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Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

The man in the chair beside me at the hair salon

In beauty, behavior, business, cities, life, men, urban life, US, work on February 26, 2014 at 12:36 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Alex’s salon is smaller than our living room, barely 200 square feet, with a large window facing north onto Grove Street, a quiet part of the West Village of Manhattan. He used to be on Carmine Street, a few blocks east, but, as it always does in New York City, the rent went up.

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So he moved into this space — once a clock repair shop — and re-made it, adding black rubber flooring, a long, narrow metal bench and all the newest magazines.

His salon has three chairs. Such a tiny space, situated on an unusually short, quiet city block, with one assistant sweeping up hair or shampooing, creates a sort of immediate, comfortable intimacy. Strangers a few minutes earlier, clients often end up trading business cards, sharing jokes, laughing together at silly videos on our phones.

Here’s a young executive about to take his pregnant wife on a “babymoon” to the Turks and Caicos. Here’s a woman in her 50s scrutinizing the edges of her pixie cut. Here’s a woman in her 70s, regal and serene, her hair a mini bouffant.

Some men — like my husband (who used to go to Alex when Jose had hair) — prefer a barber shop: quick, in, out, cheap.

Some women prefer the girly refuge of an all-female salon, where they call you honey and bring you cups of tea and it feels more like a dorm room than a business. And some women really don’t like being seen by men, let alone men they don’t even know, with a head full of foils or their eyebrows slathered with dye, mid-tint.

Let alone running across the street looking like a crazy person in this deshabille to plug the two-hour parking meter.

I also like supporting a man who’s stubbornly stayed in business for decades, holding out against brutal rent increases and, this year, a bitter, snowy winter that kept many clients home instead. His shoulders, he once confided, ache every day from the physical demands of his job.

So much of quirky, small-business, independent Manhattan is disappearing beneath the boot of greed and real estate development; streets like nearby Bleecker — once filled with dusty, intriguing shops — are now jammed with tourists buying pricey crap from the Big Name Designers who have totally taken over.

Regulars like me — more than a decade — still ask after Alex’s earlier assistants, like Bree, who long ago moved to San Diego and got married, or Eddie, a gentle soul with bright blond hair, who now works at a salon uptown.

Everyone comes to Alex: gay, straight, Wall Street execs, fragile old ladies from Queens, museum curators, publishers, writers. Few places in New York City — where every zip code has its own tribal markings and style codes and few stray beyond the precincts where they fit most comfortably, whether in Dockers or Prada — bring together so many different kinds of people, generally happy to chat with one another.

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Last week, the man sitting beside me quoted Chaucer in Middle English, an experience (of course!) I loved and could identify with, as I’d read Chaucer in Middle English when I was in college.

Everyone is welcome here.

He has a young autistic client who freaks out if he sees the odd mask on the salon wall, so Alex makes sure to cover it up when he comes in. I’ve seen very old, very fragile women in wheelchairs, their patient attendant waiting for them, come to him for their color and style. I’ve seen him lean in and quickly offer one a gentle kiss even though he talks a tough game, and he brooks no bullshit. Make no mistake.

It’s New York City, filled with hundreds of more-glamorous competitors for my business.

I could get my hair cut and colored anywhere else.

But why would I?

20 lessons New Yorkers learn

In behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, US on January 27, 2014 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you visited or lived in New York City?

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It’s a great place, but — oy!

The city resembles a small child, at best bursting with charm, all winning smiles and irresistible, 24/7 energy. At worst? Projectile vomit, much throwing of small, sharp objects and/or prolonged shrieking at high volume.

You never know which city you’ll get.

After 25+ years of living and working around New York City, here’s a random list of 20 things I’ve learned:

— After an exhausting day at a conference or trade show at the Javits Center, a hulking structure on the western edge of town, your poor feet are raw, since there’s almost nowhere there to sit down. Food is crazy expensive and not very good. When it’s time to go home, you head for the taxi rank, naively expecting, (hello, it’s a taxi rank), to find…you know, taxis! Lined up, lots of them, eager for business. Wrong! You will give up and trek long blocks in the pouring rain in search of one, praying you don’t miss your flight home.

— If you actually need a NYC taxi between 4 and 5:00 pm. — also known in most cities as rush hour — fuhgeddaboudit. There are 20 percent fewer cabs on the street then, as that’s the drivers’ shift change. But, if you beg, really nicely, sometimes a driver will in fact take you. Will you get a safe and experienced taxi driver? I once got into a cab, barked “Laguardia” and got a quizzical glance. (It’s one of NYC’s two major airports.) I directed him to the right tollbooth where the collector said “Take the BQE”, (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a major artery). That didn’t register either.

– NYC — huh? — has shockingly lousy radio. We have WNYC, and the fab Brian Lehrer, (talk, call-in, 10-12 each weekday morning),  and Leonard Lopate, (talk, culture, noon to 2pm, weekdays), and Jonathan Schwartz (American songbook, Saturdays and Sundays.). We have WFUV and WKCR, Columbia University’s station,  (love their eclectic schedule — from troubadours to 60s reggae and ska),  and WQXR. Then…WBGO, a jazz station from Newark, NJ.

– Be very, very careful if you choose to cycle or even cross the street here; a shocking number of people, including children, are killed here every year by careless drivers. Don’t be stupid and focus on your device while trying to navigate the crosswalk, if there even is a crosswalk — that text you’re reading or sending could well be your last.

Here’s a heartbreaking story about a family whose 12-year-old son died this wayAnd a bicycle deliveryman. Four people were recently killed by vehicles in just one weekend.

