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Dear Reader,

If you love folklore, hilarious situations, everyday life, twists and turns, humor that gets you thinking and laughing, sometimes at the same time, delve into perspective on urban life, new spins from the pavement, craziness, seldom known historical factoids, trivia, wisdom, stupidity, anger, wacko but at times sensible; opinions and unusual opinions and the unusual and unexpected, then this “tour” is yours to enjoy.

Experience “The City” in completely new ways. Slices of the Big Apple, is a compilation 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.

If you would like a hard copy of “Slices” please call us at 212-222-1441. The cost with shipping (in the U.S.) is $25 via credit card. Thank you!

Enjoy!

Cliff Strome

 

If you are looking for even more about life in New York City, our free, downloadable e-book is a perfect read for you!

 

Three sample chapters from “Slices”

“No! You go!”

Driving in Manhattan is spiked with numerous insanities. Anyone who’s been here can write a paper on the subject even if they’ve never driven a car. Aside from the maddening traffic, the gridlock, lousy drivers, taxi drivers, insane Uber, Lyft and Via drivers, who happen to think that they own the road with zero experience driving in New York City along with pedestrians texting their way across the street against the light, messenger cyclists, truck drivers, Pedi cab suicidal crazies, skateboarders, baby carriages and pedestrians, this place is a vast expanse of madness on the pavement.

Recently, I took my Fiat to the dealer to pick up a car cover. My red Fiat cabriolet convertible is my toy. I love it!

Upon exiting the Westside Highway at 96th Street I encountered a bit of slow moving traffic piling up on the way to the intersection at West End Avenue, known to be a busy intersection with a traffic signal timed to provide a long wait. No one was moving. Suddenly, a car pulled up on my right and vectored at an angle toward the front of my car. It was an attempt to get in front of me! I tapped my gas pedal to ensure that this intruder was not going to succeed in encroaching ahead of me.

Glancing at him I had noticed that he had been talking to me but I didn’t hear him. I opened my window and he told me,  “Don’t be foolish because I’d hate to damage your cute little car while you attempt to prevent me from cutting in.”

“I’d hate to knock into your car, too.” I told him.

“I was ahead of you,” he retorted.

“In what dream?” I replied and chucked.

He laughed too. Then I told him,

“If you are really in a rush, fine! Go ahead help yourself! I insisted.

A few moments later the traffic ahead of us started to move forward and the two of us were “neck and neck.” He waived me on to proceed first! I did the same for him and as a result we continued waiving to each other on and on and on, remaining in place, stopped, and listening to the noise of motorists horns behind us begging for us to clear the way and get going. We continued to “play our little game” just long enough to avoid anger from behind about to reach catastrophic proportions.

So, I let him go first, we smiled and waved to each other as we continued on our way.

No cursing, no flipping “the finger” and there was no anger or childish behavior, just a jocular encounter with a happy ending, except for those behind us, of course who couldn’t get to the intersection fast enough to proceed through the next green light.

 

 

Dr. Bartha vs. Big Bertha

In this town buildings are demolished in many ways. But there’s only one “demo job” that went down like Dr. Bartha’s townhouse on July 16, 2006. Most often buildings are destroyed legally. Laws and regulations exist and if a demolition complies then it usually provides for safety, does not pollute the air, prevents gas and water leaks, electrical fires, roof and floor collapses as well and an occasional explosion.

Zoning considerations and housing laws prevent people from losing their homes, limbs, lives, loved or not so loved relatives, mainly spouses and in-laws, former wives, friends and their loving and devoted partners, housekeepers, pets and tenants as well. Of them all dogs and cats are among first ones out!

Some buildings collapse spontaneously. Structural failures creep up due to age, poor maintenance, and no maintenance, lousy workmanship, inspectors with their hands out, faulty inspections, inferior construction and poor design. Flawed planning causes building failures too.  Fire claims buildings, usually caused by carelessness, smoking in bed, stupidity, defective wiring, illegal and unlicensed renovations, kids playing with matches or Bic lighters; Zippos are dinosaurs now although they do appear now and then. And let’s not omit “do it yourself” types and slop jobs conducted by unlicensed contractors who simply don’t know what the hell they’re doing do take their toll as well.

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 collapse was truly tragic, stupid and unique and to top it off it also provided a huge financial benefit for his estranged wife! Ka-ching! That was not part of his grand scheme.

Dr. Bartha, a 66-year-old immigrant from Romania entered The United States in 1974, settled in the borough of Queens with his Dutch finance. He also brought haunting memories of his past including a cruel eviction from his home, as a young child, with his family, by the ruthless communist Romanian government led by the despicable Nicolae Ceausescu and his equally cruel and ruthless wife, Elena. He had witnessed his wealthy father take a beating then thrown into prison by that 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 in Manhattan’s Upper Eastside. 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 their beloved townhouse killing him in the process.

