Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Law & Order: These Are The Stories

In the criminal justice system, there are two — no, wait, there are three — groups.

There are the police who investigate the crime, and there is the district attorney who prosecutes the offenders — and now, there is the condo or co-op Board of Directors who investigate and prosecute. At least that’s what we’re learning from various news reports.

This thrills me in a life-imitates-art kinda way. The alleged art, in this case, is my novel, Outof Order, wherein the Board president is murdered. How does the new prez react? She appoints a committee to investigate. So logical and yet so surreal. . . or so I  thought.

So now we learn that, earlier this year, a jewelry theft mini epidemic hit the building chronicled by Michael Gross in his book 740 Park: The Story Of The World’s Richest Apartment Building. Perhaps, there should have been a bit more stop and frisk on the street. The board suspected these were inside jobs, fired a few employees and hired private investigators. (I mean really, how can you rely on civil service types.)

740 Park is not the only community taking arms against a sea of crimes or at least misdemeanors. Other offenses have less to do with heisted jewelry and more to do with clandestine dog droppings.

The Grande at Riverdale, a condo complex  in Riverdale (NJ) is now  collecting DNA samples of the various little Friedrichs, and Tiffanys and Bowsers residing in the condo. When a dog soils the Grande landscape, reports Kathleen Lynn of, a bit of the evidence will be shippped off to Knoxville (TN), home of BioPet Vet Lab’s  PooPrints service. (Think “broken windows” theory. Who is to say that cracking down on antisocial dog owners today does not ultimately prevent stolen jewelry?)

When a match is determined, the owner will receive a sizable fine. (There’s no word as to whether there also will be a rolled-up newspaper rap to the snout.) The Devon Woods condo in Braintree (MA) and the Chestnut Pointe Condominium Association in Dallastown (PA) are also among those that have turned to DNA testing.

Jewelry and lush lawns are not the only objects of criminal lust. Sometimes, perps simply want the coin of the realm — especially quarters. For example, there’s the Arlington Heights (IL) caper. According to the Arlington Cardinal, “an unknown offender or offenders took coins from two washers and two dryers on the fourth floor of a condominium building.”
We don’t know if this was an inside job. Apparently, there was a clean getaway.

A disturbing pattern emerges. It pains me to say it; but co-ops  and condos are not yet the cloistered edens we so wish them to be. On the bright side, if you are applying for admission to a co-op, be sure to point out any training in forensics you might have. It’s a plus. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Mayoral Primary Aftermath

I told you Weiner would be the inevitable victor in the 2013 New York City mayoral primary. Apparently, he had the chutzpah to lose. My bad.

This brings up the larger question. How could the public do this to me?

I thought voters would embrace him. Apparently people don’t care much about that old “conflict of interest” thing that attached to his opponents.

And maybe for good reason.

Maybe the public sees conflict of interest for what it is — the ability to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time. And isn’t that a sign of intelligence?

I’ve been wrong before. I was sure Nixon would win in 1960. I remember saying, “these are mediocre times, and we need a man of the times.” I was wrong in 1972. Instead of going back to Nixon, I knew McGovern would blow him out of the water. I mean, how could he lose? He had the Guam vote all wrapped up. To be fair to myself, I called it correctly in 2000; but did the Supreme Court care?

This New York City mayoral election marks the first time I publicly placed an official pundit crown upon my head. I’d show you a picture of it, but I’m having the propellers reattached in the beanie.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why Anthony Weiner Will Be The Next Mayor Of New York

