The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire…

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The way that the chant usually goes, which I heard for the first time when I was 15 and my neighbor (a DJ) threw a gigantic house party, is “we don’t need no water let the motherfucker burn!” Well, nothing could have been further from the truth when a little over a week ago my wife’s Facebook news feed informed us “KJ’s roof is on fire!” Water was definitely needed, however not enough came in time.
KJ, for those not in the Tribe and/or the know, stands for Kehilath Jeshurun and its synagogue is located at 125 East 85th Street – directly next to my old apartment. It’s roof caught on fire around 8:30 PM on Fri, 7/15 and an intense fire raged for over 2 hours which wound up basically destroying the temple. The fire was so powerful that it took 40 fire department vehicles and over 170 FDNY personnel to battle to blaze.

A pic posted to the FDNY twitter account
A pic posted to the FDNY twitter account

I walked past that shul almost every day for over 5 years making sure every time that Bingham never peed on its walls – if he tried he got a solid yank on his leash and an admonishment from me. My old building’s yearly all resident co-op meeting was held in the shul’s large meeting room and it was at one of those meetings where I first approached my next door neighbor with the proposition that he buy my apartment (which he would up doing to my delight, saving me time, money and the hassle of preparing for who knows how many open houses). Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the principal Rabbi who was giving interviews all night long assuring everyone that the Torahs were safe (the fire was due to some construction and the Torahs had been removed due to this construction) was present at my youngest daughter’s baby naming. While I never attended services regularly there, it definitely not an overstatement to say that it played a large part in my UES married with dog and kids NYC experience.
Coincidentally that night, I was trying to contact my old neighbors to see if we could meet up considering I had family had plans to be in the city that coming Sunday. We wanted to see what they had done with our place (they combined their apartment with ours) and wound up emailing back and forth getting status updates about how the building was evacuated, how they “grabbed the kids and just ran” and how bad the fire was. The beautiful stained glass windows that overlooked my old building’s garden either melted or were blown out. My old building suffered some smoke and water damage though not as much as you might believe if you saw video / photos of the fire. My old E line apartment faced east and looked directly down at the roof and when it was Sukkot we would see the large feasts that were held in the sukkah that was erected on the roof (and hear the noise, and were always happy when 11 PM came around and everyone went home). You can see my old building – 111 East 85th Street – in the background of the pic below. My apartment was right by where the tip of the crane on the left is located in the photo.
The FDNY inspects the damage one day after the KJ blaze
The FDNY inspects the damage one day after the KJ blaze

It was completely surreal being out in burbs yet being so mentally present while the fire raged as I could easily imagine what the fire would have looked like from 24E. I thought about how I would have noticed the fire – “Sweetie, is it hot in our apartment? Is our air conditioner working? I’ll go check…holy shit! KJ’s on fire!” – and how I would have grabbed the kids, the dog, the portable hard drive, our wedding photos and would have bolted down the 24 flights of stairs and then out.
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein reading a prayer a day after the fire
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein reading a prayer a day after the fire

In the day and days post the fire, especially with the Kletzky horror in Brookyn, it was clear that as Lookstein said,

We did not suffer a tragedy. We suffered a calamity. Tragedy is what happened to that boy in Brooklyn and his family. A building that can be rebuilt. You can’t rebuild that life.

On a separate occasion he said,

“There are two ways you can look at this. You can cry over the loss, which is a very very real thing. But the most important thing to do in the face of something like this, is to ask yourself, ‘How do we respond? Now, what do you do when you have just had a loss?’ I have complete faith that our community, which is 140 years old, will respond. We will rebuild what has been lost, and with God’s help, we will go on.”

For those who are sitting shiva for the restrained neo-Classical design that

“speaks of a turning point in the early 1900s when Jews no longer felt bound to incorporate Moorish elements in their places of worship as a way of distinguishing them from Christian churches”

and who celebrated various holidays and life events (births, bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings, funerals), my heart goes out to all of you. To my former neighbors who are dealing with the aftermath, both physical and mental, my heart goes out to you as well.


Great Escapes

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If you have paid any attention to the news lately, you would have to agree that “escape” would be the theme of the month.

