Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year in Parking

There were lines everywhere when I returned to the city last Friday, after Christmas in New England: lines of cars, that is—at exits for malls and on ramps to highways and at entrances to rest stops. As I headed down the ramp to my luxurious (yet reasonable) indoor parking spot, an S.U.V. was heading up. I started to back up, but the driver waved me on down. He was one of the professional parkers—Julian or Julian—and was just stopping there briefly while jockeying other cars around. I had to get organized, and as I groped in the trunk and the back seat for my backpack and shopping bags, cars were spinning around me. By the time I left, having asked if I could come back and get things out of the trunk, there was a line of cars in the chute. I had no idea there could be a traffic jam in an underground parking lot.

The garage wasted no time flaunting its ability to fleece me. When I went to pick up the car, five-dollar tip in hand, Julian handed me a crisp white envelope with holiday greetings for 2009. I propped it on my dashboard. Then, in the mail, I got the garage bill for next month. I will have to stay on my toes. It said, “All monthly rent is due on the first of every month.” There is a twenty-five-dollar late fee, but, more onerous, if the check has not been received by the first of the month, daily rates apply. That could be ruinous, especially since I am one of those people who get in trouble with the Book-of-the-Month Club or any or those schemes that prey on procrastinators: you put off writing the check and then can’t find a stamp and forget to carry the stamped envelope to the mailbox, and before you know it you own a copy of John Dean’s “Blind Ambition.”

This time, I marched right over to the garage, to pick up the stuff I’d left in the trunk, and paid my bill in person. Julian of the Bow Tie (it is not clear to me why he dresses formally to work in an underground garage in the middle of the afternoon) asked me to wait while he trotted down the ramp to find my car. I was afraid he had misunderstood and was going to deliver it to me from the depths when what I really wanted was a chance to go down there and see Slot 52 with my own eyes. But he resurfaced, on foot, and told me to take a left at the bottom of the ramp, and I would see my car. There she was, the Éclair, parallel-parked and wedged into a spot with her driver’s-side sideview mirror a fraction of an inch from the concrete wall.

The good news is that I may be eligible for an eight-percent break in parking taxes. I have to fill out a form. Julian didn’t have a form, but he told me I could come back during the week, when Julian is there, and ask for one. This morning I called a number at the NYC Department of Finance: amazingly, a live (not a recorded) woman answered the phone and promised to send the form today.

Two last items to finish out 2008: The Year in Parking. The Times today reported the results of a survey taken in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where alternate-side parking regulations were suspended for two full months last spring while the city changed the street signs. It turns out that parking was no easier without alternate-side rules: it was just as hard to find a spot, and people used their cars with the same frequency (except the owner of Alfa Romeo, who died). And forty-five percent of people surveyed said that, without benefit of street cleaning, “the streets were not much dirtier”—just as I suspected.

Finally, the deluxe version of the 2009 Alternate Side Parking Calendar, suitable for dangling from your windshield, is in its second printing. Order your calendar at All proceeds (if anyone pays) will go to ICBIE—The Brazilian, Italian, and European Cultural Institute, in Bahia (see permanent link to left), where parking is never an issue (because no one can afford a car).

Return to Cadman Plaza

“Dear [Alternate Side Parker]:

“We received your request for a hearing by mail on the summons shown below.

“Based on the violation described, we are offering you the opportunity to pay a reduced fine in the amount shown. If you accept this reduction offer, RETURN THE COUPON with your payment by the due date above. If you pay the fine, a judge will not review your case.

“Alternatively, if you do not wish to accept this reduction offer and want an Administrative Law Judge to review your case, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO ANYTHING. You will either be found guilty and you will have to pay the full balance or the summons will be dismissed and you will not have to pay anything. The Administrative Law Judge will not be able to offer you a reduction. A decision will be mailed to you after a judge decides your case.”

This really happens: Whenever you contest a summons, the Parking Violations Bureau automatically offers to settle for a lower rate. I contested this summons, on the ground that I had never seen it, and later discovered that it was issued while my car was at the mechanic’s (see below, November 30th, Parker's Digest). I am in a bit of a quandary over it. I have still not seen a copy of the summons, and unless there is something wrong with it, in which case it will ultimately be dismissed, the Parking Violations Bureau will hold me responsible for the actions of my mechanic. The reduced fee is $90, down $125, for parking in a No Standing zone. As long as I hold out, clinging to the theory of irrational numbers, I enjoy the illusion of having made $35.

There is also the question of how to deal with the mechanic. I like my mechanic, and though apparently I shouldn't trust him, I don’t want to lose him. Am I stuck in a dysfunctional relationship? Or is it possible to say, in an unheated moment, “Mr. Bulloch, sir, I paid a parking ticket that I think—no, I know—the car got while it was in your care,” and have him give me a free oil change? Or might he fall back on the many times he has let me leave my car in his lot, without charge, for a week at a time, plus ten more minutes while I run across the street to the deli for mortadella on a hard roll with a trace of mustard? And there was also that time that I took the liberty of stealing my car out of his lot when he was closed (though I did come back to pay at the first opportunity).

I’m thinking of calling Car Talk. Once I wrote to Dear Abby to ask for advice when my landlord in Astoria blamed me for a flood in the basement after I left a skylight window open in the bathroom during a storm; after that, whenever it rained he would stand in the street and look up at my second-floor windows to make sure they were closed, even if the rain was coming from the opposite direction. As I composed the letter, in the sweltering heat of my apartment in summer, with the windows closed against rain that wasn’t coming in (have I ever mentioned that I have a touch of claustrophobia?), it occurred to me that Dear Abby didn’t even have to answer, because the mere act of writing the letter had told me what to do: Move.

In this case, simply contemplating a call to Click & Clack clarifies my course of action. I have a feeling they would say: Pay. Don't drag this into the New Year. By never mentioning it to the mechanic, you will bind him to you forever, the louse.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shoes of the Journalist

Of all the stories of the season—the collapse of this, the collapse of that, the suspension of alternate-side parking during snowstorms—the greatest has been the one about the Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at President Bush. The “Bush shoes” were destroyed by investigators, but someone tracked down the manufacturer in Istanbul, who has received orders for tens of thousands of pairs. Meanwhile, Zaidi was beaten by the security detail and tortured in jail. His brother Uday was finally allowed to visit him. This poignant detail was in yesterday’s Times: “Uday al-Zaidi said his brother told him that he had bought the shoes—used—at a market in Cairo.”

Before leaving office, George Bush should pardon Muntader al-Zaidi. The guy was wearing used shoes, for god’s sake. I hope he survives and is celebrated as a great folk hero who will live forever in the hearts of peace-loving people all over the world.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Bush. Happy New Year, Mr. Maliki. Free Muntader Al-Zaidi!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Free Parking

On a weekend jaunt to New Jersey I discovered that the town of New Brunswick throws open its garage doors to the public on Saturday afternoons. That’s right, parking is free. The arms of the toll gates are permanently in the raised position. Of course, that leaves aside the fact that there’s not a lot to do in New Brunswick on a Saturday afternoon. New Brunswick is the site of Douglass College, my alma mater (some people, when the time comes to make their big break, go to Boston, New York, or Paris; I went to New Brunswick). There was hardly anyone on the street or on the campus. They were either all inside studying or had driven to the mall. Gas was incredibly cheap—$1.47 a gallon!—so they could afford to drive to the mall. I got a little misty on finding that the only two places in New Brunswick that I had frequented with any regularity were gone—the head shop and the pizzeria.

Picking the car up at the garage on Saturday morning was a delicious sensation. I had three dollars in my pocket, in case I decided I had to tip, but Julian, after pulling my car up, skipped back to his booth so fast that I don’t believe he was expecting anything. It feels less as if I’m paying rent for the car than as if I’m paying to keep my horse in a stable. The car had been warmed up: the ventilation was perfectly adjusted—air intake, fan, temperature. Having this garage is like living in a fairy tale.