The building had been landmarked by the City and therefore could not be destroyed legally but that did not prevent his illegal prescription, one that would cure his compulsion and provide the justice he was seeking. Therefore, the good doctor’s remedy was to 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 because the property had greater value without the structure upon it. It was a voluntary, lethal, illegal teardown uptown putting the good doctor inside out. 🙁 Consequently, he “gassed over” as apposed to “passed over” the property to his former wife, with substantially enhanced value, the one he hated the most. Jumpin’ Doc Barth is a “flash, flash, flash!” What a gas 🙁 !

In truth, this is a very tragic story. The house had been Dr. Bartha’s endless dream but it had turned out to be his worst nightmare. Divorce is very nasty business in large part due to the court system and divorce laws in The State of New York; engines for delay resulting in huge costs and injustices, as most New York State divorce litigants well know.

Putting all that aside, another means to demolish buildings is accomplished with “the big mamma”, or as they say, “Big Bertha” steel demolition balls, not to be confused with Dr. Bartha’s pair, gassed out of existence! Not even covered by his health insurance! No, Dr. there are no double balla-rectomys included, sir! Only hista’s no balla’s for men.

Many of the big “mamma jobs” most of all “The Midnight Demolition,” brought to you by, Mr. Resourceful or Mr. Chutzpah, depending on your point of view presenting, real estate magnate Mr. Harry B. Macklowe

We all know that “the devil is in the details as in crossing the line you know, 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 cross the line, making big bucks, a real pro, indeed. He’s got a big pair of his lines, rather balls, Big Bertha’s and that’s really swingin’ in the breeze!  Big Bertha is the crusher!

He’s had his ups and downs carrying huge debt, highly leveraged deals, confronting enormous note payments with unimpressive cash flows causing him fell into arrears many times. But surely people who operate stratospheric empires, such as he, calculate their risk-benefit ratios, as any good businessperson often does. Those who do so go forward implementing their decisions to build, 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 very risky but brilliant move. You have to ask yourself: Would you rather be the creditor to whom the money is owed or the debtor who owes the money? It depends on each parties wits, options, legal ways out and their source of ideas.

City laws govern demolition of all SRO’s single resident occupant housing. Such housing provides refuge for many who live alone having little or no resources or income or for those who chose not to show what they might have, “playing the system” as great New York City pastime.

The City mandates payments from developers who demolish SRO’s and together with the fines mandated by the court covering their violations. There was a four-year construction ban on the site that Mr. Macklowe crushed. Ultimately, Mr. Macklowe was ordered to pay the City approximately $5 million for the demolition of four SRO buildings on West 44th Street, before the four-year construction ban had expired, to “make way” for the construction a new Hotel, The “Millenium” Hilton.

The money he had paid was deposited into the City SRO fund and was used to provide housing for those in need. The City, due to the construction of the hotel, continues to reap hefty benefits collecting real estate taxes, room taxes and taxes on other goods and services provided by the new hotel. The “Millenium” also adds vibrancy to the immediate area and has reduced a bit of blight in midtown.

This incident reminds me of a story about an Orthodox Jewish man who paid a visit to his rabbi on a Saturday afternoon seeking to obtain permission to shave which is forbidden for He had asked the rabbi if he could shave on that Saturday due to his impending participation in for orthodox Jews on the Sabbath. He needed special permission as he was partaking in a wedding ceremony. He approached the rabbi, who happened to be shaving at the time, and requested permission to shave.

Can I shave today he?” pleaded to the rabbi.

“Absolutely not! Don’t be silly!” exclaimed the rabbi.

The Orthodox man questioned the rabbi’s denial because the rabbi was shaving that very day!

“How come you can shave today, 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 prepared to face the consequences. But, he made sure that his ducks were in a row, sort off. Macklowe had the good sense not to ask anybody, just like the man who approached the Rabbi he went ahead regardless of the consequences, and he know that would get the job done.

As for the City, its laws, rules and regulations governing SRO’s, they, at times fail to make much sense. What was the City’s “wisdom” to discourage Mr. Macklowe’s deconstruction of the buildings? The money he paid into the fund rather then letting the buildings stand provided far greater value to the City and benefit for those who needed housing and the SRO program was the only means available for them. The new hotel provided enormous tax revenue as well, directly and indirectly. Paying the City SRO fund and allowing the hotel to rise and that turned out to be the best win-win situation for Macklowe as well as the hotel owners, the City and ultimately for those who depend on SRO’s as a means of shelter.

At times, laws and obstructive governments disable forward movement thwarting positive objectives.  Listening to those who govern us incessantly chattering and harping 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 and not the least for himself.

The most intriguing footnote of the entire episode was created by the manager of the new Hilton built on the site because 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! Schmuck!

Harry went on to bigger and better projects or should we say taller? He purchased a relatively small piece of land to the west of Park Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets and constructed a new mega residential condo tower that has risen to 1396 feet.

In order to create the space for this goliath he purchased the Drake Hotel, built in 1926, for $400,000,000, and promptly demolished it. Now that’s balls, even bigger then the poor departed doctor’s! The Drake Hotel located on Park Avenue at 56th Street, had been an iconic classic, of The Gilded Age and fortunately Macklow’s paperwork was all put together with all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted. You’re so New York City Mr. Macklowe! Goody goody!!

