Blunt Doctor Cures Headaches

Dear Diary:

A few years ago, I was getting these headaches, which was unusual for me, so I went to see my doctor, a very professional stoic man.

Me: “Doc, I’m getting these headaches. I think I may have a brain tumor.”

Doc: “Everybody with headaches thinks they have a brain tumor. No one really does. (Pause) Well except for this woman last week. She really did. (Sees utter horror in my face). But that’s unusual. And she’s old.”

Soon after, my headaches went away.

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In the Wee Hours in Albany, the Talk Turns to Kumquats

ALBANY — The great kumquat debate began around 1 a.m. on Wednesday, when State Senator George S. Latimer, a Westchester County Democrat, likened a voluminous budget bill to a Christmas gift basket that contained some items that were desirable, but others that were not.

“You like the shortbread cookies, but you don’t like the kumquats,” Mr. Latimer said. “But you have to either take the whole basket or send it back to your aunt and say, ‘Sorry, I didn’t really like this basket.’”

The kumquat in the budget basket, for Senator Latimer, was a proposal to raise the minimum wage, but to do it gradually and not tie it to inflation.

That was just the beginning. In one of the stranger rhetorical runs recently in Albany, more than a half-dozen senators turned to kumquats in their wee-hours musings about various aspects of the state’s $141 billion spending plan, which they ultimately approved around 4:15 a.m. (The Assembly plans to vote Thursday on the budget, which is for the fiscal year that begins on Monday.)

Some lawmakers acknowledged they were not prepared for the fruity furor.

Senator Michael N. Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, said he did not quite know what a kumquat was before the subject arose. “I looked it up; apparently it’s a citrus fruit,” he explained. “I don’t know why there’s so much hostility against it, but nonetheless, there is.”

But even kumquat know-nothings seized on citrus, at least for debating purposes.

“If we’re going to go with the assumption that a kumquat is a bad thing, this is one big kumquat in this revenue bill that we’re dealing with,” Mr. Gianaris said.

The fruit proved irresistible for senators of all persuasions. Senator Kathleen A. Marchione, a Republican from Saratoga County and an outspoken advocate of gun rights, said the state’s new gun law was her kumquat.

And Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, noting that he did not like kumquats, described one budget bill as “a bag full of kumquats.” He said the deal to raise the minimum wage was “the biggest kumquat of all”; two hours later, he compared it to “slipping on a kumquat and falling in a hole, or something.”

Mr. Latimer later seemed to feel some remorse for besmirching an innocent fruit (the kumquat is not mentioned in the state budget, nor in any legislation introduced this year). Speaking shortly before the Senate adjourned, he pulled his cellphone out of his breast pocket and joked that he had received a text message from the New York State Association of Kumquat Growers.

“Apparently they’re not coming to my next fund-raiser,” Mr. Latimer said, drawing laughter from his weary colleagues and their aides. “My apologies to anybody else who I’ve dragged into the Kumquat-gate of tonight.”

The discussion of kumquats added some levity to an overnight session that was otherwise filled with grumbling among Democrats about why they were there in the first place, since the budget was not due for several days. One alluded wistfully to a piece of legislation he sponsored, called the Vampire Voting Act, that would forbid such overnight sessions. The senator, Terry W. Gipson, a Hudson Valley Democrat, acknowledged the kumquat chatter but said he preferred to discuss vampires.

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Flags’ Waving Doesn’t Come Cheap

Nobody can accuse New Yorkers’ patriotism of flagging, not when the city’s parks department alone spends about $160,000 a year keeping its over 1,000 flagpoles in shape.

New York by the Numbers

Mining public data.

If you wonder how New York City’s budget tops $66 billion, more than all but a few states’, it’s not just because of the big-ticket items like education, social services and public safety. The tiny ones add up, too.

The parks department recently awarded a two-year, $320,060 contract to a Westchester County company for the painting and repairing of its 1,112 flagpoles (that’s about one for every 7,500 New Yorkers, not counting the poles on schools and other public buildings).

Last year, 57 poles were repainted or repaired as needed, which would mean an average of nearly $3,000 each. Sounds high.

“Flagpoles can be as high as 80 feet or even over 100 feet tall, requiring skilled painting and repair people,” said Vicki Karp, the department’s director of public affairs.

