Saturday, December 29, 2007

When Parking Rules Go On Holiday

New York City's Department of Transportation has scheduled 43 days in 2008 when street parking regulations, for both street cleaning and traffic flow purposes, will be suspended for national and religious observances.

Although street-cleaning suspensions extend to metered parking spaces, you still have to deposit coins in the meters at the stated hours. The DOT has also designated six of these days as major legal holidays (*MLH), when stopping, standing and parking are permitted except in areas where stopping, standing and parking rules are in effect seven days a week (for example, "No Standing Anytime").

For further details, visit www.nyc.gov/dot and click on "Alternate Side Parking" under Quick Links in the left-hand column.


2008 Alternate Side Parking Rules Suspension Calendar
Holiday Date/Day
New Year's Day* January 1, Tues
Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday January 21, Mon
Ash Wednesday February 6, Wed
Asian Lunar New Year February 7, Thurs
Lincoln's Birthday February 12, Tues
Washington's Birthday (Pres.Day) February 18, Mon
Holy Thursday March 20, Thurs
Good Friday and Purim March 21, Fri
Passover: First/Second Days April 20-21, Sun-Mon
Holy Thursday (Orthodox) April 24, Thurs
Good Friday (Orthodox) April 25, Fri
Passover: Seventh/Eighth Days April 26-27, Sat-Sun
Solemnity of Ascension May 1, Thurs
Memorial Day* May 26, Mon
Shavuot: First/Second Day June 9-10, Mon-Tues
Independence Day* July 4, Fri
Feast of Assumption August 15, Fri
Labor Day* September 1, Mon
Rosh Hashanah September 30-Oct 1, Tues-Wed
Idul-Fitr October 1-3, Wed-Fri
Yom Kippur October 9, Thurs
Columbus Day October 13, Mon
Succoth: First/Second Day October 14-15, Tues-Wed
Shemini Atzereth October 21, Tues
Simchas Torah October 22, Wed
Diwali October 28, Tues
All Saints Day November 1, Sat
Election Day November 4, Tues
Veterans Day November 11, Tues
Thanksgiving Day* November 27, Thurs
Immaculate Conception December 8, Mon
Idul-Adha December 8-10, Mon-Wed
Christmas Day* December 25, Thurs

Asterisk (*) indicates Major Legal Holidays.
Alternate Side of the Street Parking Rule While street-cleaning suspensions extend to metered parking spaces, you still have to deposit coins in meters during stated hours, except on the six days designated as major legal holidays (MLH). Those six days are also the only times motorists can ignore stopping, standing and parking rules—and only at curbsides where they do not apply seven days a week (for example, a “No Standing Anytime” sign).

For information about the new, simplified Alternate Side Parking Regulations, call the Hotline: 212-CALL-DOT (225-5368) or 718-CALL-DOT (225-5368). For TTY Deaf or Hearing-Impaired, call 212-442-9488. This information is available 24 hours a day.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sanctuary

As parking consultant to the stars, I was able to advise Baby Dee on where to stow her Volkswagen Beetle during this festive holiday season. Dee arrived last Wednesday, during Idul Adha, and found a spot that was good till this morning at eleven-thirty. She played a sold-out show at Joe’s Pub last Saturday. (Hooray!) But this morning the glamorous life was over and she chose to give up her spot early, before eight-thirty, and move to a spot that would be good at ten.


Since it is so rare that we get to celebrate Alternate Side Parking as a family, after performing my own religious parking duties, I went and found my sibling, comfortably installed on the block that I had recommended. As I was filled with the Christmas spirit, I gave her my Times and bought her a cup of coffee and a jelly doughnut.

Here is the beautiful sign that I am parked under, in the same spot that I was blessed with on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. I may stay there till spring. The street sweeper didn't come for either of us!



Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ziggurat


Today's image comes to us by way of the Alhambra and is in honor of Idul Adha, which the Times identifies tersely as a Muslim holiday, and alternate side parking is suspended three days for. Idul Adha commemorates the sacrifice of Abraham, which sounds pretty grisly till you remember that Abraham, though willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, did not have to, and sacrificed a ram instead. Abraham turns out to be the common father of three great world religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I think he also has something to do with existentialism, but I never got very far in Kierkegaard, and "Fear and Trembling," though it may be apt, is not everyone's idea of a holiday sentiment.

Idul Adha (rhymes with Little Lotta) falls on the tenth day of the lunar month, and almost coincides with the winter solstice, but has nothing to do with it. It begins as the Hajj ends and the pilgrims descend from Mt. Arafat. Though ecumenism is not a priority for Muslims, as far as I can tell, and I may risk a fatwa by appropriating their symbol, the ziggurat does look like a Christmas tree. I chose it from a heap of broken tiles in a gift shop at the Alhambra. In real life, it has more green in it: the background is a creamy mint green, and the ziggurat is a dark iridescent brownish blackish bluish green. As soon as Idul Adha is ovah, on the solstice, I am going to bring a live evergreen into my house, according to the ancient yuletide custom, to tide me over till the sun comes back to our hemisphere.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Suspended!

Here I was sitting home reading about congestion pricing in my AAA Car & Travel magazine, holding off on my second cappuccino so that I could enjoy a cup of takeout coffee in my lovely parking spot from eight-thirty to nine, when I decided to call 311. I had seen a weather report last night on the Captivator as I was leaving the office—that’s that magic screen in the elevator, with news updates and advertising, that insures that you don’t have to talk to any of your fellow-passengers—and snow was predicted for this morning. Although no snow is yet in evidence, sure enough: the Department of Sanitation has granted me an indulgence! Alternate-side parking has been suspended due to snow removal.

I can’t help but credit the Virgin of Guadalupe for this. It is as if, in her capacity as protector of the downtrodden and Patroness of the Americas, she has made the case, albeit belatedly, to have alternate-side parking suspended for her feast day. An excellent idea! We need more Marian holidays.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Guadalupe

I returned to the scene of my vision of Mary and the Dog this morning, with my camera, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but an entire garden full of out-of-season flowers and foliage.

I had just read the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe (today is the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe) and how she gave to Juan Diego, the Mexican Indian she appeared to in 1531, fresh-cut roses to take to the bishop to prove he had seen her—miraculous roses that shouldn’t have been blooming in December. And now here a whole improbable garden had blossomed outside this window, obscuring my vision, unfortunately, but worthy of documentation nonetheless. (Sorry, I don't know how to rotate photos.)


It tuned out that the store with the statue of the Immaculate Conception in the window belongs to an outfit called American Foliage, and they had just received a huge delivery.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hail Mary

December 8th was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and I must prostrate myself before Our Blessed Mother and beg her forgiveness for my blasphemy the other week in asserting that her feast day would be useless to me because it fell on a Saturday. As it happened, I was cruising for a spot on Saturday at around eleven A.M., my brilliant decision to procrastinate having caught up with me on Friday morning and necessitated that I put the car in a lot ($15, river view). “Car Talk” was on the radio as I stole out of the lot, having overstayed my fifteen dollars’ worth. In my eternal optimism, I drove past the Best Possible Parking Block, where, lo and behold, there was a big fat parking spot.

I had all I could do not to compound my sins by turning left on red to get to that spot before anyone else, though there was no competition in sight. I haven’t scored on this block in months. What makes this spot so sweet is not just the hours (street-cleaning is scheduled for Monday and Thursday, 8:30-9, a very civilized time to be up and about), or even the view, or the proximity of the local swimming pool, but the fact that when the broom comes you don’t even have to move, because the block is so well groomed. That cleanliness was an especially refreshing touch on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is not to be confused with the Annunciation or the Virgin Birth or the Assumption, though of course they all follow from this: that Our Lady, in order to be worthy of her role as Mother of God, must herself have been conceived without sin. Pope Pius IX laid this out for us in 1854.

Of course there will always be those who wonder, Why all this fuss about the Immaculate Conception when we could be celebrating Hanukkah? To which I say, Aw, come on. It is one of only two alternate-side-suspended days devoted to Mary, the other being the Assumption, August 15th, which is directly related to the Immaculate Conception in that, if Mary was born without spot of original sin, and the wages of sin is death, then she didn’t have to die. So she was “assumed” into Heaven. Though artists had been painting scenes of the Assumption for centuries, the Church chewed on it for a good long time. Pope Pius XII made it official only in 1950.

I also learned, when I accidentally watched the world news on BBCA on Saturday night, that 2008 will mark the 150th anniversary of Bernadette’s visions of Our Lady of Lourdes, which took place beginning in February 1858. The commemorative 150th anniversary year began, however, last Saturday, to coincide with the Immaculate Conception. And in Rome the Vatican announced that pilgrims to Lourdes during the 150th anniversary year will receive a plenary indulgence—that is, time off in Purgatory (for a limited time only).

Actually I should not make fun of indulgences, because, in a way, that is exactly what I receive from the city when alternate-side parking is suspended: time off in parking purgatory.

I went out for a walk on Sunday, still grateful for the spot granted unto me, and passed a theatrical prop store that had in the window a life-size statue of Mary in her Immaculate Conception outfit (white gown, blue veil, gold sandals with pink rosettes). Next to her was a white wire sculpture of a dog—perhaps a Pyrenean mountain dog—and I am sorry to say it, but the dog looked as if it were sniffing her butt. I intend to go back with my camera.

