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Posts Tagged ‘bobby calise’

At a party last Friday night, I overheard a group of women talking about the costs of getting their hair done professionally. Just a cut can cost as much as $75; a cut and coloring runs into the hundreds. (I had little to add to this conversation; I typically pay about $14 for my haircuts.)

One woman mentioned that a friend of hers is a hair stylist and gives her a great discount—saving her about 25% after tip—which drew oohs and aahs from the other women. We got to talking about other professions we wish our friends and family worked in that would save us a lot of time, money, and frustration. Aside from hair stylists, here are some others we came up with. (Note: I didn’t include actors or rock stars or professional athletes. That’s a little greedy—it’s like using one of your three genie wishes to ask for a million more wishes.)

Police Officer. Fortunately, my only run-ins with the cops have come when I’ve been pulled over. I always used to carry the PBA card—that’s Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association—my uncle had given me (he’s now retired NYPD), and typically other policemen were willing to give the professional courtesy of letting me off with a warning…but not always. Once, in college, I was pulled over for speeding down a residential street in Beacon, New York. When the officer handed me the ticket for “52 in a 30,” he grinned and said, “Your uncle will know what to do with this.”

Bartenders and Servers. In my experience, if a food or drink server invites you to stop by their bar or restaurant while they’re working, you’re going to get hooked up. I’m content to score a couple of free rounds of drinks and maybe one or two extra appetizers with dinner. I always tip generously in these situations, and I don’t just show up if I’m not 100% positive they’re working that night. (Nothing’s worse than trying to get free drinks by dropping a bartender’s name on her night off.)

Doctors and Lawyers. Contrary to the plot of My Cousin Vinny, it’s not likely that your inexperienced lawyer cousin knows just enough about the legal system to hilariously help you beat a bogus murder wrap. Also: Don’t ask your corporate lawyer friend to help you fight a parking ticket, and don’t ask your friend’s dad who’s a neurosurgeon to look at your rash. If you’re lucky, they’ll recommend someone they know personally who can help you (and it probably won’t be free).

Accountant. My uncle has been doing my taxes for years and he’s great about it. I send him my paperwork as soon as I get it so he can file it when he has some time between actual paying customers. Just remember: you’re putting a lot of trust in this person to file your taxes correctly and on time, and you have to be comfortable with the fact that they’ll know how much money you make.

Plumber, Electrician, or Contractor. For a generation of renters like myself—my super does everything but change light bulbs—it can be a tough transition when we start to become homeowners. Knowing a Mr. Fix-It makes a huge difference, especially if they have lots of experience. In exchange for the free or discounted services, always offer him a cold drink (water’s good; beer’s better).

Media Professional. Basically this covers anyone who’s got access to really good free stuff: tickets to concerts and sporting events, dinners at the best restaurants in town, product samples, plus any good celebrity stories.

Computer Guy. My friend Gil knows his stuff; he used to work the computer counter at Best Buy in the days before Geek Squad stepped in. With his help—including several virus exorcisms—my Dell PC lasted nine years. Of course there’s no warranty when a buddy helps you out, so if you don’t trust him to open up your computer, poke and prod with a screwdriver, and still be able to put it back together, don’t ask him for free help. (For the record, Gil was handsomely rewarded with a $5 or under shopping spree at 7-Eleven.)

Mechanic. On Seinfeld, George once quipped about mechanics: “Of course their tryin’ to screw ya. No one knows what they’re talkin’ about! It’s like, Oh, seems you need a new Johnson rod. Oh! Yeah! Johnson rod! Well, get me one of those!” (Dane Cook has a similar riff.) Few situations make me feel more helpless than explaining my car trouble to a mechanic, knowing I have to trust him to fix it without ripping me off. (It’s like looking at a Magic Eye picture with someone who sees the spaceship and you don’t.) A friendly mechanic will probably still make you pay for parts, but should give you a break on labor costs.

Try not to overstep the bounds of a personal relationship just to get a discount. And when cashing in on a favor, make sure you’re not too many degrees separated from the favor-doer. Below is a cautionary aside—which is becoming a theme of this blog—about a time when I needed a car repair and a family member “knew a guy” who was supposed to help me out:

During college I dinged up the right fender on my ’86 LeBaron on a guard rail. My uncle (different uncle, not the cop) told me he knew a guy who could fix the damage at a fraction of what it would cost at a body shop. I agreed to drive into Coney Island to meet The Guy at the address my uncle provided. When I arrived, there was no body shop or garage or even a house. It was just a random street with an elementary school taking up most of the block.

