Posts Tagged ‘New York City’

You Humps Quit Badmouthing Queens

August 1, 2017

I submitted this column to several major news outlets before Anthony Scaramucci again did me dirty by leaving the White House. Good riddance.

As a native of Elmhurst, I won’t stand for Donald Trump and his new mouthpiece Anthony Scaramucci tossing shade on Queens. We are not a county of “front-stabbers,” as you told a BBC reporter, Mr Scaramucci. If a boor from Nassau County like you or your Manhattan wannabe boss think you can distort Queens in your image, I got one word for you: fuggedabouddit.

Queens is not a place where people curse through hired spokespersons to prove their toughness. Queens is where 2.3 million people, nearly half born in another country and almost evenly split among Hispanics, Asians, blacks and whites, live together in the most diverse large jurisdiction on earth. For them, Queens represents a key step up the ladder toward the American Dream. It’s a place for a first job, first child, first home and, often a second language.

It was pretty much that same way 60 years ago when I was growing up between the 90th Street and Junction Boulevard stops on the Flushing line, in a row of two family houses. Our closest neighbors were Italian, Greek, Irish and a Yugoslavian-Irish couple, plus a new apartment house full of Cubans fleeing Castro around the corner. I didn’t meet a white Protestant until I got to college.

My elementary school, PS 19, served Corona’s Italian and African American enclaves, the latter thanks to the area’s relative absence of racial discrimination that drew Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. PS 19 also resembled the United Nations, literally, since back then, a fair number of the world body’s personnel resided in Elmhurst. We had Japanese, Haitians, Indians, and Jerry from Ghana who wouldn’t say the Pledge of the Allegiance to the American flag that began every school day.

For junior high, I was bused to Maspeth, a double fare zone dominated by Eastern Europeans. But our class president was a black girl, our class sweetheart was Irish, the top clique was an Italian, Greek, Hawaiian Japanese and Korean-Irish, and I attended a half-dozen classmates’ bar mitzvahs. As part of Queens’ next immigration surge, Maurice joined us in seventh grade from Peru, learned basketball from us and went on to turn his father’s jewelry store into a chain.

Newtown High School, with 5,000 kids on two shifts plus an annex in an old bowling alley, embraced the Latin influx. After decades of mediocrity, Newtown’s soccer and baseball teams became championship contenders. Although the school still had plenty of Levines, Learys and Leones, the most popular surname in my graduating class was Lee, previewing Queens’ next immigration wave.

By the time I went to work for the Queens Borough President a dozen years later, the Flushing Line was known as the Orient Express, and my father, relocated to Jackson Heights, saw Little Bombay blossom alongside one of New York’s biggest Latin American clusters.

It’s this constant change, renewal and integration – that in just one ordinary family produced the bar mitzvah of my cousin Eddie Hernandez, Larry Cohen from Brooklyn marrying a Brazilian woman after my mother died and some guy named Muhammad Cohen – that make Queens and America great. There’s no question about that. What we have to ask is how Donald Trump grew up in Queens and missed it?

During high school, when I was working as a stock boy in a drugstore at the far end of Elmhurst, I remember our self-styled class radical feminist, who would attend Barnard College, being mortified as I saw her come out of the neighboring store, her parents’ Chinese laundry. But she should have been proud, because Queens is all about working hard and doing the job right so that your kids never have to starch other people’s shirts or schlep cartons of baby formula up flights of stairs.

The hardest work Donald Trump has ever done likely involved skulking around New York and Atlantic City by limo and helicopter to cheat on the mother of his first three children. He did a better job duping voters than he did fooling Ivana Trump, he lost money in the casino business and would have gotten a better return on his inheritance if he’d put his father’s money in a stock index fund rather than creating monuments to himself bearing his name in big gold letters. So naturally Trump doesn’t understand Queens values.

Even though two of his wives were born abroad, it’s no surprise Trump can’t comprehend how embracing differences, dialogue and tolerance are the keys to growth and renaissance because he’s never looked beyond himself and the patchwork of lies and misconceptions he and lackeys like Scaramucci craft to fit his worldview. Trump may believe that Queens really is the home of 1970s TV bigot Archie Bunker, brilliantly portrayed and consistently derided by Newtown High graduate Carroll O’Connor. In his nightmare of tribal hatred, Trump can’t recognize people who look or speak or act differently from him pursuing the American dream.

Or it may be as simple as what Will Rogers, who lived in Queens’ Kew Gardens a century ago, said: “A fool and his money are soon elected.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a blogger for Forbes, editor at large for Inside Asian Gaming and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Thanks for the New York welcome

May 17, 2011

Hong Kong On Air coverSincerest appreciation to all who helped make the New York event for Hong Kong On Air at BookCulture on May 6 a success.

Special thanks to all who attended. Literary figures in the crowd included Leonard Levitt, author of police blog and NYPD Confidential, the book; Tracy Quan, author of Diary of a Jetsetting Call Girl and Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl; and In the Third Decade blogger Silver Erieann.

See photos of the event on the Muhammad Cohen Facebook page.

Special thanks to BookCulture and its staff for graciously hosting the event. BookCulture is a fabulous independent bookstore that caters to Columbia University and the surrounding community’s varied needs. (A chamber music group followed Hong Kong On Air.) Perhaps the good news in the Borders bankruptcy is that there’s room for independent bookstores in the marketplace.

BookCulture also carries media significance: it’s down the block from Tom’s Restaurant, used as the exterior shot for Monk’s Diner in Seinfeld. However, Tom’s was first made famous by my friend Jami Bernard for its bent – not grilled – cheese sandwiches. We chose Mel’s Burger Bar for the after-party.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Meet Muhammad Cohen in New York on May 6

May 2, 2011


As the Hong Kong handover boom fizzles into the Asian economic bust, a young American couple’s marriage and careers tumble into a maze of television news, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie.