On Monday morning at eight-thirty, I arrived at my spot with offerings of takeout coffee and the Times. At the head of the line—only six cars fit on this exalted stretch of asphalt—was the red Honda, idling with its windshield wipers on, whose owner seems to have been granted a perpetual indulgence: she is always parked on this block. At 8:40 I watched in my rearview mirror as the broom swept up the avenue, its driver not even pausing to look down the street. He knew it was already immaculate.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lives of the Saints

I had always wanted to go to Padua, and the auction of Padre Pio’s Mercedes-Benz was a good excuse. The first day, I stopped in at the Scrovegni Chapel, with its famous cycle of Giottos (1302-05) depicting the lives of Mary and Jesus. One of the Scrovegni built the chapel to atone for the sins of his father, who was so bad that Dante put him in the Inferno. The frescoes are ravishing and fragile; admission is timed, so that you present yourself at the entrance to a glassed-in airlock at the appointed hour and watch an informational film before being admitted to the chapel, where you are allowed to stay and gawk and breathe lightly for just fifteen minutes. You don’t want to waste any of this precious time looking at tourist literature. Fortunately, a guide lined me up to follow the cycle, on two tiers, starting at the top with Joachim, the father of Mary, and running down one wall and up the other, and then around again on the lower level. He told me not to bother with the Last Judgment, on the back wall, because that was done by students and was not as subtle.

After spending Saturday at the car show, I set off on Sunday to visit the Basilica of San Antonio. The only thing I knew about Anthony of Padua was that there was a Catholic high school in Cleveland—or, rather, Parma—Ohio, named Padua, run by Franciscans. To tell the truth, I had him mixed up with Francis of Assisi. Anthony is often pictured with a lily and a child, so I also had him a little confused with St. Christopher (now deposed). And, of course, every Catholic child knows that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost objects.

As soon as I left the hotel, I encountered my first beggar, walking a bicycle over a bridge. He offered me his palm for change, but I was so startled by the sight of a beggar with a bicycle that I could not respond. Also, the coins in my pocket were unfamiliar to me, and I didn’t want to be giving away two-euro coins instead of fifty-cent pieces. A little ways on, there was another beggar setting up outside a humble little church dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. Begging is an industry in Padua: they blackmail you outside the churches. I gave this second beggar something, but apparently it wasn’t enough, because he chased me down the street demanding more.

The Basilica of San Antonio is a blend of three architectural styles—Romanesque, Gothic, and Byzantine—and the piazza is full of souvenir stands and cafés.

In the bookstores and gift shops of Padua, you look in vain for mementoes of or information about, say, Padre Pio. It’s all about the local saint—tutto San Antonio. Anthony was actually Portuguese. He changed his name to Anthony from Ferdinand, and also switched orders, from the Augustinians to the Franciscans. He wanted to be a martyr, but that didn't work out. Anthony took sick in the land of the Saracens (Morocco), where he thought he had the best shot at martyrdom, and on his way home to Portugal he got blown off course, landing in Sicily. From there, he made his way to Assisi. He had always been an assiduous student of the Bible, but not a showoff, so everyone was surprised when, on being called to fill in during a shortage of preachers, he turned out to be a silver-tongued evangelist.

At the basilica, I stood in a line that snaked around the back of Anthony’s stone tomb. People brushed it with their hands or laid their cheeks on it, and a monk told them to move along. The Catholic Church, in its wisdom, disinterred Anthony in 1981, just to make sure it was really him being venerated. They found his tongue miraculously well preserved, and pulled it out. While they were at it, they also removed his vocal cords. So Anthony’s organs of speech are enshrined in precious reliquaries, on view just past his tomb. There is also a museum in the basilica with remnants of his robe, and a multimedia presentation of his life story which takes place on the walls of two rooms that people shuffle back and forth between. I should have skipped the multimedia show and gone directly to the botanical garden, one of the oldest in Europe, which closes at one on Sundays, but I was curious now to find out about Anthony.

According to a little book I bought, a life of St. Anthony known as the “Assidua,” written by “a Contemporary Franciscan,” in the last year of his life, Anthony decided to preach every day for the forty days of Lent. He was like a rock star: everyone came to hear him, and wanted a piece of him. When the crowd overflowed the church, he spoke outside in a meadow. This rigorous schedule took its toll, and, foreseeing that he would die, Anthony left Padua for nearby Camposampiero, where he lived in a house that was constructed for him, at his request, in a nut tree. He was taken ill at a meal in the monastery (he came down from the tree for meals) and died in Arcella, having confided to his confreres that he wanted to be buried in Padua, at the church of St. Mary, now the Basilica of St. Anthony.

The stories of saints are like sunsets: they don’t end when the ball falls below the horizon; the most amazing part is the changes in the sky once the sun is down. In this little book, Anthony’s life takes up all of nineteen pages, and the five days after his death take up twelve. The friars in the monastery where he died wanted to keep the body in Arcella. Nearby was a convent of Poor Clares (“Poor Ladies,” in the “Assidua”), who, because they had not gotten to see the saint while he was alive, schemed to have his body after he died. It was June, and the friars felt it would be prudent to bury the body, but Anthony was soon disinterred by rival friars who wanted to take him back to Padua. A pitched battle broke out, with one faction constructing a bridge to take the body to Padua without going through the town, and another faction destroying the bridge and laying siege to the monastery, and the Poor Clares pulling strings with the authorities. Finally, the authorities decreed that because Anthony was a Franciscan he had the right to be buried in the church where he had worked and prayed, in his adopted home town, and his body was returned to Padua.

There had been plenty of miracles while Anthony was alive—they are depicted in murals and recorded in books, some of them with the air of being so well known, like Christ’s miracles, as to require no elaboration: the restored foot, the child saved from fire/drowning, the unbroken glass. But his death opened a “sea of miracles.” In the final section of the “Assidua,” fifty-three miracles are recounted—the ones that were presented at the cause for canonization, which occurred with unprecedented speed, in 1232, less than a year after Anthony’s death. The stories are told in such graphic detail that, as with Homer’s description in the Iliad of how various warriors met their ends in the Trojan War, you are convinced that the stories are true. Here is one such:

“Another woman, whose name was Riccarda, for twenty years suffered from legs that were atrophied. She had become so monstrously drawn in by a certain calloused joining of the skin that her knees stuck to her chest and her feet to her buttocks. One day, using crutches instead of her feet, she came with certain paupers to the place of blessed father Anthony to receive alms from passersby. . . . Entering the place of the sepulchre, she wholly devoted herself to prayer. While she was thus praying, behold two round balls like eggs broke out between her shin and flank. Running within a kind of fluid under her skin, the balls descended all the way to her feet, making a noise like the sound of clapping hands, a sound that was heard by many. At last, her legs which had been made dry like wood for twenty years immediately gained in length, and, the skin having stretched itself, the flesh began to grow to its original size. When the custodians at the tomb saw what was happening, they very hastily carried the woman outside the door of the church and sent her away, not at all fully healed. But she, insisting in prayer for nineteen days and daily dragging herself to the same spot, finally, on the twentieth day threw away her crutches and returned home, walking through the centre of the city with a firm pace, not without everyone’s admiration.”

I searched in vain for any reference to St. Anthony as the patron saint of lost items. I decided that it may have been the sheer number of miracles attributed to St. Anthony that made him seem like a good person to pray to for whatever you needed most urgently, be it the use of your legs or some small thing that you’d just misplaced. It’s easy, once you get started, to make things up about saints. For instance, I’m pretty sure St. Anthony liked cookies. Lots of amarettoni and little chocolate biscotti are sold in his name, and the “Assidua” mentions that he had “a certain natural bulkiness.”

One night in my hotel room in Padua I was awoken by a heavenly aroma. It persisted and persisted, and I couldn’t sleep for the excitement in my olfactory system. There was no visible source of the smell, and I began to wonder if it might not be the odor of sanctity. At last I decided what I knew all along: that it was the delicious scent of the morning’s cornetti—brioches with cream or chocolate or marmalade filling—wafting up from the bar around the corner, where I would go for breakfast.

By the time I left, I had finally found the right combination of coins to give the beggars.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Garbage Day

On Sunday, I brushed the snow off my car at about noon and set off to find a spot, following some real-estate advice that I heard years ago: Go to the block you want to live on and look there. With high hopes, I went first to the Best Possible Parking Spot (Monday & Thursday 8-8:30) and found the snow undisturbed on a row of six cars. Onward, then, to my old faithful spot (Monday & Thursday, 7:30-8), where luck was also not with me. I’d given up a spot on a block I’d never had the pleasure of parking on before, quite near home, which would have been good till Monday at 8 A.M. And then I had a brainstorm: Why not look for a Tuesday-Friday spot and not have to move at all on Monday?

This worked fine, and continued to seem like a good idea, until Tuesday, when I saw it for what it was: a prodigy of procrastination.

Tuesday is Garbage Day on the block where I lurk in a line of double parkers. A school bus is trying to get past a garbage truck. Behind it waits a long line of cars and another garbage truck. Oddly, no one complains about the lane taken up by double parkers. There is tolerance for our Alternate-Side religion.

There are two cars double-parked behind me, and three legal spots across the street. An S.U.V. that didn’t move gets a ticket while we wait for the broom. The guy blocked in at the parking meter next to me taps on my window, wanting to get out. It’s 9:40, and I’m ready to move across the street and claim a spot, but he says all I have to do is back up, there’s room, and anyway traffic is now streaming through without a break. While I am letting him out, the guy behind me crosses the street and takes up two spots between the hydrant and the S.U.V. that got a ticket. When there’s finally an opening, I pull up alongside of him and ask if he would either back up or pull forward to make room for me (he pulls up). Meanwhile, the car that was behind him scoops in, and I wish evil upon him if he dares nose into my spot, but he settles for parallel parking in a tight spot behind the S.U.V.