The Guy showed up late and immediately quoted me $100 more than the price my uncle gave me. I found a pay phone and explained the situation to my uncle. He called The Guy’s cell, screamed at him for a few minutes, after which The Guy agreed to the original price. (I later found out that conversation ended with my uncle saying, “LOSE MY NUMBER!”) With both our cars pulled over to the side of the street, he installed the used fender I’d bought at a junk yard, leaving the old fender sitting on the sidewalk outside of the school.

When it came time to pay, I didn’t have much cash—the situation seemed sketchy from the start, so I figured I wouldn’t carry hundreds of dollars on me just in case The Guy had other ideas. His 15-year-old son escorted me to the nearest ATM. (Despite the awkwardness of the situation, we made decent small talk.) When I returned and paid The Guy, he looked me in the eye, his son watching, and said, “You know, I do accept tips.” I was still fuming from his earlier bait-and-switch and didn’t want to involve my uncle again. I made the executive decision not to tip him. I walked quickly to my LeBaron, started it, and drove off.

I wasn’t able to chronicle my negative experience with The Guy on Yelp, but if I had, it might have gone something like: “One star. Prices higher than advertised. Questionable business practices. Does accept tips.”

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By Bobby Calise

Greenacre Park is one of Manhattan’s hidden gems. (I know, I know, everyone thinks a place is a “hidden gem” because they didn’t know about it. It’s one of the most overused phrases in travel writing.) But the park is literally hidden. When it’s closed, Greenacre Park all but disappears into East 51st Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, unnoticeable between a synagogue and a luxury apartment building; a large, sliding metal gate seals the entrance during the off season, making it look more like a roomy jail cell than a quiet park.

I moved to Manhattan in wintertime. Caught up in the excitement of my first City apartment and the fact that my couch was about six inches too tall to fit through my doorway, I didn’t notice the park. It was only on a warm spring day in April or May that it opened for the season and I realized it had been there the whole time, hibernating. After that, anyone who visited me would say, “Oh what a great little park. I bet you go there all the time!”

In fact, after my girlfriend moved up to New York from Virginia and in with me last August, her mom was thrilled to learn about the little “vest-pocket park” across the street. Moms always seem to hang onto these quirky expressions—my mom, for example, refers to all elevated Subway trains as “the L,” even if they’re actually on the N or the W lines.

Greenacre Park is privately owned and maintained by the Greenacre Foundation, which also assists other New York City public park projects. The park’s star attraction is the waterfall. According to the complimentary pamphlet I picked up at the window of Greenacre’s tiny cafe, the waterfall pumps 2,500 gallons per minute, which is constantly filtered and recirculated. But what the stats don’t tell you is how loud it is—like really loud. If you’re sitting just a few feet away from it, you’d have a hard time eavesdropping on the couple’s conversation at the next table over. In New York City, you’re almost always within earshot of another conversation, but not here.

Reading up on Greenacre Park reminded me of Green Acres Mall, where my mom took us when we were kids (until it became too dangerous). We would make the short trip from Queens to just barely Nassau County for back to school clothes or at Christmastime. The line of cars to leave Green Acres was usually bumper-to-bumper from Sunrise Highway going all the way back to the mall parking lot. To pass the time, Mom—who often referred to setbacks like these as “adventures”—came up with a game for my younger brother and me to pass the time: guess how many times the traffic light will change before we get to it. Usually, it ended up being 13, or 15, or sometimes 20 greenyellowreds before we reached the highway. As Greenacre Park makes its visitors forget they’re in a city of eight million people, the Traffic Light Game made us forget we were stuck in a parking lot for an hour.

The pamphlet says Greenacre Park is 30 years old. Its modern look, though, suggests it’s had some work done. Despite the newness, it seems as though it was built three decades ago just so people could read the Sunday Times there—though the uncomfortable metal chairs and very low tables almost dare its guests to sit for more than an hour at a time. The red lines on the back of your legs and the ache in your lower back and mean it’s time to go.

The Turtle Bay neighborhood sees its share of tourists pass through, some of them discovering Greenacre on the way to someplace else. Some teenage couples hang out there, holding hands, girlfriends sitting on boyfriends’ laps, sharing music on a pair of ear buds—a rare romantic locale in the City that’s actually free. Wannabe writers and sketch artists sit in the center of the park, looking up at the waterfall for inspiration, scribbling furiously in notebooks, crossing out and erasing and starting over. Meanwhile, us locals study everyone else carefully to see who’s using our park today.

