal middle section. The figures were misplaced when the clock was moved to the Park Avenue Waldorf-Astoria and have never been found. The base of the clock has also changed over the years. There are actually three bases, one inside the other. “The ‘third-generation base’ is a sort of banquette,” Thomas told HODINKEE, “and we found two more [earlier] bases inside it,” – including the original marble base.

Alarmingly, the clock had also become structurally unsound. Thomas says that at some point – possibly during the installation of the magnetically driven gongs (the clock strikes the Chimes Of Westminster), which replaced the original mechanical striking system – part of the supporting frame had been cut out, allowing the clock to gradually settle into a tilted position.

The four clocks show the time in four different cities: New York, Madrid, Paris, and Greenwich, England. Each dial also has a small inscription advertising Elgin watches – a mysterious element, as Elgin was one of America’s biggest watch and clock makers; not a name you’d expect on the dials of an English-made clock. The likeliest explanation is that the original mechanical movement was at some point replaced by an electric one, though when this was done is unclear. An issue of the Bulletin Of The National Association Of Watch And Clock Collectors from 1960 mentions the replacement of the mechanical movement with an electric one from Elgin; perhaps the inscriptions were added at the same time.

In Thomas’ words, the clock has “led a hard life,” and most of its exposed surfaces were very much the worse for wear. Decades of cleaning, pollution, and constant running had left most of the exposed surfaces of the clock in need of repair and refinishing. Many of the decorative elements, including Lady Liberty, are in ormolu, a type of gilded bronze. The original process used a poisonous mercury amalgam, and gilders often died before the age of 40 from mercury poisoning. The ormolu work on the clock had to be cleaned and replated, and the panels in the tall octagonal section had their plating removed (the base material is pressed copper) and replaced. The goal was not to return the clock to “as new” condition but rather to preserve the patina it had acquired while ensuring continuity in finishing and structural integrity. …

With the layers of grime accumulated over the decades cleaned off, and the finish restored on all exterior surfaces, the remarkable visual richness of the clock can be seen, as well as the interplay of different finishes and surfaces. The figure of Lady Liberty gleams as if lit by the rising sun. …

At each corner of the upper section holding the clock’s dials, there are small pegs which once held additional figurines (visible in the photograph from 1893) which, in keeping with the conservator’s approach, the restoration team did not attempt to reproduce or replace.

Silver plating has been restored on the high relief images on the lower octagonal section, where one can find portrayals of Queen Victoria, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, and Grover Cleveland. Below each bust are panels showing scenes of swimming, running, yachting, cycling, baseball, trotting, and horse jumping, as well as a scene of the Brooklyn Bridge, which had opened in 1883 – just ten years before the clock was delivered to the World’s Fair. …

The clock can be seen at the New York Historical Society and will take its place once again as the centerpiece of the Waldorf-Astoria’s lobby when the tower – which will have 375 hotel rooms, as well as 375 condominium residences – re-opens in late 2022.

RTWT

16 Dec 2020

21 Club Closing Next March

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Growing up in a working class provincial small town, I lusted after sophistication, the high end Outside World, and the perqs and privileges of adulthood.

The post-WWII collapse of the Anthracite Mining industry devastated the economy of my native region of Pennsylvania, and my father was forced to buy a membership in the Steamfitters Union and work far from home on construction projects, where work existed, paying 10% of his paycheck for a “Syracuse book,” i.e, permission to work in a different union local’s territory. He typically worked all week in Westchester County, NY and came home for weekends.

During high school, I joined him, and worked construction as a plumber’s helper. Outside work, I had in 9th Grade already adopted the habit of wearing a suit and tie every day. Part of it was simply an expression of my eagerness to be treated as an adult, but it was mostly to separate myself from the ordinary society of lunkheads and idiots my own age and to part company with my earlier reputation as a tough guy and street fighter. I was sick and tired of an endless series of strange kids showing up to challenge me to a fight in order to take over my reputation as top fighter, and one ridiculously dangerous incident woke me up and persuaded me that, sooner or later, somebody would get really hurt, that my current identity and life-style would get me arrested and sent to jail. I decided to make a clean break with all that and to devote my time instead to a reading program of self education.

You might think that a teenage kid going around in a suit-and-tie every day in a tough coal town would get a lot of crap, but my reputation, and in extremis, my ability to both take and to throw a punch were still there, and I only very rarely had any problems.

Apart from my personal reading program, I took advantage of access to NYC in summertime with cash from working in my pocket to make myself familiar with the big bright adult world. I attended jazz concerts at NYC clubs. I ate haute cuisine dinners, and drank French wine, at famous restaurants. I even stayed occasionally, with no actual necessity, overnight in grand hotels. Since I wore glasses and was wearing a suit and tie, my being an adult of drinking age was simply universally accepted, even when I was in early high school.

I did this kind of thing often enough that in a number of prominent NYC venues, the Oyster Bar, Toots Shor’s, and 21, I was recognized by bartenders and presented upon entry with my personal drink.

This kind of thing can backfire. I was just beginning to explore the world of cocktails and was commonly ordering new ones I’d read of by name for the first time. Upon visiting the Oyster Bar, the world’s most convenient watering hole for persons waiting for the next train, I ventured upon my first Pink Gin, made, you must understand, entirely of straight gin with a dash of Angostura bitters. Pink Gins are not a teenage kid’s drink by any means. By comparison, a Dry Martini is like a Shirley Temple. Nonetheless, I gamely choked it down, tipped the elderly Chinese barman and left. Well, he remembered me, and the next time I stopped in, a large Pink Gin was in front of me in the proverbial NY minute. Every time I came in, I got a big greeting, a wide smile, and a great big straight up Pink Gin double. I was flattered by the recognition and I simply didn’t have the heart to disappoint him by changing my drink. Over time, I got enough practice choking them down that I gradually acquired the taste.

