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



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“Instant funship” is sharing similar experiences, assessing the outcomes of them and evaluating the strategy taken; I woulda, coulda, shoulda, in each instance is shared and expressed. “If I only knew then what I know now!”

Sharing jokes is the top, the most fun. It’s like a ping pong game and if two or three are in it together then one joke brings on another of another and so on. You could literally sit for hours and howl the night away. It feeds on itself and once you get started it’s not stopping! So much great material is stuck in my head and I’ve worn it out to a pulp, but they still get a lot of laughs especially from those who haven’t heard my material before.

In New York City people willingly express their thoughts, ideas and beliefs. They want to be heard and will shut their mouths to listen, even me! It's truly something special about this town, the engagement, the sense of community, friendship and desire to know what’s inside others heads and even your own. I love it. I can always venture out and find the right fit, satisfy my quest for “instant funship”, like nowhere else on earth.

“Hello New York! I’m Cliff, where you from? Want some “instant funship”? Glad you’re here! Hope you’re glad I’m here too.”

“So . . . you’ve been living in Tribeca, for how long?

The 47th St Diamond Dealer, Extraordinaire!

Who among us realistically expects something for nothing? For the most part, life is a quid pro quo, and in New York City, nothing could be truer; here no one gives away ice in the winter.

Until 2004 I had a business, a chain of one-hour photo stores and a commercial digital imaging business that I had to shut down due to technological changes. Film became a dinosaur as the world went digital. Aline and I get married in 1999 and we had experienced the most generous and welcomed gesture from a lifelong friend of mine at the time that the business was tanking.

Michael L. Brown, of ML Brown, Inc. a diamond dealer on 47th Street, for nearly 47 years, came through when I needed a friend and at that time. Friends had become scarce as my financial fortunes diminished. Shouldn’t that be the other way around? Friends should be there when you need them most, but I guess that’s just not the way it works.

We all know the saying, “You’ll find out who your friends are when you’re out of money or sick.” At the time I was none of the above, but I let ‘em think what they “thunk” duh. For me, it was another opportunity to start over again and enjoy “the climb” not my first, second or third. Michael had expressed his confidence in me by deed not merely by words. Sure, we all know it’s a business but this guy is all stars and stripes, a “stand-up guy!”

Our first anniversary was a home run out of the park, or should I say “Stadium”? We had a blast. Just prior to our anniversary I had asked Aline if she would like a “tennis bracelet” as an anniversary gift. Her answer, “I don’t even know what it is!” A woman of France, Parisian dripping with class, verve, style, brains and presence, direct from the continent, Euro-style, the envy of American women who try to duplicate but seldom succeed. She didn’t even know what a tennis bracelet was. To me that was class!

She received a tennis bracelet from me. A perfect fit for a New City, New York sweet sixteen girls. Just the right size for the teen type, an offering from parents who would have been so proud that their “generosity” provided their daughter the largest tennis bracelet thus far, given to their daughter’s “friends” by their parents, a token, a symbol of affluence, success but not good judgment, love or generosity. “Look what we gave Laurie for her sweet sixteen!!” Not an appropriate gift for a child but for striving New City parents it would be perfect! “Is it bigger than Rachael and Samantha’s!” Lucky little spoiled brat!

Well, “my child” Aline, loved it and I was pleased. A year had passed and my business fortunes continued to falter. The one-hour photo business floundered, and together we were faced with our second anniversary. How difficult and frustrating it would be for me to disappoint her on that occasion. I wouldn’t let it happen. She didn’t deserve that. I had a friend, Michael, “on the street” who just might be able to rescue me.

Aline had offered me comfort by suggesting that, as for her gift, I should take the tennis bracelet back to him to remove the link whose stone had gone missing. “Don’t replace the missing stone, but rather remove the link.” she suggested. She was ever present, asking for nothing and encouraging me not to shed a dime. I wasn’t surprised but touched and frustrated that I was perceived as unable to provide what I wanted her to have, something appropriate and well deserved, a bracelet bigger then even “Rachael’s”!

