Wit, Reflections & Amusements:
Cliff Strome Licensed NYC Private Tour Guide
Licensed New York City Tour Guide and recipient of The NYC Dept. of Consumer Affairs highest rating. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com www.customandprivate.com www.bestguidesinny.com All rights reserved. Use, copies, adaptations, audios, sale or presentations of this book, of any kind, or any portion or presentation thereof is strictly prohibited without written permission from the author or authorized agent. For information:
June 2011 New York City, NY
From the heart and through the eyes drawn from the mind, body and soul of a lifelong New Yorker, one who has always had an active life, relentlessly seeking extraordinary encounters, incessantly expressing eccentric and amusing perspectives, initiating countless humorous situations, obtusely reacting to the antics of others I have written this anthology defining New York City as never before. Come and take this “tour” of New York City with me. Surely, you’ll be amazed, entertained and amused. You are about to experience “The City” up close in the most entertaining and memorable way.
If you love folklore, hilarious situations, everyday life, twists and turns, humor that gets you thinking and laughing at the same time, delve into perspectives on urban life, new spins from the pavement, craziness, seldom known historical factoids, trivia, wisdom, stupidity, anger, off beat opinions and the unusual then this “tour” is yours to enjoy.
Experience “The City” in completely new ways. Slices,
a collection of life experiences, opinions and reflections, all peppered with armchair wisdom fascinating trivia, humor and good fun. If you love life, people and New York City be prepared to spend some well-spent time. Enjoy and please don’t take everything too seriously.
Tourly yours, Cliff Strome
Dr. Bartha vs. Big Bertha
Buildings are demolished in this town in many ways. But there’s only one that went down like Dr. Bartha’s townhouse. Most often buildings are destroyed, legally. Laws and regulations do exist, and if a demolition complies, it usually provides safety, does not pollute the air, and prevents gas and water leaks, electrical fires, roof and floor collapses and explosions.
Zoning considerations and housing laws prevent people from losing their homes, limbs, lives, loved or not so loved relatives, significant others, former wives, friends, pets and tenants too.
Some buildings collapse spontaneously as well. Structural failures, due to age, poor maintenance, faulty inspections, inferior construction, poor design and defective planning cause building failures too. Fires claim buildings, usually caused by carelessness, smoking in bed, stupidity, defective wiring, illegal unlicensed renovations and kids playing with matches or Bic lighters, Zippos are dinosaurs! And of course, do it yourself types and slop jobs conducted by unlicensed contractors who simply don’t know what the hell they’re doing take their toll too.
Gas leaks bring down a few now and then, as did Dr. Bartha’s. Yes, buildings collapse for a multitude of reasons, but Dr. Bartha’s home’s collapse was truly tragic, stupid and unique and to top it off it also provided a huge benefit for his estranged wife. Dr. Bartha, a 66-year-old immigrant from Romania entered The United States in 1974 and settled in Queens with his Dutch finance. He also brought memories of a haunting past that included a harsh eviction from his home, as a young child, with his family by the ruthless, communist Romanian government. He had witnessed his wealthy father take a beating and got thrown into prison by that same brutal government. The family had endured extreme poverty and he too had ultimately been imprisoned unjustly as well.
On July 26, 2006 Dr. Nicholas Bartha made good his long-standing promise, to his estranged wife, to die in his townhouse located at 34 East 62nd Street. Apparently, in order to prevent her from claiming her half share of their home, as mandated by a divorce judgment, he induced a gas explosion and destroyed his beloved townhouse and he killed himself in the process.
The building had been landmarked and could therefore not be destroyed, legally but that didn’t prevent an illegal prescription to cure his compulsion. Therefore, the good doctor’s cure was, blow it up, with him in it! That was a double demo job. It turned out that he did his estranged wife a hefty favor since the property had greater value without the structure.
It was a voluntary, lethal, illegal teardown uptown putting the good doctor inside, out and, in the process, forking over the property with substantially enhanced value to the one he hated most, is Dutch bride!
In truth, this is a tragic story. The house had been Dr. Bartha’s dream but it had turned out to be his worst nightmare. Divorce is very nasty business. The court system and divorce laws, in The State of New York, are engines for delay resulting in huge costs, fees and injustices as most New York State divorce litigants’ suffer.
Putting all that aside, another means to demolish buildings is with the big mamma, or as they say, “Big Bertha” steel demolition balls, not to be confused with Dr. Bartha’s pair. Of all the big mamma jobs, “The Midnight Demolition” brought to you by, Mr. Resourceful or Mr. Chutzpah, depending on your point of view, real estate magnate, presenting Mr. Harry B. Macklowe!
We all know that “the devil is in the details” as to crossing the line and breaking the rules. Doing so in New York City could result in dire consequences. That’s just one reason why lawyers and accountants make big bucks, defending naughty boys and girls. Mr. Macklowe, it seems, knows just how to do that, a real pro, indeed. He’s got a big pair of his own too.
He has had his ups and downs carrying huge debt, highly leveraged, confronting enormous payments of notes, and fell into arrears many times. But surely people who operate stratospheric empires, such as he, calculate their risk-benefit ratios, as any good businessperson does. Those who do so go forward implementing their decisions to build, and demolish, or de-construct, at times without permits, often as part of the process. The Midnight Demolition turned out to be, in the end, a brilliant move.
