My Top Ten Memories of David Letterman

Goodbye Dave! After 33 years hosting late night television, tonight David Letterman pulls off the ultimate “Stupid Human Trick”__he’s vanishing from the airwaves. In honor of his last show, here are my top ten memories of Letterman’s late night run:

10—Legendary singer Darlene Love, backed by Paul Shaffer’s terrific band, belting out “Baby Please Come Home” every year at Christmas for three decades.

9—The “Fun With Rupert” segments, in which mild-mannered “Hello Deli” proprietor Rupert Jee would ask passersby obnoxious questions suggested by Letterman, hidden away in a nearby parked van. The bit comes to an abrupt halt when someone pulls a knife on Rupert.

8—Letterman’s return to the air less than a week after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, an inspiring night in which Dave salutes New York firefighters, police and NYC Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, previously the butt of Dave’s barbs. “We were told that they (the terrorists) were zealots fueled by religious fervor,” Letterman says, “and if you live to be a thousand years, will that make any sense to you?”

7—Actor Joaquin Phoenix shows up with a bushy beard, mumbles his answers and appears close to passing out. Dave ends the interview with “Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight.”

6—Dave’s integrity in not exploiting the O.J. Simpson murder trial for cheap laughs, while Jay Leno and others have no problem doing so.

5—Letterman devotes an entire show to his dying singer-songwriter friend Warren Zevon, despite knowing it would cost him in ratings.

4–A German shepherd reads poetry, a pit bull bowls a strike, a border collie jumps rope “double dutch”, a labrador retriever dances the merengue__yes, I’m really going to miss Stupid Pet Tricks!

3—Getting to know Mujibur and Sirajul, immigrants from Bangladesh who work at a nearby souvenir shop and are recruited by Dave to do comedy bits. They are sent on a U.S. tour, greeted as celebrities and serve as Late Show correspondents at Super Bowl XXIX.

2—On his first show back after quintuple bypass surgery, Dave brings the doctors who operated on him onstage to thank them publicly. “I couldn’t have been prouder when these guys carved their initials in me,” says Letterman.

1—That despite network pressure, Dave keeps The Late Show With David Letterman in New York City for its entire run!





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Hot on the Trail of Welfare Moochers

Don’t you hate giving your hard-earned money to moochers who leech off us poor working suckers? Some politicians love to rile us up about those feeding at the public welfare trough, especially those with jobs.

I recently went into a midtown McDonald’s at lunchtime to see whether some of its employees were, indeed, on the dole. “May I help you?” asked the Eastern European-looking young woman behind the counter. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about your salary and benefits?” I said with a smile.

She replied her name was Ida Raternodsai (or maybe it was “I’d rather not say–it was pretty noisy in there). I managed to pry out the fact that she made $9 an hour and was a single mom. Was she also on public assistance?

“You said McNuggets, right?” Ida responded.

I know — just leave the woman alone. I felt even worse when I sat squeezed against the wall with my McNuggets, trying to read the newspaper. Gov. Andrew Cuomo had written an op-ed in The New York Times saying that when fast-food workers do not receive a living wage, they are forced to go on public assistance to get by, while those at the top rake it in.

“The average fast-food CEO made $23.8 million in 2013, more than quadruple what they made in 2000,” Cuomo wrote. “Meanwhile, entry-level food service workers in New York State earn, on average, $16,920 per year . . .”

In other words, the government is subsidizing fast-food and other companies that refuse to pay a living wage.

The inflated chief executive salaries mentioned by Cuomo are at least in part sustained by taxpayers who pay for the food stamps, Medicaid and other social services their workers need to survive.

At a rally in Union Square Thursday, he lambasted fast-food fat cats for underpaying workers so seriously that the state had to spend $700 million last year on public assistance for their employees. He called for raising the minimum wage in NYC from $8.75 to $11.50. (The state minimum will rise from $8.75 to $9 at year’s end.)

Can’t do that in retail? Costco pays its hourly workers an average of $20.89 an hour, and the company is thriving. Meanwhile, who are those government welfare moochers again?

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Hey Youse Guys…I’m Running For President!

Can a gruff 73-year-old socialist from Brooklyn beat Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination?

Absolutely not, say the pundits.

Just don’t tell that to Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator (I-Vermont) who on Thursday said he will seek the Democratic nomination — and by Friday had raised more money in 24 hours than any of the declared GOP candidates garnered in that period.

“I don’t believe that the men and women who defended American democracy fought to create a situation where billionaires own the political process,” Sanders said.

The message struck a chord. By Friday, he had raised $1.5 million from 35,000 working stiffs, averaging $43.54 per donation.

Raised in a working-class Brooklyn family on Kings Highway and 26th Street by a paint salesman whose family died in the Holocaust, Sanders is attuned to the struggles of the American masses.

