Sunday, November 27, 2016

269. Childe Donald to the Dark Tower Came: Trump and His Tower

In the penthouse of his 58-story tower (he claims 68), far above the urban hurly-burly and up near soaring falcons and God, the future lord of these United States has hunkered down with family, friends, and advisers, reading the Times and the Post each morning, tweeting, and deciding staff and cabinet appointments that will shake the nation and the world.  (Please note: he never watches television.)  Down below in the realm of ordinary mortals, the Fifth Avenue entrance, topped by the letters TRUMP TOWER in gold, is defended by legions of Secret Service agents, teamed up with New York’s Finest and their bomb-sniffing dogs, against hordes of gawking tourists, casual passersby, visiting high school students who spit at the edifice and with their fingers flash obscene gestures at it, sullen Democrats, dismayed feminists, and other presumed terrorists.  Buses creep by in a jam of traffic, and shoppers eager to access the Gucci and Nike flagship stores in the innards of the tower complain of being scrutinized unduly by the vigilant minions of order.  So it goes now on Fifth Avenue between East 56th and 57th Streets in the heart of Midtown (and very Democratic) Manhattan.

         I confess that I have never seen, much less set foot in, Trump Tower, know it only from photographs.  Viewed from the west from across Fifth Avenue, its mass of black glass, steel, and concrete soars majestically above the main entrance, but if viewed from the southwest, one might think a great chunk of it had been ripped off, leaving a jagged surface (sometimes termed “sawtooth faceting”), a design permitting more corner windows and therefore, I assume, higher rents.  At least it’s not just another big glass-and-steel box, like so many other Manhattan high-rises.  Inside there are public spaces in pink marble, gold-painted elevators, a slew of shops and cafés, and a five-level atrium topped by a massive slanting skylight, with a plummeting 60-foot waterfall and a footbridge spanning the waterfall’s pool.  For me, it all registers as supermodern and glitzy to excess – dazzling to the point of satiety. 

         The tower’s upper floors house 256 residential condominia owned by moneyed foreigners, corporations, pop stars, and Hollywood celebrities, as well as Trump’s office on the 26th floor and, crowning it all, the president elect’s three-floor penthouse.  And how much do the condo apartments cost?  Anything from $625,000 for a studio (there are only a few) to more than $28 million.  And what amenities do they offer?  Marble bathrooms, Jacuzzi bathtubs, state-of-the-art appliances, walk-in closets, and panoramic views of the city, as well as a full-time doorman, concierge, and valet, a “fitness room,” maid service, and a common storage room.  (As if anything in  Trump Tower could be “common”!)

         Photographs of the penthouse’s interior show a living room in ornate French rococo with an abundance of gold, a huge chandelier flanked by murals overhead, sofas big enough to seat a large family, Louis XV chairs with elegant curved legs, and a large window giving a spectacular view out over the city.  Impressive, but hardly cozy.  The chairs and sofas are spread out at too great a distance for easy conversation; to be heard at the other end of the room, one would have to shout.  Fine for entertaining hordes of guests, or perhaps the Japanese prime minister (with daughter Ivanka controversially present), but not so good for quiet daily living.  There are photographs online showing the apartment and, posing in it, the Donald, his wife #3, Melania, and their ten-year-old son Barron.  Melania is gorgeous, but she looks more glamour puss than mother.  Here are some of the comments, dated 2012 to 2015, that the photographs have elicited online:

·      Melania is beautiful and elegant.  Reply: Or dumb as the floor she walks on.
·      Oh god this is ugly.
·      I just can’t see a toddler playing there.
·      All that money … and still no taste.
·      No $$$ in the world can buy her a smile.  [As seen here, Melania looks businesslike, though often displaying her shapely legs, and offers a paucity of smiles.]
·      [One commentator castigating another.]  You are JEALOUS.  Leave the cat lady alone.  Let her live in her glass castle.

Obviously, comments on the décor slide quickly into comments on Melania.  And all this before she became the presumptive First Lady.

