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

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Ladies and gentlemen, New York City salutes you! Heroes are all around us. War heroes and heroes who do their jobs, keeping this City moving forward, first responders, firemen, nurses, teachers and countless others who consider their sacrifices their duty and responsibility without thinking twice.

Don’t look at people and judge them because they’re old, or their clothing is torn and ill fitted, or they seem to be mumbling about a distant memory or appear to be useless. You never know who is seated next to you on the subway or who’s standing beside you as you wait for the walk signal on a street corner. Everyone has something to offer and if you truly don’t know him or her then perhaps you can. Everyone has a story, a victory, struggle, a past and what lies beneath what you see on the streets of New York City there is a history, one that we all carry inside, beneath a worn out jacket or ragged and torn shoes.

We’re all in this together and no matter where we are in life at the moment we all have made a contribution. Kindness graces this city in abundance. Just try, give some. It’s a wonderful connector.

I have asked numerous people to do the one minute test! That is, stand on a corner, with ample pedestrian traffic, open a street map, and count to sixty. I guarantee, GUARANTEE that before you hit sixty you will be approached and offered assistance. Since I have suggested this little experiment to acquaintances and visitors, only once has someone claimed that no one came to their assistance. In fact, I have tried it myself and it has not failed me. New Yorkers are the kindest people on earth. It must be so! Why? How else could over eight million people live together in such a relatively small place with such a broad diversity of cultures and languages accomplish so much? We must be co-existing harmoniously. We have to get along well. It’s a no brainer! Where else does that happen by the quart? I don’t think there’s another place on earth that can match our record of success! This is truly the melting pot of kindness, an example for the world.

Elderly African American women are aided crossing the street by Caucasian boys. African American teenage boys assist Caucasian women who are in need of help carrying baby strollers up the stairs exiting the subway. I’ve seen several elderly people waiting to “catch” a cab in the rain and a younger person who is laden down with packages who then watches the cab speed away that was intended for him. I’ve seen unsighted people aided across the street by those who come from an opposite direction and take the time to provide assistance. At day’s end large transparent water cooler bottles placed on top of portable tables manned by homeless men, hawk for donations to help the homeless, fulfilled as they take those bottles back to their shelters stuffed with coins and bills, further evidence of kindness and caring. Regrettably, the people who had run that organization, UHO, had been under civil indictment by the state attorney general and put out of “business”. School children sell candy on buses to raise money for athletic uniforms and achieve their quotas early enough to complete their homework before dinner.

That's New York! It’s no longer the metaphor for rude and crude, the tough and rough ill-mannered arrogant, urban, cosmopolitan snobbish bunch. It is the new "heartland". The place to embrace each other, and the pot that began melting long before we had ever heard of California, Oregon, Kansas or Colorado! Come and "be a part of it". Come and be as nice as you can and guess what, you'll know what it is to be a New Yorker. You too can be a part of 1,000 acts of kindness a minute, and that's in a "New York Minute." Want a genuine New York experience? Please be kind!

Chapter II

My Playbook


One in 8,300,000

While in the singles scene, about fifteen years ago, I had attended a singles party at Biff’s Club on Lexington Avenue in midtown. Don’t look for it. It’s gone! The room was huge, packed, like a house party in a Woody Allan movie. It was so crowded that in order to walk two feet you had to hold your drink above your head with an outstretched arm to avoid alcoholic collisions. There were so many people there that the FDNY had to send inspectors to count heads because the occupancy limits had, no doubt, been exceeded. What a crowd! I wondered, did they really have to count heads? If the place appeared too crowded, then do something!

“Oh, we had only 699 people not 700 like it said on the sign Your Honor therefore, we didn’t have the right to evacuate the place. If a fire had resulted we would have had an impossible task, Your Honor. We just couldn’t save lives even though the place was legal anyway! Ah, sometimes head counts are incorrect, but at least we followed the book, Your Honor.”

At the time, my divorce was moving forward, at the speed of a three-legged turtle, thanks to the lawyers and politicians that created the divorce in The Empire State; truly an “engine for delay”. My time out partying was just one means of distraction and attending them was always amusing and fun whether I scored with someone or not.

