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An open letter to New York City real estate brokers

September 5, 2006

Dear New York City real estate brokers,

After spending some time browsing your many ads on Craigslist, I feel that many of you have some serious misconceptions. I would like to clear up those misconceptions, as I believe that doing so will allow us to establish a much better working relationship.

FIRST TOPIC: MANHATTAN

The Upper West Side has clearly defined boundaries. These are: 59th Street on the South, Central Park West on the East, the Hudson River on the West, and 110th Street on the North. Most of you have a pretty good grasp of the first three boundaries. Thankfully, I have not seen yurts in Central Park or houseboats (or sacks) on (in) the Hudson advertised as being in the Upper West Side. The northern boundary is where we have trouble. If an apartment is located at 157th and Amsterdam, it is not on the Upper West Side. In fact, it is 47 blocks away from the Upper West Side. This is an error of over 2 miles. This is not acceptable. It is okay that not every apartment in New York is located on the Upper West Side. With the rental vacancy rate hovering around the frighteningly low value of 0.7%, you will still be able to find tenants without trying to fool them into thinking they live two miles away from where they actually live. (FYI: These concepts that we’ve just discussed may also be applied to the Upper East Side, but please remember that this neighborhood ends at 96th Street. And York and East End Avenues are not “close to the subway”.)

SECOND TOPIC: BROOKLYN

Many of you seem to believe that this entire borough can be divided into “Williamsburg” and “Park Slope” and modifications thereof. I grant that Williamsburg and Park Slope are popular neighborhoods which have seen significant increases in population in recent years. However, we are still a long way from seeing the entire borough split in two by a latter day Ribbentrop-Molotov line separating yuppies from hipsters, F Train riders from L Train riders, those who live in brownstones from those who live in converted industrial lofts of questionable legality.

Please do not tell me that an apartment is located “near Prospect Park”. That is about as useful as telling me an apartment is “near Manhattan”. There are many neighborhoods that are near Prospect Park. They all have names. Please use them.

THIRD TOPIC: PRESENTATION OF ADS

Do not type in all caps. This should not be that hard.

If I see “pic” in orange letters next to the ad, I expect to see pictures of the apartment. Here is what I do not want to see:

  • A bouncing hand pointing at your phone number.
  • Your company’s logo.
  • An aerial view of Central Park. If I could afford an apartment with this kind of view, I would not be looking for it on Craigslist.
  • A picture of a random street in New York. I have been to New York before. I know what it looks like.

In fact, every ad should have pictures of the apartment. Digital cameras are now as plentiful as Pez dispensers and only slightly more difficult to use.

If you have links to your company’s website, please test them to make sure that they actually work.

FOURTH TOPIC: YOUR PAY

I am not paying you 15% of a year’s rent. Ever.

Sincerely,
Yamwell

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Re: My Last Post

July 29, 2006

blogging

(Image courtesy toothpaste for dinner)

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Where am…

July 8, 2006

-I?
-Where am I?

I am in the Apple Store at Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Ninth Street in Manhattan. I am typing on a black MacBook, a computer of which I am highly covetous.

Just thought I’d throw that out there.

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Boston gets a B+ (But an A for effort!)

June 30, 2006

I’ve been a fan of New York City since before my family moved to the greater megalopolitan area last summer. This is even in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that my first two experiences with the Big Apple occurred on and around the 1998 Puerto Rican Day Parade and December 31, 1999. “Too big, too crowded, too snobby!” cry the detractors, and I respond with “So fun, so exciting, so sophisticated!” I also fully adopted that venerable journal, The New York Times, as my own, when my parents signed up for the Sunday edition a number of years ago. Sunday mornings I would find myself confronted with two large piles of newsprint: the hometown rag featured stories about three-year-olds dying in apartment fires, an editorial page that twice endorsed King George II, and a section called WomaNews. The visitor from the East featured an incredible magazine, travel section, and book review, in addition to an Arts & Leisure section so large it was actually two sections, and yes, I admit it, SundayStyles. Upon arriving in the Purple Valley, I began consuming the paper in its online format almost 24/7 (a trait painfully obvious to those who know me), which meant that on the occasions where I did pick up a physical copy of the Times, I had usually read most of the articles. The paper, like the city it hails from, also has its critics of course. “Too smug! Too biased!” they yell, and I say “So witty! Yes, but in the right direction!”

