Sunday, August 28, 2016

251. Sailors' Snug Harbor, Staten Island

     Imagine five temple-like Greek Revival buildings set side by side, their façades perfectly aligned, with an eight-columned portico in the center, flanked on either side by another impressive classical façade and, at either end, a six-columned portico.  Is this a college campus?  A small-town square?  Certainly the façades suggest college buildings or government administrative centers, or maybe Carnegie libraries of another era, or churches, but five of them in a row is impressive … and surprising.  And these structures aren’t in an urban setting, having spacious grounds around them.  When I first saw them it was a mild autumn day, and from where I stood, contemplating them, I could also see the broad lawn in front with a stand of oak trees that were gently shedding their leaves, and a view down the sloping grounds past a shoreline boulevard to the wide expanse of New York harbor and, somewhere off in the distance, the faint silhouette of the skyline of Manhattan.  I was charmed and impressed, for never before had I seen such an alignment of handsome Greek Revival buildings – not row houses like you see in Greenwich Village and other older parts of Manhattan, but free-standing structures of magnitude.

     So welcome to Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, located on the north shore of Staten Island, which I was visiting with a friend who had piqued my interest by saying, “If you don’t know Snug Harbor, you don’t know Staten Island.”  I had hiked for years in the Greenbelt, the chain of parks running through the center of Staten Island, but I had never seen anything like this.  The two structures on the right constitute the Staten Island Museum; the magnificent central building with the eight-columned portico is the Visitor Center and Galleries; the building immediately to the left of the central building is the Noble Maritime Collection; and the last building on the left is at present not in use.  Except for the latter, on that idyllic autumn day I and my friend visited all these buildings.

     The central building has an impressive two-story main hall that serves as the Visitor Center, with stained-glass transoms by Tiffany and, topping the ceiling’s murals, a towering sky-lit dome.  The Staten Island Museum offers art work from the past and present, and natural history collections that include fossils of prehistoric creatures --  the kind of thing that bores some people but fired up my imagination as a kid, letting me dream of raging Tyrannosaurs and spike-backed Stegosaurs, and lumbering Mastodons and lowly Trilobites, images that haunt me to this day.  Also in the museum is a series of panoramic paintings showing the successive stages of Staten Island’s history, ranging from idyllic rural through industrialization (yes, once there was heavy industry on Staten Island), to the modern landscape with clusters of suburban homes that shelter good Republicans (this is the one Republican borough in the city), plus commuter bridges, high-rises, and shopping malls – an exhibit that instilled in me a deep yearning for the rural setting that once was, and never will be again.  The Noble Maritime Collection focuses on the work of artist John A. Noble (1913-1983), who often sketched derelict ships in the harbor.  Especially featured is his houseboat studio, originally the teak saloon of an abandoned yacht where he created his lithographs, paintings, and photographs: a unique exhibit that lets you play voyeur by peeking into the studio and its contents, which include  an easel, a drawing table, a ship’s bed, and several jars crammed with paintbrushes.

     So much for what’s inside these handsome Greek Revival buildings, and I haven’t covered it all by a long shot.  But why is the whole shebang called “Snug Harbor”?  Because it was originally founded through a bequest by merchant and ship master Robert Richard Randall, who when he died in 1801 left his 21-acre Manhattan farm, located in what is now Greenwich Village, to be the site of an institution, governed by eight trustees, to care for “aged, decrepit, and worn-out seamen.”  His heirs contested the will, delaying the opening of the home for decades.  By the time the matter was settled, his once rural Manhattan estate had been overtaken by development and acquired great value.  So the trustees appointed by Randall’s will, wishing to maximize profits on the Manhattan estate, changed the site of the proposed institution to a 130-acre farm that they purchased on the north shore of Staten Island.  The first U.S. home for retired merchant seamen, Sailors’ Snug Harbor opened at last in 1833, when Greek Revival architecture was all the rage, with the cost of its operation amply covered by revenue from the property in Manhattan.

     At first the home consisted of a single building, the central building with the eight-columned portico, but in time other buildings were added.  The five adjacent temple-like structures housed dormitories, the kitchen, the dining hall, a reading room, and other facilities; other buildings in Greek Revival, Beaux Arts, Italianate, and Victorian style were added elsewhere on the property, which became a completely self-sustaining operation, including a farm that let the residents provide their own food, and a cemetery.  All were welcome there, except for alcoholics and those with a contagious disease or immoral character.  The home began with 37 retired seamen, but over time it grew to house a thousand, including American, English, Irish, Scotch, Dutch, Prussian, and French residents, each of whom got a two suits a year from Brooks Brothers.  And if a resident was too feeble to walk to a nearby brewery, he could have his grog delivered to the home.  But neatness was the rule: each dormitory had a “captain” who kept things orderly.