I took the “sweet sixteen New City tennis bracelet” back to Michael. He was aware that I had filed Chapter 11 on behalf of my business and that I’d been in much better financial shape in the past and confident that I would be again in the future.

I told him that I had appeared to accommodate my wishes for our second anniversary. He was reminded that I had purchased a “starter” tennis bracelet for Aline the year before. I removed it from my pocket and told him that she had wanted a link removed whose diamond had gone missing. “No, don’t replace the diamond, eliminate the link!” I had asked him.

Then I went on to say, “Hey Michael, I have a few bucks in my pocket, here they are. If I merge this with the bracelet can I move this Chevy up to a Buick?”

He turned around and removed a tennis bracelet from the safe. It appeared to be a joke to me. It was huge, not a sweet sixteen piece, but one fit for an unpretentious Parisian import or a Princess.

“Whoooohaaa! Michael! What? Are you kidding? This is a major piece! Don’t feel sorry for me. We’ll survive and I don’t want you to consider me a charity!”

“Cliff, I know what you’re going through, been there, done that. I got through it and you will too. When you get back on your feet, just stop by and give me the difference, ‘two large’ as they say. I will never call you or ask you for the money.”

I left 47th Street with a tennis bracelet that was quite nice! It was large, dazzling and impressive. I couldn’t imagine the look on Aline’s face when she’d see it! It would definitely blow her away! It would even be a hit for the mother the fictitious “Rachael”!

I entered the apartment and got dressed for the evening. She was ready to go, painted nicely and was scented like a rose bush, she was a doll, a living doll. As we got ready to make our departure I told her, “Oh sweetie, here I almost forgot your bracelet. Hold out your hand and let me pour it into your palm.” Out of the black velvet pouch that she had, a few hours earlier, always stored last year’s piece, the new bracelet slid into her opened hands.

The look on her face was pure magic. Her eyes widened and her expression was indescribable.

“Where did you get that?”

“Michael!”

“Where’d you get the money from?”

“Eh, stop askin’ questions. It’s your Chapter 11 bracelet, gabbish!”

It took about three years for me to finally get back on my feet. True to his word, Michael never called me for the money and I stayed away from 10 West 47th Street, too embarrassed to make a cashless appearance. Aline loves the bracelet. Now she knew what a tennis bracelet was, ah “The Americanization of Aline!”

The day arrived, I walked into Michael’s store, and he looked the same; tan, tall, big and handsome. I placed the cash on the counter; he looked at me, smiled and whispered, “I never had a doubt.”

It Takes a Key For a “Village” a duh!

We were all tired, stressed and entwined, in our own worlds, exhausted from the pressures of the day, each of us was encapsulated in our inner cocoons. No one was talking and there was no eye contact; noise yes, the roar of the "C" subway train pushing us uptown, whisking us away from the pressures of our day, one collective mass of humanity, another day at work in the big City, another herd longing to open their front doors and enter the world of “home” where relaxation mixed with recollections of the day past would slip away replaced by relief, family, relaxation, quiet and escape, hopefully.

Suddenly, the train came to a halt, without warning, in between the 81st and 86th Street station. Oh oh! What's going on? At first it was a non-event for seasoned New York City “strap hangers” only lightly startling and inconvenient.

"There's a medical emergency in the train ahead of us. We are stopped here until the emergency is cleared. The first car of this train has entered the 86th Street station. If you want to exit the train, please walk to the front car and you will be able to enter the station,” barked the conductor.

Well, just about everyone, out of good sense had decided to depart at 86th Street. New Yorkers are smart people, most of the time, that’s why several hundred people walked forward, from car to car, toward the front car, including me. When I reached the third car I had noticed that it was packed! Upon venturing up to the front of that car I had realized that the logjam was due to that car’s front door being locked! As I clutched the handle of that door I found that it was locked!