Bernie, who never lost his Brooklyn accent, moved to Vermont in the great hippie migration nearly half a century ago. Working as a freelance writer, filmmaker and carpenter, Sanders took to rural life and made Vermont his permanent home, dabbled in politics and became a beloved figure in the land of cows, maple syrup and Ben & Jerry’s, eventually landing in the U.S. Senate.

Sanders absolutely hates the gotcha politics and shallow media circus our elections have become.

“If I walked up on stage and fell down, that would be the top story,” Sanders once told The New York Times. You wouldn’t hear a word about the issues, he lamented, “such as the growing gap between rich and poor.”

Sanders is an adherent of the democratic socialism practiced in Sweden and other Scandinavian nations, noting they have higher standards of living and better health care than we do.

He believes giving corporations and billionaires the right to donate unlimited cash while making the average American virtually voiceless is the true danger to our freedom.

But a democratic socialist as U.S. president? Not in our lifetimes, right? But hey, they once said a man named Barack Hussein Obama couldn’t be elected either.

Strong early support for Bernie’s campaign shows how his message resonates. If his only contribution to the race is raising awareness of how big money perverts our democracy, then more power to him.

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Happy Birthday to a Local Legend

Born in Brooklyn, Jerome and his sister Carolyn were soon whisked off to the suburbs of Long Island by their parents Kalman and Betty, of Hungarian and Syrian-Jewish descent. But as soon as Jerome was of age, he came back to the city, attended Queens College and moved into a studio apartment on the Upper West Side.

Still uncertain about a career, Jerome dropped in on open-mic night at NYC’s Catch a Rising Star comedy club. Almost immediately his observational humor and likeability led to a regular spot, quickly followed by an appearance on an HBO Rodney Dangerfield special.

Young Jerome was soon hired for the role of Frankie on the sitcom Benson, and just as abruptly fired. Back on the comedy club circuit, his career shot into orbit after a successful spot on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.

In 1989, he was invited to create a sitcom bearing his name. The show had lousy ratings, and NBC almost canceled it after four episodes. Eventually it caught on and turned into one of the most successful sitcoms in history.

The show was set on the same West 81st Street block where the real Jerome lived when he was a struggling comic. Whether about fighting for a parking spot or impatiently waiting on line in a Chinese restaurant, the sitcom’s plots resonated with New Yorkers. In one episode, they discussed eating at La Caridad, a no-frills Latino-Chinese joint in my neighborhood where I once sat beside series co-creator Larry David and his family as they noisily squabbled over the menu.

Now a multi-millionaire, Jerome bought a lavish co-op just a block down from that West 81st Street apartment. He also upgraded from collecting white sneakers (over 500 pairs) to collecting Porches.

A major New York Met fan, the married father of three is often seen at the games in his private box. He has also helped broadcast a number of games with his pal Keith Hernandez.

Since his TV series ended, Jerome has kept busy, hosting a popular web series (Comedians in Cars Having Coffee), co-writing an original film (Bee Movie) and returning to his first love__standup comedy.

So happy birthday, Jerry Seinfeld. Hard to believe you’re turning 61 today.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


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Cannibal Cop: It’s the Thought That Counts?

Guess who’s back in the news? The “cannibal cop.” Why should you care? Because his story shows how visiting an extreme website can change your life forever.

Fresh off its successful “The Jinx,” about alleged killer Robert Durst, HBO is poised to air “Thought Crimes,” a documentary about Gilberto Valle (“the cannibal cop”) on May 11 after premiering it at the Tribeca Film Festival last Thursday.

What if someone accessed your computer and found perverted, kinky videos involving nuns? Sheep? Members of Congress? (OK, nobody’s that kinky). Should you be hauled away in handcuffs? You think our jails are crowded now?

“When you’re behind a computer screen late at night, no one knows who you are, where you are,” Valle says in the film. “I became part of this cybercommunity where people explore deviant thoughts. The anonymity makes you try and outdo the other person. Who can be the sicker one? Then you shut the computer off, and that’s it.”

But that wasn’t it for Valle. He took his obsession pretty far, arrested in 2012 after allegedly plotting online to kidnap, kill and eat women. After his wife discovered his fascination with fetish websites, she freaked out and called the authorities.

In 2013, Valle was convicted of conspiring to kidnap. The most damning evidence was his using a law enforcement database to collect information about possible victims. The conviction was overturned last year; prosecutors have appealed.

In “Thought Crimes,” Valle admits he is now “craving some companionship,” and even set up a profile (now taken down, according to New York magazine). His profile listed “cooking” as his favorite hobby, and his bucket list includes seeing Jerry Seinfeld do standup.