— Getting a traffic or parking ticket of any kind in New York City is really expensive; I recently got my first-ever ticket, for going through a stop sign — $138. (If I’d run a red light in Manhattan, it would have been $270.)

— But the cop who slapped me with my $138 fine also confided, since it was my first offense, how to get out of paying it. (I paid anyway.)

— If you see a taut line of fishing wire atop lamp posts along certain streets, an eruv, it was placed there, at a cost of $100,000 by several Jewish congregations, for religious reasons.

— To enjoy the terrific skating rink erected for a few winter months in Bryant Park without being knocked down by people who can’t skate, get there as soon as it opens for the day. It has great music and an easy-to-reach midtown location. It’s also gorgeous at dusk as the city lights up all around it. I like it much better than the costly, tiny rink at Rockefeller Center or crowded Wollman Rink in Central Park.

— Tourists. Gah! We hate freaking tourists, especially when they walk three or four abreast, slowly, entirely blocking the sidewalk for the rest of us. It’s totally awesome you have all bloody day to stroll, chat and stare. We don’t. Speedupalready!

– Yes, we can tell just by looking that you’re tourists. It’s not just your maps and foreign-language guidebooks. It’s your hair color/cut, choice of pastel clothing and/or white sneakers and/or lots of purple and pink and/or the volume of your conversations. Also, that glazed look.

– Please, do not whine about what things cost here. Yes, the prices are insane — $50 to park for four hours in a garage or $20 for a midtown cocktail, $8 to cross the George Washington Bridge, $10 for dessert or $15 for an appetizer. We know how expensive it is. We also pay a shitload of taxes to a state and city government forever sending its elected officials to court or prison for fraud, sexual harassment or corruption. I once simply drove my mother to the airport — $13 for tolls and 20 minutes parking. Puhleeze.

– The suggested donation at the Metropolitan Museum really is only a suggestion, no matter how intimidating its full fare of $25. If you can muster the chutzpah, offer 25 cents or a dollar.

– Even the most mundane blocks offer fascinating bits of history. This midtown firehouse, on its upper stories, has deeply incised salamanders — which have a deep and historic link to fire. Isn’t it glorious?

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– The city has a few early cemeteries where you’d least expect to find them, like these three ancient Jewish graveyards, all within walking distance of downtown shops, homes and modern day offices. Bronx students recently found a possible slave burial ground.

– Two places you can always find a bit of peace? The many pocket parks and plazas dotting the city and the pews of any church.

– You’ll see an entirely new city with each season, and softer or sharper, less or more angled sunlight it brings. I was walking south on Park Avenue the other day — at 2:30 on a sunny January afternoon — and passed a 1960s building I’ve seen hundreds of times. But I saw it wholly anew, as the light’s angle created pockets of shadow clearly intended by the architect, in metal indentations below each window. It was lovely.

Do you know about Manhattanhenge? Very cool!

– Museums charge a fortune, like $14 or $18 admission, but they all have a night of free admission.

– Here’s a terrific daily update of free/cheap/fun stuff to do in the city, The Skint, created by my friend Elizabeth who, natch, is also the lead singer in this amazing band playing 1920s tunes, The Hot Sardines, who often play at the Standard Hotel and Joe’s Pub.

You can even, for a week in late January every year, watch world-class champions playing squash in a glass-walled court inside Grand Central Station. Crazy!

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– There  is beauty in almost every single block, if you look carefully. It might be a hanging lamp, a brass marker inlaid in the concrete, a gargoyle, a church spire, leaded windows, exquisite ironwork, a tiny snowman with pretzel hair. Despite its insane rushrushrush, New York City is actually a place that rewards a slower pace, (off the busiest streets!)

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– New Yorkers may look mean, tough, unfriendly. We’re really not. We are usually in a hurry, (knowing the taxi, if we can even find one, will take forever to get there or the subway will break down). We’re probably rushing somewhere to get more something: money, opportunities, friends, whatever. But so many of us have come here from somewhere else that we get what it feels like to be scared, overwhelmed, lonely — and thrilled to finally master this place, even for a while.

Or…am I completely meshugannah?

Feel free to argue loudly. Hey, it’s what we do!

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The great pleasure of old-school dining

In business, cities, culture, food, life, Style, urban life on December 29, 2013 at 12:39 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Fogey alert!

If you consider thick white tablecloths and enormous floral arrangements and black-clad waiters who wouldn’t dream of introducing  themselves to you by name stuffy and boring….this post isn’t for you.

But if, like me, you adore a fine, old restaurant that still does things right, here’s a lovely paean to them, from The New York Times Style magazine:

In an age of studied casualness, of competitive waiting in line and chef-stalking and meal-Instagramming, of pedigreed pigs and forced intimacy with your neighbors’ elbows, it is novel to be served by a dignified career waiter in a jacket who knows his business. It is relaxing to look at a menu and (with the exception of certain démodé concoctions) know exactly what you’re getting. And most magical of all, it is astounding to be transported to a time when people not only dressed up, but also when your chair was pulled out for you and your cigarette (yes, cigarette!) was lit before it had reached your lips.

The writer, Sadie Stein, names a few old-school spots I’ve been lucky enough to eat in as well:

"The Sower," Simon & Schuster logo, ...

