Friday, February 22, 2008

The New York Hack

No, not taxicabs, this has nothing to do with taxicabs, it's about the pervasive, nearly universal, barking cough that has spread over the city of New York this winter. The virus causing this condition is having a winning season. Every subway car carries the sound of the scattered gunshots of the Hack. Every café, restaurant, diner and coffeeshop contains at least one person who woofs now and then, in several I've been to it's been me and some of the waiters.

The darkened romantic movie scene is punctuated with the comma, comma, fullstops of the victims, none of whom are sick enough to stay isolated nor really well enough to be amongst other people. It's only a cough. Right.

"It's only a cough that started a few days after the New Year and now has lasted through Valentine's (I -chuff- chuff- love you.) and now Lincoln's birthday."
Maybe you should see someone.

So you call to make an appointment. The first opening at any time for any day is .... April 20th.
Pleading, begging, asserting that you might be spitting up blood and something that resembles a piece of gum you swallowed in seventh grade gets you a 8:15AM a week from now.

I will tell you what will happen because it has happened to thousands of people already in this city. On the morning of the appointment day, and not one second sooner, you will stop coughing. The Hack will be gone, your chest and lungs and throat will feel fine.
You will feel fine.
You will still go to the appointment and at about two hours after it's scheduled time you will listen to the internist listen to your chest and hear her sigh "No, no congestion."
It's as if in some quantum physics inspired weirdness, the virus knows just when to cease operations and bug out.

You pay your deductible at the desk a little disappointed that after all these weeks of ca-caak-caws you didn't even get a prescription for some purple colored elixir. You decide that you are going to take the rest of the day off anyway just because of the stress.

Tell the truth. Isn't that what happened to you?

My, my, my, my Corona.

I took over $50.00 out of the money I had made picking tobacco that summer of 1961. I went up to Potterton's on Center Street to buy the Smith-Corona in the hardshell case. It was blue.

It took me forever to learn to type. Some of the pages of my high school papers weighed considerably more than others because of all the White-Out on them.

I learned how to set margins but never got the knack of TAB/SET.

That typewriter traveled with me to Boston, to California, to Texas, to Oklahoma.

I wrote my first love poem on it.

I wrote the first story I ever sold on it.

I wrote about a hundred days of short stories on it.

(That typewriter tale, I will tell later.)

Resumes, I've written more than several and Letters to the Editor, both angry and bemused.

I wrote the birth announcement of my son on it.

But as I sit here this morning, I cannot remember for the life of me, what ever happened to it.

Do you know what happened to yours?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Way Through

I forgot that they had my favorite Northend exit blocked off. Soaking wet from my run around the park and cold because I had stopped to take a few pictures of the icicles, I was already to the barricade before I realized it was there. I had three choices: I could be compliant and turn around and A) walk back up the drive and then up the hill to the water fountain then down the path to an exit. (No water in the fountain in Winter, in case you were wondering.) Or B) I could walk down the hills past the icicles, then walk around the Northside of the park to the subway entrance, a longer, colder route.
Or, wouldn't you know?, C) I could do what I would do if I was a twelve year old - find a way over around or through the barrier.

Luckily for me I was a paperboy. When you are doing a paper route, as I did from age 10 until I got an actual job at age 15, you see a lot of things. Open windows, unlocked garages, unlatched back porches, all kinds of things that in the hands of a youngster who was not terrified of his Irish mother might lead him into temptation. My observations were mostly for my own benefit. When you are doing the daily route, ninety five percent of the time you are on the streetside of the houses and apartments but when you are doing the collections you use the cut-throughs, the shortcuts and the squeezes. That way you can get from the Farr's house on Edgerton to the Thompson's on Orchard, then through to Winter Street and Rosemary Place for the Crouteu's without ever being on an East-West street.

You have to find out which yards are fenced tightly to the next and which have little gaps, maybe a piece of wood slat pulled aside, maybe there is a slim twelve year old's behind width opening where two fences come together. Maybe there is a fence, but there is a tall stump on one side that leads up to the edge of a convienently sloped garage roof to a crumbling stack of firewood. You find these by looking for the paths.

There is always a path to a shortcut. You have to look carefully to see some of them, there's a little browner stretch of grass, a bare spot just at the corner of the garage or the homeowner may have put up a few of those little foot-high wire loop garden edge fences as a deterrent which makes a very good signal - others have gone before you here.

There are no barriers that remain unchallenged by local twelve year olds, knowing that gave me hope of not just finding a way through but of finding their way through because it would be the shortest. Rather than walk all along the barrier looking for a gap, I looked for the tracks of the path. Soon enough, in seconds really, I saw the scuffs and tracks near the leftside corner. Ah! Striding towards it I looked beyond the fencing and saw, between the piles of old paving stones, a whitish trail of the dust leading directly, first to one side and then the other.

You can't see it in the top picture but there were three of those orange fences making a maze. You can just see the yellow rope some nice pioneer had untied before I got there. Once through the first two I had only to glance at the ground to see the signs to the exit.

