The National Arts Club is back in the news again, and not for its admired art programming or artist grants either. Instead, the renowned institution, which sits on tony Gramercy Park, has made headlines in two stories highlighting the eccentricities of arts club president Aldon James and his twin brother, John. The new reports — which come on the heels of a confrontation between Aldon James and his his board over accusations that he was misusing the space to house friends and hoard junk — suggest that something odd indeed is going on at the century-old club. For one thing, consider all the dead birds.
Today the New York Daily News published a story that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was launching an investigation after dozens of "disoriented or dead" baby finches were found littered around Gramercy Park — and suspicions have landed on Aldon James. The National Arts Club president denies the accusations, and says that the insinuation emanates from enemies. "The rumor that I released these birds in the park is not true," James told the paper. "I did not release these birds."
The Daily News, however, tracked down a bird breeder who had sold James more than 50 Australian zebra finches last week. The breeder doubted that the "responsible" James could be behind the bizarre bird-dump, but the News caught him changing his story about the matter, first denying that he had bought the birds and then later admitting the purchase. About thirteen of the finches are now in a cage in the club's lobby, but James refused to show a reporter where he was keeping the rest.
The Gramercy Park bird mystery comes just after another strange incident. James's brother John made the news last week after he managed to recover a bag containing $100,000 in jewelry, art, photos, and cash that he had left in the back of a taxi cab. Just exactly why he was carrying $100,000 in loot in a bag was not explained, nor how he could have forgotten it. (James pleaded guilty in 2003 to abusing the National Arts Club's tax exempt code in a scheme to sell millions of dollars of jewelry online, paying $469,213 in restitution and $60,000 in fines.)
When cab driver Zubiru Jalloh found the bag and returned it to its owner, John James decided to reward him with $1,000 and a party at the club in his honor. However, the incident degenerated into farce last Tuesday when the National Arts Club attempted to fête the cabbie, complete with a proclamation and the presence of Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz — but forgot to notify Jalloh about it. "They called me at five past 12 in the afternoon and said, 'Mr. Jalloh, where are you?'" he told New York's Metro paper. "I said, 'what are you talking about?'"
On Friday, Jalloh was finally honored for his deed at Brooklyn Borough Hall, and the James brothers were both in attendance.