         To judge by these pre-election photographs, the penthouse looks quiet and spacious, its privacy sealed off from the world outside.  Today, with the Donald and his staff deciding the weighty matter of appointments, it may be a bit hectic as they confer, tensions arise, and the president elect makes phone calls to prospective appointees and summons them into his royal presence.  (Unless, of course, all this is done in his 26th-floor office.)  And the skies above the tower have now been declared a “national defense    2016   Clifforairspace,” permitting the government to use deadly force against any aircraft thought to pose an imminent threat – a designation to be lifted on January 21, 2017, the day after Childe Donald moves from 725 Fifth Avenue to  somewhat more humble quarters at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

         Meanwhile, the brouhaha continues far below.  The intersection of Fifth Avenue and 56th Street is now restricted by portable roadblocks, concrete barriers, metal barricades, and even some booted and helmeted police officers carrying heavy weaponry who looked like an occupying army, if not invaders from Mars.  On the east side of Fifth Avenue the sidewalk between 56th and 57th Streets is closed, forcing Tiffany customers to enter that stellar emporium by its 57th Street entrance.  The west side of the avenue is still open to pedestrians, but passage there is hampered by an impromptu press pen, construction litter, and selfie-snapping tourists.  And the whole block of East 56th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, with the residential entrance used by the president elect and other occupants, is now closed to pedestrians and vehicles. 

         “There will be some disruption,” Mayor de Blasio admits, “but look at the bright side: the holidays are coming.  Midtown is going to be all messed up anyway.”  He urges New Yorkers who don’t need to be there to stay away from the block with the Trump Tower, yet at the same time endorses the New York tradition that lets protesters do their thing close to what they are protesting, which in this case means the Donald and his tower.  Should protesters again arrive en masse, as they have been doing at intervals ever since the election, it will be a test of nerves for all concerned.

         Disruption there is, and at that very time of year when, with the holidays approaching, retailers register their best sales of the year.  And this on Fifth Avenue, crammed with pricey retailers who, while being coy about it, are so scant of sales that they’re sending scarfed employees out into the street to lure shoppers past the barricades and into the bowels of elegance.  A woman from New Jersey who wanted to buy the Sylvie, the latest pocketbook from Gucci with a glittering gold chain down the front, had to talk her way past three different police officers who searched her shopping bag before she could enter those sacred precincts, and a young man also from New Jersey likewise had to run the security gamut before forking over $500 for a pair of Gucci sneakers.  Selfie-snapping visitors from England and Italy and Mexico, as well as Harlem, the Bronx, and the Upper East Side, rub elbows outside with a male honeymooning couple from Birmingham, England, who have come to get a glimpse of “the Devil himself,” while  young protesters flaunt  NOT  MY  PRESIDENT  signs and posters.  “We haven’t seen chaos quite like this back home,” observed a hospital worker from a small town in Minnesota who was in the city for a business conference, as she gazed up at the tower in bewilderment.

         OPEN  TO  THE  PUBLIC  is emblazoned in gold on the lobby entrance of the tower, and so it is, with only a newly installed magnetometer to scan bags.  For those who survive the affronts of security, the famous Atrium still gives access to the Trump Bar, the Trump Grill, the Trump Café, Trump’s Ice Cream Parlor, Trump Events (whatever they are), and the Trump Store, this last offering Trump colognes with names like “Success” and “Empire” on sale, next to “Make America Great Again” hats.  On the ground floor is the Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry Boutique, Ivanka being not one of Trump’s trio of wives, beauteous adornments who sport the melodious names of Ivana (#1), Marla (#2), and Melania (#3), but an  attractive golden-tressed daughter of the Donald and his no. 1, Ivana.  In the café Secret Service agents now lunch on such delicacies as “Trump’s Mother’s Meatloaf,” served by an immigrant from Mexico who insists that he’s a taxpayer and no criminal and therefore under no threat of deportation.

         Just as we must all get straight our future Chief Exec’s several wives and their offspring, so we must sort out the numerous Trump Towers.  How many are there in the world?  Seven and counting, since more are evidently under construction.  (Towers, not wives.)  Not just America, but the whole world is being Trumped.

         Source note:  For much of the information in this post I am indebted to two recent articles in the New York Times: “Trump Tower, Once a Tourist Attraction, Is Now Restricted From Ground to Sky,” by David W. Dunlap and J. David Goodman, November 11, 2016; and “Hunkering Down at His Tower, Grinding Fifth Avenue to a Halt,” by Sarah Maslin Nir, November 17, 2016. 

