The Box Builder

508 West 24th Street, Penthouse South$9,250,000; common charges: $4,246; taxes: $2,0413 bedroom; 3.5 bathroomsInterior: 3,018 square feet; exterior: 600 square feet


There are three penthouses in architect and developer Cary Tamarkin’s newest West Chelsea building, on West 24th Street. Penthouse North is already under contract. All of the other units in the building have been sold as well, and the ground floor retail space—sold to an investor—has been leased. Tamarkin’s buildings, with their boxy, post-industrial outlines, are scattered across the West Village and Chelsea, where many less graceful imitations have sprung up as well. Tamarkin “is widely credited with having reintroduced the fashion for raw-space loft development in New York,” the Times wrote in 2001.

On Tuesday, listing agents at 508 West 24th Street were holding an open house for brokers to see the two remaining penthouse apartments. One visitor had apparently been involved in a landmarking dispute with Tamarkin on the Upper East Side in the early aughts. Tamarkin’s initial proposal had called for a seventeen-story condominium building; the building plan that passed, two years later, was nine stories. “Tell her I hate her,” Tamarkin scoffed.

Tamarkin, who is from Long Island, studied architecture at Harvard and led his own firm, in Boston, for ten years, before moving back to New York in the early nineties to become a developer. “My whole life I had identified as an architect. That’s what I did since age twelve,” Tamarkin told me. “But I wasn’t prepared to be a starving artist my whole life.” In 1992, when he was thirty-five, he invested with a friend who, conveniently, had just gotten a job running the real estate fund at Oaktree Capital, in an abandoned warehouse in the West Village. A building at 140 Perry Street, which had been vacant for five years, Tamarkin said, cost 1.6 million dollars. “Even if the building made no money, I’d make twice as much money as if I’d just been hired as an architect, because I was also getting development fees,” he said. “In fact, the building sold out, and I made a million dollars. I had never seen a million dollars. So, this was definitely the right idea.”

The Lease Busters

220 West 98th Street, #4$3,650 per month2 bedrooms / 1 bathroomNearest subway: 1/2/3 trains at 96th Street


Flip is a startup which makes it easier to break leases. The app is still in beta, but its founder, Susannah Vila, who is finishing up her MBA at Columbia University, has introduced to fellow students at Columbia who are looking to get out of their leases. “The idea came about just because I am the number one customer for it,” Vila told me. “I just love to move. I’ve moved three times since starting business school.” Vila is currently on two leases: She lives in Lower Manhattan, on East Broadway, and sublets her previous apartment. “It’s silly that you get constrained and stuck into leases by the year—you should just be able to move in and out of apartments whenever you want.”

How to Shower in a Coffee Shop in Portland

Portland coffee shop: "You can shower in our bathroom but don't use Herbal Essences." @meaghano help

— Mike Dang (@reportermike) March 29, 2015

Mike! So what happened here?

I spent a few days in Portland, Ore., a few weeks back for a conference. It was my first time there, and I think like a lot of people who’ve never been to Portland, my ideas of what the city is like have been colored by the sketch comedy series Portlandia—this kind of DIY-hipster enclave full of liberal, zany characters. But I spent my first few days in Portland at my hotel, where the conference was being held, and it didn’t really feel as if I was actually in Portland since conferences at hotels tend to feel the same no matter what city you’re in. I knew this in advance, so I planned to stay an extra day with my friends Meaghan and Dustin and their baby, and they were going to show me around so I could get the full Portland experience. 

After I checked out of my hotel, Meaghan suggested that I walk to a small coffee shop located near Powell’s Books. I ordered a cappuccino from one of the two baristas staffing the coffee bar and sat at a table while waiting for Meaghan to pick me up. Then, a young woman walked in and asked if there was a bathroom.

“Can I take a shower in your bathroom?” she asked.

“Yes, of course you can,” one of the baristas replied. “We’re totally coooool about it.”

Teach and Frisk

At the front of the one-classroom schoolhouse in the Mar Vista Gardens housing project in Culver City, California, a handful of high school students and their teacher sit in a circle and participate in small group discussion. Behind them, a dozen or so students who have opted to engage in independent study work silently at their desks. The volume of the class rarely rises above the level of a friendly dinner table conversation.

Affluent families all over the country pay upwards of thirty-thousand dollars a year in private school tuition for settings like this. But this classroom, where students learn about astronomical research in Antarctica from a visiting CalTech scientist, tend to an organic vegetable garden, and practice non-violent conflict resolution, is part of Central High, a Los Angeles Unified School District alternative school for would-be dropouts, which operates out of sixteen sites from San Pedro to North Hollywood.

Yet the man running this class, a forty-two-year-old former public interest lawyer named Vitaly, may be on the brink of being fired. For the last four years, he has refused to conduct mandatory in-class weapons searches of his students—which the district argues keeps classrooms safe—because he believes that the policy is unethical and would destroy everything that makes his classroom successful.

