“The Big Apple”
This is New York City
Wit, Reflections & Amusements:
Cliff Strome Licensed NYC Private Tour Guide
Licensed New York City Tour Guide and recipient of The NYC Dept. of Consumer Affairs highest rating. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com www.customandprivate.com www.nycvipconcierge.com www.bestguidesinny.com
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June 2011 New York City, NY
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, offbeat perspectives, creating humorous situations, observing people's reactions to antics and surprises invites you to take this "tour" of New York City one that will surely amaze and amuse you. Experience "The City" up close, in a way, you've have never before.
If you love folklore, amusing 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; this is it.
You'll learn about The City is a new and different way, one that exposes all that New Yorkers take for granted and "Well, I didn't know that! Incredible!" "Slices", 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.
Dr. Bartha vs. Ms. Bertha?
There are many ways for buildings to come down in this town, too many. Most often buildings are demolished, legally. There are regulations that provide for safety, clean air, prevention of gas and water leaks, electrical fires, roof collapses, explosion avoidance, zoning considerations and housing legalities that prevent people from losing their homes or their lives. There are building collapses, structural failures due to age, poor maintenance, faulty inspections and faulty planning. Fires claim buildings too, usually it's carelessness, smoking in bed, defective wiring or renovation without permits, do it yourself types and work by unlicensed contractors who simply don't know what they're doing. Gas leaks bring down a few now and then. Yes, buildings collapse for all kinds of reasons.
Then there's deliberate destruction. In July of 2006 Dr. Nicholas Bartha planted a bomb in his townhouse at 34 East 62nd Street. On July 24, 2006, to prevent his estranged wife from claiming her half share of their home, as mandated by a divorce judgment, his bomb exploded. The building was landmarked and could not legally be destroyed 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 favor because the property was worth more without the structure, a voluntary, lethal, illegal "teardown" uptown putting the good doctor inside, out! Then there's the big mamma, or should I say, "Big Bertha", the steel demolition balls, not to be confused with Dr. Bartha's pair. Of them all, "The Midnight Demolition" brought to you by, Mr. Resourceful or Mr. Chutzpah, depending on your point of view, 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. 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 times however when rules are broken by the big boys who are just a little "over the top" and Mr. Macklowe seems to know that! He's had his downs and ups with huge debt payments confronting him, but surely people who operate stratospheric empires, such as he, calculate their risk- benefit ratios, as any good business person does and they go forward implementing their decisions to build, and demolition is part of the process. The Midnight Demolition turned out to be, in the end, a brilliant move.
City law governs such acts and provides regulations for monetary payment for all SRO's (single resident occupant) housing that is removed, demolished, converted, etc. for $36,000 per unit and $45,000 for "buyout" units. Together with the fines mandated by the court, even though there was a four year construction ban, Mr. Macklowe paid approximately $5 million to the City for the demolition of four SRO buildings on West 44th Street to provide land to construct a new Hotel, The Millennium Hilton.
The money he paid went into an SRO fund to provide more housing for those in need. The City benefits by collecting real estate taxes, room taxes, etc. going forward on the new high-rise luxury hotel, which also adds to the vibrancy of the immediate area and the removal of a blight in midtown.
This incident reminds me of the story of the 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 Saturday due to his participation in a wedding ceremony and while he, the rabbi was shaving, the permission that was being sought was denied. The Orthodox man questioned the rabbi's denial since the rabbi, was shaving on Saturday! The Rabbi's retort was,
"I didn't ask anybody!" Don't ask, don't tell; just deal with 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, failed to make any sense. What was the wisdom of not encouraging Mr. Macklowe to pay the costs to demolish those buildings, pay the City for the SRO fund and allow the hotel to rise? We seem to get mired in laws and obstructive governments that accomplish the opposite result that 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 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" and 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, 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 all have misplaced that most precious cargo, it's been stolen or it's just gone missing! We seldom take the blame for wallet loss, but we all recognize the agony when we discover 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? Our driver's license, yes! More than the money, the credit cards, the pictures, health insurance card, 1994 Red Cross Beginner Swimming card, library card or anything else that you've been sitting on and never looked at for the past fourteen years, it's the driver's license that suddenly turns you upside-down!
