Monday, April 30, 2007


Here is a piece about my favorite skyscraper, from this week's New Yorker . It is the site of a sound sculpture by Bill Fontana. It doesn't say so in the piece, but Bill Fontana is from Cleveland. He grew up in Murray Hill, where his family ran a bakery. He went to Cathedral Latin. I feel like I'm outing him. But not in The New Yorker.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Parking Opera

Think of this as a recitative, one of those monotonous interludes accompanied by harpsichord in which lyrics that sound good in Italian turn out to mean things like "Won't you have a seat?"

[Thursday, 7:30-8 A.M., on the second-best of all possible parking blocks]

A cop pulls up at the foot of the street,
looks for cars without drivers, and goes away.
But behind me now red lights are blinking.

A cop car is just sitting there.
The sweeper comes, but has to go around it.
I can’t make my illegal turn
the wrong way onto the one-way street
with that cop car sitting there. So I block
the crosswalk on the other side of the street.

I claim my space!
But the woman behind me hesitates.
She has to parallel park,
and it’s tight.

All right,
Let’s make it easier.
I’ll pull into her place,
And she’ll take mine.

She’s in the crosswalk now.
“Once that cop car moves, we’ll all move back.”
(That’s the guy in back of me,
in the S.U.V. )
“What’s that cop doing there?”
“I think somebody got broken into.”
“That’s not good.”

Later, after I lock my car,
I see a man back there
with a sheet of plastic
and a roll of duct tape.

I say the obvious: “Oh, no, you got broken into.”
“Yes,” he says. “They got my golf clubs.”

“Oh, no. I'm sorry.
It happened to me once."
Then I saw on his front seat
a pair of golf shoes.
"Were they showing?”
He nodded ruefully.

“This street is safe,” he said. “Fucking crackheads!
It sucks.”
He was insured, he said, at least for glass.
But not for golf clubs.

At least they didn't take his shoes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

First Ever Literary Festival

I was determined to make it to the first ever literary festival in Rockaway, though it must be said that organized events in Rockaway are often a little on the lame side. Once, I planned a whole weekend around a visit to Rockaway by a replica of a Viking ship, and somehow it was a letdown. Nobody wore helmets with horns on them or anything.

The main draw at the literary festival was actually a film: a documentary called “The Bungalows of Rockaway,” by Jennifer Callahan and Elizabeth Logan Harris. It was screening along with films by locals on such subjects as boxing and firemen’s widows and wounded veterans. There were children’s poetry workshops, panels on historical fiction and on food writing, people singing or reading poetry on an outdoor stage, with forsythia in bloom behind them and Canada geese flying overhead. There was also, wonder of wonders, a bookstore. Borders had set up shop in a building at Fort Tilden known as T-6.