On October 21st 432 Park Avenue topped out and is as of this printing the tallest building in The Western Hemisphere exceeding the height of the roof of World Trade Tower I, which is 1368’ high, without the 408’ pole. The pole is legally considered a valid factor of the building’s height however I respectfully disagree.

Currently, there are three other behemoths under construction in thet 57th Street 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!

Oh, one more thing. Mr. and Mrs. Macklowe are each 81 years old and his girlfriend is 55. She was born the year the Macklowe’s tied the knot! Henry filed for divorce but the Mrs. is giving him a very hard time even though he offered her one billion bucks! The word is that he’s constantly repeating Henny Youngman’s line, “Take my wife, please!” So far there are no takers. Sorry Harry . . . that’s life in the fast lane. 🙁 Final chapter has not yet been written. The New York State court system is in no hurry, thanks to the lawyers who wrote the laws. Don’t hold your breath.

 

 

“Can’t Go To Motor Vehicle Without a Pen!”

Who among us has never lost their wallet? 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! SHIT!

When we become aware that our wallet has “split” what’s the first thing we mourn? It’s our driver’s license! More than our money, credit cards, pictures, health insurance card, 1987 Red Cross beginner swimmer’s card, library card or anything else that you’ve placed beneath your butt and haven’t needed for years and years! When we’re separated from our driver’s license we turn into ice. It’s the driver’s license that suddenly drives us all in a spiraling shit storm!

“My wallet, where is it?”

All we think about is our driver’s license and the hassle we’re going to go through replacing it, not to mention the anguish of not having it as we go about our daily business without a valid government issued ID.

We have to appear at the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or whatever they call it in your state. We trudge though that painfully sickening place, infused with lines, documentation requirements, something that we’ve forgotten to bring with us, 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 we and the 85 year old blue haired lady from Boca Raton, with the LV bag, standing in front of us, are not terrorists or illegal aliens. What a thrill! We 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 pass on the colonoscopy, another 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 welcoming eye contact, smiles, and a big “glad you’re here” attitude! They move the lines as fast as possible and always provide the right information punctuated with blank stares matching their brains. No doubt, even the U. S. Postal Service would gladly accept most of them if they would dare to apply. There are few exceptions folks, let’s be fair, few, too few.

Not the DMV, no! My heart rate set a record, my skin, white as a sheet, beads of sweat covered my face and I nearly pass out but couldn’t because the place was too packed and I couldn’t have hit the floor if I tried.

I planned to go to the DMV the morning after I had become aware of my wallet’s departure. I arrived very early that morning with the hope of getting out fast. The only way to clear that place is to yell, “FIRE.”

For me, the most convenient DMV in Manhattan is located downtown on Worth Street. It opens at 9 AM therefore; I arrived at 8:30 and was far from the first person in line. I found my spot and looked back every few minutes and observed that the end of the line in no time disappeared from sight.

Why do people relish the joy of seeing people in line behind them? Isn’t it the people who are in front of you 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 at home, I had failed to get a sense of the temperature outside. To me, it had “appeared” that the temperature was warm. That was dumb! That’s not the way to be weather-wise! How can you determine air temperature by looking out of a window? This was before the day of the smart-phone so I was unable to use an app to check the temp.

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-25 Mitchell bomber missions over Hamburg. That decision, the jacket together with my wait in line had created two sources of discomfort for me.  The cold and waiting are two of my favorite things, yeah. Such a thrill!

I also needed 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, my eyeballs had turned pale yellow by now, discomforts number three, four and five. Perhaps there was some alcohol still left in my system from the previous night’s libation? Wishful thinking, sure but by now it wouldn’t have helped.

Suddenly I began hearing a weird incantation, incredible! It was a song, a lyrical phrase repeated continuously, heard coming 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-out clothes. This guy seemed to be properly 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 I suddenly recognized what he had clasped in his hands.

“Can’t go to Motor Vehicle without a pen. Can’t go to Motor Vehicle without a pen.” He sang this over and over again! 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 dreaded boredom.

As a businessman, I want to know everything about other people business 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, ICC, DMW, EPA 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 or Mont Blanc! A little business, even at this level was a brilliant idea. He was protective of his turf. It was a business without overhead and cash sales only. Who could blame him? It was pure genius.

He told me that he had been running this pen business for over three years. 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’s, entrepreneurial creativity, resourcefulness, cheerful demeanor and contentment. 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 a 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 suits them. There are so many opportunities to make money and put your life together in an uncomplicated way. 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 conditions before I had left home and brought something to read as well. I took a very long leak before I left my apartment, a big plus, I mean piss. I found my place on line and looked for my Chinese pen friend, hoping to see him. This time, I actually had forgotten to bring a pen with me. 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 lyrical cadence and message from the baritone voice became readily familiar.  When I heard the words I knew, “Can’t go . . .