March 2009


“What gym do you go to?”
“Derek Jeter.”

I didn’t realize that could be a legitimate conversation until I was walking by Madison Square Park and noticed the place in the above photo. In case you can’t read the sign, the place is called 24 Hour Fitness Derek Jeter.

It’s not just a gym, though. When you walk in, you’re in a “nutrition” store, kinda like GNC, stocked with all sorts of dietary supplements. Behind the supplement store is the gym. Now, aside from the horribly awkward inclusion of Jeter’s name in the name of the business, nothing’s really wrong with this, per se.

Jeter’s lent his name to many products over the years: a car, a cologne, Vanessa Minnillo. But with several of his Yankee teammates in recent trouble for steroid use, you have to wonder about the wisdom of attaching your name (awkwardly or not) to a supplement store/gym.

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Like the Bronx, it’s not always obvious who the places in New York are named after. Often, though, a numbered street will get a second name in honor of a local hero, the way 29th Street in Midtown Manhattan has become Norman Vincent Peale Way in the photo above. But even then, we rarely even notice the sign, let alone know who the person is or why that particular street bears his or her name.

So next time you see one of those blue signs giving a street an extra name, give a thought to who the person is and what she did to get a street named after her. Look it up if you have to.

Norman Vincent Peale, by the way, was a 20th-century clergyman who, according to Brittanica, “tried to instill a spiritual renewal in the U.S. with his sermons, broadcasts, newspaper columns, and books.” His book “The Power of Positive Thinking” is an all-time best-seller. He led congregations all over New York state, including the Dutch Reform Marble Collegiate Church, on 5th Avenue and … 29th Street.

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Ever wonder why the Bronx gets a “the” before its name when none of the other boroughs do? Me too. So I looked it up. Turns out the answer is pretty simple: the Bronx is named after early settler Jonas Bronck and his family, the Broncks. I can’t tell you when or why the spelling changed, but it explains the “the.”

Interestingly, somewhere around 15 years ago a team of urban historians scouring local records discovered that the Bronck family owned a community social hall where dances were often held, thus earning the family the nickname the “Boogie Down” Broncks, and that’s exactly what everyone from the Bronx has called the borough since 1994.

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Spending half of Thursday in Brooklyn reminded me of one of the things I love about the outer boroughs: the addresses. Know what’s so great about them? They actually tell you where the building is. Crazy, I know.

Today I had to go to 1601 41st Street. Know where it was? On the corner of 16th Avenue and 41st Street. Manhattan doesn’t do that. I once worked in a building at 605 Third Avenue. Go ahead, guess the cross-street. Give up? 40th. The address of the next bulding over was 633. This is helpful to no one.

Manhattanites, before you chime in, I know there’s a way to figure out the cross-street from the building number in Manhattan, too. But it’s not a simple way; it involves math, and it’s not even always accurate. Or maybe it’s my math that’s not always accurate. Either way, without scrap paper the best you can do with a Manhattan address is to know that a big number is uptown.

Queens, by the way, takes the concept of helpful address even further by hyphenating it. For example, that same address in Queens would be 16-01 41st Street, making the cross-street even more obvious.

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The title of this post doesn’t refer to the traffic in New York, though that beast is certainly worthy of discussion. It’s about the traffic to this blog, which, I noticed, includes one particular reader today who got here by searching for the term “twin towers joke.”

I don’t know any jokes about the Twin Towers; I presume the reason my blog came up in the search results is that I used the phrase “Twin Towers” a few weeks ago when I wrote about the anniversary of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

I’m not one of those people who thinks you can’t laugh at serious events, and I do sometimes find a little morbid humor to be a helpful way of getting through tough times (and evading real emotion). Still “twin towers joke” seems an odd thing to be searching for, no?

Curious, I followed that reader’s lead and searched online for “twin towers joke.” All I can tell you is that the guy must have been sorely disappointed because, even if you think that joking about deadly terrorist attacks is funny, the few jokes I found online weren’t really funny. I did, however, notice that the Journal of Folklore Research (geez, there’s an academic journal for everything) published a study on WTC humor–specifically, WTC jokes e-mailed around among office workers in Hungary. The cruelest joke of all is that the study’s author probably got a HUGE government grant paid for, ultimately, by you and me.


This billboard now hangs above 7th Avenue, promoting some TV show about the witness protection program. It’s also promoting indigestion.

Wrong. Just … wrong.

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I was out late last night and found myself, as I often do, in Penn Station looking for a train home to the burb. When I looked up at the big board, I could swear I saw not one but two trains to Babylon listed, one after the other. Now, knowing that after a drink or three my reading ability might not have been at its peak, I did a double take, and then a triple take just to confirm that there was indeed a train leaving Penn Station for Babylon at 11:31 p.m., and another one right on its heels, at 11:34.

Perhaps I’m grossly underestimating the number of drunken Babylonians heading home from Manhattan late at night, but the trains to my town run only once an hour, and fares are constantly being raised and service cut. Babylon seems like an odd basket to place all one’s eggs.

By the way, my crappy camera phone makes it hard to tell, but that big board in the photo lists 7 trains. Three of them are bound for Babylon.

It’s not often you’ll find me quoting the bible, but a quick SweetSearch turns up this wish for the future:

“And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwellingplace for dragons, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant.”

Sounds like the LIRR is gonna have a lot of trains to cancel.

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