"My wallet, where is it?" All you think about is your license and the hassle that you're going to go through. You have to appear at the dreaded Department of Motor Vehicles or whatever they call it in your State. Who has got the time? The lines, the document(s) that you had forgotten to bring with you to the DMV, the money order you'll need, the birth certificate, proof of citizenship and all those Patriot Act requirements, now needed to "prove" that you and the 85 year old blue haired ladies from Boca Raton 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 no DMV!!!!! Well, better leave out colonoscopy. Even more then the time and stress that the loss of your license causes you, is the unbearable reality that you will have to face the people who "work" there. They're just so helpful, knowledgeable, give you sincere eye contact, smile, glad you're there, they hurry to 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 reject most of them. There are a few exceptions folks, let's be fair.
Not the DMV, no!! My heart rate set a record, skin turned white as a sheet; I nearly passed out and almost went comatose. Actually, I went to the DMV, the following morning, got there bright and early to get out of there fast.
The most "convenient" DMV, for me, was located in downtown Manhattan on Worth Street. It opened at 9 AM so 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 it! 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 shivering. It was a clear sunny January day and not having listened to the weather report that morning or taking the time to open my window, it had appeared to me that the temperature was warmer then it was. That was dumb! That's not the way to be weather-wise! How can you determine temperature by looking out of the window? I 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 wait, outside, created two sources of discomfort for me, cold and wait, two of my favorite things. 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. Perhaps it was some of the alcohol that was still in my system from the night before. Hot coffee would have been nice! Ah! Cold, wait, bored, pee, DMV, great total, five! Suddenly I began to hear an incantation, a song, a lyrical phrase, constantly repeated from the distance, down the line. I looked behind me and there was a thin young Asian man, wearing the right equipment, hat, gloves, and earmuffs. Kind of shabby but nevertheless, well equipped. One hand was clasped, holding something. As he walked closer and closer I heard what he was chanting: "Can't go to Motor Vehicle without a pen", "Can't go to Motor Vehicle without a pen" over and over again! 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 while people 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 an opportunity to have a conversation and find out exactly what this guy was up to. As a businessman, I wanted to know everything; what did they 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 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 from here in Chinatown. She has 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, Chinatown. Even at this level, and it was a smart idea. He was protective of his turf. It was a business and with no overhead, cash receipts only, who could blame him, 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 three hours a day. If he was on a payroll, in New York City, single and no dependents, he'd have to earn over $40,000 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 and was 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? 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, to me, "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, brought something to read and made sure that I had peed before I had left my apartment. 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 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 . . .
"They Better Not!"
This story I love, and it's important for me to share it with you. Why? It's so New York City. We are fortunate to have lots of Korean delis in New York City. They do a terrific job of showing the rest of us, how to maximize the use of every square inch of space, keep a store stocked to the teeth, provide fresh and delicious food, hot and cold, of every variety consistently and in abundance. It's amusing that others, non-Korans, seem to be less able to do make it happen. Amazing but true!
The best Korean deli is on 5th Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets. They raise the bar, impeccable, organized, clean and fresh. I used to go there for coffee, often.
On one occasion I walked in and asked the counter man for a cup of coffee to go, "Just a little milk no sugar". "Sure, jew got it man, no prolen!" I knew he was Hispanic, duh, and that was great. They're such friendly and accommodating people, the salt of the earth.
He prepared my coffee perfectly, as requested, and as he placed it on the top of the counter I reached into my pocket for a few bills. He had noticed that I was about to pay him.
"Jew hab to pay over dere" he shouted pointing to the little Korean woman seated behind the cash register about twenty feet toward the rear of the store. Naturally, I asked him, "What's the matter? Don't they trust you?"
His reply, "They better not!" Who among us has the right to condemn this man for making that comment? Certainly, it was "tongue and cheek" a humorous quip that had evoked a laugh, a smile, made a connection. Should it have been taken seriously? No, not at all. The world is a place where everyone seeks an edge, an advantage for themselves and their families. This guy was guilty of intentional amusement; on stage, he had grasped it front and center. Would he have been a thief if given the chance? We, as New Yorkers, know who we are and are unashamed. We work together, Korean and Hispanic, any combination, any permutation and his comment was a microcosm of New York City. We take it light, we can laugh at ourselves, we accept who we are and we recognize the differences among us and that's what makes us great. Sure, there are those who are ready to rip us off and take what they can. Be it the most successful attorneys, real estate moguls, the window washer or the plumber. We're all intertwined and struggling to survive in the same tank, sink or swim. We know that this is a dog eat dog world and City but, what makes New York City different is that the total stranger is the person who will save you and go out of their way to protect you. This is the place where we all play the game, to survive and protect our loved ones, but more than that, we will climb walls, wade through sewers, run miles, kneel and cry and do whatever it takes to help our brothers and sisters, black, white, yellow or green. We are New York City, we are the world and when it comes to caring and helping each other we raise the bar. We are the greatest collection of people in the world, right here, New York City and "der's nutin' you can do 'bout ut!"