“For example, in 2012, a 120-foot flagpole in Battery Park South required reroping,” she said. “The repairman was lifted in a boom truck to the truck’s maximum height and then had to climb out of the bucket and complete the climb by hand to the top of the pole. Also in 2012, two 100-foot flagpoles in Bowling Green Park were reroped with steel, and a 75-foot flagpole in Corlears Hook Park was completely repainted.”

The cost, Ms. Karp said, ranges from $20 a foot for simple painting or repairs to $55 a foot for more challenging jobs.

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On Illegal Betting Slips, a Three-Digit Mystery

A copy of a betting slip seized on March 13 during a police raid of a numbers game in Manhattan. Yana Paskova for The New York Times A copy of a betting slip seized on March 13 during a police raid of a numbers game in Manhattan.

So what do all those numbers in a so-called numbers-running racket mean, anyway?

Crime Scene Extra

Michael Wilson writes on crimes in the city.

On Saturday, the Crime Scene column reported the arrests of two people in East Harlem who were accused of running numbers, an age-old sort of illegal neighborhood lottery. Bettors choose three-digit numbers and wager that they will match a prearranged result appearing in horse-racing reports later that day.

The column included a copy of a betting slip seized the day of the arrests, March 13. There were several numbers scratched on the slip without explanation. Here is how the police explained it:

The bettor appears to be placing two wagers on the “New York number,” hence the “N.Y.” at the top of the slip. It was formerly known as the Manhattan number or the “357,” and is not to be confused with the “Brooklyn number.” The winning New York number is usually based on payoffs following the third, fifth and seventh races at the New York track operating that day.

The bettor’s two numbers are 226 and 310. For the first number, the bettor bet $1.50 that the number 226 would win, and placed a combination, or “boxed,” bet of another $1.50 that those digits will appear in any order, like 262 or 622. For the second number, 310, the bet is $1.10 for a straight win and 90 cents for a combination. The total appears below, $5.

The date speaks for itself, but the stamped version is the mark of the numbers joint that day, to prove authenticity if the bettor wins.

But no one won that day. It was the day of the police raid.

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Punched in Herald Square

Dear Diary:

I was recently spending my Sunday morning trudging along the beat-up pavement of 34th and Sixth, idolizing pastel-print cottons hugging porcelain mannequins, daringly dressed for spring.

When cavorting in that part of town, it’s important that I pay attention to the sharp edges of overstuffed Macy’s shopping bags galloping my way and sashay around them like a running back aiming to score a winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. Except here, in Herald Square, I am moving to avoid the black-and-blue marks shopping bags can leave on my thighs when they slap me leg-on.

While I was doing the Argentine tango around a family of tourists weighed down by shopping bags, a lady extended her right arm out to point to an “I Love NYC” magnet hanging in the window of a Duane Reade and, instead, punched me straight in the nose.

The discomfort of the oozing pain that suddenly overcame my face, and the drips of blood that began to stain the supportive pavement, were all silenced when the lady looked me in the eyes, shrugged her shoulders and delightfully walked away.

New York, you’re adorably rough sometimes.

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A Marriage Born Where Tables for 2 Women Were Common

Among many Italian restaurants around Greenwich Village in the early 1960s, Portofino was known for celebrity-spotting, a relaxed atmosphere and dinners that were abundant but affordable.

Building Blocks

How the city looks and feels — and why it got that way.

A half-century later, it has earned another distinction — as a footnote to American history — because it was where Edie met Thea.

The case of Edith S. Windsor, who is challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, is to be heard Wednesday by the Supreme Court. (A related case involving same-sex marriage in California was heard Tuesday.) If you trace Ms. Windsor’s marriage to Thea Clara Spyer back to its beginnings, you arrive at Portofino, 206 Thompson Street, near Bleecker Street.

At a time of high heels and pocket squares, Portofino was refreshingly casual. “Happy go lucky,” said Elio Guaitolini, 79, who worked there and, like the other waiters, often addressed regular customers by their first names.

And those weren’t just any names. Elaine Kaufman, a waitress and manager at Portofino, was perfecting her skills in cultivating the patronage of writers and entertainers, skills she would apply to her own restaurant, Elaine’s, which she opened on Second Avenue near East 88th Street in 1963. That made Portofino good for stargazing. “Don’t turn around just now — he’ll see us — but Bobby Short is over your left shoulder.” “Psst. I could swear that’s Lorraine Hansberry at the table by the window.”