At Biff’s that evening, from a distance, I spotted a very exotic looking woman. I approached her for a closer look. Raising my arm, glass in hand, I inched my way toward her. She was bronze skinned, not an ounce of fat, shades of beautiful grey and black long hair nicely coiffed, very pretty, lovely shape, wearing a broad smile and a short sexy dress. She was mysterious and extraordinary looking “piece of work”. She swayed so well to the music. She had me, captured, “said the spider to the fly.” I, of course was playing the role of the fly.

I introduced myself. She was a bit aloof but not impolite. I turned on the charm and we became engaged in conversation, pleasant but guarded and she recoiled, not quite admitting me into her space.

Her name was Molly, from Trinidad, a descendent of “planters” from India who had been transported to the Caribbean by the British. She grew up on the island and had moved to New York City for a better life. She was employed by NYU as a clerical assistant and lived in Jackson Heights, Queens. After several hours of conversation and dancing I was certain that she had gained an interest in me as well.

At the end of the evening we had agreed to meet at a restaurant the following week with the understanding that she, her choice, would not provide me with her telephone number. That was part of the shield that she wore. However, I gave her my phone number, which she had promised to use on the day prior to the planned dinner date to either confirm our date or opt out. I knew that she had “issues” and something in her past had caused her to distrust. I gladly accepted her protocol and had confidence that she felt that I was not invading her space. I knew that my phone would ring as agreed with a positive reply. I had no doubt.

Chagrined, my phone did not ring. I was very disappointed. How could she have rejected me? I’m a good judge of character. Had I imagined that we had shared a fun evening together? I was sure of it! We danced, laughed, engaged in continuous conversation and we both took an interest in each other. There was an abundance of chemistry in each other. That was apparent to both of us, of that I was certain. Ah, the singles scene. Shit!

I showed up at the restaurant anyway, hoping that she had forgotten the arrangement to call or perhaps she had lost my phone number. What did I have to gain by not showing up? I appeared at the restaurant. I took a shot. So, there I was, a company of one. She never appeared! I felt very let down. I thought of Sinatra’s best torch songs, “Quarter to three” “Everything Happens to me” and all that. Next stop, I’m the guy in Edward Hopper’s “Night Hawks”, nursing a lousy coffee at a diner off Lafayette Street in the East Village. I know it’s depressing and melancholy but self-pity creeps in at moments like that. I’ll get over it. You’ve got to get out there, or nothing good happens.

I had refused to accept the rejection as intentional. It was my belief that Molly had lost my phone number. That was the most plausible explanation. She must have failed to recall the name of the restaurant where we were supposed meet. She was not accustomed to such places. I hadn’t been rejected, but the disappointment was real. Okay, so I’ll get over it.

But that’s not me. I’m a tenacious New Yorker. So now what? Simple, I placed an ad in NEW YORK Magazine. Back in those days, before the Internet, they ran a large classified personals section that included a subsection known as “Assortments”. It featured miscellaneous categories of small classified ads for people seeking people, specific or generic, male seeks female, birthday wishes, apologies etc. etc. I felt that I had nothing to lose except $20 for the cost of the ad, certainly worth a roll.
Molly! Pretty NYU Triny

Call Cliff you have my #

New York Magazine hits the mailboxes on Monday. My subscription copy arrived on time. The cover featured “The Best Lawyers”, great! Going through a divorce, I had felt safe, right! I thumbed through the back of the issue reaching the Assortments classified, two pages. Scanning the classifieds I found my advertisement. Sure, fat chance, a city of over 8.3 million people a short two line ad will connect two people who met at a singles party; in my dreams. Honestly, though, I did have hope. This is a dynamic society and strange things do happen. I had omitted my phone number from the ad to stave off crank callers. Naturally, I had hoped that Molly would see the ad or someone who she had told our story to would see it and contact her with an idea, perhaps to call New York Magazine and reach out, a reach sure, a stretch! “Hey, you never know!”

I returned to my studio apartment on West 57th Street, that Friday at about 6 PM, after another day at work, without a thought of Molly and the ad that had broke five days prior. By this time it was out of my head, a done deal. This was just not going to happen.

