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


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


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


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


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


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.