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

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Slices of

“The Big Apple”

This is New York City

Wit, Reflections

& Amusements:

Cliff Strome

Licensed NYC Private

Tour Guide

Slices of

“The Big Apple”

This is New York City


Wit, Reflections

& Amusements

Cliff Strome

Licensed NYC Private

Tour Guide

Cliff Strome

Licensed New York City

Tour Guide

Recipient of The NYC Dept. of

Consumer Affairs highest rating.

Nominated Best Private Tours by

The Association of New York

Hotel Concierges.
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: 212-222-1441
April 18, 2012

382 Central Park West

New York, NY 10025

To: Aline

My wife, my candle,

the light of my life.

Table of Slices

Introduction 9

Chapter I

Fire vs. Nice
Dr. Bertha vs. Big Bertha 10

“Can’t Go To Motor Vehicle Without a Pen!” 15

Acts of Kindness, 1,000 a Minute 21
Chapter II

My Playbook

One in 8,300,000 26

“Friend of the House” 32

Singles “Seen” and Cocktail Glasses 38

Formica Beach on the 47th Floor! 52

What’s in a Name? 57

A Tree Doesn’t Grow in Central Park 67

“I Got Interests on Both Sides” 70

Same Face, Different Place! 85

“Instant Funship” 91

The 47th St. Diamond Dealer Extraordinaire! 98

It Takes a Key For a “Village” a duh! 103

Chapter III

Opinions & Perspectives
“If You Can Make It Here, You’ll Make It Anywhere” 106

What’s So Great About Central Park Anyway? 112

Take a Stroll in Greenwood 119

Subways, Love or Hate? 124

The United Boroughs of New York City 142

Take Back a Piece of New York City in Your Heart 154

Eastside, Westside, Bestside? 164

The New York Wawk 169

New York Tawk 179

Starbucks 192

Touring NYC is for Locals Too 197

New Yorkers Aren’t From “New York City”! 203

Chapter IV

“Gotcha Last!”

6’5” vs. 5’6” 208

From a Lease to Leashes 214

Dumb Sun 219

The Mis-Guided Russian Guide 234

Juan’s Triple Play 239

The Legally Blind Woman 245

The Free Bulgari! 248
Chapter V

Thoughts & Reflections

Brooklyn: Once Fear, Now, it’s Never Too Near! 254

Who’s Your Neighbor? 261

Who’s Bored in New York City? 264

Graffiti Now and Then 268

Going, Going, Gone! 275

Why is New York City so Special? 283

Who Goes to Coney Island for “Nothing”? 296

Brooklyn is “Sweet ‘n’ Low” 301

Beggars, Panhandlers and the Homeless 304

There’s Propulsion for us “Somewhere” 314

Horn Honking and Other Needless Noises 317

Hallowed Ground . . . Zero 326

Chapter VI

Other Experiences

“They Better Not!” 333

“Fraud Alert!” 336

The Butterfly Cut 347

“Darling, I’m About to be Arrested!” 354

Not Every New Yorker Is So Smart! 356

Chapter VII

So Now You Know
Mannahatta, My O’ My. Have you Changed! 360

Back to the Future with a Metrocard 364

Neighborhood Names, More Than You Know! 369

Wait! Even tho’ the Sign Says “WALK”! 377

Shop Smart 381

Crime, Way Down and “How”! 390

New York City in a Blizzard 399

Food Shopping, Manhattan-Style 404

Take a Hike and Watch for the Bike! 413

Subway Music and Art 417

New York City’s Numbers Game$! 421

Why Did New York City Get so Big? 431

From Zigzag to Straight and Flat 437

Parking Signs are Rocket Science 442

A Few Parting Thoughts 448


Through the heart, eyes, mind and soul of a lifelong New Yorker, one who has had an active, fast track, life always seeking unusual encounters, eccentric perspectives, creating and observing humorous situations, identifying people’s reactions to antics and surprises, I invite you to take this “tour” of New York City. It will surely amaze and amuse you. Experience “The City” up close, in a way you never have before.