Overseeing the entire scene is Greenacre’s custodian, an older black gentleman who paces up and down the grounds like an SAT proctor. (Both my girlfriend and I have been reprimanded on separate occasions for putting our feet up on the stone ledges.) I haven’t decided if I hate the custodian for treating me like a misbehaved child or love him for the seriousness with which he takes his job; New York City may be a filthy place, but not his park, not on his watch. Occasionally, he’ll duck into a four foot high door built into one of the park’s side walls. I often wonder, What’s under there? An underground poker game for park custodians only? A holding cell for repeat offenders of the No Feet on the Ledge rule?

The pamphlet says the city parks commissioner, at the park dedication, said: “It is the rarest of pleasures for me to be able to express the thanks and appreciation of the people of the City of New York for the privilege of using this green acre. It is a privilege which places no burden on the city, which makes no demands, which asks of us only that we cherish it.”

Seems like a fair deal to me.

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By Bobby Calise

The below recollections share a common theme: missed opportunities.

I was in a Las Vegas casino once with a ne’er-do-well friend of mine. We were on our way out after a rough night at the blackjack tables when I lost sight of him for a few minutes. We found each other shortly after in the parking garage. He looked around furtively, then reached into his pocket and flashed two crisp hundred dollar bills. “I thought you said you lost tonight,” I said. “I did,” he replied.

The way he tells it, a drunk woman was stumbling through the casino when she dropped an armful of chips right in front of him. He knelt down to help her collect them and, as a finder’s fee, quickly pocketed two black hundred dollar chips without her noticing. She thanked him for his help and kept right on stumbling through the casino. He rushed over to the cashier window, cashed out, and scurried to the parking garage.

“Isn’t that sort of, you know, stealing?” I asked. “Well,” he paused, “I think it was God’s way of giving me a break.”

I had another theory. “What if it was a test from God? Like, if you see the chips on the floor and you don’t take any, you’ll be rewarded with an even bigger break in the future?”

He paused again, ostensibly considering what I had said. Then he replied: “Nah.”

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In college, I did a one-semester internship at the Poughkeepsie Journal as part of my journalism program requirement. Working in the sports section from 7 to 10 pm three nights a week, my job was to answer phones. Local high school coaches called in to report their team’s game scores. I took notes, turned them into short blurbs, and entered them into the computer for publication later that night. Usually around 9 pm, this guy named Pete would get up from his desk and say, “Webbing!” and then head over to another computer and work from there for a while. When I would go home at 10, he would still be sitting there.

I worked at “PoJo” for three months and never bothered to ask Pete what “webbing” was. (Whatever it was, I imagined him wearing flippers while he did it.) Turns out, he was taking all the soon-to-be-printed sports stories and was publishing them on the newspaper’s website (or, on the web)—just like I did with this very blog post, and just like most companies would like its online content writers to be able to do on their own.

Didn’t I have a couple of minutes to sit with Pete and find out what the hell he was doing back there? Even if it had turned out he was reading Spider-man comics, I could have at least looked into it. I’ve complained before on this blog about how my college experience left me largely unprepared for the working world, but the webbing thing? That’s on me.

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I played in a tennis league after college at a local club on Long Island. It was a ladder league, which meant any member could call any other member on the phone list for a match and depending on the outcome, each player would move up or down in the standings, or the ladder.

Men of all ages were eligible for the league, provided they were roughly of the same skill level. At 22, I was by far the youngest guy in the league. Usually in between sets there was a little small talk, where are you from, what do you do for a living, crazy weather we’re having.

One night I got to talking with a guy in his forties—he had been a journalism major, too. He went to the University of Miami and was one of the top writers for his college newspaper there. He said that when he was nearing graduation, he was contacted by a small company based in Connecticut about a sports reporting job. But he had never heard of the company and had no interest in moving out of New York, so he declined. The small company turned out to be ESPN.

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By Bobby Calise

“One always begins to forgive a place as soon as it’s left behind.” -Charles Dickens

stumbled upon that Dickens quote a few weeks ago and immediately thought of my trip to China. This time last year, my girlfriend and I were backpacking south from Beijing down to Hong Kong, with a five-day stop in between to visit my brother, who was teaching English at a Chinese university about an hour outside of a city called Guangzhou.

