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New York City Private Tours


Last Easter Sunday, on one of our New York City Private Tours we saw New York City at its best.

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Easter Hero

On a beautifully warm day, with the bells of St. Patrick’s Cathedral pealing joyously, and the sun high in the flawlessly blue sky we saw the creativity, harmony, and sweetness that makes New York City such a wonderful place to live.

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Metro Card Girl

The Easter Parade in New York City has been a tradition since the 1870′s. It has evolved from a promenade of NYC’s wealthy and aristocratic into a parade for all. How wonderful it is to attend, and stroll down the grandest boulevard of them all – Fifth Avenue.

By the 1880′s it had become a major cultural event. After church the swells would stroll down the avenue in their finest clothing, paying visits to the grand churches that lined the avenue to view the bountiful displays of Easter flowers. It was a see and be seen spectacle. People from the middle class would watch the processional from the sidewalks, eying people that they had only read about in the newspapers sashaying down the street dressed in their finest clothes, it was a great place to observe the latest trends in fashion and style. By the early 1900′s it had become as an important day for retailers as the Christmas season is today.

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Lovely Outfit on Fifth

 Obviously the parades origins are based on the religious significance of the day of Christ’s resurrection, but over time that has faded. The parade now is enjoyed by everyone regardless of their station in life, or financial wear-with-all. It has become a showcase for imagination and creativity and is welcoming to all. The inventiveness and craft that people bring to the Easter Parade is astounding, from the elaborate, like the Easter Super Hero above, to the wonderfully simple. 

On a New York City private tour, we can take our time to explore the parade. Last Easter Sunday, with my camera in hand I photographed some of the wonderful costumes, hats, and people that make the Easter Parade so much fun. I posted many of them on Pinterest, here is a link to those photographs, enjoy!



 

 


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Private Tour New York City



Private Tour New York City: It’s all in the details

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Collage of Standpipes - Photo by Bill Shatto
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Natural Erosion

Behold the lowly standpipe. Is its purpose to merely offer a de facto bench to sit and watch the world go by? On a private tour New York City we’ll learn about their usefulness.

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Anti-Personnel Spikes

We’ll see some that are welcomingly burnished street furniture, and others that won’t let you tie your damn shoe. We can take an impromptu coffee break away from the sidewalk hubbub, read a map or peruse an app.

What purpose do they serve, why are they necessary? They are very important and perform a serious function. In case of fire, it is not practical for the Fire Department to run hoses from the street to the upper floors of a skyscraper. The tragedy at the Deutsche Bank building in lower Manhattan was caused by the pipes being disconnected. With a standpipe system, water is fed from the street into vertical risers inside the hallways where fire-fighting hoses are attached to outlets on each floor. They were revolutionary because they allowed firefighters to combat a fire from inside a building instead of out. Every commercial building in NYC over 75 feet tall must have a standpipe system, and they are rigorously tested and maintained.

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Acknowledged Plug

According to Wikipedia, The concept of fire plugs dates to at least the 17th century. Firefighters responding to a call would digdown to the wooden water mains and hastily bore a hole to secure water to fight fires. The water would fill the hole creating a temporary well, and be transported from the well to the fire by bucket brigades or, later, by hand-pumped fire engines. The holes were then plugged with stoppers, normally redwood, which over time came to be known as fire plugs.

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Spiked Fireplug

Needless to say, people watching is one of the great pleasures of living in Gotham. Sitting on a fireplug and watching the world go by on a nice day is a delight. The fixtures are at a perfect height for a relaxing pause on a leisurely walk or a spot to enjoy a cup of joe. They also seem to be a source of pride for the maintenance staff of the buildings, where they are often polished to brilliant shines.

On the other extreme is the standpipe with the anti-personnel spikes, I’m not sure what the story is with those, I can’t imagine that if a fire broke out in the building that anyone sitting on one would refuse to get off it so the FDNY could hook up their hoses. Maybe the building management just doesn’t want idlers marring the beauty of their shining brass stanchions.  

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Private Guided Tours of New York City


The streets of NYC never cease to surprise me. Private Guided Tours of New York City are a wonderful way to see the city up close.

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Ladies of the Harbor

The streets of the city are a constant source of entertainment, particularly if you have a camera in hand. Our private guided tours often turn into photographic safaris.

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Anti-Personnel FirePlug

It’s the little details that are telling. After all, how many new ways can the Empire State Building be photographed, and is the picture any better than the one you can by for a buck inside any souvenir shop? If you turn your eye towards the smaller, the less observed, you will find your own space to take unique pictures that capture the essence of New York City. I’ll help you keep your eyes peeled to those possibilities.

