Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Another Quintessential New Yorker Leaves Us

Back when they still referred to grades 7-9 as Junior High School, my parents began a subscription to was then a fledgling start-up called New York magazine. Not to be confused with the legendary New Yorker, the new kid on the block featured articles by some the Big Apple’s most contemporary writers like Tom Wolfe, Nora Ephron, Gail Sheehy, Gay Talese and Nat Hentoff as well as grizzled news veterans like Jimmy Breslin.

I was flipping through a June 1969 issue when I came across a profile of heavyweight boxer Jerry Quarry, who was preparing to challenge Joe Frazier for the title at Madison Square Garden. For those old enough to remember, Quarry was a hard-punching face-first fighter from California who, unfortunately, emerged at the same time as Frazier and Muhammad Ali and was therefore rendered to perennial contender status for the duration of his career.

The article titled “The Great White Hope” described in uncomfortable detail Quarry’s spartan training regimen while sequestered at Grossinger’s Resort in the Catskill Mountains. The author was Pete Hamill - another battle tested soldier of the Big Apple’s tabloid wars, who if you sliced his arm, would no doubt have bled his beloved New York.  He would often remark that you could just “wander around and let the city dictate the script.”

I kept that magazine for nearly 10 years and today have a printed copy of the piece among my boxing memorabilia. It was then I became an immediate fan of his – whether reading his columns in the New York Daily News, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire Magazine or one of his many books and novellas.

He was the eldest of seven children born to Irish immigrants and a high school dropout, yet rose to become a reporter at the New York Post, and had covered the Vietnam War, riots, sporting events and was just feet from Bobby Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He even found time to squire around Shirley MacLaine, Linda Ronstadt and Jacqueline Onassis.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Don’t Count the Big Apple Out Just Yet

While yet another appliance at Chez Carlino went on the fritz – this time thankfully it was just a broken dryer belt – I found myself engaged in a brief but lively conversation with the repairman, who interestingly enough sold real estate as a sideline.

His territory was the northern part of the suburban county where I live and he said for the first time in his career, the buyer market far exceeded inventory of available homes – by nearly a 3-to-1 margin.

He explained there was a massive exodus from New York City – fueled partly by the COVID-19 pandemic and shuttered businesses, the other a spike in crime thanks largely to the reduction in policing policies and bail reform measures championed by the buffoon currently occupying City Hall and his idiot minions on the City Council. (his words not mine, but you will not get an argument from me.)

In any event, his theory was that New York City was amid a decline from which it may never recover. Even local suburban papers carried articles on how outlying towns are basically positioning themselves as havens from the urban blight.

But New York has seen its share of tough times before and has managed to rebound each time when either nature or events have smacked it with a 2-by-4.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

HGTV – COVID Style

When it comes to home improvement chores, I suddenly have no less than six thumbs.

Whether painting, measuring, hammering, drilling, or spackling, the finished project often resembles the aftermath of a Kindergarten arts and crafts hour.

I’m sure those of you sequestered with your better half during this pandemic have seen the traditional “honey-do” list increase exponentially. You know those fix-it activities that begged procrastination.

So as you may imagine, I shook like a 16-year old asking the head cheerleader to the prom when my bride announced with little or no room for interpretation or argument, “this weekend we are going to hang curtains.”

Not on one window mind you, but THREE. She had tired of the off-red hue of the existing drapes and wanted to bring more light into the designated rooms via lighter colored curtains.

I could only envision the result; curtain rods dangling at 20-degree angles and ill-measured drill holes littered throughout the sheetrock.

Not something a camera crew would want to film for an episode of HGTV.

Undaunted, I tried to wriggle out of my spousal responsibility, but the conversation went something like this.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Balancing Pandemic Imbalance

A number of years ago, I was watching the evening news and one of the local features showcased parents who not only curtailed the time their children could watch TV at night, but installed a stationary exercise bike that was hard wired to the set.

So long as the children kept pedaling, the set was on. The moment they paused they were greeted with a frozen screen.

Needless to say, there were probably very few couch potatoes in that litter.

I remembered that vignette this week when my morning paper contained an article spotlighting several devices that promised to make working remotely during COVID-19 not only more efficient but restore a semblance of balance and sanity as well.

Now I have been working remotely since 2012 and after a quarter century of commuting to New York City, admittedly, it took some getting used to. I found myself talking out loud so often, that had I been in an office, I most likely would have been escorted by human resources to a psychologist. I also missed the camaraderie, as this was several years before Zoom and Microsoft Teams became a regular part of the remote worker’s lexicon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Lease is on the Other Foot

As the number of 90-degree days in July slowly approached the double-digit mark, our cranky air conditioning system finally surrendered. While waiting for the repair crew to install a replacement unit and present me with an invoice exceeding the cost of my first new car, I decided to escape the oppressive swamp that was my home’s interior temperature and cool off at the town pool.