If you love folklore, entertaining situations, everyday life with twists and turns, humor that gets you thinking while you’re laughing, 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 is it.

You’ll learn about The City in a new and different way, one that exposes all that New Yorkers take for granted and “Well, I didn’t know that! Incredible!”

“Slices” is a collection of life experiences, thoughts, peppered with armchair wisdom, humor and good fun. If you love people and New York City, be prepared to spend some well-spent time between the covers of this anthology. Enjoy and don’t take anything too seriously.

Chapter I

Fire vs. Nice


Dr. Bertha vs. Big Bertha

Buildings are demolished in this town in many ways. But there’s only one that went down like Dr. Bertha’s.

Most often buildings are destroyed, legally. Laws and regulations exist, and if the 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.

There are zoning considerations and housing laws that prevent people from losing their homes, limbs, lives, loved or not so loved relatives, significant others, former wives, friends, pets and tenants, etc.

There are spontaneous building collapses too. Structural failures, due to age, poor maintenance, faulty inspections, inferior construction, poor design and defective planning cause building collapses too. Fires claim buildings too, usually caused by carelessness, smoking in bed, stupidity, defective wiring and illegal renovations. And of course, do it yourself types and work by unlicensed contractors who simply don’t know what the hell they’re doing take their toll as well. Gas leaks bring down a few now and then, as did Dr. Bertha’s. Yes, buildings collapse for a multitude of reasons, but Dr. Bertha’s home’s collapse was truly tragic, stupid and unique.

Dr. Bertha, a 66-year-old immigrant from Romania entered The United States in 1974 and settled in Queens with his Dutch finance. He brought, with him, memories of a haunting past that included removal, with his family, from their home by the ruthless, communist Romanian government as a young child. He had witnessed his wealthy father being beaten and imprisoned by that government. The family endured extreme poverty and he too had been imprisoned unjustly.

On July 26, 2006 Dr. Nicholas Bertha made good his promise to die in his townhouse at 34 East 62nd Street. Apparently he, in order to prevent his estranged wife from claiming her half share of their home, as mandated by a divorce judgment, induced a gas explosion, destroying his beloved townhouse and killing himself as well.

The building had been landmarked and could therefore not have been destroyed, legally. So, the good doctor had the cure, 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!

In truth, it is a tragic story. That house had been a dream for Dr. Bertha and in the end it turned out to be a nightmare. Divorce is a very nasty business and the court system, as well as the divorce laws, in New York State enhance the delays, costs and injustices that divorce litigants bring to court.

Then there’s the big mamma, or should I say, “Big Bertha”, the steel demolition balls, not to be confused with Dr. Berta’s pair. Of them all, “The Midnight Demolition” brought to you by, Mr. Resourceful or Mr. Chutzpah, depending on your point of view, was the big mama of illegal teardowns. Introducing real estate magnate, Mr. Henry Macklowe!

We all know that “the devil is in the details” and crossing the line, not playing strictly by the rules in New York City could result in dire consequences. That’s just one reason why lawyers and accountants make the big bucks. There are lots of other reasons why they do but let’s not go there. There are times however when rules are broken by the big boys who are just a little “over the top” and Mr. Macklowe seems to know just how to do that!

He’s had his downs and ups together with huge debt payments confronting him, but surely people who operate stratospheric empires, such as he, calculate their risk-benefit ratios, as any good businessperson does and they go forward implementing their decisions to build, and demolition is often part of the process. The Midnight Demolition turned out to be, in the end, a brilliant move.

City law governs demolition of all SRO’s (single resident occupant) housing that is removed, demolished, converted, etc. There are payments mandated by the City from developers who demolish SRO’s and together with the fines mandated by the court, there was a four year construction ban on the sight, the target that Mr. Macklowe was about to crunch. 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 provide space to construct a new Hotel, The “Millenium” Hilton.

The money he paid went into an SRO fund to provide more housing for those in need. The City has reaped the benefit by collecting real estate taxes, room taxes, etc. and going forward on the new high-rise luxury hotel. The new hotel also adds vibrancy in the immediate area and reduction of blight in midtown.

