Tag Archives: New York City

conclusion for lab report

My son Daniel is petrified of spiders.

We live in the woods.

There are spiders in the woods.

Therefore, Dan will sometimes see spiders in the house.

He recently described how at 1 in the morning he saw one that he killed but then saw another bigger one on the wall.

The second one he described, with a scrunched-up face of disgust, as being gigantic with a big brown body.

When he went to kill it, it scrambled away.

So what did he do?

He FaceTimed one of his friends who told him: You need to kill it or it will keep you up all night knowing it’s there.

“It was fucking huge,” he recalled later. “I had to either kill myself or burn the house down. There were no other choices.”

He did eventually get a portable vacuum to make it go away.

All the while he was telling the story, he made gagging noises as if he was so repulsed he was going to barf.

Now look, we all have our phobias and things about creepy crawlies that make our skin crawl.

For me, spiders are no big whoop.

They are a part of nature, good for the environment and largely harmless enough.

Unless, of course, you are talking about the kinds of 5 dating tips for guys or camel spiders, in which case, all bets are off!

Living in the woods, we’ve had our encounters with mice, bears and bats.

Eventful yes, and sometimes unpleasant, but relatively OK.

(Full disclosure: I was not here when the bat got in the house so I can speak as if though it were no big deal. My wife and son might have a different opinion!)

But what really gets me to shriek in terror?

My overwhelming fear is of roaches, water bugs or these ridiculous creepers called palmetto bugs that they have in Florida.

As a kid growing up in the Bronx and more specifically as a newspaper delivery boy, I’d encounter the godawful water bugs, especially in the halls of the basement apartments.

To this day, I can recall with clarity a water bug perched atop the doorway of a customer I was delivering to.

It was the length, I swear, of a dollar bill, its long thin antennae twitching.

I was so panicked at the sight of this thing, I flung the paper like a discus and fled up the stairs.

From that day forward, that was my M.O. in delivering to that door: Fear, fling, flee.

I know I am not the only one to share in this fear, which leads to this tale:

Pedro and I are at a sports bar in Queens, about two blocks from his place.

His phone buzzes. It’s his beloved wife.

Pedro (reading the text): “Ugh. Vanessa thinks she spotted a water bug in the hallway in the apartment.”

Phone buzzes.

Update: “OK, yeah, there was one and she’s paralyzed it with hairspray.”

Phone buzzes.

Update: “OK, we have to leave. She’s got it captured and immobilized under a plastic container but she needs me to get rid of it.”

We arrived, and sure enough, there it was under a plastic container with a flashlight atop it no less.

I know Pedro was exasperated at this minidrama, but in her defense, Vanessa at least did not threaten to burn the house down.

Captured critter.

The News for the Daily News Is Grim and I’m Taking It Personally

I will let industry experts pick apart why Tronc, the corporation that owns The Daily News, decided to slash its newsroom staff by half.

I know by heart the back story of the decline of newspapers but  I don’t care about The News’s circulation or revenue figures.

For me, what’s happening to The Daily News is personal.

The News was THE newspaper I grew up with in the Bronx.

It helped develop my love of newspapers, with the comics, horoscopes and Ann Landers my gateways to the paper. I would get lost in the Sunday comics of “Broom Hilda,” “Beetle Bailey,” “Blondie” and “Dick Tracy.”

The first article I read in The News was a Rex Reed review of the movie “Carrie.” (He didn’t like it but the review was so wonderfully bitchy!)

The News was also a source of information for school projects, like sunset, sunrise and the phases of the moon and for a time it published your Biorhythms. (Hey, it was the 70s!)

My family did not subscribe to the “TV Guide” that was so popular back then. Instead, we relied on the “TV sheet” — a pullout listing of the week’s television shows that The News carried on Sundays.

Befitting its longtime slogan as “New York’s Picture Newspaper,” it once featured a two-page center spread filled with photos. Sometimes there were feature shots from the tops of bridges where workers toiled or scenes from beaches on a hot day.

I started to read the columns by Jimmy Breslin, the TV critic Kay Gardella, gossip purveyor Liz Smith and later the Phantom of the Movies, who wrote passionately about Grade Z horror and sci-fi flicks.

I remember the Night Owl edition and people lining up at the candy store across the street from my apartment on Saturday nights to get the early version of the Sunday paper.

The News on Sundays was a monster paper that came in three sections: the comics, which were loaded with advertising inserts and coupons, the arts and entertainment section, and then the main book, which was that day’s daily newspaper.

I delivered The News for five years starting when I was 13. The sections would come in stages over the week and had to be assembled on Sunday morning.

At my peak, I had more than 100 Sunday customers and often had to make two trips to complete my appointed rounds. I broke many a shopping cart under the weight of the papers.

The work had its rewards as I was named The Daily News newspaper carrier of the year from the Bronx and won an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World for four – an achievement I still brag about!

As I got older, I appreciated The News’s sass and tone. It was fearless in calling out elected leaders (“Ford to City: Drop Dead”) and embodied a sense of social responsibility.

It led investigations, spoke truth to power and rooted for the little guy. It celebrated and reflected New York City – warts and all.

In the past decade or so, The News became a shadow of its former self and relied on gimmicky front pages that soured me on reading it. While my passion for The News may have faded, I still pray it rallies.

I certainly hope it does not go the way of another beloved tabloid, New York Newsday, where I cut my teeth as a college intern and worked with journalistic luminaries. That tab closed in 1995 after 10 years.

Over the decades, The News has survived strikes, blackouts and a bankruptcy, so don’t count it out.

Maybe a wealthy benefactor will step forward to rescue The News the way Jeff Bezos did for The Washington Post, John Henry did for The Boston Globe or more recently Patrick Soon-Shiong did for the The Los Angeles Times.

If such a white knight were to come forward, the front page could then declare: “Daily News to Tronc: Drop Dead.”

 

Rats?! Oh, Hell No!

I was walking along Eighth Avenue on a Sunday night, headed to Penn Station after work when a woman coming in the opposite direction cast her eyes to the sidewalk, scooted to a stop Fred Flintstone-braking style and said loudly: “Oh hell no!”

I looked where she was looking and said in return: “Oh yeah. Believe it.”

The object of our conversation was a few feet away and about 10 inches long: Rattus norvegicus, better known as the brown rat.

I was as skeeved out as she was but just did a better job of hiding it.

It’s a ritual of mine on Sunday nights that I walk by the garbage from restaurants and cafes that is piled high for Monday morning pick-up.