There was more to admire than the celebrities, of course. Craig Claiborne, the restaurant critic of The New York Times, favored the boneless chicken Portofino and the scaloppine with butter and lemon.

But Portofino offered something else — on Friday nights in particular. It offered a place where women who wanted to rendezvous with other women could do so discreetly, with little fear of exposure or entrapment.

That described Ms. Windsor in 1963, divorced and 34 years old. She knew what she wanted but had no clue how to get it without risking her career at I.B.M. “I suddenly couldn’t take it any more,” she said in the documentary “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement” (2010), “and I called an old friend of mine — a very good friend — and I said, ‘If you know where the lesbians go, please take me.’ O.K. So she took me to the Portofino for dinner.”

“The lesbians used to go there on Friday night,” she said, “and somebody brought Thea over and introduced her. And we ended up dancing.”

Ms. Windsor’s lawyers said she was not available to be interviewed this week. (Ms. Spyer died in 2009, two years after the couple were lawfully married in Canada. Because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages, Ms. Windsor had to pay estate taxes that spouses ordinarily avoid, which is at the heart of her legal challenge.)

Nonetheless, a picture emerged of Portofino in the day. “It was not one of the bars the ladies frequented regularly,” said the writer Marijane Meaker (pseudonymously M. E. Kerr), who is now finishing a memoir, “Remind Me.”

“You would be in error to write that Thea and Edie going to the Portofino was what began the landmark case coming up tomorrow,” she said in an e-mail. “It had begun years before, in many bars, mostly in Greenwich Village.” Some of the better-known among them were the Bagatelle, the Laurels, Provincetown Landing, the Sea Colony, Page Three, Seven Steps Down and Lonnie’s Hideaway.

“Most of these little joints were owned and run by organized crime in cahoots with the cops,” the novelist Ann Bannon said. “It was scary to be there if they hadn’t been raided by the police in a while. It meant the restaurant might be overdue for a raid, and you could end up in a paddy wagon on your way to the police station.

“Those were the days when they printed your name in the paper the next day,” Ms. Bannon continued. “And if, as a result, you were outed as L.G.B.T., your life was really turned upside down. It was not uncommon for people to lose their jobs, their friendships, even their family ties, so great was the opprobrium attached to that contaminated identity.”

If someone spotted you leaving Portofino, on the other hand, no suspicions were likely to be attached. The owner was Alfredo Viazzi, a restaurateur who became better known later for Trattoria da Alfredo, at Eighth Avenue and West 12th Street.

“It was a nice mix of people,” Mr. Guaitolini said. “A couple of the waiters were gay, but it was not a big issue. In that environment, it was taken for granted.” Mr. Guaitolini followed Ms. Kaufman to Elaine’s and later opened his own restaurants, including Elio’s at Second Avenue and East 84th Street. Joe Allen, the proprietor of Joe Allen Restaurant at 326 West 46th Street, said Portofino “had an artsy kind of edge to it.”

“It was Elaine’s having worked there that helped her get off the ground when she moved uptown,” Mr. Allen said.

Though Portofino closed long ago, its space still exists. It is now the Malt House, a gastro pub that opened in August 2012. When one of the owners, 33-year-old Eoin Foyle, learned of the connection between Portofino and the case before the Supreme Court, he said he liked the idea of affixing a historical plaque somewhere. Asked his view on same-sex marriage, Mr. Foyle answered simply, “100 percent support,” standing no more than a few feet from where Edie met Thea.

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Steinway to Sell Its Famed Showroom Building

Steinway Hall, the 88-year-old building down the block and across the street from Carnegie Hall where generations of famous and not-so-famous pianists have tried out pianos, is being sold, the piano company and the buyer said on Tuesday.

Steinway said it was selling the building for $46 million. But the total price of the deal could not be determined because the land, which Steinway sold some years ago, is being acquired by the buyer in a separate transaction. The buyer would not disclose the price.

Steinway said that under the terms of the deal, it could remain there for up to 18 months. It has a high-ceilinged showroom for retail customers on the first floor, practice rooms on the second floor and a legendary room in the basement for its fleet of concert pianos for professional pianists. A sheet-music store that has occupied part of the second floor will close next week.

