Slices of "The Big Apple" This is New York City Wit, Reflections & Amusements: Cliff Strome



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There’s too much inconsistency when it comes to safety in New York City. Let’s make this a priority and put the brakes on the problem. I’ve seen people get hit. I’ve seen the white bicycle memorials around the City, and I know where to find them. Come on New York City, let’s get with the program. The Mayor is so concerned about our health, air, sugared drinks, cigarette smoking, well, well, Mike! Do something, please! Let’s all smoke, ride bikes, eat high calorie foods and drinks and weave through the sidewalks. Hey, isn’t that what we’re doing now?

Truthfully, bike messengers are the most ubiquitous danger in the City, for those who are “out and about”. Please keep this in mind when you take a hike, look out for the bike, both ways and always! You could be wheeled into a hospital or morgue with Schwinn or Dahon imprinted on what’s left of your forehead! “Different spokes in different folks!”

Subway Music and Art

If you enjoy live music and want to hear the most varied assortment; jazz, classical, Mexican, Rap, African drums, bongo drums, steel drums, Chinese (pling, plang), Mo-town, DoWop, Gospel, Ecuadorian, barbershop quartets, etc. etc. then buy a metro card and take a musical tour of the New York City subways. “Music Under New York” (MUNY), is an organization that promotes public music and provides over 150 free weekly performances at twenty five locations throughout the subway system. They sponsor auditions for musicians who compete for the most desirable locations; selected stations where musicians perform for the highest volume of music friendly and generous straphangers. You’re more likely to find violinists at the 1 train station at 66th Street and Broadway at Lincoln Center. Jazz flourishes at the southern end of the Columbus Circle Station in between the blue and orange lines. One of the best jazz trios in the city is there most late afternoons; check it out!

Listen to the country music style guitarist at the Museum of Natural History station and check out the show at the Eighth Avenue and 34th Street station featuring either Ecuadorian ensembles or African-American song and dance presentations. Give them a buck if you like what you hear. They make a big contribution to our lives in New York City and they work hard to win your appreciation and earn some needed “coin”.

Okay, so it’s not the Paris or Moscow subway system, both adorned with magnificent stations. Some have claimed that they’d marry their daughters off there because they are so gorgeous, the stations, that is. Here, there are no chandeliers or marble floors here but there’s fabulous art all over, just take a look. It’s all good and our ladies are the most beautiful on earth.

Squires J. Vickers, chief subway architect and designer for over thirty years, designed over 300 stations giving us the arts and crafts motif that defines the look of our subway system. It celebrates the subways’ function, traditional craftsmanship, simple forms of decoration, glorifying the industrial age and shedding the clutter of the Victorian era and the exaggerated ornamentation of the Beau Arts period of the early 20th century. His colors, geometrics and mosaic station name panels, terra-cotta embellishments and playful designs adorn our stations. It’s something worth noticing while waiting for the welcomed roar of your oncoming train. Who gives this a thought? Nearly no one! They’re there, always been, always will be like a kind of “sub” conscious visual unnoticed by the masses.

Check these out:

Edith Kramer’s glass and mosaic panel at the C Spring Street station on the north side of Spring Street, just before you descend the stairs from the street is an outstanding piece of art. No need to enter the system. It depicts the 14th Street station. Bring your camera. It’s simply gorgeous.

Eric Fischl’s “Garden of Circus Delights” at 34th Street and Penn Station; depicts the circus; animals, acrobats and fire eaters in action! Awesome!

Faith Ringgold’s “Flying home Harlem Heroes” is a collage of musicians, writers, artists, civil rights and religious leaders that seem to be flying home though the air joyously at the 125th Street Station, it’s a major piece.

My favorite: Tom Otterness “Life Underground” at the 14th Street and 8th Avenue station is the most creative and whimsical art form in the entire system. This work is spectacular; bronze sculptures are placed everywhere, ceilings, benches, steel beams, and floors too! They portray, for example, an alligator emerging from beneath a manhole cover whose jaws are clenching a crawling toddler’s diaper. The folklore is that New Yorkers may have returned from a Florida vacation with their children with a baby alligator in tow. Their new pet grew and rather than subject their children to becoming an alligator snack the parents opted to dispose of the new family member in the canyons of the subway to take up life among an endless food supply, rats!