I’m not a political pundit. I don’t even play one on TV. So, I have the luxury of making a pronouncement on the New York City mayoral race without worrying about the dreaded blowback if I am wrong. (Besides, such internal meditation doesn’t stop Chris Mathhews.)
However,  I have played a messenger in the movies — OK, one movie.  And I’m here to deliver a message. That movie, Putney Swope, was made in the last third of the previous century. Directed by Robert Downey, Sr. (a prince), it placed on  critic Judith Crist’s  10 Best Films Of The Year list, and also garnered zero stars (as in 0*) from the Daily News.
What does a controversial (for that time) film have to do with a controversial (for this time) politician?  Each pushed the envelope by using media.
But wait, there’s more.
The movie’s premise may well play out on New York City Mayoral Primary Day, Tuesday 10 September.
Putney Swope satirizes the advertising industry, the larger consumer culture and the entrenched institutions, for which it stands. When the advertising agency president collapses and dies during a Board meeting, the bereaved boardmembers must  pick a new leader immediately. (First they pick the dead president’s pockets.)  There’s one little hitch to the election. You may not vote for yourself.  Everybody votes for the one person who just could not win, Putney Swope,  the agency’s music director, the black guy. The rest is cinema history.
Weiner, though not particularly black, is the one candidate who could not possibly win. Hs major offense is that he has been caught in the act of high tech flirting — coarse,  tasteless, decidedly unromantic flirting.
And yet, when we look at the other candidates, a sudden calm descends. It is the same calm enjoyed by the sheep that no longer can elude the tiger. We have Christine Quinn whose term limits performance does not qualify her for a profile in courage.
Then there’s Bill DiBlasio. Wayne Barrett’s article in the Daily News, “What YouDon’t Know About Big Bill,” shows DiBlasio to be someone who says much that is progressive, does little that is substantive and takes a lot from extremely questionable donors. He does however prove to be effectively non-responsive when asked about anything that may enlighten. 
Bill Thompson cites his experience as New York City Comptroller. Not a comforting idea, as documented by New York Times article, “As Pension Chief, Thompson GaveWork to Donors.”  It notes: “But interviews and a review of thousands of pages of records — schedules, e-mails, pension statements and campaign finance reports — suggest frequent overlap of Mr. Thompson’s political ambitions and the comptroller’s operation, and that like many pension overseers at the time, he raised campaign money aggressively from those seeking business from his office.”

John Liu apparently has done a good job as our current comptroller. The campaign financing issues that hang over his head may or not be a smear. Still, too many doubts are likely to result in too few votes.
 Here’s the thing. Weiner’s style of making friends may have a few rough edges. He may not be a likely contender for the Dale Carnegie award. His policies are detailed and progressive. He can’t be accused of just saying what people want to hear. And even during his private moments, he cannot be accused of doing to his correspondents what his opponents have done to the city.
 Putney Swope for mayor. 
Otherwise we might get the man who would kill kittens so that the trains run on time.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Zut The Mighty

 The proclamation below was found near the statue of Ozymandias. (Just three sand dunes over and you hang a left.) Our researchers have yet to analyze it for such particulars as probable date, context, significance, or nuisance value.
Hear me you meager mortals 
I am Zut the mighty, Zut the merciless, Zut the all-knowing
Welcome to my web site
Throughout the valleys and the mountains, the two seas and one river, all bow at the very mention of my name.
I am Zut.
I  have riches -- including eight horses, 17 goats and two really lovely aquamarine vases
I am Zut the conqueror and I command a mighty army of 79 soldiers.
Fear me. Venerate me.
To contact me  click here
Tremble at the mention of my name. 

Snowden Question

So naturally the news of Snowden’s temporary Russian visa invites one big question.

Book deal?
Which naturally raises another question.

Does he really have a platform?

He can point to the 53 trillion downloads of Wikileaks as some indication.

Naturally, he’ll need a good agent to help craft the proposal and pinpoint significant, marketable changes. Perhaps, instead of doing a memoir (so last year), he should do a career guide. Also there is too much negativity in the story. He needs a more uplifting perspective. And maybe a dog or two.

And then there’s the all-important celebrity introduction. Since there’s a strong Internet background, maybe we can get a tech savvy movie star like Ashton Kutcher. If this is too frivolous a choice, we can responsible touch of public policy from that political Internet pioneer, Anthony Weiner.