I bought an odd assortment of books, but the available assortment was odd to begin with. I found “The Rockaways,” a book of historic postcards from the collection of Emil R. Lucev, Sr., just out from Arcadia. Mr. Lucev writes a column for the local paper (the Wave) called Historical Views of the Rockaways. I was tempted by but resisted “Out of Fire and Valor: The War Memorials of New York City from the Revolution to 9-11,” by Cal Snyder (Bunker Hill). One I did not resist was “Forgotten New York: The Ultimate Urban Explorer’s Guide to All Five Boroughs,” by Kevin Walsh (Collins). I felt I should buy “Bone Thief” (Pinnacle), one of two thrillers by an actual local writer, Thomas O’Callaghan, who lives in Belle Harbor, one of the better neighborhoods of Rockaway. (He advised me not to read it in the dark.) I resisted “Day-O!!!,” the autobiography of Irving Burgie, the composer of the Harry Belafonte hit (self-published through XLibris), but not for long: I put it on hold and bought it at the end of the day. I’ll see if I can bury here in the middle of this long, boring paragraph another book I bought: “Achieving the Good Life After Fifty,” by Renée Lee Rosenberg, published by the 5 O’Clock Club; I would rather buy something from the Happy Hour Club, but the only people I knew at the first-ever literary festival were friends of Ms. Rosenberg’s, so I was shamed into buying her book. She sold it to me for thirteen dollars out of the back seat of her car. I bought two cookbooks: “Cucina Piemontese,” by Maria Grazia Asselle and Brian Yarvin, and “Farms and Foods of the Garden State: A New Jersey Cookbook,” by Brian Yarvin (both from Hippocrene Books), both destined as gifts for friends (after I try the pasta primavera recipe). I spent a long time looking at “Horses of the Sea, Volume I,” by George Foster Leal (Paul Mould), which is about Ireland in the time of Cuchulain, to see if it would be appropriate for a sixteen-year-old girl who will be going to Ireland in June. The passage I read seemed pretty steamy, for Ireland, but it’s set in pre-Christian times. Besides, it didn’t actually include any dirty words, and a girl needs something to read while she’s ignoring her parents on a trip to Ireland. Also, the author was there, and I could get it signed for her, so I bought it. Sitting at the table with Mr. Leal (who has already finished Volume 2) was Jeff Zanoda, the author of “Saga: A Novel of Medieval Iceland” (Academy Chicago), a title that had struck me funny but not quite funny enough to buy it, until I met the author and didn’t want him to feel neglected. Right next to “Saga” on the table was “The King of Vinland’s Saga,” by Stuart W. Mirsky (XLibris; 637 pages), who is also a Wave columnist and seems to have been the guiding spirit behind the first-ever literary festival. I thought about buying “The Teahouse Fire,” by Ellis Avery (Riverhead), a novel of Japan whose author was there, signing books, but the birthday of the friend who I thought might be interested in it is too far off and she has probably known about the book for ages already and may even have reviewed it. The last book I didn’t buy was “The 1969 Seattle Pilots,” by Kenneth Hogan (McFarland), being the story of a one-season baseball team; it looked somewhat piquant and had a local author, and I do like baseball, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

“How much time do I have here?” the writer Robert Viscusi asked as he took the stage to read from his book “Astoria.” Those are dreaded words at a reading. “Five minutes,” he was told. To his credit, he took only six of them. Viscusi had another book available, “Buried Caesars” (SUNY), about Italian-American literature. I enjoyed listening to a young black man who had written a monograph on Granville T. Woods (1856-1910), the inventor of the third rail and the electric roller coaster, who, incidentally, has the same birthday as Shakespeare, April 23rd. In August, Woods is going to be inducted into the Astroland Hall of Fame, at Coney Island, an honor never accorded Shakespeare.

I was late to the screening of the bungalow documentary. By the time I pried myself away from the bookstore and the outdoor stage, the lights were down and the film had started. I found a seat in the dark in time to see old home movies of Groucho Marx on the beach (Groucho had invested in Rockaway bungalows), without the fake mustache or cigar. Kenneth T. Jackson, a historian of New York City, talked about the density of living conditions in New York and the consequent “lure of the beach.” The Rockaways, the documentary explains, originally belonged to the Town of Hempstead, but when New York City was incorporated, in 1898, the city planners wanted control of the port, which meant embracing Jamaica Bay and the barrier-beach peninsula that forms it. So Rockaway was added on to Queens, somewhat against its will. A secessionist streak still runs through it.

According to the documentary, there were once eight thousand bungalows in Rockaway. Many of them burned down, or were condemned and demolished in the name of urban renewal, and high-rises were built, giving much of the area, as Kenneth Jackson said, an Eastern European look. The first summer I spent there, the apartment buildings just beyond the boardwalk made me feel as if I were swimming in the Black Sea. Robert Moses also had a hand in the remaking of Rockaway—he “cleared the peninsula” of almost all its amusements—but the filmmakers have yet to tell that part of the story. The number of bungalows still intact in Rockaway is three hundred.