City laws govern demolition of all SRO’s single resident occupant housing. Such housing provides refuge for those who live alone and have little or no resources or income. The City mandates payments from developers who demolish SRO’s and together with the fines mandated by the court to cover violations it provides needed housing for the poor. There was a four-year construction ban on the sight that Mr. Macklowe crushed. Ultimately, Mr. Macklowe was ordered to pay approximately $5 million to the City for the demolition of four SRO buildings on West 44th Street to “make way” for the construction a new Hotel, The “Millenium” Hilton.
The money he had paid was deposited into the City SRO fund used to provide housing for those in need. The City continues to reap the benefit of collecting real estate taxes, room taxes and taxes on all other goods and services provided by the new hotel. The Millenium also adds vibrancy in the immediate area and reduces blight in midtown as well.
This incident reminds me of a story one about an Orthodox Jewish man who paid a visit his rabbi on a Saturday afternoon to obtain permission to shave. He had asked the rabbi if he could shave on that Saturday, ordinarily not allowed due to his participation in a wedding ceremony. He approached the rabbi, who was shaving at that time, and requested permission to shave.
“Absolutely not!” exclaimed the rabbi. The Orthodox man questioned the rabbi’s denial because the rabbi himself was shaving and on a Saturday! “How come you can shave on the Sabbath and you deny me the same privilege?” inquired the orthodox man. The Rabbi’s retort, “I didn’t ask anybody!” Macklowe was be prepared to face the consequences. But, make sure you’ve got your ducks in a row. Mr. Macklowe had the good sense not to ask, just like the Rabbi and regardless of the consequences he got the job done. As for the City, its laws, rules and regulations governing SRO’s, at times they fail to make much sense. What was the City’s wisdom of discouraging Mr. Macklowe to deconstruct the buildings? The money he to pay the cost to the fund was of far greater value to the City and the new hotel provided enormous tax revenue, directly and indirectly. Paying the City SRO fund and allowing the hotel to rise would have been the best win-win situation for Macklowe, the hotel owners the City and those who depend on SRO’s. At times, laws and obstructive government regulations disable us from moving events forward thwarting positive objectives. Listen to those who govern us chatter harp on and on about all the good they provide, when in fact, most often, they are running in the wrong direction! In the end, Harry B. Macklowe did us all a big favor!
The most intriguing footnote of the entire episode was made by the manager of the new Hilton built on the site. He had misspelled the word millennium by omitting the second “n”. All the signs, invoices, envelopes, print ads, website, stationary, menus, brochures and miscellaneous material had been put in place!
In order to create the space for this goliath he purchased the Drake Hotel, built in 1926, for $400,000,000 and immediately demolished it. Now that’s balls, even bigger then Big Bertha!
It had been decided not to redo a thing, unlike Mr. Macklowe. There was no demolition necessary to add the needed “n”! It’s best to keep that a secret! You’re so New York City Mr. Macklowe! Goody goody!!
Mr. Macklowe, as of this writing, is spearheading the construction of a 1,398′ condo rising at 432 Park Avenue. That will be the tallest building in the City exceeding the height of the roof of World Trade Tower I, which is 1368′. There are three other behemoths under construction in the west 57th Street Central Park south corridor that will top Mr. Macklowe’s 432 Park Avenue tower. How nice to witness the birth of another “slice” of New York City’s spectacular construction hubris!
“Can’t Go To Motor Vehicle Without a Pen!”
Who among us has never lost their wallet? I don’t hear anyone! We’ve all misplaced that most precious cargo at least once. Either it’s been stolen, misplaced, slipped out of our back pocket, carelessly left behind or just gone missing! No one takes the blame for the loss of his or her wallet. We all endure the agony when we realize “IT’S GONE!”
When we become aware that our wallet has “split” what is the first thing we mourn? It’s our driver’s license. Yes! More than our money, credit cards, pictures, health insurance card, 1987 Red Cross beginner swimming card, library card or anything else that you’ve placed beneath your butt and haven’t needed for the past fourteen years when we’re separated from our driver’s license we turn into ice. It’s the driver’s license that suddenly drives you into a spiraling shit storm!
“My wallet, where is it?” All you think about is your license and the hassle you’re going to endure until you replace it. You’ll have to appear at the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or whatever they call it in your state. You’ll trudge though that painful place, infused with lines, document requirement, some that you had forgotten to bring with you, the needed money order, your birth certificate, proof of citizenship, small pox vaccination card, urine sample, statement of no child support, high school diploma, biometric chart and all those Patriot Act requirements, now mandated to “prove” that you and the 85 year old blue haired lady from Boca Raton, standing in front of you, are not terrorists or illegal aliens.
What a thrill! You may even need an eye exam and another road test. I’d rather go to the dentist, the IRS, an accountant or even submit to a colonoscopy! But please, PLEASE not the DMV! On second thought, I’ll just submit to a colonoscopy. It’s another big pain in the ass!