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          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:  Meet the Trumpies, Our New First Family. 

         ©   2016   Clifford Browder

Sunday, November 20, 2016

268. Confessions of a Comma King: My Career in Freelance Editing

         The diversity of New York City – a common theme in this blog – is seen in the diversity of the occupations of its residents.  This post will glance at one of them, freelance editor, since that was my profession for many years and was – and probably still is – peculiar to New York.

         In the New Yorker in 2015, veteran editor Mary Norris told how she had, almost by chance, become a “comma queen” at the prestigious magazine, thus introducing the term and notion of a “comma queen” to the general public.  That being the case, as a longtime freelance editor, now retired, I can present myself as a onetime “comma king,” though not one so prestigious as a New Yorker practitioner of the trade.

         To start with, why do manuscripts need editors?  Because authors screw up.  If you ever read a book that was lightly edited, or even not edited at all, you’ll find yourself entangled in confusing sentences, needless repetitions, misspellings, puzzling omissions, and other annoyances that keep you from focusing on the book’s content.  So editors exist for a reason.

         And what is a freelance editor?  A freelance editor is an editor who operates independently – probably because he or she wants more free time and a more flexible schedule than a regular job would allow.  The profession is a refuge for would-be novelists and playwrights and other literary ne-er do wells at the outset of their hopefully brilliant careers, when they must focus on the manuscripts of others, and not on their own presumed masterpieces.  And it is peculiar to New York, since that is where publishers cluster, though today there are probably freelance editors elsewhere in the country, thanks to the Internet.     

         As a profession, editing requires good knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and spelling – stuff that pupils were forced to study in school long ago, but in today’s schools generally neglected -- and a fiendish attention to detail.  One is constantly having to decide whether or not to put a comma here, a semicolon there, and one must have mastered the subtleties of the colon and the apostrophe, and the differences between American and British spelling and punctuation.  Details, details, details.

          And how do freelance editors get manuscripts to work on?  By networking, by telling friends in publishing what they’re up to, by advertising or sending out letters to publishers (rarely successful, in my case), by getting to know editors who will then recommend them to other editors.  Once you get your foot in the door, résumés and interviews are rarely necessary; personal recommendations are all that matters.  And why do publishers hire freelancers?  To save money.  They hire them when they need them, and not when they don’t.  And they don’t have to give them pensions or other benefits; freelancers are on their own.

         What is a freelancer’s equipment, aside from sharpened pencils and an eye for detail?  When I was a freelancer back before the Internet, three books:

1.    Merriam-Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, 2nd edition, 1934.  A huge hunk of a dictionary that sits on my desk today, but is rarely used, since now it’s easier to consult the Internet.  This was the Bible of freelancers, much preferred to the 3rd edition of 1961, since it indicated preferred usage; it was the schoolmarm of dictionaries.

2.    The Chicago Manual of Style, 13th Edition, Revised and Expanded, The University of Chicago Press, 1969.  A second Bible, “for authors, editors, and copywriters.”  No graduate student writing a dissertation could be without it.

3.    The Elements of Style, William Strunk, Jr., with additions by E.B. White, 2nd edition, Macmillan, 1972.  Affectionately referred to as “Strunk” and known to the knowing few.

         From Strunk one learned to use serial commas and commas with nonrestrictive relative clauses; to delete “the fact that” as superfluous; to express co-ordinate ideas in similar form; not to put slang in quote marks; to differentiate between “among” and “between,” and between “farther” and “further”; not to confuse “anybody” with “any body”; and to distinguish between “comprise” and “constitute.”  (“A zoo comprises many species of animals,” but “Many species of animals constitute a zoo.”)  If the very thought of all this baffles or exasperates you, you’ll understand why editors exist.

         But there are different kinds of editing, requiring different skills.  I mostly worked on textbooks from several major publishers – Holt, HarperCollins, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich -- with a scattering of novels and nonfiction titles from Viking, and scholarly works from Oxford University Press’s New York branch.  Proofreading involved reading the galleys of a manuscript and making corrections in the margin, using proofreading  symbols.  Copyediting involved reading the manuscript at an earlier stage and, depending on the needs of the publisher, doing light or heavy editing.  Light editing meant the manuscript was already in good condition or, more likely, the author was resentful of changes.  “She doesn’t like her words being monkeyed with,” one inhouse editor warned me, “and some of her words are just begging to be monkeyed with.” 