Stepping up to my answering machine, remember those. I pushed the message button, a routine I had gotten into upon entering my apartment. It was a technical act that took me about a week to master! I’m still at the high end of low tech just like the vast majority of baby boomers! That’s what we all did in the early ‘90’s, no cell phones, emails or texts, we were all tethered to the ol’ Radio Shack answering machine and a pager aka “beeper”.

Beep. “Hello Mr. Strome, this is Karen Stein from NEW YORK Magazine. Molly does not have your number but we have hers. If you’d like to reach her please get back to me at 212-123-4567.”

Whoooha! I couldn’t believe it! I knew that Molly had been sincere! She didn’t shun me after all! Unbelievable! In this City, a two line $20 ad reconnected two people who had met once and knew nothing about each other except the chatter during a casual encounter at a jam packed singles party. What a town? What a place? What a story?

Immediately, I called Molly and she was so delighted to hear from me.

“How could you have lost my number?”

She laughed and laughed. I was thrilled about that joining her in the laughter. That night we met at the restaurant where we had intended to meet the week before. What a night!! We were both blown away! Another New York City story in a town that’s really not as big as we think. Truly, it was incredible. Maybe a one-line ad would have been sufficient?

Molly and I had dated for about a year and traveled to Italy, Vermont and the Hamptons. We tons of fun, and enjoyed all of the time we had spent together. Thanks NEW YORK Magazine and the luck and good fortune of the New York City mindset. Go for success and don’t give up! Never give up. Never!

“Friend of the House”

No one likes to wait “in line” or the “queue” as they say in other parts of the world. Most New Yorkers are unwilling to wait “on line”. But, when they feel it's necessary, they generally do what they must. The most common reasons for waiting on line are, at the Post Office, DMV, voting, airport security, concert tickets, restaurants, sporting events, shows, nightclubs, sporting events and store openings featuring free giveaways, a new Apple product, a designer "green" bag at Whole Foods, or eccentric bargain hunters who want to be the first ones in retail stores that "give away merchandise" even at risk of life and limb!

As a New Yorker, I vehemently hate waiting “on line” and I've found a way to avoid it. Don't tell anyone! You'll ruin my secret and you may just find me behind you in line. Trust me. That’s not a good place for either of us!

Jazz clubs featuring the best performers often have very long lines, usually extending down the block and even around the corner! Many of those in line do not have reservations. They simply present themselves with the hope that perhaps reservationists will not appear or they’ll settle for a seat at the bar. Others are content to be admitted just for a place to stand, as long as they are in ear shod of the music. They're satisfied and find that the wait is well worthwhile. Sometimes it’s about bragging rights, “I was there!”

I’ve got a scheme that works quite well for me. I avoid the line completely and find the best seat in the house! Here's how:

For example, on one occasion, I appeared at The Blue Note, a very popular jazz club in Greenwich Village, with my “future former wife”. Tony Bennett was appearing for a one shot make-up performance due to a prior cancellation. His fabulous scratchy voice had been too scratchy, a touch of the flu I suppose! The line was endless and to make matters worse rain was teeming down. Not all had umbrellas, enhancing their disgust with their wait. Brass stanchions with velvet ropes blocked gatecrashers and a very tall, stocky, grim, well-suited gent guarded the front door, assiduously.

Ah, I love a challenge! I removed a $20 bill from my pocket, folded it, with the largest number twenty on the bill prominently visible. There’s only one large number 20 on the bill; take a look! I unhooked one side of the velvet ropes, disengaged it from the brass pole, extended my right hand, my thumb securely holding the bill, face up, with the largest 20 visible and I said, "Hey, great to see you again!"

I looked down at the bill, encouraging him to do the same, he saw it, clasped my right hand, then we shook hands firmly. I leaned over and whispered into his ear, "Friend of the house, Joe!" He got it, the idea and the bill. We're in.

Shouts and yells were heard from the line, "Hey, what's up here!" "Who the hell are they?" "I'm waiting in this freakin’ line for over two hours, I'm soaked!" Even most New Yorkers still don’t get it. Amazing!