Sunday I went to the boat show, not because I am interested in buying a new yacht but because I like all the gadgets peripheral to boating that people hawk at the boat show: newfangled screw-on bottle tops for flip-top cans (to save bubbles), clip-on lights for the bill of your baseball cap, key chains with inflatable orange streamers that bob to the surface if you drop your keys in the drink. When people at the various booths asked me what kind of boat I had, and I said a rowboat, most of them continued to talk to me anyway. I stopped at the display for Mercury motors and spoke with a man who tried to explain the difference between two-stroke and four-stroke engines (something about a pool of oil). He said that Buster, my marine supplier, was at the show, but I never found his booth. I learned that I can take a course to become a captain in ten days (plus 360 days on the water—at the rate I'm going, it would take thirty-six years). And I donated to a program that teaches kids about boats (they build a flat-bottomed wooden vessel that looks like a sleigh, and can be paddled, sailed, or fitted with a motor) and to a project to reconstruct the Onrust (Dutch for Restless), the first ship built in New York, in 1614, by Adriaan Block, a Dutch captain and the namesake of Block Island.

I talked for a long time to some people about the Hackensack River, and got a lot of literature about lightning and life jackets, and a refrigerator magnet encouraging me to use pumpout stations, and a chart for tracing hurricane paths, and some foam coolers for my non-alcoholic beverages, and a map of the Bahamas. I bought a chart of how to read charts from a guy who suggested that someday, when the weather is good, I might want to venture beyond Jamaica Bay. On the chart of New York Harbor, he traced the route for me, the same one the Rockaway Ferry takes: along Coney Island, under the Verrazano Bridge, through Buttermilk Channel to the East River. I reminded him that I had only a six-horsepower motor. He thought about it and finally said, “That’d be about a thirty-hour day—going and coming.” I think I’ll stick to the ferry.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Slot 52

In a moment, I will be calling the garage to ask Julian to have my car ready tomorrow morning. I will tell him I am the gray Honda in Slot 52. This is going to be an interesting sensation. I suppose I will have to tip him. Meanwhile, the Peruvian cleaning lady is fleecing me. How have I gotten myself into this?

Do you notice that I have a tendency, just as the economy is tanking, to spend money like crazy? It's akin to the need to smoke heavily on the eve of quitting, or to eat like a pig just before going on a diet. Only, I never get around to the diet.

I am paying the garage bill by check, making a distinct point of not putting it on my credit card. That's the kind of thing that, when the bill comes due, you have nothing to show for. Better to pay up front and forget about it. To pay for the garage (and the cleaning lady) I am thinking of offering my services as a parking consultant. Order your 2009 Alternate Side Parking Reader Calendar(s) now!

My favorite thing in the Times this morning was a story headed "California: Peacocks Bother a City." "Some residents of La Cañada Flintridge, a small city in northern Los Angeles County, have complained to the city Council about a nuisance they say is being caused by a group of about 40 peacocks. . . . Activities against the peafowl began after a series of messy episodes, including mishaps during mating season in which males attacked parked cars after seeing their reflections on them."

I wonder if my new car-insurance policy covers me in the event of peacock attack.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

2009 Calendar

Season's greetings from the D.O.T. The 2009 Alternate Side Parking Calendar is now available. "Motorists are encouraged to take advantage of a convenient feature that allows them to take the calendar on their PDA or to download a PDF version of the calendar from the DOT Web site."

The holly is a souvenir of Brooklyn College.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Who ever would have thought it would end like this? There came in the mail an envelope with the return address “PARKING SERVICES”:

“Dear Manhattan Resident,

“The credit and liquidity crisis coupled with the downturn in the economy has created an unprecedented opportunity for residents in your immediate area to lock-in incredibly low monthly parking rates for as little as $147.84 per month (plus tax) for 6 months guaranteed!”

At this time last year, not looking forward to shivering in the car of a winter morning, I responded to such a flyer, and the best I could do was $275 for a spot a mile away, behind the Morgue. I stayed on the street. This year, I called the number on the flyer, and a man named Julio asked for my address and then gave me the address of a garage three blocks east and three blocks south of me, on a block that anyone would be happy to live on. The price, with tax, was $175 a month. Yes, Virginia, the economic downturn really does have a silver lining.

I’m not quite sure where I’m going to come up with the extra $175 a month. I did switch insurance companies—my new policy kicks in today—and am saving $150 a year (on the condition that I drive no more than 7,500 miles annually), but I squandered that amount instantly on an orchestra seat for “Spamalot,” with a beer at intermission and a souvenir T-shirt that says “I’m Not Dead Yet.” (It turns out that “Spamalot,” which is closing in January, is best viewed from a distance, being rather broad, but by sitting up front I scored more than my share of the confetti that drops from the ceiling at curtain call. I hope I am not giving anything away by reporting that for weeks I found these paper disks in my purse and my bed, until finally I realized what they reminded me of—Communion wafers—and got the joke: oh, yeah, the Holy Grail.)

Anyway, I’d been thinking about that berth in my friend’s driveway in Rockaway, and how it’s free and all, but let’s face it: it’s on the far side of Jamaica Bay. I have to take the A train or two buses to get to it, and the point of having a car, as I sometimes have to remind myself, is to drive it. If I have to take mass transit to get to the car, and again to get home after using the car, I’m getting bitten at both ends.

I have had the sensation, ever since the Mayor’s failed attempt to institute congestion pricing, that things were changing, as if our cars themselves had taken the hint: We know when we’re not wanted. Competition for spots this fall has not been as brutal. The big story in the news (besides the wholesale decline of the American automobile industry) has shifted to imposing tolls on the East River crossings in order to raise money to rescue the Metropolitan Transit Authority. I am finding it hard to get exercised over the East River Bridge Toll debate, largely because for some time now, when I come home from Rockaway, I’ve been splurging on the Midtown Tunnel. It cuts into my EZPass fund ($5), but there’s less traffic (because more frugal drivers are squeezing onto the bridges; I usually take the toll-free Williamsburg on my way out), and when I surface in Manhattan I’m almost home.

So on Saturday, I made one last trip to Rockaway on mass transit. I took the Command bus—that is, the bus formerly known as the Command bus, now part of the M.T.A.—on which I was one of only two passengers, through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to Red Hook, right near the backward R that I saw last summer from the ferry (though on land it’s facing in the right direction), to McDonald to Caton to Coney Island to Cortelyou to Flatbush. The air was so clear that, from my high perch to the driver’s right, I could see the Marine Parkway Bridge when we turned onto Flatbush. My stop, at the intersection of Flatbush and Nostrand, is known as the Junction, and it is the site of (among other things) a white steeple with a golden cupola that belongs to Brooklyn College. I have always been curious about Brooklyn College, and since I was feeling a little valedictory (who knows when I’ll take this route again?), I went to see the campus.

I had mistaken that tower and cupola for a religious edifice, and to my great joy it turns out to be the Brooklyn College Library. I sailed past all the I.D. checks to a Symposium in Memory of Fred Pollak, a physics professor who died last June. Outside again, I walked around a tiny frozen reflecting pool surrounded by holly, and then continued on the Q35 bus to Rockaway, where I picked up my car, drove to Fort Tilden, took a walk on the beach, and indulged in a quick shopping spree, before heading back to Manhattan.

On the way in, I was worried slightly about traffic, because it was, after all, a Saturday before Christmas, no doubt a gridlock-alert day, and I had an appointment on the other end. But I was pleasantly surprised to find myself sailing along in the fast lane of the L.I.E., with Ella Fitzgerald on the radio singing “Take the A Train.”

In Manhattan I didn’t cruise for a spot but went directly to the garage, where the attendant, Julian, who wears a black bow tie, did a double take when he saw the rate I had locked in. “That’s a good deal for you,” he said. I guess I don’t have to keep the name and location a secret. Or do I? Perhaps, as a service to my parking brethren, I should be discreet. After all, it was my conversion to the garage that opened a spot on the street for someone—perhaps at the Sanctuary—on this frigid morning, when alternate side is suspended for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Parker's Digest

There has been a lot to digest this Thanksgiving, foremost a humongous article on parking tickets in Friday’s Times. It had so many charts and graphs, and a map of the city with blocks color-coded by number of tickets handed out … I didn’t know whether to avert my eyes or get out my magnifying glass. Was my street one of the dark-blue high-volume ticket blocks?