The NYT travel section has a regular feature called “36 Hours in…”, which gives a kind of play-by-play schedule for a weekend trip to a certain destination. This week’s happened to be the South End of Boston. Wow, I thought. It’s not very often that an individual neighborhood gets featured. Boston must be doing pretty well on the Trend-o-meter. But as soon I read the first sentence, I started to question my spirited defense of the city and newspaper that so many people love to love and love to hate:

Boston, while still not quite an avatar of cool, is showing plenty of signs, for better or for worse, of hipness.

Translation: If you thought that you were going to be reading about the next SoHo, think again. We are dealing here with mere signs of hipness, not the pure, undiluted hipness that can only be found below 14th Street (or possibly in Brooklyn).

Spending 36 hours in the South End proves that Boston has a happening, maybe glamorous, scene — even if some Bostonians still believe in eating supper at 5 o’clock.

Translation: You know, it’s really quite nice of us to even consider using the word “glamorous” in conjunction with your humble city. We had to put that crack in there about eating early just to even things out.

The tiny, tin-ceilinged room is packed with the South End’s beautiful people listening to Nuevo Latino music and drinking plenty of wine — malbec from Argentina, carmenères from Chile — as they wait for tables. And there isn’t a lobster roll in sight.

Translation: OMG! A Boston restaurant with, *gasp*, “beautiful people”? (Oh wait, they’re actually just “the South End’s beautiful people”. Because, I mean, statistically, every city must have a few people that are more attractive than average.) And it doesn’t serve some stereotypical food item? I must be dreaming!

There are Bellinis, pomegranate cosmos and Herradura tequila and Cointreau margaritas to be downed with a mixed crowd of Euro-students, chic-beyond-belief adults and neighborhood regulars. This bar alone fills Boston’s glamour quotient.

Translation: Boston can really only handle one glamorous establishment. You add a second, and then you’re just spreading the beautiful people too thin.

Sure, it’s not New York City, but grab a bagel stuffed with salmon and slathered with cream cheese, anyway, at the South End Buttery (314 Shawmut Avenue, 617-482-1015).

Translation: What a trial it is to force these inferior provincial bagels on my refined Manhattan palate! But I suppose I must bear it.

Methinks I doth protest too much. There are actually a lot of great recommendations in the article, especially for those of us who work in the South End or who otherwise find themselves in Boston, and those who will find themselves there shortly. But come on, New York, this whole condescension-through-back-handed-compliments act is getting really old. A city that prides itself on being so cosmopolitan can often come across as startlingly narrow-minded.

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Review: The Line of Beauty

June 22, 2006

Anyone who hasn't spent the last few years living under the proverbial rock is probably at least somewhat aware of the recent rise of the literary genre "chick lit". Books that fall under this category are fairly easy to spot, with covers that usually feature elaborate shoes, loopy typefaces, shopping bags, the color pink, and authors with names like "Plum". A related, or perhaps even sub-genre of chick lit is known as 10021 lit, which gives you, the plebeian reader, a glimpse into 14-room Park Avenue duplexes and the monsters who live there. The fathers are largely absent, either at their jobs on Wall Street or spending quality time at the pied-affaire with their mistresses. The mothers are abusive, high strung, and neurotic, commanding an army of cooks, chauffeurs, maids, and nannies who do the dirty work while they give the AmEx a workout at Bergdorf and the plastic surgeon's office. The children are spoiled and attend expensive private schools. These Creatures from the Upper East Side are most often observed by outsiders, such as nannies, tutors, corporate underlings, or pediatricians. But any social commentary that these authors try to offer amounts to so much address-, brand-name-, and price-tag-dropping. The full extent of their observations seems to be that rich New Yorkers are mean, miserable, devoid of morals, and wont to purchase many expensive objects.