All the cars that were double parked ahead of us are moving into position, too. We are taking our chances: the broom has not yet come. We are hoping that its driver took one look down the block while it was choked with garbage trucks and school buses and decided the hell with it.

And we were lucky. The broom did not come today.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Hypothetical Parking

There’s no question that the Eclair is taking its lumps out there on the city streets, and between losing the sideview mirror and getting relocated for the “Sex and the City” movie and witnessing that burst of violence on a block I had always considered safe, not to mention dreading the coming of winter, I found myself following up on the information about parking garages in my neighborhood that I received on Diwali, the Hindu Feast of Lights. The garage closest to me, a mere five blocks away, is $400 a month (including tax). Another, about the same distance, is $350 a month. Two blocks farther away is a garage for $300. And then there is one quite a bit farther away—twenty-one blocks, to be exact—for $275. Once the price came down below $300, it actually began to sound reasonable. I decided to walk to this garage to see what was wrong with it, that it was so cheap, and to determine, should I capitulate and put the car in a garage, if it would be worth the twenty-five dollars a month savings to walk a mile. I like to walk. On principle, I should go with the cheaper garage farther away, to save money and get more exercise, right?

The garage is on First Avenue and Thirty-ninth Street, and I marched straight up First—no zigzagging through the cross streets or going down to the river for atmosphere—past the Center for Aesthetic Dentistry, past Bellevue Hospital, past the Morgue (which of course does not say MORGUE on it, but Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and Forensics Center, and which is as cold and utilitarian a building as I’ve ever seen), past N.Y.U. Medical Center. By the time I got to the Morgue, I remembered that often I am dropping things off or picking things up at my apartment, and that it would probably be worth it, as long as I was paying for a garage, to shell out the extra twenty-five dollars to keep the car closer to home.

The cheap garage is across from a big hole in the ground between First Avenue and the East River. After satisfying myself of its location, I walked past the Department of Environmental Protection, trying to get over to the river, and could not help but notice that there is a block of alternate-side parking (Tuesday-Friday) way over there in Midtown East. It’s surrounded by garages, and extremely inconvenient, and I wonder how many people know about it. Then it dawned on me that if I can still get excited about a free parking spot this far from home, I’m not ready to pay for parking.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Car Show in Padua

It's true that I went to Rome to eat artichokes, but I didn't go to Padua just to eat chestnuts.


Self-portrait in Padre Pio's sideview mirror

You can read about the auction of the Ex Padre Pio Mercedes-Benz, in Padua, on October 27th, here.




The Ex Padre Pio Mercedes-Benz


Wrenches

I looked in vain for a display of dashboard saints. They are no more, because everything is plastic, and the saints relied on magnetism.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Post-Thanksgiving

So I’m on my way to the Holland Tunnel for Thanksgiving dinner at my optician’s house in New Jersey (P. is actually a high-school friend who happens to be an optician, but I love the idea of being friendly enough with my optician to get invited to her home for Thanksgiving), and I glance at the passenger’s-side rearview mirror, and it isn’t there. How long has it been missing? My car was facing west, on the north side of the street, when last parked, with the passenger side at the curb, so I must have gotten sideswiped earlier and didn’t notice. A monster truck must have squeezed past while I was in that spot that I was so delighted to find when I got back from my winterizing mission. This will be the fourth time I’ve had to replace that mirror. (It does not bend in, by the way, or believe me I would bend it in.) Things like these make free parking very costly.

Also, I think I have lost steering fluid or something. I know I have lost power steering. I was bouncing along some street last week when I hit a pothole. The next time I turned my steering wheel to get out of a parking spot, it made a ratcheting sound, a kind of tick-tick-tick, instead of turning smoothly. Parallel parking is hell without power steering. When I parked the car on Thanksgiving night, I leaned over to open the passenger’s door to see how far from the curb I was, and it wouldn’t open. Whoever took off the mirror had also dented the door badly enough that it doesn't work.

The spot I found that night unfortunately compelled me to be up and in the car at 7:30 on Friday morning. It is an interesting spot, though. Because it is across the street from a hotel zone (No Parking Anytime) and the curb was clear, when the broom came everyone pulled across the street as if they were parking diagonally at the hotel, and then reversed back into position: a new step in the alternate-side ballet, and a blessing for someone who needs all her strength just to turn the steering wheel—I felt like I was trying to hoist the Titanic—and cannot simultaneously twist to look over her shoulder. While I was sitting there, having regained my spot with great effort, a tiny Volkswagen slalomed down the street, checking out the hydrant on the left, an illegal spot on the right, a driveway farther down on the left. He went around the block and paused, as did a Mini Cooper, to see if he could fit in front of me. I had a nice allowance of space, but with my reduced steering capacity I was worried about getting squeezed in. Both cars gave up and looked elsewhere.

A lot of times, those spots that aren’t quite big enough for a car end up being taken by a motorcycle or a homeless person’s shopping cart. I recognized, in my rearview mirror, the souped-up shopping cart of the homeless guy who sometimes parks his possessions across the street. And there before me was the homeless guy himself, packing up after spending the night on the sidewalk, alongside a heating vent outside Staples. He collapsed two umbrellas, folded a comforter, and piled it and his pillow onto the cart. Then he flattened several big cardboard boxes and stored them methodically, along with a sheet of plastic, next to the building, propped behind an orange cone. He hobbled off for a day's scavenging with a cane and a backpack.

On Saturday, I forsook this interesting spot and drove to my mechanic in Rockaway. “Sounds like a belt,” he said, when I described the steering problem. The car also needs winterizing, and I asked him to see if he could get the passenger’s door open, and mentioned that the Check Engine light had gone on again . . . and, please, take your time, I said. I was in no hurry to get the car back. The next alternate-side-suspended day is December 8th, the Immaculate Conception, which falls on a Saturday and is therefore of no use to me (sorry, Mary). And then there is nothing till December 19-21, Idul Atta, another Muslim holiday. In the meantime, I think I will take a little walk and see if any of those parking garages—the ones I learned about when I called the number on the flyer I was given on the Upper West Side—appeal to me. One more winter on the street and the Éclair is going to be scrap metal.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Winterizing

It was a dark and stormy day. I was at my car, for the reverse commute to Rockaway, at 7:30 A.M., just as a thread of pink appeared in the sky: Red sky at morning, sailors take warning? I was giving up, with some reluctance, the spot I’d regained after being relocated during the shooting of the “Sex and the City” movie on Halloween. (The check from the production company arrived, by the way, covering the cost of the parking tickets.) Something by Schubert, the overture to an unfinished opera called “Der Teufel als Hydraulicus,” was on the radio. “Devil in the Waterworks”? I was on my way to meet the plumber and turn off the water for the winter, and I hoped this was not a bad omen.

My list of things to do got longer the closer I got to Rockaway. The plumber wasn’t coming till one, so I had all morning to lay the ground for him. The sky over Jamaica Bay was one big platter of dark cloud with a pale rim all the way around it. I bustled around, doing dishes while I still had water, putting the recycling out for the garbagemen—last chance before spring—emptying out the refrigerator and defrosting the freezer (I learned years ago that it’s easier to let the ice melt, helping it along with a pan of boiling-hot water, than it is to hack at it with a butter knife). I plugged in the electric radiator to take the chill off the place, and I used the toilet whenever I felt the slightest call, because once the water is off and antifreeze is in the lines, the nearest facilities are at McDonald’s.

One urgent job was to do something with the tank of leftover gasoline from the boat. It’s shameful that I didn’t use it up puttering around on Jamaica Bay, but at least I never ran out of gas. My idea was to pour the gas into my car’s tank, but I didn’t have a funnel, much less one with a wide mouth or anyone to hold it in place for me while I hefted the three-gallon tank. Brainstorm: Get in the car and drive to the mechanic and ask nicely if someone will help you. The mechanic had a funnel, and in the trunk I had one of my homemade bailers—an empty bleach bottle with the cap still on and the bottom sawn off. So I held the bleach bottle, with the cap off, upside down over the funnel, and the mechanic tilted the tank very carefully and poured the gasoline into the car. We hardly wasted a drop.

Home again, I snuck out to the boardwalk for a walk before the rain set in, and had lunch and read the Wave (a great column by my favorite columnist, Dorothy Dunne). At twelve-thirty, I began preparing in earnest for my date with the plumber. I found the key-on-a-stick—the fitting used to turn the valve underground and cut off the water to the house—and pried the cap off the access-line pipe outside with the claw of a hammer. I bushwhacked my way between the bungalows (lots of new vines have established themselves) and moved aside the latticework so the plumber could get under the house to unscrew the two plugs in the water line. It was raining steadily now, and the ground was slippery with wet leaves. I brought the hose inside for draining the hot-water tanks, and filled a bucket with hot soapy water and a few big pots with cold water and a dishpan with lukewarm water. I filled the sprinkling can, too, in the hope that I will still get around to planting tulip bulbs.

I remembered the five-inch red plug for the waste line and found it under the kitchen sink, wrapped reverently in a white paper towel. In there, too, was a gallon of antifreeze: got that out. Cleared the floor around the toilets and took the lids off. (Used the toilet again, while I was at it.) By one, I had everything in order. And the plumber didn’t come.

