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Harlem ♥ Bill  
What offbeat pleasures await the former prez in his new neighborhood?  

    July 30 —  Sometime today, former President Bill Clinton will officially move in to his new office suite on 125th Street in the heart of Harlem.  

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  THE NEIGHBORHOOD was hardly the ex-president’s first choice. In fact, Harlem became something of a safe port in the storm created after Clinton announced plans to rent luxury space in a midtown Manhattan building that would’ve cost weary taxpayers nearly $1 million a year in rent.
        Harlem’s 125th Street—the so-called Main Street of black America—offered the former president a way out: unconditional love at an unbelievable rent.
        When I heard earlier this year that Clinton was really moving to Harlem, I must admit I reacted like most New Yorkers: Good, keep him and his motorcades out of midtown!
        Then, I reacted for the second time like most New Yorkers: Can you believe this ingrate? With eight years of ceaseless fundraising, he clearly viewed Manhattan like it was his own personal ATM machine—and now he wants to have his office in the poorest neighborhood in the city?
        Finally, I had my third reaction, where I split from the rest of my fellow New Yorkers (who bid the former president a heartfelt “Good riddance!”). I worried whether Bill Clinton—the out-of-the-public-eye Bill Clinton, the Hillary’s-stuck-in-D.C.-for-an-appropriations-vote Bill Clinton—would be happy in a neighborhood that has seen better days and might not see them again for a long time.
        But maybe Harlem was the perfect place for Clinton’s office. All I needed was a fact-finding tour and, fortunately (given my travel budget), it was a mere subway token away.
        I decided to use Clinton’s office building—at 55 W.125th St.—as ground zero. Sure enough, the subtle signs that Clinton is in for the time of his life are everywhere in Harlem, in some extremely unexpected places.
        A store across the street sells thong underwear. A big Gap ad on Clinton’s office building is a convenient reminder of a good place to buy a friend a new dress to replace one that might have been ruined. A new furniture store nearby is offering a sale on pull-out couches—”Because you never know who’s staying the night,” the ad reads.
        There’s even a brand new McDonald’s in the lobby. And a flyer for a voodoo spiritualist named Sister Elia—”Even if the marriage wasn’t magic, the divorce can be!”—can’t merely be coincidence, can it? “He should come see me, but if he doesn’t, it’s his loss,” said Sister Elia, who described herself as a “reader, healer and adviser.” I moved on.
        Just a few steps from Clinton’s new front door, Joseph Spellman, a Vietnam vet, sells scented oils and incense. I asked Spellman if he had any special concoctions for the ex-president and he suggested an oil called “Egyptian Musk.” “It’s very popular with the ladies,” he said, knowingly.
        The good news is that President Clinton won’t have much competition from Spellman in the seduction department. “Hey, beautiful, you dropped something,” Spellman yelled to women who were unfortunate enough to walk by unaccompanied. When the women stopped and looked around, Spellman delivered the closer: “You dropped my heart!”
        I bid farewell to Spellman and headed a few feet down 125th Street toward a bookseller named Abdullah, who was offering a wide variety of black-interest books (including the obligatory Holocaust-denying screeds and diatribes against the white power structure).
        But Abdullah also provides a second table of books that might be of more interest to Bill Clinton: romance novels, sex manuals and even a line of “pimp” books that includes “The Art of Mackin’,” which, author Tariq “K-Flex” Nasheed promises on the back cover, will “help men look at female situations from a mack’s point of view.”
        Nasheed continues: “The true mack can calmly analyze the woman and deal with her accordingly... instead of being driven crazy.” If Clinton had only known the secrets of mackin’, the whole impeachment thing might never have happened. I bought a copy and moved on.
        If the former president has bare walls to be covered, he should go no further than H&M Art Gallery, just a few feet away. There’s no better place for a framed photo of Malcolm X, portraits of all of Harlem’s jazz greats, paintings depicting African landscapes or, wait a second, is that a pencil drawing of a naked woman?
        “Yes,” said manager Bartu Mavruk, showing off an entire section of the store devoted to pictures of impossibly voluptuous women cavorting nude with men, with animals and even themselves (cigar optional).
        Mavruk then showed me a painting of a jazz quintet that the store intends to give to Clinton today—a tasteful piece of work valued at $1,000. “But if he wants these others,” Mavruk said, gesturing towards the nudes, and smiling, “they’re only $125.”
        Across the street, a store called African Paradise sells imported tribal art and implements. The owner of the store—who would not give me her name, even when I resorted to the time-honored journalistic practice of saying, “Pretty please!”—said that if Clinton really wants to get into the spirit of things, he should buy an authentic dashiki, a one-piece pullover popular inAfrica and in rap videos. “It’s very easy to put on and take off,” she said.
        Next, she showed me a wand made out of oxtail that is typically carried by the respected elders of a tribe. Could Clinton carry such a wand, I wondered? After all, he is the elder statesman of his tribe (Democrats), but you’d have to really stretch the meaning of the word “respected” to have it cover a man who fled office under the Pardongate and Officegate clouds.
        But the owner assured me that in Harlem, just as in Africa, Clinton would get a clean slate. “Respect in our culture is given with age,” she said. “Whatever you have done in the past does not define you. It is age that gives you your prestige.”
        But in case the former president wants to test his restored respectability, African Paradise sells a line of herbs to enhance male sexual pleasure. Yeah, Harlem is looking better and better for ol’ Bill.
Gersh: Dakotan Disagreement


Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post and the author of “HAIR! Mankind’s Historic Quest to End Baldness” (Random House). Visit him at http://www.gersh.tv
       © 2001 Newsweek, Inc.
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