There is a chance E.J.S. will have a book deal.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mike Bloomberg and Me on Telecommuting

Boy, am I in trouble. If Mike Bloomberg had his druthers, telecommuting surely would go the way of the 30-ounce soda. Mr. Bloomberg is quoted in both the New York Daily News and the Daily Mail as saying, “telecommuting is the dumbest idea I ever heard.”
Now, granted he’s a mayor and an entrepreneur and a very, very rich guy which I suppose makes him smarter than I am. But surely he’s heard dumber ideas somewhere. For one thing, he has been known to associate with Republicans. He must have heard some of their “ideas.”
And he’s a philanthropist and a great supporter of the arts. Have not any Damien Hirst or Christo projects wafted in his direction?
He laments the fact that when you work at home you don’t get a chance to hang around the water cooler. And that, as everyone knows, is where all the great ideas come from – – the chance meeting, the exchange of confidences, the meaningful arched eyebrow. It’s a wonder anybody has time for an office pool.
It doesn’t matter that the classic water cooler seems to have gone the way of the stagecoach. Oh, water coolers still exist; but they are not oases at which nomadic office workers gather. They are in kitchen hutches that also contain microwaves and fridges. The better to eat at your desk, my dear. One would think that the idea-generating, random, colliding trajectories so revered by Mr. Bloomberg and that Yahoo lady were some kind of CERN supercollider. Ha!
Furtive little runs to the kitchen hutch – – I mean the watercooler – – are not likely to yield the great synergy that, on previous occasions, rewarded us with the startling concept of combining peanut butter with chocolate.
But what about the poor homebound, isolated telecommuters. Well we know they’re more productive because they are not enslaved by the 9 to 5 shackles. (Instead they’re enslaved by the 8 a.m. to midnight shackles.) It’s true they are deprived of seeing their colleagues hydrate themselves, and thereby miss the inevitable inspiration. But they get to be in the world, walk in the park, listen to music, see and speak with people who have entirely different world views and experiences. Also, many successful telecommuting programs encourage the remote personnel to come into the office one or two days a week. Why, it’s almost like combining peanut butter and chocolate.
A lot of resistance to telecommuting has come from those managers who aren’t comfortable with supervising people they can’t see. The grand spectacle of people at their desks for the proscribed period of time means more to these managers than timeliness, quantity, and quality of the work. Now that’s a dumb idea.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Judge Sandra Day O’Connor’s New Book, Out Of Order, Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

I've finished reading Sandra Day O’Connor’s new book, Out Of Order. I wanted to read it because I, too, have a book called Out Of Order. This is not the first time I had the honor and privilege of sharing a title with another author. My first book, Your Home Office, was a guide to working at home. Two other people who tried to write guides to working at home also chose the title, your home office. And the phrase also appeared as a subtitle for several DIY home project books.
I found 12 books entitled Out Of Order on Amazon. I know there are more. I just got tired of clicking to the next page. The essential question is what, aside from title, to Sandra Day O’Connor’s Out Of Order and Norman Schreiber’s Out Of Order have in common?
Of course, comparisons are odious. It’s all apples and oranges, pomegranates and kumquats, etc. etc. Hers falls into the history category. Mine is a funny, some might even say delightful, novel. I truly enjoyed her book. While Robert Caro and Doris Kearns Goodwin have nothing to worry about, Justice O’Connor’s book is a breezy history of how the Supreme Court started as a nearly ad hoc workaround and evolved into a mature, significant institution.
Okay, Sometimes it has the whiff of a cheerful after dinner speech. Sometimes it reads like the narration of a travelogue they made you watch in middle school auditorium on a rainy day. But mostly it is a collection of “did you knows?” And “imagine thats” about the Supreme Court. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a rigorous or scholarly or encyclopedic study. It is an engaging, pleasant, well-constructed history that is modestly offered and gratefully received. While not aimed at, or needed, by the serious jurisprudence aficionado, Sandra Day O’Connor’s Out Of Order provides background and context for the rest of us.
She mentions that “… Justice Breyer drew particularly ‘raucous laughter and Howls’ for a remark he made in a fourth amendment case.”  the subsequent explanation did not seem like a real knee–slapper to me, but I guess you had to be there.
And now for the comparison part of our program. Her book recounts the stories of presidents, generals, senators and, of course, judges. Mine is mostly populated by the residents of a Prospect Heights, Brooklyn co-op apartment building. Her book starts on page 3 and runs to page 165, and there is a seven-page introduction. Appended to the book are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, back notes and an index. These all run to page 233. My Out Of Order starts on page 1 and runs to page 221. Hers mentions many legal cases inspired by a goodly number of crimes. Mine has a few crimes and the intimation of court proceedings to come. Her Out Of Order was on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list on March 24, 2013. My Out Of Order is a funny novel. Sandra Day O’Connor’s Out Of Order is available in hardcover, Kindle and audio. My Out Of Order, the funny novel, is available in trade paperback and Kindle.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Saga Continues.

