Leave the Turkey, Take the Credit Card

Don’t look now, but the holiday season is upon us, and we’re starting off in style with battles about boozy Santas and stores launching their Black Friday sales on Thursday.

While retailers once opened at dawn on Friday or midnight after Thanksgiving, giving shoppers in the holiday spirit extra time to claw and trample each other to get to that bargain 60-inch TV, many are now starting even earlier. For example, Best Buy will open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and Macy’s at 6 p.m. Will we now have to call Thanksgiving “Black Thursday”? Very confusing.

While some protest that this doesn’t allow employees to spend time with family, retailers say working on Thanksgiving is usually voluntary, and can pay time-and-a-half. Macy’s spokeswoman Holly Thomas (great holiday name, BTW) says many of its employees “appreciate the opportunity to work on Thanksgiving so they have time off on Black Friday.” You bet.

But getting an early start on ninja shopping is only the beginning of the holiday fun. On Dec. 13, the annual slobfest known as SantaCon will come to NYC bars, possibly near you.

Last year, the merry bar crawl centered in the East Village. This year, organizers targeted Bushwick until local barkeepers and politicians told them to get lost.

They still seek a lucky NYC neighborhood to host the festivities. Hey, how about yours? On the plus side, they donate to local food banks and other charities. On the minus side, they puke all over your stoop.

While organizers deny this happens often, the drinking starts at 10 a.m., according to the SantaCon website, which also claims, “Santa spreads joy, not vomit.” What a lovely Hallmark sentiment.

But hey, maybe we have these extra jolly Santas all wrong. According to their site, “SantaCon is a charitable, non-commercial, nonpolitical, nonsensical convention that happens once a year for absolutely no reason.” The site also treats you to such popular Christmas tunes as “Jingle Bells” by the Gay Robots and “Ol’ Taninz Da Bomb!” by DJ Blitz’N.

So as we celebrate our new holiday traditions of stampeding, post-turkey shoppers and drunken, marauding Santas, what’s left to say except: Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

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Yo Brooklyn, the British are Coming!

Guess who’s coming to town? Celebrity royalty!

Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton (but you can just call her Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge), will visit NYC for the first time on Dec. 7. They’ll go to Brooklyn to take in a Nets-Cavaliers game at the Barclays Center on Dec. 8. Why? Maybe they want to see King James (aka LeBron) in person. Maybe they want to take a nostalgic ride down Kings Highway, named after William’s ancestor, King Charles II.

One thing’s for sure: The media will pant over the royal couple’s three-day visit because a large number of Americans go gaga whenever we host British royalty. I don’t get it. William is a descendant of King George III, the tyrant who ruled over us until we broke free in 1776. Ring a bell? Remember Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death”? Anyone?

Anyway, these royal welfare recipients will be greeted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife and do the “just folks” rounds: Go to the game, the Sept. 11 memorial and a youth center, then a luncheon “to celebrate the achievements of a successful British community in New York from the arts and business sectors,” according to the royals’ website.

Kate seems to be the fun half of the duo. A fashion celebrity, she has titillated the British media with more wardrobe malfunctions than Britney Spears, including flashing her butt in a gust of wind, forgetting to weigh down her hem — or wear underwear. The Stir website gushed, “Let’s just say her derrière is even more perky and exquisite than we expected it to be.” Kim Kardashian, eat your heart out!

To his credit, William seems a bit less clueless than his brother, Harry, who once thought it jolly good fun to attend a costume party in a Nazi uniform. Speaking of World War II, Dec. 7 also happens to be National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Gee, I wonder who will get more media attention — those who sacrificed their lives for us on that day, or the telegenic royals whose every move figures to be tracked?

Before 1776, the British ruled in America. Right now celebrities do. I’m not sure which is worse. Meanwhile, the future king of England is coming to Kings County. Yo, Prince!

 

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Can’t a NYC Rat Catch a Break?

