Sunday, July 22, 2018

365. A Spotted Pig, the Chupi, Living Gray Water, a Beaux Arts Masterpiece, a $500 Perm, and an Art-Filled John.


Giveaways will resume after Fascinating New Yorkers is released on July 26.  To get word of them and other news, sign up using the form in the sidebar on the right.  And notice this blog's five most popular posts of all time below the sign-up form on the right.  Four of the five are included in Fascinating New Yorkers.  Coming soon: the release of the print book and, a week later, the e-book, the e-book to be offered briefly at a bargain price.

For my other books, see BROWDERBOOKS below.


Fascinating NYers eimage.jpg


A collection of posts from this blog.  Short biographical sketches of people, some remembered and some forgotten, who lived or died in New York.  All kinds of wild stuff, plus some stuff that isn't quite wild but fascinating.  New York is a mecca for hustlers of every kind, some likable and some horrible, but they are never boring.


To be published July 26.  You can order it here from the publisher and get a discounted price (plus postage), but it won't be shipped before that date.  Also available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, minus the discount but with the delay.   Signed copies are available now from the author (i.e., me) for $20.00 (plus postage, if needed), but very few remain.


SMALL  TALK  

     The AARP Bulletin of July/August is full of interesting facts, some of them even relevant.  It is addressed to Golden Oldies and entices them with gizmos to make life easier, frauds to avoid, and ads featuring dynamic oldsters smiling radiantly as they cope -- triumphantly, of course -- with life's ravages.  It also offers statistics, and this is what got my attention.  To help retiring seniors find decent places to live, it lists the Most Livable Big Cities (population 500,000 and up), with New York in place #6.  So who beats it?  San Francisco, then Boston, then Seattle, then Denver, then Milwaukee.  As for the Most Livable Small Cities 100,000 to 499,999), no. 1 is Madison, Wisconsin, followed by Arlington, Virginia, and St. Paul, Minnesota.  (St. Paul?  Well, be prepared for snow and cold weather.)  Finally, the Most LivableTowns (25,000 to 99,999): Fitchburg, Wisconsin is no. 1 (I confess I've never heard of it), then Sheboygan, Wisconsin (I once cycled through it long ago), and La Crosse, Wisconsin.  How the AARP arrived at these conclusions I don't know, but Wisconsin does seem to be "hot." 

     Just across the page from these lists the Bulletin offers The Heavenly Blessings Christmas Tree, 3 feet tall with 50 movable figures for a Nativity at its base: "Not available in any store.  Act now!"  In the heat of July I confess that I'm not remotely tempted.  

     But one other item caught my eye.  Though oriented toward seniors, the Bulletin chronicled the unlikely but true adventures of a 20-year-old Colorado youth who managed to get bitten by (1) a rattlesnake, (2) a black bear, and (3) a tiger shark.  Not all at once, to be sure, and in different locales: the snake in in Utah, the bear in Colorado, and the shark in Hawaii.  The odds of this happening to one individual in a lifetime are calculated at one in 893.4 quadrillion, but it happened.  The young man is described as an outdoors enthusiast.  Maybe a little less enthusiasm is in order.  As for me, I'll stick to quiet walks in Greenwich Village, as described below.


A Spotted Pig, the Chupi, Living Gray Water, a Beaux Arts Masterpiece, a $500 Perm, and an Art-Filled John


         New York is inexhaustible, especially if, without a mobile device to distract you, you look about.  I have walked down West 11th Street to the Hudson many times, but no two walks are identical.  Recently I did the walk, going first along the south or downtown side of the street.  Between Greenwich Street and Washington I noticed, once again, on the other side of the street, a row of small enterprises that I have always vowed to chronicle and somehow never did.  Making mental note of this little mini mall, I promised myself to have a look at it on my return.  I have always felt the odds were against them, since they are far removed from busy Hudson Street, with its constant stream of pedestrians.  If the three most important things for a small business are LOCATION, LOCATION, and LOCATION, West 11th between Greenwich and Washington is far from ideal, though no doubt offering lower rents.  Significantly, a nice ground-floor location at the corner of West 11th and Greenwich has remained vacant now for many months.