This was just a small incident in an otherwise non-eventful Sunday run, but it brought back some really powerful memories of the old neighborhood, shortcuts and finding the way through made me feel really young again.

I'm getting tired of this winter even though it hasn't been a bad one, very little snow and bitter cold for mostly the days I was sick, but still, I was happy to see these ladies and gents heading North a few days ago.

Outside my window, just now, February 20th, 6:24am, I heard a robin.

Good. We are finding our way through this season.

Monday, February 18, 2008

On the Boston Post Road (not really)

The run to Canada continues along the Connecticut coast. 65.9 miles of the thousand run. I haven't a clue exactly where in Canada I will cross the border but that's months away. I'm going to turn left at New Haven and head North.


Can you see this map? If not, use the link above.

This line added to keep the map separated from the bottom of the post.

Let me ask you something?

What would you say if I asked you a question?
Are you okay?
Are you alright?
Are you mad at me?
Are you glad to see me?
Can you hear me?
See me?
Touch me?
How have you been?
What have you been doing?
Read any good books recently?
Did you see that?
What do you mean what?
Ever done something about the war?
What about your mother?
What about my dad?
Wasn’t that that summer?
Have you heard from my mother?
Did you pay those student loans?
What did they say about that lump?
Was there anything to those sores?
How is your addiction progressing?
What did you do about those pics on the web?
Do you think Global Warming is real?
Is your depression different than mine?
Do your headaches make you blind?
What about those noises from next door?
Is that box still under your bed?
What about that one in your closet?
Do you remember that box in the cupboard above the refrigerator that you can't reach without getting on the top step of the stepstool?
Do you have a stepstool?
Where did you go that night?
Where were you last night?
Where were you on the night of October 9th?
How about October 9th the year before that?
How about those Red Sox?
How about 1968?
Did you ever hear back about that test exam?
Have you heard from Lenny?
How about Bennie?
Don’t you remember?
Is your brother still over there?
Will you be home for the holiday?
Will one bag be enough for you?
Are you cold?
Are you too cold?
How about now?
How old are you?
How about now?
Want to grab a bite?
Is this seat taken?
Did you eat yet?
What will you have?
You want this to go or eat in?
Will you have one lump or two?
Any Cream, half and half or Non-fat?
I meant to ask: Mac or PC?
Are you Hillary or Obama?
Do you HD-DVD or Blu-ray?
Are you Manet or Monet?
Are you more Vivaldi or Pachelbel?
Is it a matter of dark or white meat?
Do you want dressing on the side?
Is it a matter of dark matter?
Are they joking?
What do they mean Cashier Charge?
What other choices besides Paper or Plastic?
Do you have the time?
How much time do you have?
How can anybody know?
What time is it?
Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?
Do you know what the next line is?
Is that Eddie in that picture?
Did he ever forget?
Did you ever forgive him?
Do I have it all wrong?
Is it my turn already?
What did you just play?
Is that really a word?
Can you use it in a sentence?
Does it have a future pluperfect form?
Would that be too much to ask?
I was just wondering what you meant?
I was just wondering what you thought?
I was just wondering how you felt the future might unfold?
Do you believe time can be folded?
Do you think time can bend and be twisted and shaped?
Have you ever felt like this before?
What are you feeling?
Do you need some kind of multiple choice?
Where is the library?
Is this the pen of my aunt?
Is this a dagger I see before me?
Can I walk you home?
Will there be coffee?
Is it hard to say right now?
What would you say if I asked you a question?

Top Ten Train Excuses for Being Late

10. Some frigging guy kept holding the doors for people so the train couldn't leave.
9. It was so crowded I couldn't get on.
8.It was so crowded I couldn't get off.
7. The frigging Express went Local the whole way.
6. It never came. I'm here but I don't think it ever came.
5. Some frigging guy got into a fight with another guy over holding the frigging doors.
4. The Local suddenly went Express right by my stop.
3. It just stopped. We sat in the tunnel forever. No announcements, no nothing.
2. They made us get off and take a bus.
1. I was running for the train, I yelled for them to hold the doors but the frigging guy didn't hold the frigging doors.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Sendoff

They threw your brother/uncle/cousin Brian a little sendoff this afternoon at St. Augustine’s. I went. I thought it would be a small affair, some cake, some coffee, a few old folks.

Uh. No.

I got there early, maybe I could help set up a table or something. Uh, No. There in the church basement was an army of volunteers. Some standing guard over the platters of food, some over by the steam table full of hot dishes, some getting ready to pour coffee from the four urns, some handing out the commemorative pens, some putting the finishing touches on the stacks of cookies and more people over by the big screen projection of what can only be described as An Unending Series of Thousand of Pictures of your brother/cousin/uncle Brian. Did I mention the commemorative pens? How about the long list of sponsors on the handout?

