Friday, April 28, 2006

Sleeping on the Beach

Sleeping on the beach is seldom a good idea for me. I tend to expose some unprotected skin to several hours of full sun with the resulting red tattoo having to be slathered with an pain-killing cream for several days. (Right now the woman on the next blanket has been asleep for nearly two hours but she was the color of breakfast sausage when she strolled out onto the sand and set up her chaise.) What I needed was some way to keep track of time so I could tell how long I had been out there.

Ancient technology has always intrigued me. Tools have been of greater interest that the products produced by them. I bore people by wondering why it is that museums display thousands of sculptures and carefully carved wooden objects but not the gouges, files and chisels required to make them. Art is not what sets us apart as a species, it is our use of tools. Art is just another by-product of that use of tools . For me, the more basic, the more primitive a tool, the better I like it. My dad had, and I still have, this tear shaped chunk of steel. It was the perfect sheet metal working tool, he said, sharp at one end and nicely rounded at the other, one could use all of it's contours to shape anything else into anything else. I didn't really appreciate what he was talking about until years later while browsing through the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History, I saw reproductions of the first stone tools found in Africa. Tear-shaped, looking just like this comma , it was dad's tool unchanged for 3 and a half-million years..., you could use the sharp end to chop the end of a lance or scrape the meatside of a skin. the round end makes a perfect hammer, drive a stake or bust open a marrow bone.

So I decided to make a sundial on the beach. It's another primitive technology that I have some grasp of, no pun intended. I found the perfect stick and luckily there was someone going by who had a watch, so I got a pretty good reference for high noon. (Yeah, it's cheating, but this is experimental science on a zero budget.) Shells were collected to mark the hours and I settled in to listen to my book and watch the boats, girls and gulls go by.

I once wrote a story about a survivor of an airplane crash in the far North woods of Idaho who tries to signal his whereabouts to rescuers by starting a fire signal everyday at noon. He gets North by looking a the moss side of trees and sets a stick in the sunshine every morning when he wakes up. When the shadow is at it's shortest, he lights up the nearest sap-filled pine tree. When no rescue arrives he moves Southward until darkness falls and then does the same thing again the next day. It takes ten days, and two raging forest fires, before anyone at the search end of things to notice the regularity. They come and get him before he can burn his way to Boise.

So I fell asleep on the beach and I missed one o'clock, the little FM radio I have said it was 2:10 (more cheating, uh, outside reference use.) So I got up and marked where the two would be. Then, more reading, listening, to my book. Which is the problem, the book, it's Theocracy and even though I am interested in the subject matter - the influence of religion on American politics - almost the whole of Part One is a recitation of the growth of churches by percentages. Paragraph after paragraph of "increased by nearly six percent between 1865 and 1877...". ZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz. Huh?

Now the sun seems to have moved a great deal across the sky and a quick check -"Excuse me, Miss Brown-as-a-JimmyDean-Extra Lean, do you know what time it is?"..proved to be-------- not as much as I had thought. It was only 3:20 but the shadow had moved twice as far as it had between noon and one and nearly three times as far- if her watch was right- between two and three. What the hey?

So I got up and marked three o'clock or so and then called it a day, but I went inside to find out what the deal was. Here it is. The ancients figured out what I did. The spacing between the hours was never the same, AND, as I would find out the next day, the sun moves down the horizon every day so you would have to adjust for that too, otherwise in a couple of weeks even your noon would be wrong. What they did was two things: they tilted the base of the dial so that it matched the angle of the sun's travel and they re-aimed the thing every day to follow the season. Except at Stonehenge, there they had the big gates to look through as the sun traveled, but it was more of a yearly calendar than a watch.

A much more complicated observation of time could be made by the astrolabe invented around 150 BC, (sigh, later condemned as an instrument of the devil by the Church, another in a long line of errors by the inerrant.), it shows the depth of knowledge achieved by the most ancient of our ancestors.

So I found out that the simple technology of the sundial is not so simple, and I had a good nap.

Next I intend to show how easy it is to control the wind.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

An Incident at Sea

Before I forget, I want to get this down. You know how that is, something happens, but before you can collect your thoughts about it, something else happens. This happened two days ago and already the facts are fading, no wonder defense attorneys love to question eye witnesses weeks or months or years after the events in question.

Tuesday afternoon the tide was out and we decided to go for a walk in the ocean. Just off shore, about twenty five feet or so, is a large sandbar that extends down the length of the beach for at least a mile perhaps more. When you get in the water, it gets about chest deep and then in the space of two or three steps, the water is barely over your knees. (It's all the sand that they replenished to the beach about three years ago.) All afternoon we had watched people walking slowly up and down the sandbar looking down into the water for something, for what we couldn't tell.