         Going toward the river, I passed two restaurants.  At the corner of West 11th and Greenwich, across from the vacant retail site, is the Spotted Pig, with a spotted pig hanging over the corner, and an array of flowering greenery in pots outside.  It offers seasonal British and Italian food, using local ingredients whenever possible.  I have never dined there, but in spite of the less-than-ideal location, it has always seemed to be doing a good business.  Alas, the owner has been accused by ten women of sexually harassing them and maintaining a coercive and sexualized atmosphere in the restaurant.  How this will all play out I have no idea, but the #Me Too Movement is leaving its mark even on my quiet West Village walk.

         One block farther along, at the corner of West 11th and Washington Street, is another restaurant, Wallsé, offering Austrian food.  I have never dined there because, like the Spotted Pig, it seems just a bit pricey. Though its menu is posted outside, on this walk and the previous one I found it closed tight, which surprised me, since it used to do a lively business on Sunday afternoons.  Another crisis, matching the Spotted Pig’s?  Not at all.  It is now open on weekdays but closed on Sundays.  The only thing I’ve ever held against it is its name, which I’ve never known how to pronounce.  No matter, it enjoys an excellent culinary reputation.


File:033 Palazzo Chupi.jpg
No palazzo here.  This is what you see at ground level.  Elegant it ain't.
Elisa.rolle

         Crossing Washington Street, I left the Greenwich Village Historic District behind and passed below the monstrosity known as the Palazzo Chupi, the architectural folly of a self-styled Renaissance man who, on top of three drab floors of an old building, planted another eleven stories in Italian palazzo style whose Pepto Bismol pink, offensive to the eye, has gradually faded, making his inspiration a bit more bearable for the neighbors.  Smack next to this monument is a small Greek Revival residence, fortunately landmarked, which, unlike the Chupi, is totally in keeping with the Village.  Enough said of the Chupi, which I have chronicled before.  Just beyond it, going toward the river, is a glass-fronted residential entrance at 366 West 11th Street, followed by several more elegant entrances, no doubt giving access to apartments with fantastic views of the river at fantastic prices.


File:032 Palazzo Chupi.jpg
And this is what you see, if you look up.
Elisa.rolle

         Ah, the river …!  I sat on a bench near the water, watched the gray surface rippled by a gentle breeze, a vibrant, ever-changing pattern of gray that I had never seen before, perhaps because, on an overcast day, I had never looked for it; I christened it the living surface of gray.  Manhattan was overcast, with the sun trying to burn through, while New Jersey was bathed in sunlight under a clear sky.  The dancing dots of silver that I have often seen on the river’s surface were missing, on this cloudy day, but then I saw them, the tiniest I had ever seen, in the near distance, barely visible from where I was sitting.  Next to my bench was another that I called the Lovers’ Bench, since one couple gently entangled there got up and left, and were  almost immediately replaced by another.  But I was looking at the river, and as the sun at last burst through, bringing light and heat, the river’s gray ripples acquired a faint tint of blue.


File:Lackawanna Terminal (Hoboken) 03 (9443363422).jpg
The Hoboken Terminal, as seen from a water taxi.  I saw it from the Manhattan side of the river.
Joe Mabel

         Just across the river I could see, on the Hoboken waterfront, the old terminal of the Erie Lackawanna Railroad, now called the Hoboken Terminal, with a tall, thin tower fronted on all four sides by a clock and topped by a conical roof topped in turn by a spire.  Here the old railroad’s trains stopped, transferring passengers to ferries that crossed the river to Manhattan.  The railroad suspended service long since, but the terminal survived.  Online research tells me that this is a Beaux Arts masterpiece dating from 1907.  Over time the interior had deteriorated, but in 1997-1999 it was renovated, with restoration of its stained glass signage and a great skylight made of Tiffany glass.  Online photos show that it is indeed an architectural masterpiece, and used today daily by some 50,000 commuters.  For years I had thought it a neglected and decaying relic of the past, but now I know better, for it serves PATH, a number of local rail lines, a light rail line that I have used to reach Jersey City, and a diminished ferry service.  I have traveled that way many times with PATH, but since the PATH tracks are underground, I never suspected that a Beaux Arts masterpiece loomed above me.  Luckily, that masterpiece  escaped the fate of Manhattan’s demolished and much lamented Penn Station.


