"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: NYC Memories and Moments

New York Minute

Found on the walk between uptown pre-schools a few weeks ago: one of New York City’s greatest mysteries.

To me, anyway. The first time I remember seeing sneakers strung across telephone wires I was in the Bronx around Yankee Stadium. I asked why, and I’m sure I received an answer, but the answer didn’t have sufficient tack to stay with me.

Here are a bunch of theories, though not exclusive to New York. I like the idea that when you get a new pair, you throw the old ones up there. And since my wife snapped this pic on a block between my kids’ schools, let’s be tooptimistic and rule out the crack, murder and gang-related explanations.


New York Minute

I saw a father and his two sons walking up 238th street this morning on my way to work. The two boys were on either side of him and couldn’t have been older than four or five.

As I passed them one of the boys said, “Daddy, how does a one hundred-year-old-man walk?”

The father smiled but I didn’t hear him answer.

That’s a good question, I thought.

“Slowly,” I wanted to answer but they were already gone.

New York Minute

This beautiful New York Minute is brought to you by the most talented people at This Must Be The Place:

PRIME from thismustbetheplace on Vimeo.

Ben Wu and David Usui at Lost and Found Films…thank you.

[Photo Credit: Serious Eats]

New York Minute

Picture this: I’m over-dressed in my goose-down winter coat this morning looking like the goddamn Stay-Puft marshmallow man. My backpack is loaded with gifts that I’m bringing to my family’s Chanukah party tonight. I’ve got two shopping bags, one with more presents, the other with the cabbage salad I prepared last night. By hand, dammit, I sliced four heads of cabbage–thin!–by hand.

“Why don’t you just use the machine?” said the wife.

“Tradition!” I say, referring as much to the masochism as the end result.

So I get on the subway with all my junk, neck still sore from leaning over the cutting board, and sit at the end of the car, next to the wall, so that I’ll only have a person to my right. In no time, the train is crowded. And then, at 181st street, the subway moment I dread–hot food.

Two people, two sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches. Nowhere for me to move. Trapped.

And they housed that shit by the time we got to 137th street. Believe it.

New York Minute

The street photography of New York in the 1980s by Jamel Shabazz still sings.

Peace to How to Be a Retronaut (the gift that keeps giving).

New York Minute

Bruce’s Garden is a beautiful spot in my neighborhood. When my wife and I went looking for an apartment, the vibrant garden nestled onto the “pro” side of our decision-making process without us even realizing it.

On Wednesday night, Bruce’s Garden hosted our annual holiday tree-lighting ceremony. Hot chocolate, cake and carols, then a roaring countdown. Then more carols. Sometimes, there are even rosy cheeks and suggestions of snow, but not this year.

As we sipped our hot chocolate and waited for the countdown, I saw a police cruiser with lights flashing speed down the dead end of Park Terrace East toward Isham Park. The car did not come back out. Nobody else seemed to notice. There were five police officers in attendence for the festivities, but I didn’t see any of them leave the garden.

About a hundred yards away from where we stood, four thieves attacked a man walking through the park on his way to meet his family in the garden. He’s a big man and he fought back, but he couldn’t prevent the mugging. He was injured but he drove around the area with the police officers looking for the muggers. They didn’t find them.

I don’t want to speculate on the nature of the crime, the criminals, nor the victim other than to say that it was clearly brazen. The ceremony was well publicized. The police were prominent, the crowd vocal.

The things that keep us close to the city crash into the things that push us away. I can pretend that by choosing the right route home, or by carrying myself a certain way that I can avoid being jumped. That’s a fine delusion when I’m only thinking about me, but I’m not thinking about me anymore.

Someday, I’ll celebrate my last Christmas in New York City. Maybe it will be this one.

 [Photo Credit: Carla Zanoni Dn’Ainfo]

New York Minute

Sunday was Marathon Day. My wife Amelia was running so we went full out with t-shirts, posters and banners. At 124th St and 1st Ave, my older son sat on my shoulders and we yelled out to every runner we could while we waited for her to pass. The runners were psyched to get cheers, but when they came from the squeaky voice of a four year-old, their smiles were double wide. It’s a special day in New York, but I’ll let our runner explain how it feels from inside the ropes:

I am proud to live in New York City every day, but today showed me why ten times over. The support and enthusiam from EVERYONE, in EVERY Borough was just mind blowing and made me so proud to be a New Yorker!!!!