The word “bungalow,” by the way, dates to 1676 and comes to us via the Hindi for a “low thatched house,” literally a house “in the style of Bengal.” In my family it was used to describe the apartment, over a relative’s garage, that my grandmother lived in. “That’s not no bungalow,” my mother would say scornfully. The first bungalow I rented in Rockaway WAS a garage, a single-car garage behind a big three-story house, a block from the beach lined by those apartment buildings. I called it my beach garage. I was surprised this spring to drive past it and see that the garage, the house, and all had been torn down. One feature of a real Rockaway bungalow is a porch. When I got to my bungalow, one of the remaining three hundred, after the literary festival, I dumped all my books on a table on the porch. I am hoping there is something in that book about achieving the good life that will make it possible for me to sit out there and read full time. Perhaps I'll start with "Day-O!!!"

At one point during the bungalow movie, I reached over and, without taking my eyes off the screen, tried to lower the seat of the chair next to me, so that I could dump my sack of books on it. It took me a moment to realize that I was groping the midsection of the man sitting next to me. Whoops! I apologized profusely, and when the lights went up I had to apologize again, this time looking him in the eye. He was very nice about it.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Honk if you like Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s birthday is crowned with glory. I took the car to New England for the weekend, and went from there directly to Rockaway, avoiding traffic headed for a Mets game at Shea Stadium: the Throgs Neck Bridge to the Clearview Expressway to the Grand Central Parkway to the Van Wyck Expressway to the Belt Parkway (the only segment that was a little crowded) to Cross Bay Boulevard, and over Jamaica Bay and out to Fort Tilden for the first ever Literary Festival in Rockaway. It was a masterly display of foresight and map reading (south, east, south, west, south, west, south), if I do say so myself. I drove back into the city in the evening with several pounds of books (a temporary branch of Borders in Rockaway drove me slightly mad) and had just reset my odometer and checked my watch to measure my cruising time when I found a spot all the way at the end of my second-favorite parking block.

Come seven-thirty this morning, I am still on a good block but I have to admit that it is not the best spot. When you’re down at the end of the block like this and the street cleaner comes, you can’t pull over to the other side of the street, because you’ve run out of street to pull over to. You have to go around the block and will in all probability get squeezed out. At 7:41 he comes, honking. In an amazing stroke of luck, the car behind me doesn’t move, and I am able to turn the corner—a left turn, into the curb lane, against oncoming traffic (but only briefly!)—and then reverse into position after the street cleaner clears the corner. Yes! My father, while teaching me to drive, once said, “Women cannot drive in reverse.” So this is one of the uses of defiance.

I got back into position just as a police car pulled up and the officer started writing a ticket for the delinquent car in back of me. I was half afraid he was going to give me a ticket for going the wrong way on a one-way street (but only briefly!). Farther up the block, a black Mustang from Wyoming with a piece of sheet metal forming a flap on its hood—a real cowboy car—is not so much parked as abandoned, behind a big rental truck. Neither of them moved, and they both got tickets.

Over the weekend, the Mayor introduced his plan to institute congestion pricing in Manhattan, an expression that I had never heard until a few months ago. Here’s the quote from today’s Times: “Under the plan, the city would charge $8 for cars and $21 for commercial trucks that enter Manhattan below 86th Street from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The charge would be $4 for drivers within Manhattan, and several exemptions would apply. No one would be charged on the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive or the West Side Highway. There would be no charge for moving cars to comply with alternate side parking, and there would be no charge for taxis.”

I have been waiting for the Mayor to lower the boom, but it seems as if he really does have a soft spot for alternate side parkers. I think I could work around congestion pricing.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Acqua Alta

Alternate-side parking was suspended today on account of rain! I couldn’t believe it. Actually, I left my car out in Rockaway on Saturday to get the muffler replaced (it was sounding pretty ragged), so I didn’t have to emerge at dawn in the rain to sit in the car, feeling a fool in the eyes of my Italian-Argentine house guest, but such is my obsession that I dialled 311 this morning anyway, just to hear if the extreme weather (more than seven inches of rain!) had softened the Mayor’s heart toward the city’s freeloading motorists. And, amazingly, it had! It’s almost as if he heard me trying to explain in Italian to my house guest, who had asked if it always rained so hard in New York, the meaning of “nor’easter”: “un temporale molto forte dal nord-est—vento, pioggia! Rarissimo!”