I scan the sidewalk for rats coming up from the sewer grates (and God only knows where else) and swarm the garbage.

I cringe as I see tourists and other unsuspecting pedestrians walk right near the piles and I want to scream out a warning!

I hug the walls of the buildings near these hot spots and sprint like an Olympian or walk waaaay the hell out into the street.

I figure I will take my chances with an oncoming cab.

In a case of if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them, I recently read a book by Robert Sullivan called “Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants.”

It was a deep dive into the history of rats, their behaviors and their environment, especially in Manhattan.

Gotta say, it was interesting in a “Oh hell no!” kind of way.

For instance, did you know:

  • Male and female rats may have sex 20 times a day and a female can produce 12 litters of 20 rats a year. Shudder!
  • 26 percent of all electric cable breaks and 18 percent of phone cable disruptions are caused by rats.
  • 25 percent of all fires of unknown origin are caused by rats.

The author staked out an alleyway in Lower Manhattan at night for a year, sometimes wearing night-vision goggles, to see firsthand how they acted. He also interviewed exterminators and sanitation workers.

He also described the shrieking noises they make when they fight for food and the pecking order that comes with being the biggest and baddest in a colony of them.

I read the book with a blend of disgust and awe.

As a “Publisher’s Weekly” review described it: “This book is a must pickup for every city dweller, even if you feel like you need to wash your hands when you put it down.”

Before my weekly ritual avoiding contact with rats, I had lived a largely rat-free existence.

Mice? Yes, living in the woods/country will lend itself to that.

But rats? No.

The closest near-encounter I had was in 1986, when I was an intern reporting for New York Newsday.

For one assignment I shadowed the Department of Health’s rat patrol.

That led me to a vacant lot in Upper Manhattan, ankle deep in garbage, rotting food and debris. I distinctly remember thinking I wanted to see a rat but at the same time I really didn’t want to see one.

I found the article I wrote. In it, I quoted a veteran, a guy named George Laws.

The story described how a nearby resident said she saw rats every night.

“They’re that big,” she told Laws excitedly, pointing to her two-foot-long pet dog.

Laws, who had been exterminating for 28 years, shook his head and replied, “If I see a rat that big, I’ll leave New York myself.”

Related:

Oh Rats! A Subway Stare-Down That I Lost

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Movies: Which Ones Are the Best?

In this installment of our favorite movies set or depicting New York City, Silvio weighs in.

“Fort Apache, the Bronx” (1981)

What a controversial film. There was massive pre-premiere hostility in the form of protests by Hispanic groups about the treatment of Hispanics in the film.

It did nothing to stop the release and did everything to increase its box office draw.

Regardless of the content, controversy or Paul Newman’s beautiful blue eyes, this movie at the time was a cinematic pariah but today is a visual snapshot of a Bronx I remember.

In the mid 1980s, I worked in the very area they used as a backdrop.

I worked at two different knitting mills on Third Avenue between Tremont Avenue and 176th Street.

Before that, my father worked there in the ’60s and ’70s. As a toddler and whatever it is that is the next stage after toddler, I ran around the filthy floors that later in life I would patrol as a supervisor in a knitting mill.

One of the reasons this movie resonates with me is the authentic Bronx locations.

When Paul Newman and Ken Wahl chase after a purse snatcher, the event starts right at the corner of Third and Tremont Avenues.

The building behind the police car is Expert Knitting Mills, where my father and I worked.

In fact, the corner clearly visible behind the screeching police land yacht was a pizza parlor where I spent many a lunch break.

The police chase the thief up the steps of Tremont Park.

In the scene blocking Newman, the facade on the building directly behind him are the windows of my knitting mill.

Just behind those windows were huge tables and huge scissors where I dropped off knitted pieces for quality inspection from the owners.

The movie’s location supervisor did a great job in identifying visual representations of the Bronx at that time.

The final scene features a genuine backdrop of the burned-out South Bronx that could never be recreated in a studio with master prop and studio coordinators.

Today that backdrop is gone. Fortunately, it’s lost to history and preserved only in pictures and film.

“The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three”

Four heavily armed men daringly kidnap and take hostage an entire New York subway train with passengers, gripping the city in paralyzing suspense.

They pledge to carry out hideous consequences if their ransom demands are not met within one short hour.

The only way to teleport the viewer of this fine thriller is to set the scene in an actual subway car under New York City.

That’s exactly what the creators of the original “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” (1974) did.

Court Street Station, an abandoned subway station since 1946, doubled from different angles as two of the stations depicted in the film, 28th Street and Grand Central.

A stretch of track and an actual subway car were also used, extending the realism of the drama.

Today that abandoned station serves as the New York City Transit Museum.

Above ground, wide shots of the desperate car and motorcycle transportation of the ransom money were shot on location through Centre Street, Park Avenue, Astor Place and 28th Street.

A wonderful scene with uniformed police and the film’s New York mayor is captured with the backdrop of the 28th Street subway entrance.

Earlier in the film, one of the four gunmen, Mr. Green, portrayed by the late, great Martin Balsam, is seen descending into the 59th Street subway entrance.

Near the end of the film, when he is seen exiting the subway, it is through an actual subway grate in the sidewalk on Union Square East (between East 15th and 16th Streets) in Manhattan.

I love the incredible attention to detail this film took in using New York as its backdrop, but also equally important was the accurate representation of the character’s New York accents and attitudes.

A fun fact: A train’s name designation comes from the originating station and the scheduled time it left the station.

In the case of the film’s No. 6 train, it left the Pelham Bay Park Station in the Bronx at 1:23, hence Pelham 123.

After the movie was released, the No. 6 train would never be scheduled to leave Pelham station at 1:23 a.m. or p.m. by order of the New York City Transit Authority.

“A Bronx Tale”

Growing up in the Bronx was incredibly diverse, fun, scary, exciting and many times eventful. I loved every minute of it — looking back at it through nostalgic glasses.

The title character of “A Bronx Tale” goes through his own growing up in the tough streets of the Bronx, caught between his friends, the streets, the local mob men and his dad.

This movie, directed by one of New York’s favorite sons, Bobby De Niro, was written by a Belmont native, Chazz Palminteri, and it is semi-autobiographical.

The Belmont area of the Bronx is called “The Bronx’s Little Italy.”

Today, there is even an emblem with the Italian flag’s colors in the road at the corner of Arthur Avenue and East 187th Street. That is the street that the narrator of the film, Cologero Anello, tells us he grew up in.

An emblem with the colors of the Italian flag is painted on the street .