         Finally, there is manuscript editing, where the manuscript may be in need of changes, in which case the editor, often working with the author, is expected to intervene.  This was common with textbooks, rare otherwise.  On one occasion I was invited, even urged, to make suggestions about additional material, and this with the full consent of the exhausted author; I in fact became a collaborator, and was generously acknowledged as such by the author when the book came out.  This was a foreign language textbook, and such textbooks usually required heavy editing and a working knowledge of the foreign language.  “The most difficult books we do,” the production people often complained, because they rarely knew the language in question.  I edited occasionally in Spanish, often in French and German, and once or twice even with a book requiring some knowledge of Latin.  (Ah, how I loved to strut my high-school Latin among the hoi polloi!  Oops – that’s Greek.)

         When editing textbooks, I often got to know the authors, either by phone or in person, and a rum bunch they were.  Some of them, at least.  My least favorite one was the coauthor of a very successful English college reader.  A former salesman, he knew the market and knew how to present his book to the professors who might adopt it.  Which evidently entitled him to be nasty.  Me he spared, but everyone else involved in the project he dismissed with scorn.  The top editor of the department hiring me was lazy, he insisted, and had to be prodded to give his manuscript the attention it required (not true; he was diligent but in charge of some fifteen or twenty manuscripts), and the inhouse production editor was “just your or anyone’s Polish grandmother” (she was likable and quite competent).  I was glad to be done with him and came away unscarred.

         The French author of a second-year reader was described to me as “quite dashing and continental; when he’s due to drop in, all the girls are aflutter with anticipation.”  When I met him, I found him to be continental indeed and very sophisticated, but a rather homely forty-year-old.  His French sophistication had dazzled them all, more than making up for his lackluster looks.

         A German textbook author based in Salt Lake City had amusing stories to tell about the Mormons.  But the best story of all, relayed to me by an editor who had visited him there, concerned the noted Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, whose unique and challenging stories I have read in translation.  Borges had visited the author, who asked the blind writer what he would like to do.  “Take me to the mountains,” said Borges, and to the mountains they went.  It was spring and the birds were singing, and Borges listened intently with great pleasure – a revelation for his host, fascinated to see how a blind man could richly appreciate the unseen spectacle of spring.

         Especially challenging was one of the last manuscripts I worked on before retirement: The HarperCollins World Reader, an ambitious anthology of world literature in translation, with an American editor whose enthusiasm recruited contributors, and an English editor who was hired to do the nuts-and-bolts work of editing; I worked with them both.  My job was not to edit the manuscript, but to be in touch with the twenty or more contributors, each a specialist in his or her field, and to encourage them to get their contributions in on time.  The schedule was tight, so the pressure mounted.

         Some of the contributors were a delight to work with, others were cranky and opinionated – supreme examples of the academic mind at its worst.  “You keep changing your mind!” complained the Korean contributor, when I told him HarperCollins had decided to present the book in two volumes, so he would have to do two introductions, instead of one.  I explained tactfully that for the publisher this was an undertaking without precedent, a truly ambitious project, and we were of necessity feeling our way.  “All right,” he said, “but you do the second introduction!”  So I did it, focusing on the postwar division of Korea and the onset of the Korean War – subjects not requiring a profound knowledge, or any knowledge, of Korean literature.  By way of contrast, when I informed another specialist of the need for two introductions – a woman who was busy moving from one university to another, having just been made department head at the second school -- she answered “Got it!” and soon delivered what we needed.

         An unforeseen dilemma arose when one of the contributors, a respected specialist in African literature, suddenly died; fortunately, a substitute – another distinguished scholar – was found to replace him.  But we weren’t always so lucky.  The Australian who was supposed to work with another specialist to present the literature of Polynesia and other regions of the Pacific kept putting me off: “Yes, yes, I’ll get to it soon.”  Then he announced that he would be disappearing into Tahiti for the summer and would be incommunicado, but of course he would be sending the needed material.  By now my suspicions were aroused.  And sure enough, HarperCollins got a brief note soon thereafter, announcing that he was resigning from the project, no reason given.  It was too late to find a replacement, so the Pacific region had only half the material intended.  What the fellow’s problem was we never knew, but he shortchanged the publisher and the book’s future readers.