“The Sower,” Simon & Schuster logo, circa 1961 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– After a meeting at the offices of Simon & Schuster, on Sixth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, on a bitterly cold, wet winter’s day in 2002, I knew they were going to buy my first book. I was insanely excited but had no one, at 4:00 p.m., to share that moment with. My agent had rushed back to his office downtown. So I went into the “21″ Club, at 21 West 52d,  and ordered coffee and profiteroles and sat by the fire and cherished this wonderful moment I had longed for my whole life. It was the perfect place to seal the deal.

Galatoire's Beer Dinner

Galatoire’s Beer Dinner (Photo credit: rdpeyton)

– I’ve been to Galatoire’s, a New Orleans institution, several times. The most recent, in late January 2012, was three days before I would lie on an operating room table to get a new left hip. I needed a good stiff drink and a delicious meal. What if they were among my last? I’d been in town to address a conference of liquor store owners, offering my suggestions how to hire, manage and motivate their workers, (the topic of my second book.) Galatoire’s was absolutely perfect, filled with elegance and celebration and fantastic food.

English: The main dining room of Galatoire's, ...

English: The main dining room of Galatoire’s, a noted restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– I’ve only eaten (so far!) once at La Grenouille, one of Manhattan’s true legends. It opened Dec. 19, 1962 in a townhouse in midtown. We ate upstairs, at L’Ardoise, and it was amazing. Here’s my post about it, from October 2009, a celebration meal in honor of my second book sale, treated by my father visiting from Canada:

Upstairs is a narrow room, with white-painted brick walls, lit by three 20-foot-tall lead-paned windows. A huge rug in the lightest shades of yellow, cream and green. A highly polished dark wood table marks the entrance. There are only five white-tableclothed tables, with another at the top of the stairs beneath a skylight, shaded by palms. Each has a small, perfect floral arrangement. There are paintings and drawing everywhere. You feel as if you’ve stumbled into someone’s private home, and you have. For many years, this was the home and studio of French painter Bernard LaMamotte — and before that, in the 1800s, the stable housing the horses of the owners of the mansion across the street, now the Cartier boutique. Those tall windows were once used to bring in hay.

It is, wrote Vanity Fair last year, “a private dining room of such beauty that one could be talked into becoming bedridden as long as one’s bed were there.”

Have you had a memorable meal in a place like this?

What was it like?

Does Dasani’s NYT homeless story leave you angry? Sad? Indifferent?

In behavior, children, cities, culture, domestic life, education, family, journalism, news, parenting, urban life, US on December 12, 2013 at 1:11 am

By Caitlin Kelly

It’s a story that took a year of reporting and writing to produce, prompting more than 600+ comments after the first day — by 5:30 p.m. yesterday, more than 1,713 readers had weighed in.

English: The New York Times building in New Yo...

English: The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The New York Times is running a five-part series on Dasani, an 11-year-old African American girl living with her siblings in a squalid New York city shelter that has sucked up millions of tax-payer dollars already.

Her parents take methadone, do not work and have seven other children sharing a 500 square foot room.

Dasani is smart, capable, liked by her teachers, and burdened by caring for her brothers and sisters. She, like them, has nowhere clean, quiet and comfortable in which to do her homework. Their room has no desk. One wall has a hole where mice run freely.

Here’s an excerpt from the first instalment:

Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

Nearly a quarter of Dasani’s childhood has unfolded at Auburn, where she shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and seven siblings. As they begin to stir on this frigid January day, Dasani sets about her chores.

Her mornings begin with Baby Lele, whom she changes, dresses and feeds, checking that the formula distributed by the shelter is not, once again, expired. She then wipes down the family’s small refrigerator, stuffed with lukewarm milk, Tropicana grape juice and containers of leftover Chinese. After tidying the dresser drawers she shares with a sister, Dasani rushes her younger siblings onto the school bus.

Dasani guards her feelings closely, dispensing with anger through humor. Beneath it all is a child whose existence is defined by her siblings. Her small scrub-worn hands are always tying shoelaces or doling out peanut butter sandwiches, taking the ends of the loaf for herself. The bond is inescapable. In the presence of her brothers and
sisters, Dasani has no peace. Without them, she is incomplete.

I spent more than an hour reading the comments, which came from social workers, past and present; from New York schoolteachers; from the formerly poor and homeless able to escape a difficult past; from the fed-up-with-generational-welfare crowd.

A few readers simply shrugged — the entire United States, not just New York City, is deeply pockmarked by poverty now, with the second-highest rate of child poverty in the developed world.

As one commenter said…wait. This story will soon be only one of many. She is hardly unique.

Reader reactions, predictably, are mixed:

outrage at the shelter’s squalor; dismay at the parents’ inability or unwillingness to work, earn money and set an example for their children; anger at the tens of thousands of tax-payer dollars supporting a couple of adults who have made repeatedly poor choices, including producing more and more children they have no way to support; disappointment that the U.S. allows children like her to live in such appalling conditions; confusion as to what can be done to alleviate this kind of poverty.

As I’ve blogged here before, I was a Big Sister in 1998 for 18 months to a 13-year-old child whose family was also deeply dysfunctional.  (For readers outside of North America, Big Sister/Big Brother is a national program that matches volunteers — usually middle or upper middle class, employed and well-educated — with struggling youngsters. The idea is to foster relationships that will help poor children and teens survive and thrive.)

I found the process deeply frustrating, as much because I expected far too much from it and because, I thought, the organizers expected far too little.

My “little sister”, like Dasani, was bright and very likeable, apparently eager to flee the clutches of poverty.

But, sadly also highly unlikely to do so. I saw frightening and destructive behaviors within her family I’d never before encountered en masse — abandonment, laziness, welfare dependence, neglect and passivity — that boded ill for her future.