Otherness’ provides us with characters, short and stout, vested, with top hats carrying exaggeratedly huge subways tokens, coins, animals personified, elephants with hats, giraffes and mounted melted “pay phones”.

Otterness had considerable hurdles to climb to overcome the objections of bureaucrats. He considered that to be a part of the creative process. Fortunately for us all, it’s genius, shear genius.

The outer boroughs boost a spectacular array of art. Visit the Nereid, Myrtle and Wyckoff Avenues in Brooklyn; Burnside Avenue in The Bronx, Woodhaven Blvd and Jamaica Centre Station in Queens or check out New York Subway art on the internet. There are lots more and for the cost of a metro card it’s another New York City bargain. It’s the largest museum in the City, with wheels to take you from one exhibit to another. Not bad for $2.50, or less. That’s for now.

New York City’s Numbers Game $!

Income disparity is a part of our diversity. Not merely that “rich” palette of ethnic diversity, cultures, languages and assorted neighborhoods; the greatest disparity of wealth in The United States is right here, in New York City! The super rich are nested in cavernous buildings with all the right touches; you generally know where they are and how they look. They’re dotted all over Fifth Avenue, Madison, Park, and Sutton Place, East End Avenue, The Village, Soho, Tribeca, The Upper Westside, Central Park West, Columbus Circle, Riverside Drive and numerous other enclaves around the City. The shrinking middle class, by some measure, is less than 10% of the entire City living scattered in all five boroughs dwelling in rent controlled and stabilized apartments, city housing, homes grandfathered to them by ancestors, purchases made by working couples a generation ago that have been paid off, many living on pensions and small inheritances and struggling couples with jobs that pay barely enough after years of lifetime employment. In fact, if all the people who live on the Upper Westside, for example, had to buy or rent their apartments at today’s prices all but 10% of them would have to flee. The environs of upper Manhattan are home to the least financially privileged residents in Manhattan, generally Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood (where there’s an intersection, “just to mention”: Seaman Avenue and Cummings Avenue that’s adjacent to Inwood Park, seriously!), Hudson Heights and Hamilton Heights. This island is littered with City housing units, and Mitchell Lama subsidized housing, from top to bottom generally void in midtown, the Upper Eastside, a lot on the Westside between 57th and 103rd Street and none near Gramercy, Murray Hill or too close to the wealthiest areas. The least affluent neighborhoods are generally located in the south Bronx and central Brooklyn, east of Prospect Park and scattered areas in Queens.

Wealth accumulation is acquired through inheritance, earnings, luck, lottery and savings, a lot of savings and crime both white and blue collar varieties. Marriage, luck, foul play, Bernard Madoff, should be Made-Off, and many others who ply their trade engaging in every conceivable illegal activity known to man also result in huge swings of financial fortunes.

In this town there is a lot of fancy real estate footwork, particularly over time much that occurs quite quickly. These opportunities are available to the very few, those who have the connections, credit, government, friends, “the best judges that money can buy”, city council buddies and the denizens of the deep. Most New Yorkers, overwhelmingly, grind through their lives as employees, working at jobs that are monotonous and un-challenging but their jobs do provide just enough to put shoes on the baby, a roof over their heads and the joy of a six-pack at day’s (daze) end. There seems, for them, to be no way out of the “trap” never to find a way to aspire to 740 Park Avenue, 15 Central Park West, River House or 1 West 72nd Street known as The Dakota or a classic 3½ room apartment in a doorman building that millions just dream about. Like most New Yorkers, I attempt to peer through the windows of Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue and Central Park West apartments for a glimpse of how the “chosen few” live. Even The Metropolitan Club’s first floor windows are deliberately raised high enough for insiders to peer out at pedestrian traffic but not low enough for outsiders, like us, and I to peek in to. I wouldn’t peek in, would you? Nah! Eh, well?

