A New Ball for a New Year

December 31, 2008

The tradition began on New Year’s Eve more than a century ago, when an iron and wooden ball covered with light bulbs was lowered from a flagpole at One Times Square.

Over the years the ball has been replaced several times, and tonight a new Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball is making its debut. The latest version is a 12 foot geodesic sphere, twice the size of previous balls, and weighs 11,875 pounds (5,386.5 kilos). The new ball is covered in 2,668 Waterford crystals and illuminated by 32,256 LEDs, giving it a palette of more than 16 million colors and the capability of producing billions of kaleidoscopic patterns.

In another first, the new ball will not be put into storage on New Year’s Day. Instead, the New Year’s Eve Ball will now remain on display at One Times Square all year round. Here is a sneak peek at some of the patterns and colors the ball will display tonight.

Have a happy new year!













Times Square NYC: The Ball
Wikipedia: Times Square Ball

New Year’s Wishes

December 30, 2008

This year, for the first time, the Mars candy company is sponsoring a “New Year’s Eve Wishing Wall” in the Times Square Information Center at Times Square.

They say, “Share your personal goals, dreams and wishes on a piece of confetti on our New Year’s Eve Wishing Wall, presented by 3 Musketeers® Mint. You can [also] submit your wish via our online form … the wishes will be collected at the end of the year, and added to the confetti that will flutter down onto the streets of Times Square at the 12 o’clock hour on New Year’s Eve.”

The lighting inside the Information Center is dim, and I didn’t have a great flash with me, but I thought some of the wishes I read were worth sharing. They range from the silly to the selfless. Here is a sampling the dreams that have been pinned to the wall. As always, click on a photo to see a larger image.

I wish I had roller skates

To adopt my son

My dream is to sing as best I can

World peace


I wish to meet the Jonas Brothers

To fall in love and have someone fall in love with me

I wish that Jordan’s fleshlight isn’t taken in boot camp or he’s gonna be lonely

To be a successful nurse and pursue my college education in New York City

The Wall of Wishes

Wishing Wall

Trees in Lights on Fifth Avenue

December 26, 2008

The building at 575 Fifth Avenue is undergoing renovations and the facade is shrouded in plywood painted blue. However, despite the lack of windows and doorways, those responsible for the location managed to find a way to add a bit of adornment for the holidays.


575 Fifth Avenue

You’d better watch out

December 24, 2008

You’d better watch out
You’d better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

-J. Fred Coots, Henry Gillespie, 1934

Watch out and you might run into the jolly old elf anywhere — even in midtown Manhattan. Many people wandered by without noticing, but I spotted him, sitting in a bright red sleigh, beneath an enormous tree in Bryant Park.

With a friend in Bryant Park

He knows if you’ve been bad or good

Chordie: Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Newseum: “Yes, Virigina”

The Empire State in Red and Green

December 24, 2008

The colors of the lights atop the Empire State Building change throughout the year to reflect holidays and special events. Right now they are red and green in honor of Christmas. The next scheduled change will occur on January 6, 2009.

If you’d like to keep up with the lighting changes, and you are using a Mac, you can download the What Color is the Empire State Building widget to your desktop. Just click the link below.


Empire State Building widget
Empire State Building Lighting Schedule

Operation Santa Claus: Looking back

December 19, 2008

I read the article in the New York Times with great dismay.

“Postal Service Tells Gift-Givers Not to Help Santa” said the headline. Reading on, I learned that “The United States Postal Service abruptly shut down public participation in all the Operation Santa programs — in New York and other major cities across the country — at 1 p.m. Wednesday, without offering post offices or letter-seeking citizens any understanding of why.”

The Times reporter discovered that the Postal Service officials in Washington decided to shut Santa down when, “at one of the programs, not New York’s, a man whom a letter carrier recognized as a registered sex offender had “adopted” a letter. When postal officials confronted the man, the official said, he said he was sincerely trying to do a good deed, but postal inspectors nonetheless retrieved the letter and notified the family of the child. The Postal Service, indicating that the closing down of all of Operation Santa might be temporary, said that it felt it was wise to take the precaution.”

Of course, the safety of children is of paramount importance, but it is a pity that the officials thought that shuttering the entire program was the best way to deal with an isolated incident (note, the man in question had not, in any way, contacted the child who wrote the letter).  The losers here are the children who wrote to Santa Claus, expressing their deepest longings, and the thousands of New Yorkers who looked forward to anonymously making the kids’ dreams come true.

Reading the story reminded me that I had, once upon a time, drafted an article about Operation Santa Claus but neglected to post it. Now, here it is — a look back at Operation Santa Claus as it was back in 2005.

Children have long written letters to Santa Claus, but once those Christmas wish letters are dropped into the mailboxes, where do they go? Often, they end up at the main post office in New York City as part of Operation Santa Claus.

Operation Santa Claus began in the New York Post Office nearly 100 years ago, when clerks in what was known as the Money Order Division decided to answer the children whose letters to Santa would otherwise go unanswered. A few decades later, the workers invited the public to help respond to the flood of mail — much of it inspired by the “letters to Santa” scene in the 1947 hit movie, Miracle on 34th Street.

Through the years, the program expanded to post offices across the country, but New York’s has remained the largest, drawing thousands of people daily.  They go to the majestic James A. Farley Station and cram into a room decorated with kitschy Christmas ornaments. There, to the tinny sounds of “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” they dig through bins labeled with the names of the city’s five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island, and two others bearing tags that say “New Jersey” and “Everywhere Else.”