Now we were out amongst them. The water is crystal clear, you can see every swirl and dip in the sand's surface. It is a barren landscape except for the occasional shell or stone that somehow has been left on top. It's those that the walkers are seeking, I suppose. Something that no one else has had a chance to admire.

I thought I had scored when I spotted a large object and bent down to pick it up. It was a conch shell, but the conch was still in it.

"Oh, you touched it."said L."eew"
"It's nature."I said with my knowledge of the Discovery Channel. "It's a conch. We are in the middle of nature here."

I am so scientific. I tossed it back in further out where it was less likely to be picked up again. Meanwhile, L was telling me the stories of the riverwalks with the Girls Scouts down the mighty Illinois. The mighty Illinois in mid-summer is quite walkable with long stretches of very shallow water, I know that from trying to canoe down that river in August. You do more dragging than paddling. Anyway, L was remembering how everyone slept so good the night of riverwalk day, so good, so quiet, so deeply. Speaking of deeply, we had drifted out a little ourselves on the sandbar and now were in water about waist deep. And that's when I saw the shadow.

It was about forty yards away and maybe twenty feet further offshore than we were, moving in a straight line along the edge of the sandbar, coming closer to us by the second. It was rectangular, so at first I thought it was the shadow from a kite or the odd edge of a cloud, but there were no kites and all the clouds were way off near the horizon.

Now it was twenty yards away, still twenty feet farther out than us. I was fascinated. What a big thing to be moving so smoothly.....? Then a voice nearer the shore called out, "What is that?"

Which is what I should have been wondering.

Now it is even with us and I can see that the thing is eight or nine feet long and three feet wide and I start thinking s h a r k ,,, the thing is very big and I am trying to recall what you are supposed to do if you spot a shark, and I even wonder if it's possible to punch something that big through so much water and I am watching it for any signs that it might be turning this way...but I don't want to panic and now ...

the rectangle has eased on down the beach...

It occurs to me that we are standing very still.

"Was that a manatee?" the voice, a woman's, asks.
"Beats the hell out of me." I answer scientifically.

We went to go see some manatees about eight years ago, but they were in a muddy river and we were standing on asphalt. They were about as big as the shadow and just as rectangular.

"It's supposed to look like a blanket is floating in the water." The woman said helpfully.
"Yes." I thought it did look like a kind of floating blanket, a huge, giant, moving faster than us floating blanket."Yes, I think it was a manatee."

She was thrilled to have been so close.

Not as close as us.

Yes, I know, manatees are as gentle as cows, but would they mind having a buoy put on them saying "NICE MANATEE, NOT SHARK" on them.? It would help get us to the next ocean walk.

"Oh,"said L, "that was big. This place has all kinds of stuff like that, those sharp black thingies."
"Horseshoe crabs."
"Yeah, too much nature."

I reminded her that on the riverwalks down the Illinois there must have been snapping turtles, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths.

"Yeah, but I'm a citygirl now" she says."I could handle Nature then, now I just want to relax."

Me too, and I don't need any floating blankets to wrap up in, thankyou very much.

We slept very well that night, so good, so quiet, so deeply.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dad Looks Good in Black.

Aw-kah-awh ... I know it was him. He loved the woods, he loved being in the woods, in the out-of-doors, a running stream brought peace to his eyes. He loved the woods, but this morning he was on the beach, just after dawn, dressed in black. I know,(my oldest sister rolls her eyes) this ought to be entitled, Why Primitive People believed in Spirits, Part Six, but my father was on the beach perched on a little mound of sand watching as I slogged by in the morning light. All the seagulls flew off as I approached, flew off for fear or to find breakfast, I do not know, but the single crow amongst them stayed put, hunched a little as I came nearer and then said,
"Hi, Pop." I replied. He made a little nodding motion as I went by.

Some of you know this story and some don't, some have been told this story several times and have either forgotten it or they prefer to have it forgotten, but for those who have never been told the story, here it is, to be believed or not, remembered or not.

Outside our seventh floor apartment windows in New York is a ravine full of brush and trees. It is very uncitylike, a little hidden valley populated by chickadees all winter and wrens, starlings and nuthatches all summer. (Sigh) Yes, there are a lot of very city-ish pigeons, but on a happier note, they have attracted the occasional red-winged hawk and a falcon or two, who have happily lunched on squab for a day or so before moving on to greater heights in the Heights.