Just about two weeks ago, a disaster occurred in the Gulf of Mexico which has caused millions of gallons of sweet crude oil to escape into the water. All plans thus far on stopping the flow have been for naught and the Gulf Region, five years after Katrina’s disaster, is facing another disaster, this time in many respects much more dire. A hurricane destroys structures but not an ecosystem. While shrimpers were able to recover from Katrina, shrimpers may not be able to recover from Deepwater Horizon. This story continues to unfold because oil continues to escape. BP, the company in charge, is trying today to drop a giant 100 ton concrete-and-steel box over the leak to cap it though no one knows if this will work because the leak is over 5,000 feat underwater and this has never been tried for a leak this deep. I guess we’ll see if it works (we now know it failed). I’ll be having some good old Creole food this weekend though because a fried oyster po’ boy just might be extinct pretty soon (I did – went to Acme for lunch and had a half shrimp / half oyster po’ boy with Uncle Bob’s red beans as my side).
Just about two days ago, a near disaster in Times Square almost occurred and the cause of said disaster, an American citizen that developed and placed the car bomb, tried to escape and was literally caught in his seat just as he was leaving the country on an Air Emirates “Islamabad via Dubai” flight. Only 53 hours passed by from the time of the attempt to the time the authorities captured Faisal Shahzad and that was almost too much. While many will trumpet how the bomber was an Islamic fundamentalist, most will never mention that the street vendor who alerted the police was not just a Vietnam Vet, he was among other things a Muslim. The fact that this almost happened in such a low tech way, and the speed in which the authorities responded, is both terrifying and gratifying. I’ve often said that while NYC is a tremendous target, the NYPD is a defacto small army and I feel safer here than anywhere else. Two weeks have passed and nothing has happened on either of the issues above, unluckily and luckily. You can check out the Big Picture’s dramatic photos of the continuing disaster in the Gulf. You can also walk through Times Square because nothing but a scare or two has happened since the attempted car bomb. We’ll see what the future brings. All I know is that terrorism wins when people adjust their lives. In the big scheme of things, the good will triumph over the evil. Society responds and unites because there is more that unites us than separates us.


Not That Bad of a Place

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Today I became a landowner in our nation’s third state which is what my friend Adam refers to as “The Great State of New Jersey.” At some point in 2010, my family and I will head west across the Hudson and this lifelong New York resident (first Long Island for my formative years, then Binghamton for college and then NYC for the last decade) will be forced to gets a Jersey license. This exodus is not happening immediately though so I’ll save my thoughts about what this move means, first from a leaving Manhattan for the Burbs point of view and then from a leaving New York for New Jersey point of view, for a future post. Let’s just say I’ll probably be writing that one late at night, full of scotch, listening to Ryan Adam’s “New York, New York” along with Sinatra’s “New York, New York” on repeat. It’s not going to be pretty.
This post’s title came from a title – agent that is – at today’s closing. Once I had signed the final piece of paperwork, the seller said to me with a twinkle in his eye, “Welcome to the highest taxed and most corrupt state in the Union.”
< Insert your salt-in-the-wounds metaphor here >
After I made a few jokes about how I’m from Long Island and therefore (as the Daily Show put it a few months back) a conjoined twin of the aforementioned corrupt land, the representative from the title company said, “Its actually not that bad of a place. And the town you are moving to is one of my favorites.”
Not that bad of a place. That should be the new state motto for New Jersey. Seriously, if Borough President Marty Markowitz can make all sorts of fun slogans up for Brooklyn (see below), then why can’t Corzine as one of his last acts in office put up signs up and down the Turnpike saying “Welcome to NJ: Not that bad of a place!”
Sign 1:

Sign 2:

Sign 3:

This could be my first contribution to my eventual new home. It’s the least I could do.


Team of the Decade, Again

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When the Yankees played the Braves in 1999, the media hyped the event as a battle for the title “Team of the Decade.” The Yanks had made the playoffs five times in the ’90s – in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 – and won the World Series twice: in 1996 and 1998. If the Braves had won, they would have had won the same amount of championships (2) but with more playoff appearances they would have taken the title. As we all know, the Yanks swept the series 4-0 and rightfully claimed the title of “Team of the Decade.”
The next year, the start of the Aughts (as this decade is commonly known) ushered in a Subway Series for the first time in over 40 years and NYC was in a flat out tizzy. The Yanks picked up right where they left off and beat the Mets (thank the good lord) in five games to complete their quest for a third title in three years.

