Best Of City Living

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After an in-depth study, NY Press’ panel of crumbling-infrastructure experts, in consultation with
Las Vegas bookmakers, set the odds as follows:
Statue of Liberty: 3-1
Manhattan Bridge: 5-4
Brooklyn Bridge: 5-2
Washington Square Arch: 5-1
Tappan Zee Bridge: 3-2
Holland Tunnel: 5-2
Entire Con Edison electrical grid and steampipe system: even money.
Bob Sheppard: 25-1

The Ninja Burglar
He dresses all in dramatic black. He wears a ski mask. He carries nunchaku sticks (two bludgeons connected by a chain, for the martial-artistically illiterate). He has slipped into at least 16 homes, plundered and vanished into the murk of night, so far only on Staten Island (whose denizens are living in fear, according to The Daily News)…but how long can a miscreant this theatrical resist the bright lights across the harbor? Ninja dude, we’ve got 16 screenwriters, a producer from “Law & Order” and two Broadway musical writing partners clamoring to buy up your rights. Matt Damon awaits. Come on over!

Julian Schnabel’s Palazzo Chupi
Oh, the sheer pinkness of it! Or is it deep rose? Or Moroccan red? Burnt sienna, anyone? At any rate, neighborhood preservationist types are in a foaming frenzy over Julian Schnabel’s excrescence on far West 11th Street, an 11-story, preternaturally pastel condo tower plunked atop a dazed old three-story former stable. They lurk outside, waiting to be interviewed so they can tell the media that the place looks like something you’d find in—the horror, the horror!—LA. Have these allegedly historically concerned people no sense of history? It’s the fuckin’ Village! You know, the neighborhood once—sob—famous for the avant garde and nonconforming? Enlighten up, for Chrissake. With its Romeo-wherefore-art-thou balconies and oval windows, Chupi is fun, it’s whimsical, it’s a conversation piece. It’s something to bemuse your jaded out-of-town relatives with. And, in case we forgot to mention, it’s pink!

Flowering Taxis
We like public art, but enough already! The painted cows were cute. The painted dogs were not as cute. The Christo thing we put up with because it wasn’t in our neighborhood. But flower decals on the hoods of cabs? What is this, the summer of love? What’s next, stringing multihued ribbons on unconscious homeless people? Sewing little pastel cardigans for the rats? From September 2007 until the end of the year, Garden in Transit ( has converted yellow cabs into mobile art displays. But New York is a city, not a kindergarten bulletin board. You want to improve the taxis, don’t put the petal on the metal. Get the drivers to quit jabbering nonstop on their cell phones and running over bicyclists.

Verlyn Klinkenborg
It’s a name you can utter over and over to amuse yourself in your spare time. A name that slides from the exquisite to the slapstick in just a few syllables. With a name like that, as the old Smucker’s Jelly ad had it, he’s got to be good. And he is. Klinkenborg is the Times’ E.B. White, its designated poet of everyday things. His short, modest essays, nestled in a dank basement beneath the editorials, illuminate the trivial and the cosmic and, for sheer literary flair, usually upstage the famous Pulitzer pundits across the alley on Op-Ed. Klink’s always worth a read, whether he’s watching the way the pigs root around his upstate farm, driving across America to check out the entire country or musing on the weirdness of contemporary existence: “I’ve noticed recently that sometimes now my pocket vibrates even when the BlackBerry isn’t in it. It’s as though my thigh were trying to take a call—or a text or an IM or an email—directly from the ether. I’m beginning to feel like the frog in some galvanic experiment, all wired up and just waiting for the jolt to come.”


Hell’s Angels Headquarters
Is it a mirage? A delusional figment of my exhausted imagination? Or is that a parking spot? I scoot up alongside the idling SUV parked between two spots. “Would you mind moving up a foot?”“You might want to ask the Hell’s Angels first,” the SUV’s overweight driver says. It’s not the answer I expected. The car parking sub-culture abides by a code completely alien to the one that generally dictates the actions of New Yorkers. Hounded by predatory meter maids and bank-breaking parking tickets, car owners have banded together in an unspoken fraternity. We will jumpstart each other, add a quarter to a meter that’s run out, certainly we will scootch up a foot for a haggard driver who’s been circling the neighborhood for 45 minutes. “Safe than sorry,” he shrugs.