There are blue-jays, yelling at the feral cats who are just doing their job of de-ratting the area and lots of squirrels, both gray and the rarer, coal black variety. No, the coal black ones are not rats, they are squirrels. I did think a few years ago that I might have discovered a hybrid in our little ravine, but I have since seen them up in Ft. Tryon Park. Once, I saw a large parrot, obviously lost out of someone's window. He hung around for a couple of days and then disappeared. And there was the afternoon of the owl. He only stayed until nightfall.

The point of all this population reporting is to show that I do a lot of looking out my windows at the lifeforms and that I have never seen a crow. Except once.
There had been a message waiting for us when we had gotten home late that Friday night. Pop had struggled his last battle. There was too much, there was too little. They had tried removing the breathing tube, it was causing problems, but without it, he was gone in moment or two.

I didn't sleep much, in and out of dreams, like diving into waves, going under, feeling the power pass and surfacing in safety. About six am, before any real light has begun to penentrate the ravine, I got up and washed my face, then went to my chest-of-drawers for a shirt. At first, I only heard a movement, only saw a shadow, but then looking closer, I saw the crow sitting on the nearest branch to my window. He looked right at me.
Our family supposedly arrived in Virginia about the same time as John Smith, before the Pilgrims had packed their bags. I've been sorting through the various records and may have found the "crossing ancestor'', a nice fellow from a fairly large family in England, but there has always been a certain reverence for the Native American in our family. My father's mother always seemed drawn to Indian lore and one of my sisters was nearly obsessed by the idea that she was an Indian of some sort, but then people are interested in all sorts of things and little girls get obsessed, possessed with ideas great and small. And too, never in his life did my father mention any kind of spiritual connection with anything beyond his father's Methodism and the songs of Tennessee Ernie Ford. But... he did so love the woods.
The crow jumped to the window sill and cocked his head the way birds do when they want to really see something. He strolled a few steps then used one flap to get back onto the branch.
"Aw-kah-awh" It said.
"Goodbye, Pop,"I said,"Thanks for coming by."
And off he flew.
There are crows in Fort Tryon Park, they perch high up on the Cloisters, and there are crows in the trees just down the street by the subway station. They make a racket everytime they spot a wandering cat, but not in our ravine and not on my window sill, not before that morning and none since.

Okay,you say, your dad looks good in black, but how do you know it was him this morning?
Easy, I say, I recognized the accent.

And today was the day he married my mother, sixty seven or so years ago.

This is not him.

After Ben's Visit Last Fall

Waving, waving, waving

goo'bye, goo'bye
Waving, waving, waving
till we cannot see your eyes.

a flash of brakelights at the corner

makes us think
for a moment
you are coming back
then there's a flash of your favorite hat
and just the morning chill remains.

yet still we wave
goo'bye goo'bye

long after the taxi's turned and gone

Waving, waving, waving till we cannot see
your eyes.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Why does that sign say Canal Street?

There is a rhythm to living in the city that cannot be ignored. It's wound up and around by timing, timings, and the lack thereof. You have to stay within the boundaries of the city's space and time or you end up, as I did, three stops beyond where you should be at 7:28AM.

I still don't know what happened.

Everyday the train runs, the conductor drones on about the bombs, uh, suspicious packages or bags, which should not be kept to oneself, and you turn to the sports section of the Times to see if the Red Sox are still playing .600 ball. (They are. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's early.) Then you get off.

Except that yesterday, I got off three stops late. Not one stop. Not two. Three. Did I fall asleep?
There is this odd thing that happens to you when you get off at the wrong stop because everything looks about right. My first thought was that they had closed my usual staircase and gotten rid of the bench I sit on while waiting for the next train. They hadn't, I had been in Wonderland.

I took the uptown back to Normalville.

The Catacombs under the Blue Wall

One day last week, they put up a new wooden fence around the empty corner lot and painted it blue. A bunch of earthmoving equipment arrived and within the next few days a couple of things happened: first, the blue wall became the billboard for every musical, record or movie company and second, they dug out a lot of New York City schist.

What I wanted to see, and couldn't,was what was in the caves under the blue wall. You can see what I'm talking about here:

Those arches had been buried and sealed under the sidewalk for about six or seven decades, at least since the last building was built on the property. (Search this blog for "Goodbye to Bobo's" to see what it looked like.)

I talked to some of the guys working on the site. They were kind enough to bring a little old lady a couple of bricks up from deep inside there, but reported that the catacombs had contained nothing more than some rusted cans and a lot of rat droppings.

No copies of the Constitution?
No secret Mafia files?
No lost or stolen or missing artworks?


Some nice old bricks though.