Now, with their 27th Championship (I’m happily watching the City Hall “keys to the city” ceremony in the background as I write this post), the New York Yankees can be considered repeat winners of the “Team of the Decade” title. Over the past ten years, the Yankees won more regular season games than any other team, made the playoffs nine times, made the World Series four times (2000, 2001, 2003 and 2009) and won it all twice (2000 and 2009), winning in the first and last years of the decade. No other team made the playoffs has many times as the Yankees. No other team appeared in four World Series. No other team won more than two. Once again, the Yankees rightfully have claimed the title of “Team of the Decade.”
Let’s see what the next decade brings. With Hal and Hank leading the charge, the Baby Bosses are ready to keep fielding teams that not only have a chance year in and year to make the playoffs but to win it all. A “Team of the Decade” three-peat sounds pretty good to me…
UPDATE 1: I just called into NY1’s live broadcast from City Hall and basically talked about this post and how the Yanks are the team of the decade, again. The “Sports on 1” anchor Tom McDonald said to Pat Kiernan at the end of my comment,

“Aren’t you impressed Pat when people call up, Jeff had all of the numbers (Pat chuckles in the background) as to when the Yankees were doing this, when they were doing that, you know, and when you do what I do for a living, you think you know a lot and then you hear from your audience and you realize they know as much if not more…”

I’ve often said that I know more than the television announcers. Now a television announcer has confirmed this belief. Nice.
UPDATE 2: ESPN has a page up on its site about this very topic titled “The Decade of the Yankees?” The page basically is a lead in for a poll and comment thread and right now, 67% of the nation believes the Yankees are the team of the decade.


Wanna Get High?

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If Towlie ever had a park designed just for him, it would be the newly opened High Line which is located in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
This long-abandoned 1.5-mile elevated railway in Manhattan has finally been turned into a public park and its being unveiled to the public today. I love the fact that this park is 10 years in the making (back in 1999 two friends decided to fight to prevent developers from ripping the High Line down) and that it actually happened – sort of like how I conversely still cannot believe the West Side Stadium idea actually never moved forward.
I for one cannot wait to take a walk on the high side. I hope to do so soon while the wildflowers are abloom…
Via Erick P


Subway Manners

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I read today on the NYT’s City Room blog about how Matt Muro has been riding the subway on crutches for the past few months and how he has been surreptitiously snapping pictures of those who wouldn’t give up from the seat marked “Priority Seating for People with Disabilities” for him. This post is just a snipit of a longer article that will appear in this Sunday’s paper titled Smile, You’re on Selfish-Jerk Camera.
Matt has posted all of the pics he took at People Who Sit In The Disability Seats When Im Standing On My Crutches.com Yes, the name of the site is really that long and yes, he has started a site just to vent about his subway frustrations (keep in mind though that he never asks for a seat, he just notes who automatically gets up for him and who does not).
I would suggest that you look through the photos and see if you recognize anyone (I didn’t). I think its now only a matter of tme before a copycat site for pregnant women pops us, just watch…


Who is Ana?

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I have been staring out my office window at a billboard that says “See the World Through Ana’s Eyes” for the past few weeks and had no clue who Ana was, what world she was looking at and what the billboard was advertising. A search on the Net only brought up Flickr albums of people either named Ana or people who know an Ana who thought the billboards were cool. I spammed my company asking “Does anyone know the meaning / purpose behind these billboards?” and got a lot of inspired but in the end incorrect responses.
Finally, bored and starting at the billboard last Friday I tried one more web search and found a link to a tweet (that is a Twitter message for those not in the know – if you don’t know what Twitter is, well, then you are even less in the know) that informed me it was an ad for Ana Tzarev who is opening a gallery of her work in November. I contacted the PR firm Fitz & Co. who is representing Ana and spoke to Bethanie Brady who confirmed that yes, the Ana in the ad is Ana Tzarev. She said,

the text-only black and white campaign will give way to a city wide public art exhibition of colorful large-scale (some 4-stories tall) reproductions of the artist, Ana Tzarev¹s work. In anticipation of their November opening, Ana Tzarev Gallery has worked with New York based cultural marketing firm LaPlaca Cohen to create this campaign to share Ana Tzarev¹s work with all of New York.