"Friend of the house!" my newfound friend shouted back for all to hear as he let us in. Isn’t that’s why he’s there? To make money! He’s not a cop! He needs the money! Duh! He mentioned something to his cohort inside and we were seated front and center. He got a bill too, but not a twenty. Tony was terrific that night and not too scratchy! It took a little “scratch,” to hear the scratchy voice!

Do you remember that scene from "Goodfellas" when Ray Liotta escorted Barbara into the Copa Cabana through the kitchen? Well, one evening I took my second wife, “my future present wife” to La Mela, a fun, high energy Italian restaurant on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, Manhattan. It was our first date. La Mela is very popular with the locals and tourists.

"There's a big line!" Aline exclaimed.

"Don't worry, it's not a problem." I replied.

I was wearing a black shirt, black suit, black leather trench coat, slick gelled hair and, of course, a toothpick in my mouth, and a $3 Times Square solid white tie, to complete the image. Eh? She was very elegant, nicely “painted” and quite the attractive lady. She was a perfect compliment for the con that was about to unfold. With hands tightly clasped, we politely bucked the line with the mindset that we were “friends of the house” and simply walked in strolling confidently to the rear of the restaurant, and we were on our way to enter the chaotic kitchen with brio. Within five seconds all eyes were upon us. Everyone was thinking; who are these people? Hey, you never know! I could have been a "made man" or some capo that they wouldn't want to mess around with and she could have been a star! Know what I mean? “Badda bing!”

"Uho's in change 'ere?" I asked with a well-pronounced voice, deep and voluminous as we stood inside the kitchen. Always leave out the h sound in who’s and here or it’s a dead giveaway.

The manager stepped up and smiled. He looked into my eyes, very intently.

"We need a table. You wanta help out the lady or what? Great to see you my piasan!" With an abundance of confidence I shook his hand complimented by a pat on my shoulder and a warm smile. Apparently he knew the drill and was pleased to play the game.

"It’s all taken care of. Good to see you too. Follow me." With a broad smile he escorted us to an empty table for four, the only table available. As we got seated we noticed that the line had grown longer. Our waiter gently placed bottles of red and white wine in front of us. I didn’t feel sorry for those folks on line because a "Friend of the House" is a rite of passage and if pulling it off is a thing you can do then you’ve earned the right! This time it didn't cost me a dime!

Are you a “friend of the house” kind of person? Try it, hey, you never know! Bing!

We left the place very pleased, connected, had fun and felt a bit smug. We jumped into a cab on our way to “One if by land, two if by sea” perhaps the most romantic restaurant in “The City”, formally Aaron Burr’s coach house on Barrow Street in The Village. There’s no sign out front. Either you know where you’re going or you don’t. The pianist was playing a familiar torch song on the ebony Knabe baby grand. Fires were roaring in both fireplaces and the familiar bartender was quite busy. Aline and I each grabbed a stool at the bar as I winked at Affie, the bartender, who had recognized my signal as, “Don’t reveal that you know me, this is not the revolving doors at Macy’s.” She played her part.

“How can I help you?”

“Two French campaigns please.” I requested.

She turned around, poured the drinks, and placed them on the bar in front of us. She lifted the twenty-dollar bill that I had placed on the bar, turned around facing the cash register. She spun around, facing us, and laid two ten’s in front of me. I slid one back to her. It was a perfect ballet.

“Who are you?” Aline asked me.

“I’m in construction.” I replied,

We both laughed our asses off, without wasting a drop of liquid gold.

Singles “Seen” and Cocktail Glasses

Many of you may not find this account funny! Why? Simply because, this is a tale that’s somewhat juvenile, serendipitous, whimsical, flamboyant, very adolescent and just plain silly. But, most importantly, it’s fun! I admit that I’ve been debauched during the years that I had spent in the “singles scene” or singles “seen”, from 1993 to 1998. But, it was most worthwhile, a mid-life crisis, that I had to get out of my system, learned a lot of life lessons, sowed my oats, as they say, and all of that and I had a blast!