The desire to flee poverty can also create an impossible choice — between the bosom of a chaotic family a child knows well, and a larger world they don’t. You’re not going to get very far saying “axe” instead of “ask” a question.

I saw this play out with my “little”. The more I tried to find her better options, (even, yes, a scholarship spot at a private school barely 30 minutes drive from her family), the more they shrugged it off.

I admit it. After 18 months, I burned out and walked away.

Children need consistently healthy role models if they’re going to succeed and avoid the pitfalls of addiction and/or teen pregnancy. Dasani’s mother teaches her to fight — physically — which, as the Times reports, gets her suspended from school.

The series’ pathos has left some readers eager to “help” — but what, exactly, can they do?

Donate to charities? Pay even more taxes? Volunteer individually with a child on their own? Foster a child or several?

What do you think?

What — if anything — would change (for good/better) a life like hers?

Three Manhattan streets, three different worlds

In beauty, cities, culture, design, life, travel, urban life, US on November 16, 2013 at 12:30 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Manhattan, an island 13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles at its widest, contains — as American poet Walt Whitman wrote in 1855 in another context — multitudes.

English: Grand Central terminal in New York, N...

English: Grand Central terminal in New York, NY Français : Vue extérieure nocturne de la gare Grand Central Terminal sur l’ile de Manhattan, à New-York (États Unis d’Amérique). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I visited three of them this week.

Midtown/49th Street:

Anchored by several iconic buildings — the New York Public Library, Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building — this is a neighborhood devoted to sober-suited commerce. GCT, opened Feb. 2 1913, is the commuters’ cathedral, thronged daily by thousands of workers streaming in on Metr0-North Railroad from the northern and eastern suburbs of Westchester, (including my husband, Jose), and Connecticut.

The station — which every tourist must see! — is a magnificent bit of Beaux Arts design, with enormous gleaming metal chandeliers, marble stairs and the famous central information booth topped with a clock.

Grand Central Terminal (Manhattan)

Grand Central Terminal (Manhattan) (Photo credit: Nouhailler)

The ceiling is a stunning peacock turquoise, studded with tiny lights and painted with gold constellations.

English: The ceiling of the Grand Central Term...

English: The ceiling of the Grand Central Terminal in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time of year, it also contains an indoor holiday market, whose vendors are carefully vetted and chosen. I look forward to it every year, and have gotten (and received) terrific, budget-friendly gifts from them.

New Yorker Chrysler Building, oberer Gebäudete...

New Yorker Chrysler Building, oberer Gebäudeteil, vom östlichen Teil der 42. Straße aus gesehen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Walk up Madison Avenue and it still feels like the 1940s, as you pass every possible iteration of elegant male garb: Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart, J. Press, Mens Wearhouse, Pink shirts, Alden shoes.

I love Brooks Brothers, and have been shopping there since my early 20s when I’d fly in from Toronto and stock up on their cotton shirts. It has  the prettiest ladies’ room I’ve ever seen. Paul Stuart clothing is mostly for the wealthy/creative crowd — network television producers or the heads of ad agencies, but it is spectacular, with shoes like these men’s bitter chocolate suede loafers ($625) or these wool socks, in 10 terrific colors, for $44.50.

A picture of a display in Brooks Brothers

A picture of a display in Brooks Brothers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those few blocks have changed dramatically, not in outward appearance, but in their inhabitants — I once worked for the magazine in what was then the Newsweek building, a venerable magazine now dead. The headquarters of Conde Nast publishing were at 350 Madison when I first met editors there; now in their own building at 4 Times Square, they will move downtown to the newly-finished Freedom Tower, (built to replace the Twin Towers destroyed on 9/11.)

This is a part of town where the powerful meet one another in their private clubs, these few blocks a tightly-knit world of wealth, power and restricted access.  Those open only to graduates of Yale, Princeton, Harvard and Cornell all lie within steps of each other.  The Harvard club spans an entire city block, north to south. Step inside its doors (if you dare!) and you’ll viscerally understand the meaning of entitlement.

But walk along West 44th. Street to marvel at the windows of the New York Yacht Club, which resemble the rear windows of a galleon.

Two landmarks face one another at 49th and Fifth Avenue — St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Saks Fifth Avenue. Saks’ shoe department even has its own zip code, and offers a dizzying array of high-priced footwear. One pair of gem-encrusted, six-inch stilettos by Louboutin were offered at $3,200. The people-watching is great, from Russian oligarchs picking up multiple bags-full to the bare-legged beauty in her leopard coat and Gucci heels.

Uptown/70th. Street

The Upper East Side is a sphere of unapologetic wealth, law firm partners who use “summer” as a verb, (on Nantucket, the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard or Rhode Island,) of gleaming black Escalades ferrying hedge funders south to Wall Street and their quiet blond children to private school and their size 2 mothers to yoga or a hair appointment.

The streets are quiet, clean, manicured, filled with elegant townhouses, including that of soon to be ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg, at 17 E. 79th.

My former school, The New York School of Interior Design, is on 70th. street, and Neil’s Coffee Shop, 50 years old, sits at the corner of 70th and Lex, a great place for a burger or a cup of coffee in a classic china cup.

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I loved NYSID. Classes were small, mostly female and the rigor of studying interior design seriously was sobering indeed. We had to memorize every floor, wall and furniture style from ancient Egypt to 1900 for a class called Historical Styles. (We, of course, nicknamed it Hysterical Styles, as we struggled to remember the difference between a cassone and a bergere.)