Here are few illuminating numbers for crunching: The top 1% of households in the City has soared to claim 44% of the city’s wealth in 2007 up from 17% of households a short twenty years ago! The income share of the bottom 90% of households was 34% in 2007 compared with 59% in 1987! In zip code 10021 located on the Upper Eastside wealth is forty times higher than the bottom 20%; $90,000 annual income per capita and that includes children. According to the Forbes 400, wealthiest people in the world, 72 live in New York City, each with a net worth exceeding $1 Billion. That’s more billionaires than any other city in the world. Many billionaires live in New York City but are smart enough not to use it as their primary residence for tax saving purposes. David A. Koch, for example, purchased Jackie Kennedy’s apartment but lists his primary residence in Kansas, where his business headquarters happens to be located. Way to go Dave! It’s so obvious why people do that and no one shakes ‘em down! That’s amazing! Huh! Just a pied a terre right Dave!

Isn’t it fascinating how the super rich love America but not Americans? “Let ‘em eat cake and let’s grab that Bush tax cut saving them about 80 billion bucks per year and reduce medical aid for the working poor and deny good nutrition for children via tax revenue.”

No billionaire “left behind!”

I suppose that since the Republicans maneuvered to include pizza in federally subsidized school lunch menus as a vegetable because it contains tomato sauce should adopt the mantra, “Let ‘em eat pizza.” Sleep well fat cats because one day, due to the deficits, all your money will be rendered worthless. Just read a little history. There’ll be blood in the streets and large coops, yours, which you just may have to barricade. Don’t fret, your doorman, with grey hair or no hair will protect you from the 99% that roam the streets of despair!

Don’t you know that the larger and stronger the middle class is then the more stable and enduring democracy becomes? Seems like a pretty good investment to me. Fracking, that new ubiquitous technology to extract gas is going to rear it’s ugly head some day, let the water pour and burn. What’s in your water, Mr. Cheney?

Staten Island is the wealthiest borough, per capita, in New York City with income over $81,000 per household and the only borough with single digit poverty at 9.8%. The poorest is The Bronx with $46,298 average family income and 27.1% at the poverty level.

When I graduated from college my income goal was to earn $1,000 per year times my age. I’ll never live long enough to make that work. Money, huh, I look at a $100 bill now and it looks like a “20”. We’re moving closer to the precipice so spend your money because it’s going south under the stewardship of all the cities, towns, counties, states and the Fed. Better buy a wheelbarrow now, much cheaper than tomorrow. Haul those greenbacks for some “bread” man, it’s comin’! Just the other day I walked into my neighborhood Duane Reade to buy a candy bar. The price, $1.19, I walked out empty handed and checked out the Rite Aid across the street; two packs of M & M’s, $1! Gotta shop around. I stopped at a newsstand last week to buy a copy of The New Yorker and two packs of gum, price, $5.99 for the magazine, and $1.75 per pack of gum; total cost, $9.49. I halted and just didn’t do it. I do recall that once upon a time my favorite magazine, MAD, “what me worry” was 35 cents plus ten cents for two packs of gum, total 45 cents. The subway was 15 cents in my lifetime, now $2.50. We got problems . . . oy! How about a slice of pizza and a coke, a quarter, now we’re creeping back, I see two slices and a coke for $2.75! 75 cents a slice is back in New York City and it’s a moneymaker, a Times Square price war. Eat up Republicans and toss aside the broccoli, asparagus and peas.

It used to be that someone whose net worth was one million dollars was rich. Today it means they can own a coop apartment in Manhattan, basically, if they pass the muster of the dreaded board. Rich today means earning one million dollars a year and up, up, up! Back in 2001 only 1.3 million families in The United States had a net worth over one million dollars. There are now about 27,000 families with wealth exceeding $30 million, and a lot of them are living in and around New York City, as many as 10% of them.

As for treats, trinkets and staples that these folks are accustomed to, let’s have a look or take a peek at a shopping list: Bed linens, $6,000, a full set of linens with Fuseli lace, from Italy, and to think that we suffer slumbering on Wamsuta, a mere 400 threads per inch! No wonder I can’t sleep at night, I need my Egyptian cotton pillowcases! And now many are considered members of the underclass; that’s short for former middleclass, largely gone. Forget about a mausoleum site at Greenwood Cemetery, that’s $180,000 without goodies, you know, landscaping, a few trees to cool you off and the limestone monument itself. Not bad for a few blades of grass for the final rest. That’s too much money for the “underclass” don’t you think?