That passage is flecked with exclamation marks in homage to Jan Morris, whom I heard interviewed at the New York Public Library last Friday. Jan Morris once wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal on the exclamation point. “I love it!” she said, at the library. “It’s at the top left of my keyboard and it makes all the other letters look brutal and boring.” She also said, “I violently disagree with editors who cut exclamation points.” I felt like a killjoy, thinking of all the times I had plucked out obnoxious screamers, and am determined to mend my ways—I mean, mend my ways!

Jan Morris’s beads looked like enormous 3-D periods on a string around her neck, and her earrings were also big dots. She had a cloud of white hair, and wore a horizontally striped yellow-and-white T-shirt and a below-the-knee-length skirt. I couldn’t see her shoes, but imagined they were sturdy lace-ups, not unlike my grandmother’s; later, when I had a book signed, I saw that she was wearing beige flats with a tasteful double-strap detail. She leaned back in her chair, her hands clasped behind her head in the pose of a man relaxing before a fire. Her voice and manner turned out to be not so much feminine or masculine as simply Welsh.

Both the interviewer, who speaks in an accent so cultured it’s almost comical (you haven’t lived till you’ve heard Paul Holdengräber pronounce “Trieste”), and the person he introduced to introduce Jan Morris, the writer Simon Winchester (“Oh, wow!” someone in the audience murmured), seemed to wobble between masculine and feminine pronouns, but in fact those pronouns were deliberate. As it is written on a page at the beginning of “Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere,” “Jan Morris lived and wrote as James Morris until she completed a change of sexual role in 1972.” When the antecedent of a pronoun is transsexual, it has not only gender and case but also tense: it’s he, him, and his in the past, and she, her, and hers from 1972 (in this case) to the present.

Though she is not known as a humorist, Jan Morris is very funny. Asked to expand on her dislike of concerts, a subject she wrote about in “Pleasures of a Tangled Life,” she admitted that she doesn’t really like to go places where she will be confined to a seat in a crowded auditorium; then, realizing that what she had just said might be the tiniest bit insulting to the people who had come out to see her—and by whom she had come out to be seen—she turned and executed a full frontal shrug, a gesture full of complicated humor. At home in Wales, she has a Norwegian forest cat named Ibsen. The least favorite of all the places she has been is Indianapolis.

The host asked long-winded questions about travel and religion, and gave his own long-winded answers when the writer did not say what he was expecting her to say. Something similar happened during the question-and-answer period. A man did his impression of Victor Borge’s vocalization of an exclamation point; a woman took the opportunity to tell Jan Morris that reading “Venice” had inspired her to become a travel writer and she had been to sixty countries in the last five years. I did not get in line at the microphone to ask my question, because no matter how I tried to whittle it down, I still would have sounded like one of those people who speak at wakes not of the deceased but of themselves.

Jan Morris has written something like forty books, but the ones that got the most attention were two I had read: “Venice” and “Conundrum.” I circled around “Venice” when I was in Venice, in 1994. A few months earlier, I had read “Conundrum,” Jan Morris’s memoir of changing gender, in the hope of understanding the recent announcement by my brother that he wished to become my sister. I thought Jan Morris made it sound too easy. James Morris, who was married, took hormones, stopped taking hormones and sired another child, resumed taking hormones, and eventually went along to a clinic in Casablanca for sex-reassignment surgery. The woman who had been his wife was (and still is) his good friend. Tra-la-la-la-la. On Friday night, just after the question-and-answer period, I thought I saw my sibling’s ex-wife flee the auditorium. I myself wondered, when I read “Conundrum,” if Jan Morris had a sister, and, if so, when we might hear from her.