My own relationship with the Parking Violations Bureau has come to the point where I now recognize their return address in the mail: Cadman Plaza Station. That same day, I received from the Parking Violations Bureau a “Notice of Outstanding Parking Violation.” It surprised me that I had an outstanding ticket, because I hate getting tickets, and my way of dealing with them is to pay—or, actually, contest—them promptly, in the hope that the pain will recede that much sooner into the past.

A few hours earlier, I’d made a special trip out to Rockaway to start up the car and take it to the mechanic's to have it winterized. The Éclair was in the driveway of my friend MQ, its former owner. She had given me a key to her house, so that I can use her bathroom when the water is turned off at my place, and I was on my way up her back stairs to avail myself of the facilities, wondering if I should knock just in case she was there, when she popped out the door and screamed at the sight of me. Suddenly I didn’t need to use the bathroom at all anymore.

The first thing she said to me, after recovering from the shock, was “I can’t come to dinner.” I had recently invited her to dinner in Manhattan (we are neighbors there, too), as a way of thanking her for letting me park in her driveway. She won't let me pay her (I've offered), though she has occasionally allowed me to buy her a Bloody Mary. Anyway, she had accepted my invitation and we had set a date. But MQ is incredibly stubborn, and when she says she doesn’t want to get paid, she doesn’t want to get paid, not in cash or in vodka or in dinner invitations, and she had figured out that I was trying to reciprocate. I was disappointed that my scheme would not work. “Is it just me?” she asked. She wanted to know if I was trying to fold her into a general dinner party. "Yes," I said. “Well, nothing elaborate. Make it simple,” she told me. I didn’t have anything in mind up to that point, but now I’m thinking one of those expensive ten-minute frozen pasta dishes with shrimp and asparagus might satisfy her.

When I approached the car to back it out of the driveway, MQ said, “When you bring the car back, would you pull it up a little closer to the garage?” “Here?” I asked, standing at the latitude of the drain, about three feet in front of the garage door. “No, not there—step back a little.” I took up a position about three feet on the opposite side of the drain. “There,” she said. I don’t know why she is so particular about where I park—maybe something to do with being able to see the car from inside? Being able to walk around it comfortably outside? Keeping a shovel's distance between the car and the drain? I desperately want to please my parking benefactor, but I’m starting to feel as if the Éclair and I have been miscast in an episode of the Princess and the Pea.

Anyway, I go to the gas station, where things are jumping. Both Bullochs are in the office, the older (Big Bulloch) and the younger (Baby Bulloch). Big Bulloch finishes taking a lady’s money and greets me. “I want to get the car winterized,” I tell him. “You know, tires, battery, antifreeze.” “You don’t need nothin,” he says. “You got the oil changed the last time you were in here. To tell you the truth, I’d just be taking your money. You don’t need nothin.” And he sends me away.

Gosh. On the surface, it seemed kind and fatherly of Big Bulloch. The lady whose money he had just taken was impressed. But I couldn't help but suspect that he just didn’t want to be bothered. I went to the Wharf, which Bulloch also owns, had a quesadilla and a beer while the lights of Manhattan popped on in the dusk across Jamaica Bay, and read the Wave. The Wave is the opposite of the Times. The lead story was about how the M.T.A., in casting around for ways to save money, is considering rolling back the free ride that Rockaway residents get over the toll bridge from Broad Channel. The man who first got the city to give Rockaway residents this special status is Dan Tubridy, a local hero. At the time, in 1996, he lived in Broad Channel and his wife worked in Rockaway, so, to make his point and avoid the toll, he would sit in his car on the Broad Channel side of the Cross Bay Bridge while his wife walked over it. He has since moved to Arverne-by-the-Sea and warns that it might not be possible now for Rockaway to keep its exception.

But the real story was what wasn’t in the Wave. I noticed it when I got the paper the week of the election, and by now the phenomenon has had time to sink in and generate letters to the editor, which were in this week’s edition: The Wave covered its local political races, but there was no mention of the win by Obama. I had come to realize that Rockaway was McCain country: I couldn’t talk politics with anyone at the boatyard, unless maybe I wanted to get thrown in the water, and my friend MQ had told me she was voting for Sarah Palin. The editors of the Wave might point out, in their defense, that there are bigger newspapers covering politics at the national level, and they are but a humble local weekly. Still, not to acknowledge the historic nature of Obama’s victory is bizarre and a little scary.

I reparked in the suburban driveway, checking to make sure I had hit my mark, and returned to Manhattan through Brooklyn by bus and train. Home again, I examined the cryptic details of my mysterious unpaid summons. I’ve wondered, on seeing tickets lying in the street, what people do when they are held responsible for a ticket they’ve never seen. Was it possible that the cop who can write two tickets at the same time (featured in that Times article) had been on my block? The offense was parking in a No Standing zone, the fee a whopping $125 (including a $10 late penalty). Issue date: 10/07/08. Location: "133 Other—See Comme” There is a place you can check to request a copy of the original summons, and I will certainly do that. Meanwhile, I racked my brain to remember where I was on Tuesday, October 7th. Then I remembered—Hah!—I don’t have to rack my brain: I can look in my blog archives (blorchives?). Scrolling backward through October ... stupid stuff about the New York Waterfalls ... yack yack yack ... Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if after all this parking blogging I had no record of where the car was parked on the Tuesday in question? Aha! My car was in Rockaway that week, at the mechanic’s, getting its leaky transmission fixed—and apparently being road-tested, or test-parked, on Beach 133rd Street, four blocks from the garage. That explains why they wouldn’t take my money: they already had.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


A tiny but ominous headline in Saturday's Times reads "Space Station's Purification System for Fluids Fails." Hold on: it's not what you think. It's not that Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper or Dr. Sandra Magnus had to taste the space water and found it wanting. "The new $250 million system for the International Space Station to turn urine, sweat and other fluids into drinking water is off to a shaky start," John Schwartz wrote in the Times. "Astronauts aboard the station assembled the system ahead of schedule and started it on Thursday, but it shut itself down. The unit was started again on Friday morning, but shut itself down after two hours. The problem involves a centrifuge in the distillation unit whose motor appears to be working too slowly, or it might involve sensors inaccurately reporting problems with the centrifuge."

So who are you going to trust? HAL, the computer, who very sensibly thinks humans shouldn't be drinking their own waste and thereby sabotages his own system? Or the guy, probably someone at Mission Control in Florida or Texas, who overrides the sensors and deems the centrifuge sufficient and the distilled water potable? Somebody up there is going to have to take the first sip. Here on Earth, we wait with bated breath.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lost in Space

This has got to be embarrassing. Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper, one of the intrepid space plumbers, and certainly the American astronaut with the most syllables in her name (God only knows what the M stands for), was on a spacewalk, greasing some joints on the space station, when she discovered that a grease gun "erupted inside its tote bag" (from this morning's Times). While she was cleaning it, the rest of her tool kit "floated irretrievably into space." Poor Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper! I know just how she feels. In two separate incidents, I've had a box of Junior Mints explode inside my purse at the movies and gum up my hairbrush something awful, and watched a guidebook slide off my lap into the Venetian Lagoon.

Here on Earth, we've had a cold snap in the Northern Hemisphere, and the astronaut's grease job reminds me that I have to get the Eclair winterized. My Car & Driver magazine from the AAA (not to be confused with AA, of which I am not a member) says I need to check the coolant, make sure the tires have enough tread, and have a look at the battery. Also, I must not forget to pay my insurance premium, due December 9th. I'm sure they are counting on me to be too lazy to do any research into a cheaper policy. Maybe I'll surprise them.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Old News

That time of year thou mayst in me behold when trucks sideswipe my car and knock the mirrors off. Also, the long streak of alternate-side-suspended Jewish-Muslim-Hindu-patriotic holidays has ended, and since I have no immediate travel plans, I realized suddenly that I had the car in the city solely in order to park it. So I asked permission of the Éclair’s previous owner, MQ, to park in her nice suburban driveway, and last Friday I commuted to Times Square via Rockaway, a detour that took me through Broad Channel at the hour when all the trucks from Call-a-Head, the portable-toilet company, are lined up on the boulevard, waiting to make their pickups, and clockwise around Jamaica Bay.