     All was well until the mid-twentieth century, when Social Security and Medicare diminished the need for accommodations for aging seamen, and declining revenues led to the structures’ falling into disrepair and even to the demolition of some of them.  In the 1960s the trustees proposed to redevelop the site with high-rise buildings, but the city’s Landmarks Commission intervened to save the five Greek Revival buildings by declaring them landmarks.  In 1976 the trustees moved the institution to North Carolina and sold the site to the city.  In June of that year 30 seamen, a physician, a nurse, and three aides took a 14-hour bus ride to their new 8,000-acre home in North Carolina, joined later by 75 more seamen who got there by plane.  The Snug Harbor Cultural Center opened that same year, and in 2008 it merged with the Staten Island Botanical Garden to become the nonprofit Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden.  Meanwhile the Snug Harbor trustees, headquartered in Manhattan, continue to give financial aid to seamen throughout the country.

     Since on my first visit my friend and I explored only the Greek Revival buildings and a bit of the nearby grounds, we vowed to return in another season and explore the outlying grounds, some of whose features were installed after Snug Harbor ceased being a home for seamen.  Among them is the Connie Gretz Secret Garden with a labyrinth that she had never visited, which was financed by a stockbroker in memory of his deceased wife, and inspired by the garden in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s book, The Secret Garden.  Given my lifelong fascination with gardens, especially secret or forbidden ones (see chapter 42 in my book), at the mere mention of this one I was hooked at once.

     But what enticed us even more was the one-acre Chinese Scholar’s Garden.  Described as the only authentic classical Chinese garden in the U.S., it was built, without nails, by a team of forty Chinese craftsmen who spent a year in China assembling the components, and six months here installing them.  It is said to include magnificent rockery suggesting the mountains that inspired ancient poetry and paintings; a bamboo forest path; Chinese calligraphy; and a waterfall and pond.  Snug Harbor partnered with the city of New York, the Landscape Architecture Company of China, the local Chinese community, and volunteers to build the garden, which opened in 1999.

     The thought of this attraction reminded me of a smaller Chinese scholar’s garden at the Metropolitan Museum that I love, and conjured up fantasies of poet scholars communing in a most civilized manner in a place of solitude and calm.  My guide and I had hoped to visit this and other marvels in the spring, but schedule problems made us postpone our second trip until July, when we went on a fine, mild day, prepared to trek a bit and be enchanted by the secret garden as a prelude to the Chinese garden’s magic.

So what did we then see and do?  A host of things:

·      An herb garden where I saw lovage and other herbs
·      A picturesque gazebo that we couldn’t enter but could view from the outside
·      An esplanade that we walked the length of, enclosed by vegetation arching overhead
·      A rose garden, though it was past the time to see roses at their peak
·      A big lawn that we crossed as a shortcut, giving me the delicious experience of walking over an uneven grassy surface, which I hadn’t done in years
·      A plant called acanthus with a long name I couldn’t pronounce, but that my companion, a gardener, recognized
·      A plant called elephant ear, whose leaves, when fully grown, are the size and shape of an elephant’s ear
·      The Connie Gretz Secret Garden, which loomed in the distance like a castle.

     The Secret Garden was meant above all as an attraction for children, but the inner child in both of us responded.  We entered through a monumental entrance resembling the tower of a castle, and then made our way through a labyrinth formed by hedges that was designed to teach children patience and perseverance in pursuit of a goal.  Patience and perseverance we showed plenty of, as we negotiated the maze, finally arriving at the center, where we sat for a few minutes on benches in a spot enclosed by boxwood, before making our way out.
     Some parts of the park were nicely kept up by gardeners whom we saw busily (and sometimes noisily) at work, but other parts looked uncared-for and weedy – the result of a shortage of funds, my companion explained, and the lack of a central authority, different features being managed by different organizations.
     And the supreme goal of our visit, the Chinese Scholar’s Garden, with a promise of “soothing waterfalls and quiet walkways”?  After a long trek we got there keen with anticipation and found it … shut.  Locked up, keep out, closed, and no date for reopening posted, probably because of a lack of funds.  This might have spoiled the visit, but there was too much else to see, for us to be downcast.  Maybe another time, if weather and funding permit, meaning the garden’s funding, not ours.  Even so, this trip was an idyllic excursion into a vast parkland full of attractions, some of which even on this second visit we never got to, on a perfect summer day.  And even if the Chinese Garden proved to be indeed forbidden, we did walk the esplanade, see elephant ear, and visit the Secret Garden and its labyrinth.  I recommend Snug Harbor to anyone interested in New York City history, Greek Revival architecture, or a quiet stroll through a vast parkland full of unusual attractions.  I got there by car, but it is readily accessible by a short bus ride from the ferry terminal at St. George.