So I was hiding out in Venice, and here was Jan Morris again, in a classic of travel literature. Finally, I pounced on “Venice,” and loved it. I loved the way it begins at the Campanile, which I climbed at the first opportunity, and counts the lions, and ventures out to the islands in the lagoon where the Venetians grow their vegetables. But I kept being slightly outraged that the name Jan Morris, a woman’s name, was on the title page when the book had been written by James Morris, a man. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m too timid, maybe I didn’t have enough Italian to go about renting a boat and rowing into the lagoon myself the way James Morris did with his children (it would be years before I would find myself in my own little boat, in Jamaica Bay), but I kept thinking, These are things that James Morris did, and it is somehow disingenuous of Jan Morris to put her name to them. James Morris went on the first expedition that summitted Mt. Everest. Would Sir Edmund Hillary have taken a woman along?

So what was my question for Jan Morris? What would I have had her do? She had a reputation as a writer that there was no reason to jeopardize, and an identity as a woman that she needed to cultivate. If I couldn’t handle the disparity, whose problem was it? Jan Morris is the same person as James Morris; they are both a Welsh writer. And my sibling, I eventually understood, is the same person I grew up with. But it took time, and it wasn’t easy. Not even the pronouns.

In the end, the only thing I wish I had asked Jan Morris was “Do you speak Italian?”

Thursday, April 12, 2007


I have this house guest who comes to me by way of Argentina, and speaks Italian, Spanish, and French, but no English. I found myself trying to explain alternate-side parking to him in my frail Italian:

“Tomorrow morning I must go out early-early to move the machine.”
“The men must clean the street.”
“What happens if you don’t move it?”
“I receive a ticket.”
“How much?”
“Sixty-five dollars.”
He considered whether it might not be worth sixty-five dollars not to have to go out early-early in the rain.
“Or they take it,” I added.
“They take it?”
I was not up to explaining about getting towed and having to go to the car pound to redeem your machine.

It was as miserable a day as I ever spent sitting in a car. The rain was drumming down—inches of rain at the crosswalks, currents running in the gutters. There was actually a space available when I first arrived on the block, but it got taken, at 7:30. A haggard woman in a long white terry-cloth robe, her hair held back with a white band, stepped out on the stoop to have a smoke. The little girl with the whimsical wardrobe left for school at 7:45, under a pink and blue umbrella. She had on a pink suede coat with pink fur trim and a pink backpack. She looked as if she’d grown since the last time I parked here.

I had been hoping the street sweeper would skip it this morning. His feeble squirts and rotating brushes would be ridiculous in the driving rain. But the cleaning lady in me (of which there is precious little) knows that a hard rain is actually an ideal time to sweep the street. I learned this from a Greek landlady, a clean freak if there ever was one, who saw a storm as an opportunity to get out there with her pushbroom and scrub. From her I learned a very useful housekeeping trick: Ladies, when you are expecting guests, take care to leave your brooms and mops, your Clorox and your Ajax, prominently displayed, so that people practically trip over them. This creates an impression of cleanliness that is almost as good as the real thing.

At 7:51, the street sweeper came, preceded by his honking escort, the Department of Sanitation police. Nobody fooled around: over to the right, and reverse back into position, like a military drill.

I knew what was coming when I returned home, shortly after eight. “With this rain, why do they have to clean the streets?” my house guest teased.

“I don’t know,” I said. Then I added, “I don’t do this all year.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hallelujah Chorus

(Low-key secular version)

On Saturday, the day before Easter, I finished getting my figures together for my income-tax return, got in the car, and delivered the package to my accountant in Astoria, who later said that he thought we’d make the deadline. Hallelujah! This is no small triumph, as once you’ve filed an extension, as I did for the past two years, it’s hard to make the deadline ever again.

Then I got on the Grand Central Parkway and drove out to Far Rockaway Auto Glass to have my cracked windshield replaced. I got there just before three o’clock, with all the necessary documentation from my insurance company. Turns out I have something called a glass waiver, so not only was I covered for a windshield cracked by an act of God but there was no deductible. Hallelujah! God is good, and so is Geico. It’s the first time I’ve ever benefitted from having car insurance.