File:Hoboken Terminal waitingroom 78076.jpg
The Hoboken Terminal's waiting room.  Compare it to the Penn Station of today.
Bob Jagendorf

File:Hoboken Terminal May 2015 002.jpg
Another view of the waiting room.
King of Hearts

         Returning from the river, I passed the series of shops that I had noticed earlier on the uptown or north side of West 11th between Washington and Greenwich.  First, at 327 West 11th Street, was the 11th Street Café, which describes itself as a neighborhood coffee shop with coffee made in  Brooklyn plus dairy from upstate, and fresh bagels, free wifi, and beer, wine, and mimosa.  And also at #327 is SAVOR, a beauty salon offering “KOREAN BEAUTY RITUALS … in a New York Minute.”  Online it promises “five-star attention for your gorgeous glow, inside out.”   Who could resist?

         Next, at 325 West 11th, is the Robin Rice Gallery, run by photographer Robin Rice.  I discovered it late last winter, when it was displaying the subtly homoerotic photographs of Leonardo Pucci, whose work sometimes reminded me of Hopper’s urban scenes with only a small human figure or two somewhere in the work.  I meant to attend the opening, but a winter storm prevented me.  Later I learned that the opening had even so been well attended, and was given a tour of a back room and the john, the walls of both of them jammed with art.  And also at #325 is Orient Express, a cocktail bar.  Hey, guys, what better place to spend some time and money with your girlfriend, once the Koreans have fixed her up?

         Next door, at 323 West 11th, is Turks & Frogs, a wine bar offering Turkish fare and an impressive wine list in an atmosphere heavy with antiques.  Their window shows a big wicker-clad jug, the gaping mouth of what looks like the speaker of an old gramophone, and a big glass jar full of corks.  (Wine bottle corks, I’m sure.)  Also, in gilt letters, the one word WINE.  Their online site shows a model sail boat next to bronze candle holders and other small decorative objects, suggesting a charmingly quaint, unique, and slightly oddball setting.  I have never patronized Turks & Frogs  because I pass it on Sunday walks following cheese and wine with Bob, followed by lunch, which leaves little room for more wine and a snack.  The name intrigues me.  “Turks” I can understand, but why “frogs”?  Someday, I hope, I will be enlightened.  And of course there’s another enterprise at #323: Garden, New York, a hair salon offering haircuts from $70 to $90, a bang trim for $15, a roots touch-up for $85 to $100, and for a smashing climax, a “Japanese Straight Perm” for $280 to $500.  Well, I could manage a bang trim, but I don’t have bangs.

         Finally, at 321 West 11th, one comes to my very own dear laundry, the Village Dry Clean Laundromat Service, whose sign WHY RUSH? suggests that clients leave their laundry in the morning and pick it up that night, which is exactly what my household does.  This genial suggestion, and the sodden atmosphere of a laundromat, mark the end of my West 11th Street mini mall and a return to the humdrum and familiar, which is also reassuring, since it's nice to know one can, when necessary, get one's laundry done.


          A spotted pig, a much deplored palazzo, the living surface of gray, a Beaux Arts masterpiece, a mini mall offering a café with bagels and free wifi, next to a skinny gallery with an art-crammed john, next to the winy pleasures of Turks & Frogs, next to a $500 perm – not bad for a short summer walk from Hudson Street to the river and back.  New York is inexhaustible.

Coming soon: Weird Facts about U.S. Presidents.  Which one got stuck in the White House bathtub?  Which one executed people in person?  Which one fathered an illegitimate child?  And so on...



BROWDERBOOKS  


All books are available online as indicated, or from the author.

