Tag Archives: Brooklyn

One Last Stop Book Review

When we get on to the train or the bus to get to wherever we are going to, we don’t expect to find love. But sometimes, it finds us when we least expect it.

Casey McQuiston‘s new book, One Last Stop, was published in June. New Orleans native August has just moved to New York City to be alone. She rents a room in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Flatbush and lives with a motley crew of roommates. When August is not home, can either be found working at a local pancake restaurant or attending classes at Brooklyn College.

Her life changes when she meets 1970’s rocker chick Jane on the train. What starts a crush turns into something more. The problem is that Jane cannot leave the subway car. She has been stuck on the subway since the 1970’s. The only way to free Jane is for August to open up and not be afraid of looking back at her past.

To say that I was disappointed in this book is an understatement. I loved her first book. By themselves, the individual elements of this novel are fine. I loved the chemistry between August and Jane. The author perfectly captures the kinetic and sometimes less than glamorous reality that comes with living in NYC. The supernatural twist adds another level that is sometimes missing in the modern romance genre, regardless of the gender and/or sexuality of the lead characters.

The problem is that it is hard to read. It drags on to the point where I nearly put it down several times without finishing it. I did eventually get to the end, but not without feeling like I had pushed on a ten pound weight off my shoulders.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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Here, Right Matters: An American Story Book Review

Sometimes, fate gives us a choice. When our conscious speaks, we can either listen to it. The other option is to do nothing.

Former US Army Colonel Alexander Vindman tell his story in his new memoir, Here, Right Matters: An American Story. Published earlier this month, the reader is taken into his world and the Biden-Ukraine conspiracy as he experienced it. Born in 1975 in the former Soviet Union, he emigrated with his widowed father and brothers in the late 1970’s. Raised in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, he joined the military as an adult.

On July 25th, 2019, Vindman had to make a decision. He could stay silent as a certain former President acted in a way that was completely unprecedented (not to mention cross a moral and legal boundary). Instead, he spoke up. This, as we all know, led to the impeachment trial and the public slander of Vindman by certain people in the government and the press.

This book is amazing. It counters the lies and the trash that accuses him of being disloyal and unappreciative of what this country has given him. He was willing to forgo his career and his reputation to stand up to a President who is not only a con-man, but had no intention looking out for anyone except for himself.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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How to Find an Apartment in New York City

Looking for a new home is not easy. In New York City, it is made infinitely harder by the fact that not only is everything more expensive, but compared to other parts of the country, your paying more money for less space.

After living in my last apartment for over a decade, it was time to find a new place to live. Along the way, I learned a few things and I would like to share the lessons I learned.

  1. Know your budget: Before you start any apartment search, it is imperative to know what you can and cannot afford in terms of rent. There is nothing worse than finding your dream home and realizing that it is out of financial reach. On the surface, the budget is the rent. However, there is also the security deposit, the realtor fee( see #3), the cost of moving (see #10), and other miscellaneous expenses that crop up along the way.
  2. Check your credit score: One of the things that a potential realtor and landlord will ask is your credit score. Even if everything else on your application is perfect, there is a chance that you may be rejected because of your past credit history.
  3. Working with a realtor: The upshot of working with a realtor is that they have access to multiple properties. Bear in mind, however, that if you make this decision and find an apartment that you love, there is likely to be a realtor free. Depending on the agency, the fee could be anywhere from 15% of one month’s rent to one to two months of rent. If you choose this path, I highly recommend that you do research and/or ask for recommendations. If they are legit, you will not pay anything until you say yes to the apartment.
  4. Use multiple sources: The more search options you use, the more apartments you will find. When I was looking, I used the advertised sites (Zillow, Streeteasy, etc), Facebook (both the market and groups), Nextdoor.com, and Craigslist. Just be aware that some ads on Craigslist can be a little on the shady side.
  5. Location: While you may want to live in Manhattan, be aware that the cost of rent is higher than other parts of the city. An example is of the Cash Jordan video below. I’ve seen similar units in Brooklyn that cost around $1500 instead of $2500.

6. Get to know your potential neighborhood (if you don’t know it already): Once you have narrowed down the neighborhood(s), it is time to get to know where you might be living. I recommend first using rentcity.co to learn more about the building. Then I used Google and Yelp to figure out where the stores are and how close the public transportation is. After you have seen the unit, take some time to walk around. Not just during the day, but also at night. The last thing you want is to be afraid to leave home after dark or come home after a late night out.

7. Amenities: They can be as simple as an elevator and/or laundry in the building. Or, they can be as fancy as high end finishes, in house gyms, doormen, roof decks, etc. What you have to remember that the more amenities a building offers, it is very likely that the rent will be higher.