One of the city’s great pleasures is sitting on something; a bench, or a stoop, and watching the world go by. In this city of beautiful green parks, landscaped plazas, work renowned architecture, and beautiful people, where loitering has risen to an art form, the corporate entity that controls the fireplug has decided that their contribution to the public space will be the anti-personnel fireplug. For shame on them! You can’t even tie your shoe on the damned thing. I’m going to write an irate letter to someone and shame them into removing the spikes. For now, nothing you can do. I’m going to sit languidly on another plug while contemplating my next move.

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Native American – NYPL

There are so many small exquisite details to see and photograph, objects made with such beautiful artistry and precision that pass unnoticed because we’re moving too fast or too busy to look. The pleasure of a private tour is that we have time to linger, to sit and observe. The Native American (to the right) is one of four faces carved into the base of the bronze flagpoles in front of the New York Public Library, the faces represent the races, the base is considered one to the most beautiful of it’s kind in the world.

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European – NYPL

I’ve walked by them for years and never bothered to look more closely, nor examine them in detail. I’ll bet that very few people even know they’re there. The blessing of being a tour guide and conducting private tours is that I can now share these surprising moments of discovery with my guests.

 

 








Private New York City Tours


Private New York City Tours are a way to explore the city in depth; Behind every street and building there is a story. 

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Dakota Apartments

On our private New York City tours you can creatively pick and choose your itinerary. We’ll help!

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Oldest known Photograph of Manhattan

The experts say that the photograph to the left (It’s actually a daguerreotype) was taken on upper Broadway on what was once known as Bloomingdales Road. According to the NY Times, “the photo was discovered at a small New England auction, and the date and location of the image were taken from a note that was folded and placed behind the daguerreotype plate in its original leather case.” What is amazing about this image is that it illustrates that in a relatively short span of time, about 165 years, the city went from a rural farming community to a densely populated urban environment. Can you imagine the farmer who owned the property on Bloomingdales Road envisioning the future, and seeing houses as far as his eyes could see. His wife, or friends would have thought him insane.

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Skating on The Lake

The first apartment building constructed on the upper West Side was the Dakota, it opened in 1882. Edward Clark, who ran the the Singer Sewing Machine Company commissioned it’s construction around 1880. His goal was to lure the wealthy from crowded, dirty, lower Manhattan to the clean, fresh, upper west side. At the time, most people living in Manhattan resided below Chambers Street, eight miles South.  If you take our New York City Tour you’ll learn the real story of the Dakota.

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John and Yoko at the Dakota

It became a grand success, offering unheard amenities like central heating and cross-ventilated rooms. No two rooms were alike, and many overlooked the newly finished Central Park. To this day, it is one of the most desirable, and surely one of the most difficult buildings to attain residence in. It has been home to a long list of notable names including Judy Garland, Leonard Bernstein, Lauren Bacall, Carson McCullers, Boris Karloff, Connie Chung, and Paul Simon. None was more famous than John Lennon, who lived there with his wife Yoko Ono until being senselessly murdered by a deranged fan in 1980. The building is also famously haunted, but I’ll have to let you discover that on your own.

In 1904, the Upper West Side was changed forever by the completion of the IRT subway. The subways, historically have been the great equalizers, allowing access for all to any area of the island. On our private New York City tours, you’ll have a chance to explore the neighborhoods of your choice. The subway played a major role in that diversification. Now, the #7 train is being extended from Times Square to 34th Street and 11th Avenue. This will create another community called Hudson Yards.

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Hudson Yards
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Storm over Manhattan

Manhattan’s complexity is almost beyond comprehension, a testament to the human intellect? So much done, in so short a time span. These photographs leave us unaware of the vast infrastructure that supports the city. Private New York tours will help us understand the complexity. The subway tunnels, the steam pipes, the sewage, the bridges, the tunnels, the interconnections of every single house or apartment onto the electric grid, the phones, the cellphones, thousands of miles of cable, the excavation of the water tunnels. The foresight to get these projects done, all occurred within a very brief period of time. What will the next hundred years hold in store for New York City?

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A Private Tour – New York City

 ON A PRIVATE TOUR of NEW YORK CITY


On a private tour of New York City I share with my guests what I do for my own enjoyment and delight. What could be better than that?