I stare forlornly at the meaty man hogging two spots and recall the showdown that happened here at the Hell’s Angels headquarters on East 3rd Street between 1st and 2nd avenues. The NYPD raided the place in full riot gear after the Angels put a middle-aged woman in a bloody coma. I scoff (but not too obviously) at the lowly Hell’s Angel assigned to parking spot babysitting duty, and roll away.

Little Britain
A campaign was started to get a bit of Greenwich Avenue near West 12th Street officially called Little Britain. The main culprits: Virgin Airlines and the restaurant Tea & Sympathy (located, by an odd coincidence, on Greeenwich Avenue, near West 12th Street), at which homesick Brits can cop their favorite revolting delicacies such as bangers & marmite, treacle & mash and the ever-popular spotted dick. Bollocks, say we. Shouldn’t a new NYC neighborhood start with artists squatting in rancid old hovels where the rent then goes up, the artists are booted out and bond salesmen and Ralph Lauren boutiques move in? And then people start calling it something like NoWesGrenvillAbCa? But we’re willing to compromise. We’d support a new nabe if it’s called Wee Twee Perfidious Albion.

In this case the “best” really means the dopiest, and the winner is a kid in Bayside, Queens, with a large Star of David on his shoulder. But what’s so dopey about that: shamrock, crucifixes, ohms and mother Africa adorn many New Yorkers’ bodies; ever hear of ethnic pride? What’s more is tattooed Jews can be buried in Jewish cemeteries, contrary to popular belief, and despite the Talmud’s take on Leviticus 19:28 (“you shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks on you: I [am] the Lord.”). Biblical times are history and a lot of us have “transcended” religion. But that’s not the point: not only does this earbud wearing, gel-shined, presumably Jewish dude have ink—he’s wearing the very sign of the people whose religion prohibits tattooing, and a Holocaust flashback, writ large. In this heavily-Jewish area, that’s a pretty big, though probably unintended dis. Y’ouch!!!

With a thunderous explosion, an 83-year-old, underground steam pipe ruptured near Grand Central Terminal in July, shooting a 40-story geyser of steam, water, mud and assorted dreck into the air at the peak of the evening rush hour. A large crater resulted. Citizens panicked. But the mayor quickly reassured New Yorkers that this was not a terrorist attack but merely part of the ongoing collapse of New York’s ancient and hopeless infrastructure.

The Empire State Building was lit up in green for three nights in honor of the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. “This is the first time that the Empire State Building will be illuminated for Eid, and the lighting will become an annual event in the same tradition of the yearly lightings for Christmas and Hannukah,” the extremely tall and merrily multicultural building told reporters.

Tappan Zee
After an eight-lane Minnesota highway bridge collapsed in August and killed eight people, New Yorkers spent about a week wringing their hands about which of our bridges was likely to dump rush hour commuters into a watery grave. We’ll put our chips on the good old TZ. “Old” being the operative word. Not only has the 52-year-old link between Westchester and Rockland counties outlived its intended 50-year lifespan, but it has also been bearing a traffic load 40 percent greater than it was expected to handle, and its submerged wooden pilings are being munched by the shipworms that have returned to the Hudson as the water’s gotten cleaner. Like the Minnesota bridge, the Tappan Zee has been rated structurally deficient. There’s been talk of replacing the bridge altogether, but that is about $14.5 billion dollars and at least seven years away. For now, the New York State Thruway Authority is spending $147 million to re-deck the worst sections, and according to the Poughkeepsie Journal, at least one Tappan Zee commuter keeps a tool in her car to punch out the windows just in case.