He even points out his stoop. I remember having to explain what a stoop is to my friend from Alabama and his wife who were watching the movie with me and my wife.

The characters were so authentically New York that it really sells the movie.

The locations too give a real feel of 1960s New York, but the filmmakers had to go out of the Bronx to find the buildings still standing, unchanged that gave that authentic 1950 through 1960s New York look.

The locations for Calogero’s stoop, the Chez Bippy bar on the corner and all the street scenes were in Astoria, Queens. Although it was not the Bronx, it was still New York.

A fun fact: De Niro plays a bus driver. In order to drive the bus during filming, he got a commercial driver’s license with an airbrakes license after training with the New York City Transit Authority.

“Saturday Night Fever” (1977)

We find Vinnie Barbarino playing Tony Manero, a Brooklyn boy who works in his neighborhood paint store in Bay Ridge and he is the borough’s best disco strutter.

He’s great on the dance floor or dancing on the Verrazano Bridge. Just don’t hit his hair!

“Escape From New York” (1981)

Yeah, yeah, I know.

Except for the shots on Liberty Island and that famous cooper lady in the background, nothing else was filmed in New York.

John Carpenter worked magic to make St Louis and Los Angeles locations take on the grit and attitude of the titular city in the lawless future of “1997.” Ha!

 

Lights! Camera! New York!

If there is one thing guys can argue about, it’s movies.

Put three guys in a room and ask them to rank the best movie in any category and you will get five different opinions.

Now, suppose these guys are New Yorkers.

You can get five different opinions — this time with attitude.

Which bring us to this: Picking the top three movies that were either set in New York City or best depicted it.

This was all set in motion by an article last year in The New York Times that attempted to tackle this issue.

At AMR, we are an opinionated stubborn lot, each with our own heartfelt views of movies and each with our own personal favorites for which movie shined the best spotlight on our hometown.

So over the next few days, each of us will weigh in with our “Best Of” lists. Turns out some of our picks overlap but many do not.

What movies set in New York City were your favorites? How far off base are our picks?

Let us know. You can comment on our Facebook page or write us at amr@aboutmenshow.com

Or be like a New Yorker and just scream at your computer screen loud enough to wake the neighbors.

Here’s my picks:

“The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three”

For me, this is the quintessential New York movie. Maybe it explains why it ranks as my all-time favorite (Shhhhhh….Don’t tell “Star Wars.”)

Let’s start with the basics: The No. 6 line (aka Pelham line aka Lexington Avenue line ) was the one I grew up with, so it’s close to home.

The thing about “Pelham” is that it so perfectly captured the attitude, passion, dark humor and grittiness of New York and its 8 million inhabitants.

The plot is terrific and the dialogue is like listening to a beautiful symphony of smart-ass street-savvy New Yorkers.

The authentic feel of the cop cars, the politics and the trains coupled with the dynamic soundtrack make this a must-see celebration of the city.

“The Warriors”

This is another one of those dark gritty movies with some smaller light moments to break up the grim.

Set largely at night with an overwhelming sense of menace lurking behind every corner, this 1979 movie captured the dispirited nature of New Yorkers who were contending with high crime and a broken subway system.

Despite its almost relentless hopelessness, there does come triumph in the end.

It’s a bit schlocky in places and maybe the production values are not the highest, but it stands out for the sense of place it delivers about the city.

Bonus: In recognition of a big blowout cast reunion in 2015, I interviewed one of the leading actors, Terence Michos, who played Vermin in the movie.

Vermin Speaks! An About Men Radio Podcast Interview With “The Warriors” Star

​”The Pope of Greenwich Village”

This one is a personal favorite again because it hit close to home.

I was in college when it was being shot, with many key scenes filmed at “my” subway stop on the No. 6 line at Castle Hill Avenue.

I recall the big stage lights and crew occupying one of the entrances to the subway and being there for a long stretch. It was exciting to see a bit of Hollywood come to the Bronx!

There was an old Irish bar on the corner of Castle Hill and Westchester Avenues where some of the key characters, played by Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts, meet.

That it was shot in a place so familiar to me lent the film an air of authenticity that was easy to relate to.

You know, it’s like one of those things where you see a scene on the big screen and you go: “I know where that is!”

BTW, as a total aside, AMR posse member Pedro and I both have had our brush with Hollywood, appearing as extras in a crowd protest scene in the 1983 movie “Daniel,” starring Timothy Hutton.

We had to get to the Lower East Side super early on a winter’s morning, wear dark clothing and donated our day’s pay to a charity.

If you want to see what we look like, click here. It’s truly a “Where’s Waldo?” moment.

And no, I still have not watched the movie.

 

 

 

 

Who’s a True New Yawker? We Put Ourselves to the Test

In this episode of About Men Radio, Chris and Pedro debate the finer points of country vs. city living.

The discussion is not exactly the opening credits of “Green Acres,” but let’s just say that Chris was more the Eddie Albert character in this talk and Pedro identified more strongly with Eva Gabor.

(Well, that’s also because he looks better in a dress than Chris does, but that’s a conversation for another time…)

This was all set into motion when Chris wrote a blog post about how he eschewed his once native Bronx ways and embraced life in the woods.

I Am Happy to Be an Inmate in the Green Prison

Pedro took umbrage to this — his exact words were “I take umbrage to this!” — and off to the races they went.

If you are a native New Yawker, a wannabe native, a visitor to the city or never ever been here, you will enjoy the banter.

Listen to the quiz Chris gives Pedro to test his bona fides as a true New Yorker.

And just remember: I’m walkin’ he-ayah!

 

I Am Happy to Be an Inmate in the Green Prison

When people ask how long my commute is to New York City from the Poconos and I tell them it’s two hours one way, they look at me horrified.

“Two hours?!” they say. “That’s crazy!”

No, I will tell you what is crazy:

Paying rent for a postage stamp-sized apartment in New York City that is twice the amount or more than I do for my spacious house in the Poconos.

Or how about dealing with the traffic and congestion of city life?

The sidewalks on 8th Avenue in Manhattan are so crowded that I regularly walk in the street.

Then, of course, there is the city’s “wildlife.” I’m not talking about squirrels or pigeons — I’m talking about rats.

At night, they come up out of the sewer grates and swarm the garbage that is left curbside to be picked up in the morning.

I am not ashamed to admit that near one particular hive of rat activity, I hug the wall to be as far away from the trash as I can.

Then I run — and silently scream.

In Pike County, I can live in the woods with “real” wildlife: Bears, deer, raccoons, skunks, eagles, chipmunks, fox and humming birds, for instance.