I was a little bit curious about how they go about replacing a windshield (I trust it does not involve the use of a sledgehammer); mostly I wondered how they get the registration and inspection stickers off the old windshield to paste on the new one (steam?). But I got the feeling that the autoglaziers wanted to work without my supervision. “Come back in an hour,” the boss said.

I still had the Google map I’d printed out the last time I visited Far Rockaway Auto Glass, when my car was vandalized. (It didn’t occur to me to call the insurance company that time. I labor under the impression that whenever you use the insurance, they raise the price.) The last time, I walked straight to the ocean, and saw some swans in the inlet at East Rockaway and talked to some fishermen. This time I was leaning in the other direction, toward Jamaica Bay, but I needed a destination. There on the map was Gipson Street, where my plumber lives. I had ridden out to his house on my bicycle once last summer. And beyond Gipson was a street called Granada Place, with its evocation of the Alhambra, and a nearby street called Sunnyside, which was the name of Washington Irving’s cottage in Tarrytown. I set off.

The plumber, Jimmy, looks Oriental but talks like he’s from the Bronx. He spends the winter in Florida. His house is a narrow two-story white stucco house squeezed in among other houses on a street that ends at the bay. I started stalking him last summer, just to see how he lived. If he had an ostentatious villa with a swimming pool, I would know he was overcharging me. But his house is modest, and in season (plumbing season, that is—Jimmy’s and my plumbing season) his driveway is lined with the vans and cars of someone who runs a plumbing business out of his home.

Gipson Street ends at a basin of Jamaica Bay that features a cement plant to the east and a Keyspan power plant to the west. Low-flying planes were coming in for a landing at Kennedy Airport. On the shore among the flattened spongy reeds was an orange upholstered loveseat. The Manhattan skyline is in the distance. I tried to hug the bay as I went west, up and down the prongs in the fork of streets, but KeySpan, which delivers natural gas to Long Island, makes a big chunk of the waterfront inaccessible.

I went back down to Mott Avenue and trotted over to Sunnyside. There was a big gracious house on the corner, the kind of place I was glad my plumber didn’t live in. I was just going past it to find the turn onto Granada Place when my cell phone rang: Far Rockaway Auto Glass calling, to say my car was ready. It was twenty to four, and I knew the autoglaziers were eager to close the shop and go home, so I decided to save Far Rockaway's Granada for another day (chances are it would have been a letdown) and found the most direct route back to the garage on Nameoke Avenue.

One of the men was just parking my car on the street when I arrived. It had orange tape holding the beautiful new windshield in place; the registration and inspection stickers had survived the operation. I signed a form for the boss, and asked him when to take the tape off (tomorrow) and how the street’s name was pronounced. (Gipson, I figured out, does not have a hard G, like Gibson, but a soft G, like Gypsy.) Nameoke could be a stately two syllables like Holm Oak, or it could rhyme with Mammy Okie. “Nammy Oke,” he said, solving for me one of the mysteries of Queens. Hallelujah.

Back in Manhattan, I found a spot, with no cruising time at all, on my second-favorite parking block. Hallelujah! Easter Sunday was very peaceful. I steered clear of the Episcopalians, and was tempted to go outside only when it snowed a few absurd large flakes in the sunshine. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Alternate-side parking was suspended Monday and Tuesday for Passover, so I don’t have to worry about the car till Thursday, and then only for a half hour between seven-thirty and eight in the morning. Hah-LAAAY-LOOOO-yah.

Saturday, April 7, 2007


Because it is the season for repentance, I want to get this off my chest. I owe an apology to Donald Shoup, who I implied drove a big fancy car and parked it in luxury garages and then wrote it off as a professional expense. Apparently he rides a bicycle. I tried to buy his book, "The High Cost of Free Parking," but the price ($58! on Amazon) stopped me in my tracks (though, come to think of it, I guess I could write it off . . .). Somebody else had been there before me and suggested another title: "The High Cost of 'The High Cost of Free Parking.'"