The people started coming through the doors at three. First, Brian was greeting them down by the hot dish tables, but someone mentioned that the line was out to the sidewalk, so he moved down to the middle of the hall and then they had him move all the way down to the stage, but the line of people, his people, kept growing. Few people in this life get to see a real community of love in love. I did today. I’ve never been prouder of anyone. Brian greeted every person by name, every one of them one of his favorites, every word important to him, every goodbye heartfelt, every wish he-didn’t-have-to-leave smiled at in a special way. On they came, the little old ladies, of course, but also some tough looking teary-eyed codgers and tall, strapping young men with families trying hard to find words to say without choking up. They did choke up a little. There were women holding the hands of babies, women holding onto their canes, women holding out their program for Brian to sign and kids, lots of kids, shyly getting a hug goodbye. It was hard to watch and a wonder to watch.

After an hour or so, the organizers decided it was time for some presentations. Brian went up on the stage. Nobody in the line moved. A fellow from the Knights of Columbus spoke a few words and there were some gifts opened, there was a plaque from the local police department thanking Brian for being part of the larger community of Seymour and a scrapbook from the fourth grade CCD class and a big book of remembrances from hundreds of people in the church.

Then they talked about the dumpster diving.

Apparently, unbeknownst to most of us but probably suspected by MaryEllen who just did a valiant job of helping Brian clear out his attic and closets of clutter for his move, the man is a trash picker, unable to walk by any large container of refuse without having a look-see. That’s where he found the window frame. A window frame, the bottom half of a window to be precise, and he brought it back the church after looking at it several times in a trash pile down the street.
Then it sat in the garage for a year. That’s when Alese, his devoted secretary, stole it.

They used it to frame a picture of the altar at St. Augustine’s which is perfectly appropriate and why there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. The altar, some of you may know this, is a combination of two other altars that Brian essentially found in trash heaps. Both the altar itself (hand carved marble Last Supper) and the solid wood backdrop, for lack of the correct word, were both lying discarded and unused in the basements of other Catholic churches. Brian rescued both and had them restored and installed at St. Augustine’s.

“I love this church and I love this altar and seeing it in this frame is a reminder to me,” Brian said to the crowd, “that when you get out of the way and let God lead, the wonders happen.” There was a nice explosion of applause.
I started watching all the pictures on the big screen. There was Brian with a beard, there was Brian without a beard, there was Brian with a huge hat, there was Brian wearing the oddest shirt ever sewn. Brian with kids, Brian with the people of Ghana, Brian in the statuary garden he made by the parking lot, Brian wearing a pink hat.

“He gave us back our church” people said to me, “He made us all feel like a family.” “And,” more than one said this, “He’s so much fun.”

Brian, meanwhile, was wrapping up the presentations by telling everyone the basics of his new life, yes, two parishes, some nights he doesn’t sleep at all, neither is air-conditioned—YET, and get this—they hand out the bulletins during mass---- the crowd roared----- family jokes, you know. Oh, and the cat is fine. When he started reciting his usual closing remarks from the end of mass the people recited it along with him laughing all the way to the “famous little table on the left.” More roaring. They were all with our brother/uncle/cousin because he has been their brother/son/father/uncle/listener/prodder/pleader/healer for all these years.

He went back to greeting people in the line. I don’t know when the line ended, it was just as long as it had been two hours before, and I had to leave for the city.

Tomorrow, Brian starts all over again up there in the corner of Connecticut.
Lucky them.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Yellow Ladder

This is New York. You sit in your coffee shop at lunch in about the same seat every time and you order about the same thing on certain days.
"The chef salad today?" asks my regular waiter because it's a Monday,
"Diet Coke?" I only have to nod as he waves his order book.
"Okay, Johnnie-boy" and he is off to two other tables.
No one else calls me that, but hey, this is the neighborhood, so what the heck.

His name is either Juan or John or something his boss finds unpronouncable like Ysidro. The Diet Coke is always fizzy and the salad arrives (no dressing, no cheese without me saying) before I finish reading the second editorial.
(Don't you read the Times or your hometown paper from the back page of the first section? I do.)
Though JuanYsidroJohnnie is spinning between five tables, one occupied by six very tough looking NYPD detectives, he somehow zooms by by my fourth or fifth bite to see if everything is all right. 'Tis or is immediately adjusted. Once, the salt shaker was filled with a solid mass of crystals.
"Oh, my God!!," an ashen-faced Ysidro yelped as if the table was on fire... .

I'm telling all this as another example of how this city lulls you into routines. Your world here is in a little village, regular, usual and unchanging and then, you look across the street at the windows above the Pick-a-Bagel and all you see is a yellow ladder..

It's empty. The space is vacant. And you can't remember what had been there before. What was there?

Apartment Rentals?
Used dresses, er, uh,I mean, Vintage Clothing?
All doing business one day, living in the routine of the city, and the next day just a yellow ladder.

The city doesn't wait long to let a business know if it's going to be open for long.
Burgers and Cupcakes. That sounds like a really good idea, right? Um. It lasted about six months.
Super Pita? Lasted about six weeks.
Veggie Dogs?? Still there. Unbelievable. Veggie Dogs.