Two teenage girls screeched as a large rat charged down the 59th Street C train platform Friday afternoon, while others quickly scattered. Looking more fearful than any of them, the rat scampered to the end of the platform and disappeared.

The myth that there are as many rats as people in NYC was recently debunked in a study published in the statistical journal Significance. According to the report, there are only about 2 million rats in the city, not 8 million. Feel better?

NYC only ranks fourth (behind Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington) in pest-control company Orkin’s latest “Rattiest Cities” list. Yes, that’s still not good, yes, they carry diseases, and yes, I applaud the city’s recently launched initiative to reduce the rat population in the most vermin-infested neighborhoods.

That said, why do we hate rats so much? Squirrels also carry diseases. So do pigeons. So do we.

The truth? Squirrels are cute, and rats are ugly. That’s why they never catch a break.

This summer, a rat supposedly attacked a journalist on an NYC subway platform. The Huffington Post headline “Giant Rat Attacks Reporter!” was typical.

But that’s the problem with prejudice. What really happened was the reporter was filming the rat, when it turned and charged toward him. He screamed as the rat dashed between his legs. As far as biting the man? Never happened.

Now put yourself in the rat’s place. What if you were down in the subway and someone started filming you without your permission? Exactly.

All I’m saying is, unlike those teenage girls, let’s not get hysterical every time we see a rat. If rats were really that prone to biting people, the subway system would have shut down years ago. There are much bigger annoyances on the subway. For example, when was the last time you saw a rat saunter down a subway car demanding spare cheese? I rest my case.

The truth is, most of our rats are faithful to the city creed: You leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone. Like us, they’re just trying to survive, setting out on a daily quest for food, shelter and to not be judged on their appearance.

Sounds like real New Yorkers to me.

 

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Elections More and More Like Beauty Contests

The election results are in, and it’s clear what NYC, state and national voters expect from their candidates — a full head of hair.

From re-elected Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the other winners across the nation, it’s tough to find many bald guys. How did we get that awful Michael Grimm-Domenic Recchia congressional contest in Staten Island? Look no farther than the tops of their heads.

Although about 50 percent of American men are bald or balding, we have not elected a bald president in nearly 60 years (Gerald Ford wasn’t elected). In the last NYC mayoral race, hirsute Bill de Blasio trounced bald Joe Lhota. In fact, the last bald NYC mayor was Ed Koch, first elected in 1977 (no, I don’t count Rudy Giuliani’s comb-over — actually, it proves my point).

Yes, we’ve elected a few chrome domes — e.g., Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey — but they are the exceptions to the rule. In the most recent national election, we had President Barack Obama, with a full head of hair (although it’s rapidly turning gray), while on the Republican side, Ken doll-haired Mitt Romney got the nomination over Ken doll-haired Rick Perry.

Why is this happening? Why TV, of course. John F. Kennedy was the first to realize the power of the medium, getting made up and coiffed while Richard Nixon refused to do so. It’s a sad fact that men who are widely considered among our greatest presidents (Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt) probably wouldn’t stand a chance today (Lincoln wasn’t telegenic, FDR was disabled).

I’m getting a little tired of these TV personality-type contestants running for office — and I don’t mean just “American Idol” runner-up and North Carolina congressional candidate Clay Aiken. Seems as long as a male candidate has a full head of hair, it doesn’t matter if his head is empty.

Come to think of it, the only difference between our modern elections and the Miss America pageant is that very few politicians say they want world peace. Hey, they don’t want to come across as wimps!

Elections are more and more becoming beauty contests. Why do we seem to keep getting a parade of shallow candidates with shiny hair and gleaming teeth?

Perhaps it’s time to check the mirror.

 

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Upcoming Week May Be Hard to Stomach

Trick or trickier? Seeing our choices in Tuesday’s election, all I can say is, Boo!

In the race for New York governor, we have Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo, who led the fight to pass both a same-sex marriage and a sane gun-control bill. He also formed a Moreland Commission to root out statewide corruption — then shut it down when it wanted to investigate groups with ties to him.