The Toys You Won’t Buy

I don’t have a lot of “rules” at home for the baby. I put Zelda to bed consistently, I’m strict about her eating, and I keep her away from iPhones. Other than that, it is mostly a free-for-all around here. Still, even before I had a baby, I had THOUGHTS on the insane baby toys which are really popular these days: you know, the ones that fit the whole baby inside of them, with crazy lights and sounds and glitter? “They’re huge, they’re loud, they’re ugly. They probably overstimulate the baby’s senses and make it crazy!” I told myself. That philosophy crumbled relatively quickly in the face of gift-laden visitors and a need to search out everything I could imagine that my baby would want or need. And so, while your baby will happily play with a cardboard box for hours at a time, you (like me) will probably spend a lot of time (and money) shopping for toys—to entertain, to distract, to “stimulate,” and to educate your new roommate.

Goodbye, Time Warner Cable

We’ve been through a lot together these past twelve years. Remember when I moved to Silver Lake? You came with me! You even replaced my outdated cable box as a housewarming gift. Sure, you continued to charge me $4 a month in “rent” for that old box that you kept, for the next 57 months. But it was a lovely gesture.

I remember all those long nights waiting on hold, trying to get you to stop charging me for the old cable box, only to get a customer service rep who thought I was the one who was lying. Maybe it’s that we’re too much alike. I’m a stubborn person as well. I like doing things the way I’ve always done them. You know how you’ve stuck with the same garbage menu interface since at least 2003? I still have the same coffee machine from back then! Who needs a Keurig or a navigable UI, anyway?

We’ve had our share of arguments, but they kept us intertwined in that special way only a toxic cycle of invented drama can. Like the time I caught you charging new subscribers half the rate you charged me for the same service. We had a chat about that, didn’t we. You told me, with a straight face, that the plan I had was a “better deal,” because I guess you don’t think I understand how numbers work? You said if I wanted the new rate I’d have to cancel my service altogether and then come back a month, if that rate was even still offered by then. So unnecessary. So hurtful. I’m happy to say I’m finally taking your recommendation. The first part, at least.

Are You Just LARPing Your Job?

Slack, maker of extremely expensive professional chatrooms, is annexing online work culture at a stunning rate. The industry narrative doesn’t quite cover it! Sure, a lot of companies are signing up and closing their Campfire chats, their Hipchats and their IRCs. But the thing about Slack that gives you that low dread of unstoppable acceleration is how fully it encompasses how you talk to coworkers: first it replaces a group work chat, then it gradually replaces your Gchats and the last remaining AIM conversations. Eventually—and this is when you finally begin to understand why, in the big fun-free casino of venture capital, the Slack table is so crowded—it starts to replace email. It’s a weird and distinct feeling, and one that often coincides with Slack apologetics. It is the process of Slackulatory capture.

There may be offices, and types of jobs, for which sitting in a chatroom all day makes everyone more productive. This does not seem to be the case in online media, which is most effusive in its praise for the service. Slack is where people make jokes and register their presence; it is where stories and editing and administrating are discussed as much for self-justification as for the completion of actual goals. Working in an active Slack (or Campfire for that matter!) is a productivity nightmare, especially if you don’t hate your coworkers. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either rationalizing or delusional.

How To Do Your Taxes

An Asshole Theory of the Apple Watch

One of the selling points of the Apple Watch is that it can help make you less of an asshole. This was the thrust of the first major report about what the watch is like to wear, published before we knew what it looked like. It’s in Apple’s marketing. “You know how very often technology tends to inhibit rather than enable more nuanced, subtle communication?” Jony Ive asked in an interview with Vogue.

It is also at the core of the New York Times review.*

The effect was so powerful that people who’ve previously commented on my addiction to my smartphone started noticing a change in my behavior; my wife told me that I seemed to be getting lost in my phone less than in the past. She found that a blessing.

This reminded me of something I came across a few years ago. It’s an account of Sony Chairman Akio Morita testing out the first Walkman:

And an accompanying note, a decade later in 1989, from writer Rebecca Lind (both collected from this book):

There seems to be something similar going on with the Apple Watch: an assumption not just that watches don’t do enough, or that other smartwatches are bad, or that an Apple Watch might allow people to do new things, but that the Apple Watch can, and must, fix the way people behave. It is, in this view, a tool for correcting problems created by the device to which it must be paired to operate. The Apple Watch is supposed to be a filter between you and your gaping attention-suck hellworld smartphone; we will give it permission to intervene because it is slightly easier to look at while reducing our what’s-going-on-over-there-by-which-I-mean-in-my-pocket anxiety just enough to keep us sane. It provides a slight buzz, hopefully just enough, at a lower social cost. So it’s a little like… methadone?