This incident reminds me of a story about an Orthodox Jewish man who visited his rabbi, on a Saturday, to obtain permission to shave. He asked the rabbi if he could shave on that day, a Saturday, due to his participation in a wedding ceremony. While he approached the rabbi, who was shaving, the permission that he had requested was denied, “absolutely not!” exclaimed the rabbi. The Orthodox man questioned the rabbi’s denial since the rabbi, was shaving and it was 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 was, “I didn’t ask anybody!”

Don’t ask, don’t tell, and just be prepared to face the consequences. But, make sure you’ve got your ducks in a row.

As for the City, its laws, rules and regulations governing SRO’s, at times they fail to make much sense. What was the wisdom of not encouraging Mr. Macklowe to pay the costs to the fund and be allowed to demolish those buildings? Pay the City SRO fund and allow the hotel to rise!

We seem to get mired in laws and obstructive government regulations that accomplish the opposite that those laws are supposedly mandated to achieve. Listen to those who govern us and chatter about all the good they are working so hard to provide when in fact, many times, they are running in the wrong direction! In the end, Henry Macklowe did us a favor!

The most intriguing footnote of the entire episode was that the manager of the new Hilton had misspelled the word millennium by omitting the second “n”. He had all of the signs, invoices, envelopes, stationary, menus, brochures and miscellaneous material, in place!

It had been decided not to redo a thing, unlike Mr. Macklowe. Rather, they just left things alone. There was no demolition to add the needed “n” necessary for the signs, brochures, invoices, envelopes and stationary! It’s best to keep that a secret! You’re so New York City Mr. Macklow! Goody goody!!

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

Who among us has never lost their wallet? I don’t hear anyone! We have all misplaced that most precious cargo. Either it’s been stolen, misplaced, carelessly left behind or just gone missing! We seldom take the blame for wallet loss, but we all recognize the agony when we discover that it’s gone!

When we become aware that our wallet has “split” what’s the first thing we think about? What do we miss the most? It’s our driver’s license, yes! More than the money, the credit cards, the pictures, health insurance card, 1984 Red Cross Beginner Swimming card, library card or anything else that you’ve been sitting on and haven’t looked at for the past fourteen years. It’s the driver’s license that suddenly drives you into a frenzy!

“My wallet, where is it?” All you think about is your license and the hassle that you’re going to go through to replace it.

You’ll appear at the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or whatever they call it in your state and go through that painful process, hurry up and wait and wait. Whose got the time? The lines, document(s) that you had forgotten to bring with you to the DMV, the money order you’ll need, your birth certificate, proof of citizenship and all those Patriot Act requirements, now mandated to “prove” that you and the 85 year old blue haired ladies from Boca Raton, who too are on line, are not terrorists. 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 have a colonoscopy, but please, not the DMV! Anything, but not the DMV! Well, let’s just “86” the colonoscopy too, another pain in the ass!

Even more then the time and stress that the loss of your license befalls you, it is the unbearable reality that you will have to face the people who “work” there. They’re just so helpful, knowledgeable; provide you with sincere eye contact, smile, and a “glad you’re here attitude!” They move the lines as fast as possible and always give you the right information. Not on this planet! No doubt, even the U. S. Postal Service would accept most of them. There are few exceptions folks, let’s be fair.

Not the DMV, no!! My heart rate had set a record, skin, white as a sheet. I nearly passed out and almost went comatose. Actually, I had gone to the DMV the following morning, got there bright and early to get out of there fast. I wanted to get it done, pronto!

The most “convenient” DMV, for me, was located in Manhattan downtown on Worth Street. It opened at 9 AM. I arrived at 8:30 and was far from the first person on line. I got on line, found my spot and loved looking back every few minutes until I could no longer see the end of the line. Why do people relish the joy of seeing people on line behind them? Isn’t it really the people who are in front of you that matter?