Opposing Cuomo is Republican Rob Astorino, who promotes fracking while upstate, then magically morphs into Mr. Environment as he scoots back down the Thruway to Westchester.

In their debate last week, both Cuomo and Astorino often ignored panelists’ questions in favor of hurling cheap shots at each other.

Meanwhile on Staten Island, the race for Congress is an embarrassment. The only ones who seem happy about this contest are Jon Stewart and other comedians who are having a field day mocking it.

Currently under a 20-count indictment on fraud charges, not to mention threatening to toss NY1 reporter Michael Scotto off a balcony after breaking him in half “like a boy,” Republican Rep. Michael Grimm seems to have, well, grim chances of re-election. Luckily for him, his Democratic opponent, Domenic Recchia, gives new meaning to the term Know-Nothing Party, responding to questions about issues with nonsensical answers or a blank stare.

Nope, these candidates aren’t exactly inspiring. In the governor’s race, Cuomo’s achievements are tainted by his now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t treatment of the Moreland Commission, while Astorino’s far-right views don’t sit well with a majority of NYC residents.

So how about staying home to send them a message? Trust me, no one will notice. I’m definitely going to vote, although I’m afraid I’ll feel the way I used to after coming home from trick-or-treating as a kid — happy I did it, but a bit sick to my stomach.

So what’s the solution?

Hint: Cuomo and Astorino aren’t the only two candidates for governor on the ballot. If you really want to send the entrenched “trick or trickier” parties a message, I’m sure the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins or the Libertarian Party’s Michael McDermott would be happy to oblige.

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De Blasio Longs To Be Our New Sugar Daddy

As if Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t have enough on his plate with the headlines about his wife’s chief of staff, the ongoing battle over banning carriage horses and other City Hall drama, the mayor is reopening that old “nanny state” Mike Bloomberg can of controversy — a ban on sugary drinks.

De Blasio has been brainstorming with soda lobbyists and health advocates to find ways to reduce consumption of such products. You may recall that two years ago, Bloomberg pushed through a law banning sales of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, delis, food carts and movie theaters. The courts struck down the law as unconstitutional.

But de Blasio seems eager to resurrect the battle. Why, Bill, why?

“The city’s proposal to cap the size of sugary drinks responds to the alarming obesity and diabetes crisis that disproportionately affects minority groups,” the mayor said in June, when he urged New York’s Court of Appeals to reinstate the ban.

Yes, obesity and diabetes are out of control, while the argument rages on between personal freedom and government overreach versus the public’s right not to have to pay inflated health care costs due to the overindulgence of sugar junkies.

But prohibition of harmful products “for our own good” has never worked out, ever since the days of, well, Prohibition. How would a ban be enforced? Diet drinks would be exempt from the ban. When your pal at the movie concession stand slips regular cola into your 32-ounce cup, who can tell the difference? Would we have soda cops monitoring our soda pop? How? Take a sip of our soda, then do spit takes? “Eww, this isn’t diet! Up against the wall!”

If de Blasio wants to sell this rehashed idea to New Yorkers, he’s got his work cut out for him. But he may have an ace up his sleeve. Anxious to change the perception that he takes marching orders from the Rev. Al Sharpton, perhaps de Blasio can turn the tables and put the formerly rotund reverend to work as a spokesman for the soda ban. “I stopped imbibing sugary drinks, and now look how svelte I am,” Sharpton can crow.

You’re welcome, Mr. Mayor.

 

 

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NYC Musicians Fight Stigma of Mental Illness

I wish I was like you

Easily amused

Find my nest of salt

Everything’s my fault …

When Kurt Cobain of Nirvana wrote the 1993 hit song “All Apologies,” few understood it as a cry for help. But Cobain suffered from severe mental illness, including bipolar disease and depression, and soon took his own life.

To reach out to the millions of less famous but equally tormented young Kurt Cobains, the NYC chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness has partnered with five New York bands to launch the “I Will Listen” album and movement. The participating bands are Controller, Sweet Lorainne, Boola featuring Jeni Fujita, Romans Are Alive and Jenna Kyle.