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Ibis
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Bird in Flight

Private Tours of New York City are a way of experiencing the city in a unique way. They give us time to absorb, to soak in the energy and spirit of NYC,  perhaps sit in a sidewalk cafe and watch the world go by. On one of our late afternoon private tours, we visited the Metropolitan Museum to see some of the astounding pieces in the  collection of Egyptology. 

After our visit we decided to have coffee to rest our weary legs. We were sitting outside on Madison Avenue sipping delicious cappuccinos. It was an unseasonably warm day in October and we sat chatting about  the wonders we had just seen.  We couldn’t help but notice that there seemed to be a large number of small dogs being portaged around in expensive Gucci and Coach bags draped casually over some very fashionable ladies shoulders. It’s seems to be a trend worth watching, because a bond forged over millennia is slowly eroding. The dog, man’s best friend, a superbly adapted quadruped with the ability to walk or run for miles is having its physiognomy subtlety subverted.

The hounds that lunch are being carried about town like little potentates, feet nary touching the ground, paw pads pink as the day they were born. Sadly, this trend of portaging pets is spreading. By our very rough unscientific analysis,  two of every five dogs living near Madison do little or no walking.

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Men Carry Large Dogs
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Packa Hounds

How far will this go; is there an upper theoretical limit to the size that a porta-pet may attain? Will men who normally favor the more robust breeds, challenge each other for sidewalk supremacy by slinging Rottweiler’s and Sheep Dogs over their shoulders echoing the days of the huge boom box? No doubt laws will soon be needed. Surely, with the advent of genetic engineering can a breed of dog bred purely for the Prada bag be far behind? This movement must be stopped in its tracks, or we will we soon see hounds whose legs have become vestigial, resembling snakes, rather than the canids we adore. Will we live to see the cocka-boa? Dogs belong down on the end of a on leash, strutting beside their masters. The beasts needs to stand on their own four feet the way God intended. On our NYC tours we’ll keep our eyes sharply peeled for any animal being sported around in a Gucci bag.  Perhaps we can issue a citizen’s summons?  But, first, quick, how many hounds in the pack above?


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Tours of New York City: How Hell’s Kitchen Got It’s name!


On our Get Acquainted Tours of New York City we visit Hell’s Kitchen on our way up to Central Park. 

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Hell’s Kitchen Tenements


On our tours of New York City we see how this is a metropolis of many varied, interesting neighborhoods.

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Sebastopol tenement at 40th Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues.

Hell’s Kitchen is a large area, stretching from 34th Street up to 57th Street, and from 8th Avenue to the Hudson River. It was originally populated by a diverse group of mostly impoverished Irish, Scots, Germans, African Americans, Greeks, Eastern Europeans, Puerto Ricans, and others. Supposedly it got it’s name from the cops who patroled it, according to local historian Mary Clark the name Hell’s Kitchen:

 “…first appeared in print on September 22, 1881 when a New York Times reporter went to the West 30s with a police guide to get details of a multiple murder there. He referred to a particularly infamous tenement at 39th Street and 10th Avenue as “Hell’s Kitchen,” According to this version, 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues became known as Hell’s Kitchen and the name was later expanded to the surrounding streets. Another version ascribes the name’s origins to a German restaurant in the area known as Heil’s Kitchen, But the most common version traces it to the story of Dutch Fred The Cop, a veteran policeman, who with his rookie partner, was watching a small riot on West 39th Street near 10th Avenue. The rookie is supposed to have said, “This place is hell itself,” to which Fred replied, “Hell’s a mild climate. This is Hell’s Kitchen.”

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Hell’s Kitchen

I live in Hell’s Kitchen, on the fifth floor of a five story walk-up on West 43rd Street, off of 8th Avenue. The building has stood for over a hundred years. According to neighborhood lore,  Al Capone lived at XX9 in the 1920′s.  He was doing  business with the nastiest gang in Hell’s Kitchen, the GophersOne Lung Curran, Happy Jack Mulraney, Stumpy Malarkey, and Goo Goo Knox were some of the fellas that Al had to sit across the table from. They controlled the West Side of Manhattan, from 4th Street up to 42nd Street from 10th Avenue to the Hudson River. Their gold mine was the New York Central rail yards, where they pilfered and extorted a fortune. 