I don't believe them for a minute.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar

I was concentrating on trying to win a Scrabble game on my Palm Pilot when the fellow sat down at the table next to me. He had a quarter in his left ear. I was sixteen points behind with five letters left, D T I A R and no tiles left to choose. He had the chicken salad. I was looking a free Y, thinking about playing DIARY and then hoping the Palm wouldn't go out when my brain said "Uh, did you say he had a quarter in his ear?" "Yes," I hissed at my brain,"A quarter. In his ear. Now start thinking about TIDAR or DRAT or something, we are in training here." (Vacation with the Scrabble addicts, uh, experts, is next week.) "Ooooh-kay," said my brain, "But that's interesting and he's going to sit there with a quarter in his ear and you are going to miss the story while you are trying to think of TRIAD, which is what you are trying to think of, duh." "Hmmm," I thought, "I could play TRIAD, but why would someone have a quarter in their ear?

So, I did the New York thing.

""xcuse me, do you mind if I ask you why you have a quarter in your ear?"

Meanwhile, smartboy brain is guessing Arthritis cure... or hex-keeper-away thingie, but the guy, older guy, maybe late sixties, a little crooked here and there with age, was shoveling in the chicken salad as if the tour bus had announced it was leaving in five minutes.

"In case, " he grinned widely, -he'd answered this one before-, "In case, I ever need a flop in a two-bit hotel." He picked up a piece of melba toast and crunched off a bit of the end.

His name is Albert _______. Seventy-eight years old, so, older than I had thought, and from the Lower East Side, so, had lived his whole life within twenty blocks from here, except for three years in the Army, so, what's with the quarter?

His old man, it turns out, had been a little nuts, a little frantic, during the depression. He wanted everyone of his kids, six of them, to have some money on them at all times. At least have car-fare, in case they got lost or something, like dragged off the playground or something. So, even as a six year old, he had to have at least a dime on him or the old man would get pissed. Well, sometimes the pants of a six year old don't have such good pockets, so he started putting the dime in his ear.

He kept it there at the time. It fit nicely, he could still hear good, and his old man could tell in a second that he, the kid, was in the dough.

He scrapes the last of the salad up with his fork pushing the limp lettuce to one side. So, he says, time goes on, prices go up, he gets bigger, he puts a quarter in his ear and starts using 'the flop in the two-bit hotel' line. He grins.

"I tried to stop once." he says,"I gave it up for about a week, but it didn't feel right. I put the two-bits in my ear and all's well with the world. I don't even remember that it's there unless someone like you asks about it. It's just something."

Yup. Just something which keeps our planet from spinning out of it's orbit.

I play TRIAD on the end of JOYS and go out. The Palm is stuck with eight points. I win by two.

What a beautiful Spring we are having! Look at that New York stoop garden!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Joe Nation and the Forty Robins

It was the perfect Sunday morning to have a run through Central Park. Yesterday's raw weather- very windy with icy rain falling most of the day- blew through overnight leaving us with semi-clear skies and temperatures in the upper thirties, but who's looking at the thermometer when you could be looking at the glorious trees!
Only a week ago I went looking for Spring in Ft. Tryon park, but found nothing but winter's nakedness, not even any thick buds ready to pop. By Friday, all that had changed, the forsythia burst forth and scrawled their yellow messages onto the black-brown background of the woods and, high up on the memorial platform near where they fly the flags, there were two redbuds dancing with each other in the morning gloom. I thought yesterday's bluster might spoil all of it, knock down the blossoms before anyone else got to see them. I did not want to be that special and I was wrong. Nature is almost always tougher than I expect.

And speaking of tough, walking down to the start of this morning's race to raise awareness (and money) about Lung Cancer were about five thousand runners for the four mile and another two thousand folks who would follow them with about a mile fun/run/walk whatever. Everyone was just a little cold, but they jumped and stretched and jogged up and down the road waiting for the nine am start. That's when I saw my first robin of the year.

Robins have always been time markers for me, ever since Mrs. Guzman of my third grade class had us draw one, -there was a lot of black and red crayon use that day, I'll tell you,- they have been the sole true symbol that Spring has arrived. Tulips, forsythia, daffodils, redbuds and the flowers of the dogwood can spread out in all their splendor, but for me, until I see that little bird pulling on a worm on some grassy lawn, it's just another day. And there he/she was. You'd think by this time I would have found out how to tell a he-robin from a she-robin, but I have not. I am non-discriminatory about my sole true symbols. This little one gave a few hops and a careful one-eyed look at the ground, then, spooked I'm sure by seeing 10,000 lycra clad legs, flew off. I took it as a good sign.