The Éclair still had all that vegetation stuck on her, and I know it hurts MQ to see her looking less than her best. I checked to see if the carwash was open on my way past, but got honked at. Finally it occurred to me that I could clean the car the old-fashioned way: wash it by hand. I had in my trunk a couple of sponges left over from boating and a jug half full of windshield-wiper fluid. So I groomed her like a horse, sponging off her right side, brushing the crumbs off the upholstery. The Éclair looked pretty good, parked in its ancestral driveway.

On the bus through Brooklyn, a man who, at first, I thought was talking to a woman seated across the aisle from him turned out to be reciting poetry, for all our benefit: “She was a poor man’s rich girl, but she always played the game.” He got off after a while, so I could concentrate on the Times. Now that we are going to have Obama, I find I can read the Times without wincing--I can read whole articles about politics, even if they don't mention "Saturday Night Live." There was a long piece about how the President-elect’s neighbors, in Hyde Park, Illinois, are being inconvenienced by the Secret Service, but they don’t mind. This made me want to cry. Farther down was a sidebar with the headline “As for the ‘Arab’ Remark …” about Rahm Emanuel’s father's slur on Arabs. He had said to an Israeli newspaper: “Obviously he’ll influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn’t he? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to be mopping floors at the White House.” This prompted an Arab-American group to write to Rahm Emanuel, who apologized to the president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who happens to be my old high-school English teacher and drama coach, Mary Rose Oakar. This made me laugh.

Then I got involved with a piece on “intrepid space plumbers.” They are sending some specialists to the International Space Station to set up a second toilet and a water-purification system that will recycle the astronauts’ urine into drinking water. It concludes with a quote from Dr. Sandra Magnus, who will be one of the first to sample the space water: “As she explained, water flushed from our earthly toilets eventually evaporates and rains down again, so, ‘We drink recycled water every day—on a little bit longer time scale.’” This news left me nonplussed. It had been raining in Rockaway while I waited for the bus, and I’d seen some very earthly toilets sitting on trucks on the shores of Jamaica Bay. I didn't know whether to be alarmed at the general principle or reassured by the cosmic time scale.

Over the weekend, walking around Manhattan with no car to park, I was like a person who has been shopping for boots and found and bought a pair but can't stop looking in shoe-store windows. In the Sanctuary, one car was taking up two spots, and the Sanctuary is already down from seven spots to four; I had to restrain myself from leaving a note on the windshield.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Never a dull moment, as my mother used to say. When I went out to move my car yesterday, I found the entire passenger side slathered with pine needles and mud, as if mulched by a passing hay wagon. Also, the license-plate holder on the front was mangled and hanging by a plastic shred. I had driven the day before to the Queens International Film Festival, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel near LaGuardia Airport, in East Elmhurst, and parked on a wet and leaf-strewn street, but unless someone was leaf-blowing in the rain, I don’t see how all that gunk could have attached itself to my car.

I had to get two things off my mind before I could consider a car wash. One was the outboard motor, my 6-horsepower 4-stroke Mercury, purchased from Buster’s Marine of Broad Channel on August 25, 2007, which I needed to have winterized and to submit for repairs, covered, I hope, by the three-year warranty (# OR055963). I lugged the motor from the bungalow to Buster’s. It must weigh fifty pounds and is extremely awkward, with its propeller and all, unless your name is Buster and they don't call you Buster for nothing, in which case you can take it from a lady and sling it over a mechanic’s rack as if it were a lantern. I had arrived with the idle-speed control switch, which had broken off the carburetor, sealed in a plastic bag with documentation, and was even ready to submit my ship's log, if necessary, but nobody was the least bit interested. Buster was doing some interior decorating and foisted me off on his helper Dave. Apparently, as soon as they hear the word “broke,” they figure somebody was doing something that made the part break. I maintain that it was defective and broke all by itself, but it looks like I am going to have to take it up with customer relations.

My other item of business was the remaining gas in my three-gallon tank. This gas dated from a time a few weeks ago, when gas cost twice as much as it does now. This gasoline could not sit in the bungalow all winter. There is no safe place for a can of gas except for the tank of a car. So I had to rig up a system of funnels and spouts to pour the gas into my tank. Some of it spilled on the street. O.K., most of it spilled on the street. I just hope it evaporated before anyone tossed a cigarette butt in the gutter.

Every time I looked at the car, I thought, Oh, poor Éclair. I really should go to the car wash. But it suddenly became important to get in a walk on Jamaica Bay. I had noticed the ravishing colors of the trees in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge last weekend. This weekend the colors were somewhat dimmed, but as I was walking among birders at sunset—hopping down to the turtle-hatching beach, to see if I could come here by boat next season—an egret came soaring around a bend, banked when it saw me, and continued its flight, so beautiful and so silent.

On the way home, I remembered the odometer. All the driving back and forth between Buster’s and the bungalow had brought my mileage up sooner than I expected to 59,999. Heading north on Woodhaven Boulevard, past Rockaway Boulevard, I looked down just as the 9s were aligning, and the tenth of a mile rode up—5, 6, 7, 8—until it was 59,999.9, and then, as I braked for the next light, it turned over to 60,000.0. Happy Sixty Thousandth Mile, Sweet Éclair! Still a cream puff at eighteen. I found her a lovely Tuesday-Friday spot, barely clearing a crosswalk, to celebrate Veterans Day. I wish I had sprung for the car wash.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Best of Times

I should have driven around yesterday morning, but after I had picked up a few things at the Chinese laundry I felt compelled to sit in a line of D.P.s (double parkers), waiting for the broom to pass. Ahead, several men were gathered around a black Infiniti. A moving van and a garbage truck squeezed past. Lots of honking.

The broom came at nine, and we all lurched and shuffled into our legal spaces. A black woman in a white Corolla asked me if she could get in front of me and was very happy until she realized that the spot wasn’t good till ten. “Damn damn damn,” she said, and re-started her car and drove in reverse to the parking lot up the street. Her spot was vacant for five minutes before two Asian guys, students, in a gray Acura grabbed it. One of them stayed in the car while the other went to Dunkin’ Donuts, and they breakfasted on the hood. I set out on the sidewalk a pot of rosemary that I had rescued from Rockaway, and watered it from a bottle of Poland Spring. I was going to leave the rosemary out there to breathe, but a dog was headed up the street and I had a premonition that it was a bad idea. Then I relaxed and read the Times.

I have resubscribed to the Times, but my new subscription didn’t kick in till Thursday. There was no Times to be had on Wednesday, with the historic one-word headline “OBAMA.” I meant to get out early to buy a paper, then come back and luxuriate, but I got a late start and planned to pick up a paper on the way to work. Mistake. First newsstand, no Times. Second newsstand, where the cashier, a Pakistani man (I think), one Saturday morning, had come out from behind the counter to tend to the magazine rack when suddenly his store filled up with customers and he dashed back behind the counter, shouting, “Good morning, America!”: no Times. I was headed for a grocery store where I sometimes buy the paper, thinking that people might not have gone inside to look for it, when I passed a third newsstand that had three copies left: Eureka!

Later in the day, at work, where I often expect to be able to cadge a copy of the Times, first one person, then another came in to say she hadn’t been able to get a copy. The first one I showed my copy to, saying “but you can’t have it”; the second asked for it outright, and I said no. On Thursday, my new subscription kicked in, and I couldn’t get enough of the graphs showing the states Obama had won and by how much, and the maps of blue baubles and red squares. Friday, my favorite thing in the paper was the gaffe of Berlusconi, who told the Russian president that Obama was "young, handsome, and suntanned." It turned into a bigger story today, when, for the first time in months, I enjoyed having the Saturday Times delivered to my door. It is so luxurious. I'm still not going to complain about the new format.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

To the Polls!