The billboard across the way has already changed over and I’ll try to update this post with before and after pics soon. In the meantime, kudos go to all who worked on the campaign as they were able to keep it’s message under wraps for quite some time. My co-workers are all very Net savvy and no one could figure out what the billboard meant. Sure, that pissed some people off but in the end, if you are advertising something, you want people to be talking about that something.
Now, where Ana gets the money to open a gallery and purchase all of these billboard ads is another question altogether…


7 Years Later

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I’m staring out my window right now, just staring at the blue sky that’s mixed in with white full clouds, clouds that can resemble plumes of smoke if you want them to. No plane is flying right at me as I stare out across Houston St eight floors above the ground. I’m not going to have to run out of this building as it burns, praying that I make it out before it collapses. Just like last year, I notice that no one is really acknowledging the solemness of today in my office. I am listening to co-workers laugh as they eat lunch and conduct business as usual.

Today is not normal. Today is September 11. Seven years ago I ran frightened up 5th Avenue as a plane roared overhead, thought about diving under a car to protect myself from the immanent crash because I was next to the Empire State Building and the Towers had fallen already but then someone screamed “Its one of ours!” and I saw that it was an F-16 and knew that I was okay for now. “One of ours.” The four American and United planes were ours too, that is before they weren’t.

A comment to a City Room post about the ceremony at ground zero reads, “To this day, when a plane passes overhead, I look at it with trepidation and feel my blood chill just a little.” and I feel the same exact way. Time marches on but we should never forget. I was working in NYC that day and so was my wife. One day our daughter will ask us what it was like and I will not know where to start. Before I left for work today I asked my wife, “What is our family disaster plan?” Just in case.
While walking my dog, I placed my annual bouquet of flowers – lilies this year – in front of my local firehouse and reviewed the plaque of the nine fighters who lost their lives that day which reads,

“There was a time when the world asked ordinary men to do extraordinary things”

Engine Company 22 and Ladder Company 13 lost 9 men on September 11th, 2001 and I felt like an intruder as I dropped off my flowers. The first moment of silence had passed and a large crowd was out front. I wanted to say “thanks” – thanks for making it your job to risk your life to save a stranger’s because my job is to manage web projects and that job feels so trivial on a day like today – but I didn’t know who to thank. I hope my presence said it all.


Where's the Beer?

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I was recently at Ryan’s Irish Pub in the East Village enjoying a nice cold post-work Guinness when my friend Steve pointed out that the pint I was drinking was not truly a pint. Over the past decade since I returned from living in London, I’ve gotten used to the size of an American pint, which is 16 ounces, while a real pint in my opinion is 19.2 ounces – the way they serve it in Britain. In the UK it’s technically called an an Imperial Pint and has been a government-regulated standard for several centuries. I’ve never seen that size of a pint in the States unless it was at a “real deal” Irish pub, like Kinsale Tavern in the UES (which is where I watched a lot of both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups – if you are a footie fan, this is the place for you, that is if you do not want to go to Nevada Smiths).
So, I was shocked when Steve showed me that the my pint, which I thought was 16 ounces was actually less – it was only 14 ounces!

Through a cute use of glass blowing, the outside of the glass is the same size as the 16 ounce glass except the inside contains less liquid. This allows a bar to sell less beer while still charging the same amount of money, thereby making more per keg while screwing the customer in the process. And here I thought that Ryan’s was a “real deal” pub….
While I’ve seen ketchup bottles and other commodities engage in this type of consumer trickery, this is the first time that I’ve seen bars display this type of method to squeeze more money from its patrons. Its one thing that a 750 ml bottle of Belvedere vodka is much larger than the 750 ml bottle of Reyka vodka – they are still both 750 ml. Its quite another thing to order a “pint” and not get one. I hopefully will not be going back to Ryan’s in the future – if I need a great pint of Guinness, Molly’s Shebeen is just up the block.
Via Steve