     My poems:  For five acceptable poems, click here and scroll down.  To avoid five terrible poems, don't click here.  For my poem "The Other," inspired by the Orlando massacre, click here.

     My books:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: 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.  For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), my historical novel about a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client, is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

     Coming soon:  Who knows?

     ©   2016   Clifford Browder


Sunday, August 21, 2016

250. Forbidden Zones: The Old Brewery, Trump Tower, and the Weeds

     There have always been forbidden zones in New York City – places of danger or places where you aren’t supposed to go.  Today they are ribboned off with yellow tape marked “caution … cuidado … caution …cuidado,” usually to keep us out of construction zones.  Or they are blocked off by wooden barricades to protect the path of a parade, or by signs saying HARD HAT AREA, DANGER, NO TRESPASSING, or by orange cones in front of sidewalk stairs leading down into the dark confines of a basement.  But these are a part of our daily existence as New Yorkers, and therefore not remarkable.  There have been other forbidden zones, more mysterious, more dangerous.

     In the mid-nineteenth century, when the gentile middle class lived in brownstones and Greek Revival homes not far removed from the slums where the “dangerous classes” wallowed in poverty and degradation, the Five Points district, named for the convergence of five streets in Lower Manhattan just a short walk east of Broadway, was considered the worst slum in the city, and in it, the Old Brewery was deemed the worst tenement. The neighborhood had a grog shop on every corner, while from the upstairs windows whores with painted faces called down to drunken sailors in the street.  Pigs ranged, dogs snarled, gangs lurked, children screamed.  Certainly it was no place for respectable citizens.

     The chipped walls of the Old Brewery loomed up like a huge toad splotched with warts across from Paradise Square, a triangle with six stunted trees, bricks and rubble, corncobs and manure, broken glass.  Running beside the building was a dark lane three feet wide known as Murderers’ Alley; another lane led to a large room known as the Den of Thieves, where some 75 men and women lived, crammed in together.  The Brewery was thought to harbor drunks and harlots, real and fake crippled beggars, and thugs for hire.  Into its maze of dark passageways burglars and their loot vanished, while the police feared to follow.  Rumors abounded of nightly killings there, of tunnels and hidden rooms, buried treasures, buried bodies.  If ever, for honest citizens, there was a forbidden zone, it was the Old Brewery.

     Which was why, in the early 1850s, the Ladies Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church decided not just to visit this district, but to establish a sabbath school for its ragged and unruly children, and to hold weekly temperance meetings in a mission room.  But this was not enough; a committee of visitation, composed of two respectable and very determined Methodist ladies, began visiting every house and family in the area, and even penetrated the Old Brewery, negotiating its creaky stairs to explore its dark cellars and passageways and attics, where they found prostitutes and drunks aplenty, and families living in squalor, but no nests of thieves, no murderers, no hints of buried bodies.  This was a gutsy undertaking for respectable ladies of that time, for whom good works through a church were the one adventure allowed, and the Methodist ladies were heeding the Biblical command to "go out into the highways and hedges" (Luke14:23), which for them meant the Old Brewery.

     And this was but a prelude to the ladies' real undertaking.  In 1852 they managed to buy the building and demolish it, so they could replace it with the Five Points Mission, a five-story brick building with a chapel, a schoolroom, and low-rent rooms for deserving families -- an enterprise that would be expanded in time and continue until the 1890s.  The Methodists had come to stay, and the forbidden zone was forbidden no more.

     Or was it?  When the demolition of the Old Brewery was under way in 1852, human bones were found in the cellars and within the walls, and some intruders managed to gain entrance into one cellar and dig up something buried there and make off with it.  So maybe the rumors of dark doings in the Old Brewery were not without foundation.