Native New Yorker in exile Muhammad Cohen’s engaging, often hilarious novel captures the mood ahead of the 1997 handover when Hong Kong reigned as the centre of the universe, a multicultural melting pot bubbling with pure gold. As the Asian crisis abruptly ends the party, mainland China emerges, eclipsing Hong Kong. For everyone whose job or business falls under China’s lengthening economic shadow, Hong Kong On Air presents a fresh angle on how it all began. For media watchers, Hong Kong On Air broadcasts the backstage secrets of television news, how and why some events become headlines and others die gasping for air time.

During Hong Kong’s pre-handover boom, Franklin Global Networks Asia (Fuggin’ Asia) becomes a hit, a star is born, and mistakes are easy to overlook. But the economic crisis ripens relationships for treachery, creates opportunities for revenge, and moves China center stage, triggering a great leap forward for some, a long march to failure for others.

Author Cohen – a native New Yorker who cut his journalistic teeth in local papers and the Yankee Stadium press box – will discuss his novel along with the political and economic developments behind it at BookCulture, 536 W 112 St, on May 6, 6.30-8pm. He’ll also be reading excerpts and signing copies of what one reviewer calls “the great American Hong Kong handover novel.”

Learn more about the book at and about the author and his writing at

Whether you can be there or not, please spread the word. Attending the event earns a ticket to the exclusive afterparty.

Seinfeld fans note BookCulture is a half-block from Tom’s Restaurant, the exterior shot used as Monk’s Diner on the show. Writer and Barnard graduate Jami Bernard made Tom’s (in)famous first for its bent cheese – rather than grilled cheese – sandwiches.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Don’t boo Andy Murray because he’s Scottish

September 11, 2009

Watching the US Open tennis tournament, once Taylor Dent beat Ivan Navarro to set up a third round match with Andy Murray, I found myself hoping the New York crowd would boo Murray off the court. Not just because Dent is an American and the tournament’s top feel-good story after two operations for back trouble that could have left him in a wheelchair. Not just because I don’t like Murray’s playing style, personality, bad teeth, or rock star entourage before he’s topped the charts. No, I wanted the fans in my home town to bury Murray because he’s from Scotland. But as soon as I thought it, I knew it was wrong.

Scotland, you’ll recall, released convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi from prison last month. Most of the 270 victims of the Christmas week 1988 airliner bombing were Americans, bound for New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport, about 15 kilometers from center court at Flushing Meadow (note from Queens native: Flushing Meadow is correct; Flushing Meadows is wrong, no matter how often it’s repeated). Scottish Justice Minister Kenny Macaskill marked himself for near-universal approbation with his smug claims of superior compassion for al-Megrahi while showing none for the victims of the cowardly attack and their families.

Documents released since the release show the British government, Murray’s other national flag, shares culpability in the abhorrent decision. Moreover, the release seems so wrong, so ill-conceived, so irrational, that suspicion lingers – and evidence mounts – that there must have been an under the table deal with Libya, trading al-Megrahi’s freedom for oil or some other commercial consideration.

Americans and decent people all over the world have a right to be angry at the governments of Scotland and Britain. But that doesn’t give them any right to be angry at Scottish people like Andy Murray. Americans, of all people, should understand that.

For most of the George W Bush administration, America was the most vilified nation on earth due to the invasion of Iraq. (For some, Ameriphobia dates to Vietnam, Hiroshima, the dawn of the military industrial-industrial complex, or back to that Scotsman Adam Smith.) As an American living overseas, whenever nationality was mentioned, I took great pains to explain I didn’t support Bush or the Iraq invasion. I didn’t want to get blamed for the stupid things my government did.

Holding civilians responsible for the sins of their governments is precisely what terrorists do. Al-Megrahi and his co-conspirators, or whoever bombed Pan Am flight 103, didn’t ask any of the passengers what they thought about US support for Israel or its enmity toward Libya. No one checked the nationalities of workers filing into New York’s World Trade Center twin towers on that clear morning eight years ago. They became victims simply because they were presumed to be Americans by madmen who considered their nationality a criminal act.

Like ordinary folks, athletes don’t deserve to be victimized for their citizenship, but it happens. Recall the 1972 Olympics in Munich or the March ambush of Sri Lanka’s national cricket team playing in Pakistan. Tennis has escaped the violence but not the politics. Israeli players are routinely denied entry visas for tournaments in Arab countries. In the Fed Cup, the women’s international team competition, Indonesia chose to forfeit rather than play in Israel. On the other end of the scale, Murray, like his British number one predecessor Tim Henman, faces extraordinary pressure from the home fans at Wimbledon, the biggest tournament in tennis, where no British man has won the title since 1936.

Some years ago, I experienced a version of politics and sports mixing badly on a basketball court in Washington, DC. Some guy I’d never played with began roughing me up from the first dribble, pushing and elbowing in an otherwise relaxed game. I’m not that good a player, so hardly merited the special attention. It took me a couple of points to realize it had to be because I was white (the only white player in the game) and this young black man hated white people, or at least hated playing basketball with them. I’d never done anything to him, and I wasn’t a racist (certainly not as far as he knew). But he judged me solely on my membership in a certain target group and acted out, just as the terrorists do.

Athletes, like the rest of us, deserve to be judged on who they are, not what they are or where they’re from. So fellow New Yorkers and tennis fans everywhere, show your sportsmanship and enlightenment: don’t boo Andy Murray just because he’s Scottish. Boo him just because he’s Andy Murray, and delight with me that he crashed out of the US Open in the fourth round.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

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