How about a 36 minute commute from the Hamptons to Manhattan via Associated Aircraft Group in the latest Sikorsky for $6,000; that’s equivalent to 2,666 swipes on your metro card, unless you have an unlimited decade card which you can swipe at eighteen minute intervals, which would take you 33 days and a quart of elbow grease unless you can afford to hire a swipper working for you at minimum wage, no benefits, of course. And for closers, perhaps you’d like a place to put your Mini Cooper; at $250,000, or so, a parking spot will do nicely at Dietz Lantern in Tribeca, with a remote-control door, video cameras and concierges tossed in or check out the new building on West 24th Street and 11th Avenue. You too, like Nicole Kidman and Doce Cabanna can have that too just like Nicole for a cool $10 million, a bargain because the asking price was $12.5 million, a saving of $2.5 mil. I guess I can discard my Zipcar card now, and just take the bus. Any takers? Oh yes, there’s a catch, there’s a waiting list for those parking spots, a line, if you will, and waiting on lines isn’t my thing so I’ll just have to pass even if I did own, or lease a car! No friend of the house there!

Many fortunate’s have purchased their apartments over forty years ago. As I recall, an apartment in The Dakota was running for less than $100,000 a room about twenty years ago. Now they’re about twenty times that price. I also recall when townhouses on Striver’s Row in Harlem were on the market for $30,000 a piece. Now add two zeros to get a key, a hundred times higher in forty years, nice buy, then, but the catch was you wouldn’t have wanted to live there at that time, and there are those who still feel that way today. It is interesting; that closing costs, with the mortgage tax, if you financed about 70% of that purchase would cost you about twice the price of the entire unit had cost back in the ‘70’s. Mortgage tax! That’s the New York State handshake. Hi Sheldon, Hi Albany, the classic case of the tail wagging the dog, Oy!

Oh yes, one last thing if you please, there’s a very large brownstone townhouse on the south corner of Central Park West and 84th Street that just went on the market. Take a guess. It’s featured for $32 million, but it’s big, nice location, location, location!

Let’s boil all of this down, in perspective. Twenty one percent of New Yorkers have nothing or less, are in crushing deep debt and therefore have a negative net worth. They’re living below the poverty line, “under water.” The most striking example of the highest income disparity in The United States, is New York City, where else? Mr. David Koch’s net worth of $20 billion plus which is equaled to the least affluent 1.5 million New Yorkers. Add The Mayor and together their net worth equals perhaps the bottom 35% of all New Yorkers in income, give or take a few percentage points. Hey brother, can you spare me a million, annually? Thank you! Sure, I can spare about 100 million to become mayor for the third time and hey if I did give you a million a day I wouldn’t miss a meal or a cent of my principle. Hey, Mike’s a smart guy, nobody just handed to over to him, he made it happen. Good job, no great job!

There’s another gent named David, David Martinez, a Mexican Hedge Fund mover and shaker who paid $54 million for his duplex condo at The Time-Warner complex at Columbus Circle, aka 10 Columbus Circle. That would pay some rents for a number of others I would imagine! But poor Mr. Martinez didn’t get a toilet, refrigerator or finished floors for that place with the purchase. No wonder I saw a guy with a full-length mink and diamond stuttered tiepin wandering around Home Depot recently! Could be him, who knows? What the hell was he shopping for?

But Mr. Martinez’s record-breaking purchase price for a home in New York City was broken in November 2011 due to the sale of Stanford Weill’s 15 Central Park West 6,700 square foot triplex with a multi-terraced condo facing the park for $88 million. He paid $43.7 million for it in 2007! He, and his wife, have gifted the profit to charity and that’s the way to go. They’ll never miss a meal or tax write-off either. Nice!