1.  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (Mill City Press, 2015).  Winner of the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  All about anything and everything New York: alcoholics, abortionists, greenmarkets, Occupy Wall Street, the Gay Pride Parade, my mugging in Central Park, peyote visions, and an artist who made art of a blackened human toe.  In her Reader Views review, Sheri Hoyte called it "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City."

If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you.  An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017 and 2018.





Review 

"If you want wonderful inside tales about New York, this is the book for you.  Cliff Browder has a way with his writing that makes the city I lived in for 40 plus years come alive in a new and delightful way. A refreshing view on NYC that will not disappoint."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Bill L.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

2.  Bill Hope: His Story (Anaphora Literary Press, 2017), the second novel in the Metropolis series.  New York City, 1870s: From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, young Bill Hope spills out in a torrent of words the story of his career as a pickpocket and shoplifter; his brutal treatment at Sing Sing and escape from another prison in a coffin; his forays into brownstones and polite society; and his sojourn among the “loonies” in a madhouse, from which he emerges to face betrayal and death threats, and possible involvement in a murder.  Driving him throughout is a fierce desire for better, a persistent and undying hope.

For readers who like historical fiction and a fast-moving story.


browder-cover-9781681143057-perfect-2
Reviews

"A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure.  A must read."  Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.

"This was a fun book.  The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character.  I would recommend this."  Four-star LibraryThing review by stephvin.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


3.  Dark Knowledge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2018), the third novel in the Metropolis series.  Adult and young adult.  A fast-moving historical novel about New York City and the slave trade, with the sights and sounds and smells of the waterfront. 

Browder - Cover - 9781681143675-Perfect - 2
The back cover summary:


New York City, late 1860s.  When young Chris Harmony learns that members of his family may have been involved in the illegal pre-Civil War slave trade, taking slaves from Africa to Cuba, he is appalled.  Determined to learn the truth, he begins an investigation that takes him into a dingy waterfront saloon, musty old maritime records that yield startling secrets, and elegant brownstone parlors that may have been furnished by the trade.  Since those once involved dread exposure, he meets denials and evasions, then threats, and a key witness is murdered.  Chris has vivid fantasies of the suffering slaves on the ships and their savage revolts.  How could seemingly respectable people be involved in so abhorrent a trade, and how did they avoid exposure?  And what price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?

Early reviews

"A lively and entertaining tale.  The writing styles, plot, pace and character development were excellent."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by BridgitDavis.

"At first the plot ... seemed a bit contrived, but I was soon swept up in the tale."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by snash.

"I am glad that I have read this book as it goes into great detail and the presentation is amazing.  The Author obviously knows his stuff."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by Moiser20.

New release; available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


4.  The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), the first novel in the Metropolis series, tells the story of a respectably raised young man who chooses to become a male prostitute in late 1860s New York and falls in love with his most difficult client.

What was the gay scene like in nineteenth-century New York?   Gay romance, if you like, but no porn (I don't do porn).  Women have read it and reviewed it.  (The cover illustration doesn't hurt.)







Reviews

"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read."  Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.

"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same."  Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.

"The detail Browder brings to this glimpse into history is only equaled by his writing of credible and interesting characters.  Highly recommended."  Five-star Goodreads review by Nan Hawthorne.


Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.



©   2018   Clifford Browder




Sunday, July 15, 2018

364. Con Men, Cheats, and Thieves



GIVEAWAY:  No  Place for Normal: New York

What you get:

The first three people who sign up will get a free print copy of my award-winning stories No place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (summary and review below).  U.S. residents only.  Previous winners not eligible.  Winners should be new to me and this blog.  Offer runs until 9 p.m. EST Saturday, July 21, or as soon as three people have signed up.  More giveaways will follow.  To subscribe, use the sign-up form in the sidebar on the right.

All subscribers will get announcements of my weekly posts for this blog, which is about anything and everything New York.  Also, word of new releases, like Fascinating New Yorkers (see in BROWDERBOOKS below), to be released July 26.





No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World (Mill City Press, 2015).  Winner of the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  All about anything and everything New York: alcoholics, abortionists, greenmarkets, Occupy Wall Street, the Gay Pride Parade, my mugging in Central Park, peyote visions, and an artist who made art of a blackened human toe.  In her Reader Views review, Sheri Hoyte called it "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City."