There was still plenty to do to fill the time. I finished defrosting the freezer, and packed some things to take back to the city. I drained and packed my bong, a sure sign that summer is over. I had already swept up around the toilets, but I went back in and scrubbed them with cleanser, which was an afterthought but a good one. (And, as long as I was in there, I used my nice clean toilet.) There was no point in mopping yet, because the plumber would be tromping around in wet boots—that is, if he came. Every once in a while I’d open the porch door and stare down the walk to the street. I kept telling myself that there was nothing to worry about. The wind was howling and the rain was pouring down, but surely plumbers have gotten wet in the rain before, and Jimmy has never let me down.

I thought of trying to get started myself—go and probe underground with the key-on-a-stick to see if I could turn the water off (allow forty minutes) and start draining the hot-water tanks. But if the plumber wasn’t going to show up I might just as well leave the water on. I like to stretch the season, till Thanksgiving, if possible. I watch the weather page of the Times, which features a little diagram showing how low the temperature is likely to sink each night for the next week, as well as the actual temperature range for the few days past. It had hit freezing the weekend before, when I was out of town, which was not in the forecast, and this gave me a scare. But often after that first freeze the temperature goes up again. I am a great believer in Indian summer.

I had just run out of things to do and put on some water for tea when Jimmy called my name from the front door. Whew! He was forty minutes late, but he was here. He was wearing a yellow slicker and carrying a bucket full of tools and his compressor, which looks like a gigantic oil can with a pump, a hose, and a pedal. He had an assistant named Gary, who brought in an electric pump to speed up the process of draining the hot-water tanks.

While Gary emptied the tanks and the toilets, Jimmy and I went outside to turn the water off. He got it on the first try. He removed the showerheads and handed them to me to take inside. He went out to the truck and got some cardboard to slide under the house. “I'm out of the rain once I’m under the house,” he said gamely, and wiggled under the bungalow to take out the plugs. "Do you remember that there are two?" I asked. He did. I stood by like an operating-room nurse to receive the plugs and put them in the silverware drawer till next year. Inside, Jimmy warmed his hands on the electric radiator, and then pumped the air out of the faucets in the kitchen sink. He attaches the hose on his compressor to the faucet, pumps the big oil-can thing full of air, then steps on the pedal to release the air into the pipe, forcing out any standing water. I had neglected to clear my toiletries out of the outdoor shower, so I did that before Jimmy brought the compressor outside and blew out the line to the shower. I was beginning to feel fantastic. Much as I hate to see the season end, having the bungalow’s pipes blown out is like having my own lines purged of anxiety.

I asked the plumber when he was going to Florida. He’s leaving next week on a two-week tour of China. It will be his third time there. I emboldened myself to ask him if his family was from China. (Jimmy looks Chinese but his speech is pure Bronx.) “My parents,” he said. “They were from Canton.” He pronounced it “Can-TAWN,” and for the first time I made the unlikely connection of Chinese food with Canton, Ohio, home of the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Then he is coming back for a month, to do his heating projects, and will go to Florida in early January. He usually returns to Rockaway around Mother’s Day, the hardest day of the year to find a plumber.

“This is about the last chance,” Jimmy said as we went about winterizing. I kept trying to focus on the main thing I didn’t want to forget: put that plug in the waste line. This involves sliding back a neoprene sleeve, like a tourniquet, on the pipe where it has been cut to allow insertion of a big red plug, which keeps sewage from backing up into the house in case there's a problem over the winter. My first mentor in the world of bungalow plumbing questioned the necessity for this step, but it has always seemed like a good idea to me. (He also told me that I could use the toilet in the winter if I flushed with antifreeze.) Gary was outside now helping, too. Jimmy got the plug in, then poured the last of the antifreeze into the trap, and we were done.

“What do I owe you?” I asked Jimmy.
“Same as last year,” he said. “I don’t remember.”
I didn’t remember exactly, either, but I believe he charged $75 for each side. I budgeted $200 for plumbing, so I gave him the whole amount, which he said was very generous. I don’t know what the etiquette is, but ever since the first year, when I failed to tip Jimmy and his assistant, a guy named Paulie, who really did not like going under the house (I repented later and sent a check), I always tip the plumber. He may be the only man in the world who has the know-how and the equipment to satisfy me completely.

We wished each other a Happy Thanksgiving and a good trip to China and a good winter, and Jimmy gathered his bucket of tools and his compressor, and told Gary that I’d given him a little something, and we shook hands, and they left.

Now it was time to mop the floor and lock up. I started at one end, gathering everything I needed from each room as I went along, turning the lights off, leaving the refrigerator door open, piling bags, sweater, jacket, and finally keys and purse on the porch. I emptied the slops into the drain on the street, and carried a carton of orange juice salvaged from the refrigerator over to my friend the Catwoman, who gave me a cup of coffee. Then I headed back to Manhattan.

It had finally stopped raining, but that platter of cloud was still hovering over Jamaica Bay; at the western edge the sun dropped under the rim, spreading golden light into a long slit at the horizon. It was rush hour, but, again, I was going against traffic. I can’t remember when I’ve tried to park at rush hour. It seemed possible: people who are crazy enough to drive to work and park on the street would be leaving. But then again people who are crazy enough to reverse-commute by car would be out cruising. My favorite street was parked up solid. So was the street where the violence had broken out. I knew there would be nothing on my street, because of the car-rental agency on the only block where it’s legal to park during the day, but I drove the length of it anyway, and turned left at the end, ready for a twenty-six-block tour of the city, in search of a Monday-Thursday spot. I realized just after turning that the spot at the corner, which I had just passed up, was legal: I backed up. I fit. It was too good to be true. I got out and looked at the sign: It really did say Monday-Thursday, and though there was a No Parking sign with an arrow, I was on the right side of the arrow. I checked to see if the car ahead of me had enough room to get out if I pulled up snug, and it did.

Ah. Now it can get cold.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Strong Stuff

Tagged with a meme by Lucette at My Novel on Toast, I am challenged to come up with five of my writing strengths. Of course, to get down to my strengths, I have to dig through all my weaknesses (lack of discipline, lack of confidence, lack of focus, lack of . . .), but here goes:

1. I have ideas. I am pretty good at having ideas. Unfortunately, sometimes I am content just to have the idea, and I never bring it to fruition.

2. I am persistent. I may put something away, but it’s going to come out again sooner or later. I still intend to get my novel published (anyone out there want to have a look at “Sofia Rampant”?) and to place a piece about Brazil.

3. I love words on every level: alphabet, origin, syntax, sound, sentence, song. Studying foreign languages has made me grateful that I’m good at English.

4. I have a good ear for understatement.

5. I have a voice. I may not like the sound of it, but it’s mine and it’s always there.

Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Nobody asked, but I'm also a good parallel parker. And can take photographs with a point-and-shoot while I'm driving. And am practically an idiot savant for Catholic trivia.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Repent!

I had to go to West 85th Street yesterday, where cars were spread out luxuriously on both sides of the street, in observance of Diwali. There was a new moon, which suggests that this Hindu holiday, like Id al-Fitr, is based on the lunar calendar. (I found a brief and delightful description of Diwali at a books blog called Chicken Spaghetti.) It suddenly struck me that we are moving our cars (or not moving them) in accordance with the phases of the moon. That’s what I like about Alternate Side Parking: it not only embraces all the world’s great religions—and some of its statesmen—but also the eternal verities.

And that is exactly what the author of a cranky column in yesterday’s Times does not like. The author, Clyde Haberman, who clearly does not have a car, describes Alternate Side Parkers as members of the Church of Internal Combustion, and complains that too many holidays are now celebrated by not cleaning the streets (“Getting Religious About Street Parking”).
I humbly confess that I have not yet achieved knowledge of the true mysteries of internal combustion, but I do aspire to it before the end of days.

Yesterday I received a sign: When I came up out of the subway, I was handed a flyer that said “Parking—Monthly rate as low as $295.67 + tax.” I called the number, out of curiosity about the tax, which is a whopping 18¾ percent. That brings the monthly rate up to $350. But here is the temptation: it turns out that there’s a garage near me—well, within walking distance; O.K., it’s a mile away—where I could park for $275 a month, including tax. The violence on the street where I parked this week has got me thinking seriously of converting.

I was up and out at seven on Thursday, though my spot was good till eight-thirty, hoping to find a place on my preferred block and escape evil companions. No luck—they were packed in solid, with garbage trucks in the hotel zone, a commercial van at the fire hydrant, and orange cones reserving all the spots across the street for some event. I circled the block three times, and on the third time I overheard one parker analyzing the situation for another (“He’s got a ton of space, but he might not even show up”), so I headed back to my alotted place. As I slowed to pull over just in front of the parking lot, the codger behind me honked his horn. And so it came to pass that the sun had barely risen on the eve of Diwali and I was already flipping someone the bird.

The crazy Asian’s Subaru was gone. That was a relief. The car that belonged to the Puerto Rican, under closer examination, turned out to be not an S.U.V. but a Pontiac Grand Am (it must have loomed very large in my imagination). The Puerto Rican's wife was parking alone, and she called to me and waved when she got in her car. She and I and a man in a Mitsubishi S.U.V. idled (with motors off) across the street, waiting for the broom. At nine, the Mitsubishi pulled into the metered spot, and I backed up into his double-parking spot. I was starting to understand a little of what the Asian lady felt. Every time a car went by, I flinched: would it dare double park next to me and block me from my rightful position in line behind the broom?

And then there she was—the Asian lady! She was wearing a black leather coat and carrying a shopping bag. She took a few desperate puffs on a cigarette, stamped it out, and entered the sacred precinct of the parking lot. Perhaps after slapping that other woman around earlier in the week she had sought out her confessor and his advice was: "Put the car in a lot."

When the broom came, things were complicated by congestion outside the parking lot. One of the cars that wanted to turn into the lot was waiting in the spot I had given up, which I confess I had begun to think of as mine. The Puerto Rican woman was ruthless. She was magnificent. She got behind that broom and didn’t give an inch. I got behind her, and it was tense for a few minutes, as the line of double parkers swung over and moved up and maneuvered grittily into place. But in the end there was room for everyone. Even the S.U.V., who had hogged two spots, was willing to negotiate with the driver of another S.U.V. from New Jersey, who turned up later and managed to squeeze in. It was as if we were determined to be civilized.

Meanwhile, back on the Upper West Side, right after receiving the flyer for the parking lot, I noticed another flyer taped on some building doors: “Lost Parking Spaces MEETING." Was this some new sect of the Church of Internal Combustion? "Topic: Removing the No Standing sign in front of 333 West 86th St.” I checked out the address to see what all the fuss was about. The No Standing sign governs a stretch of curb that might accommodate three cars. A private shuttle bus was standing there, in front of a building that turns out to be a retirement community—a luxury high-rise retirement community. (“No Standing,” by the way, does not mean that the shuttle bus can’t stop there to pick up and drop off. The sign is a slap in the face of the alternate side parking community, since that is what we do while holding a spot. As long as you are sitting in your car, you are not parking but “standing.”) The No Standing sign must be for the convenience of the retirees, so that they don’t have to squeeze between parked cars and board the shuttle bus in the middle of the street, which I can see would be a nuisance, especially if you were in a wheelchair.

I have plans for the night of the Lost Parking Spaces Meeting (thank God), or I would be tempted to attend. If three lost parking spaces are enough to cause such a stir on the Upper West Side, the end is nigh.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

How Do You Plead?

Sarcasm is not appreciated at the New York City Department of Finance, to which I was trying to write a letter to go with a Not Guilty plea in the matter of my car’s collecting two tickets after being relocated by the police because some people wanted to make a “Sex and the City” movie. Way down in the fine print of the notice on the pole was a plea for understanding by the production company, Avery Pix, which had a permit from the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting. They apologized for the inconvenience, but suggested that by having my car towed I would be contributing, albeit inadvertently, to a noble industry that employed thousands.

It turns out that all that conciliatory language was lifted directly from a Sample Resident Letter available online from the MOFTB, which production companies are encouraged to send out in advance of inconveniencing New Yorkers. I discovered this while surfing the Web as I waited for someone in the Location Department of the production company to call me back. I had copied their phone number off the notice and had called ostensibly to get the number of their permit to include in my letter to the city, in which I was going to suggest that they, not I, pay the tickets. In my heart of hearts, I also blamed them for making me park on that block where the catfight broke out. I walked past yesterday and all the dramatis automobiliae were still lined up along the curb: the crazy Asian’s Subaru, my gray Honda, the Puerto Rican’s S.U.V. (he has a miniature Puerto Rican flag flying from his rearview mirror). I’m dreading going back there tomorrow.

But they surprised me at Avery Pix by offering either to pay the tickets for me or to reimburse me for them. So I didn’t finish the letter, which, in my effort to divert any hint of sarcasm, had veered off into an unconscionably long-winded story about the night I parked in the Sicilian city of Syracuse in a spot that, the next morning, turned out to occupy some people’s market stall—were they mad!—and about the triumph of finding a spot in a piazza in Palermo, a grubby, cacophonous, gorgeous, bombed-out, anarchic city, which was perhaps my finest parking moment. Instead, I whited out my Not Guilty plea, checked Guilty, and paid the fine. I faxed copies of the tickets to the production company, which is going to send me a check. It's a little anticlimactic, but I am relieved to know that no one really expected me to just roll over and pay $130.

So never mind.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Spot of Guilt

Last Monday, returning from the airport at ten o’clock at night, having retrieved my car from the long-term parking lot and found out that you can pay with EZ Pass (an excellent innovation, especially considering that I was low on both gas and cash), and negotiated the Van Wyck and the Grand Central and the L.I.E. and the Midtown Tunnel, fried as I was—I had been up since four in the morning Italian Standard Time and travelling or agonizing in airports for more than twenty-one hours—I prolonged my journey by four city blocks to see if by any wild possibility there was a space available on my favorite parking block . . . and there was! Furthermore, as Thursday was All Saints Day (November 1), the spot would be good all week. Or so I thought.

I knew I should have checked on the car on Halloween—it was last Halloween that my car was vandalized—but I had a lot to do, so I decided not to worry about it. On Saturday, I left my apartment, carrying a three-legged table with a salad bowl for a top, which I’d found in a dump in Massachusetts and intended to take to Rockaway. I walked up the block past where I thought I’d parked—I knew it was near one of those tree-protecting barriers, because I’d had to pull up to open the door and then go around to the other side to get my stuff out of the back seat—but my car was not there. I walked back down the block, hoping that one of the cars would morph into a gray 1990 Honda Civic. But there was no doubt about it: my car was gone, and in its place were clustered three orange traffic cones. A lime-green sign was posted on a pole: “No Parking—Vehicles Will Be Towed to the Nearest Legal Spot If Not Moved by Wed. Oct. 31.” Below was a long-winded typewritten announcement saying that some people wanted to make a movie.

So, because some people wanted to make a move, I’m walking around with a tripod salad bowl looking for my car? Incredibly, I spotted it before I had gone two blocks, sitting about two feet from the curb at a metered spot, with a bouquet of orange tickets pinned beneath the windshield wiper. On the window was a sticky yellow thing that stated when the car had been towed (on 10/31 at 0200), by whom (the police), and why: “Movie Detail.” It notified “All Traffic Enforcement Agents, Police Officers and Other Summons Issuers”: “DO NOT SUMMONS OR TOW WITHIN 48 HRS. FROM DATE OF RELOCATION.”

I felt relief, of course, because I’d found my car and now I could put this stupid table in it instead of abandoning it on the street (passersby had been eying it covetously) and get on with my day. But I also felt outrage. Where in the Alternate-Side Parking Rules does it say that you have to check and make sure that nobody wants to make a movie where your car is parked? This was like the ultimate Halloween prank, pulled by starstruck cops. Later that afternoon, I examined the tickets, hoping to find some error that would make them invalid. There were two of them: one had been issued on Friday at 7:45 A.M., and the other on Saturday at 7:55 A.M., both by the same conscientious cop. Each violation cost $65. Of course I will contest them.

***

Fast-forward to Monday at 5 A.M.: I had spent the night in Rockaway and driven in before dawn, hoping to find a Tuesday-Friday spot, since alternate side is suspended on both those days, for Election Day and Diwali, an Indian festival that I could have gotten very enthusiastic about, if things had worked out differently. But, as I feared, everyone who was really committed had come in on Sunday night and scored a spot. I set my odometer, so that at least I would have some concrete measure of distress, and by the time I gave up I had driven seven miles.

So it was that at 9 A.M. I was lurking at the top of Penny Lane, waiting for the street sweeper to pass. Before me was a solid line of double parkers. The S.U.V. directly in front of me moved across the street to a meter, and I noticed that the sign that pertains to the metered spaces said that the sweeper is supposed to have come and gone at that end of the street between eight-thirty and nine. I decided I’d pull over there, too, although I was beyond the metered spaces—if the sweeper came, I would get herded down the street and off the block and end up paying to park, but I had already invested close to five hours in this project, and I was ready to take my chances.

Suddenly a woman in a Subaru pulls up next to me and blocks traffic to tell me that she’s been here since eight-thirty and I have to move. She was scary, and I was ready to move just to get away from her, although the entire block ahead of us was clear, if she wanted to take her chances, too. A woman who had been sitting on the stoop smoking a cigarette and talking on her cell phone decided to intervene. The next thing I knew, the woman in the Subaru, who was Asian, and the cell-phone woman, who was Caucasian, were tangling in the street: pulling each other’s hair and twisting each other’s arms and whacking each other with purses and sending cigarettes and cell phones flying. I dialled 911. The guy in the S.U.V., who was Puerto Rican, came to my window and said, “You stay here. We park together. When the broom comes, I’ll move up and hold the spot. You can go around the block—I’ll let you in.”

The Subaru would not move, and traffic was building up behind her. The Caucasian started calling the Asian ugly names, telling her to go back where she came from. The Asian woman took pictures of my car and of the Puerto Rican’s car, and got some information from the man at the wheel of the van trapped behind her. “Here comes the broom,” the Puerto Rican said. But still the Subaru would not move. The broom could not get through, and the other cars finally backed up and retreated onto the avenue. After a half hour of this impasse, the cops arrived, and the woman ran her Subaru up over the curb on the street ahead of me, and now the cop car was blocking traffic. Each woman lined up her witnesses: the Asian woman said that the man in the van would testify that the Caucasian woman had struck the first blow. The Caucasian woman showed me her swollen wrist and asked me to tell the cops that the Asian woman had started it. I honestly didn’t know who hit whom first, but the Asian woman had struck me as pretty crazy, and the Caucasian woman didn’t even have a car, so there would have been no reason for her to come out swinging. Meanwhile, the cop car had pulled over to the curb just ahead of me, in the spot I was supposed to move up into once the broom went by, making room behind me for the Puerto Rican. The Asian woman wept on one side of the cop car, while the Caucasian proffered her I.D. on the other. It was already after ten, but we couldn’t go anywhere until the cops had filled out their report and departed the scene.

When I was finally able to leave (hoping nobody would come later with a sledgehammer and pulverize the car), I revisited the block that my car had been relocated from in the wee hours of Halloween morning, where they were still making their movie: equipment trucks, cables, lights, a catering wagon provisioned with the inevitable doughnuts. I was reading the “No Parking” sign, jotting down the number of the permit and the phone number of the location people for my letter contesting the tickets, when the Asian woman caught up with me. Uh-oh, I thought. After all, I was the one who had started it all by provoking her in the first place. But the whole encounter seemed to have drained her. She had huge eyes, and they were sad now, not angry. “That woman was a lowlife,” she said, and she drew from a pocket of her purse a broken cigarette as evidence that she had been attacked. She was smoking a cigarette herself. “I just bought these,” she said, showing me a fresh pack. She said she hadn't smoked in years.

I told her I was sorry, and that I hoped she'd feel better. I was inclined to blame the film crew: they had usurped the block, and made things more difficult all over. “What film is this?” I asked a crew member on my way past. “The ‘Sex and the City’ movie,” he said. "Is there anyone here?" I asked. "Just the one guy," he said. "Mr. Big." Hmm. Robert De Niro I could have forgiven, but Mr. Big isn't worth all this commotion.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Chestnuts


Wanderlust has been building in me all summer, and so last weekend I took off for Padua. These two scenes are of the Piazza di Frutta, a market square in the historic center. At first I thought they were burning the trash from that day's market, but I finally realized that they were roasting chestnuts. I bought two euros' worth, in a white paper bag, and they were so delicious—warm and fragrant—out in the night air.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Notes on Winterizing

It didn’t take much to talk me out of winterizing my outboard motor. I called my friend Pete and told him that the Boss had said I had to take it to Buster but I was thinking of doing it myself, and he said, “Take it to Buster.” So I took it to Buster. So much for my burning desire to master the complexities of the internal combustion engine before it becomes obsolete.

The infamous Buster didn’t seem so bad to me, although you have to wonder, if a man is content to be professionally known as Buster, what his real name is. A hale and hearty fellow of around sixty, he wears reading glasses, which give him a professorial look as he stands at a counter behind a window festooned with marine paraphernalia: Mickey Mouse ears to flush your cooling system, emergency flares, multicolored rope for towing a children’s banana boat. Buster said it would take forty-five minutes to an hour to winterize the motor. “Put it right in the tank,” he instructed an employee named Wayne. I could wait, if I wanted, or I might like to go to a restaurant across the street, with a view of the bay (it would be cynical to imagine that Buster, like my car mechanic, also owns the waterfront restaurant), or drive up to Howard Beach. I remembered to ask how much it would cost, in case I had to go find a cash machine: $65. Not exorbitant. If I could kill time without spending money, I could pay out of my pocket and have two dollars to spare.

I decided to go to the Wildlife Refuge, where I walked down a trail I’d never been down before, between high reeds and birch trees. Two women with field guides and binoculars blocked my way. “Is there something up there?” I asked. “We think it’s a merlin,” one of them said. I couldn't see anything, so I went on ahead of them. At the East Pond were cormorants, Canada geese, swans, snow geese, gulls, flights of smaller birds, ducks, including some gorgeous green mallards. I got out my binoculars and watched a duck fishing, its butt bobbing in the water like an upended football with webbed feet; when it surfaced, I saw that it had a huge bill that came right out of its forehead. It seems funny to say that a duck has an “aquiline” nose, but that was the only way I could think of to describe it. The two women I’d passed on the trail came up behind me. I told them I had seen some kind of duck and tried to show them where it was, straight out in front of me, to the right of a piling. The woman to my far right made a derisive sound; she had a German accent. “Don’t be dismissive,” her companion said, and then to me, “Would you like to use my guide?” I declined. “Ah, you’re like me," she said. "You’d rather look around as long as you’re outside. I could stay here all day.” I agreed—plenty of time to look in books when you get home, and the pond was pretty. (Also, I can never figure out how those field guides are organized. I'd have spent a half hour on the flamingos.) The geese and swans had swum up to us, looking for handouts. The disgruntled German leafed through her guide.

I retraced my steps and took the other fork in the trail, to Big John’s Pond, where I’d been before. There is a blind, from which I once saw a whole pondful of what I have it on good authority were glossy ibis: prehistoric-looking crooked-necked long-beaked shorebirds. At first I saw nothing—well, foliage reflected in a shallow pond with some oil making rainbows at the edges. Then I saw a long-beaked brownish-gray bird with extraordinary long legs—a sandpiper?—stalking out to a mound of debris in the center of the pond. I got out my binoculars, hoping the zip of my backpack wouldn’t scare the bird away, and now on the mound I saw something black with white spots, like a gull’s tail. It turned out to be the head of a turtle. And on the other side of the mound was another turtle. I wanted to point them out to somebody, but there was no one with me in the blind or nearby on the trail. On the way back to the car, I ran into a couple who were too absorbed in each other to care about turtles, and then two more middle-aged ladies, one of whom fell behind the other and asked me, “How’s your memory? What are those . . .” and she indicated the many trees with branches full of yellow and orange and red berries. “Bittersweet?” I said. “That’s it! That’s what I was trying to think of!” she said. Hurray! I knew something.

I drove back to Buster’s, paid him and picked up my winterized outboard (it turns out that I do not need one of those Mickey Mouse ear contraptions to flush my cooling system; Buster said once a year at his place is enough), drove home, lugged the outboard into the bungalow, and stood it up properly in a corner. Later that night, I found myself reaching for the field guide to see if I could identify those birds and add them to my life list. The sandpiper might have been a willet or a dowitcher. There are a lot of different kinds of ducks. I don’t think this one was a coot, or an eider, or a shoveler. It might have been a bufflehead. Or a phalarope. All I can say for sure is that it was definitely some kind of duck.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Curbside Service

My preferred parking block was cordoned off for a street fair or something last night, so I am back in the same hour-and-a-half Monday-Thursday spot that I exhausted last week. Not a break in sight for the alternate-side parker until November 1, All Saints Day. In front of me, as if to underscore the length of time I’ll be sitting here, is a black Infinity from Florida. Behind me, cars turn incessantly into the parking lot. At 9:20 there’s a pickup from the Chinese laundry. The Indians lost last night, so there is no glory to relive and who cares if the barber shaves another customer?

Still, it’s a beautiful fall day, sunny with a breeze. I’m tempted to smoke a joint, because I just found one in my bag while rooting around for a pen to address an envelope. I’ve never tried this out here before, for the simple reason that it sounds like a really stupid idea. Police pass. Definitely not a good idea. Still … I’m bored. I’ve already read the whole paper. I finally find a pen at the back of the glove compartment. Must make a note always to keep a pack of matches in the car. The lighter went missing after a sojourn at the mechanics. Constant pedestrian traffic: dog walkers, cell-phone talkers. I could grope under the seats . . . Poor Kenny Lofton.

I made this list a week ago Saturday night, when the Indians beat the Red Sox in extra innings, the Tribe’s finest moment since the attack of the Canadian soldiers. Where but on an American baseball diamond would you find such gorgeously adulterated names?

Papelbon vs. Betancourt (shouldn’t they be playing in the French Open?)
Asdrúbal Cabrera (named for an African king)
Ryan Gorko (what nationality is Gorko?)
Franklin Gutiérrez (pronounced by the sportscasters “Gooty-ear-ez”; a Latino Wasp?)
Youkilis (Boooo!)
Grady Sizemore (deserves to have a Starbucks quantity named after him, the next size up from venti: “I’ll have a triple skim sizemore latte, please.”)
Eric Wedge (Would that he had driven one in.)

Now a waiter runs up to the car, all in black with a black apron. “I gotta small car,” he says. He wants me to move up, but not until he gets his car from the meter, so he can park behind me. He thinks there’s room between me and the entrance to the parking lot. “I don’t want to get trapped,” I say. “Don’t worry, I work right here,” he says, meaning at the Greek diner on the corner. He runs to the corner, gets in his car, pulls up behind me. I pull up, then get out to see if he has room: I don’t think so. So I approach the window of the black Infinity. A young Asian guy is in there, asleep. I tap on the window (How rude is that?) and wake him up (it’s getting close to ten, anyway). He starts his car, gives us a few inches; everybody fits.

“You wanna cup of coffee?” the waiter asks before he goes back to work.

“No, thanks,” I say. I just bought a takeout coffee in that very same diner, possibly from this very same waiter. Last week, I stopped in the Dunkin Donuts across the street—some people swear by Dunkin' Donuts—and was horrified to find that a small coffee cost $1.69 (plus tax). It’s enough to make you buy a doughnut out of sheer despair. A small coffee costs $1.25 at the Greek diner, and they’re nicer to you. It’s 75 cents at the cart on the street, and that guy is the nicest of all.

I ask the waiter if he happens to have a pack of matches. He pats his apron pockets and shakes his head, then he makes a Flick-your-Bic motion and says that he has to go get one from his friend. A while later he comes back and says, “Where’s you cigarette?” Now look what I’ve gotten myself into. He wants to light my cigarette. I flop my hand around in my bag and say, “I can’t find them. Can I just bring you this?” He says yes and hands me the lighter.

The stoop next to the barbershop seems to be a favorite loitering spot. It is occupied at this moment by a man wearing a T-shirt with an Omega-Alpha insignia, which seems to me backwards. I roll up my window on that side. Just before ten, the Asian opens the back of his Infinity, pulls out a textbook and a notebook, and crams them into a backpack. A student of alternate-side parking.

Before I return the lighter to my waiter friend in the diner and ask if I can use the rest room (“For you, anytime,” he says), I check out his small car: a silver-gray Toyota Echo from New Jersey, with a Black Ice deodorizer hanging from the rearview mirror and a Persian cat stretched out on the ledge of the back window (stuffed).

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ship's Log

The boating season ended abruptly over the weekend, when the Boss said, “You’re coming out on Monday.” He had a red scarf tied on his head, pirate style, and addressed me from high on his forklift, balancing a powerboat on the two canvas slings. He said I’d have to get the motor off and take it to Buster to be winterized. “Can’t I winterize it?” I asked. He shook his head no. “Warranty,” he said.

The Boss has been remarkably tolerant since I introduced a new outboard motor into the marina without his permission in August. After my voyage with the eggbeater and two futile trips to the boat mechanic known as Abdul, in Meadowmere Park, I had had it with used outboards. The Boss was willing to set me up with a new motor, but it turned out that I couldn’t go to his marine-supply store, out on Long Island, and buy it myself (“They won’t break it down for you”), and he couldn’t send his assistant, Frank, till the following week. It was already well into August, and I was beyond frustrated. So I ricocheted back to my old buddy Pete and had a meltdown on him. He made a few phone calls on a Friday afternoon, and on Saturday morning I bought a six-horsepower Mercury for $1,300 in cash at Buster’s, the second-largest employer in Broad Channel after Call-A-Head ("Portable Toilets of Every Description").

“Now all you have to do is enter Buster’s number into your cell phone and call him when you break down on Jamaica Bay,” Pete said on the phone. I was puzzling over this when we got cut off, and he called back to say it was a joke. (I have a history of calling Pete when I get in trouble out on the bay; his number is in my cell phone under “SOS.”) When I brought the motor over to the marina to put it on the boat, Pete helped, but he kept his distance. The Boss, who was a little distracted because he was hosting a party, grumbled, “Any trouble you have with that motor is Buster’s problem.” I don’t know what their problem is with Buster, or with Mercury motors (unless it has something to do with the markings on the throttle: a turtle for slow and a rabbit for fast). That night, I dreamed that wherever I went I was carrying around a great weight. I’m pretty sure it was my destiny as the owner of a new outboard motor.

I’ve taken good care of the motor, hosing it off after every use, so the salt won’t eat it, consulting the owner’s manual, checking the oil. I put a lock on it so it wouldn’t get stolen. Pete would have been welcome to use the boat anytime, but the motor has a little gizmo on a lanyard that has to be wedged under the stop button in order to start it up, and I keep that lanyard zipped in a plastic pouch in my backpack, along with the boater registration, the owner’s manual, and my crib sheet. I consult the crib sheet religiously, both going and coming: Attach gas line, Open vent on gas can, Attach lanyard, Set throttle on Start, Put gear in Neutral, Pump gas, Open choke, Pull cord, Close choke. I check the flags in the marina to see which way the wind is blowing and decide which end of the boat to untie last. I put her in reverse to leave the slip, then change gears and cruise past the cormorants, watching me with their beady red eyes as I head into the open water.

The Boss had given me notice late on Saturday afternoon, so I had time to go out once more, on Sunday, and to think of a way to get the motor off the boat without dropping it in the water. For my last excursion of the season, I had a passenger, my friend G., who lived for years in Venice. She had dressed all in black, so I lent her a shirt and a sweater, partly because I was afraid she’d be cold but mostly because I consider it bad luck to wear black in a boat. She borrowed a pair of shoes, apparently expecting the boat to get swamped and not wanting to ruin her own shoes. She had twisted her wild red hair into two horns.

We went first into Barbadoes Basin, because I had read in the Wave the details of a plan to build a new marina there. I was telling G. about it—room for thirty-five to fifty boats, a public boat ramp, a restaurant and catering hall—and she said, “But why would you want to change marinas?” I DON’T want to change marinas. While I had been at the marina the day before, watching the Boss and Frank and Pete lowering that boat into the water, a big excursion boat—the Golden Sunshine—had come by, on a sunset tour of Jamaica Bay. We could hear the tour guide’s spiel from the marina. The Boss grinned, and said, “We’re on the tour!” Then he shouted, “Go away! We’re the mean marina! Everybody hates us!” I wouldn’t be interested in boating at all if a boat weren’t an excuse to hang around with this crew.

G. and I crossed the bay, sticking near the buoys, the nuns and the cans. It was breezy, and my Vermeer cap blew off, which was too bad, because it was also sunny, and that cap was a souvenir of my sibling’s tree-cutting business. (Vermeer makes wood chippers.) For years I’d been wanting to take the boat into Hawtree Basin, to see West Hamilton Beach, a neighborhood that is visible from the A train, on the other side of the tracks from the long-term parking lot at JFK. From the train, it looks like redneck country. There is a narrow boardwalk along the tracks over canals and an isolated neighborhood of rickety houses with boats tied up in watery back yards. At moon tides, the bay is lapping at the floorboards. From the boat, the houses along the canal were charming, with a squalid little trailer or two, and clothes flapping on a line. There was a ferry, like a traghetto in Venice, to get back and forth across the canal, and a fire boat, and a boat called the Phoenix. There were swans, a fisherman on a blue bow bridge, a man having coffee and reading the paper on the dock behind a house that might have been a little yacht club. We nosed our way to the end of the canal, then turned around and headed back.

Before going back into the marina, I consulted my notes: Unplug gas line (so that the motor will putt to a stop and there will be no gas left in it), Plug in gas cap, Close vent on gas tank. I slow down entering the marina, and put her in Neutral as I turn into my slip. Sometimes I manage, once I'm in position, to put her in Reverse and come in for a perfect landing, but I have also been known to accidentally put her in Forward and then have to throw myself on the dock as she churns away, out of control. I usually rinse off the motor after raising it out of the water, but the hose on the dock had been disconnected. Frank helped me take the motor off the boat. O.K., Frank took the motor off the boat for me—it weighs about forty pounds, and I am certain that if I had tried to do it myself both it and I would have ended up in the water. He trundled it up to the parking lot on a handtruck and hosed it off. My job, as I saw it, was to keep him from laying the motor down on the side that said “This Side Up.” (The manual includes very urgent warnings against this: the crankcase will leak or something.) I stood the motor up in my car, on the floor of the back seat. I felt a great weight lift from me. Pete and the Boss may have washed their hands of me and my mechanical problems once I started doing business with Buster (and I may yet find out why they don’t do business with Buster), but once I got a new motor I didn’t have any mechanical problems. In fact the only casualties of the season (an admittedly short season) were a few splinters, from grabbing the dock when I misjudged my landing, and the lost Vermeer cap.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thursday Spot

“Are you leaving your car here till tomorrow?” A cheerful light-skinned Latino was addressing me from the curb.
“Yes.”
“Oh, O.K. I’m on the other side and I was going to try to move now so I don’t have to do it tomorrow. But I just missed.”
“It’s all filled in already?”
“Yeah. I guess it’s because the three guys didn’t move.” Nobody had come to mind the car in front of me or the car and motorcycle behind me. I’d watched from a meter across the street as a policewoman issued tickets to both the cars (but not the motorcycle).
“Maybe you could try to negotiate with someone farther up.”
“Nah, I know all these guys. They park here all the time. You do, too, right?”
“Yeah, I park here a lot.”

Actually, it’s been a long time since I put in a full hour and half of alternate-side time on this block. I got here at eight-thirty. The street sweepers came, a pair of them, at nine. Competition felt fierce. There was a green Pathfinder double-parked in front of me. I was determined not to let anything come between me and my spot, so I tailgated the second street sweeper and then waved the Pathfinder back so that I’d have room to parallel park between the two scofflaws. It worked.

I am outside a barbershop. A man with a big pink head and sparse white hair is getting blow-dried. He checks his watch. What more can the barber possibly do? Oh, it’s a nape shave.

The pink guy is out of there and a boyish young man is in the barber’s chair. He executes a funny gesture. He wants an inch off at his temples? And a straight line down each side of his face? The barber is Italian. He talks with his hands as he clips and combs.

A man with a barefoot baby asleep in a Snugli stands on a stoop and rings a buzzer. No one answers, so he makes a call on his cell phone: “Hey, what’s going on?” A woman comes out the door with a stroller, and the man cheers up: “Hey, how are you?” The baby wakes up when the man extricates him from the Snugli and puts him in the stroller. But he doesn’t cry. I assumed that the man was handing the baby over to the woman, but no: he leaves, pushing the baby in the stroller.

There’s a delivery to the door on the other side of the barbershop, and a pickup of two big net sacks of dry-cleaning from the Chinese laundry. I could be on Sesame Street. Or Penny Lane.

“Yo, I’m leaving from that spot,” a black guy at my passenger window says, pointing across the street. “You could move, and that way you don’t have to sit no more.”
“Thanks, but I already invested, and I don’t want to sit tomorrow.”
He understands. “You only got fifteen minutes left. The machine come by?”
“Yea.”
“It did?”
And he's off. In less than a minute, his spot is taken.

At ten, a couple arrive at the car in front of me, a pewter-colored Ford Taurus. She plucks the ticket off the windshield and gets in the driver's seat. The Latino guy who wanted a Thursday spot reappears, just in time. He is getting his wish. He pulls his car up next to mine and waits for the couple ahead of me to leave. His spot across the street gets taken instantly.