A copy of Sandra Day O’Connor’s new book, Out Of Order came into my hands. It came through a tortured, circuitous route – – sampans, caravans, tramp steamers and the like. Actually it just involved a trip on the M15 bus. Her book, a nonfiction work about the Supreme Court, intrigues me because it has a wonderful title. Which just happens to resonate with the title of my novel, Out Of Order.
The New York Times reviewer, Adam Liptak, gave the retired Supreme Court Justice a less than charitable verdict in his summation. He is the paper’ s Supreme Court correspondent and I suspect he was looking for something incisive and illuminating rather than the cheerful chat it apparently is. My next task is to read the book – – not for the purpose of judging it, but just to see how her Out Of Order compares with my Out Of Order.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Out of Order Notice

I've just received word from the library that my reserved copy of Out of Order by Sandra Day O’Connor is ready for pick-up.
Oh boy!
It’s not that I’m much of a Supreme Court buff. Of course like any red-blooded American, I do have a few opinion opinions (E.g. Roe v. Wade? Yay; Bush v. Gore? Boo; Dred cott decision? Boo; Brown v. Kansas City Board of Education? Yay!
It’s just that I too have book for sale, and it too is called Out Of Order. Whereas her book is “stories of the Court and the Justices that come from the ‘out of order’ moments [that] add to the richness of the Court as both a branch of our government and a human institution,” mine is a funny (we hope) novel about murders in a Brooklyn co-op apartment house. mine does have some tangential relationship to the justice system. I suspect any other similarities are few, if any, and (as we novelists, like to say purely coincidental. I will read her book and reort back to both of you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

NYC Co-op Board Interview Tips

Co-op applicants take note.
The Miron Blog, created by Realtor Miron Properties, posted excellent advice about what to do when you're interviewed by the Board as part of the application process.
The entry, Thirteen [13] Proven NYC Co-op Board Interview Tips, explains why the interview has  to take place and some of the practical and psychological notions to remember. This authoritative posting coincides with (if I may be so humble) my entry here -- Five Sneaky Truths About Co-op Living.The point always to remember is that co=op reality is very much like real reality. It requires comfort with such things as fiduciary responsibility, plumbing, and childish adults who mask their psychopathologies by saying things like  "fiduciary responsibility" and "plumbing."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Overheard 2

Overheard in a theater:

"If I want to be depressed, I'll stay home!"

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bank error in your favor -- A salute to Monopoly and its new cat token

The  announcement of Monopoly's new cat token reminded me of a piece I wrote about Monopoly for an airline magazine in 1995. The occasion was the game's 60th anniversary. It goes a little something like this.

