NYC’s Newest Summer Scam

New York City is a buzzing hive of scoundrels. They have no intention of putting in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages. That’s for suckers like you and I. They live to surgically separate people from their money as quickly and stealthily as possible. And they’re always coming up with novel ways to do it. [Come to think of it, that sounds like the dictionary definition of the advertising industry.]

Currently, there are some Buddhist monks strolling around midtown Manhattan with big smiles on their faces. They bow slightly to tourists, give them some prayer beads and hold their hand out. OF COURSE people give them money. They’re Buddhist monks!

Well, folks, they’re not. They’re a bunch of Chinese dudes who live in Queens impersonating monks. They bought some ceremonial robes and cheap prayer beads and—PRESTO!—instant monk. Apparently, word has gotten out that it’s an easy way to make a buck because I’m seeing more and more of them, especially since summer arrived. It’s been reported in all the papers but, as far as I can tell, nothing’s being done about it. I caught one of the holy Lamas taking a cigarette break on the steps of the stage door at the Nederlander Theater on 41st Street.


Hey! Those guys aren’t supposed to smoke! Aren’t their bodies supposed to be temples? Ah, well. Maybe they’re not a bunch of benevolent pacifists after all. For instance, I saw this headline in New York Daily News yesterday:


I remember (now, fondly) the three-card Monte grifters of my early NYC years. I was played for a fool once or twice but quickly learned you can’t beat them. It was intoxicating. There was always a shill so folks could see how easy it was. They’d let you win a few times to suck you in. You’d stand there with a fist full of cash and a big, dumb grin on your face, impressed with your brilliance and thinking you knew how to beat these bastards at their own game. The end result was always the same. You’d be liberated of that cash you’d just won and then some. You had to admire their ability to use your greed against you.

It made for great, free, theater. I spent many afternoons in Central Park during my broke-ass years watching them reel in fish after fish. Those guys never paid out. The scam was, if someone accidentally won and selected the right card (which, believe me, rarely happened), they’d kick their boxes over, yell, “Cops!” and scatter in different directions with their pockets full of cash. Your cash. It was beautiful. Nobody got physically hurt. People just felt stupid. A friend came to visit and I BEGGED him not to get involved but you know how that ended, right?

If you’re planning a visit this summer, stay away from the monks. I warned you.

My Bride made a rare trip into the city for work yesterday and took this spectacular pic of The Flatiron. It’s her favorite building in all of NYC. When it opened, one architectural critic glowingly referred to it as a great battleship steaming up Broadway. Hell, yeah, it is.


Here’s another architectural marvel on Amsterdam and 71st St. This is The Dorilton. It’s a beautiful Beau Arts co-op (originally apartments) constructed in 1902.


It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and featured in many architectural guidebooks. It’s one of the most flamboyant buildings in the city. Criminy. I wish I had a pied-à-terre there. If I did, my life would be perfect and I’d have to stop complaining. The Dorilton sits on the northeast corner. On the southwest corner, diagonally across the street is this abortion:


I don’t know or care what the name of this fugly mess is. This is the product of greedy real estate development turds. Why spend all that delicious money on design flourishes? That would just cut into profits.

I took these early yesterday morning. Bryant Park, 6:30 a.m. Nobody is around at that hour. It’s just me and a cup of coffee cart coffee.



Asbury Park, 2009. That was then.


Asbury Park, 2015. This is now.


*Sigh* Why does this makes my chest hurt?

85 thoughts on “NYC’s Newest Summer Scam

  1. Amazing just how much stuff you have to look at – I mean, to physically wander around and look at what’s around you. I’m not complaining about having trails and trees all over the place, but our buildings are much like the fugly one (with very few notable exceptions). Enjoy the view, I say!

    Well, I’m going to give the monk scam a try up here. I don’t look like a monk at all. I’ll probably be a bit drunk, so I won’t have the right state of grace (like, duh). But there’s one or two or twenty born every minute, and I’m gonna go find me some.

    • This city is an endless parade of sights, sounds and, unfortunately, smells. You can spend your entire day walking and sitting and be completely entertained. You don’t have to spend a dime! That’s probably what kept me here all those years.

      I wonder how much money those dudes are making scamming the tourists. I’m sure the benefits are awful–no dental I’m sure–but it’s all tax free. I mean…they don’t report that as income, do they?

      • No way they’re reporting that cash… I met a guy on the street once who held out his hand and asked me to help him with a down payment on a Lamborghini. I had to accommodate that. I hope he got his car. I sure didn’t get mine!