If you love the city (or hate it), this may be the book for you.  An award winner, it sold well at BookCon 2017 and 2018.

Review 


"If you want wonderful inside tales about New York, this is the book for you.  Cliff Browder has a way with his writing that makes the city I lived in for 40 plus years come alive in a new and delightful way.  A refreshing view on NYC that will not disappoint."  Five-star Amazon customer review by Bill L.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Con Men, Cheats, and Thieves


     Once, long ago, when my brother met me at an airport to give me a lift to the family apartment, he said with a canny look, “Let me tell you about my new scam.”   His “scam” was simply a plan to redeem hundreds of coupons in newspapers, so as to acquire a lifetime supply of whatever at a reduced price.  Being in the newspaper distribution business, he had access to reams of unsold papers and so had a free hand in clipping reams of coupons.  There was nothing illegal about this; he was simply taking advantage of his position to buy things cheap.  Years later, when I came back to bury him, I found the apartment crammed with his spoils: a lifetime supply of deodorants, ditto of detergent, car repair equipment that only a grease monkey could appreciate, and I don’t recall what else; it took me weeks to clear it all out.  But what I still remember most vividly, was that look on his face when he announced his so-called scam: canny, shrewd, knowing, worthy of Wily Coyote, the trickster of many Native American legends.  It was indeed the look of an operator about to put something over on others – in other words, the look of a con man.

     New York, like any big city, is a mecca for con men, cheats, and thieves.  An African American cruising the streets in a fancy limousine stuffed with clothing once asked with a winning smile if I’d like to buy some clothes; I declined, convinced that they were stolen items.  He was surely a thief or a fence.

File:BernardMadoff.jpg
The mug shot of Bernard Madoff, whose Ponzi scheme
was the biggest fraud in U.S. history.

     On another occasion when I found myself at night in midtown, I saw a man trying to sell some paper dolls to some sailors.  Aligned side by side, the dolls were dancing on the sidewalk as if by magic.  It was an old trick still being played. But the sailors weren’t fooled; they were looking for the hidden strings that propelled the dolls.  Seeing this, another man standing nearby announced in a resonant voice, “It’s show time!”  He repeated his warning a second time, and the vendor of the dolls packed them up and moved on down the street.  “I knew there was a hidden string,” said one sailor, “and here it is.”  Looking closely, he had detected the almost invisible string.

File:Charles Ponzi.jpg
Charles Ponzi, who was so successful a swindler in the 1920s that he has given his name to the fraud  where the con man promises investors fabulous returns, then uses the money from later investors to pay the earlier investors.

     Another scam that used to be practiced in the city involved a man entering into conversation with a stranger outside a bank and telling him that banks were frauds, they took your money but wouldn’t give it back.  He would repeat this assertion so consistently, so smugly, that the other man would wax indignant and tell him he was crazy.  “Go ahead, just try,” the first man would dare him, “try to withdraw a sizable sum, and you’ll see that I am right.”  So the dupe would do just that, and it was just a matter of time before he and his money were separated.  How could anyone fall for such an obvious scam, you and I and almost everyone would wonder, and the victim, once disabused, would wonder the same.  But at the time, he fell for it hook, line, and sinker, and – to mix metaphors – got royally fleeced.

     Today the cheats take advantage of the Internet to reach you in your home.  Once, out of nowhere, I got an e-mail: “Aloha!  I’d like to get to know you.  From your profile I think we have lots in common.”  The sender seemed to be a pleasant young woman. Surprised and charmed, I was tempted to respond, but some good spirit deep within me, some demon of skepticism, held me back, and I quickly realized that this was probably a scam, bait to entice you to interact and yield personal information useful to the scammer.  Like all such greetings since, I deleted it.