I whiled away a sunny afternoon among the one-per-centers — the woman calling Fed Ex to price the cost of overnight shipping her workout gear from San Francisco, the bright blond in a black mink shawl with a too-tightly-stretched face, the father and son carrying lacrosse sticks into their $114,000 Mercedes SUV, the weary sigh of a woman waiting a second too long for the valet to bring around her car.

I stopped into Creel & Gow, which sells quite extraordinary objects — like this diorama of a walrus.

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Love this description of the UES, from the blog, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York:

One of the things I like about the Upper East Side is that it remains so much itself. It’s not trying to be another neighborhood and it’s not trying to be cool. It’s filled with all kinds of tacky, expensive shops, and none of them are ironic. The rich people there, walking around in full-length furs, look like New Yorkers, and not like Europeans or Midwesterners trying to look like Europeans in New York.

There are also lots and lots of ancient white ladies toddling around, complaining about life, with their hands heavy with diamonds and their eyelids painted pink. They have great faces, and you can watch them go by from the window at Neil’s.

Essex Street

This is where it all began, where wave after wave of European immigrants landed in the narrow streets and crowded tenements of the Lower East Side.

Graffiti, Lower East Side, NYC

Graffiti, Lower East Side, NYC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, the LES is hipsterville, dotted with places like Babycakes, which sells vegan, gluten-free cupcakes, cookies and madeleines (made beneath the original pressed-tin ceiling) or candle-lit restaurant Dudley’s, where I perched at a curved marble-topped bar and enjoyed a tart cocktail made by a handsome red-haired bar-tender from small-town Ohio. There is even a small hotel here, The Blue Moon.

But come here for one of the city’s most moving recreations of urban life, the Tenement Museum, which powerfully explains the daily experience of the immigrants who lived here at the turn of the 19th. century.

Now that the temperature here has plummeted, the connective tissue between these disparate worlds — the status-agnostic subways and buses — is filling up with the homeless, of which New York has a shocking 50,000. They sit with their cardboard signs, pleading silently or asking out loud, apologizing or not.

In the eight years that billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg — who often weekended in the Caribbean — was in power, the number of homeless New Yorkers rose by 65 percent; 21,000 children slept in shelters in January 2013, a new and sorry record.

It has become, increasingly, a city divided.

A NYC Saturday: Muscadet, an Irish play, a ship in the bay

In behavior, cities, culture, life, urban life, US on November 10, 2013 at 2:56 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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Love those almond ears!

Perfect Saturday afternoon…

Lunch at La Bergamote, on West 52d: crepes, salad, a glass of my favorite white wine, a shared pastry for dessert.

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Then we walked around the corner to see a play, “Maeve’s House”, a 90-minute one-man monologue about an Irish writer, Maeve Brennan, once known for decades for her work in The New Yorker.

Yet she died, after a decade of poverty and ill health, in 1993. So much for the writers’ glory we all strive so hard to attain.

The theater at the Irish Arts Center, at the western edge of Manhattan, is small and intimate, the barman wearing a shawl-collared Aran sweater and a linen shirt, his black hair pulled high into a small topknot. My last name is Kelly and my great-grandfather was a schoolteacher in the small town of Rathmullan, Co. Donegal. I rarely seek or claim my roots, but it was lovely, in Manhattan, to hear that lilt all around us.

The stage was set with only a wooden bench, divided like those in the subway, and another seat. The only backdrop was a tall painting that looked like city towers — but was made up of words, written vertically. Perfect.

The actor, Eamon Morrissey, is 70, and his focus and stamina were amazing.

As we walked to the car, at 3:45 p.m., we heard a loud horn sounded five times — from the Carnival Splendour, the massive cruise ship at anchor in the Hudson, literally at the end of a midtown city block. Imagine what it’s like to glide out of the harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, at sunset I’ve yet to take a cruise but I love seeing these behemoths docked.

As we drove home, north up the West Side Highway, kids were out playing soccer, handball, basketball, skateboarding. Cyclists and joggers braved the chilly November air. The trees are still wearing their fall colors of crimson, orange, russet and brilliant yellow.

In the middle of the river, a tiny black and white tugboat — six stories high — looked like a wedding cake, or perhaps a Chinese pagoda, its nose tucked into the back of an enormous barge.

Saturday in New York City…

What makes someone a New Yorker? Are you one?

In behavior, books, cities, culture, domestic life, family, journalism, life, travel, urban life, US on October 24, 2013 at 1:31 am

By Caitlin Kelly

No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.

  • E.B. White, Here is New York (1949)
New York City

New York City (Photo credit: kaysha)

Few cities continue to have the gravitational pull of New York City.

A new book, a collection of 28 essays, all by women, reflects on when and why they came to New York City — and why some of them later chose to leave.

Here’s an audio interview with them from WNYC’s Leonard Lopate show.

I moved to New York in June 1989, alight with ambition, optimism, high hopes for a stunning career — yadayadayada. Take a number!

English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Gra...

English: A 4 segment Panoramic view of the Grand Central Terminal Main Concourse in New York City, New York, United States. Taken with a Canon 5D and 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, in conversation with an editor who once sat atop the masthead of a Very Big Magazine, she called me “so talented.” She’s a sweetheart and I may well be talented, but my years here have since toughened me up to well-meaning flattery. It’s lovely, of course, but it doesn’t pay the rent.

“Sweetie, everyone in New York is talented,” I replied.

What does make someone a New Yorker?