        I’ll say it again, you live in a singular part of the world. A magical part.

      • There are now these “truth in advertising” panhandlers in the city. The have signs that say “Need money for weed and munchies” or “Need money for wine.” It’s a humorous way to approach an old problem. One guy used to ask passers-by, “Do you have any Grey Poupon?”

    • I AM a softie! What the hell happened?! I lived on the Lower East Side among the junkies and musicians. Now look at me. What a crushing disappointment.

      I wish I didn’t care about architecture so much. Nothing good comes from it. Just aggravation.

  2. Your monks sound like old gypsy heather sellers – if you didn’t give them a pound for their lucky heather they’d put a gypsy curse on you. Don’t see them around anymore… I think they’ve moved on to laying tarmac on driveways.

    • Yeah, but I don’t think the gypsies were trying to be anything other than gypsies. It takes a whole different level of involvement to put a costume on and pretend your’re something your not. Points for that.

      • What more can one ask?
        Just dug this up from my notes on my one-and-only NYC trip:
        A hustler corners me and gives me a cigar tube. A gift. I’m wary to take. “It’s special. You’re going to love it.” He opens the tube and it’s cologne. “Oh no,” I whimper. Before I can stop him he’s sprayed it on my wrist and rubbed it in with his rough knuckles. “Now rub that on your cheek.” “No, I don’t like scents.” “You don’t like scents? Why not?” “I just don’t.” “My gift to you. 61 dollars at Macy’s, you give me what you think is right. I’m a promoter.” I say no thanks. We part. It still stinks.

      • Ross, I am GLAD you got hustled in NYC. Everyone should be. If you’re seriously injured in a mugging, that’s one thing. But to be hustled is almost a piece of performance art that you’re the star of. Great story. Thanks.

  3. The Ashbury Park time lapse photos of your girls is amazing Mark. They are so big now. Whew. The architecture of the older buildings is very beautiful. It is great to just stop and look around early in the morning – so clear and with promise. When I was trucking I loved the early mornings – the new day arriving.

    I wonder if the real Monks are upset about their impostors? They could be planning a Mon gang action to rid the neighborhoods from the bad guys. Ha! Mug shots of Monks.

    Great combination of PSA , architectural tour and family interest post Mark. Thank You.

    • Hi, Paul. People have told me the disparity between that first photo of my daughters and current time and place will become even greater. I guess that’s obvious but it’s still hard to imagine. Can’t say I’m looking forward to it all that much.

      Who’d have thought monks could be disparaged and given a bad name. Perhaps the Chinese government is behind it. Wouldn’t surprise me.

      I’m a morning guy. Always have been. It’s just better. Loved your last post, btw. It pushed my drunk-driving button. Took me a while to calm down. Shocking photo of you, too!

  4. Love the Dorilton, what a spectacular shot of a brilliant building. I’m pretty sure that most buildings built from about 1940 on should be bombed (after evacuation, of course). So much money spent on such utter crap. We have lost crafts to a world of folks who care about nothing but a buck.

    I love the pictures of the girls …

    • I have no problem with modern architecture. Maybe I’m being cliche but I like Frank Gehry’s work. Renzo Piano designed the building I work in and it’s great. What I CAN’T STAND are these lazy affairs. These upended cracker boxes. Shame on them.

      Ah, my girls. How do I protect them?

  5. The photos make me feel like I’m there, thanks for that. It’s about that time here, nearing 6:30, with the sun out, and you’re inspiring me to get out of my robe and take a walk with my coffee — which I bought at the grocery store, not from a coffee cart, which we generally don’t have in the suburbs. Your wife’s photo of the Flatiron in particular put me back there. I was lucky to have a couple business trips to NYC when I worked for Starbucks and had ample free time to explore — on my follow-up trip they let my wife come with me and hence we conceived our first in some boutique hotel in Midtown, right near the Empire State Building. Sigh – why does my chest feel like that? Could it be allergies or that leftover cigar?

    • Or…take a walk in your robe to get some coffee. That reminds me…there was this mobster—Vinny “The Chin” Gigante who, while awaiting trial, used to walk around Little Italy in his bathrobe in an effort to convince prosecutors he was crazy and should be hospitalized. Didn’t work. They threw him in jail.

      Coffee cart coffee is only $1. A dollar! Can’t beat it.

      I love Madison Square Park. That’s the name of the neighborhood the Flatiron is in. It was the original site of Madison Square Garden. What a great naib to wander around in. Especially on someone else’s dime.

  6. What a great blog to wake up to. I’m sitting on my deck reading it, listening to the birds chirping away. Made me realize I need an NYC visit!

