On The Road With A Globetrotter

| 08 Aug 2016 | 07:18

A former teacher for children with learning disabilities, Sue Korn is a longtime New Yorker. As former chair of the alumni association of Cornell, she remains active in its activities. Always on the move, she has been on the board of the Central Synagogue where she has chaired a number of committees. Her work with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) is legendary. And ongoing.

Mileage covered: .54 miles

Sunny, 81 degrees

It was ever thus: when meeting someone in Manhattan for the first time, the conversation starter is, often enough, real estate.

And so it is as I meet Sue Korn at her carriage house on a sunny morning, ZIP code 10128, environs Lennox Hill. Before we set out on her rounds, a tutorial on its history is called for.

“My husband wanted a carriage house because it would be large enough for his office on the ground floor,” she tells me.

“The most important thing was it had to be a block from the subway. It couldn’t have any steps because he was an orthopedist. So the day this came on the market he put in his offer and we had never been inside. When we got inside we discovered that the plumbing was wooden. Downstairs still had stalls for the horses.”

So, over there are the gears that were used to haul up the hay. And back there, that was the hayloft.

The Korns live across the street from a classic UES white-brick mega-building, Imperial House. Sue is nursing a banged-up knee (long story: sailing on the Sound, too swift a tack and to protect her granddaughter ...)

“Because of my knee, when we can’t do this building anymore we’re moving across the street and my daughter and son-in-law and my grandchildren are moving in here. We feel like we’re caretakers of the building and we want to keep it in the family.”

The house’s docent continues, “This building was owned by the Diamond family who lived next door. They bought the entire block and wanted to knock it down and put up a high-rise here. The neighborhood went into absolute craziness and they brought in the Landmark Commission and they made the entire block landmarked. The day we put in our bid for this house ... every house on the block went up for sale.”

We turn our conversation to the Laugh for Life benefit Sue created for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation. I’d attended several over the years, including the most recent one in February.

As is so often the case with a nonprofit, this cause was a personal one.

“(When) my sister Carol (Goldschien) was diagnosed, it was devastating because it was a disease we’d never heard of. Actually my husband diagnosed it. She’d been in a bike accident and he looked at her X-rays and sent her immediately to an oncologist. We didn’t know how serious it was in the beginning.”

The foundation, about as gold standard a nonprofit as you can find – or fund, defines multiple myeloma as “a form of blood cancer that develops in the bone marrow. The monoclonal protein produced by myeloma cells, interferes with normal blood cell production.”

“We tried to figure out what could we do to try to bring some hope and some fun to this thing. They are the most amazing organization

“They said, ‘Well you could stuff envelopes for us” (Me: that’s nonprofit code for “We have no idea how you can help ...”) “If you have any contacts maybe you could find a florist to make arrangements.

“They didn’t know who they were dealing with!”

Sue and her family were told, finally, that the foundation had never been able to get traction for a benefit in the city.

“They’re located in Connecticut,” Sue says. “They didn’t understand that New York has a million charities. That if you wanted to you could go to a charity event every night of the week. So we tried to think of things we could do. We realized that laughter was the best thing. It would be fun for us and we were trying to bring happiness back in.

“So my sister, Carol, and Cindy, my sister-in-law just kind of pulled this together and the first year we did it in a tiny club where they had maximum seating for 100. We brought our own food. We found our own comedians. We printed the invitations ourselves. Within a week we were sold out. Standing room for 20.”

There’d be stopovers at Carolines, B.B. King’s, the Hammerstein Ballroom. And then, a sweet spot: Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers.

“Now we attract 700 people every year.”

And the headliners?

“Mario Cantone, Joyce Behar, Jim Gaffigan ... We had him for three years. He’s amazing.”

“Kathy Giusti (a multiple myeloma patient and founder, in 1998, of MMRF) is nationally recognized ... and has totally changed the way cancer research is really being done. Because she was a pharma executive before she was diagnosed herself she really understood business. There have been ten new drugs approved by the FDA in a short amount of time.

“Being diagnosed now is so different from when my sister was diagnosed.”

And on that hopeful note, we muster.

At Lex, we hang a right, heading into some of the loveliest, most cinematic and hard-fought for landmarked real estate in Manhattan. The Ur-UES.

Walking and talking … or, rather, gimping and talking, Sue points out some of the landmarks in her village:

There’s Neil’s Coffee shop at East 70th: “Been here forever and it’s the best place for breakfast in our neighborhood.”

And Cognac East restaurant, across 70th: “It’s had lots of names. And we always love it.”

“It’s a restaurant that a movie set designer would use to telegraph ‘New York restaurant’,” I remark.

Like thousands of New Yorkers who love/hate/but-mostly-love seeing their neighborhood aspic-ed on celluloid, Sue proudly recalls Cognac’s star turn in “Sex and the City.”

“When they used a restaurant, they used this restaurant.”

We pause to mourn the loss of the Lennox Hill Bookstore, corner of 71st Street, one of the rising-rent casualties flipping tenancies up and down the avenue. Before we visit another of her mercantile mainstays on Lex, Mary Arnold’s, a toy store and, therefore, one of Sue’s money pits — she has grandchildren, you know ... — we duck into her shoemakers to ask George to work his surgical skills on a pair of pumps “he has “done 150 times.”

We cross to the west side of Lex to visit the Mary Arnold’s. Mission possible: lanyards in pink and purple. With directions.

“This toy store started out about two blocks down and when my daughter was growing up I used to come here. It’s breaking my heart that they’re moving to the 80s. So it’s not going to be in my hood,” Sue sighs.

Spirits lifted, thanks to the lucky find of The Perfect Set of Lanyards, we step into what is probably Sue’s most important retail shrine in her village: the designer clothing shop just a few doors down from 74th: Dannielle B.

Sue asks me, “Did you happened to notice the dress I was wearing at Laugh for Life? That blue and black? From here! Anytime I look good it’s in something from here.”

The small shop is confidently, and comfortably, presided over by, well … one Dannielle Bluysen. Sue begins what will be, I can easily imagine, a successful search for something “white on white” for the Cornell reunion Sue has on her calendar.

Dannielle B., like all the shops we visit is in one of New York’s great retail chain-free zones. There is only ONE Marilyn’s. Only ONE Dannielle B.’s. Unlike on Third Avenue one block to the east, these shopkeepers are like all shopkeepers in the great cities of the world: in places where everybody knows your name.

Dannielle B., though is extra special thanks to the namesake’s generosity to Sue’s core-strength cause: the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

“Danniele always gives us a very generous donation,” she says as we head back to “her landmark”. “She has become like a friend. The nicest, nicest woman,” Sue tells me, flashing her big, wide smile.

Back at her doorstep it’s time for me to peel off, and head back to my own village.

“You know when you live in New York it’s all about your neighborhood. 80th Street (where Marilyn’s is headed) is not my neighborhood. My neighborhood’s from Bloomingdale’s to 79th Street.

But, she smiles, “I DO play bridge on 87th and Third.”

Sue Korn: globetrotter.