The unbearable reality of facing the people who “work” at the DMV puts me into a cold sweat. They’re incredibly helpful, knowledgeable and eager to provide sincere eye contact, smiles, and a “glad you’re here attitude!” They move the lines as fast as possible and always give you the right information punctuated with a blank stare matching their brain. No doubt, even the U. S. Postal Service would accept most of them if they applied. There are few exceptions folks, let’s be fair, few, too few.
Not the DMV, no! My heart rate had set a record, my skin, white as a sheet, beads of sweat covered my face and I nearly passed out but couldn’t because the place was packed and I couldn’t have fallen on the floor if I did pass out.
I had planned to go to the DMV the morning after I became aware of my wallet’s departure. I arrived very early that morning with the hope of getting out fast. They only way to clear that place is to yell, “FIRE.”
For me, the least inconvenient DMV in Manhattan is downtown on Worth Street. It opened at 9 AM therefore I arrived at 8:30 and I was far from the first person in line. I joined in, found my spot and looked back every few minutes until the end of the line disappeared from my sight.
Why do people relish the joy of seeing people in line behind them? Isn’t it the people who are in front that really matter? I started to “shiver” a double meaning, as in wait and mourn, shiva, for myself over the aggravation that I was experiencing. It was a clear and sunny January morning. Having not heard the weather report that morning or taken the time to open my window to get a sense of the temperature, it had “appeared” that the temperature was warm. That was dumb! That’s not the way to be weather-wise! Generally, how can you determine air temperature by looking out a window? I had left my apartment wearing a leather bomber jacket, not quite the best choice for a windy twenty- seven degree day or for flying B-29 missions over Hamburg, Germany. That decision, the jacket together with my wait in line had created two sources of discomfort for me. The cold and the wait, two of my favorite things were such a thrill!
What I also needed was some amusement, someone to talk with, a newspaper, a cup of hot coffee, something just anything! As if this was not enough, I had to pee, discomforts number three, four, five and six. Perhaps it was some alcohol that may still have been in my system left over from the previous night. Suddenly I began hearing a weird incantation. It was a song, a lyrical phrase repeated continuously, heard from the distance, at the end of the line. I looked back and saw a thin, young Asian man wearing all the “right stuff” a hat, gloves, scarf and earmuffs. He appeared a bit shabby wearing well-worn clothes. This guy seemed to be well prepared. I had noticed that one of his hands was clasped holding something. As he walked closer and closer I heard what he had been chanting and saw what he was holding in his hand.
“Can’t go to Motor Vehicle without a pen. Can’t go to Motor Vehicle without a pen,” he sang over and over! The only thing he said that broke the rhythm was, “Cheap pens, one dollar” then he resumed,“Can’t go to Motor Vehicle without a pen.” Okay, I got it. This guy had a gig. This was his “thing.” He made “a living” selling pens to those waiting in line at the DMV! Smart guy! I now had one of my six problems solved! Not cold, not coffee, not wait, not pee, not DMV but boredom. I seized the opportunity to have a conversation with this enterprising gent and found out exactly what he was up to hoping to end my boredom. As a businessman, I want to know everything about someone else’s operation. How much did the pens cost? How long has he been doing this? How many pens does he sell on an average day? Did he have any documents, a resale certificate, business registration, etc.? Was he listed or registered with the NYSE, SEC, DOT, FDA, FEMA, FCC, FAA, etc. He was actually a very nice guy and he told me just about everything about his business.
“I come every morning before ‘motor vehicle’ open. I get here before eight o’clock and bring 100 pens with me. They cost me three cents. I live with my grandmother a few blocks away in Chinatown. She has rent-control apartment and I pay rent and food with this little job. I make ninety seven dollars every day, tax free, not too bad, eh?”
The only thing he wouldn’t tell me is where he got the pens. No doubt it was in Chinatown, certainly not Bergdorf’s! A little business, even at this level was a brilliant idea. He was protective of his turf. It was a business. With no overhead, cash sales only, who could blame him? It was shear genius.
He had been doing this pen thing for over three years, he told me. From his perspective he was doing quite well, netting over $25,000 per year, and working an average of only three hours a day. If he was on a payroll, in New York City, unmarried with two dependents, he would have to earn over $45,000 a year gross, file tax returns, have a boss, punch a clock, put in eight hours a day and deal with all the crap that comes with a job, right!
Not so bad. I actually admired the guy, entrepreneurial, creative, resourceful, cheerful and satisfied. Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves? He had the benefit of supporting his grandmother and because he was her descendent, living in her rent controlled apartment in Manhattan, no doubt that is where he’ll live for the rest of his life, “on the cheap!” That rent-controlled apartment is “grand-mothered” to him. It’s a “life estate”. What’s that worth? Of course one day, down the road, there might be a real estate assemblage and quite possibly he’ll receive a pile of cash from the developer and may just become president and CEO of the pen company, eh! This guy had it made! It’s very simple: Want less! No struggle, no complications, no fancy lifestyle, no car payments or strangling obligations.