Alan Hollinghurst's 2004 novel The Line of Beauty takes us across the pond to London, probably New York's closest European counterpart. The set-up of the book is much the same. (W11 lit perhaps?) Nick Guest, a recent Oxford graduate, has come to London to pursue a PhD in English and has taken up residence in the elegant Notting Hill townhouse of friend and Oxford classmate Toby Fedden and his family. Yes, we are treated to a variety of glamorous London locales, in addition to Hawkeswoode, an English manor house straight out of a Merchant Ivory film; and the Fedden's manoir in southwestern France. Yes, there are expensive cars, and appearances by the top players of Britain's business and political circles (including a brief, climactic cameo by The Iron Lady herself!) But I fear that I have greatly insulted Hollinghurst by even daring to mention his book in the context of those facetious Stateside trifles. This is real social satire, the genuinely insightful kind that draws its brilliance from subtly constructed characters interacting in the most cleverly arranged set pieces. One of my favorite takes place at the aformentioned French manoir, where the Feddens are playing host to Sir Maurice (the ninth richest man in Britain) and Lady Sally Tipper, who are finding it difficult to adjust to the more relaxed pace of country life despite the best efforts of Toby's father Gerald and the rest of the family:

The Tippers were not natural holidayers. They came beautifully equipped, with four heavy steel-cornered suitcases, and numerous other little bags which had to be handled carefully, but something else, unnoticed by them, was missing.

It was only four thirty but Gerald was marking his guests' arrival with a Pimm's, and Lady Partridge, with her son as her licence, accompanied him in a gin and Dubonnet. The Tippers asked for tea, and sat under the awning, glancing mistrustfully at the view.

Nick tried naively to interest Maurice Tipper in local beauty spots which he hadn't yet seen himself. "You're a fine one to talk!" said Sir Maurice-grinning quickly at Gerald and Toby to show he wasn't so easily taken in. He was used to total deference, and mere pleasantness aroused his suspicion. The democracy of house-party life wasn't going to come naturally to him. Nick looked at his smooth clerical face and gold-rimmed glasses in the light of a new idea, that the ownership of immense wealth might not be associated with pleasure-at least as pleasure was sought and unconsciously defined by the rest of them here.

Sally Tipper had a lot of blonde hair in expensive confusion, and a lot of clicking, rattling, sliding jewellery. She shook and nodded her head a good deal. It was virtually a twitch-of annoyance, or of almost more exasperated agreement. She had a smile that came all at once and went all at once, with no humorous gradations. She said before dinner that she'd like to have drinks indoors, which, since the whole point and fetish of the manoir for the Feddens was to do everything possible outside, didn't promise well.

What makes these passages so brilliantly funny is that the Tippers are real people, not overdone caricatures. Hollinghurst treats us to so many wonderful details ("glancing mistrustfully at the view", "mere pleasantness aroused his suspicion", "no humorous gradations") without mentioning a single brand name item, and thus does so much more than telling us that the Tippers are rich and unhappy, instead showing us two people so frigid and obsessed with their own importance that they can't even enjoy themselves on vacation. A later exchange between the Tippers and Catherine, Toby's younger sister and the loose canon of the family, highlights the author's gift for dialogue:

Catherine blinked a lot and put her head on one side ponderingly. "You're really very rich, aren't you, Sir Maurice," she said after a while.

"Yes, I am," he said, with a snuffle of frankness.

"How much money have you got?"

His expression was sharp, but not entirely displeased. "It's hard to say exactly."

Sally said, "You can never say exactly, can you-it goes up so fast all the time…these days."

"Well, roughly," said Catherine.

"If I died tomorrow."

Sally looked solemn, but interested. "My dear man…!" she murmured.

"Say, a hundred and fifty million."

"Yep…" said Sally, nodding illusionlessly.

Catherine was blank with concealed astonishment. "A hundred and fifty million pounds."

"Well, not lire, young lady, I can assure you. Or Bolivian bolivianos, either."