Estimates vary as to the Mayor’s net worth. However, you slice and dice it. It’s way up there in the stratosphere. Estimates range in the $20 billion stratosphere; most of it is stock in Bloomberg, LLC, I’ve heard. Therefore, the possibility of liquidating it in one shot is not an option, very unlikely. What a shame. How many suits can you buy in a day Mike? I think we’re about the same size, 40 short? I wonder if he buys them at Jos. A. Bank when they have their buy one get two free promos, like I do. I must make a note to “drop him a line” next time I take advantage of it and take the mayor with me. Perhaps I can give him one of my freebees for his retirement. Just a little thank you for the terrific job he’s done, in general.

Make no mistake he didn’t make that working for The City of New York, for that he gets a buck a year, his choice. But, I suppose he’s worth every penny. “Mike for Mayor” “Mike for Mayor” “Mike for Mayor” that’s 1, 2 and 3 terms! Nice job, glad you’re the mayor, so far. Who’s next? We’ll have to wait and see!

Why Did New York City Get so Big?

Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and other major east coast cities just didn’t reach the size and impressive heights as New York City did by any measure.

However, why has their growth been far less impressive then New York City’s? Most New Yorkers don’t ask themselves that question and that’s a mystery to me. Those whom I have asked have some notion such as: “great harbors”, “the immigrants!” “We’re the best” rah rah rah, etc. etc. It’s amusing to hear people struggle to offer their wisdom as to why this City has grown so large and so fast, faster than any other on earth. New York City’s population of 60,000 in 1800 grew to 3.3 million in 1900. That has never happened before, ever!

Why did New York City become so essential, globally important, unique and significant? It became so productive, diverse, inventive and innovative, why? Generally, it all boils down to three key reasons; first, the geography, made by nature and revised by man, second, the roots of our culture built and established primarily by the Dutch, the first settlers who came here and third, the plethora of immigrants, each with their own culture, varying skills, ideas and capabilities contributed, creating a mix, a “melting pot” to the young blossoming city. The combination of these resulted in many of the best and brightest among them, not just the poor and downtrodden to come to create a new life but in addition it certainly created The City that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Sure it was the harbor, deep on both sides of Manhattan, excellent in Brooklyn too and protected; surrounded by Staten Island, Brooklyn, Governor’s Island and New Jersey that formed the Upper and Lower Bays, buttermilk channel, the narrows, the inlet that provides further shelter from harsh ocean currents.

At first, most trade was conducted on the East River because The Hudson, formally The North River, was subjected to much stronger winds directly from the west, posing grave threats to the smaller and lighter sailing ships. The South Street seaport became the busiest port on earth prior to the arrival of larger and more dense steam powered ships. They lined up in the upper bay and waiting for the opportunity to dock. Fortunately, The East River was deep enough to accommodate the shallow draft of sailing ships and the west winds were gentler due to the ideal placement of Manhattan. Heavier steam powered vessels favored the Hudson due to their deeper drafts. They were made of steel and powered by engines that were better able to withstand the currents and higher winds than sailing ships.

But the harbors were not enough to ensure this City’s spectacular growth. It was The Hudson River that provided New York City with the only “super highway” providing water access to the interior of the continent for the only city on the east coast. That had made it economically attractive for New York City entrepreneurs to gather and transport the treasures that were within reach found in the hinterlands far from the coasts much more quickly and cheaply then any other east coast city.

The savings of time and money to transport goods over the Hudson versus land, especially prior to the age of railroads, was huge! No other east coast city could compete. As a result, goods were most accessible through New York City and that laid claim for us to become the port of call for beaver pelts, agricultural products, cotton, coal, timber and much more. The cost to transport goods over land was approximately $30 per ton versus $5 on the river and the time to move goods was up to thirty times longer if conveyed over land!

The addition of the 362-mile long Erie Canal completed in 1825, at a cost of over $7 million “sealed the deal” giving New York City far reaching access to what was then “The West”. Jefferson thought that the scheme was sheer madness. Having purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 for about twice the price of the Erie Canal, it became the greatest real estate deal in American history. Jefferson had failed to recognize the significance of this “big ditch” as the enormous asset and catalyst for growth that it would become. It gave us reach as far as the nation had spread at the time, an incredible, daring engineering and commercial achievement. Poor Tom just didn’t get it!

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