But as anyone who has visited a dating site knows, it’s often not what people say, but what they leave out. For example, ladies, how would this guy’s profile appeal to you? “Successful male, ambitious, animal lover, vegetarian, seeks blond goddess to help me conquer the world.”

Did you guess Adolph Hitler? If not, I’d stay off the dating sites for a while.

Meanwhile, Valle’s profile requested a “non-judgmental” woman who can “make the best of a situation that’s less than ideal.”

You think?

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Just Another Day in Our Crumbling NYC

As I wait at the mobbed Atlantic Avenue subway station after a Nets basketball game, the No. 3 train finally arrives and we all pile in. The train moves along, but after 15 minutes comes the terse announcement: “The next and last stop will be Wall Street.”

We swarm out and wait for the next train, which the electronic message board says will be there in eight minutes. It arrives and dumps its passengers as well. Last stop. OK, now the board says a No. 2 train will show up in 10 minutes.

Guess what?

Couldn’t that message board have informed us that trains were out of service uptown between Chambers Street and Times Square due to a major water main break that happened earlier that evening?

After we wait in vain for more than half an hour, two guys in MTA uniforms appear. One tells us that service uptown on the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 trains will be “running, but very slow.” The other says it is totally down and suggests we walk over to a Lexington line train. Hmm . . .

Other weary riders and I climb out of Wall Street station and into the damp darkness. As we trudge two blocks east to the Nos. 4, 5 and 6 lines, I trip over a badly cracked sidewalk and crash to the pavement. Another member of our ragged subway army helps me up. OK, no broken bones.

I take the No. 4 train to 86th Street and Lexington Avenue, wait for the crosstown bus, and arrive home more than two hours after the game ended, with a bruised arm and torn pants.

The city’s infrastructure has been crumbling for decades. The outdated subway signals, our ancient bridges and cracked streets cause agita for all of us. Mayor Bill de Blasio joined 60 other mayors nationwide Thursday to plead the case for more federal mass transit aid, saying the nation has been going backward in terms of investing in transportation infrastructure.

Hopefully, someday Congress will offer the help we need, before a disaster strikes.

But in the meantime, couldn’t the MTA have let us know about a water main break that happened hours earlier, and used its prized electronic message boards to clearly explain the situation to riders, instead of letting us roam downtown NYC in the dark?

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Are Unions Our Enemies or Our Protectors?

Is Gov. Andrew Cuomo right to demand changes in teacher evaluations, or is the union right in fighting him? Or both?

Cuomo pushed through a state budget deal that made it harder for teachers to automatically receive the highest possible rating under a new evaluation system, and charged state education officials with working out the details. Whatever you think of standardized tests, something is amiss with the current evaluation system. Only a tiny percentage of teachers are fired each year for incompetence. As many of our schools continue to struggle, 96% of teachers were rated “effective” or “highly effective” last year.

Unions exist to protect their members. It’s only when that mandate collides with the public interest that battle lines are drawn.

“The teacher evaluation system imposed by Governor Cuomo is a sham,” chided the NY State United Teachers. But Cuomo believes it’s the current system that’s “baloney.”

Do teachers, police and other public unions sometimes shield incompetent rank-and-file members? Absolutely. But students and civilians shouldn’t suffer because unions protect the unfit. This has led to a growing outcry against unions — now seen by many as another special interest group.

But while we hold unions accountable, we should not forget their value. Many people are unaware, as they take sick and vacation days, that unions were instrumental in getting those benefits. Eliminating sweat shops, establishing safety standards and a living wage? Ditto.

The rise in union membership after World War II was a huge factor in the growth of the middle class. It’s also no accident that its decline (from 20.1% of American workers in 1983 to 11.3% in 2013) has coincided with a surge in income disparity.

Bullying unions has become cheap sport for some politicians, perhaps reaching its lowest point when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker compared his fight to take away teachers unions’ power to bargain with how strong he’d battle Islamic terrorists if elected president.

Do the goals of unions sometimes clash with the best interests of the public? No doubt, and it’s up to elected officials to look out for the greater good. There’s also no doubt that weakening the labor movement weakens us all.

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Under the Concrete Slab? No Phony Coney!

OK, now spring is here. Coney Island officially opened Sunday, providing unexpected thrills when the Cyclone froze right before the big drop.

As opposed to Disney theme parks and other plastic playgrounds, Coney has always been the real deal: Luna Park, Nathan’s, the ocean, the boardwalk . . .

Did I say boardwalk? Not so fast. The city has been replacing the classic wooden boards that date to 1923 with some combination of concrete and recycled plastic. In late December, the Landmarks Preservation Commission heard a plea by community activists to designate the Coney Island boardwalk a historic site. It brushed off the request, with parks department officials insisting the new synthetic material is “sturdier and much cheaper.”