  7. Thanks for warning me about the monks. Although it’s not like I’d give them any money anyway. But at least now that you told me about it, I find it funny that people pretend to be removed from the material world to make some cash.
    Speaking of material things, I enjoy looking at beautiful buildings as much as the next guy, but the luxurious exterior design doesn’t cut into the developers’ profits, it cuts into the rents of people who will live inside (but I’m sure the people living in Dorilton can afford it, though). I’d rather live in a more affordable apartment in an upended cracker box than in an expensive or smaller one in a palatial mansion.

    • Now that you know of their ruse, wouldn’t it be kind of fun to actually confront a monk? Some people have done just that. Asked which monastery they represented. They scurry off without an answer. This whole thing was uncovered by authentic Buddhists. So go ahead. Poke them with a stick. Might be fun.

      I’m pretty sure the rents in the fugly buildings are just as outrageous as the rents in the older, classic buildings. I still say the developers bear some responsibility. That building looks about as appealing as a high-rise prison complex.

      • Well, it’s Manhattan, so even the fugliest buildings are unaffordable. But I bet a similar apartment in the mansion-like building goes for at least 20-50% premium over the the prison cell block across the street.
        And i’ve lived in an even uglier building than that.

      • Well, the only plus about that ugly ass building is when you step outside, you’re in Manhattan a few blocks away from Lincoln Center. I’ve lived in places like that when you went outside, you were NOWHERE.

  8. Wow, gorgeous blue sky in that one shot. A smog-free day in New York?

    That monk-impersonator thing is sad. Sometimes I give to the beggars in the streets but not as much as I probably should, because I never know who’s scamming or not. Other times we’ve given them food from a restaurant we’ve just vacated. Somehow that makes me feel better. I also like those cities that have charities set up for the homeless that you contribute to directly. Of course, I hope the bulk of the money goes to them and not in the pockets of the organization itself.

    • Those photos are not retouched! It was SUCH a nice day here yesterday. I was glad My Bride had business in the city so she could enjoy it.

      As far as scams go, this is a fairly benign one. At least people aren’t being bonked over the head. That happens sometimes, too. I just hope people don’t take it out on authentic monks. That’s not the way to nirvana. I rarely hand out money on the street. I usually tip performers and musicians but that’s about it. I tend to limit my charitable giving to verifiable organizations. Who do you trust?

  9. Buddhists monks don’t ask for money, they give you free vegetarian chow and accept donations afterwards. Anyone who puts his hand out is an impostor who should be arrested by the police. While we’re on the subject, did David Carradine ever live in New York?

    I hope your chest will swell with pride after another 6 years.

    • That should’ve been my first tip off! It’s like in professional wrestling when the refs don’t stop a guy from hitting another guy over the head with a chair. I should’ve known something was up.

      I hope it is pride right now feels like an empty spot.

  10. The old building is beautiful and virtually no one will erect anything that is remotely pleasing to the eye in our so-called modern society. It is all about fast and easy bucks and how much the little guys can contribute.

    The pseudo monks should all be arrested by I suppose the police are busy pursuing bigger game and violent crime. If only folks were not so gullible.

    If those two little girls were my daughters, I’d have a pain in my chest too. These surely will give you precious memories., You should take that same pic every year. Those pictures will be treasured by your daughters when they are older.

    • That style of architecture will never come back. But is that a bad thing? I’m not against progress. I am against blandness.

      Folks will always be gullible. I was! Until I learned my lesson. The world has an endless supply of flim-flam men. And women.

      My daughters seem so old now. But I’ll bet I haven’t seen anything yet!

  11. i can honestly say i’ve never been hustled in your beautiful/i fall in love with it every single time i’m there nyc. i think it’s because they can tell i have criminal tendencies.

    i love the pictures of your girls. it all happens so fast, sweetpea. i look at BGM and see super nana when she was that age. wow, and now my eyes are misting up at the thought. (so much for my criminal tendencies when i think of my krewe.)


    • Never been hustled?! I’m so sorry to hear that. We all need a good shakedown at some point in our youth, for no other reason than to provide perspective. So long as no one gets hurt. I’ve been mugged and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone

      You’d make a lousy criminal with such a tender heart.

  12. Two trips to NY and I didn’t get ripped off.Maybe I wore my Swinging London face and was seen as competition?
    Favourite building? The Chrysler! And the Flat Iron runs a damn’ close second.

    And “the naib”??? Everyone else, even non-Yankees, says “the hood.” You come up with the naib. Yessir, you’re a class act!