The number of cars that pass my street on a single day I can count on one hand. The noisiest it gets is when the garbage truck comes by once a week.

In the city, the incessant wail of sirens of ambulances or fire trucks stuck in traffic pierces your brain like an ice pick driven into your ears.

Before you paint me as some kind of country hayseed, understand that I grew up in the Bronx in what were the very unglamorous ’70s.

I was a city kid through and through.

I recall making an overnight visit to a former Bronx neighbor who had moved to Long Island and not being able to sleep because it was too quiet.

And when I first moved out of the Bronx to a community in the Adirondack Mountains, I regularly visited the city as often as I could to take in its distinct aroma.

But as I’ve gotten older, I have come to appreciate the peace and quiet and privacy that comes with living in “the sticks.”

I’m not alone.

Nearby Monroe County, Pa., ranked among the top 10 extreme commutes in the country, according to a 2013 study by the Census Bureau. Just look at how many people take the commuter buses into Manhattan.

Those people have decided that the quality and affordability of life, schools and housing in Northeast Pennsylvania make the long commute worth the while.

Of course nothing can match New York City for its cultural offerings, food choices and diversity. And yes, areas of the Poconos have been hard hit with foreclosures, skyrocketing school taxes and a lack of high-paying jobs.

But it’s all a tradeoff.

I’ve heard the Poconos referred to as the “green prison” because of its woodlands, isolation and long winters.

That’s OK.

I’d rather live in a green prison than a concrete jungle.

 

Recalling ‘Baretta’ and the Blackout

“Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Don’t do it!”

In the mid 1970s that was the intro for the hit TV show “Baretta” about a street-smart quick-talking undercover cop with the NYPD who lived with an old man and a cockatoo.

When “Baretta” came on, it was dad-and-me TV. Dad and I would watch Robert Blake as Baretta ham it up with Huggy Bear. (Google it. He was street ’70s cool!)

Am I going down this nostalgic path to wax poetically about Robert Blake, a child actor of “Our Gang” turned tough guy actor who was later accused of murdering his wife by shooting her in a car outside a restaurant and then acquitted?

Nope.

It’s to remember where I was when the lights went out in New York City on July 13, 1977.

History shows that the electrical shutdown started at about 8:55 p.m. with a lightning strike in Yonkers.

I didn’t know anything about that at the time.

But what I do remember is watching “Baretta” with my dad in our Bronx apartment.

The screen suddenly went blank and everything in the apartment went black.

My dad enlisted me to find out what happened. So I went to the first floor where my dad rented space for his knitting factory.

As I went up the stairs with a flashlight, I looked outside and noticed just how freaking dark it was out there.

The house we rented was on a corner and one side was parallel to a major highway. Our corner had at least three light poles so it was never dark — except that day.

Looking out the factory’s ground floor windows, something our basement apartment lacked, I could see a very dark Bronx street.

It was something I had never seen before.

“Dad?!” I cried out. He told me to talk to the landlord.

As I went up the stairs and gained a higher vantage point, I could see more of the street and streets on the other side of the highway.

There were no lights anywhere!

My landlord screamed to go back downstairs and turn on a portable radio to hear the news. The Bronx was blacked out. Later I learned it was wider than that.

So here we were on a hot July night with absolutely no lights.

What to do?

Our landlord got into a post-Fourth of July mood and broke out the fireworks that he did not sell the previous week.

He still had a bunch of firecrackers, Roman candles and bottle rockets.

He gave them to me and I remember my dad joining in.

My mom came up with my infant brother. My middle brother, who was too young to light the fireworks, was running back and forth delighting in the explosions I was orchestrating.

The previous week I may have been able to get my hands on a few firecrackers and bottle rockets but now our usually stingy and sour landlord was gleefully opening up a trunk full of leftover fireworks.

I was in heaven.

Rich, my friend from around the block and now About Men Radio brother, and I talked the next day about the looting and pandemonium that happened all night long in the city.

We later found out about the people in the subways and in Shea Stadium when the ballpark went dark and the stores that were broken into.

There were stories of good Samaritans, New Yorkers helping each other or simply gathering outside their buildings to meet their neighbors.

Or in my case, blow up some fireworks with them.

Related:

Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?

Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?

Each generation shares some moments in history that leave an indelible mark, and everyone alive at the time can recount where they were and what they were doing.

Where were you when John F. Kennedy was shot? When the space shuttle Challenger blew up? During 9/11?

For me, one of those moments was: Where were you when the lights went out?

I am not talking about the blackout of 1965, or the one in August 2003, in which some 50 million people in Southeast Canada and eight Northeastern states were without power for as much as two days in what turned out to be the biggest blackout in North American history.

While that was terrible — 11 people died and there was a reported $6 billion in damages – the blackout that stayed with me the most happened 40 years ago this week.

It was the evening of July 13, 1977, and New York City was enveloped in oppressive heat and humidity.

Our third-floor apartment was like the inside of a brick oven.

We had no air-conditioning. The fans did little more than loudly move the hot air around.

I was getting out of the shower when the lights went out. I thought we had blown a fuse.

It turned out the entire city blew a fuse — a really, really big one.

It was bad enough that there was no power to keep the fans – as ineffective as they were – blowing, but we soon discovered we were out of water too.

Our building in the Bronx had a tower at the top. Water would be pumped to the tower and gravity-fed to the apartments.

No power, no pump.

No pump, no water.

People lined up at open hydrants and formed bucket brigades, filling pails and carrying them back home to “flush” toilets.

I checked on my older customers on my newspaper route to make sure they were OK.

That meant in some cases walking up 10 or more flights of stairs with buckets of water. (I was a lot younger then.)

Hallways and stairwells were as dark as midnight in a coal mine.

They lacked windows so no natural light got in. On some stairwells, small candles were lit like votives in a church.

I recall listening to WINS news radio with its signature theme music.

(“You give us 22 minutes, we’ll give you the world,” the announcer would say as the rapid fire teletype music would play, conveying a sense of urgency.)

We gathered around my sister’s Toot-A-Loop, a Panasonic doughnut-shaped radio, and heard the updates about the violence, looting and arson racking the city.

Fires consumed city blocks. In the end, more than 1,600 stores were damaged and more than 3,700 people were locked up.

The city was at a nadir, having gone through a fiscal crisis that saw its public services slashed and quality of life eroded.

For a city that was already down on the canvas, the blackout was a kick in the mouth.