     On another occasion I got an e-mail purporting to be from my publisher, saying that on the spur of the moment he had taken a trip abroad – I think he said to the Philippines – was in trouble there and needed money; if I could send him several hundred, he’d repay me as soon as he got back.  This smelled fishy, so I asked for more information.  The appeal was repeated urgently, but it seemed fishier than ever, so I asked how he knew me, what was the connection?  No answer came.  I then e-mailed the publisher and got an immediate reply: an account of his had been hacked, and this appeal was going out to many of his authors and acquaintances whose e-mail addresses had been discovered; he was now closing the account and opening another with a different password. Beware of sudden e-mail appeals.  With hindsight, I realize that I shouldn’t even have answered the first appeal before contacting him for verification.

     And of course we’re constantly assaulted by ads that make glowing vague promises.  I once encountered this one:

     WOULD  YOU  LIKE  TO  BE  A MILLIONAIRE? 

Amused, I answered by mail as instructed: “Yes, please tell me how to become a millionaire!”  The reply was simply a run-of-the-mill invitation to invest in something or other, an offer so drab and uninspired that it wasn’t worth messing with, even to chuckle or debunk it. 

     I’m not always so canny.  Recently I got an envelope labeled Social Security & Medicare, personal statement enclosed, and in bold red ink, EXPIRATION  NOTICE.  At the very thought of my Social Security and Medicare expiring, I almost panicked and hurriedly opened the envelope.  So what did I discover?  It was an appeal from the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, urging me to renew my membership – in other words, give them more money. Looking closely at the envelope, I now saw that the words “National Committee to Preserve” were indeed there, but in small print.  They had tricked me into opening the envelope. But this so annoyed me that I vowed never to give them money again – not exactly the dénouement they intended.

     There are trivial tricks and scams, but serious ones perpetrated by real artists of the trade abound.  The AARP Bulletin, distributed widely to golden oldie, often has articles about online scams practiced on the elderly.  For instance:

·      Notifications by e-mail claiming that the U.S. Post Office or some other entity has a delivery for you; click on the link and you get malware.
·      Rogue retailers offering bargain prices that you find on social media or through search engine results; they want your credit card number or will sell you inferior goods (or maybe nothing at all).
·      Charity cons claiming to benefit police, firefighters, veterans, sick or needy children, or victims of natural disasters; again, they want your credit card number.
·      Gotcha giveaways offering free merchandise or free vacations, likewise hoping to get your credit card or other sensitive information.

Not to mention scams that relieve some oldsters of their life’s savings, or induce them to send money to rescue a grandchild who is reportedly in some kind of unforeseen trouble. 

     Being a bit of a tightwad and suspicious by nature, I’ve never fallen for any of these cons, but long ago a friend of mine was outrageously conned by a master of the trade.  My friend Kevin, a natty, sophisticated New Yorker, told me he had just met an interesting visitor from South America (I forget which country) named Vergilio and was quite taken with him.  The next thing I knew, Kevin had arranged with a friend who was going away on vacation to let Vergilio move into her place temporarily. Kevin’s praise of Vergilio grew ever more intense, and finally I met this paragon when Kevin invited me over for cocktails. Vergilio was a good-looking young man of about thirty, no kid, well-groomed and well-mannered, with a soft, pleasing voice and a gracious smile.  Good enough, but everything about him, while pleasing, seemed strangely vague.  He was right there in the present, but he seemed to have no past and no discoverable future – a mysteriousness that made him that more interesting to Kevin.   

     “What is it about this guy that so gets to you?” I asked Kevin later.

     Kevin flashed a look of intensity.  “I’ve never known anyone like him.  He’s fascinating.  He has glamour!”

     Glamour – a word I associate with Hollywood brouhaha – was something I had never hankered for, but it was clear that it appealed to some need deep in Kevin’s psyche.  But I was worried.  For me, Vergilio, who had appeared out of nowhere, was a smile over a cocktail glass, nothing more.

     In the weeks that followed, Kevin began evincing alarm: Vergilio's health was not all it should be.  Then he informed me that Vergilio was going to consult a doctor on the doctor's yacht, which struck me as an odd site for a consultation.  Next I got a phone call from Kevin, with anguish in his voice: "Vergilio is dying!"  His friend had informed him that he was suffering from a long-term fatal ailment, its exact nature undisclosed, that required treatment in Europe; he would be leaving soon.  So Vergilio left; Kevin moped about, waited for news, worried.  Postcards came from Paris, Monte Carlo, Nice, with only the briefest message and no news about his treatment.