Not Every New Yorker is so Smart!
Recently, I was on 44th Street and Sixth Avenue in midtown. When I reached Sixth Avenue I came upon a great deal of commotion; fire engines, police cars, crowds of people, stopped traffic, yellow police tape all over the place and a taxicab, with a shattered rear windshield. It was quite a scene, scary! What was going on? Hey, this is New York City and events of this nature, whatever the cause, were not terribly uncommon. Sirens are heard constantly; dozens of police cars with lights flashing carry out practice exercises with ambulances, fire trucks, etc. It's all part of the urban landscape, nothing new, business as usual.
I approached a gentleman, well suited, standing with his head tilted straight up, staring intently. His fixated glare was glued to The Bank of America Tower, then under construction. Many others too, were all motionless, standing like stone, with their heads tilted up. I looked up and still had no clue as to what was going on. What was I not getting? What were they looking at? Apparently, all I could conclude was that they were looking directly at the Bank of America Tower which was nearing its final phases of construction and something must have gone amiss. This Post-Modern "green" beauty's frame was completed and a few remaining windows were being installed. This was to be the second tallest building in Manhattan, tied with the Chrysler Building, after The Empire State Building that had tragically reclaimed the title after 911. "Hey! What's going on up there, sir?" I inquired to the nearest observer. His answer was shocking! It absolutely floored me!
"There's glass falling from the building!" he shouted, never looking over at me, not taking his eyes off whatever was happening or about to fall from above. Like mimes, frozen in time, fascinated, still, eyes up, incredible!
That hard to believe clarification, "glass falling", explained the smashed taxi window and the building janitors who were busy sweeping up huge jagged shards of broken glass off the sidewalks. The yellow police tape had been placed to prevent pedestrians from venturing into the danger zone, compliments of our bravest and finest. That however, could not protect New Yorkers from their own lack of good judgment. Despite the efforts of our public safety professionals with the "best of intentions" together with "the smartest people on the planet", sometimes we just can't save ourselves. Who knows? Perhaps the yellow police tape was placed to corral the morons in the danger zone who pined for the best views!?
There are limits as to how much protection can be provided to those who insist on remaining on the scene. Stupidity is not a crime, but it can be deadly. If only they could have radioed above so the glass would fall only within the yellow taped boundaries! Let's work on that! One of the two cables that supported cement buckets, designed to prevent the buckets from swaying into the building, as they descended, had become disengaged. That had caused one of the "buckets" to swing into the side of the building and smash windows, as it was lowered. As soon as the construction crew figured that out they halted the bucket and secured the loose cable.
I left the scene immediately; exceedingly perplexed by the hundreds of New Yorkers who had stood there gazing, face upward, literally, exposed to enormous, danger. Could it be that they did not know they were targets of the next possible barrage of glass guided by wind and gravity? How could that be?
New Yorkers are amazing people. Smart, innovative, hard working and at times capable of stupid behavior that defies the imagination! Certainly, there was not one among them who didn't realize the threat that they were imposing upon themselves. So then, what was it? New Yorkers are very curious people and will cast off "common sense" to witness unusual events. How often do we see people running toward danger and not away from it? Weren't people rushing toward the Twin Towers on that tragic day to bear witness, taking pictures or just to be able to tell others, if they survived, that they were there? Not all of them were looking to become heroes. There's got to be something in human nature, a dark side that compels many to go into denial, witness the macabre and bizarre, despite the risk. And as it is with most events that life provides, New Yorkers will be there in great numbers, even if it's not the smartest thing to do.
Hey, perhaps most were lawyers ready to pass out a few cards, ambitious New Yorkers seeking to capture another opportunity! As I left the scene, I stooped down and pickup up a card, from a law firm, it read:
Dewey, Steele, Cheatham, Robb and Howe, LLC.