In between laps I struck up an interesting conversation with a fellow in the adjacent swimming lane. He was a jeweler by trade who for years maintained a business in New York City. He, like many non-essential other businesses, had been forced to close for months during COVID-19. He revealed that for years he had been at constant odds with the landlord, who insisted on an annual hike on the lease, sometimes demanding an unrealistic amount for the space. If my new swimming companion didn’t like it, he was told in no uncertain terms, there was a long line of potential renters waiting to take over. After calculating relocation and construction costs, he determined that it was probably better to remain where he was, as unpleasant as that might be.

But that was then, and this is now.

With the pandemic forcing thousands of companies to sequester much of their workforce and work remotely, one of the sectors not likely to rebound all that quickly is office real estate. For example, professional services like CPA firms, investment banking entities and even law offices, many who had previously discouraged working remotely, suddenly discovered they could be equally productive as before COVID-19 sans the bricks and mortar.

That does not portend well for those in office real estate. Already many accounting practices are mapping out strategies to reduce their space or even move out completely. One practitioner I spoke with in New York is currently functioning in a We Works space and has no plans to relocate to a more permanent base.

Even in my bucolic hamlet, I have seen signs spring up like ragweed advertising available office space in the local business park. One even stated that “rates are negotiable.”

Seeing a sign like that even five years ago was almost unthinkable. Those rental overseers who were often referred to as gluttons, now, ironically, face a glut of inventory.

Going forward that will likely be the rule rather than the exception. In a classic example of schadenfreude the jeweler said he had an appointment with his landlord this week to discuss the terms of his lease.

Remind me again what they often say about payback?


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Dressed For Success?

With temperatures spiking close to 90 last week, I felt it was time to assess my summer wardrobe and determine which articles of clothing should be kept and which others should be bagged and carted off to charity.

I have an overstock of T-shirts – due in no small part to the recent online fire sales at Lacoste and Polo but shorts however were a different matter. Now traditionally I do not wear anything that extends below the knee from June through Labor Day with the obvious exceptions of client visits or upscale social events like weddings.

But this year’s inventory was close to barren. One good pair of what could be termed “dress shorts” and 3 others of what many (including my family) consider a borderline fashion crime – cargo style.

So, with the retail outlets opening in New York under Phase 3, I ventured out to restock my armoire. I won’t mention the name of the national retail giant I hoped could help, but their corporate office is in Wisconsin, if that gives you a clue. 

As luck would have it, I found four pairs in my size and now all that remained was to try them on in the store’s cavernous rows of dressing rooms.

Except I couldn’t.

Three giant fuchsia cones were stationed at the entrance accompanied by an over-sized block-letter sign that Mr. Magoo couldn’t overlook: “DRESSING ROOMS CLOSED.”

So, I defaulted to my usual customer service strategy – I went looking for a manager.

She was polite and patient but explained they were restricted by the state and therefore the rooms had to remain shuttered.

For those keeping score at home, the conversation went something like this:

“But I need to try them on to see if they fit. What happens if I buy them and later discover that the dreaded COVID-15 (lbs.) has me doing an impression of John Candy with Brad Pitt’s shorts.”

“Well you could always bring them back and return them.”

“But the idea is to try them on, so I DON’T have to come back.”

“I’m sorry but our hands are tied.”

Frustrated I left without a purchase, resigning myself wearing cargo shorts until the policy is lifted.

On the way home I ran into a neighbor of mine carrying a bag from a competitive retailer. When I recounted my dressing room plight, she said that the store she went to not only had the dressing rooms open, but in fact were running a sale on men’s shorts and had purchased several pairs for her sons.

There oughta be a law. Especially one size that fits all.

Sorry I could not resist.

Friday, June 26, 2020

The World is on Back Order

Several weeks ago, I detailed how several of the high-ticket appliances at Chez Carlino conspired to break down and subsequently drain whatever emergency reserve funds we had. First the washing machine refused to forward to the spin cycle. Then the dishwasher determined it would cease washing dishes and utensils.

And finally, just in time for summer, the burner elements on our grill rusted out and broke apart like a picture window being smashed by a 2 X 4.

The first two I managed to replace without much difficulty, although the dishwasher like several million other pieces of merchandise across the country was on a three-week back order.

But that was a momentary lapse in time compared to the Seinfeld-like vignette of buying a grill. The bride who does more research prior to purchasing anything over $50 than most scientists developing a new vaccine, spent hours looking at various models and even fashioned an Excel file, which charted price and features comparisons. I personally went to Home Depot, Lowe’s and two local hardware stores to examine their respective inventories.

I had a certain price point in mind and none of the above either matched it or had anything close to what I was looking for in stock. “Check back in a couple of weeks,” I was told.

As an avid griller, I was not going to wait until mid-July to fire up burgers and steaks. It was bad enough my gym had been shuttered since mid-March and my town pool is still debating whether to open for the summer. There are certain things I simply will not wait for.

But it gets better.