Meanwhile back in Penny Lane the barber shaves another customer.

Friday, October 12, 2007

It'll Fit Her

Yesterday, because I took some clothes to the cleaners and was on my parking block anyway, I decided to see if my car was O.K. In a sense, it was another day off for the Alternate Side Parker, because if I’d parked on the other side of the street, I’d have had to be in the car at 7:30 in the morning. Such is my absent-mindedness that by the time I got to that block I’d forgotten what I was doing there and was surprised to see a car that looked just like mine parked across the street. It was behind a moving van, and I paused for a moment, wondering if I should volunteer to back up and give the movers a little room. But they had plenty of room. Looking around a bit, I realized that there were a lot of moving vans on that side of the street. Some small green signs were taped irregularly to the signposts. They said, “No Parking Today,” by order of the Police Department.

Well. If they expected us to obey that sudden law, they should have given us warning back on Tuesday, when we secured these places through next Tuesday, if need be. I decided I just wasn’t going to worry about it. It has been a problem with that side of the street that it is subject to sudden rule changes. There are often special events in the building with the big copper bands on it. Now that the scaffolding is down, that building looks like a huge—I mean, city-block-size—pirate’s chest. People are always coming and going, filling it up and emptying it out.

I checked this morning to make sure my car was still there. Much of that side of the street was barricaded and marked off with orange cones looped together with yellow tape, but my car, down at the end of the block, was O.K.: no tow, no ticket, no barricade. So far Id al-Fitr has been good to me, Allah be praised.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Go Tribe!

Theoretically, the Alternate Side Parker had a choice this week: park on the Monday-Thursday side and celebrate Columbus Day, or convert to Tuesday-Friday and observe Id al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan. But in practice there was no choice: the only spot available on my favorite parking block when I got back to the city on Sunday was on the Tuesday-Friday, or Muslim, side of the street. A beautiful spot opened on the Columbus, or Christian, side as I was leaving the scene, but I was laden with the bounty of Octoberfest in New England (apples, chrysanthemums), and, besides, it had been no mean feat to squeeze into that space and I was not about to move.

So I was out there Tuesday morning, at the stroke of seven-thirty, in one of the twelve spots recently freed up by the removal of scaffolding, wondering if it would be any different on this side of the street. And it was. Usually the street sweeper comes at about 7:40, but no sooner was I behind the wheel than the sweeper appeared in my rearview mirror, at the far end of the street, and I heard the sound of gentlemen starting their engines. A woman with a poodle arrived at the silver Lexus S.U.V. in front of me just in time: I was wedged in so tight that I couldn’t move until she moved. After the sweeper passed, there was a lot of jockeying back and forth to fit back in (a woman up ahead had ended up too close to the fire hydrant, and I was too close to the curb). The pigeons swooped from their roosts on one side of the street to roosts on the other (surely pigeons don’t have alternate-side parking! Were they imitating the cars?). The woman with the poodle left at 7:41 (she did not get a ticket), and I settled in to read the sports section.

Somehow I hadn’t realized that local baseball coverage would be more about the Yankees’ loss than about the Indians’ victory. The highlight of the baseball season so far, by my lights, was the bugs that swarmed onto the pitcher’s mound at Jacobs Field, in Cleveland, during last Friday’s game and drove the Yankee pitcher Joba Chamberlin to distraction. The Times called the insects “gnats” and “midges,” eschewing the local usage. As kids growing up in Cleveland, we called them Canadian soldiers, with no inkling that this was not their scientific name. It still sounds perfectly natural to me—Canadian soldiers—though I guess it’s politically incorrect: a slur on the military readiness of our neighbors to the north. The Random House Dictionary (but not Webster’s) has an entry for Canadian soldiers: “the mayfly” (“Chiefly Northern U.S.”). Canadian soldiers were as much a part of summer in Cleveland as swimming lessons at Brookside Park and the stench from the stockyards when the wind was right (or wrong). We would discourage them from swarming on the front porch by lighting punks, those cork-smelling sticks that smoldered and that you could use to touch off a sparkler or a firecracker. When we didn’t have punks, we experimented by lighting cattails from the swamp. A cigar would have worked. Instead of spraying Off! on the back of Joba Chamberlin's neck, they should have gotten a beekeeper to come with a bellowsful of smoke. Or just lit up themselves. Ironic, isn't it, that Joba, a Native American, was undone by the Indians, whose logo, Chief Wahoo, is as politically incorrect as you can get.

The series against the Red Sox opens in Boston on Id al-Fitr, Friday, at sundown. I don’t know why alternate-side parking is suspended if the holiday doesn’t begin till sundown, but I’m not complaining.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Into the Weeds


Last Sunday at high tide, a friend in the marina led me through the cow path to the airport. This is the other cow path, the main cow path being a high-tide shortcut into Broad Channel, which I negotiated by myself for the first time a few weeks ago, in a stiff wind. “Risk it. You need the experience,” the boss had said. That cow path is marked with a white “No Wake” buoy at each end, but in the middle there are plenty of tempting routes into the weeds. Lucky for me, a boat was coming out just as I was going in, so I knew to make a sharp right turn. Later, in the car, I could see the cow path clearly from the bridge.

So this friend, Frank of Assisi—the one who feeds the birds—left a pile of peanuts for the squirrel, turned on the tap in the fish sink to give the swans a drink of fresh water, and mounted his jet ski. His engine has 125 horsepower; my new outboard has 6 horsepower. He is on the equivalent of a racehorse while I am holding the reins of a horse-drawn beer wagon.

He idled at the mouth of the path till I caught up, and led me through yellow-green meadows of salt marsh. Sometimes he would disappear, and only when I came to a turn would I see which direction he had gone in. There were straightaways and doglegs and floating mats of weeds that I had to be careful not to foul my outboard with. We flushed a couple of egrets from the meadow, as well as some big dark goose-shaped birds. In the distance was the control tower of JFK.

After meandering for several minutes, we came to open water just south of a runway. A Homeland Security vehicle drove past on shore, flashing its rooftop light. I did not take a picture of it. “Do you know where you are?” Frank asked. I did. I had been following our progress on the chart, in case he ditched me. There was a skeletal pier parallel to the runway between me and the channel. Two big boats at anchor were tied up alongside each other, the only other vessels in this fishing hole. The bay is very deep here; I read somewhere that the fill for JFK's runways was dredged from Jamaica Bay.


Frank went back the way we came, and while I was still poking around in the high-security area he came zipping through the cow path at speed, churning up a wake.

Since I had plenty of gas, I went up to the head of the bay to Meadowmere Park, all the way to the Rockaway Turnpike. Driving in a car on the Rockaway Turnpike, you would never suspect that behind the International House of Pancakes and the carpet outlets was a scene out of Maine or Cape Cod: boats and buoys and stacks of crab traps in people’s back yards. If I had wanted to, I could have tied up and crossed the street and used my credit card to buy a new outfit at T. J. Maxx in the Five Towns Mall.


On the chart, it looked as if I could turn right just before the turnpike and go under a bridge and up a channel to circle back into the bay without retracing my route. The bridge looked utterly forbidding, however—squat and concrete, like something an industrial troll lived under. And the only way to tell if the water was deep enough was to poke through the weeds growing right in the middle of the channel and risk getting stuck in the mud. I was tempted—what is the point in coming this far if you're not going to see if there is a passage to the Orient? where would we be if Christopher Columbus had not dared sail over the edge?—but the tide was starting to go out, and there was a big "No Trespassing" sign on a waterfront building, and though I usually assume that this doesn't mean me, I headed back the way I came.

My jet-ski outrider got back to the marina about the same time I did. He'd been all over the bay. When I told my friend Pete where I'd been, he was unimpressed. “It’s not fun unless you have a breakdown,” he said.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

High Tide Street


If you look closely, you can see the No Parking Anytime sign, on the right, near the boat in the trees. This car will never be the same.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Paerdegat


What I saw on Jamaica Bay last Sunday:

butterflies (Monarchs and something smaller)
bees
dragonflies
cormorants
egrets
geese (Canada)
gulls
a blimp
airplanes
police and fire and Parks Department boats
horses, with riders, on the shore

I was on my way to Paerdegat Basin, to find out what Paerdegat Basin is. It is a so-called “tributary” of Jamaica Bay (though what it may “contribute” is another matter), on the Brooklyn side, west of Canarsie, in Ralph Kramden country. On the chart Paerdegat is represented with a minute inexplicable square. The name is Dutch for "horse gate." You enter Paerdegat Basin through big hellish creosote-soaked gates below a bridge carrying traffic on the Belt Parkway.

If you’re at all nervous about your outboard motor, the sounds you hear under this bridge are worrisome, not to say terrifying: something is under terrible strain.

Beyond the gates was a surprisingly tropical scene. There were kayakers paddling up the stream, marinas, yacht clubs, and even a canoe livery, all with reflections shimmering in the water and the water’s reflection shimmering on them.

At the far end was a more industrial landscape: cranes, quonset huts, barges, and some, uh, structures I didn’t get close enough to to photograph because it began to smell pretty bad. It could be a dump, or a landfill (which is to say a dump), or a sewage treatment plant. I think they may be building a storage tank for CSOs. “CSO” stands for Combined Sewer Overflow, and a “CSO event,” as the literature so delicately puts it, is when a storm overwhelms the sewer system and it releases raw sewage into the environment. I suddenly got very afraid that I would run out of gas and decided to head home.