    Fugliness, in anything, is a paucity of taste and a cheap cop-out.

    • You missed an important part of the New York experience. Getting ripped off is rarer than it used to be—the city is all cleaned up—but it still exists in some quarters. Dream a little dream!

      The Chrysler Building is ground zero for the Art Deco movement. One if my top three buildings. Nice pick.

  13. It always blows my mind that people are willing to give handouts to panhandlers, even those dressed up like monks. When I lived in DC, there were beggars on every street corner. Every time I was asked for money (at least twice a day walking to and from work), I offered to buy food instead. Guess how many times I was taken up on that offer. ONCE. We went to Wendy’s and he ordered a large strawberry frosty and a coke.

    • People are just being kind. They can’t be faulted or laughed at if some unscrupulous bum is pulling the wool over their eyes. I used to keep quarters in my pocket and dole them out but it got to be too much. I hardened my heart.

      The Wendy’s order sounds more like a last meal.

      • I don’t know…I rather think they’re hurting more than helping. Someone with cash in their pocket is free to buy drugs or booze, rather than having to go to a shelter where they’d be more likely to get the food and help they actually need.

  14. Hell, my pal, you have a bride who gave you daughters who’ve gone from cute-adorable to quite lovely, always has your back and takes architectural stunner shots like this one, too. Hey, I know you appreciate her, Mark.

    Great call-out on the Monk scam. That’s pretty low, going the dress-up religious route.

    • My Bride is a keeper for many reasons. In addition to the above, she doesn’t give a damn about wealth and she keeps me on a loose leash. I see +/- 45 plays per year. Not many would allow that amount of me-time frivolity.

      The scam is low. Pretty low is bashing people over the head and emptying their pockets.

  15. I gotta get me a monks get up. I could even be the blogging monk for $$. 😉
    Who the heck is up at 6:30 am ?? That’s just not right.
    Maybe your chest hurts cause your growing boobs?

    • Hey! Go find your own scam! This one is taken. I wonder if that’s even against the law? Impersonating a monk? I wouldn’t think so.

      My dear, I am up at 4:50 every morning. In the city by 6:20. You’re damn right it’s not right.

      If I grew boobs I could cop a feel whenever I wanted. Winning.

      • It’s just easier to use a scam that’s already out there rather than have to think up a new one. That just takes well…to much thinking.
        You need to experience sleeping in until 9 am permanently!
        There’s ways to grow boobs if the need for feel copping is that strong..

  16. Good to know about the Monk-y business… i usually warn people away from the characters in Times Square. Those people will rough you up for a buck…

    The shot of the Flatiron is incredible! Nicely done, Mrs. Wife! Wondering why i haven’t seen The Dorilton? Oh yeah…. i never get uptown that far! Need to make another trip to NYC.

    The kids grow up. It’s better than if they stay babies. My eldest is almost 29 years old. She’s getting married in a few weeks. In Turkey. Couldn’t be happier! We should not be raising children. We should raise adults. Adults who are complete, and can function, and forge lives of deliberate intent…

    • Ha ha. Monk-y. I see what you did there. Clever girl. Such a way with the language.

      I didn’t know she was getting married! I knew she had a fella but didn’t know it was that serious. 29 is a great age to get married. Less than that is too soon, if you ask me. All good wishes to her and you and the lucky groom. Will you be attending?

      • They’ve been together over 2 years…. Living together since last autumn. He’s wonderful, and his family has been gracious and loving toward my daughter! She comes home today to buy a wedding dress… And we’ll be headed over there at the end of July. Just bummed that her brother can’t go. Mother Army has other plans for him….

      • That’s fantastic news. Two years is an appropriate interval. What a great trip it’ll be! I presume the good sir is going with you? Again, congrats to all the trailer folks.

  17. When we were in NYC 2 weeks ago we saw the monks. I finally gave in because I wanted the beads and medallion to take back home for a gag gift. I gave him a dollar and he took back the trinkets, he said 2 dollars, so I shelled out another buck. Then he wanted a name and the amount written in his little book. I assumed it was for the bookkeeper.
    We sat in Bryant Park for a rest and refreshment. Spent an hour in Times Square people watching and had a picture with Wonder and Super Woman (not the wife).
    Our first time to see the Flatiron building. I don’t like the cow catcher in the front of the building. Madison Square Park had the BBQ festival so we ate at Eataly across the street. Did your wife see the Art installation in Madison Square Park? We missed it.
    All that fun and more, for a few dollars.
    My first visit to Times Square was 1977 and I saw 3 Card Monty being played. The side walks were very crowded.
    Nice pics of the kiddies, I mean young women now.