         Always hanging over us was the schedule, forcing us to constantly hurry the contributors along.  When the inhouse editor informed me that, because of budget considerations, they would have to terminate me, I was relieved.  I wished them and the project well, but I was free at last from the constant pressure.  The anthology appeared in 1994 in two volumes with the thinnest of pages -- 2,796 in all.  Given a copy, I skimmed those pages often, lingering over the Chinese poetry, and tasted an excerpt of Lady Murasaki’s 11th-century Tale of Genji, considered by many to be the world’s first novel,  a Japanese epic relating the amorous adventures of Prince Genji, an emperor’s son by a concubine.  Intrigued by the excerpt, I obtained a copy of the novel in modern translation and read it through, amazed that the chain of seductions didn’t become repetitious, but held me to the end.

         In the same year that saw the publication of the anthology, I retired from freelance editing, though since then I have helped several friends write their memoir: a gay prison inmate who recounts his arrest and imprisonment; a lady from Calcutta whose memoir/cookbook combines accounts of an idyllic childhood with Indian recipes related to each of her reminiscences; and a Sister of Mercy who tells of her bout with life-threatening illness and the recovered memory of being molested in her childhood.  The latter two have now been published, and I’m hoping that the inmate’s memoir will likewise soon appear.

          Another New York moment:  On the 14th Street bus the other day a black man in his forties got on, wearing a knit cap of many colors, a sort of skull cap run riot.  Immediately he began talking loudly left and right, which is not the New York way; one doesn’t address strangers unless you have a particular reason to do so.  He sat down near me and continued his boisterous monologue, mostly incoherent, while flashing a broad toothy grin.  Of what he said I could only make out snatches, as for instance, “No!  I won’t dance!” followed by a chuckle, and then something about how Jesus Christ turned water into wine, which he evidently approved of.  He wasn’t crazy, just ebullient and talkative.  And lyrical, since at intervals he burst into song and, when done, applauded himself.  And how did his neighbors on the bus react?  By remaining expressionless and turning their face away from him, so as to avoid eye contact.  Since he was right in front of me, I could hardly avoid his gaze, so I smiled faintly, then looked casually out the bus window as if there was something there of interest.  At one point, while still blabbing, he took out a small bottle and put a dash of perfume behind each ear.  When he got off at Union Square, still blabbing, the bus was immersed in quiet relief.  I wish the fellow well, but from a distance. The lesson to draw: when you get on a bus in New York, you never know what to expect.

          An election note:  A friend of mine in Florida tells me that when he went to vote, he saw pickup trucks lined up on the grass behind the parking lot, all with shotguns and rifles visible in the rear windows.  Also, there was a tent-kiosk selling Trump T-shirts.  He voted straight Democratic, but wasn't surprised when the state went Republican.

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          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:  Childe Donald to the dark tower came: our president elect in his tower.
         ©   2016   Clifford Browder


Sunday, November 13, 2016

267. Wonders of Staten Island: the North Shore, plus a post-election chirp

         Staten Island has a bad press.  It’s the forgotten borough; the only borough in Democratic New York that consistently votes Republican (including in the recent election); that oddball distant bit of real estate squeezed up against New Jersey, which other New Yorkers think it should maybe be a part of; that unknown little island at the end of a half-hour ferry ride that tourists take so as to see the harbor and marvel at downtown Manhattan, following which they promptly board another ferry to return.  And in spite of its attempt to be “cool,” as seen in its much vaunted development plans for its North Shore -- the shore facing the harbor and Manhattan -- it still reaps derision, as seen in these comments online:

·      How can it be cool when it is isolated from the rest of the world?
·      The land that time forgot.
·      I’ve lived in SI myself and it was only for specific reasons, none of which involved much of a choice, and got out as soon as I could.
·      Staten Island’s biggest problem is its provinciality.  Residents still refer to Manhattan as “the city.”  It’s something foreign and other for most SI’ers.  The place has a morassy vibe it can’t shake.