It reminds me of Oscar Wilde but with a slightly darker edge to it. And the darker edge comes from the fact that Hollinghurst not only deals with social satire, but with the more serious issues of 1980s Britain: the ups and downs of the economy, the reign of Lady Thatcher, AIDS, and rising drug use (especially cocaine). Nick Guest, the narrator, is ideally positioned to observe the ramifications of all of these issues. In living with the Feddens he comes into contact with those who occupy the upper echelons of the British business world, and whose fortunes are tied to the health of the economy. Nick, however, is an aesthete at heart, and enjoys experiencing the trappings of wealth without really knowing or particularly caring where it comes from. When the novel opens, Gerald has just been elected as a Conservative MP for Barwick (coincidentally Nick's home constituency), and even though her appearance in the novel is brief, Margaret Thatcher becomes almost an obsession for not just Gerald (Rachel, his wife, jokingly describes her as "the other woman"), but for many other people that Nick encounters. Being young, attractive, and gay in 1980s London, AIDS is a constant presence in Nick's life. At the beginning of the novel, it is a distant threat that is not very well understood, but by the end the ravages of the disease affect him on a most personal level. Cocaine use almost becomes a metaphor for the boom times of the 1980s: euphoric and high-flying, but ultimately temporary.

The Line of Beauty unfolds almost as a Greek tragedy, with a plot that progresses seamlessly from the simple premise. With his charm, beauty, and intelligence, Nick makes a very easy transition into the glittering world of the Feddens, but as soon as things start to head south for those around him, it doesn't take long for him to be pushed out of that glittering world. This novel is at once a fascinating character study, an astute look at recent history, and a finely crafted morality play.

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ANGER!!!

June 15, 2006

phoenix blog

Just kidding, no anger here! I just wanted to try my hand at uploading pictures, as that is one of the many perks of grown-up WordPress! Coming soon: book review of The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. (Credit for the a-MAY-zing image goes, of course, to Drew and Natalie at Married to the Sea.)

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On Requiems; Music to Operate By (Hopefully not both at once); Facebook stalking with consequences; and yes, The Hamp

June 13, 2006

My apologies, loyal readers, the lack of recent entries. As an officially unemployed bum, one might have expected my blogging to have been more prolific than this (as per the considerable output of my comrades-in-blog). But, without further ado, I welcome you all to a new installment of “So, I was reading in The New York Times…” This iteration will actually veer away from my usual heaping of scorn upon those who have perhaps accrued larger bank balances than they deserve, and will instead focus on…well, other things.

Item No. 1 comes from May 28 (and because of my blogging laziness, now unfortunately requires a TimesSelect subscription to view, so let me know if you’d like me to e-mail it to you) and was actually cause for much personal jubilation, as it provided a very adept to refutation to the army of Chickens Little who seem to take almost a perverse pleasure in foretelling the imminent doom of classical music in America:

EVERYONE has heard the requiems sung for classical music or at least the reports of its failing health: that its audience is graying, record sales have shriveled and the cost of live performance is rising as ticket sales decline…All this has of late become the subject of countless blogs, news reports, books and symposiums, with classical music partisans furrowing their brows and debating what went wrong, what can still go wrong and whether it’s too late to save this once-exalted industry. Moaning about the state of classical music has itself become an industry. But as pervasive as the conventional wisdom is, much of it is based on sketchy data incorrectly interpreted. Were things better in the old days? Has American culture given up on classical music?

The real problem, it turns out, is that this doomsday cult has been ignoring the innovations being made in the industry and looking at the numbers with a 1950s mindset. For instance, if one looks at the number of classical recordings in the major labels’ catalogs, as compared with the period 1950-75, the results look depressing, but this ignores the fact that so many great discs are now being put out by more adventurous smaller labels, or the amazing Naxos, a midprice label with a huge range of offerings. On the Apple iTunes store, classical tracks account for about 12% of a sales, quadruple its share of the CD market, while classical CD sales have held steady, suggesting that mp3 downloads are reaching untapped markets (which makes sense – if you’re interested in classical music, but don’t know much about it, you’re probably more comfortable downloading a couple of $0.99 tracks from iTunes store than dropping $15.99 on an entire CD). Concert subscriptions have declined, but concert halls are hardly empty as people have shifted their habits to last-minute ticket purchases. I remember sophomore year in high school, my family bought a Chicago Symphony Orchestra subscription, and nearly every concert seemed to fall the night before a chemistry test. Buying our tickets a la carte meant I could listen to The Rite of Spring without trying to remember whether or not lead salts are water soluble. I’ll spare you any more details, but suffice to say it brightened my spirits to read that the industry I’m hoping to work in is not in fact on the fast track to the morgue.