“After 9/11, the stigma about going for help for mental health issues was reduced because everyone was affected by the tragedy,” says Robert Goldblatt, former director of psychiatric rehabilitation for the NYC Department of Health. “What is important now is continuing to reduce that stigma.”

Beverly Cobain can attest to that. Kurt’s cousin, Beverly was strongly affected by his death. Now a registered nurse and mental health professional, she speaks nationwide about suicide prevention and other mental health issues.

“Kurt’s risk was very high: untreated bipolar disorder, family history of depression, his drug addiction and alcohol abuse,” Beverly Cobain told HealthDay. Beside medication and talk therapy, she believes “the primary antidote is the presence of caring people in one’s life who know when something is wrong and take appropriate steps to help.”

The campaign encourages people to do just that. Participating musicians received guidelines asking them to compose songs about their experiences with mental illness, citing as examples “All Apologies,” The Who’s “The Real Me,” about schizophrenia, and “Manic Depression” by Jimi Hendrix.

The “I Will Listen” album’s official launch show will be Monday (10-20) at NYC’s Mercury Lounge. Meanwhile, the album is free and available on IWillListen.org. Guidelines on how to listen to people in need — including being nonjudgmental, letting them know they’re not alone and knowing when to call for help — can be found on the site.

Spread the word.

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The Groundhog and the Public Advocate

Riddle: What do the NYC public advocate and Staten Island Chuck, the Groundhog Day media hog, have in common?

Answer: Both rarely poke their heads out, and their function is a total mystery to most New Yorkers.

Recent revelations show that both are also long past their expiration dates.

Actually, Charlotte G. Hogg reached her expiration date in February, when Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped the squirming rodent, who passed on to groundhog heaven a week later. Turns out Charlotte was substituting for her more aggressive brother Chuck, who took a bite out of former Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s finger on Groundhog Day a few years back. Yes ladies, as in the Secret Service fiasco, the female again takes the fall.

A Staten Island Zoo spokesman said Charlotte’s previously undisclosed death a week after being dropped by de Blasio was pure coincidence. When a doctor dropped my cousin Arnold on his head and he immediately forgot the alphabet, the doctor also swore it was a coincidence.

Whatever the case, you can bet de Blasio isn’t looking forward to Feb. 2, 2015.

Meanwhile, Public Advocate Letitia James often disappears for long stretches from her office to attend to personal appointments, according to a recent story in the New York Daily News. Other than providing name recognition to ambitious politicians (e.g., Mark Green and de Blasio), the usefulness of the office established in 1993 remains very much in debate.

A year ago, I suggested that when James took over as public advocate, she might change the perception of an office that Bloomberg once called “a total waste of everybody’s money.” So far, no good.

Not only is the annual budget for public advocate $2.3 million, but a wasteful election runoff for the post last year cost the city an additional $13 million.

Back in the groundhog hole, Staten Island Chuck continues to luxuriate on the public dole, existing on his “six more weeks of winter” scam while he sends relatives out to be manhandled by the latest mayor.

Truth be told, if the groundhog and the public advocate switched jobs, would you notice the difference? Time to end both of these useless sinecures.

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Where Have You Gone, Derek Jeter?

On September 25th, Derek Jeter left the stage in dramatic fashion, with a sharply hit “walk off” single to score the winning run. His last at-bat in Yankee Stadium brought ecstatic cheers from fans__a perfect farewell to their idol, beloved for his off the field demeanor almost as much as his athletic abilities.

When Paul Simon composed the song Mrs. Robinson from the Oscar-winning movie The Graduate nearly a half century ago, the line that jumped out (and confused many) was “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

What exactly did you mean, Paul?

“I meant that Joe DiMaggio was an American hero when genuine heroes were in short supply,” Simon explained when DiMaggio died in 1999.