Alternate side is suspended today for Election Day, and I lucked into a beautiful spot for it yesterday, when I came home from Rockaway, where Jimmy the Plumber and I engaged in our annual winterization rites. His helper, Gary, pumped out the hot-water heaters and turned off the gas while Jimmy removed the plugs from the pipes under the house and my neighbor complained bitterly about the lazy painter her landlord had hired, who was in such a hurry to get out of there that he left the brush standing in the paint can, with paint still in it. It took an hour and a quarter to turn off the water and blow out the pipes and pour in the antifreeze and fit a new four-inch plug into the waste line. It took all day to defrost and sweep and mop and rake and make sure all the windows were closed and shove the precautionary nails through the window frames to prevent break-ins.

Afterward, I drove to the marina, where the Boss, in his pirate bandanna, said, “You’re out of the water”—he pointed to my boat in the yard, still draped in the canvas slings of his boat launch. “You want to get that motor off, or it’ll get stolen.”

“Do you have a tool that cuts locks?” I asked, because the lock was rusted on. Before you could say “Kidnapped” the lock was off and I was driving back to the just-closed-up bungalow with the outboard motor in my back seat. I lugged it inside under the watchful eyes of some new neighbors, young men I’d never seen before, who probably know the value of a 6-horsepower Mercury. I can only hope they don’t have a tool that cuts locks.

Back in Manhattan, I cruised into the very same paradisiacal spot, in front of a doorman building on the Tuesday-Friday side of the street, that I had found on Halloween. There was a woman right on my tail who wound up on the wrong side of the metered-parking sign. I tried not to let any expression of gloating enter my body language as I unpacked—she looked a little volatile. Although vandals spared my car this Halloween season, when I went out to Rockaway on Saturday, the radio was haunted: there was no reception, and I couldn’t listen to “Car Talk.” The sound came back on for the drive home, but the volume went up or down depending on how much gas I gave the accelerator. It had fully recovered in time for the Monday-morning reverse commute, but for a while I thought I had a problem worthy of Click and Clack.

Spending time in Rockaway before the election was instructive. Many of us in New York live in a bubble of liberalism, but out there in Rockaway they come right out and say things like “Do you really believe a black man can be President of the United States?” and “I just can’t vote for Obama.” (They should have practiced during the primary. I even resisted the urge to vote for Dennis Kucinich, whose name was still on the ballot.) My favorite columnist in the Wave, Dorothy Dunne, whose columns have been appearing with less and less frequency over the past few years, so that I fear for her health, began her column with the proposition that Barack Obama could be “OUR COUNTRY’S SAVIOR” if, instead of squandering his campaign funds on his campaign, he simply donated that huge amount of money to solving the financial crisis. Funny, I had the same idea when I was about six years old. I had heard of this guy Rockefeller, and I thought if just one obscenely rich man gave all his money away, he could solve poverty. (Paging Mayor Bloomberg …) But I have since seen that this was naive, like trying to dilute the Atlantic Ocean by dumping in a Great Lake or two. And I was not surprised that Dorothy Dunne went on to write, “I am a McCain fan,” and to give the former POW her ringing endorsement.

This year, for the first time, I gave money to a campaign, for which I have been rewarded with countless e-mails asking for more. It's the only time I've ever hoped that the candidate with the most money wins.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Saints Suspended

So far, the Grim Reaper has passed over the Eclair this Halloween season. My car was all in one piece yesterday morning—no shattered glass or other vandalism. I drove two blocks, and slid into a spot in parking paradise: in front of a doorman building. I couldn’t believe my luck, and though I know these blocks well, and have even parked right here before, I got out of the car and walked ahead to make sure there were other people sitting in their cars, and to check the sign. In front of me was a white Nissan Pathfinder. Behind me was metered parking (Purgatory). It was glorious. I got to spend almost an hour with the Times, and it was such a pleasure that I am not even going to complain about the new format.

Checking my calendar—the Catholic one—I see that today, All Saints Day, now called Solemnity of All Saints, has a footnote: it says, in red italics set in parentheses, “(not a Holy Day of Obligation this year).” What? We’re going to skip all the saints? Every single last one of them? Is it just because the feast, which the nuns were always trying to tell us was way more important than Halloween, falls on Saturday, and since Catholics can now count Mass on Saturday toward their duty on Sunday, they’re folding the two obligations into one? (My first experience of a hangover was probably having to attend Mass on All Saints Day after a surfeit of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.) I say, let us give thanks to all the saints, let us extoll them, one by one, and pray for their indulgence. And let us single out for special praise the patron saint of self-indulgence: St. Peter Paul Almond Joy.

I noted in the Times an article saying that the Pope has decided not to rush ahead with the canonization of Pope Pius XII, thought by some to be a bad guy. His Holiness is going to have a wee peek in the archives first. Sounds like a good idea. He'll have today off to get started.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


All week, my car has been parked in the first spot I found after getting off the highway last Sunday, when I got back from New England. It’s a Tuesday-Friday spot, to take advantage of alternate-side suspension on Tuesday for Diwali, the Hindu Feast of Lights. I was a little uneasy about leaving the car there, because the block is nonresidential, which is to say subject to crime. When I got out of the car, I noticed heaps of crunchy windshield glass along the curb—not a good omen. Just as well that I have to move it tomorrow, Halloween. Something weird always happens to my car around Halloween.

It was autumn in New England, and there was shopping and Thai food and apples and cider and king crab legs and the last of the sweet corn. There was also a burial: Shadow, a fox terrier, died. He was my buddy, and I had been warned that he was failing, so I brought him one last toy: a fuzzy orange witch with a black hat and broom. Shadow would tear off her accessories first, then knock the stuffing out of her, rip off her head, and finally remove her squeaky heart. Sadly, he died before I arrived, and never got a chance. But at least this way I get to remember him as he was: a muscular little guy, like a torpedo, with a preposterously long, bony black nose (the better for rooting in foxholes) and avid black eyes, hurtling himself at me in ecstasy when I walked through the door.

Shadow was aptly named, and not just because he was black. He was originally meant as a replacement for another small dog, a Jack Russell terrier named Stripe, who got run over on the country road outside her house when she was still a sweet young thing. For all of Shadow’s thirteen years, there was anxiety about keeping him inside the fence. His favorite toys were garden hoses and hula hoops, which he’d whip around and bark at in the front yard. He used to run the length of the white picket fence, barking at passing cars and tractors, and especially at the school bus that was taking his boy away. Over the years, the fence deteriorated: pickets were replaced by chicken wire, and the gate wouldn’t close. Shadow could have gotten out anytime, but by then he seemed to be choosing to stay inside.

Shadow lay in state in one of the bedrooms on Friday night. During the night, there were mysterious squeaks that sounded like Shadow playing with a toy. It was the bird, a cockatiel (he and the dog were friends). It was as if he were imitating Shadow at play. The squeaks gave way to songs—the bird was accompanying himself. I'd never heard the bird sing at night before.

In the morning, the boy, Sam, now a young man, came home to bury his dog. He and his mother chose a spot across the road, and Sam went at it like a professional gravedigger. This boy has buried horses. He lifted the sod in slabs and laid it aside. After the first few shovelfuls, he used a post-hole digger to make the hole deep enough. He had bought two bags of pea-sized gravel and a bag of lime to sweeten the earth and keep any country creature from sniffing around. Sam’s mother carried the dog’s body, wrapped in a blue-and-white blanket, out of the house and across the road. Sam laid the body in the grave, along with a favorite length of hose, and we each took a ceremonial turn with the shovel. “All that’s missing is bagpipes,” I said. And someone produced a cell phone with a bagpipe ring tone.

After replacing the sod and tamping it down, and choosing a Japanese maple sapling to plant later, we went inside and reminisced, as one does at a wake. It was always hard to get a good photograph of Shadow, because his eyes and his face were so black, but I remember taking pictures as he tore apart a toy Santa, and the expression on his face when that Santa talked to him, saying “Merry Christmas, ho-ho-ho!” Shadow loved the city, and once, when he visited, I couldn’t resist buying him a red backpack at Petco. We put his cans of food in it and walked him home. Every time he went through a doorway, he would forget he was carrying a wide load and bump into the door. The last time we took him to Petco, we let him pick out his own toy. He tried out one, and then another, and then settled on the first and carried it to the checkout. It was so funny to see a dog shopping.