Do you have to be born and raised here? Some say yes, but I disagree. Millions of us have arrived here from distant towns, cities and countries, whether to study, take a job, marry a sweetheart, see how we stack up against the toughest competitors in our field.

New Yorker Hotel building from below

New Yorker Hotel building from below (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had worked in my native Canada in journalism for years and was doing well there.

But the thought of 30 more years doing the same thing amidst the same people? Not for me. One Toronto magazine editor, without exaggeration, held the same prestigious, powerful and much-coveted job for more than 20 years. That sort of stasis struck me as really boring. The place was just too small.

It’s an interesting experience trading your Big Fish-ness in a much smaller pond to the guppy-ness of arriving in a place where the greasy pole of fame and fortune looms into the stratosphere.

I admit it — I’ve never lived in the city itself but in a small town 25 miles north, a 38-minute express train ride. The sort of place snotty New Yorkers dismiss, incorrectly, as “upstate.”

I have a great apartment for a much lower cost. Would I live in the city if given an affordable choice? Maybe. Maybe not.

But I’ve seen myself change in some  basic ways since I moved here, as do many who choose to come here…

So, what makes a New Yorker?

— We’re direct

There’s a sort of conversational bluntness here that’s shocking to me, even today. I was at the movies recently and an older woman I don’t know snapped “Make sure no one takes my seat.” How about “Please?” Typical. For better or worse, strangers here often address one another as others rarely do in more formal/polite places, with the familiar tone of old friends — or despised relatives.

— We’re here to make money

Why else choose to stay in/near a city where the costs of living are so crazy-high? Where simply driving to the airport to pick someone up can snatch $13 from your pocket in tolls and parking? Surviving on ramen and free shows gets old after a while.

– We’re street smart

With people getting shoved onto the subway tracks more often than any of us would like, you learn fast to guard your wallet and your personal space and not to stare anyone in the eye. You learn not to engage potential psychos.

— We walk fast

When I visit other cities, everyone is walking sooooooo slowly. Tourists are the bane of our existence, clogging the narrow, crowded sidewalks, sometimes four abreast. Move it, people!

– You can cry in public and no one will notice

That’s possibly a mixed blessing, but I’ve cried in public here a few times and, just as we studiously ignore celebrities, observers will pretend everything is OK.

— We talk fast

If someone else has time to make small talk with the bank clerk or grocery store bagger, we’re tapping our foot and sighing.

— We’re not mean, just in a hurry

Being brusque doesn’t mean we’re cold or unkind, although it can certainly look that way to a newcomer or visitor from a slower-moving, more social place.

— Our bullshit meters are highly sensitive

We’ve heard just about everything in our years here. We watch our local and state politicians being sent off to prison for corruption or sexual crimes on a depressingly regular basis. So if something sounds soooooo amazing, we immediately look for the fine print.

-– We’re driven

People come here to succeed professionally. (You can do much better more quickly in many other places.) That means climbing over the thousands of other smart, ambitious, highly-educated people who also want that job/promotion/grant/fellowship. We know how tough it is. We’ll do whatever it takes to achieve our goals.

— We relish the mix of people here

Rockettes, cops, artists, editors, actors, Wall Streeters, lawyers, NGO types, UN diplomats. They’re all here.

– We put up with the longest commutes in the U.S., some up to two hours each way

The cost of Manhattan being sky-high for rentals or ownership, thousands of “New Yorkers” live far outside the city limits, traveling in every day to work by car, bus, bike, train or ferry. Some, like Mr. Rockefeller (yes, that one, the billionaire whose enormous estate lies 10 minutes drive north of me) come in by helicopter.

– Income Inequality ‘R Us

Indeed. Just stand at the corner of Madison and 42d at rush hour and watch the endless parade of gleaming, spotless, black Escalades taking the 1% crowd home to the Upper East Side. See the Town Cars idling outside the restaurants and shops. Then cross Park Avenue at its northern end and you’ll see a cliffs’ edge plunge from the plutocracy to deep poverty.

— We treasure anonymity

If you want to be left alone to just get on with it, whatever it is, you can do that here without small-town nosiness, gossip or scrutiny.

— We expect open-mindedness

Whatever your religion, (or lack of same), your gender or sexual preferences, (or combination of same), your political views (or lack of same), it’s all good. This is not a place where (most!) people will dismiss you for not attending church every Sunday or voting for a specific party.

-– We know what we want (even if we can’t afford it!)

The costs of living here are punitively high. This tends to focus you quickly on what you want and what you need to do to achieve it.

— We want to be here, no matter the (considerable) costs

Many of us came from smaller, quieter and far less expensive places. We chose New York.

Some of us are massively entitled

This recent New York magazine article about parents cheating in every way possible to boost their kids’ chances of success is sadly instructive.

– We’re (outwardly) confident

This is not a great place for the tongue-tied, shy or self-deprecating. People assume that if you’re successful, you’re telling us about it and we’re read or heard about you. Or we will soon.

— We brought NYC-specific dreams

Mine was to succeed in journalism and to publish a few books with major houses. The bitterly cold winter’s day in 2002 I walked through the halls at Simon & Schuster, with my agent, surrounded by the framed covers of their best-sellers, felt like a dream to me. That afternoon, to celebrate the imminent acquisition of my first book, I went around the corner to “21″, another Manhattan institution, and ate profiteroles. I went to Saks and bought myself a silver ring to commemorate this huge milestone.