Immediately, I worked my way back, through the crowd, back to the fifth car where the door conductor, who had made the announcement, could be found.

"Hey sir, the door at the front of the third car is locked!" I told him.

"Okay, let's go." he said. Conductors have all the keys. That's a given.

Following, closely behind the conductor, as we all do in vehicular traffic, behind an ambulance or emergency vehicle to beat everyone else. We weaved our way past the mob entering the third car.

He inserted his key into the lock and opened the door with me positioned directly behind him. I was the first person through the portal. Those who had been in the first and second cars were long gone. On to the second and out of the first car, I entered the station, jolted up the stairs to the street, the open air, leaving the chaotic scene behind me.

Since it was a cold December day, I quickly wrapped my scarf around my neck, buttoned up my coat and put on my gloves. I was glad to be out of the underworld, safely on the sidewalk.

"Hey! Whas uppa witch you? You hadda be the firs’ one outta da train, man! Whas so special 'bout you man?" shouted a fellow passenger.

"Good for you guy. You got out, number one and aren't you somethin’?" yelled another fellow citizen.

Two comments rang through my ears as I was already buttoned up and went off to my final destination, home, on foot. The shouts had confirmed exactly where I was, New York City!

“Well, thanks folks. I just want you to know that if it hadn't been for me, the guy who got the conductor with the key to unlock the door, then we'd all still be down there. Merry Christmas!" I shouted.

"Hey, yeah! You too, sorry guy, Merry Christmas to you too!" The other guy just walked away disappearing into the crowd.

Chapter III

Opinions & Perspectives

*******************************

“If You Can Make It Here, You’ll ‘Make It’ Anywhere”

Well, that's quite a statement! Do you agree with that statement from the song, New York New York?

The question is: what does “making it,” mean? There are subjective answers no doubt, something for some and something else for others. How often I’ve considered that statement to be a contradiction; meaning, that if this is the most competitive city on earth, filled with the best, smartest, most imaginative and resourceful people found anywhere then why are so many here who think they can make it here? The question begins with the word “if”.

The intense competition will not ensure success for all and even if you did “make it” here why would you be able to make it “anywhere” else? Of course not. Because most places are void of good opportunities and therefore making it there, where ever that may be, are more difficult or even impossible to “make it” than making it in New York City. “Making it” is relative.

With less opportunity, it’s harder to make it, and where there’s more competition, harder still. Most places do not provide opportunities to “make it” at all, but again, that depends on what make it means to you.

It’s about people’s expectations of themselves, being satisfied and complete, accomplished as to who they are, comfortable in their skin, regardless of what others think of them. And even for those who are at the “top of the heap” as the song goes; with abundant talent, energy, effort, etc. then their chances of making it here are always diminished by herds of competition swirling around them, trying to elbow them out of the box! Wouldn’t you think that it would be easier to make it where the competition is not as tough?

So, then if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere, if your standards are extremely low. Where else can you succeed, if you have lofty goals? Where else would you spell success as in New York City that provide opportunities for all level of success? In other places, by comparison, there is no place that provides opportunities, in virtually every field of endeavor that compares with New York City? It’s the big fish in the little pond syndrome. You have to decide which one you are, a little or big fish or somewhere in between.

So, you've decided to come to New York City, settle in, and ply your trade, pursue your ambition and hope to become successful at what you do. You've tried and tried elsewhere; in Ohio, Florida, Michigan or Oregon, wherever. You write, act, sing, draw, sell widgets or what-cha-ma-call-its. You take a shot, come to New York City and point yourself in a direction, set goals; explore opportunities again and again. There are more opportunities here than anywhere else. What separates the winners from the losers, from those who stay and those who pack their bags and leave? Yes folks, people come and succeed and others fail and split, all the time.