I also owe a debt to the maligned editors of the Library of America series, whose volume of Washington Irving I declined to buy ($35). I checked it out of the library before finding the little paperback of "Tales of the Alhambra," and before returning it I looked at the Chronology the scholars have so kindly provided. Irving was all over the place, including a seventeen-year stint in Europe, from the Scottish Highlands to Greece. He once crashed a party given by Dolly Madison. His birthday was April 3rd, the day I posted the piece about him. As New York's first literary hero, Washington Irving surely deserves a spot on the alternate-side parking calendar.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Washington Irving's Birthday

I had a bad day on Sunday, one of those days when nothing went right. I rushed out of the house in the morning, deciding I would check out the Palm Sunday procession at the local Episcopal church, and somehow I was handed a program and a palm frond and before I knew it I was part of a small congregation, marching around the park behind a tall young man very enthusiastically swinging a censor (him, not me) and a band (accordion, cornet, French horn) and a woman minister in red with neat gray hair. They were singing an Episcopalian hymn, which mercifully has left my head by now, and I even tried to sing—I like to sing—but I was too moved to use my voice. Moved, I might add, by my own sense of alienation. Then I met someone I know slightly, which at first seemed like a good thing, but turned out to be bad, because she was a lighthearted believer and I was a shabby apostate. Or something. Anyway, when they processed into church, I slunk off in the opposite direction, to move my car.

Passover and Holy Week together open wide the gates of Heaven to the alternate-side parker. I had taken the first spot I found when I got home on Saturday night, on the Monday-Thursday side of the street, hoping that these would both be alternate-side-suspended days but no: I had not done my homework. Passover didn’t start till sundown on Monday, so Tuesday was the holy day; the Christians chipped in Holy Thursday and Good Friday. In order to be free of car duty all week, I needed a Tuesday-Friday spot. The car was on the block where there is a car-rental agency, which is obviously not good because of the multiple parking needs of the brethren.

Under the influence of Shoupism, I had vowed to keep track of my cruising time. The night before, I had driven four blocks before I found a space, two of them big blocks; let’s say a quarter mile, or two minutes. On Sunday at eleven-thirty, prime time for parking spaces, there was a spot across the street and about thirty-five feet behind me. Double-parked SUVs were idling in front of the car-rental agency, but there was room for me to back up and get into the spot—on the third try. I don’t park well with an audience, and I still had this cloud of irreligion hanging over my head. It took maybe five minutes and cost me some small agony. But once I was in there, nice and tight to the curb, I saw that it was good. Furthermore, it will be good for almost two weeks.

Later in the day, I went out to go on a gargoyle walking tour and was disappointed by the price (five dollars more than advertised) and the quality (we didn’t look up at all for the first twenty minutes), so I excused myself from that exercise as well, not very gracefully. (It had started to drizzle, and I acted as if I’d melt in the rain.) The truth is I’d left all but five dollars of my pocket money in yesterday’s pants, so I couldn’t have paid the guy anyway. But I gave him the five dollars, and I learned that gargoyles in New York are strictly decorative (they don’t spew rainwater) and also that they’re on commercial and residential buildings but not on churches.

I made yet another foray before the day was over: my own little walking tour/shopping trip/movie-if-the-timing-was-right (it wasn’t)/literary pilgrimage. I had been wanting for some time to see the Washington Irving house. I glossed over Washington Irving in my enthusiasm for the Alhambra, but it is largely because of him that the Alhambra is there today to be enthusiastic about. Irving had a diplomatic post in Spain in 1828, when he visited the Alhambra and was enchanted by it and arranged to stay there. The book that came out of his visit, “Tales of the Alhambra,” made the place into a tourist attraction and saved it from neglect and ruin. Thank you, Washington Irving.