— The people we really need to work with are here

Depending on your field or industry, this still remains the place to be. It’s said that “writers can live anywhere” and while that is technically accurate, there are few other cities where you can so quickly and easily meet and work with the people who can kick your career into high(er) gear.

— 9/11 remains very real to us, not some random historical fact

We lost friends, family, neighbors, co-workers and our fantasy of invulnerability. Thousands of us heard the roar of those planes coming in, and the F-15s that followed, and smelled the bitter tang of the fires after the towers fell and saw the smoke filling the sky. I know Richard Drew personally, the photographer who shot the terrifying photo, Falling Man, of a man falling (or jumping)_to his death. I know people here who are forever traumatized by what happened to them that day. It was also the day my husband was to have moved into my suburban apartment. Instead, he turned his Brooklyn apartment into a photo lab, scanning and transmitting film images to the Times’ midtown offices. (They won the Pulitzer that year for those photos.)

Are you a New Yorker?

What makes you one?

Do you wish you were?

Vying for fame — with those who share your name

In behavior, blogging, business, culture, Fashion, journalism, life, Media, urban life, women, work on October 14, 2013 at 1:53 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Those who aspire to fame — hell, visibility! — in their field need talent, hard work, education, connections, good luck, experience, opportunity.

They also need people to recognize and remember their name.

One reason movie stars change their names is to win an indelible place in the public imagination — would you rush as quickly to see a film by Allen Konigsberg (Woody Allen) or one starring Alphonso D’Abruzzo (Alan Alda)?

Your name is your brand.

Especially in an age of social media, when it might be read by (and re-tweeted to) thousands, if not millions of people.

For decades, very few girls or women, at least in my native Toronto and later in New York — and most importantly, in my work as a journalist — shared my first name. I’d never met another Caitlin Kelly.

Two highly-visible others share “my” name in the same elbows-out city — New York.

English: Bird's eye panorama of Manhattan & Ne...

English: Bird’s eye panorama of Manhattan & New York City in 1873. This town ain’t big enough for all three of us! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And one of them is a writer for the New Yorker.

“Congrats! Saw your great piece” emails arrive  in my in-box. For her. (For those of you beyond the U.S, a staff job at the New Yorker is, for many writers, the pinnacle of the profession, the sort of spot many ambitious writers deeply envy.)

My loving friends think I’m talented and know I live in New York so, hey, it must be me!

But it’s not.

Then came the fawning, hand-wringing email from some fangirl who assumed I was the other CK, asking me for career advice.

This Caitlin Kelly is a designer of elegant, upscale swimwear, whose name I began seeing whenever a Google alert sent me to her work, not to mine. She’s also here in New York, much younger than I, as is the other CK.

She called me the other day and we finally learned a bit more about one another. I’d been curious, as her work is lovely.

She sounds like a hard-working talented woman. We — somewhat oddly for strangers sharing a name — spoke at length and fairly personally.

We haven’t met, yet, although it’s possible we will. There may be an interesting story to write about “my” doppelgangers: how often (if at all) are they confused with me? How does that feel for them?

I checked out a few of the 26 (!) other Caitlin Kelly’s in the New York area, ranging from a college librarian (who’s emailed me a few times over the years) to a VP at Chase Morgan.

Twenty-six of us?!

Time for a CK party, I think.

Do you have a name shared with someone (else) who’s well-known?

How has that played out for you?

“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”

In business, cities, family, journalism, life, Media, Money, news, politics, urban life, US, women, work on September 24, 2013 at 12:59 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The Red Queen's race

The Red Queen’s race (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

The words are from Alice in Wonderland, spoken by the Red Queen.

Sadly, they still apply to millions of American workers, (and those in struggling economies worldwide), for whom the “economic recovery” means little. Their wages are stagnant, their costs rising.

From a recent edition of The New York Times:

For all but the most highly educated and affluent Americans, incomes have stagnated, or worse, for more than a decade. The census report found that median household income, adjusted for inflation, was $51,017 in 2012, down about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999, mostly as a result of the longest and most damaging recession since the Depression. Most people have had no gains since the economy hit bottom in 2009.

The government’s authoritative annual report on incomes, poverty and health insurance, released Tuesday, underscores that the economic recovery has largely failed to reach the poor and the middle class, even as the unemployment rate continues to sink and growth has returned.

Government programs remain a lifeline for millions. Unemployment insurance, whose eligibility the federal government expanded in response to the downturn, kept 1.7 million people out of poverty last year. Food stamps, if counted as income, would have kept out four million.

Since the recession ended in 2009, income gains have accrued almost entirely to the top earners, the Census Bureau found. The top 5 percent of earners — households making more than about $191,000 a year — have recovered their losses and earned about as much in 2012 as they did before the recession. But those in the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution are generally making considerably less than they had been,hit by high rates of unemployment and nonexistent wage growth.

New York continues to be deeply inhospitable to anyone earning  low wages, like the women profiled here, who work multiple jobs and still cannot afford housing, sleeping instead in shelters:

More than one out of four families in shelters, 28 percent, include at least one employed adult, city figures show, and 16 percent of single adults in shelters hold jobs.

Mostly female, they are engaged in a variety of low-wage jobs as security guards, bank tellers, sales clerks, computer instructors, home health aides and office support staff members. At work they present an image of adult responsibility, while in the shelter they must obey curfews and show evidence that they are actively looking for housing and saving part of their paycheck.

Advocates of affordable housing say that the employed homeless are proof of the widening gap between wages and rents — which rose in the city even during the latest recession — and, given the shortage of subsidized housing, of just how difficult it is to escape the shelter system, even for people with jobs.