Hero? Not quite (real heroes are 9-11 rescuers who gave their lives running up the stairs of the burning WTC towers to save others), but I know what Simon meant. While noble, dignified role models may have been in short supply decades ago, they are all but extinct today. From athletes to entertainers to politicians, those in the public eye continually disappoint with their greed, narcissism and worse.

And while the Mrs. Robinson character Simon wrote about in the 60s was considered the villain, a drunken,  middle aged woman who corrupted a 21 year old young man, today she’d be the heroine in Cougars.

In some ways, Derek Jeter is a throwback. Yes, he achieved great deeds on the ballfield, a certain first round Hall of Famer. But it’s what he didn’t do that brought respect. He didn’t use PEDs. He didn’t make headlines for domestic abuse, or driving under the influence. He didn’t curse at fans.

Nope, Jeter always conducted himself with dignity and class. With media and fans watching him like hawks, he kept his personal life private and never seemed to make a misstep, which is a huge achievement in the biggest market in the nation.

“Being in New York, where one little hiccup can fry you, this kid’s done everything the right way,” said his friend Michael Jordan.

Good looking, confident without being cocky, the kid from Kalamazoo with the African-American father and Caucasian mother was admired by all.  Standing beside him as I boarded a flight to Tampa a decade ago, I was surprised by how big and imposing a guy he was: about 6’ 3, 200 pounds of solid muscle. Women’s eyes lit up when they saw him. But Jeter never seemed to let his appeal and good fortune go to his head, and was gracious to anyone who approached him, man, woman or child.

Maybe it’s a sad state of affairs when not being a jerk brings adoration. But living on and off the field as a worthy role model to thousands of athletes and kids at a time when role models are in very short supply is certainly a noteworthy achievement.

“The one word to describe Derek Jeter is trustworthy,” said Joe Torre, Jeter’s manager for a decade. “Derek is someone you could always count on to do the right thing.”

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you, indeed.

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The MTA Puts Me Through My Paces

I walk down a Brooklyn alleyway and arrive at the NYC Transit Adjudication Bureau, prepared to fight my $100 bus fare-evasion ticket.

After I wait an hour, the hearing officer swears me in, records my testimony, then sends me back out into the waiting room.

On my right sits Bong Jin, a polite young Korean student, who tells me his tale in halting English. He paid his subway fare, but the turnstile wouldn’t let him through. A woman held open the emergency gate, but when he followed her a transit officer grabbed him and scribbled an “entered without payment” ticket.

“I don’t understand,” he tells me, “but the more I try to explain the angrier he gets.”

They call Bong Jin’s name and hand him a paper. He stares at it, puzzled. “What this mean — dismissed?” I answer, “Not guilty — you are free to go.”

On my left is Shakaya, a restaurant manager who paid her $2.50 bus fare in quarters. Soon after an inspector claimed she shortchanged the box and issued a $50 ticket.

“The box gave that beep that signals when you paid in full,” she tells me, “and the driver gave me my transfer. I know they have a job to do, but catch the bad guys. It kills me to have to take time off for something I didn’t do, but I don’t have money to throw away.”

About an hour later, they call me. I receive my printed verdict: “The respondent’s MetroCard reveals an entry at 1:34 p.m., approximately three minutes prior to the notice of violation, and supports his testimony that he paid his fare.

“Dismissed.”

Justice! But do they plan to pay me for my lost time, or the extra fares I had to pay to and from the hearing, and after they yanked me off the M34 bus way before my stop? What do you think?

The process took almost all morning. If the inspector had scanned my MetroCard when he confronted me, it would have taken two minutes. I paid the fare. Why didn’t he have a mobile reader?

I call MTA headquarters, and get an emailed response from spokesman Kevin Ortiz: “We explored the idea some time ago, but the mobile readers that are available would only be able to say what is left on the card . . . We will look at mobile readers again as we work toward implementing a new fare payment system in 2019.”

So good news! They will be putting us through this unnecessary hell for only five more years.

If we’re lucky.

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