All this reminiscing has been inspired by the very sad news that 21 is going to be closing down early next year. Like the long gone Toots Shor’s, 21 has always been one of all mankind’s little homes away from home, a Clean, Well-Lighted Place, where a warm welcome, a good meal, and a perfect Martini await.

As a teenage kid, I found 21 pretty darn expensive, but the management’s knowing my name, the hearty greeting, and the general atmosphere struck me as actually worth the price of admission. At 21, you were a member of the family. I really don’t know anywhere that made a better hamburger or mixed a better drink. NYC will just not be the same NYC without 21. What a sad, sad time we’ve lived to see!

Michael Kaplan, in the Post, writes:

With high-priced imbibing currently on hold at ‘21,’ (the current owners) have done the sensible thing.

“We’re suspending our lunch this year,” said the author. Then his voice turned hopeful as he echoed a Christmas wish of many a New Yorker: “Maybe ‘21’ will reopen in 2021 and we’ll be there next Christmas.”

09 Sep 2020

VDH Describes Sadly the Suicide of the American Urban Elite

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Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1833-1836, New York Historical Society.

Victor Davis Hanson:

No city gets a pass from history, not Athens, not Rome, not Alexandria—not Detroit, Baltimore, or Chicago.

After all, there is no rule that just because Bill Gates and Amazon headquartered in Seattle that its mayor, city council, and state governor will not abandon its signature downtown. What once made Portland great can be undone in a few weeks.

Wall Street may run the world, but it certainly does not run the New York City government. Electronic capital really does still have human legs and when the proverbial suited investor thinks he will be infected, short of toilet paper, or assaulted on the street, he leaves, taking his laptop with him. Bill de Blasio is left to govern, like a horned and bearded Visigoth, over an increasing shell of former grandeur.

To venture into San Francisco is to return in a time machine to 1855, a boomtown based on silicon chips, not gold dust, but one likewise lawless, fetid, and safe only for those with private security guards. To the casual visitor, it appears a lunatic place now recalibrated for the homeless, the looter, the assaulter—and the very rich. Crimes like public defecation and drug use, or shattering the windows of a parked car window to steal its contents are not crimes unless the targets are the well-connected.

The story of all Dark Ages is that when civilizations finally prefer suicide, they do it easily, and the remnants flock to the countryside to preserve what they can—allowing the cities to go on with their ritual self-destruction.

So it has begun to seem this endless summer.

RTWT

03 Sep 2020

I Want in on The Pool

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1010 Wins Radio:

A bar on Long Island is in hot water after it reportedly took bets on shooting deaths in New York City and Chicago.

The Cliffton on East Main Street in Patchogue created a gambling pool on which city would see the most shooting deaths over the Labor Day holiday weekend, with the winner offered a cash prize. …

“Let the shooting sprees begin!” the bar reportedly posted to Instagram last week along with a photo of a Super Bowl-style betting box.

Officials have since expressed outrage over the gambling pool.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said, “These reports are repugnant and those responsible for this gambling pool should be ashamed.”

The betting box was also condemned by a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called it “unfathomable,” as well as Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri.

The State Liquor Authority said it was “not only sickening, but also appears illegal under the Alcoholic Beverage Control law,” under which gambling at businesses with liquor licenses is prohibited.

Suffolk Police are investigating, according to a spokesperson.

RTWT

15 Aug 2020

Nat Sherman Closing New York Store

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The Wall Street Journal reported the bad news.

To step into the Nat Sherman Townhouse in Midtown Manhattan is to step back in time, say fans of the 90-year-old tobacco emporium.

It is a place where smoking isn’t only allowed, but also is encouraged. The store sells all manner of high-end tobacco items, from hand-rolled cigars to premium cigarettes, including some that it produces under the Nat Sherman banner.

In days gone by, its customers included such boldface names as Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne and Henny Youngman. Even now, store employees say chief executives, prominent politicians and athletes are among the regulars.

But Nat Sherman is soon to become a piece of history itself. The store, which is owned by tobacco giant Altria Group Inc., is closing Sept. 25, company officials said.

Nat Sherman’s own brand of cigars, including its Timeless line, also is being discontinued. But Altria will continue to produce and market Nat Sherman-branded cigarettes, a company spokesman said.

Altria, which acquired Nat Sherman in 2017 from the Sherman family for an undisclosed price, put the store and the cigar line up for sale last October, saying the business wasn’t core to its tobacco portfolio. But a deal with a buyer couldn’t be completed in the months thereafter and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic served to complicate any potential transaction, store officials said.

Michael Herklots, vice president of Altria’s Nat Sherman International division, pointed to the fact that the emporium, situated near the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, saw much of its business from Midtown office employees. Now, about 90% of that customer base is no longer there, he said.

The tragedy, he added, is that the city is losing one of its most treasured retail names.

“We are as authentic to New York as Hermès is to Paris,” he said. …

The store is a place to talk about cigar preferences—mild and creamy or full-bodied and spicy—with tobacconists who have years, if not decades, of experience. Moreover, it is a place just to kibbitz in general—about your work, your family or, better yet, about nothing in particular.

The store offered customers, from those famous names to everyday white- and blue-collar workers, plenty of places to sit back and enjoy a “stick,” to use a cigar smoker’s term, after they shopped. Those who wanted to commit to $3,000 in purchases a year could become members of a private downstairs lounge.

Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian is among the regulars who frequented Nat Sherman for a leisurely smoke.

“You walked in and you felt like you were part of something,” he said.

RTWT

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!

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