     Three weeks later he was back, well-groomed and urbane as ever, the same soft voice, the same smile over a cocktail glass.  He showed Kevin and me a series of photographs from his trip, every one featuring a smiling and handsome Vergilio in a well-appointed residence, his host unidentified: photos of a narcissist.  By now even Kevin sensed something amiss, but his need of glamour locked him into the spell.

     Vergilio now informed Kevin that he had to return to Europe for an operation that might or might not save his life, probably not; professing embarrassment, he confessed he needed money for the trip.  Why he had to turn to a new friend, and not to old friends and family, went unexplained.  Kevin at once gave forth of his own meager savings, then phoned any number of friends, entreating them to loan him what they could.  Some did, some didn't.  I myself, unable and unwilling to label Vergilio a liar or a fraud without convincing evidence, promised five hundred dollars but then, common sense prevailing, gently but firmly declined.  "I don't believe in it," I explained.  Kevin’s response: "I feel like I've been kicked in the teeth.”

     Vergilio departed once again for Europe, and I heard no more of him, for Kevin and I were now estranged.  Finally I phoned a mutual friend, asking how he was.  "He's learning what he has to learn," she said, but refrained from saying more.  Months passed; other matters claimed me, but I thought often of Kevin.  Finally he phoned and invited me over.  He looked worn and wan, but got to it right away: "If I ever see him again, I'll say to him, 'What?  You're not dead? But that's why I gave you all that money and sent you back to Europe. Dead -- you should be dead!'"  A hard look came over him that I had never seen before.

     To my knowledge, Vergilio never reappeared in New York; if he did, it was at a far remove from Kevin.  Kevin never mentioned his name again.  Since his finances were habitually precarious, I doubt if he ever repaid any of his friends.  But of one thing I am sure: Vergilio was off somewhere, on this continent or another, smiling over a cocktail glass and enlisting the sympathy and generosity of friends. New friends; to the old ones he wouldn't dare show his face.

     Vergilio was a classic example of the con man, and Kevin a classic example of the dupe.  (Note my insisting on “con man” and never “con woman” or “con person”; it seems to be a males-only game.)   It has been argued that we humans are born to be conned, that the true con artist makes us feel good about ourselves, makes us think he’s giving us just what we deserve.  The victim is always swept up in a narrative that at the time seems absolutely compelling. 

      So it was with Kevin.  He had a deep need to experience glamour, and Vergilio satisfied that need marvelously, to the point that Kevin ignored all the danger signs: the vagueness of Vergilio’s ailment, and his obvious good health; Vergilio’s inability to get help from old friends and family; Vergilio’s trip to Europe supposedly to get medical aid, a trip memorialized in photos of Vergilio in luxury settings that belied the very purpose of the trip.  Kevin was a sophisticated New Yorker, but he fell for the con that a shrewd operator offered him, and his awakening was harsh.  The wound was long in healing, if it ever did heal completely.


Coming soon: Something about a spotted pig, the deplorable Chupi, a pulsing river, a Beaux Arts masterpiece, Korean marvels, and an art-filled john.  All in one short walk.


BROWDERBOOKS
  


All books are available online as indicated, or from the author.


1.  Bill Hope: His Story (Anaphora Literary Press, 2017), the second novel in the Metropolis series.  New York City, 1870s: From his cell in the gloomy prison known as the Tombs, young Bill Hope spills out in a torrent of words the story of his career as a pickpocket and shoplifter; his brutal treatment at Sing Sing and escape from another prison in a coffin; his forays into brownstones and polite society; and his sojourn among the “loonies” in a madhouse, from which he emerges to face betrayal and death threats, and possible involvement in a murder.  Driving him throughout is a fierce desire for better, a persistent and undying hope.

For readers who like historical fiction and a fast-moving story.