6'5" vs. 5'6"
It was bad enough that the check bounced, a second time, for $1,846.00 and from a man who stood 6'5". I didn't expect to see that money or him, ever again. I placed the check in my center desk drawer, a daily reminder for me not to be too trusting. I held onto that "rubber check" for over a year or so until, he walked in, Dave! I hadn't seen him for quite a while, vanished from the planet. He used to be a great customer, usually a cash customer with lots of business. I had attempted to find him. I even had asked two of my largest employees to go to his home, hoping he'd be around, no such luck. He never surfaced!
Alas! Dinosaur Dave suddenly appeared! He walked into one of my one hour photo stores on 23rd Street, Clicks One Hour Photo. I greeted Dave with raised arms and a pat on the back, lower portion, big smile and a "How great you look! Dave!"
"Cliff, you look great too!" Don't you just love the bullshit! After the small talk I had asked David how I could help him, with no mention of the rubber check, a duh! He needed a ton of color laser copies, of various teddy bears and little stuffed animals, plush toys that he had been selling to corporate accounts with their logo custom printed upon them. He collected orders from banks, insurance companies, car dealers, real estate brokers and of course, hey, one hour photo stores too, an opportunity that I couldn't miss. After the customary and usual chitchat I had asked Dave if he had a catalogue,
"I'd like to see it." I told him. "Sure" he said and gladly handed one over to me for a peek. I had asked him, with my mascot right beside me, Gizmo, a five pound Yorkshire terrier, if he could customize a job for me with Gizmo's picture on the front with my logo. "No big deal, how many do you need?" "What do they cost Dave, like about 500." The price came out to approximately $2,600.00. Perfecto! I made my selection, signed a purchase order and awaited the shipment due in about four weeks. The copies that Dave had ordered from me that afternoon were paid for in full in cash, hundreds. No discussion of the "bouncer" came up. What for? Perhaps, he had forgotten all about it. You never know. Some folks drop bad checks all over town and simply loose track. Like bears, they leave tracks but they can't retrace them every time. It was so nice to see him, even if I had to strain my neck a bit, just like the schmucks in the previous story! The weeks flew by and Dave made his appearance with a helper schlepping in about 20 boxes filled with 500 teddies! The teddies had landed!" Praise be to Dave! "Hey Dave, it's great to see you! Can you guys put them downstairs? Let me show you where I want them."
We went down to the warehouse and they were nicely stacked. The bears were silent, sitting in darkness, waiting for their purposeful debut. Dave prepared an invoice. He was better at that than writing checks that cleared! I went to my office and removed the $1,846.00 rubber check from the drawer, still in near new condition, stapled to the insufficient funds advices that I had received from the bank with the service fees attached. Hey, banks have to eat too, right?!
Little did he know that I had previously attempted to ply a trick that my father had done years ago that made a bad check good. My father had accepted a $500 check that had bounced twice. He went to the bank, asked the teller how much was needed to make the check good. He was advised that $120 would satisfy the deficiency. He removed the necessary cash from his pocket, and made the required deposit. Anyone can deposit cash into anyone's account. The teller certified the check and his loss was reduced from $500 to $120, not bad. I couldn't have accomplished the same thing with Dave's check because what was needed to make that check good was about $1,700! Not an attractive plan.
I gave Dave back his check and told him, "Here's your money!" I waited, not too long, for his reaction. "Hey, that's not fair, this is a $2,600.00 invoice, and I want the rest of the money, about $750. Come on Cliff!" "Dave, that's not your cost! You stood to make approximately $750 profit on the transaction as I see it. I believe that the $1,846.00 check covers your cost, gabbish!" Yeah, he gabbished. He left, we shook hands. Now, what was I going to do with 500 teddies? All my employees were asking for at least one. Christmas was just around the corner. "What are you going to do with them? What are you going to use them for?" I was asked over and over again. "I don't know." I knew I'd think of something, no brainer. I didn't want to sell them. There's no logic to it. I'm not in the toy business. Selling merchandise that has your company logo is tacky. It diminishes your brand, no benefit there. After the teddies had about two months to rest down in the warehouse, it was time for them to awaken. One day when the weather was lousy we put the plan into action. They were brought upstairs to the store and with several hundred feet of Velcro we attached them everywhere we could find a suitable spot; on top of the machines, shelves, walls, window ledge, racks, etc. etc. All the customers who came in wanted to know how to get one; how much are they? "I need two!" A lot of buzz was afoot! "I WANT ONE!!!"
