February 2009


As much as I like to keep this blog lighthearted, today is the anniversary of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

It’s amazing to think back on the reactions to the bombing and how drastically different they’d be today. For one thing, nobody even thought it was a bomb at first, let alone a bomb orchestrated by Islamic terrorists. The article I linked to above says, “Authorities thought a generator had malfunctioned and exploded.” They didn’t realize it was a malicious act until tests found traces of explosives in the crater. Nowadays, every time somebody sneezes real hard, the first thing we all wonder is whether it’s terrorism. In fact, “Authorities do not believe it was an act of terrorism” has become the required third paragraph for every news story about any sort of disaster/explosion/crash.

Also, speaking only for myself, the bombing upset me at the time but not to a great degree. Yes, it was sad that 6 people died, but I never thought of the bombing as an attack on me. And although I paid attention to the news as the investigation unfolded–the tracking down of the van that held the bomb, the driver going to get his rental deposit back, the arrests, the trial–I was hardly riveted. Like most Americans, I had no idea that the bombing was merely one small piece of a much, much bigger and more dangerous puzzle.

Eight and a half years later, the more “successful” attack on the World Trade Center woke me from that jaded emotional distance and made the tragedy much more real and personal to me. I find myself identifying and empathizing with victims of calamities in a way I never used to.

This past weekend I watched … well, I’m too embarassed to tell you the name of the movie I watched. The important thing is not my terrible taste in movies, it’s that this particular terrible movie was made about 12 or 15 years ago and, about 15 minutes in, there’s a shot of the main character on the observation deck on top of the towers. The Twin Towers were nowhere near are regal as the Empire State Building, but seeing them on my TV reminded me how much I miss them, and how much I miss the “good old days” when I could be jaded about deadly bombings.

Today my thoughts are with the six people who were killed on Feb. 26, 1993–John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen A. Knapp, William Macko, Wilfredo Mercado, and Monica Rodriguez Smith–as well as with the 2,975 who were unfortunate enough to join them eight and a half years later.

[FYI, the photograph was taken by Jerry Salamone on April 14, 2001.]

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The photo above is the view out of one of the windows in my office today.

I never appreciated the Empire State Building when I was a kid. I think I must have been about 16 before I even went inside for the first time. And even as a young adult I took it for granted. In my defense, though, the countless movies, the millions of postcards, and the urban legends about killing people with pennies have unfortunately had the collective effect of turning the building into something of a cliche.

But after September 11, 2001, well, without getting too weepy, the Empire State Building took on a new significance. Not just by retaking its crown as the city’s tallest building and as the true anchor of the New York skyline, but by truly embodying the best of New York. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s brash. Looking at the skyline in a certain way (literally or figuratively), you could even see the Empire State Building as a giant middle finger extended to the rest of the world. But it has the game to back up the trash talk. And it’s so much more than just brute strength and attitude; it’s a beautiful and elegant example of New York architecture at its best.

The building has had its share of tragedy, including a deadly accidental plane crash in 1945 and the almost-as-unforgivable 1976 King Kong remake starring Jeff Bridges.

But for the past two years I’ve been lucky enough to see it up close every day as part of my commute, and I’ve come to truly appreciate both its gargantuan scale and its quiet grace.

(Side note: You know that old joke about something being so big it has its own zip code? It probably originated with the Empire State Building, which does in fact have its own zip code: 10118.)

(Side note, take 2: Several years ago I was in St. Louis for the day and saw a restaurant called the Empire Steak Building. Needless to say I had no choice but to eat there. Sadly, I hear the place is no longer in business.)

Every morning, when I walk into my 28th-floor office, the first thing I see is the view we have of the ESB. It’s not a bad way to start the day. This winter has been an especially overcast one with very few sunny days. (I’m speaking literally here, about the local weather, but if you want to take it as a metaphor for the country’s woes, I won’t stop you.) Needless to say I’ve been enjoying the sunnier skies this week, and the great view of New York’s middle finger.

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Yes, that’s a person dressed as a BlackBerry, walking down 34th Street this morning.

BTW, here’s a real wrap-up of Fashion Week in case you’re interested.

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When I was in high school, I lived in Queens and went to school in the Bronx. It was about a 35-minute drive, but the only way to go via public transportation was through Manhattan, making the commute about 90 minutes each way.