First, successful New Yorkers are those who come with a steel mind and many are determined to make it here no matter what. They fervently believe in themselves. They know that the opportunities here are greater than anywhere else. They arrive with passion, energy, commitment, optimism and confidence. They hope that their determination, talent, experience, commitment, drive and tenacity will propel them to success. They are open minded, knowing that they are determined to learn, listen, experience, and break their asses to make it to the top. They roll up their sleeves, dig into the grit of the City and broaden their perspectives and focus, focus, focus. Success is out there and they’re going to make it! They yearn to learn the ropes; the rules of the road by taking in all they hear, see and glean. They will acquire a treasure trove of experience built on other’s successes and failures. Many toss out the old textbooks that their college professors had advocated. They're here to re-write the book. They're here to blaze trails and as millions of New Yorkers before them, they seek to find better ways not to do the same “ol' same ol.'” It's the proverbial, "build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door" condition.

Because the stakes are so high in New York City, the cost of rents, the breakneck pace of life, the casting call that has your knees clacking, the insecurities that only you are dwell deep inside you, the self-doubt, dread of failure, and all those demons that speak to you, inside your head.

It’s commitment and persistence that keeps you going against all the odds. Many voices speak in our heads. There are days when the demons are shouting at you and on other days you barely hear them, drowned out by the mantras of the enthusiastic and encouraging words of advice confirming that your true destiny is success. Who is that voice? Is it the real you? You must follow your path until you discover whether you’re destiny is success or failure, as you define it. It’s compelling. A mirror is in your face. Who and what are you?

However, for those who succeed, there is another voice that lurks within. That's the one that says, it's okay; you are equipped with all you need to "make it" here, and why not? That's up to you. That voice harnesses your relentless commitment to succeed at what you are meant to do, your destiny, your calling! How many "foreigners" have arrived at our shores and launched themselves, their careers and their lives and soared into the stratosphere? How many have come with pennies in their pockets and a dream in their hearts? For those who have made it here it is the measure of merging their drive, humility, eagerness, brains, fortitude and positivity with the magic carpet, the endless canvas of opportunity that is New York City. For those who doubt that, please be advised that in 2010 over 3,000,000 New York City residents have been born in foreign countries, more than ever before! Some will make it, most will not, and that’s the subjective, their definition of “making it”.

If you shy away from the challenges of succeeding in New York City because you perceive that the competition is just too great then why not ply your trade in Oklahoma City, Wichita, Santa Fe, Orlando or Ashville? Certainly, the competition there is not nearly as intense as in New York City. And if you’re elsewhere and success provides you with the means to pay your bills, live a nice lifestyle, then you’ve succeeded, correct? And if you succeed, wherever you choose, then your success is not less significant because who has the right to judge your success except you? Many can make it in small towns that can’t make it in New York City. Many who can make it in New York City don’t have a clue how to make it in small town America. It’s truly a matter of where you fit in, where you’re comfortable and what works for you, your personality and your persona. The notion that “if you could make it here, you’d make it anywhere” is purely a myth, a lyric!

If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere, as long as there's enough left over for you “there”, and that's a challenge that is perhaps greater then making it in New York City. There’s much less booty in a small pond. But, with a full breast of energy and enthusiasm, you're sure to find what you're looking for here, more so than elsewhere. If you do make it here it's because you have tooled yourself to take advantage of this great City and you’ve merged the best of you with the wealth and breath of the City with tons of the right stuff that you must have within.

To paraphrase John Steinbeck: Only New York City has a heartbeat that may grab you and if you find something you love and passionately pursue then you will become a part of that heartbeat and if you're fortunate you'll never let go. Never let go!

What’s so Great About Central Park Anyway?

I hate watching people enjoying the park, walking hand in hand, sitting and reading a newspaper under a tree or gazing at joggers taking another lap around the loop or watching adults showing off their ice skating skills at one of the park’s two rinks. I dislike watching those who amble through the Park to escape the City, enjoying a few precious moments of solace.