Michael Sweeney, the chairman and chief executive of Steinway Musical Instruments, said the company was just beginning to think about where it would go after the deal closes.

“It’s more likely than not that we will have a downtown retail location as well as Midtown,” Mr. Sweeney said, adding that the operation for professional pianists might not be in the same place but would remain “convenient” to Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.

The company still makes pianos in Astoria, Queens, as it has for more than 100 years, and in Hamburg, Germany.

The buyer is an investment group that is a joint venture of JDS Development Group, the Property Markets Group and Atlantic Partners, according to Michael Stern, the managing partner of JDS Development.

He said the new owner did not intend to tear down Steinway Hall, which was designed by Warren & Wetmore, the same firm that is known for its work on Grand Central Terminal. As for what will happen to Steinway Hall, Mr. Stern said, “We’re not sure yet. We haven’t determined what our plans are for the property.”

JDS Development controls the vacant site just east of Steinway Hall and is ready to break ground on a tower there, he said.

Steinway said that the buyer had put down a $5.6 million deposit and that Steinway expected to end up with $43 million in cash after the deal closed. Mr. Sweeney said the terms were more favorable than the terms under discussion when the company said last fall that it was negotiating the sale of the building. At that time, Steinway said its share of the sale would total $56 million but that $20 million would be put in escrow for as long as Steinway remained in the building.

Under the deal announced on Tuesday, Steinway can continue to use its showroom and other space in the building rent-free for 14 months after the deal closes. Steinway could stay for an additional four months at an agreed-upon rent that was not disclosed.

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After a Series of Setbacks, a Music Collective Reopens Its Doors

To compare the challenges faced by the Issue Project Room, an experimental music collective in Brooklyn, to Homer’s Odyssey might be a stretch, but the challenges faced by the group certainly have all the trappings of an ancient tragedy. The recent performance of “November” — a five-hour piano performance written by Dennis Johnson — was yet another triumph for the organization, which has oscillated between progress and defeat for nearly a decade.

Founded on the Lower East Side in 2002 by the artist Suzanne Fiol, Issue Project Room now resides in its fourth location, an opulent 1926 chamber music hall on Livingston Street in Downtown Brooklyn. The hall was designed by the architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, famous for early 20th-century buildings like the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum and countless other New York City landmarks. Ms. Fiol orchestrated the move shortly before she died of cancer in 2009 by entering the organization into a competition to fill a vacant music hall that had fallen into disrepair under its previous tenant, the New York City Board of Education. As the winning applicant, Issue Project Room secured a rent-free 20-year lease on the 4,800-square-foot space from the new owners, Two Trees Management.

The 2012 debut of Issue Project Room in its new home marked a milestone for the experimental arts community. Flanked by the Brooklyn Academy of Music and St. Ann’s Warehouse, it appeared that the hall was part of Downtown Brooklyn’s evolution into a genuine district for avant-garde performance. But Issue Project Room’s tenure in the space came to an abrupt halt in August, when a 50-pound decoration embedded in the vaulted 40-foot ceiling broke loose, crashing to the floor. No one was in the building at the time. But all performances in the space were put on indefinite hiatus.

After a full engineering review and the removal of more than two dozen similar decorations, Issue Project Room reopened its doors on March 16, to an eager audience of more than 100 patrons at the performance of “November.’’ The spring performance schedule includes a variety of musical forms before what will hopefully be the final setback in the organization’s efforts to carve out a stable home — an 18-month break beginning this fall while the space undergoes $4 million in renovations.

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Rail Splitters Meeting on March 27 to discuss Bloom Energy lawsuits

For those of you who are unaware Governor Markell and five members of the Public Service Commission are being sued by an out of state company called Fuel Cell Inc. and a local resident John Nichols, you may want to attend the Wednesday, March 27 meeting of the Rail Splitter Society at the Ed “Porky” Oliver’s Golf Club in Wilmington beginning at 6pm. John will speak about the lawsuit and his battle against the government and Bloom Energy over their technology. This event is free and open to the public.

View the original invitation:

March 27 Rail Splitter meeting announcement


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Digging Through Mounds of Storm Debris, Seeking Recyclable Objects

In the weeks and months since Hurricane Sandy pummeled the New York City area, cleanup crews have hauled off thousands of tons of wreckage, much of it left on city streets by people trying to piece their lives back together.