I haven't been doing much working out this month or last and, except for the two mile jog on Friday, no running, so I was a little concerned about how I would do. Just a little. I stretched a lot and ran up and down the road for a ways listening to my right knee. When my right knee speaks I listen. It said "Okay."

Yeah. That's a lot of people.

It took six minutes for me to get to that blue banner and the start.

The run went pretty easily for me and even easier for the 24 year old who was finishing about the same time as I reached the first mile post. He finished in 18:49. I did 43:something. He was not looking at the beautiful trees nor was he trying to spot any more robins. I slogged along listening to bits of conversation, -the pace at which the people I run with allows for people to talk normally- there was some discussion about going skiing next week in France, there was a consultation going on about what to do "When she starts in on this on Monday" and one guy answered his cellphone ...



No. Right now I'm running in a race in the Park.


Okay. How about noonish?.


Many people were wearing I AM placards on their backs. Eight by ten billboards that read:

I AM running in memory of Francie.

I AM running for Eddie.

I AM running in memory of my dad.

I AM a survivor.

It was a good reminder of what we were supposed to be thinking about on a chilly Sunday morning in the park.

After I got to jog back to 59th Street, so I get credit for doing six miles today and I went through a part of the park I never do and there they were. On the Sheep Meadow's new grass --the park fences off the Meadow all winter--hopping and pulling at nightcrawlers and having the best time,

forty robins.

I know, you can't see them very well in this picture, but each and every one of those dots on the grass is a robin red breast. I have never seen so many in one place in my life. I think it's going to be a very good Spring. Don't you?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Time Shifts, Weekend Visitors, Subway Signs

There a name for what I've been experiencing recently, it's sort of like cognitive dissonance, but not exactly. There is an element of time-shifting in there somewhere and just a hint some kind of hole- in-the-memory disease. The first instance was about two weeks ago, we had a weekend guest.

It's good to have weekend guests every now and then, they show you things about your life and home you never suspected. For instance, we do not have a tea kettle. Not one anywhere, not in the cupboards, not even in the completely impossible to get to space above the refrigerator. No, no tea kettle, we make hot water in the microwave. When told that, weekend guest has mild cognitive dissonance of her own, " In the microwave? (shock) ... I'll use a pan."

Also, the bathroom door sticks, that was sort of a surprise to me. I go through that bathroom door three, sometimes four times a day, only after weekend guest is long gone do I start to notice how much it sticks, but luckily for me, as the days have gone by, I notice it less and less. By the time the next weekend guest arrives I'll be completely surprised again.

(that is unless L gets her way with the bathroom make-over in the meantime.)
(What do you mean by meantime? Nothing.)

Then there was the subway problem. We are in Upper Manhattan, Hudson Heights, Washington Heights, there are a bunch of names. The A is the way to and from this locale and visitors to our little nest love the fact that they can hop on a train just steps from our steps. Until the weekend the weekend guest came. Then there was this:

That last word is either upMirs or upstairs... There are, of course, NO STAIRS to go up to get the M4 bus, as if one of those would ever arrive in time to get you down to mid-town before it was time to start thinking about dinner.

The task becomes explaining the MTA to the out of towner. This is the hole-in-the-brain part: I know what I would do to get around the 'no trains' problem, but my brain refuses to explain it to me so that I can explain it to her. We decide that taking a car to 168th Street would be best, but that has it's hidden problems. Well, they weren't hidden before but now that they are seeing the light of day, they must have been hidden before. For example, when you call for a car, the guy on the phone talks in Spanish to someone else for a minute or two before he says anything to you and then it's in Spanish too. You say your address and "I need a car" or "Yo quiero un auto." if you are showing off which is dangerous because then the guy thinks you can really speak Spanish and he says something that you haven't any chance of understanding. Usually he's saying how long it will be before the car arrives.

"One minutes."


This is bad because now you have only ten seconds to explain to the weekend guest that she has forty seconds to get in the elevator and get out front of the building AND that the car has no meter like a taxi, the driver just tells you how much after you get there AND that she is going to 168th and Broadway where she will look for the Subway entrance and take a Downtown A or C depending upon if the C is running or if the A is running local.

What are the signs of too much information? Do the eyes widen or narrow or both?