So? Who’s the smart one here? That depends on who you are. That’s New York City filled with resourceful people who find a way to survive, one that fits them. There are so many opportunities to make money and put your life together in an uncomplicated way and this guy “wrote the book.” One simple incantation, a few hours a day, 100 pens and a pair of earmuffs and you’re in business! Until . . .
My license expired sometime the following year. That was bad news because it was time for the mandatory eye exam. I had to “report” back to Worth Street and get on the DMV line again. Fortunately, this time I checked the weather before I had left home and brought something to read. I took a leak before I left my apartment, a big plus. I took my place in line and looked for my pen friend, hoping to see him again. This time, I actually had forgotten to bring a pen. I was looking forward to giving him a little business, but it didn’t happen. Instead, I spotted someone else. It was big African-American gentleman, football player sized, walking the line, with a swagger blurting out a faint incantation similar to what I had heard in the past. From a distance, as he got closer the melody, the tune and message became familiar. When I heard the words I knew, “Can’t go . . .
Acts of Kindness, a 1,000 a Minute
A ninety plus year old man, a nonagenarian, had entered the B train a day or two prior to December 7th Pearl Harbor Day last year. He sauntered in, tilted, fragile and more than a bit wobbly. Fortunately, he had a cane, an oak stick, a perfect match for the hands and knuckles that reveal his years of work, sweat, toil and pain. His accumulation of years was no secret. Grasping a pole, to gain his balance, as the train accelerated out of the Columbus Circle Station, he remained vertical due to the volume of people that had him safely sandwiched among them; “sardines” all in a vertical sway. It was apparent that this standing package of skin and bones was in great need of a place to sit. No one deserved that more than he. I could only guess what countless sacrifices he had made for family and country in times past.
I got up and surrendered my seat to him without hesitation. Suddenly he was aware that my seat was his and without a moment’s hesitation he smiled and slowly parked himself down. He settled in, resting comfortably well assured that the lurches; starts and stops of the train would not topple his fragile frame. After he had seated himself I noticed the red baseball type hat that he was wearing. It was adorned with about fifteen metallic military ornaments, the types that are available at Army-Navy Stores. Heroic acts, wounds or service are not needed to obtain them however he, had earned the right, of that I was certain. They were positioned haphazardly on the front of the cap, just below the stitched yellow lettering, “WW II.” That was a dead, or should I say live, giveaway that this gent had fought in “The Big One” or “The Good War” as it has been called. His age and persona seemed to confirm that he was “the real deal.”
I had asked him, looking squarely into the depths of his sunken eyes, “Pacific or Europe?” “Pacific” was his reply.
“Iwo Jima, Midway, Okinawa?” I inquired. “Bataan!” Bataan was one of the most brutal and horrific sagas of the war. The cruelty and atrocities inflicted by the Japanese during “The Death March” ensured slim odds of survival, even for the most hardy, tenacious and committed soldiers, our most resolute and indomitable troops. “I want to thank you for my freedom kind sir. Thank you!”
I told him with a bit lip and most grateful salute. “And thank you for thanking me.” he responded, his voice quivered with emotion. I detected a tear rolling beneath his moistened right eye. It touched me very deeply. My tear would have to wait for a wipe. I was too touched by him to remove it How often people’s sacrifices are undetected, unnoticed and unacknowledged? We go about our business, our lives, without a thought that our precious freedom is a gift from those we seldom thank and, of course, from those who are no longer “with us” those whom we cannot thank. We all need to seize opportunities when they arise to express our gratitude to our silent heroes. My acknowledgment made him feel worthy and it gave me a sense of warmth and satisfaction. I was delighted that I was there to give my seat to him. If only I could do that every day. Since then I always keep my eyes open for opportunities to provide my appreciation to heroes such as he.
Ladies and gentlemen, New York City salutes you! Heroes are all around us. War heroes and heroes who do their jobs, who keep this City moving forward, first responders, firemen, nurses, teachers and countless others who embrace their daily tasks enthusiastically, performing their duty and responsibilities without a second thought.
Do not look at people and judge them because they happen to be old, or because their clothing is torn and ill fitted, or may seem to be mumbling about a distant memory or appear to be useless. You never know who is seated next to you on the subway or who is standing beside you as you wait for the walk signal to change on a street corner.
Everyone has something to offer and if you do not know him or her then perhaps you can. Everyone has a story, a victory, struggle, a past and what lies beneath what you see on the streets of New York City has a history, one that we all carry inside, beneath a worn out jacket or ragged and torn pair of shoes may be shrouded in rags.
We are in this together and no matter where we are in life at any particular moment, we all make a contribution. Kindness does grace this City in abundance. Just try, give some. It’s a wonderful connector.
I have asked numerous people to do the one-minute test! That is, stand on a corner, with ample pedestrian traffic, open a street map, and count to sixty. I guarantee, GUARANTEE that before you hit sixty you will be approached and offered assistance. Since I have suggested this little experiment to acquaintances and visitors, only once has someone claimed that no one came to their assistance.
In fact, I have tried it myself and it has never failed. New Yorkers are the kindest people on earth. It must be so! Why? How else could over eight million people live together in such a relatively small place with such a broad diversity of cultures and languages accomplish so much? We must be co-existing harmoniously. We have to get along. It’s a no brainer! I don’t think there’s another place on earth that can match our record of success! This is truly the melting pot of kindness, an example for the world.