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Reviews

"A real yarn of a story about a lovable pickpocket who gets into trouble and has a great adventure.  A must read."  Five-star Amazon customer review by nicole w brown.

"This was a fun book.  The main character seemed like a cross between Huck Finn and a Charles Dickens character.  I would recommend this."  Four-star LibraryThing review by stephvin.

Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


2.  Dark Knowledge (Anaphora Literary Press, 2018), the third novel in the Metropolis series.  Adult and young adult.  A fast-moving historical novel about New York City and the slave trade, with the sights and sounds and smells of the waterfront. 

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The back cover summary:

New York City, late 1860s.  When young Chris Harmony learns that members of his family may have been involved in the illegal pre-Civil War slave trade, taking slaves from Africa to Cuba, he is appalled.  Determined to learn the truth, he begins an investigation that takes him into a dingy waterfront saloon, musty old maritime records that yield startling secrets, and elegant brownstone parlors that may have been furnished by the trade.  Since those once involved dread exposure, he meets denials and evasions, then threats, and a key witness is murdered.  Chris has vivid fantasies of the suffering slaves on the ships and their savage revolts.  How could seemingly respectable people be involved in so abhorrent a trade, and how did they avoid exposure?  And what price must Chris pay to learn the painful truth and proclaim it?

Reviews

"A lively and entertaining tale.  The writing styles, plot, pace and character development were excellent."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by BridgitDavis.

"At first the plot ... seemed a bit contrived, but I was soon swept up in the tale."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by snash.

"I am glad that I have read this book as it goes into great detail and the presentation is amazing.  The Author obviously knows his stuff."  Four-star LibraryThing early review by Moiser20.

"... I enjoyed reading Dark Knowledge and Clifford Browder definitely managed to recreate the vibe and feel of that era so that I could almost smell the salty sea air and feel myself transported to that period. The characters are very well drawn, and in addition to Chris and Sal, who are fantastic, all of the other family members, former ship captains, etc. also have their own flavor and personalities. Sal is shown to be a smart and capable woman which I appreciated. But most of all, this is Chris’s story and Clifford Browder succeeds in highlighting the horrors of slavery through this book. This is great read!"  Five-star Readers' Favorite review by Gisela Dixon.

New release; available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


3.  The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), the first novel in the Metropolis series, tells the story of a respectably raised young man who chooses to become a male prostitute in late 1860s New York and falls in love with his most difficult client.

What was the gay scene like in nineteenth-century New York?   Gay romance, if you like, but no porn (I don't do porn).  Women have read it and reviewed it.  (The cover illustration doesn't hurt.)







Reviews

"At times amusing, gritty, heartfelt and a little sexy -- this would make a great summer read."  Four-star Amazon customer review by BobW.

"Really more of a fantasy of a 19th century gay life than any kind of historical representation of the same."  Three-star Goodreads review by Rachel.

"The detail Browder brings to this glimpse into history is only equaled by his writing of credible and interesting characters.  Highly recommended."  Five-star Goodreads review by Nan Hawthorne.

4.  Fascinating New Yorkers: Power Freaks, Mobsters, liberated Women, Creators, Queers and Crazies (Black Rose Writing, 2018).  A collection of posts from this blog.  Short biographical sketches of people, some remembered and some forgotten, who lived or died in New York.  All kinds of wild stuff, plus some stuff that isn't quite wild but fascinating.  New York is a mecca for hustlers of every kind, some likable and some horrible, but they are never boring.



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Review

"Fascinating New Yorkers by Clifford Browder was like sitting down with a dear friend and catching up on the latest gossip and stories. Written with a flair to keep the reader turning the pages, I couldn't stop reading it and thinking about the subjects of each New Yorker. I love NYC and this book just added to the list of reasons why, a must read for those who love NYC and the people who have lived there." Five-star NetGalley review by Patty Ramirez, librarian.

To be published July 26.  You can order it here from the publisher and get a discounted price (plus postage), but it won't be shipped before that date. Also available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, minus the discount but with the delay.  A few signed copies are available now from the author (i.e., me) for $20.00 (plus postage, if needed).  


Available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


©   2018   Clifford Browder