A flyer was printed and inserted into every shopping bag that had offered each customer the opportunity to walk out with a free teddy on the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend. All that was required was of them was to drop off one roll of film for processing. Nothing else!
It turned out to be the best day we ever had! We opened early and shut down late in order to accommodate all the business. I don't know exactly how much business this promotion provided but it did have a major impact and it was a lot of fun. Most of my customers worked in the neighborhood and for years thereafter I was told,
"I still have my teddy on my desk." Ah, that's New York City; take a bounced check, turn it into an opportunity. I wish I had one left over for you, teddy bear that is! "I'll keep all the bounced checks until I find a way. Hey, you never know!
Neighborhood Names, More than You Know!
Where is the troll of neighborhood names? Could it be a secret that someone is paid by the City to sit in a closeted office, in City Hall, and appear promptly at 9 AM, take their place behind an old oak roll top desk, wearing a translucent green head shade beneath an old copper lamp made of BX cable and crank out names of New York City neighborhoods for $65,000 per year plus about $50,000 in annual benefits? Certainly, with all the new neighborhood names cropping up these days, this official is underpaid for all the good work he does. The list never stops growing. But what is the value of this commissioner's job? "The Commissioner of Neighborhood Identifying Classification" a division of Streets within the Department of Transportation. What does all this effort add to the meaning of our town?
How boring it was when just a small handful of neighborhood names dotted the City supplementing the names of the boroughs. We were limited and confined and as neighborhoods grew in size and number so too did the diversity. What's in a name? Neighborhood names can serve merely as a label or a destination and create a sense of belonging, an identity, a place, or a test for a cabbie. "Take me to DUMBO!" These names serve as a sense of pride for people, who proclaim,
"Now I live in BoCoCa, no longer Cobble Hill!" 31
Isn't it a little insane, or just a little New Yorkish? We, as New Yorkers, find new ways to define ourselves as our organic City, always moving; changing necessitates redefined locales with odd and unusual place names. Because we too are a part of it we change. Place names of the past won't do; "Hell's Kitchen" is now Clinton, nothing to do with Hillary or Bill, but rather De Witt Clinton or call it Midtown West. The Clinton's daughter, Chelsea bears the names of two New York City neighborhoods though. The Financial District is "FiDi" to the hipsters, trendy and up to date, not everyone would agree with that new name, most New Yorker's, no doubt, never heard of FiDi!; The Flower District, what's left of it, was "Floma", meaning flower market on 6th Avenue in the high 20's; and Viaduct Valley, where the terrain takes a dip between 116th and 134th Streets from Broadway to Amsterdam Avenue is now referred to as "Viaduct Valley" or you can get away with "ViVa"! The Photo District in the Flatiron District is also known as "The Fashion District", a technological change, perhaps it should be the Digital District, or "DiDi." South Harlem has anointed itself, "SoHa" and, you guessed it, North Harlem, yes, "NoHa" and "SoCa" is a new label for Inwood in northern Manhattan which means, south of Canada!
And now there's West Chelsea, which you can call "Wechee" if you like. Interesting, we have an Upper Eastside and a Lower Eastside but no "Middle East", hum. Instead we have Murray Hill, the Murray family, owners of huge tracts of land, back in the 19th century, were residential developers, adjacent to Turtle Bay; the British perceived that the bay on the East River, which is not a river but a tidal straight, was shaped like a turtle, along "Blood Alley" another neighborhood, where slaughter houses reigned and now where the United Nations complex stands. Interesting that the world's principle peace keeping institution stands on what was once known as "blood alley", ominous, eh?!
Neighborhoods have been given names of prominent former New Yorkers such as Carnegie Hill, Hamilton Heights, Washington Heights, Stuyvesant Heights, Bed-Sty, Ft. Greene, the Revolutionary War General, Nathaniel Greene, who orchestrated Washington's retreat after the disastrous Battle of Brooklyn. Williamsburg is named after the surveyor of Williamsburg and others less known such as Clinton Hill, Farragut, the Admiral, Morris Heights, Bedford Park, Astoria (Astor), Douglaston and on and on. Jerome Avenue in The Bronx is named after Winston Churchill's father, Leonard Jerome!