8. Be firm, but flexible: I know this sounds like a contradiction, but hear me out. Whether or not you go through an agent or work with the building owners directly, there may be a fair amount of pressure to say yes. I can recall a number of times that I was told that the apartment would go fast and I had to make a decision ASAP. Know what you want, but be realistic. There will always be something to compromise on. The question is, what are you willing to let go of and what stays on your must have list?

9. Be patient: This is a learning process. You may find what you are looking for right away. It can happen. But, be aware that it takes time to put together an image of your next. It took me about six months to find my new apartment. Trust me when I say it was difficult and time consuming. You don’t want to sign a twelve month lease and realize two months in that your miserable.

10. Moving Company: Once you have signed the lease, the next step is figure out how you are going to transfer your belongings. There are two ways to go about this. The first is, if you don’t have a lot of stuff, rent a van and ask friends or family to help. A few years ago, I and a few others helped a couple of friends move. Our reward was free dinner. The second is to hire a moving company. The vetting process is similar to finding a realtor. What I found very helpful is that if you use Yelp, it is setup so that multiple moving companies are contacted in one sitting.

11. Organization is key: This is a messy, complicated process with a lot of details that if missed, could result in a major screwup. The only way to remain calm and in control is to be organized. I used Excel and added a new folder in my email just for this process. Someone else may have another way of going about it, but the point is not to panic and let everything that has to be done overwhelm you.

12. Be prepared to throw-out, sell, or donate: When your settled, you don’t think about how much stuff you have. That realization only comes when you have to start packing. Over the course of those six months, I did a deep dive and really had to think about what I wanted to take with me and what I no longer needed. There are multiple ways to go about doing this. I made several trips to Housing Works. Craigslist, Facebook, and Nextdoor.com also have features in which you can post listings for stuff you want to sell and/or donate.

To anyone going through this, I wish you luck. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it is farther away than you would like it to be.

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The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir Book Review

Our names are more than just a random scrambling of letters. They are our identity, both internally and externally. They also have a say in our fate and the way we live our lives.

Noted writer and technology psychoanalyst Sherry Turkle published her memoir earlier this year. It is entitled The Empathy Diaries: A Memoir. For a good part of her life, Turkle lived with a secret that only those within her immediate family knew. Born in the late 1940’s in Brooklyn to a Jewish family, the man the world knew as her father was not her father. The man who contributed to half of her DNA was out of his daughter’s life. Knowing that she could never speak the truth, she learned to be empathetic to others. As she grew up, attended college, and became a full fledged adult, she learned to deal with her past, the growing addition of computers to our lives, and find her own way in the world.

I am going to be blunt. I was not impressed with this book. While I was very much hooked into the drama regarding her family, I was bored by her career path and various steps she took to get to where she is today professionally. Normally, this would be an enticing topic, given that she came of age during 2nd feminist wave in the 1960’s and 1970’s. But not even that or recognizing certain locations in borough we both grew up in was enough to make me like this memoir.

Do I recommend it? Not really.

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It’s About Common Sense, Not Religion

If we have learned nothing else about Covid-19 since March, it is that the virus neither knows or cares about the labels and boundaries that human beings have created.

In New York City, there are about a dozen zip codes in both Brooklyn and Queens in which there is a rise in Covid-19 cases. Most of these neighborhoods have a large population of Orthodox Jews. Some have claimed that the city’s response is anti-Semitic.

My personal reaction is the claim is mixed. If I felt it was truly anti-Semitic response, I would be direct in saying so. But it is not antisemitism, it is common sense. If anything, their reactions only amplify the anti-Semitic lies and imagery. Being learned in the text and customs of any religion does not stop this disease. Wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and washing your hands frequently will stop this disease.

However, the residents of these zip codes are not completely to blame. If the news reports are true, there are not enough Yiddish speaking tracers to reach out to the community. That failure falls firmly on the shoulders of the Mayor and other officials.

The problem with Covid-19 is that common sense and logic are replaced by fear and anxiety. While those responses are normal, given the circumstances, they will not help us in the long run. We need a clear head and a well constructed plan if we are able to return to some sense of normalcy.

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Rest in Revolution, RBG

Activism is not always done standing on a soapbox with a microphone in one’s hand. It can be done working quietly behind the scenes.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away on Friday. Born and raised in a Jewish family in Brooklyn, she came of age in an era when most women quietly settled in marriage and motherhood. She could have followed the pack, but chose another life. That life led her to become only the second women to join the United States Supreme Court. Serving nearly three decades, she was a feminist and icon in every sense of the word.

I can’t think of any other Supreme Court Justice who has deified on Saturday Night Live. Kate McKinnon is perfection.

Her passing represents more than her physical death. The question comes up of who should replace her. If precedent has anything to say, whomever fills her seat will not be named until after November. But, given the current state of American politics, I would not be surprised if there was already a list of potential replacements waiting in the wings.