      And what forbidden zones are there today?  What if one looks upward?  That’s exactly what hundreds of passersby were doing on Wednesday afternoon, August 10, on Fifth Avenue in front of the 68-story Trump Tower at 56th Street, which contains luxury shops and apartments, including the Donald’s very own residence.  And what were they straining their necks to see?  The same thing that millions were watching on TV and in videos posted on Facebook and elsewhere: a young man in shorts and a T-shirt climbing up the façade of the towering edifice, evidently using suction cups and a harness to accomplish this amazing feat in broad daylight.  Which is, of course, a no-no; one isn’t supposed to go climbing up towers in mid-Manhattan.  But the climber was already up five stories before the police got a 911 call alerting them, and only when he had climbed 21 stories in all were two of New York’s Finest able to remove a glass panel and reach out, grab him, and pull him into the building, ending what had become a three-hour social media sensation.  

     And who was this intrepid climber?  Stephen Rogata, age 19, of Great Falls, Virginia, who had driven all the way from Virginia, checked into a cheap hotel on the Bowery the night before, then walked into the tower’s atrium, sneaked into a fenced-off area, and began his climb.  And why had he undertaken this stunt?  To get a personal meeting with Mr. Trump.  On Tuesday, August 9, he had explained his motives in a YouTube video in which he said he was an “independent researcher” willing to risk his life for a significant purpose; later he told police he wanted to give the Donald “secret information” relating to how he will govern, if elected.  Once secured, he was charged with felony reckless endangerment and misdemeanor trespassing, and taken to Bellevue Hospital Center for psychological evaluation.  He endangered not only himself but others, an assistant D.A. insisted at the time of his arraignment on August 17, since during his climb several items fell out of his backpack, including a laptop computer, which might have injured bystanders on the sidewalk below and emergency responders.  At the arraignment Mr. Rogata appeared through a video link to Bellevue, where he is still under psychiatric care, and where his parents have visited him.  The judge set his bail at $10,000 cash or $5,000 bond.

      This stunt recalls the 25-year-old Frenchman Philippe Petit’s amazing high-wire walk with a balancing pole between the Twin Towers in 1974, when he did eight passes on the wire to the astonishment of the onlookers on the street a quarter of a mile below.  This feat led to his immediate arrest and then his release in exchange for doing a free performance for children in Central Park, where he did a high-wire walk over the Turtle Pond.  An overnight celebrity, M. Petit stuck around over the years to do other less astonishing performances; I saw him several times performing as a mime at Sheridan Square, where he competed for attention with a mixed-race tap-dancing couple, and a woman who sang opera to recorded music.  Whether Mr. Rogata will likewise become a celebrity remains to be seen.  My first impression is less of a death-defying performer than a young man harboring delusions, but time will tell.

     As for the Donald, he was away campaigning to save the nation.  Hearing of the incident, he tweeted, “Great job today by the NYPD in protecting the people and saving the climber.”  But he is no stranger to lawsuits.  Will he sue?  One hopes not.  Mr. Rogata seems like a rather trivial target, and harmless; he should be let alone.

     A forbidden zone of a very different kind has emerged in the reed-choked interior of Spring Creek Park in Howard Beach, Queens, where Karina Vetrano, an attractive 30-year-old woman, went for an evening jog along a three-mile fire trail on Tuesday, August 2, and never came out.  Her parents reported her missing, and her father and the police began searching the area.  That evening her father found her body face down near the trail.  She had been sexually assaulted, and strangled with such ferocity that the killer’s hand prints were visible on her neck.

     The region is known to local residents as the Weeds, an isolated area where homeless people camp, and teen-agers ride illegal all-terrain vehicles and party.  It has long been said in Howard Beach, “You don’t go in the Weeds by yourself.”  The police have offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the killer, and the victim’s family have made a novel offer to the killer himself: if he surrenders and confesses, the more than $250,000 they have raised through donations to a reward fund will go to anyone he chooses.  Meanwhile the police have asked men frequenting the area to voluntarily provide oral DNA swabs, so they can compare them with DNA evidence left by the killer and eliminate suspects.  They have received many tips and are following up on several, but so far no arrest has been made.

     The fire trail is lined by tall invasive reeds known as phragmites, which I know well from the nearby Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, where it grows thick like a jungle and can attain a height of 16 feet.  It is almost impenetrable; to clear it so as to create or maintain a fire trail, requires machetes.  Until now, I thought phragmites posed a danger only if, in a dry season, it caught fire; at Jamaica Bay I have seen acres of blackened stubble, and once, in the distance, smoke from a spreading fire.  I have seen phragmites also in a damp area at Van Cortland Park, where there are narrow paths leading deep into it – paths I would just as soon not follow.

