Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Gambling in Gotham

The news that Manhattan's Stuyvesant Town is on the brink of bankruptcy stirs memories of the world in which it became the home of returning World War II veterans in search of affordable housing.

Friday nights I would play poker in that brown blob of high-rise apartment buildings on the East River. The host was always Horace Gold and for good reason. He had not been outdoors for years, editing Galaxy, a science-fiction magazine, with a telephone, messenger service and a psychiatrist who made house calls.

The regulars were mostly his writers, but there were a few civilians like me, an unmarried young magazine editor. Sitting in often were Arthur Clarke, who would later write "2001: A Space Odyssey;" the avant-garde composer John Cage, who played his cards well with a sweet distracted smile; and Jackie Susann, an actress who was doing TV commercials for Schiffli embroidery and would soon take up writing best-sellers like "Valley of the Dolls."

We played late and taxied cross-town to the all-night Howard Johnson's on Sheridan Square, where winners bought breakfast and bragged about their brilliance to a small audience of overnight cab drivers and people with nowhere to go who were not yet called homeless.

Even then, Stuyvesant Town's rent-controlled appeal was tainted by its strict racial segregation and the sterile institutional atmosphere enforced by its owners, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. But there were trees and grass and other urban amenities to make it more habitable than the city's low-rent slums.

Now it has been caught up in the 21st century whirlwind of real-estate greed, bought for $5.4 billion in 2006 by a syndicate of investors, including international banks, the Church of England and the California Public Employees' Retirement System, among others.

In their much higher stakes gamble than our postwar poker nights, they are all facing huge losses and when they fold their ill-advised bets, there will not likely be any morning-after breakfasts to critique their games.

1 comment:

Fuzzy Slippers said...

Pure genius! Your prose here reminds me of Updike at his best.