A helluva town.

New York Minute

It was dark when I got up to write this morning. Before I got started, I checked my e-mail and learned about Hunter S. Thompson, last night’s game, and that my friend’s dog died yesterday. Later, I heard my wife get up and go to the bathroom and when she was finished, I got up and followed her into the bedroom. She called after our cat, Moe Green, who usually joins her in the morning, but it was me instead and I leaned down and hugged her after she got back in bed and under the covers.

When I got to the subway station I talked about the game with the token booth clerk. He’s my friend and he told me that in January he is switching stations. “You’re the only one I’ve told so far,” he said. I learned about the best stations (238 and 215) and the worst stations (242 and 231) to work uptown.  On the way downtown, I read about Wild Bill Hickok and wagon trains, a man whore and whisky. The story was interrupted by a mother sitting next to me. She scolded her daughter about using pen instead of pencil in a school workbook. “You should never, ever use a pen, ever.” Then she read airfare rates from the newspaper and asked her kid where she’d like to this winter.

It was cool in midtown when I got off the train and my eyes followed a woman with short blond hair, a long, beige skirt and red shoes, as I walked up to the street. On Broadway, I saw a family standing on the corner looking confused and speaking in French. I asked them if they needed any help and gave them directions to Central Park and spoke a few words in French and felt good about that. I thought about everything I’d already read or seen already as I walked to work to begin the day.

New York Minute

When I was little a friend of the family would sometimes take my sister, brother, and me to McDonalds on Broadway between 95th and 96th. We lived on West End Avenue and 103rd and we complained about how far it was to walk even though it was less than ten blocks.

I thought about kid logic today on my way to work. A mother pushed an empty stroller up a hilly block. Her son, maybe five-years-old said, “Mom, can I get in the stroller?”

“No, you cannot. I want you to walk.”

The kid was too big for a stroller but that hill must have made him ask.  Can’t say I blamed him but I felt a strange satisfaction when his mother made him walk. Guess I’m not so young anymore, either.

Taster’s Cherce

My mom was in town and came over for dinner last night. Ted Berg had given me some of the pulled pork he cooked over the weekend so I figured I’d make a couple of sandwiches, and as luck would have it, mom brought a loaf of challah. I’m not sure why, maybe in honor of the Jewish New Year that I don’t celebrate. She doesn’t celebrate it either, though she was once been coerced into “converting” to Judaism.That expired, at least in spirit, well before she divorced my dad. Still, maybe she brought the challah to remember the old days. Or just because she thinks it is delicious.

Anyhow, the bread was ideal for the pork, and we topped it with some homemade coleslaw and a vinegary bbq sauce.  I usually only think of challah for french toast but it’s more than lovely for a pulled pork sandwich too.

Happy New Year, indeed.

[Photo Credit: James Ransom for Food 52]

New York Minute

I remember waiting for the subway once with my grandfather. 81st Street, Museum of Natural History stop.  He walked to the edge of the platform and leaned over to see if a train was coming. That image is frozen in my mind. He was not a physical man and I was convinced he would tip over and fall over, down to the tracks. He didn’t. When the train came, we got on and an older guy kept looking at me and I thought he was going to mug us.

Mug. That was a word that was always on my mind as a kid in New York. I don’t hear it so much anymore. Not “jack” or “rob.”  Mug. Whenever I was on the subway I’d try to guess who would mug me and how I could escape.

[Photo Credit: Bruce Davidson]

New York Minute

Take a minute, or seven, to enjoy one of the great New Yorkers of them all.

We miss ya, George.


In memory of 9.11, please check out the first chapter of what I think is probably Glenn Stout’s best book, “Nine Months at Ground Zero: The Story of the Brotherhood of Workers Who Took on a Job Like No Other.”

[Photo Credit: N.Y. Times]

New York Minute

Walking down the street today I saw a big woman having an intense conversation. She didn’t look pleased.  But we made eye contact as I passed by and without thinking, I smiled. I was by her when she cut off what she was saying.

“Hi, Love,” she said to me.

“Morning,” I said.

Who says New Yorkers aren’t friendly?

[Photo Credit: Joel Zimmer]

New York Minute

I’ll meet you at the Bat.

…under the Big Board.

…next to Alice.

…under the Button and Needle.

…sitting near the Fountain.

…at Love.

“At the Bat” and “Under the Big Board” (at Penn Station) have backfired repeatedly, yet I still use them all the time.