Caucasian boys aid elderly African American women across the street. African American teenage boys assist Caucasian women who are in need of help and they carry their baby strollers up the stairs exiting the subway. I’ve seen several elderly people waiting to “catch” a cab in the rain and a younger person laden down with packages watches the cab that was intended for him speed away without scorn or disappointment. I’ve seen unsighted people aided across streets by those who come from opposite directions taking their time to provide assistance. That’s New York! It is no longer the metaphor for rude and crude, the rough and tough ill-mannered arrogant, urban, cosmopolitan arrogant bunch. It is the new “heartland.” The place to embrace each other and the pot that began melting long before we had ever heard of California, Oregon, Kansas or Colorado! Come and “be a part of it”. Come and be as nice as you can be and guess what? You’ll know what it is to be a New Yorker. You too can be a part of 1,000 acts of kindness a minute, and that’s in a “New York Minute.” Want a genuine New York experience? Please be kind!
The Legally Blind Woman
Located on 23rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenue is a residence for the unsighted, or “legally blind.” What’s the difference you may ask? Well, that was my question when I had first heard the term, “legally blind.”
I had operated the largest One Hour Photo Store in New York City in the 1990’s on West 23rd Street known as “Clicks.” Those days are long gone, one- hour photo has been a “dinosaur industry” for quite some time. I had noticed, prior to signing my store lease, a huge residence for blind people nearby. Hum! Consequently, I knew that I was opening my photo business in the right place! How could I fail with a huge residence for the blind right down the block? Seriously, over the years, a ton of business from the “blind” residence flowed in. Amazing! “Legally blind” is not totally blind. “Legally blind” in numerous instances, is blind enough to obtain Federal, State and City assistance but not blind enough not to take pictures and pay for developing and printing. In fact, one of my most talented and prolific customers was a “legally blind” woman who had lived in that residence. She was truly a terrific photographer. She saw things that no one else did, really! On with the story . . .
On day, as I was approaching the blind residence, I had noticed two young men with their jeans worn at about mid hip level, wearing black head wraps
binding their hair. The pair was standing, leaning against a storefront, each with one foot propped up against the storefront, puffing their cigarettes, and chatting, not yet noticing the octogenarian, a Caucasian woman about five feet tall tapping a white stick from side to side, obviously unsighted, or rather, “legally blind.” They were slacking, smokers, “hanging out” clasping their cans in a bag, no doubt, containing beer or malt liquor. She, unknowingly, tapped one of them in the shin with her stick, while navigating her way back home.
“Why don’t you look where the fuck you’re going?” one of them shouted. “Why don’t you go fuck yourself you motherfucker?” she burst forth in “kind.”
I had to hold back my laughter, although there was a huge dose of tragedy here. I had to take stock. New York City! That was the best example that day, so far. A tiny elderly woman, unsighted or “legally blind” a frail and fragile antique shouted out in defense, rose to the occasion, roared expletives and unable to defend herself physically or take anything back home except her self-respect and dignity and that’s big.
She had won the encounter on the sidewalk that afternoon. An elderly blind woman stood up against two “gutter urchins”, whom she couldn’t see and gave them the tongue-lashing they deserved.
Let’s give her kudos! She took what they had to throw at her and stood “tall” moving forward with dignity and pride. Wishing her well I, and a number of other pedestrians, applauded her courage and conviction. As for the others, they are part of New York City’s palette. Without them, that New York City moment would not have occurred. The grit and guts evidenced by the unsighted woman evolved over the years due to similar experiences, no doubt. It’s a shame on them. She had the upper hand.
Who knows? Perhaps she had an eye on them all the time, using the moment as an opportunity to shout her anger without fault. How little we know. Could be that she may have been one of my best photography customers? Such is New York City. That wouldn’t surprise me. Her expletive may have revealed that she know they were black men as well and if so how? Hum? Nothing here surprises me any more.
“They Better Not!”
This little story is so New York City. It makes a point and it’s quite hysterical. That’s why I must tell you, here goes: We are fortunate to have lots and lots of Korean delis in New York City. Koreans do a terrific job of showing the rest of us how to maximize use of every square inch of retail space, operate food stores that are stocked to the teeth, provide fresh and delicious food, hot and cold in every variety imaginable, consistently in abundance, well presented and reasonably priced. It’s amusing that the rest of us seem to be far less able to make this happen. Amazing but true!