Memo to Ken Burns: The Civil War and baseball documentaries you presented on PBS were swell ideas. But why nor explore a truly classic icon of our civilization? I refer to Monopoly — a game for all seasons and all families and all nations. (A little banjo music, please.) Monopoly is played on rickety card tables and elaborately carved oaken antiques. It is at once a city game and a country game and, yes, maybe even a condo time-share game. It is played by the fireplace, on the picnic meadow and on the beach, lit by a fiery setting sun. And now it is played in cyberspace, thanks to the new CD-ROM edition.
Monopoly has enriched the language. We do not just reprove malingerers. We tell them they cannot “pass go.” And doesn’t everyone yearn for a “Get Out of Jail Free” card? Each game is a saga of laughter and tears (and let’s not forget triumph and defeat). Youngsters get to play adults as peers in a rite of passage.
Ever since unemployed engineer Charles Darrow created the game in 1933 on his kitchen table, more than 160 million sets have been sold in more than 103 countries. (It’s printed in  37 languages.) Darrow approached Parker Brothers (no doubt, top hat in hand) with the hope of selling his idea to the game manufacturer. The company found too many ‘design flaws” and turned him down.
Darrow was not afraid to roll the dice and do it on his own. His success inspired a change of mind. In 1935, Monopoly became a Parker Brothers game. (In this; the 60th anniversary year, there is a special commemorative edition.)
In 1936, George Parker wanted to foreclose on Monopoly. It’s not a good game, he argued. Too many things go wrong. But sales figures inspired a change of heart. Parker was right. Monopoly is not an elegant game. Its cumbersome rules and slow-motion play defy entertainment guidelines. And therein lies its appeal. Monopoly is both total escape and absolute mirror of — dare I say it — life. The rules are complex and sometimes you have to make up your own. The real action does not take place on the board. It happens in the feverish and fertile minds of the players.
Edward H Parker, former Parker Brothers president, identified the game’s charm as “clobbering your best friend without doing any damage.” We get to experience the taboo sensations of greed and reckless abandon. We thrill to our own desperation. And there is hope. We know our first property purchase will lead to a monopoly and then houses and then hotels and then money, money, money.
Monopoly is a certainty. Unlike baseball, it has not changed. Oh, the packaging gets a facelift every 10 years or so, but the colors, the symbols, the artwork, the prices and the rules are the same as they always were. There is no designated banker rule. There is no MTV version of Monopoly. There are only the sounds that are part of our heritage — the clatter of dice, the whisper of transferred deeds and money and the tap. tap. tap of tokens marching across the board.
And, Ken, you’ll have fun with the visuals — from the deeds to the chance cards to the animated graphics in the CD-ROM version. Nowhere in this memo have I bothered to describe the game. That is the simplest proof of its place in our society. Without ever having met you. I know that you can feel all the delicious sensations evoked by the very word, Monopoly.
May all bank errors be ‘in your favor.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Speaking of Downton Abbey. . .

+David Hinckley wrote an excellent Daily News article about Highclere, the estate where Downton Abbey is filmed. 
As Downton junkies knowHighclere is  the ancestral home of the Carnarvons, The Fifth Earl of Carnarvon bankrolled the Howard carter expedition that unearthed the King Tut tomb. The Earl subsequently died in Cairo of a malady brought on by a mosquito bite,  a startling death that inspired headline writers around the world to announce the curse of King Tut’s tomb.

It was my good fortune to interview the sixth Earl of Carnarvon for Saga magazine. It seems a goodly portion of disinterred items from the ancient pyramid were making the grand tour of North American museums. The Tut Tour was highlighted by a PBS special about the swag. Speaking of scooping up resources from the ground, the exhibition and the television documentary and, in fact, the immediate press availability of Lord Carnarvon, all were underwritten by Exxon.

The earl was charming and sunny. He confided his well honed anecdotes in a thoughtful and intimate manner. Did he believe that there was such a thing as a King Tut curse? He would not say for certain one way or another; but he would point out that the moment his father died in the Egyptian hospital, the family dog, resting by the fire in the ancestral estate, howled and fell over dead. There were two particularly emotional moments in the interview —1) he railed against the Egyptian government's "confiscation" of King Tut artifacts that he felt rightfully belonged to his father; (2) he gloried in the way he passed so much of his wealth onto his children and then lived long enough to avoid the heavy taxation that otherwise would occur.