         But this Manhattanite has hiked the Staten Island Greenbelt – how many Manhattanites have even heard of it? – as well as other parks on the island, and likes the quiet of some – not all – parts of the island.  And he has a guide, Victoria, an Ohio-born transplant who has lived most of her life on the island, and who has introduced me to the hidden wonders of the borough.  Last October, on an unseasonably mild and sunny autumn day, she offered to take me to Fort Wadsworth, which I had never heard of.  The trip took us by car along a certain segment of the North Shore and gave me a series of revelations.

         But first you have to access Edgewater Street, which runs along the shore, and from the ferry terminal that ain’t easy, but my guide knew the way and immediately we found ourselves near the water and the first revelation, the National Lighthouse Museum, which I had never heard of.  The day being mild and sunny, we decided not to visit the museum and instead walked along a broad esplanade beside the water, where three big modern apartment buildings loomed up that offered residents fine views of the harbor.

         Going on from there along Edgewater Street, we came to the second revelation: Miller’s Launch – again, a facility I had never heard of.  We drove onto the premises and found a narrow waterfront crowded with parked cars and, anchored beside several piers, the strangest assortment of boats I have ever seen: boats that looked like tugboats and yachts, and others like motor-driven barges, some of these with flat, empty decks, others with all kinds of gear on board, including towering cranes, winches and windlasses, huge drums, and stuff I couldn’t describe.

         Miller’s Launch, my guide explained, was a family-run enterprise providing all kinds of marine services in the area: transportation of workmen and supplies, rescue operations, oil-spill clean-ups, dredging, towing, undersea cable laying – you name it.  Their website lists boats equipped with vehicle ramps, rescue ladders, radar, depth finders, booms to contain oil spills and vacuums to suck them up.  If you have a maritime problem of any kind, Miller’s can handle it.  They have even rescued a Coast Guard vessel in distress, provided equipment to engineering experts and award-winning film crews, and assisted the police by dredging the harbor to recover bodies.

         Miller’s is open every day, 24 hours a day.  A friend of my guide, a woman who in her off hours writes haikus, handles a night shift at Miller’s and says it’s a welcome night when all she does is watch television.  In her office there is an array of screens showing the current operations of every one of Miller’s boats, and it’s her job to keep track of them all.  Emergencies are all too frequent, and that’s what Miller’s can handle.

         Just beyond Miller’s on the North Shore, heading east, loom a batch of hulking, abandoned buildings and a pier that constitute another revelation: Homeport, a U.S. naval station created in the Stapleton neighborhood by the Reagan administration in the 1980s as part of its Cold War campaign against the Soviet Union.  But soon it was deemed to be too small, too expensive and, because of budget cuts, unnecessary; it was closed in 1994 and the premises turned over to the city of New York.  So what can you do with a 35-acre decommissioned naval base and pier on Staten Island?  For years, nothing.  But Staten Island is trying to be “cool,” to lure developers and utilize its North Shore.  So in 2011 the city reached an agreement with a developer to create a new, mixed-use waterfront community.  Stores and housing, including affordable housing, are anticipated, as well as a waterfront esplanade.  It’s hard to imagine such a project in Manhattan, where developers and real estate interests, politicians and preservationists would soon be at one another’s throat, with resulting interminable delays.  New apartment complexes are now advertising studio apartments for $867 a month for tenants with a total annual income ranging from $31,097 to $38,100.  Are you listening, you rent-oppressed, snooty Manhattanites?  And for commuting, the Staten Island ferry is free – that’s what I said, free. 

File:Homeport Supreme Court gate jeh.jpg
Homeport in 2010, before development.  It's going to house more than a court.

         Just a short ways beyond this marvel is another: Urby Staten Island, a residential waterfront development meant especially to entice millennials new to the city who feel a bit lost in its vastness and intensity, and are put off by its astronomical rents.   Here they can live communally with affordable rents, enjoying a shared kitchen, a gym, landscaped courtyards, a 300-car garage, a bike room accommodating up to 500 bikes, a bodega, an apiary (yes – bees!), an outdoor swimming pool, and even an urban farm with a farmer in residence, providing some of the food for the meals.  Not to mention views of the harbor, Brooklyn, and lower Manhattan.  Current monthly rents range from $1795 for a studio to $3550 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.  No, I’m not kidding, and no, I’m not being paid by the developer.