But those who treasure Coney Island kept trying, and last week the commission said it may review requests to keep the board in boardwalk instead of replacing it with a synthetic slab. “If significant new information is submitted, the commission will review it,” spokeswoman Damaris Olivo told the Daily News.

Significant new information? Maintaining the boardwalk’s real wood will never be a cheaper option — at least in the short run. But in the long run, the cost to Coney Island’s authenticity will be real, which may include a decrease in tourism. The boardwalk is a vital part of its charm. “Under the Boardwalk” is a classic song for a reason. “Under the Concrete Slab”? Please!

NYC has been over-homogenized for too long now. Mom-and-pop stores have been replaced by a glut of banks and drug chains. Forty-second Street has been Disneyfied. (Revitalization of Times Square was needed, but couldn’t we have kept a NYC theme?) Our city is losing its character and charm.

But if decision-makers insist on saving a few bucks at the expense of destroying what makes us unique, why not go all the way? Do flowers at the Brooklyn and Bronx botanical gardens all need to be real? How about the animals at the Bronx and Central Park zoos? Is that chimp real or animatronic, mommy?

Installing hybrid concrete planks at Coney Island will undoubtedly save a few bucks. But preserving its boardwalk and other iconic locations that make our city unique? Priceless.

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Lower Our Expectations? That’s Pretty Rich!

If we New Yorkers are anything, it’s blunt, and most of us have friends who have no problem calling us out when we say something stupid or arrogant. Apparently many of the superwealthy have no such luck.

“I am the only one who can make America truly great again,” ever-humble Donald Trump said last week when he announced his perennial fake run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Among his vows to restore America’s glory, Trump promised to fix our economy, which in GOP-speak means we working stiffs tighten our belts while the 1 percenters loosen theirs.

Much of the media played right along with The Donald. “He seems serious this time,” blared the online headline in the Detroit Free Press. Seriously? This isn’t about free publicity for the Trump brand?

While saving our great nation, Trump also graciously offered to make a pit stop in Hollywood to single-handedly save the “terrible, boring” Oscars next year, by hosting it himself. I’m not making this up.

But if you think such bluster is the exclusive domain of Republicans, think again.

Real estate mogul and former Florida Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Greene made a fortune betting that people would default on their mortgages. He recently told Bloomberg News at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “America’s lifestyle expectations are far too high, and need to be adjusted so we have less things and a smaller, better existence.”

Greene said that right after flying his wife, children and two nannies to Davos for the week on a private jet, according to Bloomberg.

Back here on the subway, you say your wages are frozen and fares went up again? Yet you still want to watch cable and eat three meals a day? Selfish! Why don’t you listen to Greene, the man who lives in a modest, 35,000-square-foot abode in Palm Beach, Florida, while trying to unload his 12-bedroom, 23-bathroom mansion in Beverly Hills for a mere $195 million?

Don’t you feel lucky such privileged jet-setters are so concerned with saving America that they take the time to explain that the best way is for us to think small?

Me neither.

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Who is to Blame for the Latest Fare Hike?

I was recently stuck on a crowded 14th Street subway platform endlessly waiting for the 1 train when someone screamed, “And they want a damn fare hike??” Riders on the mobbed platform cheered him as he stormed off.

After battling freezing weather all winter trying to get to work, often being late due to a rash of subway delays and crawling buses, the last thing millions of New York riders want to hear is news of another mass transit fare increase. But that’s exactly what we are getting on Sunday, when fares will go up an average of 4 percent.

Where do we direct our righteous anger? On the MTA, too often lax on the day-to-day operations of its systems and tone deaf to the legitimate gripes of its riders? On the State Legislature, which refuses to fund the $15 billion the MTA needs for its capital plan? Or the city, whose measly $100-million annual contribution to the plan hasn’t even come close to keeping up with inflation?

While the MTA justly complains about lack of leadership from state and local officials in funding the agency’s capital plan, where has the MTA leadership been all these years? After promising to stay for the duration and fight for funding to maintain the transit fare, former MTA chairman Jay Walder resigned four years ago and jumped ship for a million-dollar-plus job in Hong Kong, while Joe Lhota spent a year on the job before abandoning his post in a failed attempt to be elected mayor.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio posture as if they are on our side, but have clearly been lacking in leadership on this issue and keep passing the buck back and forth, with both refusing to accept blame for not adequately funding the MTA.

With no one taking responsibility for this mess, guess who winds up paying the freight?

Friday is the first day of spring. Unfortunately, according to the latest forecast, the only thing that will be heating up this week are transit fares. While our anger at the MTA isn’t totally unjustified, isn’t it about time we stop giving our mayor, governor and State Legislature a free pass?

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