I don't know why; but I asked the Earl if he had a profession.

"Yes," he replied. "I'm a peer of the realm, and a farmer."

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Five Sneaky Truths About Co-op Living

Why does the housing co-op experience often feel like a permanent plumbing disaster? — Even in buildings where there are no permanent plumbing disasters? 
Five subversive, mind-altering forces are at work. No one will tell you about them. Here they are.
1.                  The Daffy Duck Syndrome—This condition is not named for the popular cinema star.  It’s the daffiness triggered by misleading duck verisimilitude. 

Inhabiting  a co-op apartment looks, acts, quacks, feels like a property-owning duck but genetic testing reveals a very different bird. What you really own are pieces of paper — a proprietary lease, a prospectus — contracts that stipulate choreography between you and the true apartment owner, the cooperative corporation. 

You don’t really own your apartment. But your reptile brain insists you do. It’s crazy-making.  The result? You’ve got a subliminal, sometimes overt simmering territorial tension between co-oper and co-op

2.                  Co-op Exceptionalism—The technical term is illusory superiority To paraphrase theBilly “the Kid” Emerson song Emerson song, “My Co-Op Is Red Hot; Your Co-Op ain’t Doodly Squat.”.

 Co–opers “know” that the history of Western civilization, a miraculous assortment of too strange to be accidental accidents, and divine intervention have converged to make their cooperative housing corporation the city's one sceptered Isle, one’s precious stone in a silver sea, etc. etc. Such sweet loyalty inspires Xenophobia and a mission:

 Must protect co-op. Must defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. I'm looking at you, penthouse owner. Your trees must go.

3.                  Birth TraumaWhy are cauldrons of boiling oil poised on the ramparts to greet co-op applicants? Most inhospitable! 

A co-op must beware of Trojan horses. Screening is a co-op' s best defense against deadbeats, vandals, the litigious, the blatantly antisocial and other such undesirables. 

The pathway to acceptance is a bumpy, graceless lurch through the birth canal —fraught with bruising disclosure, harsh scrutiny, probing personal questions, and lots of Virgo inflicted paperwork.

One Brooklyn co-op interviewed prospective buyers and  their pets. In at least one instance the pet passed, but the owner failed. (Well the dog was a golden retriever.) 

The process hurts. The scars remain. The trauma persists. and it can affect all future dealings.
4.                  The In Law Problem. Romance is a beautiful thing, But it leads to in-laws. Co-op living may be all about claiming your castle, renovating your nest, living in the dream location. But it also ties you to people you might possibly detest. 

Your fellow shareholders are not unlike your in-laws. Some of these characters can be so embarrassing, annoying, obstructive, stubborn, unpleasant, reckless, dangerous, delusional, imperious, so out of their $%&$#!  minds —and yet so close and influential. They're like neighbors from hell, only worse. They are your partners.

5.                  Blood Feuds. Co-op government can be a blood sport. You find yourself in mortal combat with people who oppose and obstruct all that is good and right because it is their nature. It’s the gallant rebels vs. the sneering despots; the ragged remnants of civil order vs. the raging barbarians. 

Add to this a cast of haters, resenters, bottom liners, rulemakers, rule breakers, paranoids and Pollyannas. Reasonable discussions? Ha! It’s a holy war, my friends. Pamphleteering! Buttonholing! Rumor mongering! And worse! 

In another Brooklyn co-op an incendiary device was discovered in a board member's doorway. Apparently there was a difference of opinion about lobby decorations. This weird force is sometimes observed and dismissed as politics. But differences are tribal and theological in the extreme.

. Fortunately, there is a way to deal with all of this. It is called fantasy. Simply remind yourself that you are living in the best of all possible co-ops; that your admission to the co-op was really very smooth . . .all things considered; that your fellow shareholders are an asset to the community; that by and large your fellow shareholders cooperate; that all problems are met with rational solutions; all this, and the gentle, quiet knowledge that your fellow shareholders can all go to hell.