Enter Gagnon Transportation, a school bus company that existed for the sole purpose of taking Queens kids to and from the Bronx every day. On Sunday Gagnon announced, apparently to only some of its customers, that it no longer exists, thanks to what it described as a very successful arson at its terminal.

Gagnon has always been a bit sketchy, so even despite the cool photo of a burned-out bus on the company’s homepage, I’m not sure I believe their story about the fire (although setting fire to all the Gagnon buses was a not-so-secret fantasy for many a student over the years). Neither do some of the angry parents, according to NY1.

Still, for thousands of kids from Queens and former kids from Queens, it’s the end of an era. And for regular riders of the R train and 4 train, the morning commute just got a little more crowded.

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I walk past this place every day but never actually noticed it until this morning. What’s remarkable about it is that, despite its name, it’s nowhere near Little Italy (note the Korean lettering on the sign above). Now, Little Italy’s great, but it’s not Italy. So I’m not sure why any restaurant would declare, in its name, that it aspires to be the neighborhood that aspires to be Italy. This is the culinary version of that one clone of Michael Keaton in Multiplicity that was really stupid because he was a copy of a copy.

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Even if you’re not a baseball fan, bear with me on this for a minute.

The triple is widely considered the most exciting play in baseball. Why? Well, a home run is exciting, but it involves, at most, three players: the pitcher, the batter, and the helpless outfielder. It excites only the fans of the batter’s team, and the outcome is known within a split second of the batter’s swing. It’s an exciting split second, but it’s no triple.

A triple is exciting for everyone. Fans of the batter’s team are watching to see if he can really get all the way around to third base. Fans of the defensive team are hoping they can get him out, turning a big hit into an out. And everybody on the field is moving: the runner is churning at top speed; the outfielders are chasing the ball; one infielder covers second base in case the runner stops there (or turns back); one runs out toward the outfield to take the cut-off throw; the third baseman gets ready for the throw and tag; the pitcher runs to back up third, and the catcher gets ready just in case a wild throw allows the runner to try for home. Even the umpires all have to hustle into position, ready for any of several possible outcomes. The stakes are high, and everyone on the field knows that if they do their job perfectly, they just might be able to make things come out in their favor (and, simultaneously, that even if they do their job perfectly, it still may not be enough).

New York City is the geosociological version of a triple. I don’t just mean that it’s the most exciting city in America, though you’ll have a hard time convincing me it’s not. I mean that everyone’s in motion, the stakes are high, and the outcome is unknown. Everybody’s got a job to do, everybody’s got a place to be, and there’s no time to lose. Some of those jobs complement each other (the guy wheeling stacked trays of fresh-baked bread from his delivery truck across the street is throwing the ball to the cut-off man who runs the 24-hour deli on the corner), some of them compete (crowds trying to get on and off the subway at the same time). And everybody knows that their actions may tip things in their favor, or may go for naught. Just like the movement of fielders, runners and umpires, it looks like chaos to the casual fan (i.e., tourist), but in actuality everyone’s got a specific purpose, a specific destination, a specific task–everyone’s part of the play.

Some days, you hustle and you manage to slide in safely. Some days you take your eye off the ball for just a split second and you get burned. Some days no matter how hard you play and how well you execute, things just don’t go your way. But the best days … the best days are when you somehow manage to stop paying attention to whether you (or the runner) are safe or out and, instead, just enjoy watching the play unfold in front of you and appreciate the poetry of it all: the music of the honking car horns and the vocals of the guy handing out AM New York outside the subway station; the dance of the dude from Guy & Gallard pushing a cart full of muffins and fruit platters to the breakfast meeting that placed the order; the bright colors of the fruit guy; the thunder of the pedestrians rushing to work or home; the smell of the coffee carts in the morning and the halal carts in the afternoon. Some days you just look around, soak it all in, and think to yourself, “New York is a triple.”

Today was not that day. Today I got thrown out at third. @#$%^&!

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A friend spotted this spelling error outside a restaurant on 60th and 1st:


It’s hard to tell from the photo, but the chalkboard trumpets a “Three Coarse Dinner.” For a mere $20.09, you get a sandpaper appetizer, some burlap for the entree and, for dessert, Clint Eastwood.

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