In 2011, I was asked to testify to New York’s City Council.

I’d never before been part of the political process, except for voting, as some news journalists are required by their employers to avoid any such signs of partiality.

The city was considering passing a “living wage” bill, which would have required employers accepting city subsidies for development to pay their staff $10/hour.

I assure you that $10/hr, even full-time, is no living — but mere survival in a city where it’s virtually impossible to find any apartment costing less than $1,000 a month.

It was an eye-opening and depressing day as I waited six hours to give my allotted two minutes of testimony. The only people left, wearily waiting, were the councilors listening to us — and the impassioned black pastors of low-income-area churches, fighting hard for social justice in the form of economic redress.

I had written a book about low-wage retail work, the third largest industry in the U.S. and one which employs millions in wearying, poorly-paid work, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.” I’d worked for 2.5 years, part-time, for a multinational outdoor clothing brand much beloved by customers, so I’d seen that life, even briefly.

I saw there, firsthand, the frustration of selling a $600 ski jacket to a banker whisking his family off to Aspen, (whose firm had likely helped to wreck the economy in 2008), while we were earning, at most, $11/hour with no commission. As members of the 99 percent serving the 1 percent, we were just another servant class.

It was chillingly instructive.

I also saw my coworkers, several with multiple young children, desperate to flee.

The living wage bill did pass here.

But for millions of workers, still, a hard-earned income — or several — doesn’t provide a life of any ease or comfort.

English: Photo of Jared Bernstein testifying t...

English: Photo of Jared Bernstein testifying to the US Senate on May 26, 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the Times:

“The good news from today’s 2012 income and poverty results is that for the first year since the Great Recession hit, things aren’t getting worse,” Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a former Obama economics official and a contributor to The New York Times’s Economix blog, wrote in his analysis of the numbers. “The bad news is that three years into an economic recovery, they’re not getting
better either.”

And, once more from the Times, from Robert Reich:

Put simply, most people are on a downward escalator. Although jobs are slowly returning, pay is not. Most jobs created since the start of the recovery, in 2009, pay less than the jobs that were lost during the Great Recession. This means many people are working harder than ever, but still getting nowhere. They’re increasingly pessimistic about their chances of ever doing better.

As their wages and benefits shrink, though, they see corporate executives and Wall Street bankers doing far better than ever before. And they are keenly aware of bailouts and special subsidies for agribusinesses, pharma, oil and gas, military contractors, finance and every other well-connected industry.

Alice in Wonderland eventually awoke from her visions. It was just, all of it — the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, Tweedledee and Tweedledum — a very odd dream.

Not for the rest of us.

How are you doing economically these days?

Better? Worse? The same?

Do you feel hopeful that things will improve for you — or others?

Tell me a little about yourself?

In behavior, blogging, life on August 13, 2013 at 1:09 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Now that Broadside is past 6,500 (!) followers worldwide, it’s time for some more introductions.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of you off-line — Lorna, Michelle, Danielle, Anne, Niva, Elizabeth, Cadence, Charlene, Jael — but am curious to know a little more about y’all.

Lurkers, yes, you!

I’ve enjoyed comments from new followers like Georgia and Darlin’ in Austin — whose blog Key + Arrow I’m loving, and Kathleen R., who teaches in Germany and Grace, a college student who writes Cultural Life.

I know, from checking the gravatars and profiles and blogs of every new follower, that many men also visit Broadside and some consistently comment, like New Zealand author Matthew Wright, DadofFiveboys, Rami the student/writer, Nigel, an Australian writer,  and Kentucky schoolteacher Paul Barnwell.

But there are legions of you who still — silently, comment-less — remain ghostly presences…

Who are you people?!

With a hat-tip to Lisa Kramer, of Lisa Wields Words, for the idea, please tell me/us a bit about you!

— Where do you live?

— If you’re in college or university, what are you studying? Are you enjoying it? If you’re a teacher/professor, what do you teach?

— Who are your three of your favorite bands/musicians/composers?

— Do you have a pet? Type? Name?

— What’s the view from your front window?

— Your favorite food?

— Dream job?

— Favorite author(s) or books?

— What’s a perfect Sunday morning?

I’ll go first…

— Tarrytown, New York, a village of 11,000 people 25 miles north of New York City, right on the Hudson River. It was named one of the nation’s 10 Prettiest Towns by Forbes magazine.

— I attended Victoria College at the University of Toronto, studying English, French and Spanish (English major), with a goal of becoming a foreign correspondent. I loved the intelligence of my peers and the high standards of my professors. The school is huge, with 53,000 students, which felt impersonal.  I worked as a reporter for the campus newspaper, which jump-started my journalism career.

— Tough one! Joni Mitchell, Bach and Aaron Copland. (Also, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones, Keb Mo, et al.)

— Just my husband!

— The Hudson River, the west bank of the river and the towns along the water’s edge. We also see the Tappan Zee Bridge, now under re-construction, with the noisy hammering sounds as they dredge the river bottom.

photo(16)

— Maple syrup, closely followed by very good, creamy Greek yogurt. Great combo!

photo(18)

— Running my own magazine with unlimited funds and a super-talented staff.

— Alexandra Fuller, Jan Morris, Edward Abbey (non-fiction); Tom Rachmann, Richard Ford, Balzac (fiction.)

— Waking up healthy beside my husband…cranking up some blues or rock and roll…blueberry pancakes and bacon…the usual three newspapers, in paper: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

Let the introductions begin!

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