But you know what? As bad as it was — and don’t get me wrong, it was bad — there was also an esprit de corps that emerged among New Yorkers.

They rallied in a time of crisis.

Strangers helped strangers as they had during blizzards and the way they would 24 years later during the Sept. 11 attacks.

Civilians took to intersections to direct traffic where signal lights were out, freeing up cops to do more important duties.

Mr. Diamond, the owner of the Carvel ice cream store across the street, gave away ice cream.

Neighbors checked on each other and offered flashlights and batteries.

The blackout brought out the worst — and some of the best — in people.

In the heat of the summer of 1977, the mettle of New Yorkers was tested and it was strong.

 

 

 

Remembering Prince in Concert in New York City

Young men coming of age in the 1980’s in New York City was an amazing time, with many stories to tell.

One of my favorites takes place at our go-to club, The Ritz, where many bands of the time were heard and good times were had.

1984: We show up at the club to see Sheila E, a protégé of an artist at the time known as Prince, knowing that he would be a shoe-in to show up to promote himself.

sheila24n-1-webShe puts on a great show, and even gives us a few thrills as she has wardrobe malfunctions and flashes us some flesh.

The night could only get better.

She plays her last song and leaves the stage but comes back out for an encore.

When she returns, the music strikes up for a song she has a duet with you-know-who.

When she introduces him, the crowd goes wild.

They finish and go off stage but now the crowd is stomping and cheering for him to come back out.

As he returns to the stage, holding a tambourine in each hand, he bows and tosses the instruments out to the audience exactly as he does in his hit movie.

Unfortunately we were nowhere near where they landed, so no souvenirs for us.

Prince performs a couple of his hits and brings down the house.

What a fantastic impromptu, intimate experience!

But the fun wasn’t over.

We worked our way down to the men’s room before leaving. What we found there has stayed in my mind.

Two lucky people left the club that night with tambourines touched by Prince himself.

The guy we saw in the bathroom didn’t get one but one had skimmed across the top of his head and slit open his scalp.

He was bleeding like a stuck pig, smiling his ass off since it was something “given” to him by that famous artist.

Lucky dude.

I guess every time he scratches his head and feels that scar where no hair grows he’ll remember that fantastic night at the Ritz.

An Interview With Terence Michos, Vermin From “The Warriors”

Terence Michos walks from the parking lot wearing an aqua blue V-neck shirt, khaki pants and sunglasses.

From a distance, it’s hard to reconcile that the man headed toward you is, in fact, the actor who played Vermin in the hit 1979 movie “The Warriors.”

Gone is the baby fat in the face. The curly locks are missing. The shoulders are not quite as broad.

But when he gets closer, and he smiles, the disarming and mischievous face of the lothario that Michos once played is unmistakable.

At 61, Michos would be the envy of men half his age.

He’s fit and trim. His midriff is even more flat now than when he bared it while wearing the leather vest of the Warriors. And even with crow’s feet at play around his eyes, his face exudes a youthful vitality.

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Michos is going to need some of that energy on Sunday when he and other cast members gather for what promises to be a blowout reunion in Coney Island.

Expect to see a huge turnout of fans, many replicating the costumes of some of the colorful gangs featured in the movie.

Think of it as cosplay for hardcore junkies of “The Warriors.”

But what’s not to like about this gritty, of-its-era depiction of New York City at its nadir in the 1970s?

The movie, with its haunting nighttime footage set against a foot-tapping syntho soundtrack, was a safe way for non-New Yorkers to view the stew of the city’s graffiti-covered subways, runaway crime and the specter of street violence.

And for those who grew up in the city in that decade, it was a chance to glimpse real-life neighborhoods and subway stations on film while rooting for underdogs.

(The Warriors are falsely accused of fatally shooting a charismatic leader who, at a summit in the Bronx, seeks to unite all the city’s gangs. The Warriors then have to make their way from the Bronx to their home turf in Coney Island, all the while crossing through rival gang territory and being pursued by the cops.)

For Michos, the all-day appearance at “The Warriors: Back to Coney,” signing autographs and interacting with fans will be a throwback to the intense experience of what it was like to make the movie.

“It was a wild, wild grueling time,” he recalled of the filming, which took place at numerous New York City locales.

The crew filmed in the middle of the night and the physical demands on the actors were not for the faint of heart.

Those scenes of Michos and other members of the Warriors being chased by other gang members and running at a full-out sprint?

Scenes like those were shot over and over again, 20 or 30 times a night, to get it just right.

And the scene at the Lizzies’ hangout where a night of amorous adventure turns to gunfire and mayhem?

Michos was hurling himself over that couch 15 or 20 times – without the benefit of padding.

In fact, he said he did all of his own stunts, with the exception of when his character got thrown into the mirror in the subway station men’s room.

He recalled going with some of his co-stars, hat brims pulled low, to theaters where the movie was playing and watching as movie-goers erupted in cheers and excitement at the fisticuffs.

Laughing, Michos remembers seeing real-life gang members sitting in the theater and saying to their girlfriends: “I can fight, but I can’t fight like those guys do!”

Michos was relieved not to be recognized, lest real life imitate fiction and he and his co-stars be challenged to a brawl.

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Michos was 25 when the movie was shot. His co-stars were also young.

It was a time of heavy partying, Studio 54 and cocaine, he said.

But not for him.

“I was probably more boring than all the other guys on the set,” he said.

He would tell his movie mates: “‘I’m going home. You guys hold it together.’ I would be telling them about my relationship with God. They loved me. They wouldn’t bring me to their parties, but they loved me.”

But lest you think he was all a goody two-shoes, Michos was quick to note that he shared with his character a weakness for the ladies.

“That was always there,” he said with a grin.

For Michos, the role of Vermin was almost not to be. He’s got the hit TV show “Taxi” to thank with propelling him to “Warriors” fame.

Here’s what happened: The movie auditioned thousands and originally did not pick Michos.

The actor Tony Danza also tried out, and those doing the casting liked him, so he got the part.

Michos went home, had dinner with his girlfriend and cried.

While coming to terms with the rejection, he said he prayed. “I said, ‘Lord, I’m yours.’”

Danza got a starring role in “Taxi,” which pulled him out of “Warriors” and Michos was called back for a second audition.

The movie-makers settled on him for Vermin, who, while a lover, was also a fighter.

“I think it was a good role for me because I think the film was enhanced by that little comedic twist, those little jokes that lightened things up a little.”

He said it’s not unusual six times a day to hear fans recite their favorite pieces of his dialogue back to him:

“Those cats were some desperate dudes.”