It's too bad that many New Yorkers simply cite the name of their borough as their home eliminating the pride or shame of their space place, where they actually live. I'm never satisfied with the borough as the answer for a person's neighborhood because boroughs are quite large and diverse; it tells you very little about where a person lives! Why say you're from Queens when you could be a resident of the more glamorous Forest Hills, or historic and diverse Jackson Heights, why not Jamaica Estates, it sounds much better. But, Queens residents, be careful because, Queens is the only borough not recognized by the U.S. Postal Service as a proper mailing address. Your postal address must have your neighborhood name if you expect to receive your mail in Queens. No one addresses a letter or package to Manhattan, New York, it's New York, NY and our friends in The Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island can do so too, use their borough name for mail purposes, so why not Queens? Do you feel sorry for Queens? They'd better know where they live. Queens is the largest borough, in square miles, 102, but certainly Manhattan and Brooklyn have more people and commercial businesses receiving mail.
Basically, don't try to figure out the Postal Service unless you love frustration, long lines and the words, "Next person in line" or "Step up", "Step down' or the favorite, plain ol' "Next!!" Someday they'll be gone but there will be no nostalgia. Post office, you did it to yourselves, what a shame. Government should stay out of business enterprises, just for starters, right? UPS and Federal Express are running post offices, so to speak, and making millions, paying their employees well, growing and vital. The only way they exist is because the Post Office blew it. Perhaps they should all merge and call it FedUpUS! Now there are three Villages, once called The Ninth Ward; The West Village, Greenwich Village and the The East Village which Alphabet City claims to be a part of, but we'd better check with our imagined commissioner. It may become East East Village down the road, who knows? I've always wondered why the Avenues were named with letters instead of well, Lexington, Madison or Park. It came to me, Ave ABCD, assault, battery, coma, death! Not anymore!
If I were the naming commissioner, I'd choose names that reflect what's going on now, not what went on way back when. For example, Midtown would be Midcity, uptown and downtown signs would be changed to Downcity and Upcity, because we are no longer a town, we're a city! Greenwich Village is not a village so it should be Greenwich, period! The Lower East Side should be Chinatown, the Chinese have virtually taken over the entire neighborhood and Little Italy needs to be renamed Teeny Tiny Italy, with three blocks of restaurants and souvenir shops, many now owned by Chinese shopkeepers. "Happy Family, Luck Gift" owned by Italians or Chinese? Guess! Battery Park City is another example, the only batteries you'll find there are Duracell and Eveready, and the canons are long gone! How about Times Square? That used to be Long Acre Square before Adolf Ochs convinced his pal August Belmont, the subway owner back in 1904, to name the 42nd Street station Times Square. Hey, Herald Square, aka Bowtie Square, was named after a newspaper too. But the New York Times, a print media company, has fallen on hard times and regrettably may fall altogether, oy vey. What then? Have any suggestions? How about Metro Square or AM New York Square, Post or Daily Square? Hum!? No! Got it, Enquirer Square!! Williamsburg, I'd change to Bar Burgerburg, for obvious reasons, on second thought, maybe Condoburg or Condomburg would be better, Coney Island to Coney Peninsula, Turtle Bay to No Turtles Bay, Spanish Harlem to East Harlem, Greenpoint to Warsawpoint and finally Kips Bay to The Middle East because that's actually where it is!
No one knows exactly how many neighborhoods exist in New York City as boundaries are constantly changing and ethnically there's a constant ebb and flow. But we do know that wherever New Yorkers call home it's their neighborhood and all of them contribute to making our City the diverse and fascinating place that it is. Got any names you'd like to offer? Call 311 and just ask for the Commissioner of Neighborhood Identifying Classification. Stay on the line because you're bound to get a busy signal or "Please hold while I serve another caller." For those of you born after 1985, a busy signal is a beep tone that indicates that the phone number that you have "dialed" is in use and the person you've called does not have an automated answering device, skype, digital retrieval system, call waiting, call forwarding or an alternative party to accept your call. But keep trying. In truth they're either helping a client or they're "away from their desk." Perhaps their phones should be placed in the bathrooms along with their desks. I'm sure a lot more work would get done, don't you think? Eh, who knows who cares? You just can't take this stuff too seriously!
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