Living, working and playing, mainly playing, in the middle of Manhattan, the world’s best sandbox for adults, can make you a little crazy, especially if you have a few bucks in your pocket, which I did at the time. I had been determined to get out there and not risk missing a thing. There are endless opportunities for those crashing through a mid-life crisis and finding the cure here on this 23 square mile island is a no brainer. That’s if you’ve got a good “tool box” or your “tool” in a box!

There’s no need to go anywhere else because the “B & T” crowd, bridge and tunnel, flock in to Manhattan every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, not to mention the “regulars” and the visitors who dare to mix and mingle and enter the culture that is the New York City singles scene, a mish-mash of “losers” for the most part, with a sprinkle of winners tossed in too. Don’t get me wrong. By “losers” I am referring to those who appear time and time again at the same bars, singles party circuit that are clueless as to how to approach, begin or sustain an amusing conversation with a complete stranger and leave the place with someone or a coveted phone number or at the very least the recollection of a good time.

There are plenty of books written on the subject and I have not read any of them. There’s an art to it, but generally, either you have it or you don’t.

It reminds me of the television classic “Wild Kingdom” that depicted various breeds of animals, insects and plants that are equipped with a wide variety of built in apparatus to lure their mates into their liars or “put their lights out.

Singles have studios, lofts, places to live and play, friend’s apartments, single use restrooms in the back of restaurants and hotels, dark alleyways, the office after business hours, or their humble abodes. Spiders weave webs trapping their mates and the females literally eat their significant others after the “nasty” is done. Flowers emit scents that beckon bees, not that they mate. They do what has to be done to spread the pollen around enabling flowers to propagate. Glad humans don’t pollenate, don’t you? And finally, there is the cruelest of the cruel, the Venus Flytraps that glue their prey inside and their thorny leaves shut them in as they inject their enzymes that emulsify their captives.

Most four legged animals claim and defend their territory and dominance fending off competitors, hopefully. Male peacocks spread their colorful feathers to attract their beaus capturing their hearts or whatever else they seek to capture. Others have been provided by nature with the means to howl, hoot, chirp or scratch their hind legs emitting sounds beckoning their partners. And then there’s us; perfume, jewelry, makeup, luxurious fast cars, music, expensive watches, coifs, lipstick, nail treatments, money, shoes, thigh-highs, exotic trips, tinted contacts, pierced tongues, wigs, wine, restaurants, theatre tickets, tan treatments, booze, lingerie, lace, jewelry as well as illegal substances, that I have always omitted from my repertoire.

There are high-end lures such as Porsches, BMW’s, etc., beach houses, yachts, fur, swimming pools, ski houses, diamonds, business cards with MD, PhD, Esq., LLC and CPA, etc. Luxury city condos with outside space abound and toss in the best of all, inheritance, trusts and old money! Upppee!

Singles have other tools of the trade, fast wit, confidence, appearance, class, and connectivity and when plied well, over time, they should result in success. The race is on in the singles world. For what, “one never knows, do one”. Do the right thing and be smart. Set your goals and you’re off and running.

The first decision that a single “on the prowl” in New York City needs to make is to hit the right places at the right time. The first component of your decision should be to find your places of choice; those that attract the age group of the singles that you are seeking. That’s a very subjective consideration as many single men, for example, like women of virtually all ages, say 18 on up because “seventeen will get you twenty-five” as in years in the “clink” “joint” “big house” “lockup” “can” “up the river”.

A lot of smart guys favor women in their forties. Men in search of fun seek women with life experiences. Most more mature ladies know what they’re doing. They have “learned the ropes” as they say. Also, women in their forties have interesting things to talk about, acquired wisdom and life stories that gentlemen generally find interesting and captivating, if only they, the men, keep their mouths shut, sit still and listen. Unlike the “babes” that just popped out of their shell they provide more opportunities to get engaged in the conversation of life. That ubiquitous expression, “the brain is the sexiest organ in the human body” was always on the tip of everyone’s tongue back then in the singles scene. There’s some truth to it but, in my opinion, it was a worn out phrase designed to offer safety to the naïve and vulnerable prey that wished to convey the message that sex was not their highest priority on their wish list, oftenpure bullshit.

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