Where do people meet you?

I Can See Clearly

This is one of my favorite weeks in New York, the last week of summer. The town is quiet, but this morning it was especially still. It was also cool too, a distinct hint of autumn in the air. It was a relief to hear the chugging sounds of the subway. Back in business.

[Photo Credit: Herve Bertrand]

Batten Down the Hatches

No games today. Just storm watch. We got batteries, life jackets, water, an ark. We should be good to go.

Hope everyone stays safe.

[Photo Credit: Craig Robinson]

New York Minute

Every now and then I have to be at work very, very early. Walking to the subway as dawn creeps up from below the elevated IRT lines. Sharing the subway with a sparse collection of early risers. Arriving at the office and flipping the lights on before anyone else has even turned on the shower.

I’m exhausted at the start. Can barely keep my eyes open.  But damn, if those aren’t the most beautiful commutes.

New York Minute

I returned to the city yesterday after five days in Vermont. Took a cab home from the airport and had an engaging conversation with the cabbie who is from the Ivory Coast. He has been in the States for fifteen years, lives in Harlem, and is married to an American. He told me that some of his wife’s family looks down on him. One cousin called him “a stupid African.”

“This is someone who lives on public assistance,” the cabbie told me. “If you come from a poor country you never think to take the government’s money because it doesn’t exist for you. I have lived on three continents, I speak three languages, but I am a stupid African?”

I asked him how he dealt with the cousin.

“My father used to tell a story. If you are a taking a shower and a man steals your clothes, you do not chase that man because then you will look even more foolish than him.”

Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep, Yeah.

[Photo Credit: Brian Hillegas]

New York Minute

The New Yorker movie theater (and bookstore), The Regency and the Metro, M.H. Lamston’s,  Morris Brothers, Big Apple Comics, Funny Business, Applause, Shelter, Broadway Bay, The Saloon, Paulson’s, O’Neal’s Ballon. Hell, Tower Records. That’s a quick jog down memory lane of places I used to go to on the Upper West Side when I was growing up. Long gone. And now that H&H Bagels is closed for good, some Upper West Siders feel that the old neighborhood is done, reports Alexandra Schwartz in the Times:

You can find dog accessories and artisanal soaps and Coach handbags, or trawl for oxidized silver pendants and kilt pins at Barney’s Co-op. You can withdraw cash on every corner from the bank branch of your choice. You can load up on chewing gum and razor blades at a host of Duane Reades. You can treat yourself to a perfectly mediocre manicure.

But some of us want more. We want to revel in a neighborhood brunch tradition that has nothing to do with endless waits and haughty hostesses and glasses of orange juice whose prices defy the logic of supply and demand — a tradition that means fresh bagels and whitefish with onions over the newspaper in the living room. When we’re wandering with a hangover down the silent stretch of Broadway at 3 in the morning and the need for an “everything bagel” is stronger even than the need for water and sleep, what are we supposed to do without H & H’s round-the-clock bakery at 80th Street?

Big Nick’s Burger and Pizza Joint, I think of you and your root-beer-stained tables with trepidation. The smell of grease from your nonstop griddles billows out toward 77th Street 24 hours a day, seven days a week — a siren scent taunting gymgoers and health food nuts. You’re an unrepentant West Side institution, and that means that you, bubele, must be in the cross hairs, too.

Of course, it’s only natural for neighborhoods to evolve. My generation of Upper West Siders grew up during the Clinton years in a scrubbed-up iteration of the place our parents knew. Unthreatened by the muggings that were routine a decade earlier, we claimed the identity handed down to us: a certain shabbiness, along with a good dose of brains and a scrappy sense of local pride. Few of us noticed that the neighborhood’s personality had come under assault long before we started to take the subway by ourselves, when Shakespeare & Company and Eeyore’s Books shut their doors after Barnes & Noble took over the old Schrafft’s building at 82nd Street.

I remember when Amsterdam Avenue was a scary place. And parts of Columbus and Broadway too. I knew which sides of the street to walk down and which ones to avoid back in the 1980s. I still have some family on the Upper West Side, but the neighborhood I knew as a kid is a memory. It’s safer now, well-heeled, less shabby. A different place. The old neighborhood has been gone for more than a minute.

[Photo Credit: Monika Graff, Marilyn K Yee, William Sauro, Bob Glass and James Estrin for the New York Times]

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver