Monday, June 17, 2013

Service Restored

Today I tried a new maneuver, one that I have seen performed but had never executed. I was parked at the end of the block, the last space before the intersection, and when the street sweeper came  I pulled up into the crosswalk, not so far as to block traffic or cause a head-on collision but far enough to permit the street sweeper and other traffic to get by behind me.

When the sweeper had passed, I reversed into my precious Monday/Thursday 7:30-8 space, which I found last night when I got home from Rockaway, where I dipped in the ocean for the first time this year. The water temperature was 58 degrees.

The beach has changed, of course. The Parks Department has heaped up dunes where the boardwalk used to be, and there are new signs, long mats at select spots between the dunes for pedestrians to reach the ocean, and lots of red flags to indicate swathes of the beach that are closed to swimming. There are also many guards posted to enforce the closings. It’s sad not to have the boardwalk, but at least now I don’t have to choose between the boardwalk and the sand.

The Éclair spent the winter in Maspeth, Queens, in the care of my displaced Rockaway neighbors. She was parked on high ground, in Manhattan, during the hurricane, and suffered no flood damage (thank you for asking). Those neighbors, who have now returned to Rockaway (yay!), have a new used car, their third in as many years. The last was ruined in the flood; the water came up to the EZPass.

Since my car was still parked at the beach, I took the A train to Rockaway for the first time since the storm.

Who ever would have thought we would miss the A train? Sadly, one trip was all that was needed to remind me of the frustrations it delivers. First, at West Fourth Street, the train marked Lefferts Boulevard came instead of the Far Rockaway train. I got on anyway, because I always take the first train that leaves the station. Then, while I was waiting at Rockaway Boulevard to switch to the Far Rockaway branch, another Lefferts Boulevard train came by. (A friend once asked, “Just what is at Lefferts Boulevard that makes it so popular?” Good question.) At last my train came, and I glided over Jamaica Bay. There is a new stretch of corrugated steel along the restored tracks, rusty like a Richard Serra sculpture. It was high tide, and there were what looked like white sacks, or swan rumps, in the water. The Broad Channel station has been freshly painted. I always go down to the end of the platform to peer around the station wall—not that I have ever seen anything except swamp grass—and there on the ground beside the tracks was a blue metal trunk stenciled with the words “SNOW DESK.” I was just getting out my smartphone to take a picture of it when another train came on—I assumed it was another Far Rockaway train, but as it approached I saw that it was the Shuttle, and I had to run for it, because the shuttle is a short train and the last car lines up with the middle of the platform. The shuttle used to wait on a siding, in plain view. I guess they haven’t repaired the siding yet, and I wonder where the shuttle sits between runs.

Fortunately, I have lost my watch, so I was not able to keep track of how long the trip was taking, and I had brought along a copy of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s book “The Mani,” about travelling in the southern Peloponnese, which is completely absorbing. Still, one trip on the A train was enough to cure me of nostalgia, and I drove back to Manhattan. When I went out to park the car early this morning, I felt alive for the first time in months.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Written in haste on April 16th

I have been to a lot of Baby Dee shows, but Sunday night was a first: Baby Dee and Little Annie at a bowling alley in Cleveland—Lakewood, actually, one of my favorite suburbs on the West Side. I drove there straight from the airport in a rented car, with directions printed out from Google maps. I felt like some out-of-body version of myself. For one thing, it was a late-model car, and I am used to trolling around in a 1990 Honda Civic. For another, I don’t usually require printed directions to get anywhere in my home town. It probably added to the disorientation that I had flown in from Madison, Wisconsin (I usually arrive by car from the opposite direction), and that I had seen Dee and Annie perform in New York two nights earlier. 

The bowling-alley venue was not as odd as you might think (though I did accidentally get in line to rent shoes instead of to buy a ticket). The lanes were on the other side of the building, past the bar, and you couldn’t hear the pins crashing. My friend Paula was there with her sister Donna, and my cousin Nancy brought Alice, who is also my cousin. Alice was raised by my grandmother, and as a young mother she was our upstairs neighbor, in the house just up the hill from the Cleveland Zoo, where the peacocks shrieked in the night and a Galápagos turtle occasionally made a break for it.

There was an opening act: a girl called Blisse, who hopped around like a boxer and sang to the accompaniment of her laptop. She introduced Baby Dee, who made a spectacular entrance and vamped as Little Annie took the stage. They did songs from their new CD, “State of Grace,” and indulged in an occasional anecdote. One number that is not on the album but was in the show was “The Dance of Diminishing Possibilities” (“Bobby Slot and Freddy Weiss were not so nice but I like their names a lot, so I’ll say them twice”). Bobby Slot and Freddy Weiss were actually known to three people in the audience: Nancy had lived at the family compound long enough to have an indelible memory of Bobby Slot, and Alice had lived there earlier and knew things about them that we never knew. For instance they were brothers from different fathers. (Dee said, "I always thought they were gay.") Freddie was the older, and he was born without testicles. When his father died, Rose, Freddie’s mother, remarried and had Robert, as Alice called him. So Bobby Slot’s mother was Rose Slot.

As it was a home-town crowd, Dee favored us with a few extra songs: she did “Fresh Out of Candles,” and for an encore “I’m not the only pisspot in the house.” There was another liturgical number (“Jesus has a plan for you”) and she finished with the Mormon underwear song. At the end, Dee, acting as her own impresario, shouted out “Little Annie!” and the audience applauded. Then she shouted, “Me!” Wild applause. The next morning, they were off to Toronto, and then on to Detroit, Minneapolis, Cedar Rapids, Calgary, Dee Creek (in Washington), San Francisco, Los Angeles, and—whew!—Louisville.

And I am on the way back to New York, worried about friends who regularly attend the Boston Marathon. Dusty, are you O.K.? Deni? Hoping to hear from you.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


I left my car with my Rockaway neighbors for the winter, so I have not gotten out much lately. I was delighted last weekend to find myself in New Jersey, in the passenger seat of a vintage Corolla, with a friend who used a GPS, but mostly to defy it. (The GPS is especially useless when it directs you into one of New Jersey's infamous jughandle turns.) We stopped at a place called Taste of Crete, which was having a moving sale (not surprisingly, a small Greek specialty shop all by itself at the side of a road did not thrive in the Shopping Mall State), and then proceeded through Princeton and past some gigantic sculptures of figures like something out of a Monet painting, set down on lawns across from manufacturers of ceramic plumbing fixtures, to the Grounds for Sculpture. The forsythia and magnolias were just starting to unfurl their blossoms, amid scores of sculptures, all mind-boggling. The biggest surprise, though, was the peacocks gliding low in the shadows. Anyone who grew up around peacocks, as I did (believe it or not), knows what they sound like. We lived up the hill from the Cleveland Zoo, and once someone new in the neighborhood ran outside in the middle of the night because he thought he heard a human cry for help.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Next Wave

As you know, Hurricane Sandy made landfall at the worst possible time for people who built their castles on the sand. To quote a wise friend: You take your chances when you live by the water. Heroic friends helped me start digging out last weekend, and if I can gas up the car I'll go out again . . . after the nor'easter. It's bad, but, incredibly, the bungalows did not wash away. They stood firm on their cinder-block foundations.

If seawater were as nourishing as the floodwaters of the Nile, our scrappy patch of land would bloom like Forest Lawn.

I wish I could lift this whole piece from blog to blog. This is the illustrated version.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy ... so far

The only real precautions I took for the hurricane were to get my flashlight out of the car and to download some episodes of Moby-Dick.

As I write, the tide is still rising in Rockaway. My neighbor Tom and the dog and Dave have moved up into the loft. I haven’t heard from the Master Plumber. If the water in my neighbors’ bungalow is up to their stovetop, my bungalow is full of water. The posts for the pergola are floating. Let’s hope that the worst damage is the sack of quick-set cement I left on my porch, carefully covered with a shower curtain.

Tide still coming in. Take to the lofts! 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Big Read

If you really want something to read, dear reader, check out the Moby-Dick Big Read. You can listen to a chapter a day (they're up to Chapter 20), read by a different person, speaking in a different accent, every day till the middle of January. More background on the project (and my involvement with it; I read Chapter 6, "The Street"), with ukulele accompaniment, here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Picture Car

I was dismayed this morning to see cones along the street where I had parked last night—blue cones and “No Parking Today” signs that were not there last night and that meant, among other things, that I would not be spending the next half hour in leisure mode, catching up on the Moby Dick Big Read. Someone had put the signs up after midnight, for no good reason (a travel show was being installed in a nearby building). A few of my fellow-parkers got belligerent and refused to move. I am not nearly as disgruntled as I might have been, because I drove off and found a spot on the Monday-Thursday side of a 9:30-11 block, squeezing between a car with a deadly tow hook sticking out the back and a shrouded motorcycle, which I found a bit more forgiving than a car, without actually knocking it over. 

On my own street, which has meters, there was no parking because of a film shoot. Alternate-side parkers hate film shoots. Sharply dressed people (extras?) lingered at the corner, near a building that had been redesignated the Office of the Attorney General. Production assistants were all over the place. One of them was giving away miniature pastries to distract people as she encouraged them to take a different route to school or work. A cop directed a traffic jam while simultaneously munching. I could not help but notice that, for a street with no parking, there were an awful lot of dusty-looking beat-up cars lining the curb. I looked inside the cars. On the dashboard of each car was a printed form that said “Picture Car,” and gave a name and contact number. I asked one of the production assistants about the cars, and he confirmed that they were late-eighties models—old Hondas and Toyotas and an ancient Cadillac—parked there for the film set. (The film was “The Wolf of Wall Street.”) 

These were not what you would call “vintage” cars, except in a certain anonymous, nondescript way. Most of them were unoccupied, but in others people were seated behind the wheel, behaving like alternate-side parkers: one did a crossword puzzle, another read, a woman talked on the phone, a man listened to music. Next to one of the cars, a brunette with a clipboard was making notes, and I stopped and said, “I don’t want to interrupt you, but I wonder if could ask you something.” 

“What’s your question, I’ve got a lot on my plate,” she said. 

I hadn’t yet formulated the question, so I said “Never mind,” and let her go back to her glamorous Hollywood job. She was not exactly a good-will ambassador for the film industry.

But here's the thing: I have a dusty-looking beat-up car that would not have looked out of place among the Picture Cars, and I envied their owners. They were getting paid to park! I wanted to know how they got the gig. A friendly-looking man was getting into the passenger side of his Picture Car, and I asked him, “How do you get to park here?”

“You have to do a lot of spinning,” he said.



At home, I went straight to the laptop, found Creative Film Cars, and registered the Eclair. She has a lot of character—she ought to be in pictures. Before the money starts rolling in, I have to supply some photographs. Thanks to my friend NH for this stylish closeup of the dashboard.