I started to “shiver”, double meaning, as in wait and mourn for myself for the aggravation. It was a clear, sunny January day and having not heard the weather report that morning or taking the time to open my window, it had appeared to me 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 the window? I had left my apartment wearing a leather bomber jacket, not quite the best choice in windy 22-degree weather or for flying B-29 missions over Hamburg, Germany either. That decision, the jacket, and the waiting outside, created two sources of discomfort for me: the cold and wait, two of my favorite things and me. Such a thrill!

What I also needed was some amusement, someone to talk to, a newspaper, a cup of hot coffee, something! As if this was not enough, I had to pee, discomforts number three, four and five, amusement, coffee and tinkle. Perhaps it was some of the alcohol that was still in my system from the night before that shook me up. Hot coffee would have been nice! Ah! DMV, cold, wait, bored, pee, great total count, five!

Suddenly I began to hear an incantation. It was a song, a lyrical phrase, constantly being repeated that I heard from a distance, down the line. I looked behind me and I saw a thin, young Asian man, wearing the right equipment, a hat, gloves, scarf and earmuffs. He appeared kind of shabby but nevertheless, this guy was 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.

“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 had said that broke the rhythm was, “Cheap pens, one dollar” and the incantation 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 who stood waiting in line at the DMV! Smart guy! I now had one of my five problems solved! Not cold, not wait, not pee, not DMV but boredom. I had the opportunity to have a conversation with him and find out exactly what he was up to.

As a businessman, I wanted to know everything. How much did the pens cost him? How long had he been doing this? How many pens did he sell on an average day? Did he have any documents, a resale certificate, business registration, etc.? He was actually quite nice and told me just about everything about his business.

“I come here every morning before the ‘motor vehicle’ opens. I get here before 8 o’clock and bring 100 pens with me. They cost me only three cents. I live with my grandmother a few blocks away in Chinatown. She has a rent controlled apartment and I pay rent and food for us with this little job. So, 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! Even at this level it was a brilliant idea. He was protective of his turf. It was a business! With no overhead, cash receipts only, who could blame him? It was shear genius.

He’d been doing this pen thing for over three years, he told me, and from his perspective he was doing quite well. He was 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, single and two dependents, he’d have to earn over $45,000 a year gross, pay for commutation, file tax returns and no doubt 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! What’s that worth? Of course one day, down the road, there might be a real estate assemblage and quite possibly he’d receive a pile of cash and 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’s New York City! It’s filled with resourceful people who find a way to survive. 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 short 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 pee’d before I had left my apartment, a big plus. I took my place on line and looked for my pen friend, hoping to see him again. This time, I had actually forgotten to bring a pen. I was looking forward to giving him a little business, but it didn’t happen. Instead of spotting him I saw a big African-American gentleman, football player sized, walking the line, with a swagger and a faint incantation that I had heard from a distance. As he got closer to me the melody, the tune and message was familiar and when I heard the words I knew: “Can’t . . .

Acts of Kindness, 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, it was an oak stick, a perfect match for the hands with knuckles that matched revealing the 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 as the volume of people had him sandwiched among them; “sardines” 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; even though I could only guess what great sacrifices he had made for family and country in times past.

I got up and surrendered my seat to him without any hesitation. He was aware that my seat was his and without a moments delay he smiled and parked himself down slowly, resting comfortably, 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 had been wearing. It was adorned with about fifteen metallic military ornaments, the kinds that are available at Army Navy Stores. Heroic acts, wounds or service are not needed to obtain them but he, I had no doubt, have earned the right to wear them. He didn’t buy them as most folks. He fought for them. 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 Great 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 eyes, "Pacific or Europe?"

"Pacific" was his reply.

"Iwo Jima, Midway?" I inquired.


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 among 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 a most grateful salute.

"And thank you for thanking me." he responded, his voice shaking with emotion.

I saw a tear beneath a wet eye. It touched me very deeply. My tear would have to wait for a wipe; I was too touched to remove it.

How often people's sacrifices are unseen, 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" whom we cannot thank. We all need to seize opportunities when they arise to express our gratitude. It made him feel worthy and it gave me a sensation of warmth and satisfaction, happy that I was there to give up my seat for him. If only I could do that every day. Since then I always keep my eyes opened for opportunities to provide my appreciation!

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