And what really irks me is observing young parents with their child tightly secured to a bicycle handlebar basket or rear seat peddling through the park, gliding along a footpath or meandering through the North Woods. It reminds me of Mel Brooks’ comment in the comedy sketch, "The Two Thousand Year Old Man" when he was asked something like, "What do you think of man's conquest of space and sending a man to the Moon?" His reply, "That was good!" Yeah Mel, Central Park is good too.

Central Park was our moon shot a little over 150 years ago and most of those who enjoy the park haven’t got a clue about Central Park! They take it for granted, never knowing that it was the first park to do what it does and in so many ways. It was together with the Brooklyn Bridge and St. Patrick’s Cathedral one of the three foremost monumental technological achievements of New York City in the 19th century. It was the culmination of the ideas and efforts of so many who had pushed for the concept, persuaded the City to pay for it, purchase the land, through eminent domain, and plan the world’s first public landscaped park built for all everyone, not just the wealthy and advantage as was customary in Europe, paid for with public money and created in a new and different way.

The Central Park, as it was first called, is still a primary destination for visitors to New York City with over 30 million visiting the park annually. How I hate that the vast majority of those who meander around, enjoying the beautiful variety of trees, expansive lawns, secluded forests, spectacular bridges and man-made landscapes that envelops the park does so without any curiosity as to how it all came to be.

Seriously, though, in truth, I take pride and pleasure watching people enjoying Central Park; but what puzzles me is that the vast majority of those who take pleasure enjoying the Park that do not know nor are they interested in learning anything about how the Park was built, yes built, why, when, at what cost, etc. What did it take to create this first ever landscaped urban park, paid for with public money, for use by all people. It baffles me! It’s virtually, by most, a complete unknown. “This park was completely designed and built by man!”

In the early 19th century “The Garden Cemetery" movement had taken hold and enabled visitors to pay their respects to their forbearers in a bucolic and natural environment and experience spiritual solace, appreciation of life and engage in deep reflection, enjoy nature’s beauty and inhale the evidence that, death is a continuum, a component of living, it’s nature’s way. The concept of landscaped parks grew and provided a means to escape from the stresses of urban life during the dawn of the industrial revolution, giving people a much needed release from the pressures of life in crowded, noisy, stench filled, filthy, dangerous urban environments and New York City was, back then, no exception.

New York City leaders, such as William Cullen Bryant, clamored for such a park and by the mid 19th century the idea took hold. The Park Commissioner held a contest to design “The” Central Park. Thirty-two entries were submitted and Fredrick Law Olmstead together with Calvert Vaux won the $2,000 prize and the right to supervise the construction of their design with the help of 20,000 men over a period of fourteen years! They used more explosives than at The Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle on the North American continent, yet to be; hauled thousands of tons of soil from New Jersey, evicted between 800 to 1600 inhabitants from a place known as Seneca Village, in the west 80’s section of the park, planted thousands of trees, installed over 100 miles of underground water pipes, moved millions of tons of soil altering the topography, conceived and created four vehicular transverse roadways, cut and utilized thousands of cubic yards of stone, six million bricks, designed and built four subgrade transverse roads to avoid vehicular disturbances to park goers; designed and built equestrian, pedestrian and carriage paths generally non-intersecting, building 37 bridges and tunnels, all unique, together an a unique a varied and lush environment never before conceived with a stone wall around the entire park’s perimeter, this was and still is Central Park!

At that time, the park was too far north for most inhabitants of Manhattan to reach since most Manhattanites lived below 23rd Street. However, the visionaries got it right, because they knew that the city was growing north and in time, it would become a central locale. They created gate names to enter the park glorifying humankind, such as Ladies' Gate, Boys' Gate, Engineer’s Gate, Scholar’s Gate, Artist’s Gate, etc., in opposition to the numbered street names that were mandated in 1811 under the Grid Plan that had laid out the street system that was quickly becoming a growing reality.

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