But some of that refuse was most likely destined for the international metal market, not the dump.

While sea gulls squawked overhead at Jacob Riis Park in the Rockaways on a recent day, two excavators, each with pincers on the end of their long single arms, clawed through a towering mound of debris collected that day from storm-ravaged areas in Queens or Brooklyn. Since shortly after the storm, the park has served as one of several temporary transfer sites where a steady stream of subcontractors and sanitation trucks brings debris to be sorted.

The operators culled the pile of lumber, plastic toys and fishing poles, looking for anything too valuable or dangerous to send to a landfill. A front-end loader ferried items plucked from the mass – a stroller, a bicycle and a white appliance the size of a washing machine or oven – and carried them to a row of roll-off containers to join water heaters, an appliance flattened out beyond recognition and other mangled metal waiting to be hauled to a recycler in Queens.

As cleanup operations begin to wind down, the tally has climbed to over 430,000 tons of tree limbs, wreckage and demolition debris removed from storm-damaged areas of the city since the end of November. About half the debris was taken by long-haul trucks or barge to landfills in upstate New York and Pennsylvania.

But by separating material, the Sanitation Department was able to divert more than 1,100 tons of metal scrap from storm debris to Sims Metal Management, a facility in Long Island City that also recycles cans and bottles for the city. From Queens, Sims sends metal to its New Jersey facility to be shredded and separated before being sold to manufacturers. The company exports iron-based metal to steel companies, mostly in Turkey, and sends aluminum and other nonferrous metals to China and other places.

Throughout the process of getting the waste from neighborhoods to landfill, the Army Corps of Engineers, contractors and city sanitation workers were also looking to pull out everyday objects that could pose a hazard in landfills, like propane tanks or mercury-containing tubes from older television sets.

“The person that’s working the excavator is really looking for something like that,” said Kimberly Martin, a quality assurance specialist with the Army Corps.

Ms. Martin and other specialists at the Army Corps canvassed hard-hit areas like the Rockaways, Breezy Point or Staten Island, where residents set out storm-damaged appliances, demolition debris and ruined household goods. The Army Corps and other contractors worked with the city’s Sanitation Department to separate hazardous items like paint cans, propane tanks and car batteries, which landfill operators will not accept. Sanitation workers drained oil and gasoline from lawn mowers and captured Freon from refrigerators and air-conditioners.

“The contractor cannot pick those items up until it has been tagged” as drained by the Sanitation Department, Ms. Martin said. The Army Corps contractors are also responsible for cleaning up after the city demolishes houses left uninhabitable by the storm, an effort that is still ongoing.

Found inside houses before demolition were leftover paint, solvents, household cleaners, corrosive liquids, flammable liquids, mixed oils, antifreeze, windshield-washer fluid, bleach, pesticides, fire extinguishers with dry chemical powder, and fluorescent light bulbs – hazardous goods which the federal Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of disposing. When encountered at demolition sites or transfer sites, hazards including discarded ammunition, objects containing mercury, and laboratory or industrial chemicals are set aside for collection by the E.P.A., which sorts the materials to be recycled, if possible, or disposed.

Since November, the E.P.A. collected and processed about 150,000 potentially hazardous items from New York State, mainly from the city and Long Island. The vast majority of the chemicals were in containers that were five gallons or smaller, but the agency also processed hundreds of drums, thousands of propane tanks and more than 1,600 cylinders filled with compressed gas.

“If labels were located on containers, such as drums, totes, tanks, or other large containers, the E.P.A. made every effort to contact the owner for retrieval,” Elias Rodriguez, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote in an e-mail. “For items that were not claimed – such as propane tanks, batteries, pressurized cylinders – the E.P.A. contacted companies to recycle the items. Wastes that were not able to be reclaimed, recycled or reused were sent to disposal facilities licensed to receive specified types of waste.”

After months of having crews toil on long shifts, agencies are beginning the process of ending the cleanup effort. The Army Corps plans to wrap up the bulk of its operations by the middle of April. At Floyd Bennett Field, the Army Corps burned or chipped more than 102,000 cubic yards of tree limbs and trunks felled during or after the storm.

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