The second shifting experience happened a couple of days ago when I was addressing the condolence cards to my cousins. You remember the last of the aunts had sent me the addresses. On the back of the cards, --yes, each address was on a separate 3X5 card--, were the names of my cousin's children. That's a good thing for me, I pretend to be the family's genealogist, but I am not very organized. Anyway, the last time I saw any of these cousins was almost fifty years ago. The youngest was a toddler. The oldest was staying at our house while he tried and failed at working on the nearby tobacco farms. The middle child I scanse remember trying to fly a boxkite his father brought to our diamond.
Now I took a quick look at the back of the cards and saw that the toddler cousin was having a baby. That's nice, a baby. But aren't they getting a little old for babies?, my brain inquired. Well, maybe, yeah... a little. The other parts of my brain kept offering images of the cousin from fifty years ago--sitting at the table, standing by their dad's car, us waving to them as they left. I looked at the card again. The toddler cousin wasn't having the baby, the toddler cousin's baby was having a baby.

My mind swam in that for a minute or two. The toddler is a grandmother. Taxis have no meters. Take the stairs without using the stairs. If the express is local take the local. When did this door start sticking at the top and bottom? Como usta usted?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

But this isn't about that

One of my aunts passed away about two weeks ago, but this isn't about that. It took me about a week to get her kid's addresses from another one of the aunts. (The last of the aunts, it occurs to me now.) And, because I skipped a few opportunities, about another week before I got the appropriate condolence cards out to the cousins. Such a length of time would have horrified my mother as being completely impolite and inexcusably tardy. I put the blame where it belongs (not on me) on the Internet.

No one I know, except the last of the aunts, writes cards to anyone anymore. Do you? She does. Of course, she has been doing it for the past the seventy years so it's pretty much second nature to her now, but I, especially since I started communicating on the Internet, have just about ceased handwriting. It shows. When the aunt sends me a card - Just a Note to Say... - the writing - about the recent weather, the trip to the doctor's and her inability to play any Irish music on St. Patrick's day after the passing of her sister - is set down in precise lines of prose, each leading thoughtfully to the next with a little wry comment on the excitement of having a letter from me in the same mail as her blood work report to put a little punch in the finish and it makes anything I write seem awkward and pressed into place.

Added to that, my handwriting is now officially atrocious, though even on a good day my past handwriting was never actually legible, is it now completely encoded by some sort of palsy that takes over as I try to swing the crosspiece atop a capitol T. I have had to throw away many almost finished cards because somewhere in the middle of a paragraph my ballpoint pen went nuts.

I should tell you that my mother's family was full of card writers. The three sisters wrote to each other and their mother every week, sometimes more, from wherever they were in the world. Mae, the aunt who just died, traveled all over with her full-bird colonel husband and three kids, who could, in the words of my mother, pack a three-bedroom house into a duffle bag, sent mail to us from the middle of the Pacific and the middle of Washington, DC. My mom wrote to her mom, only ninety minutes away by car, at least twice a week detailing the mundane happenings of 20 Newman St and it's environs. The real champ, however, is the last aunt, she wrote to my mother during the final years of her life every day. There was mail every single day and two cards on Mondays. There were two big baskets of cards, notes, thin sheets of letter paper and envelopes in my mom's room, all from Rita. Little sunshine pictures, little pictures of cats and kittens, little boys and girls at play, all with a short note of hello and thinking of you today and maybe a blurb about Fitz and the boys. Just something to touch.

I once was good at writing cards. I'm not now. Years ago, I sent home bunches of cards and I bought penny postcards by the dozen and sent them to friends. Just something to touch, an arrow of an idea, a moment of thought about the people I was sending it to,

hmmm, it was a early form of this blog.

I just don't do it everyday, but I am thinking of you.

That's what this is about.


Monday, April 03, 2006

The Girl in the Booth Behind Me has a Gun

I am trying to pour a little cream into my early morning breakfast cafe coffee when I hear the man in the booth behind me tell the woman with him to raise the gun slightly. There is spillage. He speaks again
"Okay, now, how are you going to look when you shoot him?"
There is a bit more silence.
"Good, but could you show me what you thinking?"
I could show him what I am thinking.
"Okay," he says, " Keep that and let me see it with the gun raised just a little more."
"Do I have a line?" Her voice is calm, not the voice of a shooter-up of cafes.
"Uh, no. He says 'What's the gun for?' and you shoot him."
"Okay." As if agreeing to take Diet Coke instead of Diet Pepsi.
I get up slowly to get more napkins. Oh good, they are shooting alright, but they are shooting a movie. I go back to my seat, mop up and start in on my cold eggs and crisp bacon.

The director is methodical. He goes through each shot several times before they roll film. They are shooting on film which surprises me. I've been out of the television business for almost twenty years, they were saying then that film was dead, but then they never know really, do they? There are two actors, they talk to each other between takes. I get the impression they are meeting for the first time in this early morning cafe.

