‘Cause it’s too darn hot

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Midday heat. Photo: JH.

Monday, July 25, 2022. Very warm here in New York over the weekend (and all around us from what I’ve heard and read), with temps in the 90s. The RealFeel is over 100 by day and back down to the high 80s as I write this Diary mid-Sunday evening.

The city was very quiet meaning: fewer cars (and almost no trucks) moving along the avenues and streets by Friday late afternoon.

Fifth Avenue.

Yesterday when I took the dogs on our “walk” around the corner to Carl Schurz Park around noon, the benches set behind the railings overlooking the East River and Queens and the bridges north and south were occupied by three people. There are at least a dozen benches and on most weekend days except for the storms, they are occupied entirely until late afternoon. The park was basically empty. Too darn hot. That was also the title of a Cole Porter song from his “Kiss Me Kate.”

I’d like to sup with my baby tonight
Refill the cup with my baby tonight
But I ain’t up to my baby tonight
‘Cause it’s too darn hot

A view of the East River looking south from the promenade of Carl Schurz Park, with Roosevelt Island on the other side and the Edward Koch 59th Street Bridge beyond. Where the FDR is was mainly countryside, out of town for affluent New Yorkers to occupy during the warmer months.

I’ve spent the summer staying close to home — a choice which is sensible and practical since I do not possess a hut in the country, or something out by the sea. Mine’s, by the park. Perhaps it’s the onset of my maturity. I think about things like that these days — but I really enjoy it. The river is just down the block from me and often sends its sea-fed breezes our way as well as giving everyone a chance to be in the Sun near the water. 

You hear the foghorns of the tugs warning the motorboats and jet skis to get-outta-the way or else. Then there are the occasions of the sirens of ambulances, or the fire trucks following up on what are often, thankfully, false alarms. Occasionally you might hear one of the motorcycle society members revving it up just before they blast off down the avenue to the stop sign on East 79th Street.

One of the Harleys in the hood.

There are a couple of really beautiful, fully equipped Harleys in the nabe, all black silver (one’s maroon) glistening at the curbsite in the neighborhood. They’re modern art explained: masterpieces. I’ve never wanted one or even wanted to ride on one, let alone drive it, but the two I’m referring are obviously top of the line and I can’t take my eyes off of them as I walk by. They’re like the two-wheel version of a Rolls Royce. It’s called Luxury; that’s its real name to this timid admirer.

In the otherwise (fairly) quiet streetscene, you may hear a dog barking, barking, any time night or day. I always look to see. The canine is usually barking at another dog: “So Fido, whattaya think of this damned weather?!” barks Sparky. Fido growls. And everybody moves on. 

Otherwise the avenue is very quiet in summertime, and often with barely any traffic at all by the mid-evening. In daylight, the sidewalks are usually always populated by all kinds; residents, their guests, children, professionals, delivery people, construction workers; people walking dogs; mothers/fathers/longtimers taking their time; nannies headed to the park with their little ones in strollers, on scooters and tiny two wheelers for the grown-up four-year-olds. We’re all ages around these parts, from newest to the eldest. Although this past weekend almost none of that was present; with roads and sidewalks mainly empty.

While the dogs were sniffing everywhere I was watching the approaching/passing sailboat and thinking how wonderful it must be for those aboard.

The neighborhood. A number of years ago there was a guy named Al Gordon who lived around the corner at 10 Gracie Square. Mr. Gordon was — to these eyes — a much older man, and indeed, he died fourteen years ago at 107. 

I was first aware of him in the early ’90s when I was staying with a friend at 10 Gracie. Then in his early 90s, he looked like a much older man, yet he moved energetically like a man half his real age. Very tall — probably six-four, six-five — long-legged and even at that highly advanced age, he had a strong, quick gait to his walk. 

On sight, you’d know he was a real go-getter. In fact he was famous on Wall Street.  John Whitehead, once a head of Goldman Sachs, said of Mr. Gordon who for decades was head of Kidder Peabody, that he was also a famous business getter. In our neighborhood, however, he was famous as a jogger. Major. He once ran all the way from 10 Gracie Square to LaGuardia Airport. Eight miles by highly trafficked roadway. He was then in his seventies or eighties. Or was it a jog home? I don’t know; I heard the story second hand,  although it was well known among this man’s friends and neighbors. In other words he was amazing.

He worked on Wall Street beginning in 1925 right out of Harvard Business School, and he lived most of those years in an apartment at 10 Gracie. Unlike a lot of his brethren who had their limousines awaiting their morning emergence from their buildings, Mr. Gordon preferred to walk down to the corner of 84th and East End, and hail a cab. I saw him do it when he was 100!

The deserted promenade looking north. That’s 10 Gracie Square on the left. The building runs through the entire block between 84th (actually Gracie Square) and 83rd Street.

We spoke a few times when he was in the Park taking a break, sitting on a bench by the river. Our brief conversations were about dogs (I was walking mine). We were not acquainted but I knew about him and the kind of man he was, mainly from his business as head of the board at 10 Gracie. For years when he held that office, it was his responsibility to vet new applicants who had bid on an apartment there. He took for granted that I was a guest in his building. He had standards; they were reasonable and practical.

10 Gracie is famous on the Upper East Side, mainly because of its roster of big name occupants since it opened in the early 1930s. In those years there was no FDR Drive, but just shoreline, and 10 Gracie had piers for its owners’ private boats. Jock Whitney, for example, had an apartment there, and often traveled in his cabin cruiser directly to it from Greentree, his estate on Long Island Sound. 

As head of his building’s board, Mr. Gordon, serious man that he was, was also a serious vetter of applicants. Because he began his day early, all interviews of potential residents took place at 8 in the morning. Whatever inconvenience that hour was for the applicant, applicants were informed that 8 a.m. was the rule for Mr. Gordon. There were no exceptions. 

10 Gracie Square. Water tower, 1931. Samuel H. Gottscho. Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York.

It so happened back in the early 1970s that a forty-something Pete Peterson, then a famous Wall Street investment banker who had been appointed Secretary of Commerce under Richard Nixon, made a bid on an apartment at 10 Gracie. The building has large apartments with ample space, and all overlooking the East River and the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, and Mr. Peterson and his then wife Sally had four or five children.

However, when it came to Mr. Peterson being interviewed, as he was living in Washington at the time, he put in a request to move his date with Al Gordon to a later hour since he’d be traveling up from Washington for it. His request was denied: 8 or never. 

And so, President Nixon’s Secretary of Commerce came up to New York the night before to make the meeting. Surely the two men knew or knew of each other as they were both “stars” in the financial community. However, Al Gordon was 20 years older than Pete Peterson, and Pete Peterson was brought up knowing to respect that. 

But that was then and this is now. I’d guess that many of the occupants of that exceptional apartment building on the river by a beautiful park and promenade, are no longer in residence either having moved or ascended elsewhere. 10 Gracie, however, remains a beautiful background for the walk and the park and on a beautiful weekend in Summer (and Spring and Fall). A cheer for the now.

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