     Even before the recent murder, the Weeds at Howard Beach seemed dangerous, for last summer a local resident was found there hanging from a tree, a suicide.   Dog walkers now avoid the area, not to mention runners.  Truly, a forbidden zone, and for good reason.

     My poems:  For five acceptable poems, click here and scroll down.  To avoid five terrible poems, don't click here.  For my poem "The Other," inspired by the Orlando massacre, click here.

     My books:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: 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.  For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), my historical novel about a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client, is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

     Coming soon:  Maybe Rose, the quintessential Brooklynite.  Maybe Sailors' Snug Harbor, Staten Island.  Maybe both, but separately, in time.

     ©   2016   Clifford Browder

Sunday, August 14, 2016

249. Wall Street: A Roman Orgy, Greed, and "Bro Talk"

     Wall Street, that citadel of wealth, has always had a bad press.  Back in 1849 George G. Foster, a New York Tribune journalist, in his anonymously published New York in Slices, hailed it as the great purse-string of America, but went on to decry “the million deceits and degradations and hypocrisies played off there as in some ghostly farce.” 

Wall Street!  Who shall fathom the depth and the rottenness of thy mysteries?  Has Gorgon passed through thy winding labyrinth, turning with his smile every thing to stone – hearts as well as houses?  Art thou not the valley of riches told of by the veracious Sinbad, where millions of diamonds lay glistening like fiery snow, but which was guarded on all sides by poisonous serpents, whose bite was death and whose contact was pollution?

Foster knew his Greek mythology and Arabian Nights, but he also knew Wall Street.  And this was in 1849, before the likes of Daniel Drew and Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jim Fisk and Jay Gould – remembered today as robber barons – had hit their manly stride, manipulating and convulsing markets in their lust for riches and their delight in turning Wall Street and foreign markets upside down.

     Of course all that was back in the nineteenth century, before even a hint of government regulation, back when laissez-faire was played to the absolute limit.  And today?  Let’s have a look.

     By “Wall Street,” as I explained in the previous post, I don’t mean just the street itself, but the whole financial community, whether headquartered literally on Wall Street or in some more remote location, including even—to the indignation of New Yorkers – the barrens of New Jersey, that decidedly unimperial hinterland across the Hudson that constantly schemes to entice businesses away from the Empire State, even while insidiously laying claim to the Statue of Liberty and sending us its hordes not of immigrants but mosquitoes.

     So what about Wall Street, in this larger sense, today?  Let’s begin with Tyco International, a security systems company whose CEO and CFO (chief financial officer) were found guilty here in 2005 of stealing more than $150 million from the firm.  And what had Dennis Kozlowski, the CEO, done with these ill-gotten funds?  Here’s a sampling that came to light at his trial:

·      A $30 million Fifth Avenue apartment
·      A $6,000 gold-and-burgundy shower curtain
·      A $15,000 dog umbrella stand
·      Paintings by Renoir and Monet worth millions
·      A multimillion-dollar oceanfront estate on Nantucket
·      $1 million in 2001 to pay half the cost of the 40th birthday party for the second Mrs. Kozlowski on the island of Sardinia, a party featuring helmeted gladiators to welcome arriving guests, toga-clad waiters crowned with fig wreaths, wine served in chalices, and an ice statue of Michelangelo’s David pissing vodka.  (Mrs. Kozlowski later filed for divorce.)

     Born in Newark, N.J., in 1946 to second-generation Polish-Americans who worked for the city, Mr. Kozlowski was a good example, if not of rags to riches, at least of a rise from modest beginnings to dazzling financial success.  Photos of him show a man in his sixties with an oval-shaped head, quite bald, and a hearty grin.  His lavish life style came to symbolize the decadent luxury of high-living Wall Street and hastened his downfall, since videos of the party were shown to jurors, who saw dancing women and near-naked male models cavorting with guests, and a beaming Kozlowski promising guests a “fun week” with “eating, drinking, whatever.  All the things we’re best known for.” 

     Mr. Kozlowsi’s celebrated “Roman orgy” recalls impresario and financier Jim Fisk’s reputed revels with scantily clad Opera House dancers and free-flowing champagne in the late 1860s, except that those revels may never have happened, whereas Mr. Kozlowski’s are well documented.  The famous shower curtain landed him on the cover of the New York Post under the headline “OINK, OINK.” 