They shoot the shooting several times. The director gets up and sets up a cover shot to include the whole booth and part of the window. There is a problem. A taxi keeps backing up on the side street right into the shot.

"It'll look crazy to see that cab going backwards!"
They wait. The cab pulls forward, then just as they are set to roll backs up through the shot again. There is frustration. The actress leans toward the window peering down the street.
"Oh, I get it. There is a garbage truck blocking the street. He can't get by."
The cab pulls forward again. The director waits. They set up. (This plate was here. Right?) They roll film. The taxi rolls through the shot backwards.
There is wonderment laced with profanity.
"If you wanted a taxi to do that, it would never happen!!"

It is about half past six. The waiters are amused by the movie makers, but they will not appear as extras in the film. They shake their heads smiling. The director tries more cajoling to no end.
"He's just going to walk by you as you stand right there."
They smile at him.
"Okay, okay." he says, "I really appreciate you letting us do this much.

My eggs are gone and the coffee too. The actress yawns and stretches as the director and the actor try to figure out two things: 1) how to film him walking out in the bloody shirt against the brightness of the windows and 2) how to avoid startling the cop eating her breakfast in the corner booth while shooting him walking out in the bloody shirt against the brightness of the windows.

As I pay my check up near the door, I think about telling the cop that the woman in the booth has a gun, but not to worry, it's a movie. Then I think, this is New York, everything is a movie.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Men haven't changed in 125,000 years.

Men haven't changed in 125, OOO years. My wife surprised me last night. So, I was surprised and, adhering to the code of men over the past 125,000 years I am supposed to be miffed and put off and a bit testy and out of sorts over this out-of-the-ordinary circumstance. All my survival instincts are supposed to kick in now, but I think I am becoming civilized. Who knew?

Civilization hasn't made any inroads into the way men in general really think about themselves, that is if they do really think about themselves, and there is considerable doubt about that, which is why there are women. Without women, men would still be living in cliffside caves using piles of bones for furniture. There would be television, beer and basketball, but people would be naked and not for the fun reasons to be naked. They would be naked because it would never occur to a man that clothes would be necessary to one's life. A big haunch of some bovine creature? Yes. A good looking set of skins made from the same creature... not so much. Which is probably what happened on that long ago day after the man finished skinning the big horned elks and left the pile of hides right in the doorway of the cave. A woman passed by and said "Say, that's a great color!! And look at the texture!!" To which the man replied, "Huh?"

A couple of weeks later she showed up with a buckskin shirt and a pair of leggings which helped define his shoulder size and accentuate the length of his lower limbs.
"Me no like surprises." said the man.
"I think you do." she said.
She was right, he was just talking like a man.

Fast forward 125,264 years, three months and one day. I have lost a lot of weight, about thirty five pounds. Nothing I have in the way of clothes fits me, even the suit I bought (kicking and screaming) for the high school reunion hangs off of me.

For five hundred "What would a man do?" points, answer this question:

How much clothing have I given or thrown away?

A) I have completely re-done my closet and sent the suit out to be altered.

B) I have sorted out the really worn, stained and torn stuff, tossed them and bundled up the rest for Goodwill then proceeded to the various stores to replenish my wardrobe.

C) I have given it much thought but only thrown away some really huge underwear that kept bunching up in the wrong places to be bunched up.

The answer,(uh, time's up men, there are no more choices like D) waited until my jeans actually fell off my ass while crossing the street before thinking about going to the Gap.) is C which is why men must be married to someone as good to them as my wife is to me.

I get home last night and piled on my desk chair where I would be sure to see them, before I checked my very critical and extremely important emails about crap, was the modern equivalent of the above buckskin shirt and leggings. There were many shirts, there were many shirts that are so cool. Very summery, and nothing like I would pick out for myself. She got jeans too and some khakis and some shirts to wear under the shirts and, of course, everything goes with everything else. (There must be some gene men do not have that allows women to match up the unmatchable.) I left out the pictures of the jeans and the slacks, although to her the jeans are mui mui important. I HAVE some jeans that are only nine years old that I have had up in the closet all that time... oh, never mind, that's just me talking again. The new jeans make me look taller. What is the magic of fashion?

What kind of question is that?

Anyway, tonight after Sixty Minutes and before Monday's big basketball final, I am going to go through my closet and clear out a bunch of stuff. I have that gray suit that I haven't worn in ten years that I will only need if I get to play a murder suspect on Law and Order. That should go. Oh, and there's the thirty two sweaters, one of which I have had since high school, no, not since the 40th high school reunion, since the actual high school. It's nicely folded. There's a couple of pairs of corduroys that would fit me and another half of me, and some tee-shirts originally worn when we were protesting the last war. Apparently they are still chanting"Hell no, we won't go."