Tables and chairs are set up for participants, but there aren’t enough to hold the crowd that surges in daily, perching on every available space and sprawling onto the floor, looking for the letter — or letters — that touch their hearts. The post office staff doesn’t read or screen the letters; they are simply opened and placed into the bins.  Every person in the room has a strategy for selecting the “right” letters.

“You read through them,” explained one woman, “and it is easy to sort the greedy from the needy.” She’s right. Look through a few letters and you’ll quickly begin to see the patterns emerge.

Missives from working and middle class children tend to be charming, sweet, funny and brand conscious. They ask for electronics, name brand sneakers, the toys advertised on television and sports equipment. Some even helpfully include ads from stores with circles drawn around the pictures of the items they crave.

The letters from the poor children are a stark contrast. “Dear Santa,” many of them begin, “I don’t want anything for myself …”

The writers describe sick, shivering grandmothers who need sweaters to keep warm, younger siblings who lack paper and pens to do their schoolwork,  mothers who cry when they think their children are asleep. They don’t dare request toys; the poor kids ask for things that more affluent children would be appalled to receive as Christmas presents: underwear, socks, soap, shampoo, blankets, hats and gloves.

Letters arrive from parents, too, who can’t afford to provide many comforts for their children. The return addresses may be refuges for abused women or homeless shelters. The writers may be disabled, recently released from incarceration, or just out of a drug rehabilitation program. They may be struggling to hold onto or to regain custody of their children, or simply looking for something they can bring on the days they are allowed to see their kids.

“Dear Santa,” wrote one such mother, “please bring shoelaces for my kids and toothbrushes so each boy has his own.”

In order to arrive before Christmas morning, all Operation Santa letter and packages must be mailed no later than December 22. If you’d like to participate this year, go to the James A. Farley Station at Eighth Avenue and 33rd Street. The Operation Santa room is open Monday through Saturday from December 2 to December 23.

Entrance to Operation Santa Claus room Posted by Picasa

Approaching the main letter room Posted by Picasa

All types of New Yorkers respond Posted by Picasa

For some, participating is a family tradition Posted by Picasa

A prized seat at a table Posted by Picasa

Letters to Santa
The “letters to Santa” scene from Miracle on 34th Street

New York Times: Postal Service Tells Gift-Givers Not to Help Santa
Miracle on 34th Street

Where a Girl Can Find a New Best Friend

December 15, 2008

A kiss on the hand
May be quite continental,
But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

A kiss may be grand
But it won’t pay the rental
On your humble flat
Or help you at the automat.

Men grow cold
As girls grow old,
And we all lose our charms in the end.

But square-cut or pear-shaped,
These rocks don’t loose their shape.
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

–Jule Styne, 1953

Midtown Manhattan is home to the world’s largest shopping district for diamonds and fine jewelry. The quiet, elegant shops of Tiffany, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpel, Harry Winston, DeBeers, H. Stern, Bulgari, Mikimoto, Dunhill and Piaget are clustered in the area around 5th Avenue and 57th Street.

Ten blocks further south, on West 47th St between Fifth Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas, is an entirely different type of jewelry shopping experience. Over 90 percent of the diamonds that enter the United States go through New York City, and most of those spend some time on here, in the Diamond District.

The District, confined to a single city block, holds close to 3,000 jewelers, most of them working in booths within the marketplaces known as exchanges. Inside the exchanges, haggling is expected. The deals often involve great displays of emotion with buyers and sellers gesturing wildly and shouting in dozens of languages.

Out on the street, barkers stand outside the shops, urging passersby to enter and offering to buy unwanted gold, silver and platinum. Couriers rush along the sidewalks, briefcases holding fortunes in jewels handcuffed to their wrists. Rich and poor alike stop to gaze at the glittering windows, behind which, it is said, total receipts for a single day’s trade average $400 million.

Banner on a lamppost

Sign outside a diamond exchange

Two diamond-topped pylons mark each end of the District

Diamonds on holiday decorations

Sign for a diamond exchange

Shopper inspects a window

Necklaces hang in a shop window

Jewelry on display

Window at a diamond exchange

Sign at a diamond exchange

Diamonds on an awning

A row of diamond shops

Window shoppers

The Diamond District
Reel Classics: Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend

It’s a Zoo in There!

December 9, 2008

Central Park has a wonderful zoo designed to teach children about wildlife and conservation. But the hours — especially during the winter — are short and the price of admission can be prohibitive.

Here’s an alternative to the zoo itself; the Fifth Avenue subway station, which is the station closest to the zoo, has brought some of the animals inside. No matter what the weather, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, you can duck underground and visit the cheerful mosaic animals created by artist Ann Schaumburger.

You can even pet these creatures. Just don’t try to feed them.

Penguin family with three babies

Penguin family with two babies

Mother and child horses

Snail family heading towards a stairway

Mommy snail

Family of butterfiles

Butterfly close-up

Monkey family

Baby monkey holding onto Mommy’s belly

Mommy and baby polar bears (click to see larger)

A flock of parrots

Parrots with purple torsos

Closer view of parrot

Central Park Zoo
Chelsea Art Galleries: Ann Schaumburger

You have to have standars

December 3, 2008

I couldn’t help noticing the sign on this truck, which was parked at 41st Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Apparently, the business that owns the vehicle is committed to maintaining a certain “standar” of quality. Good thing they are builders and not publishers.

Parked on 41st Street

The Standar of Quality

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