    • Hope you don’t mind but I absolutely love that he demanded another dollar. That takes balls. Proof positive that he has nothing to do with meditative bliss. That’s a great story. Thank you for sharing it.

      The offices in the front part of the Flatiron building are supposed to be too narrow for proper use. Visually spectacular but not functional.

      You saw Times Square in 1977?! Lucky. That’s the year of the blackout. I’ll bet it looks different now. Hope you had a nice trip.

      • I did’t mind he wanted to double down or no sale. Balls! We aren’t giving this crap away you know. I don’t get why this was in the local news though. What’s news about someone asking you for a couple of bucks in the city. Maybe because it casts a negative on organized religion. People lie about their intentions every day when they want something. At least they give you something for your consideration.
        I would love to have a swivel chair at point of the Flatiron building behind my desk. That seems like a natural office setting for the triangle room.

      • I believe the monk story made the news more as a human interest story than as a crime story. Impersonating a monk is pretty original and, you’ll have to admit, brilliant. I certainly got a kick out of it!

  18. That “monk” is sporting some sweet Nike sneakers, maybe for when he heads to the hoop courts after a hard day of grifting, Phineas T. Barnum knew what he was talking about, post coming up called the Dominican Hustle on the lounge, about my trip to the island and my adventure scoring weed… no one eve said i was bright. And you do realize that your oldest daughter is 5 years? away from going away to school, i think about it all the time when i look at the boyos, that sooner than not they’ll be grown men and not need their old man like they do now and i get that same feeling in my chest, it helps when i’m tired and they’re driving me batshit crazy and they ask me to do something i don’t have the patience or energy for, i stop and think, shit ten years from now they won’t want to be in the same room with me, haha…

    • I give grudging respect to the monks for being original and for not hurting anyone. They’re not running a Ponzi scheme, arms merchants or drug dealers. But preying on the kindness of strangers seems kind of parasitic.

      5 years seems like a pretty long time. Do you know how people say they grow up so fast and time passes quickly? That has not been my experience. Maybe the commuting slows the clock down.

      I am fully aware of the shelf life of their attention and I handle it accordingly. This evening, I wanted to sit and read the paper. Instead, I started teaching my youngest how to play backgammon. There’ll be time for the paper later.

  19. What?! They’re pretend monks out there?! I’m sure people are falling for that one. Monks don’t even have to talk. All they need is that outfit and the haircut. Your bride has a great eye for photography. Nice shot! I can see why you sigh. I can barely look at old photos right now. It’s happening too fast for me. Thanks for showing us the sights of the big city.

    • At least they’re not pretending to be heart surgeons. That could cost lives. Someone in this comment thread just ran into one of these guys on a visit to New York. He offered them a dollar for the prayer beads. The “monk” said they cost $2! what gall! I love this town. Even for its underbelly.

  20. I love how every major city has its own charming scams. I haven’t seen this one yet and now I kind of look forward to noticing (and avoiding) next time I visit!

    • Hey! I had to approve this comment, which means you’re new here. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      Charming is right. This is one of those “victimless” crimes, like jaywalking or watching reality TV. At least nobody ends up with a knife wound.

  21. I am so thankful for this information about fake monks! I enjoyed the tall buildings especially elaborate Dorilton one and othere which looked like an iron. Great scenes and so sorry they “put up a parking lot” where Asbury Park was, (really a boardwalk but love that song about taking away paradise) instead of a shady walkway.
    My purse was taken over Mother’s Day weekend by someone in my small town. I had it at my feet by my shoeswhile on a library computer. A guy slunk down in his chair and used his feet to pull it slowly towards him, wait a bit and then throw it into his duffle bag and leave. It was caught on computer room surveillance video. I was blogging and engrossed. No purse returned since he took gift cards, cash and anything of worth, then tossed. The content loss of cell phone and Transition glasses made me most upset. Small Town Delaware, Ohio. Oh, and his facing me and not seeing a rather nice grandmother who is a hard working individual 🙂

    • What’s the world coming to when you have to watch out for fake monks? Is there anyone left to trust? It would seem not.

      The Asbury Park boardwalk is all kinds of awesome. We love it. There are plenty of other shady walkways about. For sun, sand and surf, you can’t beat a good old fashioned boardwalk.

      I’m sorry to hear that you were a crime victim. So rotten. See that…blogging is bad for you. They didn’t catch the bum? Is that right? Don’t you wish you could get your hands on him or are you not the vindictive type?

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