Out on the African plain, somewhere back in time, a man pulls the woven shirt over the buckskin jersey. He asks the immortal question: "Do I wear the collar in or out?" Men have never known the answer, women always have.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

There was a white sky at dusk.

There was a white sky at dusk. I headed home through the dimming light thinking grateful thoughts of how, next week, this time of day would be even brighter and how many miles could be run in the park before getting on the train.

Down the stairway, through the turnstile, down the next stairway and, while untangling my headset, I wound my way around the people on the platform to the point where the second door of the first car of the A train would stop. It's the kind of thing you learn to do here, stand where you know there will be a door on the train that will open just for you, near an empty seat just for you, even during rush hours.
We settled in for the twenty -six minute ride to Washington Heights. New Yorkers read at every opportunity. They read while on line at the Post Office, they read while waiting for a bus or a train, they read while they wait for their order to be bagged at the deli, at Starbucks, at the news stand. Yes. They are reading something else while the news stand guy puts their new Lucky magazine in a plain black bag. (The same bag you get at the liquor store.) They read hard cover books, they read newspapers, they read flashy magazines and pulpy looking novellas in every language, so it was no big deal when the train stopped just before we got to 145th Street. Everyone had plenty to read.

Stopped trains on the way to work are more of an annoyance than stopped trains on the way home, I don't know why, they just are. Trains stop all the time, we should tell tourists that. There should be signs up in the stations that say "You will seldom get to your destination without the train making some unexplained stop."

This stop continued for longer than normal.
There was, of course, no announcement.

Finally, the train budged and then, twenty five yards later, stopped again. This time the PA crackled something about a stalled train in front of us. We moved again and with a few clicking noises switched over to the local track and proceeded to ooze into the station.

There was an announcement. Someone had thrown themselves in front of the D train which had been in front of us. The train we were on was not going to the north end of Manhattan but was turning right at the next point and heading to the Bronx.

Joy enthused.
We all stood on the platform and waited for a train, any train, to come. None did. We read our books. We did the suduko puzzle. We read the back pages of the newspaper, the arts section, the section with the recipes for Salmon with Dill Sauce. We leaned out over the tracks looking for the glimmer of a headlight.

I gave up and walked upstairs. I figured I could hoof from 145th and St. Nicholas which is where I emerged. 145th and St. Nicholas is not like 145th and Broadway. Broadway has stores and shops and lots of people walking about, St. Nicholas at this spot is a canyon of worn tenements and the only people on the street were stranded passengers like me.

Taxis are a rarity this far north. What you looking for is a Lincoln Town Car. You just wave them down. There is no meter, just you and the driver, you tell him where you want to go, he takes you there and then tells you how much. You pay and add a little tip. That is if you can find a town car.

Ten minutes went by, okay, maybe five, but still... it's dark. No cars. I asked a couple of women how far north they were going. To Inwood, said one, the other named a street one block from mine. "If we get a car, we'll split it, okay?" I said and I got on my cell and called Kennedy Car. I love Kennedy Car, you speak a little Spanish and the guy sends a car to where ever you are. We got a car in two minutes. (The Heights are crawling with towncars.)

We piled in with another guy on his way to 179th and Broadway. I'm up front with the driver, the women and the guy in the back. They are all much younger than me.

Here's where this becomes a New York Story: in the next fifteen minutes, the time it took to get from 147th to 186th, the three of them shared just about everything about themselves. The dark haired woman was trying to gain weight so she could have a baby. The guy was newly married and he and his wife were thinking about moving to North Carolina. The other woman, after calling her husband to say she was on her way, asked what names had been picked out for the baby and, a surprise to me, there were some: Yuki- if it's a girl, Micah -if it's a boy unless the husband thinks that too ethnic. Mother-to-be has too little body fat because she is a professional ballroom dancer. (Ballroom is about as hard as jogging, I thought to myself.) Other woman says she wants to buy an apartment before having a baby and tells first woman about some healthfood drink she should try if she wants to bulk up. I missed the name while pawing through my wallet for some cash.

Woman and I get out at 181 Street, she has to walk up the hill to Fort Washington, I have to walk down the hill and over a block. I give the driver a big tip. Four stops is a lot, okay three stops, but he was very good. Goodnights all around.

All in darkness now, I walked down Broadway wondering if there will be a Micah or a Yuki, wondering if the guy will leave New York for Durham, wondering who it was who threw himself in front of the rush hour D train. Over to the West there was still a slice of white sky.