8th Avenue (betw. 28th St. & Port Authority)
Yeah, yeah, “America’s Mayor” deloused the city, blah, blah, blah. But for those young enough to look back on the Koch and Dinkins years with nostalgic eyes, this vestige of the old city is worth a visit every now and then. Stroll down this lane of bawdy memories and you’ll remember how wonderfully rotten it was (unless you were one of the people who got jacked). Before The Man Who Would Be King If It Weren’t For Term Limits moved into town there were more glass pipes than towers and vacationing here was an X-treme sport. But with porn racks, jerk-off booths, grimy pubs, and DVDs for all comers, this strip is a blast from the past. A Huggy Bear type even stepped out of the shadows one morning to make a sales pitch: “Girls …. Ho’s….” he said.

Hilly Kristal
Hilly Kristal, the 75-year-old founder of CBGB, succumbed to lung cancer on August 28, less than a year after his punk venue lost its lease and closed its doors. But like an unpublished writer who dies with the conviction that fame will come to him posthumously, Kristal may have drifted off believing that one day people would actually shop at the new CBGB store on St. Mark’s Place. In January, Kristal said the gift shop was doing “all right,” and that he hoped it would pick up after the post-holiday lull. That was never going to happen. In many a trip to the grocery store next door to the souvenir shop and to the Chipotle right above it, I have yet to see a living soul not employed by the store browsing the racks of commemorative T-shirts. The CBGB days are lost and gone forever, and it shouldn’t be too long now before the store follows in the footsteps of its namesake club and its founder.

Subway Superman
If you see someone fall or jump onto the subway tracks, walk to the far end of the platform and find something to read while the commotion resolves itself. If your conscience hankers, tell the station agent. Whatever you do, do not jump onto the tracks yourself in a fit of heroics. We learn this lesson from Wesley Autrey. On January 1, 2007, Autrey was minding his business eeking out a living for himself and his family as a construction worker. On January 2, he jumped onto the train tracks to rescue a 19-year-old epileptic student from an oncoming train, in front of his two small daughters. The media descended. The “Subway Superman” was given not one but two Jeeps and a few $5,000 and $10,000 checks. He took a leave of absence from his job to appear on talk shows and get a kiss from the president. He hired a lawyer, a PR person and an accountant. His friends and family started hitting him up for money. His management team screwed him over. He filed a lawsuit against them for exploitation. And to add insult to injury, Wesley only won $25 on “Deal or No Deal.”  His life would have been so much simpler if only he’d never gotten out of bed that day.

The South Side of W. 34th St. (betw. 7th Ave. & Broadway)
Unless you’re dragging a drunk friend down the street and even your best pimp slap won’t wake him up, stay on the north (Macy’s) side of this street. The south side is a gauntlet of clogged sidewalks, sketchy vendors and strange culinary smells. Grease clouds waft out of Tad’s Steaks and intermingle with a nut cart’s steam trail hitting you like back draft. Tourist sweat and bargain hunter chaos makes you scrunch your nose wish you were temporarily deaf. And once you pass the carbon copy caricaturists, the Chinese name painters, the Tupac airbrush portrait-sellers, and the thug lit tables where classics like Zane’s Gettin’ Buck Wild: Sex Chronicles II are likely to be found, you come up for fresher air on Broadway and look out across Herald Square. Two “entrepreneurs” are in front of Victoria’s Secret selling designer suits for $30-a-piece. Everything must go.

Congestion Pricing
A regressive tax on middle class motorists makes no difference if you don’t own any wheels, baby. Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan levies an $8 tax on automobiles that have the audacity to exist below 86th Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Of course it already costs less to own a dragon in Manhattan than a car. Parking and insurance is so expensive that only a fraction New Yorkers who live below 86th Street will pay any part of the proposed tax.
The few well-heeled elite that do live and drive (sorry…are driven) through Manhattan can afford the extra coinage their big business buddy Bloomberg takes from their petty cash.The only people that will get squeezed by congestion pricing are tourists and middle class types who live in the outer boroughs. Poor people take the subway, because they know the value of $2. We can all get behind soaking visitors taking a leisurely drive through Midtown at noon. And Brooklyn Heights residents who insist on driving to work need to elevate themselves to a Metro Pass anyway. Manhattan is the only major city in America without a bisecting highway. The very nature of the city is openly hostile to automobiles. Apparently motorists still haven’t received the message. Keep the cars in the ‘burbs people, it’s in your best interests.

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