The best Korean deli, in my opinion, is located at Fifth Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets in The Flatiron District. They raise the bar. The place is impeccable, organized, clean and fresh, well lite, efficient, friendly and run like a ship. I used to go there for coffee often. On one occasion I walked in and asked the counter man for a cup of coffee to go,
“Just a little milk, no sugar please.” “Si, jou got it man, no prolen!” I knew he was Hispanic, duh. They’re such friendly, warm and accommodating people, “the salt of the earth.” He prepared my coffee, as I had requested, and placed the cup gently on the top of the counter. I reached into my pocket for a dollar, it was a long time ago, a dollar, and he noticed, as I prepared to pay him. He said, “Jou hab to pay ova der” as he point to the little Korean woman seated behind the cash register about twenty feet back toward the rear of the store. Naturally, I asked him,
“What’s the matter? Don’t they trust you?” His reply, “They better not!” I roared with laughter, he smiled broadly! Who among us has the right to condemn this man for making that “honest” hilarious comment? Certainly, it was “tongue and cheek” a humorous quip that had evoked a laugh and a smile that created a brief connection. Should it have been taken seriously? Nah. The world is a place where everyone seeks an edge, an advantage for themselves and their families. This guy was guilty of intentional amusement. He, on stage had seized it, front and center, and spontaneously created a quip that I have shared with hundreds of people creating waves of laughter. Would he have been a thief if given the chance? You know, “the truest things are said in jest.” Do we know if the Koreans who own that place pay 100% of their sales taxes? Take a guess! It’s all part of the “food chain.” “He who is free of sin . . . ”
We, as New Yorkers, know who we are and are unashamed. We work together, Korean and Hispanic, any combination, any permutation. His comment was a microcosm of New York City. We take it with a grain of salt and we laugh at each other and ourselves constantly. Generally, we fully accept who we are and recognize and celebrate the differences among us. That’s just one of the things that has enabled us to continue to make New York City such a terrific place. Sure, there are those who are ready to rip us off and take from us what they can. Be it the most successful attorneys, real estate moguls, window washers or plumbers, the rip-off electronics retailers or your housekeeper, we are all intertwined and struggling to survive in the same tank; sink or swim. We know that this is a “dog eat dog” world and City. But, what makes New York City so special is that a total stranger may be the person who will save your ass and go out of their way to protect you. This is the place where we all play the game, survive and protect our loved ones and fellow citizens. But, more than that, we climb walls, wade through sewers, run miles, jump into rivers, run into building fires, kneel, crawl and cry doing whatever it takes to help our brothers and sisters, black, white, yellow or green.
We are New York City and we are the world. When it comes to caring and helping each other we raise the bar. We are the greatest collection of people in the world; right here, New York City and “der’s nutin’ you can do ‘bout it!
220 Central Park South
“White brick” has been known to be the low end of “the stick” when it comes to post war residential construction material; a ubiquitous surface for residential buildings in the 1960’s. Visually, it was an expression of low quality construction unlike the quality of pre-war era construction and design. Large rooms, high ceilings, generally characterized a pre- war building; post beau arts ornamentation, real solid walls not the Georgia Pacific 3/8inch wallboard. “White brick” has always been a synonym for cheap crap slap job construction. “Oh, you live in the “white brick” building over there?”
Such phrases cast the notion that you live there because you’re unable to afford something better! But, in truth, such buildings are not easily affordable, especially in Manhattan, in these times. There’s a large dose of snobbishness in the equation, nothing to be ashamed of. I’d live in a white brick building in a heartbeat if the price and location was a good fit for me.
Okay, enough of that, so here’s the story: A twenty story white brick building was constructed on 220 Central Park South back in the early ‘60’s, a very prestigious address and only a few steps away from Columbus Circle, one of the new gold coasts in The City. Presently with The Time-Warner Complex, Trump International Hotel and Condos, formally The Gulf and Western Building, the fabled 15 Central Park West condo designed by Robert A. M. Stern, a spectacular $2 billion edifice, and a totally redone Columbus Circle in the center of it all including a high powered spray wash for Mr. Columbus, the first since he adored the circle back in 1892. Bottom line, it’s a major centerpiece of the New New York!
Related Properties had succeeded in emptying out the building, a residential rental structure. None of the occupants had rights to extend their leases therefore; when the last lease expired the building became completely empty. The purpose of clearing out the building was to de-construct it, demolish it. But, unlike the type of demolition that our dear departed poor Dr. Bartha brought down upon him, literally. The difference was that Dr. Bartha didn’t plan to kill himself in the process or provide his x- wife a big favor, in the process, as the property became worth more without the house then with it. Related had all those white bricks carefully removed one by one and no one got a scratch.
Related’s purpose was to de-construct the building, as you may have guessed, to replace it with a high altitude slapping new ultra high world class edifice and market the property to Arab Sheiks, Russian Oligarchs and the slew of billionaire heavy rollers. Surprisingly, the Related Property boys are far from stupid and they were well aware that there was still one big sized mother of a fly in the ointment.
You see, there was an underground parking garage beneath the building and that garage was leased to another powerful real estate concern by the name of Elite. Therefore, when Related de-constructed 220 Central Park South they left the garage intact because the garage lease, granted to Elite, was still in “full force and effect.” That’s a big problem because Elite is about as smart as it gets. Elite is not in the parking garage business, they’re in real estate, big time. You see, they are the owners of a mega tower marketed as One 57, located at 157 West 57th Street, a 1006 foot tall building, shaped like a waterfall, located directly opposite Carnegie Hall.
It’s the building whose crane collapsed during hurricane Sandy. That goliath building, nearly completed as of this moment, is currently breaking price records. One of the top floors is allegedly being sold for just a smidge under $100 million.
Quite likely, Elite must have purchased that parking garage lease from the original lessee, which they must have had the right to do, naturally. Obviously, it must have been a deliberate maneuver to hold up Related from de-constructing the building, which Elite figured would likely happen down the road. Like minds think alike therefore, Elite, one jump ahead of Related sleuthed out that parking garage lease and put the kibosh on Related who were apparently asleep at the while brick! No doubt, someone got yelled at for this, big time! Let’s get on with the story.
They wound up in court. Elite’s position was, since they’re paying their rent for the garage, complying with the terms and conditions of their lease, faithfully paying the rent, keeping the place clean, operating the premises as required then they were conforming and in full compliance of their lease.
Related sued Elite for eviction because, in their opinion, Related put forth the motion that according to the aforementioned lease at least 50% of the vehicles parked in the garage must be owned or operated by people living in 220 Central Park South. Clearly, Elite was in violation of their lease, so get out! But, Elite defended their position by advising the court that it was impossible for them to comply with that condition due to the irrefutable fact that nobody is living in the building simply because there is no building anymore!
Related countered by pleading to the court that the lease does not require them to have a building although certainly it is implied. The outcome was, the judge’s ruling that both sides must sit down and cut a deal. The court fully understood the reason why Elite purchased that lease and Related should have purchased it themselves if they had their eye on the ball.
The key players and their lawyers cut a deal. Elite was paid $67 million by Related to surrender their lease and paid a $600 fine for some cockeyed violation. They all shook hands, wished each other good luck and went their separate ways. The real fault lies with the attorney(s) who drew up the original garage lease. Had they inserted either one of the following sentences in the use clause that read the following then there would have been no litigation and surly Elite never would have snagged that lease:
If for any reason or no reason at all the building ceases to exist then the requirement that a percentage of the vehicles parked in the garage is null and void and has absolutely no force and effect.
Or This lease is not assignable.
“I’m one of the Owners”
Recently, I had the pleasure of providing a tour for four lovely ladies from Florida. Everything was proceeding extremely well and we were taking in the sites those they had requested and we were enjoying the morning touring New York City. We had a lot of laughter and connected creating a rapport that was robust and energized. For me, it was business as usual. For them, they were enjoying a real New York City experience, one that they had “bargained for.”
As part of the venue we had decided to stop by Katz Deli for pastrami sandwiches, the best on earth, using a recipe that had been created by one of the current owner’s great grandfathers who had brought the recipe from his homeland, Romania. Katz Deli is the standard by which all other delis in New York City are measured and for many very good reasons.
Located on East Houston Street in the venerable Lower Eastside. This landmark has been helping New Yorkers and visitors increase their cholesterol since 1886.
One of the signs, an original is still displayed, installed outside the restaurant. It reads, “Katz, That’s All”. According to legend, a phrase used by tour guides as a defense meaning, that it just might not be untrue. That sign allegedly resulted from the following conversation between the original Mr. Katz, the founder, and the sign painter that was summoned to paint the sign.
“So, you vant me to make you a sign?” asked the sign maker. “Yeah” replied Mr. Katz. “Vat do you want it to say?” asked the sign painter.
“I vant it to say Katz.” “That’s all?” “Yeah” So there it is, “Katz, That’s All” My chauffeur parked on Ludlow Street, along side the restaurant. We immediately noticed that there was a huge line of hungry freezing patrons waiting to get inside. It was freezing out there! Brrrrr!! My guests were in no mood to stand in line in 26 degree weather to woof down some of the best pastrami on the planet. As their trusted New York City guide, providing high-end Custom & Private tour experiences, it was my responsibility to go into action and not disappoint.
There was no way I was going to allow these four beauties to bear the burden of standing at the end of what looked like a line that was halfway down to Wall Street in Artic weather shivering their tanned butts off. Not on my watch! I had to have a plan. The plan was for us to go directly to the front of the line and that is exactly what we did. At that moment, I had no plan other then to get them inside. But how could I? Together we walked directly up to the front door. I can only imagine what they were thinking.
“How is Cliff going to get us inside?”
“How can he? I can’t imagine how this will work?” So, I reached into my pocket and removed a toothpick, a very powerful weapon. People from other places use guns and smart New Yorkers use toothpicks. I placed that toothpick between my teeth and just like a switch, bingo; I transformed myself into a suitable persona. Wearing a suit and topcoat, I extended my hand to the uniformed security guard who was standing directly in front of the entrance. His job was to maintain order and prevent “gate crashers” from “cutting” in line. That was what he was paid to do. Fortunately, he had seen me there before many times. He had observed me walk in with small groups of people frequently and must have assumed that I was a guide or perhaps a “friend of the house.” Who knows? It was not the first time I have given him a a few bucks. I’ve always been warm, friendly and respectful, acknowledging his presence even if only to say “hello” or ask “how you doing?” Those are gestures of respect and they’re powerful. Most people ignore uniformed people who are positioned to maintain orderly conduct and a sense of fair play. I approached him with my customary salutation, such as: “Hey, my man, how you doin’? You lookin’ good!” I handed him a $5 bill, folded several times so that the only part of the bill that was visible was the magenta colored large numeral 5 that appears on a backside corner of a five dollar bill, have a look! There’s one large numeral on a 5, 10 and 20 dollar bill and it is important when tipping a service provider, such as a parking lot attendant, doorman or delivery man so that they see that you’re not giving them a single. When I extended my hand with the bill I looked down and he did too. He saw that it was a “fin” and we shook hands obscuring my “donation.” I gave him a wink and he responded with a smile. Telling him what the bill was for was unnecessary.
He promptly opened the door for the four frigid Floridians and allowed them to enter the warmth and pastrami of Katz. Suddenly, a short statured sixtyish year old woman, standing about fifth in line, no doubt she had been on line for quite some time, bearing her red nose was shivering noticeably. She belted out,
“Hey mister, there’s a line here!” With my toothpick in place I retorted in a demonstrative DeNiro voice. “I’m one of the owners.” My eyes drilled right through her. She respected the authority of the toothpick and the threads that I carried on my body, a well-pressed suit, scarf and a cashmere topcoat completed the costume. My demeanor dripped with New York City attitude. By this time my guests had entered Katz and were out of the cold, safely inside Katz.
As I began to enter, I heard her voice from behind me, with pitched volume, aimed directly at the security guard. “Is he one of the owners?” she shouted.
“Yeah, he is!”
What is this incident all about? It’s about pushing buttons to provide my guests with comfort and fulfilling my value proposition, a New York experience. It’s about gaining “an edge” to rescue my guests from the cold. It’s about not hurting anyone and providing the security guard with an opportunity to “make a buck.”
Is it dishonest, amoral or unfair? Sure, just a bit, yes. But, since very few do this, it’s chutzpah. It’s the kind of New York Experience that my guests will take back home and talk about. I had seized an opportunity, turned around a bad situation and made it into a memorable experience and got those ladies into the warmth they craved. They were given what they wanted and that’s my mission, one I embrace with brio.
And, most of all, this spontaneous maneuver, rescuing them was, for me, a game that rewarded me with a moment of power and confirmation that my customers are going to have the best New York experience that I can give. Doing what I do brings me great pleasure enabling my guests to have the best time possible while we spend time together.
A Tree Doesn’t Grow in Central Park
Central Park is the most amazing place. I love it! New Yorkers have so much adoration for that park even though they don’t know much about it. I’m there all the time, on my own, walking my dog, strolling with my wife Aline or hosting my tour guests. Perhaps it is the most gorgeous piece of ground designed, built and created by man in any urban environment on earth.
There are enormous amounts of effort and money, public and private that are needed to maintain the park. Millions of dollars have been donated to sustain and improve the park through events, fund-raisers, plaques adorning the benches at a cost of $5,000 each and hundreds who donate their time, toil and sweat volunteering to plant, clean, weed, rake and sweep the park. Truly, it is a community effort. Countless numbers of people have made this 19th century masterpiece the most magnificent centerpiece of New York City.
In 2013 John Paulson, a hedge fund manager with fond childhood memories donated $100,000,000 to The Central Park Conservancy. The Central Park Conservancy, a quasi-pubic agency pays 85% of the cost to maintain the park whose budget is $45.8 million annually. I too have fond memories of the park as a child however I have delayed making a similar donation of similar proportions. J
The Central Park Conservancy oversees the replacement of trees, bushes, shrubs, flowers, repairs damage from storms, re-paves paths, changes bulbs in the standing lamps, supervises the building and repair of playgrounds, repairs walls, maintains the police stables at the police precinct located at the 86th Street transverse, plants and cuts the grass, restores ball fields and maintains monuments, and on and on.
Recently, I had noticed a replacement Weeping Willow tree that had been planted along the shoreline of “The Pool” a small lake in the park at 100th Street near Central Park West. The little weeper was not doing well. Actually, it was dying. These trees replace aging Weeping Willow trees that no doubt had been planted well over 100 years ago and have few years of remaining life. It’s impressive, the foresight to plant those trees alongside the aging ones. The park is an ongoing process, one of constant renewal. As a result park goers continue to enjoy mature, and beautiful trees and will for many years to come, extraordinary and gorgeous specimens!
Surely, that replacement Weeping Willow was diseased and in need of urgent attention or the end was surely near. I wrote a letter to the Director of The Central Park Conservancy mentioning what I had noticed, hoping for an answer, but not terribly optimistic I would receive one. How could I reasonably expect an answer from a large quasi-public organization in a City this size? A letter about one tree in a park that has about 24,000 trees would surely go unanswered.
To my astonishment, three days after I had mailed that letter I received a phone call from the Director of Operations of The Central Park Conservancy acknowledging my letter and he told me,
“We’re keeping our eye on that tree.” Amazing!
The following week I passed by to take a look at “my tree” and noticed that it had been replaced! I was thrilled and gratified to say the least. There are still some people who do care and appreciate being notified by concerned citizens.
Now I knew, through evidence that the park truly doesn’t exist by itself. It’s a labor of love and devotion that has made us so fortunate. Down to the detail of one little tree it’s nice to know that there are people who “have their eye on it.” Yes, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and in Central Park too.
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