Later my friend realized that she had forgotten to take his collar off, and it had Stripe’s tag on it. Too bad. Shadow became his own substance years ago.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Baby Dee's Fall Tour

The fabulous Baby Dee winds up her fall tour this weekend in Knoxville, Tennessee. Here's a link to an amusing interview she gave to the Dallas Voice, in Fort Worth, Texas. Dee has covered a lot of ground in her VW Bug, and returns home with the harp on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the family piano is coming east in a truck full of Nativity figures.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


My scam to sneak into the movies as a senior has backfired. (See post of February 7, 2007.) I had been itching to see the Bill Maher movie, “Religulous”—it sounded right up my alley. There was a huge crowd outside the theatre, waiting to see “Quarantine, ” but no one in line at the box office. The lady there was older than your usual apathetic twenty-something: she could have been selling tickets part time while collecting Social Security. So I decided not to try to get in as a senior. She might look up.

“One for ‘Religulous.’”

“Are you a senior?” she asked, looking at me.

“Yes,” I said, looking back. I was astounded, but if she was going to offer, I would go along with it.

“Do you have I.D.?”

“I don’t have it with me,” I said. I was carrying an enormous bag, the bag I bought to carry “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” in, and she must have thought it odd that there was no I.D. in there. What was in there was two bottles of imported beer and an opener. I shrugged and said I’d pay the full price.

“How old are you?” she persisted.

I was beginning to feel like a bug under a magnifying glass in the sun. “Sixty-four,” I said. (I forgot that the minimum age for old is sixty-two. Maybe this added verisimilitude.)

She looked at me searchingly—I have let my hair grow out, but I still prefer to think of it as brown with platinum highlights—and said, “Next time, you’ll have to show I.D.”

I walked toward the escalator with my $7.50 ticket, wondering if it was worth four dollars to be humiliated, and trying to calculate my year of birth, if she had asked. (1944? Incredible!) I bought popcorn and Whoppers, like a six-year-old, and found a seat in the back row. A young couple came and plopped themselves down right next to me, and after a while I picked up everything—coat, bag, popcorn, beer—and moved down a few seats to have elbow room. You see, I am ageless: child, adolescent, and crank, all rolled into one. Behaviorally speaking, all that is lacking is my true biological age.

“Religulous” had some good things in it, like a shot of Mormon underwear (it has pockets) and an interview with Father Reginald Foster, the famous Latin teacher in Rome and Latin Secretary to the Pope, who was fired by Gregorian University for letting people audit his class without paying. He’s wonderfully irreverent. There was also an interview with an actor who plays Jesus at a Biblical theme park, and apparently has trouble breaking character, and a visit to a service in a truck-stop chapel. But after I had drained my beers and munched my way through the popcorn and masticated the Whoppers (which were gooey instead of crisp; a true crank would have mailed in the unused portion and demanded her money back), I felt myself dozing off. The next thing I knew, the credits were running.

Maybe I was tired. Maybe the film, a documentary, lacked narrative thrust, or was a bit too much like the Stations of the Cross. Or maybe I was just trying to live the lie. Anyway, I hope I didn't snore. And I wonder what I missed.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mayor's Cup

Two of my (sort of) interests converged on Sunday when ukulele players were invited to entertain the crowd at the Mayor's Cup, a kayak marathon that began in the Hudson River at Battery Park City and ended somewhat short of circumnavigating the isle on a Sunday afternoon. I could see it was too windy for me to go out in a motorboat on Jamaica Bay—frankly, it was too windy even to bike downtown to the Battery—but this did not stop the kayakers from pushing off into the Hudson. Now, make no mistake: I have never been caught in a kayak, for the simple reason that if I ever got into a kayak I would never be able to get out again. I would be like one of those mythological creatures, a Centaur, half woman, half surf-ski: a surfosaur.

So I was lazing around on Sunday, feeling bad not so much for missing the kayak race as for not coming out to support Ukulele Fun, in which some friends were playing. I hoped they had brought along fingerless gloves. I needn't have worried: the event was cancelled, both uke and race. Here is a description of the conditions from the Times: "The wind picked up speed ... and worked against the current to create a volatile chop, said Greg Porteus, a retired New York State trooper and the safety officer for the race. The currents in the river overtook several racers immediately after they turned north from the harbor, leaving them struggling to control their boats." One guy ran into a barge, and there was a pileup as kayakers tried to avoid him and negotiate the current. Several people had to be rescued from the water. Luckily, nobody drowned. If I were the Mayor, I would take my name off this event.

Read the whole article here and watch hair-raising footage of the race from the makers of the kayaks, who believe that there's no bad publicity.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Calculated Risk

I took a calculated risk on Sunday morning and moved my car out of a Monday-Thursday spot that I had found on Saturday night—at the Sanctuary, no less—to take full advantage of alternate-side suspension on Tuesday, for Shemini Atzeret, a Jewish holiday. (Simchat Torah follows, on Wednesday, but as there is no street cleaning on Wednesdays in any of my parking haunts, I will not be observing it.) I read a little about Shemini Atzeret on Wikipedia, but learned nothing except what it isn’t: it is not associated with Succoth. I like Succoth, because everywhere you go there are little huts, and people go into the huts and eat: the feast of picnics. You can even order out pizza and have it delivered to your hut. There are mobile huts parked on Broadway, in the Garment District. On Sunday, after reparking, I was trespassing on the grounds of a school of nursing and came across a couple of huts set up in a corner of the campus. They remind me of dune shacks.

Speaking of dunes, I was in Rockaway on Saturday, and because it was too windy to go out in the boat, I drove to Fort Tilden to take a walk on the beach. The dunes there were built to house big guns installed for the defense of New York Harbor. (There are similar fortifications in Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and Staten Island.) As I approached my favorite parking lot, two police cars, with their top lights swirling, and a Park ranger in a khaki-colored S.U.V. were blocking the entrance. I entered via the exit, and who should I see in the midst of all this police activity but my old friend Frank of Assisi. He comes to this beach with his metal-detector to prospect for coins, watches, jewelry, lead sinkers, cow bells … whatever. I hung around on the fringe, waiting for a chance to say hi to Frank and tease him. I was going to say, Are you stirring up trouble again? Or, Do you need a character witness?

The two police cars drove away, but Frank was still talking to the Park ranger. Finally, he turned his head and recognized me, and I asked what was going on. “I just told someone they couldn’t park here, and all of a sudden the police show up,” he said. Then he made an ungentle motion, meaning that I should get lost, so I did. I never saw Frank so irritated before. My best guess is that whoever he was giving advice to, in his Good Samaritan way, did not take it kindly, and they in turn busted him for prospecting on a beach that is reserved for surf-fishing. I may someday get to the bottom of this.

I timed my walk in the dunes to end at sunset, and drove straight home and lucked into that spot at the Sanctuary. It was a little close to a fire hydrant, but my concern about getting a ticket was dwarfed by the sight of an enormous dumpster in the Sanctuary precincts, taking up three of the seven precious spots. By morning, my car seemed even closer to the fire hydrant, but no zealous cop had given me a ticket. It broke my heart to give up my spot in the Sanctuary—who knows when I’ll park there again?—but if I could find a Tuesday-Friday spot I’d have every morning free until Friday, when I plan to get out of town anyway.

I'd been cruising for eight-tenths of a mile when I saw it: a spot the size of a station wagon, with a shallow sinkhole in it, on the other side of the street. I slammed on the brakes, put my signal on, and made a U-turn mid-block to snag it. Behind me, cars started honking. Fortunately, none of them belonged to a policeman.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sheepshead Bay

Swans in Sheepshead Bay.

Boating tip: Hide your empties before you wave to the Coast Guard.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


It's really only a minor leak. The outboard is surprisingly photogenic!