The building is also mentioned in Godfather I.   For those who don’t remember the Godfather cut by cut, it was the scene after Michael kills McClusky and the Corleone’s have to go to the “mattresses.” In the car, the boys say “where we goin’ now?” Peter Clemenza, played by Richard Castellano fishes around for a piece of paper in his top pocket, pulls it out, looks at it and says, XX9 West 43rd Street. My freakin’ address! Neighborhood lore states that Richard Castellano lived in my apartment in his salad days. 

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World Theater – Now Times Scare

When I first moved into the Kitchen it was not a very nice place, it was rough and edgy. Show World, the world’s largest peep show was right around the corner on Eighth Avenue, which was in it’s degenerate prime, Eighth was so funky that if I had to go uptown, I’d walk over to Ninth to avoid it. Coming home late at night from a gig (At the time I was a wedding videographer) was always an adventure. There would be menacing dudes hanging on the stoop, seemingly up to no good. I would exit the cab clutching a heavy monopod in my right hand, just in case. Heart pounding I’d whisper a little prayer once I’d gotten inside, thanking God for creating locks, and an outside and inside. 

I lived on the first floor at the time, so I had bars on my windows and bolts on my doors. Outside my window was the view of a road that led into a parking lot.  Under my bedroom window was a hidden niche off the alley. This little private space was well known to every hooker in the neighborhood, it allowed them to ply their trade right beneath my window. When my kids would come over to visit, I’d keep a real close eye on where they were in the house. Lest they should gander out the window and get an eyeful.

On summer nights, when I would lie in bed with the windows open, it seemed like the activities were going on right inside my crib. The question any sane person might ask is, why didn’t I move? And my response, as usual, would be, money! I had lucked into an impossible to find rent stabilized apartment. People would kill for what I had found, I wasn’t going anywhere, not if I wanted to live on the Rock.  I hunkered down and prepared to live the best I could. Then, when I needed it the most, a miracle occurred, my landlord agreed to put in a fence across the outside niche, (if you click this link and scroll to 3:25 you will see my building and security perimeter that saved my soul. You’ll also meet my son) I was now living in a gated community. The quality of my life improved dramatically.  The apartment itself was about 450 Sq Ft, which doesn’t seem like much, but as far as NYC apartments go it was big enough and cheap enough to allow me earn a modest living and enjoy the wondrous pleasures of NYC.

The neighborhood has completely changed. Now, when I give tours of New York City and the Kitchen I mention an article in the New York Times that raves about the real estate in Midtown West, of course the debate about a new name for The Kitchen goes on unabated. Should it be Clinton, or Midtown West? We grizzled veterans of the area are pretty much of one mind. We’ll keep calling it Hell’s Kitchen, you can call it what you like.

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Hell’s Kitchen Old And New

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Private New York City tours


PRIVATE NEW YORK CITY TOURS ARE WHAT I’VE SPENT MY LIFE ENJOYING; THE PLEASURE OF SHOWING NYC TO MY GUESTS MAKES IT EVEN MORE ENJOYABLE.

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Washington Square – Summer of 2013


CONDUCTING PRIVATE NEW YORK CITY TOURS IS A NATURAL FOR ME; A FLANEUR, “A PERSON WHO WALKS THE CITY IN ORDER TO EXPERIENCE IT.”

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Hudson Yards
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Storm over Manhattan

There have been times when NYC has been a tough nut to crack, it is not a city that offers up it’s pearls up casually, and at times, the future hasn’t seemed as bright nor as clear as it seems to me now. It took me some time to find my calling, my life’s work; it was sitting right had under my nose. Could my random ramblings through the city be made a livelihood? And as it turned out, they have. Arguably NYC is the capital city of the world, but it’s physical space is small, 14 miles long and 2.5 miles at it’s widest; A perfect home for a wanderer.

From my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen on West 43rd Street down to the tip of Manhattan, up through Central Park, or over Brooklyn Bridge, walking has sustained me. “Walking is also an ambulation of mind.” says Gretel Ehrlich, noted author. This I know to be true. We conduct our Private New York City tours in all conditions, rain, snow, cold, or occasional nor’easter. We are undaunted, you can chooses anytime of the day or night. It’s so nice to select a day when we feel the first gentle kiss of spring. Only the heat beats me, on those unbearable days of August I revert to the indoors, camped inside my chill little crib, venturing out only to lead well-hydrated tours.