“I got the big one.”

“I’m sick of waiting for trains.”

His sense of comedic timing was nowhere better on display than in the tense moments leading up to the brawl in the men’s room.

Mercy, played by Deborah Van Valkenburgh, objects to being led into the restroom by the Warriors’ warlord, Swan.

“Wait a minute,” she says. “I can’t go in there. It’s a men’s room.”

Vermin’s retort is “Are you kidding?” but Michos said the line lacked punch.

So he delivered the line but also improvised.

“I just reached out and grabbed her and she went flying and the house came down.”

He grew up in what was then a much more rural Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

He was interviewed at a playground and recreational field in the Town of Poughkeepsie in his old neighborhood.

He pointed to the field and recalled how he and his friends would play ball and use a beer can as first base, an empty beer case as second base “and, if we found one, a dead skunk for third base.”

It was a community of IBM and Central Hudson workers, professors and doctors. Growing up, he had no ambition to be a member of a gang much less exposure to one.

Still, Michos described himself as a punk.

“I had a chip on my shoulder. If people talked to me wrong, I hit them in the nose, hit them in the face. I hit teachers.”

He was raised Catholic but was less than observant. (He recalled being an altar boy and pilfering the sacramental wine to try to get a buzz.)

He said he had a spiritual awakening in the year that “The Exorcist” was released. Michos said he was fearful — “don’t ask me why or how” — of becoming demonically possessed.

“One night the presence of God came into my room and totally transformed me in a way I could never, ever imagine.”

He said he became a whole new person.

“I committed my life to Christ,” said Michos, who is a pastor at an evangelical church. “I tripped and fell a number of times but I picked myself up and I press on towards the mark.”

Michos, who enjoyed a career on stage and in TV, turned his attention from acting to being a husband and father. He and his wife have four children, including one who is developmentally disabled.

For 16 years, he served as a news director and anchor for a cable TV station that covered the Hudson Valley and then was communications director for former U.S. Rep. Nan Hayworth in her Washington, D.C., and district offices.

Now, among other things, he does political consulting.

But for better or for worse, Michos will long be remembered as Vermin.

He said he remains close to his castmates and has appeared at numerous reunion events but none that have caught on like the one taking place on Sunday.

He described the first time they got together in more than 20 years: “The minute we saw each other, it was like nothing had passed, not a beat had passed. We get together and we just care about each other.”

And as for the movie’s appealing legacy?

“We were likeable bad guys,” he said, citing a comparison of “The Warriors” to “The Wizard of Oz”: It’s all about trying to get home.

Yeah, we can dig it.

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Remembering 9/11: A Firsthand Account of the Day of the Attacks

Note: We pause today to remember the attacks of 9/11 that claimed nearly 3,000 lives. 

Jaime Vallecilla, a graduate of St. Raymond’s Boys High School in the Bronx and a classmate of many of the About Men Radio crew members, shares his harrowing account of being at One World Financial Center on the day of the attacks 14 years ago.

Fourteen years later, it is still difficult to recall the events of that day.

A single event transformed the lives of so many and changed the way we live our lives in the modern era.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I had recently started a new assignment for a mutual funds company based in One World Financial Center. After three weeks at the site, I was finally growing accustomed to my surroundings and was hoping for a lengthy contract.

I arrived at the office at 7:30 a.m. as was typical for me. Traveling from New Jersey, I liked to stay ahead of the height of the morning commute. It was close to 9 a.m. when I received a phone call from my wife and she told me that a plane had struck the World Trade Center.

I immediately thought a private citizen had lost control of his plane and had crashed into the tower.

Only two years before, John F. Kennedy Jr. had crashed his plane off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. A tragedy in either case, but I didn’t give it too much attention.

I continued working.

Just a few seconds later, I heard my coworker shout “Oh my God!” as he stared out of the office window. I ran to join him.

The scene outside was chaos.

I looked across the street and saw two Lincoln Town cars smashed together. The two drivers were just staring blankly ahead, probably trying to process what was happening.

The parking lot in the background had cars that were in flames.

A woman was shrieking in the middle of the road. I followed her body positioning and realized why she was screaming.

Strewn across the road in front of her were human remains. An ambulance arrived a few seconds later and covered the parts with sheets.

I then saw thousands of tiny pieces of paper floating from the building, each of them smoking or on fire. I could not believe how the fire continued to spread at the top of the building.

“What happened to the sprinkler system?” I wondered.

“Let’s go people!” shouted my manager to the group of us on the floor.

Pat was a retired NYPD veteran who had discovered a passion for information technology after his police life was completed. He was on the force at the time of the first World Trade Center bombing and his sixth sense was tingling.

We single-filed down the back staircase and exited the building through the basement door and onto the street.

The street was filled with people. The police were trying to set up a perimeter and keep people away from the building and the firefighters raced toward the building in their full gear.

I stayed close to my colleagues waiting for further instructions from our managers. After a couple of minutes, I saw some people pointing to the top of the building. A woman standing next to me exclaimed, “Oh, God no!” and started crying.

I adjusted my eyes and realized what they were looking at.

People were jumping from the upper floors of the building. One after another, some even holding hands and jumping together. I was horrified and couldn’t bear to watch anymore.

I walked away from the North Tower and toward the South Tower, trying to keep my colleagues in view. After a few minutes, I heard a loud, deep rumbling noise and I turned my head to see what it was.

The airliner was big and moving quickly but I thought that it was flying way too low. The unthinkable happened as it slammed right into the South Tower.

I thought for sure I would be hit with debris but the airliner was seemingly swallowed by the building and spit out on the opposite side.

There was a collective gasp from the crowd. I started running, and so did everyone else. A woman next to me kicked off her expensive high-heel shoes and took off running barefoot.

At this point I knew this was no accident and had no way of knowing what was coming next. I took out my phone and called home. I was hoping to reach my wife and just hear her voice, if just for one last time.

The phone connection never happened so I said a quick prayer and continued to run. I reached a point where I had to decide what to do: Should I run uptown or run toward the NY Waterway Ferry?

I ran toward the ferry.

There was a ferry already at the dock and I ran right onto it, past the ticket-taker who tried to grab my arm as I ran by him. Seconds later an announcement was made over the loudspeaker to load the ferry and leave the dock. A few more people boarded and the boat left.

It was a short boat ride across the river but long enough to observe the people around me. A woman across from me was lying across the bench in a fetal position, rocking and sobbing.

Others desperately asked around for a working cellphone but there weren’t any.

As we reached New Jersey, I tried calling home again but I still could not get through. I just needed to get home.