Monday, October 13, 2008

More on the Bailout

Last fall at the marina, the Boss was awfully eager to take my boat out of the water, so I expected the same this year. I had enough gas in my tank to run the motor for about an hour and a half, and I was going to use it up and then hang up my oars for the season. But the Boss hasn’t yet shown any sign of taking boats out of the water, and conditions were perfect on Saturday: sunny and mild, with a light breeze and an incoming tide. So I put two gallons of gas in the tank and pointed the boat west to Sheepshead Bay.

I had been wanting to go to Sheepshead Bay, but it is a long trip—two hours out and one and a half hours back (with the tide). I amused myself on the way out by timing a measured mile that begins, according to my chart, at a green can west of the Marine Parkway Bridge and ends at the stack of the Neponsit old-age home, which Giuliani evicted all the old people from in the middle of the night several years ago so that the city could do something more profitable with the beachfront property. (It sits there vacant still; all he succeeded in doing was confusing a lot of old people, who had until then enjoyed a fine view of the nude beach at Riis Park.) I set my diver’s watch and covered the mile in about twelve or fifteen minutes—not a very precise measurement, but I couldn’t tell when I was abreast of the stack and, anyway, who cares?

I have at last discovered that, at the right speed and under the right conditions, you can let go of the tiller, and the boat will go by itself. That’s what boats do. It was good that I made that discovery, because I had a little bailing to do: water was seeping out of the sealed hollow seat beneath me, puddling at my feet, and I had to keep sponging it up and wringing out the sponge, something it is hard to do with just one hand.

Sheepshead Bay is where the party boats dock. The Golden Sunshine was there, and a few fishing boats came in while I was putting around. I did not tie up and go ashore, though there is a Loehmann's in Sheepshead Bay, and often there are fish for sale (off the boats, not at Loehmann's). I was tempted to try to buy some blackfish: my mechanic had told me, when I went to pick up my car, that blackfish was in season; he says it's delicious. I looked for the American Princess, thinking she might have been towed here for repairs, but I didn’t see her. There were flotillas of swans on the bay, and a lot of sailboats to steer clear of.

Sailing seems kind of pokey to me (as if with six horsepower I attained blistering speed), but I am beginning to get curious about it. How do they do it by themselves? How does a lone sailor manage? In Sheepshead Bay I saw an old guy sitting by himself in the middle of his sailboat with his arms outstretched, a line in each hand connected to a sheet at each end. (I believe “sheet” means sail and “line” means rope, and the sailor was sitting amidships.) It looks to me as if sailors have to be equally adept with both hands. On the way back, I decided to try sitting on the opposite side of my outboard, the port side, with my right hand on the tiller. Well, I am not equally adept: I couldn’t figure out which way to point the tiller to change course, and twisting the throttle to control the speed was out of the question. But while I was sitting over there I noticed that I had sprung a leak: water was spurting out of a previously plugged crack in the transom. Would this be, as they say in baseball, a season-ender? I wedged a towel against the crack, so as not to soak my back, and resumed bailing. Thus ended the experiment in ambidexterity.


This morning I took the ferry back to Manhattan to celebrate Columbus Day (Observed), leaving the Éclair in Rockaway, where it could take full advantage of the week's alternate-side suspensions. I took the bus to the ferry landing, and the bus driver drove like a maniac, so I got there early enough to recognize the American Princess heading up the bay from the Parachute Jump at Coney Island. So she was back. I asked one of the crew where they took the ferry to get its engine fixed. “We bring it to Freeport,” he said. “We have a good mechanic there, so that’s where we do it.” Some of the crew had worked on the catamaran that replaced the American Princess—passengers called it "the yellow boat"—but the guy whose name I think is Joe, who collects tickets and occasionally drives the boat and cleans it and serves drinks and welcomes people aboard and points out things like a World War II submarine tied up at Red Hook, says he stays with the boat all the time. He had to drive out to Freeport every day. I asked him what happened the day the engine blew. Nothing, he said. Then he explained, “This boat has three engines. You can run it on one, you can run it on two—we run it on three engines all the time.” The crew heard one of the engines failing, and they could have kept going (as I certainly would have) but they knew it would only get worse (which I would have learned the hard way). So they delivered their passengers safely to Rockaway and went to Freeport under their own power.

Vs of geese flew over the harbor. A low fog rimmed Manhattan. All that is left of a sign on the Brooklyn horizon is a backwards R.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Faux Falls

Since one of the chief thrills of Olafur Eliasson's New York Waterfalls, to be turned off next Monday, is being able to view all four at once, I am jamming them all into one farewell post. In order of appearance as the Rockaway ferry approaches Pier 11, at the foot of Wall Street, are the Governors Island waterfall, to port, somewhat upstaged by the ventilation tower for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. Then comes the waterfall off Red Hook, in Brooklyn, on the starboard side. Up ahead, also to starboard, is the most majestic of the waterfalls, under a pylon of the Brooklyn Bridge. (This was the only one there were complaints about: people in Brooklyn Heights said the salt water was ruining plants along the river.) You have to transfer to the East River ferry to get a good look at the fourth waterfall, to port, off Manhattan's Lower East Side.


I had this idea I’d reverse-commute to Rockaway this morning, to pick up my car, and since I was awake at five-thirty, I decided to act on it. I got a train down to Wall Street, and the place was swarming with TV cameras. Oh, yeah … the market is tanking.

I plowed down the middle of Wall Street, against the crowd, which was thin yet. Near the river, I tried to see if I recognized any of my erstwhile fellow-commuters disembarking from the 5:45. It was almost 6:45, and I know that the ferry doesn’t wait around but has to get back to Rockaway in time for the 7:45 run. There was no sign of it when I got to the pier. I don’t know if the American Princess is back on the route, but I didn’t see any ferries from New York Water Taxi. I had missed the boat. Still, it was very beautiful down by the river, with boats coming and going. I thought about taking ship to Jersey City, as long as I was up and about, but decided against it.

So I went back up Wall Street to get the train home, putting off my trip to Rockaway till tomorrow. On the way, I was approached by a TV camerawoman, Vivien Lee, from NY1, who asked me if I was one of those stockholders who were panicking and selling off. I told her I was not, that I figured the market would go back up again. I said I had my head stuck deep in the sand. I don’t think they’ll put that on TV.

If I had been smart, I would have kept my money in this low-interest but stable fund that I can’t even remember the name of, because I don’t like risk, but I got swindled by some jerk at Merrill Lynch and saw my little nest egg dwindle in the dot-com crash. I moved it, out of hatred for Merrill Lynch, saw it grow again, and now I have a system: Never open financial mail at night. I don’t want to ruin the evening by agonizing over bad financial news. If I put it off till morning, chances are, in the rush to get to the office, I’ll forget about it. Same thing the next day: the conscious decision not to open the envelope at night, followed by the unconscious failure to open the envelope the next morning. One day, when I’m in a bad mood anyway, I rip open all the envelopes and contemplate suicide. But not today.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Auto Atonement

On this day of atonement (Yom Kippur), I have a confession to make. When that state trooper stopped me on I-80 last month—when I saw his lights flashing in my rearview mirror and immediately, like a law-abiding citizen, pulled onto the shoulder to hang my head for speeding—I remembered my puzzlement on examining my driver's documents (license, registration, insurance card) and seeing that my insurance had expired in June, 2008. Surely I’d paid the premium … but where was the proof? And what was I doing on the road without it?

The trooper, who drove an unmarked car (except that all those unmarked cars are so arch-conservative-looking), asked for my license, registration, and, of course, insurance card. Then he asked, pleasantly, for my current insurance card. I riffled through the glove compartment—at one point, I had put all my documentation in there, in case the friend I left the Eclair with while I was in the Azores wanted to drive her—but came up empty. He returned to his car and came back on my passenger side to hand me the tickets and explain it all. He had the neatest handwriting—the tickets were perfectly legible, except for his signature. He explained that, although I had been speeding, he was ticketing me for the lesser offense of windshield obstruction and showed me the exact address where I should send the money. Then he wrote down the phone number of the magistrate and told me to call and get the magistrate’s fax number and within ten days fax proof that I had insurance—“and I believe you do,” he added. The fine for not having insurance is substantial: $350. For that I could spend a full week in the beautiful Hotel Millheim.