Item No. 2 is not about the health of music, but rather health and music, specifically the use of music in the operating room:

Music can become a subtle bone of contention among the members of the surgical team or a practical aid. Loud rock ‘n’ roll is good for routine operations, they say, Mozart for trickier ones. There is even a genre called “closing music”: raucous sounds to suture by.

(I’m sorry about the excessive use of block quotes – I just figured out how to do them, and I think they look kinda neat, or at the very least lend the blog a little more credibility, almost as if I’ve actually done research.) If I ever happen to find myself in the role of a surgeon, I know exactly what I would play: John Cage’s 4’33”. Why, you ask? Because if I was listening to music that I liked while at the same time attempting to perform delicate maneuvers involving sharp objects and people’s vital organs, I would probably kill all of my patients. This might surprise you, but I actually don’t listen to music that often. Certainly never when I’m reading or writing – in fact, earlier in this blog post, I was listening to Keane, something totally innocuous, and I was operating at about half mental capacity. In high school, I’d listen to music while doing math or physics homework, but then in college math and physics homework (sometimes, it was hard to tell the difference) got hard, and I knew that listening to anything would be tantamount to full-blown procrastination. The article goes on to mention that sometimes even the patient gets a say in what music is played, and that would be a different story. It would be hard for me to choose one thing; I think that I’d have to construct an entire surgery sound track. At the beginning, when I’d be getting all anesthetized, I’d probably play Beethoven, which is all about overcoming struggle and emerging victorious. And then in the middle, I’d want them to play Philip Glass, because I think minimalism would help the doctors stay focused during the important parts. And the “raucous sounds to suture by” would definitely be The Killers. And now I invite you to count the colors in your bedroom. Oops, sorry, stray Friends reference. What I meant to say was, I invite you to come up with your own surgery soundtracks. (And now that we’re on the subject of Friends, I think that just having Phoebe in the room improvising songs would make a pretty awesome soundtrack.)

Item No. 3 concerns everyone’s favorite procrastination/stalking site, www.facebook.com, and the bad, baaaad things that happen when potential employers happen upon a candidate’s profile and read things like “Mary, you bitch ho, you were OoC last night – that was so crazy when you thought you were Joe!” or perhaps happen upon a photo of said candidate inexplicably dressed as a construction worker, having his way with what appears to be an inflatable woman. Possibly my favorite part of the article is the way the Times tries so hard to keep the article PG:

When a small consulting company in Chicago was looking to hire a summer intern this month, the company’s president went online to check on a promising candidate who had just graduated from the University of Illinois. At Facebook, a popular social networking site, the executive found the candidate’s Web page with this description of his interests: “smokin’ blunts” (cigars hollowed out and stuffed with marijuana), shooting people and obsessive sex, all described in vivid slang.

I really want to see a resume one day with a section that says:

Other Interests
– Smoking blunts (cigars hollowed out and stuffed with marijuana)
– Shooting people
– Traveling
– Obsessive sex

Because I mean, you can’t use “vivid slang” in a resume. Obvi!

Well, I try so hard, but I just can’t resist a chance to take a dig at the undeservedly rich, especially when the story also involves our favorite vacation spot. The money quote (pun most definitely intended):

”Public fighting is the worst,” said Diane Saatchi, a senior vice president of the Corcoran Group East End in East Hampton. She described the frustrated wife, shopping for a $3 million summer home, who turned to her husband and uttered one line that said it all: ”I wish you had a good job so we didn’t have to live like this.”

Mercedes Menocal Gregoire, an agent for Stribling & Associates, is surprised at what is sometimes revealed. ”People get absolutely shameless in front of you,” she said. She recalled a well-known New York developer — she would not name him — whose idea of a pied-à-terre fell short of his wife’s. ”In the middle of Park Avenue, she started screaming at the top of her lungs: ‘I can’t take it anymore. You never give me what I want.’ He says, ‘I give you whatever you want,’ and he bought her the apartment.”

It’s in trying times like these that people need to look deep into their hearts and say to themselves WWTD? What would Tinsley do?