     In a 2007 interview he maintained his innocence, arguing that jurors, hearing that he was making $100,000 a year, must have thought, “ ‘All that money?  He must have done something wrong.’ I think it’s as simple as that.”  After serving eight years, he was paroled in January 2014 and now lives modestly in a two-bedroom rental overlooking the East River with a nondescript white shower curtain and wife #3. 

     But there’s more to Wall Street than living high on the hog.  Cliché though it is, how about greed?  In our capitalist economy, it can take you very far.  My post #150, “Wall Street Greed and Addiction” (October 26, 2014), draws on reminiscences of former hedge-fund trader Sam Polk, published as the article “For the Love of Money” in the New York Times of January 19, 2014.  When, at 22, Polk first walked onto a trading floor in Boston to begin a summer internship, he was dazzled – not by a floor of screaming, frenzied traders, as it was not so long ago – but by the glowing TV screens, high-tech computer monitors, and phone turrets of today.  Instantly he knew that this was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

     Three weeks after his internship ended, his girlfriend dumped him, saying, “I don’t like what you’ve become.”  But when, now a trader, he got his first end-of-the-year bonus of $40,000, he was thrilled until, one week later, another trader only four years his senior was hired away by another outfit for $900,000 a year, 22 times the size of his bonus.  Envy consumed him, and the thought of how much money was available.  Four years later, at 25, he was making $1.75 million a year, but he began to notice the greed and selfishness of most traders, and realized that, for all his outsized salary, he wasn’t doing anything useful or necessary to society.  So he got out.

     But he was addicted to greed.  He would wake up in the middle of the night, terrified by the thought of running out of money, of later regretting his giving up his one chance to be someone important.  But in time he overcame his addiction and began speaking in jails and juvenile detention centers about getting sober, and doing other public services to help the underprivileged.  The implied conclusion of his story:  Can Wall Street greed become an addiction?  The answer: yes!

     And from the same reformed hedge-fund trader, Sam Polk, came a more recent article in the Times of July 10, 2016, entitled “How Wall Street Bro Talk Keeps Women Down.”  If the previous post on the difficulties of women wanting a Wall Street career needs confirmation, here it is.  Polk tells of going to dinner with a director and client when he was a bond trader at Bank of America, and hearing the client announce, once the waitress was out of earshot, “I’d like to bend her over the table and give her some meat.”  Polk forced a smile, later fumed because he hadn’t said anything about the comment.  Having heard men objectify women all his life, Polk asserts that this everyday sexism was nothing compared to the “bro talk” he witnessed on Wall Street.  Women have written articles and challenged the norms, but the men have done little or nothing, preferring to be in the “in” crowd, to enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded males.  Success on Wall Street depends on “fitting in,” on becoming one of the guys.  For Polk, Wall Street is not a swashbuckling, take-no-prisoners culture, but a culture of brutal conformity; not to conform is to throw away millions of dollars in future earnings.  Which means, I suspect, that the culture won’t change easily, or soon.

      A personal aside:  I have known since grade school that men talk differently among themselves, broaching matters not mentioned in mixed company.  I learned this when my father took me to his gun club, where sportsmen gathered for trap shooting.  Every once in a while my father would announce to some of his acquaintances there, "I heard a good one the other day."  Then, in a lowered voice so I couldn't hear, he would tell his story to a circle of listeners, who would soon erupt in laughter.  Yes, men at all ages talk differently among themselves.  By my early teens I knew that I could talk books and theater with my mother, and crime, sex, and politics with my father.  But what Sam Polk reports about the "bro talk" of Wall Street seems to cross some hidden line.

     Does the Donald pay taxes?  This is the question posed by the lead article of the Business Section of the New York Times of August 12, 2016.  Of course we don't know, since he hasn't released his tax returns, but the article makes it clear that, as a big-time real estate operator, he could quite legally pay little or no taxes.  Why?  Because the tax code is full of overly generous tax breaks for developers, and he'd be a fool not to take advantage of them.  Which simply supplements my post #157 of December 14, 2014, "Taxes: Who Pays Them and Who Doesn't."  As for who doesn't (mentioned at the end of the post), you might be surprised.

     My poems:  For five acceptable poems, click here and scroll down.  To avoid five terrible poems, don't click here.  For my poem "The Other," inspired by the Orlando massacre, click here.

     My books:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: 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.  For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), my historical novel about a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client, is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Product Details 

     Coming soon:  Forbidden Zones.  What places, past and present, have been denied to New Yorkers, and why.

     ©   2016   Clifford Browder