Last Sunday, the first mild day, after an endless stream of cold brutal ones, I took a walk. Down five flights of stairs from my tenement roost, and out into the warm sun, coat opened, walking west toward the High Line on West 30th Street. On the way I’ll get to see what’s happening with the #7 subway line extension. I love watching large scale construction. That part of town, know as Hudson Yards will transform the the last undeveloped part of Manhattan. Its scale mirrors in steel and glass, the enormous willpower and energy of the people that conceive, and then get these projects done. The size of the operations create a sense of drama, the pressure to get things done, enormous! I peer into the sites, watching the buildings rise off their foundations, and marvel at the ingenuity of the engineers.

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Panoramic of Washington Square


Brooklyn Tours: My Brooklyn Bridge


MY BROOKLYN BRIDGE: BROOKLYN TOURS

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The Blob, 1958

When I left my parents home I was twenty–one years old. At that time I was working in the film production industry, doing what I loved. My dream was to become a Hollywood cinematographer, and I felt I was well on my way to that end. I worked regularly as a freelance assistant cameraman, cameraman on student films, some TV commercials and low budget features. I also learned gaffing, sound recording and production management, all the skills that one needed on a film set.

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Fred at Sidney Place, 1974

Quest Productions, a company in the Film Center building at 630 Ninth Avenue was giving me a ton of work, I was a free-lancer, (what’s new?) they were my main client. We traveled around the country shooting documentaries, commercials, etc. The owner of Quest was a man named Bill Jersey. Bill got his start in the film business as the art director on The Blob, a classic horror film. It was Steve McQueen’s first leading man’s role. I felt really lucky to have found them!

One day, while sitting in the equipment room,  prepping a shoot, I was unintentionally eavesdropping on Polly, the secretary. She was on the phone, talking to her boyfriend. I heard her say ” so what are you going to do with your apartment?” Boing! I felt all the cylinders on the locks of fate slip into place, and pop, a door sprung open. 

My ears perked up, and when she got off the phone I asked her about the apartment. She mentioned off-hand that she and her boyfriend were moving in together and that he was giving up his place. “Where” I asked her, “Brooklyn Heights” she said. “Can I take a look?” I queried, not giving it much thought. “Sure” she said, “come tonight!” “What’s the address?” “54 Sidney Place” “Ok, I’ll be there.” Since my days of Brooklyn Tours were well in the future, I didn’t know anything about Brooklyn Heights, I’d never heard of it. She wrote the directions down, and later that evening I went to Brooklyn.

I took the A train to Borough Hall. I was struck by the different feel of the A, it was far funkier than the F to Queens that I knew. I climbed out of the hole and walked towards the Heights,down Joralemon Street towards Sidney Place, first across bustling Court Street. It was odd, because the closer I got to the Heights the quieter and more peaceful it became. I came upon Sidney Place,  a single laned, tree lined street, a world I was not familiar with. On either side were stately brownstones. Fifty-four was on the other end of the block, so I walked down, I hit the buzzer on the ground floor apartment and Polly quickly came to the door. She took me to the rear apartment and showed me in. And what a place, it was fairly large, but what trumped everything, was that beyond the two French windows in the kitchen, was a rose garden in full bloom.

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54 Sidney Looking out into garden – c.2011
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Mr. Ballas’s Rose Garden

For a city boy, who’d grown up in an urban environment , it was miraculous. I asked her how much the rent was? “Eighty bucks a month” she said. I said, “I’ll take it!” She said it was cool with her, but she’d have to introduce me to the landlord, who lived upstairs. She took me up the stairs to meet Gus and Nina Ballas who owned the house. He was in his seventies, with a full head of white hair, and a courtly manner, his wife Nina, sat elegantly by his side as he interviewed me. I can’t remember any specific questions, but he ultimately said to me, “I’m not looking for a tenant, I’m looking for someone that I can trust as a family, like a son.” I told him that I would be a good tenant, someone he could trust and rely on, that I would treat the apartment as if it was my own. He shook my hand, and that was it, the apartment was mine. I was officially a resident of Brooklyn. (For the sake of clarification, the interior photograph on the left is what the apartment looks like today, not when I lived there. The current rent is about 3 grand a month.)

When I returned home that night, I told my mother and father that I was going out on my own. My mom was shocked,  she said “But I thought you’d live here ’til you got married. “oh mom, really?  The die was cast! Surprisingly, I would fall in love soon enough, a love affair that continues to this day, she would be my friend, my confessor,  my home. Over the course of the next fourteen years I would commune with her two or three times a week. In summer swelter, in winter freeze, middle of the day, or late at night, I would stride purposefully from Brooklyn Heights to downtown Manhattan across my beloved Brooklyn Bridge.

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Brooklyn Bridge Cables