Our two weeks in China were exhausting. Most nights we went to bed emotionally drained from the series of miscommunications from earlier that day. Food, in particular, was a constant struggle. The pinyin menus included items like “broccoli rape” (presumably broccoli rabe; we didn’t ask), and a Chinese waiter’s standard procedure on vegetarian orders was to smile and nod as if to say, “Yes, we have that,” and then just serve the dish normally with plenty of meat.

After a few days we got used to the cuisine. (We’d simply look at each other and say, “Noodles?” “Yeah, noodles. And beer.”) But it took a little longer to acclimate ourselves to the aggressiveness of China’s tourist-hounding sales force. The first few times someone tried to sell me something that I didn’t want, I’d politely smile and say “no thank you.” But after two or three days of this, I became more annoyed and less patient. It became a game for us: Spot the Salesman. “Watch out! Guy approaching on your right selling glow-in-the-dark Frisbees! NO THANK YOU NO THANK YOU NO THANK YOU.”

Looking back through that same Dickensian lens, I see now that it took progressing stages of politeness, aggravation, and ultimately appreciation for me to accept the persistent sales tactics in China. A former salesman myself, I can still recall some of the craftier pitches we came across:

Granola from a Street Vendor (Beijing)
Granola with dried apricots seemed like the perfect snack while biking around the Forbidden City. But between the vendor’s muddled English and my inability to convert kilograms to pounds, he managed to slice off twice as much granola as we requested, and this led to an argument over price. In the end I couldn’t tell who ripped off whom, but the granola was delicious.

The Great Wall (Beijing)
It’s easy enough to sign up for a tour of The Great Wall. (In many cases it can be done right through your hotel.) However, the Wall was just the first stop on an eight-hour excursion that included a sneak peak at a jade “gallery,” which had our tour group listlessly wandering through a Macy’s-like showroom of jade bracelets available for purchase; a “silk factory,” which found us in back room warehouse full of Chinese silk comforters for sale; and finally a 30-minute foot rub from a college age Chinese “massage student” which also included a free consultation from a Chinese “doctor.” He read the lines in my palm (which any good doctor would do) and explained that my kidney and liver issues—which I was hearing about for the first time—could be easily remedied with a few herbal treatments, which he just happened to be selling.

Touts (Yangshuo)
A young man named Kim found us wandering near a bicycle rental stand in Yangshuo and helped us find our hotel, even picking out a restaurant for our lunch. We mistook his initial friendliness for clinginess, before realizing he was actually a tout, whose jobwas to latch onto tourists and give them an insider’s tour of the area for an unnamed price. These young men and women camp out in tourist hot spots within Yangshuo (such as a bicycle rental stand) wearing comfortable shoes and small shoulder bags so they can spring into action as soon as someone looks like they might need some guidance.

Bamboo Boat Ride (Yangshuo)
After negotiations with a street-side travel agent (we settled on 160 RMB total), we followed the agent’s motorcycle-riding colleague on our rented bicycles to the Yulong River, a popular tourist attraction in Yangshuo. We were paired with a young bamboo boat driver who spoke the bare minimum of English. A few minutes into the trip, the river reached the first of several drops, this one about three feet down. As we braced ourselves for splashy impact, a photographer on an anchored bamboo raft feverishly snapped pictures of us on his digital camera. When our driver led us over to the photographer’s raft—it seemed the drivers had instructions to make as many stops as his passengers will tolerate—we saw that this was actually a one-stop photo shop: a PC and monitor to pull up the pictures and let customers choose their favorites, and a printer and laminating machine to create and sell a finished print. Gimmicky or not, we were so impressed with the photog’s ingenuity—I mean, where did he plug everything in?—that we forked over 30 RMB for the keepsake.

Moon Hill Postcard Lady (Yangshuo)
The long, steep stair climb up Moon Hill led us to a doughnut-shaped mountain top and a few snapshots of Yangshuo’s tree-covered, cone-shaped crags. On the way back down, an old Chinese woman somehow caught up to us. She spoke quietly, mostly in cryptic hand gestures. (She only seemed to know how to say “U-S-A” in English.) “Yes, we’re from the U-S-A,” my girlfriend responded. With that, she opened a little notebook and showed us hundreds of messages written in English from well-wishing tourists, always with a similar sentiment: “What an amazing lady! She’s 69 years old and climbs Moon Hill every day! Please buy postcards from this lady!” Acknowledging that we were probably being duped, but too polite (and too hot and tired) to say no, we bought ten postcards from her. When we reached the bottom, we bought another ten postcards and several bottles of water from two other old women who had “volunteered” to watch our bikes because the rental place had “forgotten” to give us locks.  Well played, China.

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