I went to the NJ PATH station, jumped the turnstile and boarded the train. It filled up quickly and the conductor got us out of the station.

I was in the last train car. As we emerged from the tunnel, I looked out of the little window facing the rear of the train car and I saw a large cloud of something but I couldn’t tell what it was.

The man sitting next to me had a portable radio and he was giving updates. He said the North Tower had collapsed. He also said the Pentagon had also been struck by an airliner.

Hearing this news just increased my urgency to get home.

Arriving at the Newark Penn Station train station gave me some comfort as I knew that I was closer to home.

The train car I boarded was full and it’s true what they say happens in times of crisis, your humanity kicks in and you try and help those around you even if they are complete strangers to you.

There were people covered in dust; people offered them tissues, water and whatever snacks they could find.

The passengers around me shared their stories with me and it was surreal how quickly people could bond over this traumatic event.

I was the first stop off the train and I said a quick goodbye to my new train friends. I rushed to my car and glanced around the parking lot.

I wondered how many people would never be picking up their car and returning home.

I sat in the car, took a deep breath and called home. My wife answered the phone and broke down when I told her I was fine and on my way home. I don’t really remember the drive home. I just remember pulling up to my house and seeing a bunch of cars in my driveway.

I walked into my house and embraced my wife. My house was filled with family members and neighbors, all lending their support.

For the next few hours I repeated my story to family, friends and neighbors and I was also riveted to the television, trying to understand the full scope of what had just happened.

I received a call later that evening from my contract employer to make sure I was accounted for. They said they would call me later in the week to discuss work logistics.

A week later I was asked if I was OK with working in Boston. With no income coming in, I readily agreed. Another week passed and I received another phone call letting me know that they couldn’t accommodate me in Boston.

I received two weeks’ pay and a “good luck to you” send-off.

With no work prospects in sight and social media yet to be invented, I said a lot of prayers and reached out to as many friends as I could for job leads. I was lucky to land another contract a month later, but it was in the heart of ground zero.

I walked along Broadway every morning and passed the wall of missing person signs on the fence of Trinity Church. A sea of faces smiling at you and tearing you up inside because you knew there would be no happy reunions.

I did that walk five days a week for eight months. The pictures remained; a makeshift shrine to the victims of that awful day. That charred, horrid smell lasted that long as well.

In the present day, I am forever changed because of the events of that day.

Every fire alarm that sounds in the building I take seriously. Prior to 9/11, I would just ignore them and keep working.

I have a heightened sense of awareness of the people and things around me. I am always looking to see what just doesn’t belong. I sometimes scour the skies to see if any planes are flying just a tad too low

For my son’s birthday this year he asked to spend the day in New York City and visit the 9/11 museum. My wife was a little apprehensive but agreed to go. As you entered the museum, the displays quickly bring you right back to that day.

I passed the room where there was a photograph of each of the victims who died that day.

I took my children inside to show them the friends I had lost that day.

Frank Schott (pronounced “shot”) was a coworker during my early days on Wall Street. He was a quiet, bright guy who was as conservative as they come. We would tease him by calling him “Money” Schott and we would ask him when his next feature film would be playing at the Globe Theater in the Bronx that specialized in adult movies.

He couldn’t help but laugh.

Frank never made it home that day.

JennieAnn Maffeo was another coworker who was a calming force in the sea of troubled IT projects. I don’t think I ever saw her without a smile on her face.

On Sept. 11, she was waiting for the shuttle bus to the NY Waterway ferry and was doused with jet fuel after the first plane hit. She was burned over 98 percent of her body and endured 14 surgeries over the next 41 days until her body could no longer fight that fight.

Alan Feinberg was a fierce competitor on the softball field and I always looked forward to facing his team. We had those classic back and forth matches that became trash talk fodder until the next time we faced each other.

It was no surprise that Alan raced to the World Trade Center as part of Battalion 9 to help those in need.

He perished along with 14 others from his firehouse.

John Burnside and Joe Kellett were my high school classmates.

John was a firefighter and Joe a stock trader. Both of them still had so much more living to do.

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My children listened as I told some of these stories and they understood why I get emotional watching the 9/11 memorial telecasts.

I am working in the financial district again, my third tour of duty.

On the way to work, my bus passes the Freedom Tower and I silently pay homage to all those who were lost that day similar to the way Catholics make the sign of the cross when they pass a cemetery.

It’s a constant reminder that I will never forget, nor should anyone ever forget.

 

 

Oh Rats! A Subway Stare-Down That I Lost

What creature would roam underground, scurrying from point to point through an intricate network of tunnels — dank, dirty and dingy — tirelessly trudging in claustrophobic surroundings?

I know them as New Yorkers. And they rule the subways.

For a long time I was one of them. Today I fondly think back of my days underground — and over ground when on the El — from the safety and sunshine of Florida.

But there is another New York inhabitant that is the true ruler of the subway, especially its tunnels.

This New Yorker has many cousins in fields, landfills and building basements and is an abomination born of the darkest of crevices – The Subway Rat!

This monstrosity is no ordinary rat. Its above-ground cousin shares similar disgusting traits, such as its almost cat-like size, hideous teeth and fur and voracious appetite. Did I mention it’s as big as a freaking cat?!

The New York Subway Rat has all those traits and exponentially raises it a few degrees.

Many New Yorkers never get to see one of these monsters.

They are the fortunate ones.

I am a New Yorker who faced one and lived to tell the tail…um…tale.

My commute back in the late ’80s was on the No. 6 train from Parkchester in the Bronx to the Garment District near Seventh Avenue. (No self-respecting New Yorker ever called it Fashion Avenue.) But the No. 6 doesn’t go to Seventh Avenue in the Garment District.

I would get off at the 42nd Street Station and then take the Shuttle to the West Side.

I would always go to the first car, not because I wanted to watch the passage through the tunnels from the front door, though I often did.

My principal reason for taking that spot was logistical.

The 42nd Street Station back then had a supervisors’ booth that had long been abandoned.

But the structure was still there and at the mouth of the tunnel, it jutted into the platform forming an inverted “U” from the front tunnel entrance. To either side of the “U” there was a narrow walkway that went right up to the tunnel’s mouth.

Since this walkway was always empty, no one would stand there to wait for the train and I could exit from the first car onto the platform without bumping into anyone waiting to come in.

It saved me a few milliseconds, and if you know a New Yorker’s morning commute, every fraction of a second mattered.