In the words of our mutual ancestors, may her memory be a blessing and an inspiration to fight for equality.

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Bill de Blasio, the Anti Semite?

I think it is fair to say that anyone with a reasonable amount of intelligence these days would say that Covid-19 has forced all of us to adjust how we live. I think that it is also fair to say that given the current crisis, it would behoove those in the halls of power to work together.

Last night was the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who according to press reports, died from complications from Covid-19. As is the custom in Hasidic and Orthodox Judaism, the funeral was public with thousands of mourners crowding the streets in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. In normal times, this would be a non-news issue for all but the local community. But we are not living in normal times.

According to an article in Gothamist, the Police department knew about this before hand. But yet, Mayor Bill de Blasio accused the entire Jewish community of New York City of breaking the social distancing rules.

The problem that I have with his accusation is that instead of specifically pointing the finger at those in attendance, he blamed every Jew in New York City. I am a Jew and I live in New York City. Was I at this funeral? No. He should be putting the blame on those who were there, not on all practitioners of that particular religious identity. He should have also spoken to his police officials before making this kind of accusations.

Last week was Yom Hashoah. Given our current political climate, the recent climactic (and bloody) events in Jewish history and the extreme rise in antisemitism, I would think twice before making such a comment.

Which is why I did not vote for this man and will be more than happy to see him out of office when his term ends.

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Unorthodox Review

We live in a world which demands that we conform. If we do not conform, the consequences are numerous.

Unorthodox recently premiered on Netflix. Based on the book, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman, the four part series follows Esther “Esty” Shapiro (nee Schwartz, played by Shira Haas). Married at 19 to Yanky Shapiro (Amit Rahav), Esty is unprepared for the pressures that come with being a married woman in the Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

When the pressure becomes too much, Esty escapes to Berlin where her estranged mother, Leah (Alex Reid) lives. Taken in and befriended by music students, she begins to see that there is life outside of the world that she was born into. But when her husband and his cousin Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch) arrive in Berlin to find her and bring her home, it becomes a game of cat and mouse.

I found this series to be fascinating and human. Its easy to live within the confines and the rules of the community, especially if you are a woman. It is infinitely more difficult to make your own way in the world. Two things stuck out to me as I was watching. The first was that although we see the world through Esty’s eyes, the judgement is not as harsh as it appears to be. The second is the relationships between the characters. Regardless of the societal, cultural and religious beliefs that the audience member holds, there is a universal quality to the the story being told.

I recommend it.

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The Village Review

When you live in an apartment building, your neighbors hopefully become more than your neighbors. They become friends and by extension, family.

This is the premise of the new NBC series, The Village. Set in an apartment building in Brooklyn, the series follows the lives of the residents.

Sarah (Michaela McManus) is a nurse and single mother raising her teenage daughter.  Gabe (Darren Kasagoff) is a young lawyer who has the most unexpected of roommates: his grandfather Enzo (Dominic Chianese). Ava (Moran Atias) is an immigrant who is raising her son alone when ICE comes calling. Nick (Warren Christie), is the newest resident of the building and a veteran. Ron (Frankie Faison) is the super whose passion for his social worker wife, Patricia (Lorraine Toussaint) is as strong as the day they married.

I’m not really a fan of schmaltzy television. When a show goes over the top with drama, I am usually turned off. But I liked The Village. I liked it because it’s my world. As many of you know, I live in New York City. To have a house of one’s own is a luxury. Most people either rent or own their apartment.  I understand these characters and familial bond that goes with living in an apartment building.

I recommend it.

The Village airs on NBC on Tuesdays at 10:00. 

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The Wartime Sisters: A Novel Book Review

Sometimes, the relationship we have with our sibling is a complicated one. Just because we came out of the same womb and have the same parents does mean that we are close to our siblings.

In the new book, The Wartime Sisters: A Novel, by Lynda Cohen Loigman, Ruth and Millie are sisters from Brooklyn in New York City. But they don’t always see eye to eye or get along. Ruth is quiet and bookish. Millie is outgoing and popular. Labelled by their parents and the community around them, both internally resent each other for the treatment they receive. As adults, their relationship is fragile, seething with unspoken emotions.

While World War II rages on, Ruth lives with her officer husband and children in Massachusetts.  When tragedy strikes and Millie has nowhere else to go, she travels to Massachusetts with her young son to live with Ruth’s family. With the sisters living in close quarters, old tensions rise to the surface as new faces challenge both Ruth and Millie.

This book is amazing. The sisters are clearly drawn, allowing the reader to empathize with both Ruth and Millie. The world around them is equally drawn in a way that pulls the reader in and does not let go until the final page.

I absolutely recommend it.

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