                   After these marvels, one risks a comedown.  Edgewater Street ends at the Alice Austen House, the former residence of the pioneering woman photographer Alice Austen, now converted into a museum dedicated to her life and work.  Having already visited it, Victoria and I continued on our tour of the North Shore, now following Bay Street to Arthur von Briesen Park, a landscaped public park that was once the estate of the German immigrant Arthur von Briesen (1843-1920), who practiced law here and founded the German Legal Aid Society to provide legal services to impoverished German immigrants. When his heirs deeded the estate to the city, the original mansion had to be torn down, but the park offers a gently rolling wooded landscape, and a view of the harbor and the Verrazano Bridge.  While enjoying the view, my guide and I saw a container ship with HANJIN on its side, Hanjin Shipping Company being a South Korean enterprise that, alas, has just gone bankrupt, creating turmoil for its oceangoing fleet.  Fortunately, we were able to ignore the problems of Hanjin and enjoy the wooded scenery around us, its foliage gently tinted with the shades of autumn.

         Finally, the last and climactic revelation of our tour: Fort Wadsworth, a nineteenth-century fort guarding the Narrows, the narrow channel between the Outer Bay and New York harbor.  We couldn’t go inside, but we strolled about the part of the fort on a bluff overlooking the harbor, which gives a spectacular view of the nearby Verrazano Bridge linking Staten Island to the People’s Republic of Brooklyn.  And on the shore far below, we could see Battery Weed, with three tiers of slots for cannon (but no cannon) in its harbor-facing walls.  Being more into wildflowers than historic forts and cannon, I noticed, growing near us on the bluff, the blue-violet petals of New York aster and spikes of a late-blooming goldenrod.  We then walked under the approach to the bridge for a view of the bridge from the other side – also spectacular.  There were plaques giving a brief history of the fort, which, when closed in 1994, was the longest continually manned military installation in the country.  It was comforting to know that it and other forts around the harbor had been there for over two hundred years, valiantly guarding the harbor and city of New York.  And when did those doughty cannon discharge their murderous fire?  Except in practice or to fire a salute, never, for no hostile warships have dared to invade these privileged waters since 1783, when the British evacuated New York.  Still, New Yorkers must have slept more soundly, knowing that the British fleet in 1814, or a Confederate raider in the 1860s, would meet a fierce welcome if they presumed to threaten Gotham.  And the old fort, now a part of the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area, does provide great views of the bridge and harbor.  And this is where the annual New York City Marathon begins.  But no crowds were there to jostle us; Victoria and I had the place almost to ourselves.

File:STATEN ISLAND TOWER OF THE VERRAZANO-NARROWS BRIDGE, FORT WADSWORTH IN FOREGROUND - Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Spanning Narrows between Fort Hamilton (Brooklyn) and Staten Island, HAER NY,24-BROK,57-8.tif
The Verrazano Bridge, with the lower section of Fort Wadsworth.

         So ended our tour of this stretch of the North Shore of Staten Island.  Let the inhabitants of Manhattan take note: Staten Island, that fiercely neglected borough, offers splendid views, comprehensive marine services, and the fine affordable housing that Manhattan desperately needs and woefully lacks, and its cannon have long protected the city from nefarious invaders.  So don’t sneer, you spoiled sophisticates; that little island has every right to aspire to “cool.”  May it build and flourish.

          A post-election chirp:  Protesters continue to march in the streets of New York and other large cities, following Donald Trump's triumph, which shows how passion-fraught this last election was.  Three further thoughts occur to me:   

  1. The Donald promised to drain the Washington swamp (I'm all for it), but apparently is including Washington lobbyists in his transition team.  ???
  2. Among his followers being considered for high-level positions are Rudy Giuliani, our ex-mayor, and Newt Gingrich, who tried to impeach Bill Clinton for his sexual escapades.  The three of them have had nine wives among them.  How do the evangelical Christians, who backed Trump, feel about this?  ???
  3. Mike Pence, governor of Indiana and Trump's vice, has been described to me by relatives in Indiana as quiet and diligent -- a notable contrast with Trump's impulsiveness and flamboyance; they like their governor, but don't seem excited by him.  (He has had only one wife, by the way.)  Can he and other sober Republicans restrain their impulsive and often vindictive leader?  ???

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          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:  Confessions of a Comma King: My Life as a Freelance Editor.

         ©   2016   Clifford Browder