For months I exited the car without ever looking. Until one day…

Sniffing around this secluded platform, at the height of morning rush hour, just inches away from where I was about to plant my first step was a Subway Rat.

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He was this big: I am holding my hands out at least three feet apart!

I froze mid-step.

Average rodents will typically scurry away when confronted by a human. But this is Subterraneous Verminus Rodentus we are talking about here.

This — this thing — stopped sniffing the ground, swiveled and stood on its freaking hind legs!

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I was still frozen mid-step, and five cars away there was probably a conductor watching this exchange and wondering who would win, and more important how quickly, because he needed to get the train moving and close the freaking doors!

This New York Subway Rat knew who was boss. He was!

After a brief stare-down, it lowered itself and slowly, deliberately, walked to the tunnel and out of sight.

I exited the train, turned left and got the hell out of there.

I lived to tell the tale. But often I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t froze and if I had quickly used my soccer skills to kick that bigger-than-a-football-size vermin into the subway car before the doors closed.

Oh the pandemonium that would have created!

But I’m certain the rat would have landed on its feet, killed some passengers and slowly walked off the train and into its subterranean realm.

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Let’s Go Mets! Recalling the 1986 Ticker-Tape Parade

In October 1986, baseball history had been made and Chris Mele and I were ready to experience a ticker-tape parade in the Canyon of Heroes in Lower Manhattan for the World Series Champion New York Mets.

We were men with a plan:

Chris was going to meet me on Park Row by City Hall, where the parade would climax. I had jury duty in the Bronx and I planned to jump on the No. 4 train, which would bring me right to City Hall.

Of course, 2.2 million other people had the same idea.

I caught the train, and the crowds poured in.

I had to stand all the way but I didn’t even need to hold on as we were packed in and couldn’t move.

Then the “LET’S GO METS!” chants started. We were all screaming at the top of our lungs.

The energy was unreal.

These chants turned into “Who Do You Love? Bill Buckner!!!” OMG! Poor Bill Buckner, the weight of Boston’s loss on his shoulders.

(Cheer up, Bill. Even if you would have fielded that ball, you never had a chance beating Mookie to the bag.)

I finally arrive at City Hall. I figured my chances of finding Chris were slim, but we connected on Park Row — all without cellphones — imagine that?!

We try to get a good spot to watch the parade wind down Broadway.

People were standing on cars, light posts, mailboxes and we could hear the cheers and the “LET’S GO METS!” chants as the vehicles carrying the champs got closer.

Paper rained down from the buildings, even some toilet paper.

We are able to catch a glimpse of Gary Carter, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling as they worked their way to the front of City Hall where Mayor Ed Koch, Gov. Mario Cuomo, and Sen. Alfonse D’Amato waited to give speeches and share in the victory.

Chris and I tried to make our way over to City Hall, but there were so many people, we could hardly move.

The police corralled a large crowd of us down one of the side streets and blocked both ends. We were jammed in and the mob was getting rowdy and ugly.

The police were holding us back while the crowd pushed and shoved.

There was a couple of mounted police in there with us and the next thing I know I was face to face – no, face to rear — with the backside of a very large police horse.

I thought that’s it: Either the horse is going to kick me into oblivion or the officer on the horse was going to club me down for bumping into him.

Finally, the police opened up the end of the street and we broke out of there.

We caught some of the presentation from the City Hall stage, and Koch and Cuomo had to cut their words short as the crowd drowned them out with chants and cheers for the champs.

I think at that point we decided we had enough life-threatening experiences for one day and we parted to safer grounds. We escaped the area before the throngs started heading out.

The sanitation crews were already out cleaning up the paper and debris on Broadway, as life in the city never stops and doesn’t miss a beat.

Strangest Summer Jobs: Part One

It is hard to imagine a world today without our cellphones. For many of us, they have become a permanent attachment to our hand or hip.

Does anyone memorize phone numbers anymore?  I know I don’t, but I can remember phone numbers to places where I lived more than 20 years ago yet I can’t remember my own children’s cell numbers.

During one summer when I was in college, I got a job with New York Telephone, after the monopoly break-up but prior to the industry proliferation of wireless devices in the marketplace.

How did we communicate when on the streets back in the pre-historic, pre-cellular days?

Pay phones were the way of the world. They were prominently positioned on the streets, at airports, bus stations, businesses and gas stations.

Today’s generation wouldn’t recognize a phone booth or understand having to dig change out of their pockets to call their BFF.

That summer I worked in a warehouse on the west side of Manhattan counting coins collected from all of the pay phones from the Bronx and Manhattan.

Each week this facility filled up a room with bags of nickels, dimes and quarters totaling over $100,000 —   not a bad take but I’m sure nothing compared to how much the cellphone industry rakes in today.

The counting room had a security guard who ran a metal detector over you when you left the room, so all your own coins, keys, and any metal objects needed to stay outside in your locker.

Cameras were also placed throughout the facility and at each counting station.

I was told that some employees in the past had developed a system of dropping coins down into their boots while they were counting, thus prompting the video surveillance.

I noticed that security rarely wanded you all the way down to your shoes.

On my first day, I was trained by a man who on one hand had a thumb and no other full fingers. He was the fastest counter in the place.

The counting machines were along a complex conveyor belt where the upper level brought you full banks of coins to be counted, and the lower level belt took away the full bags of counted coins.

The counting machines were pretty cool.

Each pay phone bank had a tag with info that you entered into a computer, and then you dumped out the change into a large tray and sifted through it to remove foreign coins and slugs.

Next, you lifted the tray and dumped the coins into the machine, which had a large spinning platter that pushed all the coins to the edge where they were lifted off the tray according to thickness and flew through an electric eye that counted them and off they went into a bag.

When a bag was full, the machine beeped and you would tie it up and throw it on the conveyor belt.

Attach a new bag and the counting continued.

That’s how the day went: pretty repetitive and mindless.

The place had a Musak system that we would commandeer and play our own mix tapes, yes tapes. So we would boogie to counting thousands of coins.

I remember that one of the favorite tunes that summer was the theme from “Beverly Hills Cop.”

One afternoon everyone was leisurely counting and we saw some people leaving early! We found out later that they had counted a certain number of banks and were allowed to go home. Damn!

The next day, we were all flying through the counting, knocking out those banks in record time and yeah, I got to go home early but this only lasted a week.

All the regular employees were brought into the boss’ office one at a time and got chewed out for not counting fast enough and the going home early thing was only to get production up.

Now that the coin counting was going great, us summer guys were expendable and we were transferred to escorting, but that’s another story…