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Farewell to a one-of-a-kind friend — to me and Manhattan

Many things happened in 2022, but for me, it will always be the year that my friend Gary Taustine died.

Gary died suddenly at home at 50, of natural causes, in June, attracting a standing-room-only crowd at his Greenwich Village memorial. Many of his survivors had never met each other before, but they all shared the same feeling: We didn’t know how much we needed Gary until he was gone. 

Gary spent nearly all his life in the lower third of Manhattan, growing up with his older sister and brother, Rhonda and Mark, on the Lower East Side and gravitating north to 19th Street.  

Gary was my first Manhattan friend. I met him in the orbit of 9/11 survivors some time in late 2001 or early 2002 and was soon one of the lucky few who got to enjoy the best secret meal in town.

Gary’s dinner parties were the equivalent of three-star Michelin meals — food, drink, atmosphere. At Gary’s memorial, there were few pictures of him (he didn’t like his photo taken) but so many pictures of his art: his food.  

When Gary made sushi, he plated it on exquisite Japanese dinnerware and paired it with perfectly chilled sake. When he made Indian food, you’d think you were sitting down to a meal prepared by the finest chef in India.

table scene
Gary’s dinner parties were the equivalent of three-star Michelin meals — food, drink, atmosphere.

King crab for Fourth of July (and East River fireworks from the roof), Chinese dumplings for New Year’s — Gary had practiced the perfect recipes weeks in advance and executed the perfect “tablescaping,” without a chopstick out of place. 

He also had a knack for who would “go well” together. His five or so guests instantly got on like childhood friends, despite being strangers to each other, and would slump on his couch and talk into the dawn, his cat stealthily making the rounds for a stroke.

Gary kept friends for life. His oldest best friend was his brother, Mark, whom he spoke to on the phone every morning. As Mark said at Gary’s memorial, people asked, “What on earth do you talk about?” and the answer was: “Everything.” 

Gary made a living programming computers. But he also wrote more effortlessly and stylishly than many writers, with op-eds for The Post as well as letters in The Times.  

He was neither a mindless liberal nor a mindless conservative, and he would never disagree disagreeably. “He was funny,” says his sister, Rhonda Friedman, “just f–king funny.” 

He hated bicycles — hated them — and I like bicycles, but he often sent me a card with a bicycle embossed on it for my birthday.  

table scene
Gary’s five or so guests instantly got on like childhood friends, despite being strangers to each other.

And on e-bikes, when, in 2021, he wrote that New York’s “introduction of e-bikes and scooters has taken an already chaotic situation and made it exponentially worse,” he was right.   

The bike people thought Gary hated bikes because he was a driver. But Gary hated all wheeled devices, from cars to planes to trains, preferring to get around on foot. Gary dreamed of visiting Israel, but he couldn’t get there on foot. 

Gary was not a social-media guy; he didn’t repudiate the platforms so much as seem to be unaware they existed. He lived his life in person.  

He took care of his mother until her death, even when it drove him past frustration, and he was beginning to teach his nieces and nephew how to cook. Gary chose friends carefully, but “if he loved you, he would love you fiercely,” says Rhonda.  

Gary didn’t present one face to one group and a different face to others; the hundreds who showed up at his memorial had known the same Gary. 

The strangest thing Gary ever did was move from Manhattan to Fort Lee, NJ, in mid-2021. “I really hate change,” Gary told me at the time (an understatement), “but dealing with the state of the city these days is maddening.” 

Besides, he loved Fort Lee: “It’s like a little NYC,” he said. “Everything is within walking distance . . . a butcher three blocks away. . . . The only thing I haven’t been able to find . . . is an Indian supermarket.” 

Last New Year’s, Gary promised me a dinner party, “as soon as things normalize” with the apartment. Instead, I went to his memorial. It will be a strange 2023 — and an emptier Manhattan — without Gary in it. 

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.  

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