At home, I looked for a copy of “Tales of the Alhambra.” Irving is a New York writer, of course (“A Knickerbocker History of New York”), and you would think that he’d be featured in New York bookstores, or at least I hoped he would be, but I should have bought a copy in Granada. There were multiple volumes of John Irving on the shelves, and even a few novels by Robert Irwin, who wrote about Washington Irving in the little book about the Alhambra that I had carried to Spain, but in between there was precious little Washington Irving. I found a Library of America volume for thirty-five dollars, which also had “Bracebridge Hall” and “Tales of a Traveller,” but that only served to remind me that I was reading for pleasure—I’ve never liked those scholarly editions of multiple books in one volume. So I tried the children’s section, but it had only “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” I know I could have just ordered it from Amazon, but I like to heft a book before I buy it, and even sniff its spine. Finally I called the Strand, which had one used paperback copy of “Tales of the Alhambra,” and I went down and bought it. It’s a nice little book, with engravings of the Alhambra, printed in Spain.

The Washington Irving House is on Irving Place at East Seventeenth Street. I first came across it years ago, when I was looking for an apartment. I had ridden my bicycle up from the financial district along the East River—ridden it, in fact, accidentally onto the F.D.R. Drive, which I exited at the first opportunity, into a maze of well-kept buildings and green lawns and a fountain and black squirrels and playgrounds and flowers . . . Where was I? Stuyvesant Town. I was dazzled. Heading west, I came to this charming run-down two-story brick house with a wooden portico and a plaque on the side saying that Washington Irving had lived there. I wanted to live there, too, but it was not clear at that point that it was habitable, or, if it was, that I could afford the rent.

Over the years, that building has been renovated, and there is now a sushi restaurant in the basement. Across Irving Place is Washington Irving High School, with a big bust of Washington Irving, and across Seventeenth Street from the high school, where there should be a charming independent bookstore with copies of all Irving’s works, there is a restaurant called Cafe Mono, with a Spanish menu and an intricately patterned mosaic tile floor. I went inside to get a closer look—the floor is made of triangular sections of smaller geometric patterns based on squares, in red and black and green and blue—and the receptionist spotted me for a malingerer. I said I’d come in to see the floor and would come back someday for a drink. “Actually, we’re dining only,” she said. “Our bar is around the corner.” “Oh. Then I’ll come back to eat,” I said. “I love this floor. Do you know anything about it?” “We inherited it,” she said, herding me out the door.

Hmmph. I turned my sights on the Washington Irving house, diagonally across the street, at 49 Irving Place. No gargolyes there, only some scaffolding obscuring half of the building and, on the stoop under the scaffolding, out of the drizzle, a bearded homeless man with a dog, a weimeraner, wearing a nice snug quilted dog coat. The dog was happy, standing behind the man on the stairs, licking the man’s neck, making the man laugh. I wasn’t sure at first that the man was homeless—maybe he lived there—but at the foot of the stairs I saw his stuff, in a shopping cart covered with a dark-blue blanket. Some homeless people are so attached to their belongings that they trundle bundles the size of Volkswagens around with them, loaded down with plastic bags containing God knows what. This guy seemed to have a manageable load.

I skulked around out of his line of vision, and went about my business, then circled back from the other direction. My natural tendency when I see scaffolding is to cross the street, but this time I stayed on Washington Irving’s side of the street. Now the man had company: a long-haired younger man was talking to him, and a woman as well; she was talking loud, and had a hairdo that made me kind of avert my eyes. I didn’t want to stare, and I wasn’t prepared to introduce myself. In passing, I noticed that the old man was examining a piece of electronic equipment that the younger man seemed to have handed him. It had colored sockets on one end, like something you’d plug into a stereo speaker. Beside the man was a bag of dog food. The dog still looked happy.

Very Rip Van Winkle, no? I don’t know what else to say about it. I went home and started the task that all my activities of the day had been designed to stave off: going through my papers to do my taxes, a job that I hate with a passion. I always save it till Holy Week, when you’re supposed to suffer. And when it’s done you feel shriven.

(Note the name of the hotel in the background.)

Less on Shoup

JVH, at Parking Today, drew me out on the subject of Shoupism in an e-mail correspondence over the weekend and posted the results on his blog yesterday (NYC Reader to "Keep an Eye on Shoup"). I’m glad I answered his questions seriously, because I had a strong desire to be flippant, and it would have been excruciating to see that reproduced for all to see. So we’re going to drop the subject after this.