I was trying to envision where the insurance card was. There was no point in telling the officer all the details of my complicated life (“See, I stay at the beach in the summer, but my mailing address is in Manhattan …”), and I could remember paying the insurance premium ... almost. I remember adding up my car expenses, and the fact that insurance was the major one, and thinking I was being overcharged and that it was time to shop around. At home, I found the file of envelopes from the insurance company, and sure enough, there, unopened, was the most recent, postmarked May 07 2008, and stamped in red: “IMPORTANT: Insurance Policy, ID Cards and Bill Enclosed.” Who pays any attention to that?

So I made the call and sent the fax first thing the next day—I also paid the (not) speeding ticket—and before the week was out I got in the mail a notice from the Magisterial District Judge withdrawing the charge of “OPER VEH W/O REQ’D FINANC RESP.” And, of course, I put the new card in my wallet. So now I am right with the State of Pennsylvania.

Luckily, when the officer stopped me, my right headlight hadn’t yet popped out of its duct-tape bandage. Nor did he say anything about the cooked-tar odor coming from under the hood, which turned out to be a transmission leak. I called the mechanic yesterday to find out if it had been fixed (it had) and how much it cost: only forty dollars. “What, did you use chewing gum?” I asked. “No,” he said. “It was a line—it happens a lot.” I will pick up the car tonight or over the weekend, in time to celebrate Columbus Day and Succoth.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

More Waterfalls

Since this is the last week of the New York Waterfalls, and there are four of them, and seeing them all was part of their appeal, I thought I'd post another waterfall photograph. This one, of the falls in Red Hook, Brooklyn, was taken from the Rockaway Ferry early in the morning. Someone asked me if I'd seen the art "behind" the waterfalls. I didn't know what he was talking about, but it made me start looking. I liked the way the sun, at that hour, made the structure for the falls, the pipes (a fountain, really), cast shadows on the falling water.

Monday, October 6, 2008


I drove out to Rockaway last Saturday, and before I left, Dee, who was in town for a concert, offered to move her car into my spot in the Sanctuary to hold it for me. It’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done to support my parking obsession! I told her she didn’t have to, though, because my plans were in a state of flux, and I would take my chances.

There was an article in last Saturday’s Times occasioned by the overlap between Rosh Hashana and Id al-Fitr, by a woman with the wonderful byline Jennifer 8. Lee, which contained some interesting history about alternate-side parking as well as the excellent suggestion that alternate-side parking rules be suspended for the entire thirty-day period of Ramadan and the information that the only people who don’t like it when alternate side is suspended are the bosses in the D.O.T. who have to reassign the guys who drive the street sweepers. Surely they can think of something else to clean.

Also it was reported in the Wave that the American Princess, the ferry to Rockaway, blew her engine last Wednesday during the morning run. New York Water Taxi is putting another boat on the route, probably one of the yellow-and-black checkered catamarans. I would have loved to be on the ferry to witness this little maritime disaster: to see how the crew handled it, who towed them, where they got towed to, etc. I miss the ferry and the crew and New York Harbor. I even miss the faux waterfalls.

The New York Waterfalls, by the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, are getting cut off next Monday, October 13. I found myself recommending them to some visitors from Italy, so I guess I like them, though I came to them from real waterfalls in Flores (below), worthy of King Kong. I am not ashamed to say that I am a waterfall snob, but I am also a big fan of plumbing.

In Rockaway, I intended to go on a historic bungalow tour that I saw a notice for in the Wave several weeks ago. (There was a typo in the headline: “BUNGLOW.” I couldn’t decide whether to pronounce it Bung Low or Bun Glow.) But then I remembered that I lived in a “bunglow” and I ought to be ON the historic bungalow tour. So instead of reporting on the historic bungalows, I offer this link to a cut of the documentary “The Bungalows of the Rockaways,” by Jennifer Callahan and Elizabeth Logan Harris. The filmmakers hope it will be shown on PBS in its entirety when it is done.

My first stop in Rockaway was the mechanic’s. I finally had to admit that the smell I’d been smelling, all across Ohio, of burning rubber or petroleum or something bad cooking, was coming from me and not from the guys spreading blacktop or making asphalt repairs who appeared by coincidence, for me to blame it on, everywhere I drove. It started on the L.I.E. a few weeks ago, when I felt a jolt—something pretty solid hit the right rear tire—but the car kept going and seemed to be all right. I told the mechanic, and I tried to describe the smell, but said I didn't know if there was any connection. He came out to the car, sniffed, and said, “I can smell it.” He opened the hood, and then crouched down under the car. (All the pens fell out of his pocket.) “What did you hit?” he asked. I don’t know, but apparently there were parts of it stuck under there (it wasn’t an animal).

While he was under the car, I thought to tell him that when I started up the car that morning, and pressed the accelerator to pick up speed, the engine didn’t respond. I had to pump it a few times. “That’s the transmission, isn’t it?” I said, and he said yes, he could see the leak. He couldn’t do anything about it right away (mechanics like to get out of the garage early on Saturday), but I gave him the spare key and said I’d park the car in the lot later. “Write this down!" he yelled to someone inside. "Tranny leak.”

Baby Dee's Fall Tour

Baby Dee played a concert in New York last Friday, at the Knitting Factory. The opening act was Dorit Chrysler, who plays theremin. She looked like a wizard, plucking the air around these two radio antennas and making them sing. Playing with Dee was Maxim Moston, a violinist, who studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music and plays with Antony and the Johnsons and at Radio City Music Hall for the Christmas show.

Dee's show on Friday had an intimate feel. You could hear every word of the lyrics. It reminded me of the show in Madrid last March, partly because two people who had been at that show in Madrid, Annie Bandes (a.k.a. Little Annie Anxiety) and Maude, one of Dee's faithful European roadies, were there.

The next day, Dee was off to Washington. Here are the dates of her fall tour. My favorite segment is the one that takes her from Gabriola, in British Columbia, on November 16, to Riga, Latvia, on November 20.

Sun Oct 5 Washington, DC National Museum of Women in the Arts
Mon Oct 6 Charlottesville, VA Gravity Lounge
Tue Oct 7 Newport, KY Southgate House
Wed Oct 8 Detroit, MI Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit
Thu Oct 9 Chicago, IL Hideout
Fri Oct 10 Cedar Rapids, IA Legon Arts
Sat Oct 11 Dubuque, IA Monks Kaffee Pub
Sun Oct 12 Minneapolis, MN Kitty Cat Klub
Tue Oct 14 Kansas City, MO Record Bar
Wed Oct 15 Austin, TX Emo's
Thu Oct 16 Houston, TX Orange Show Center
Fri Oct 17 Fort Worth, TX Fort Worth Modern Art Museum
Sun Oct 19 New Orleans, LA One-Eyed Jacks
Fri Oct 24 Atlanta, GA Eyedrum
Sat Oct 25 Knoxville, TN The Pilot Light
Sun Nov 16 Gabriola, BC, Canada Phoenix Auditorium
Thu Nov 20 Riga, Latvia Dirty Deal Cafe
Fri Nov 21 Vienna, Austria Bluebird Festival
Sat Nov 22 Athens, Greece Diavlos Music House
Sun Nov 23 Athens, Greece Diavlos Music House
Tue Nov 25 Aberdeen, Scotland Tunnels
Wed Nov 26 Glasgow, Scotland Arches
Thu Nov 27 Birmingham, UK Glee Club
Sat Nov 29 Coventry, UK Taylor Johns
Sun Nov 30 Brighton, UK Freebutt
Mon Dec 1 London, UK Festival Hall
Sandy Denny Tribute
Tue Dec 2 London, UK Union Chapel
Thu Dec 4 Galway, Ireland Rosin Dubh
Fri Dec 5 Dublin, Ireland Whelan's

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


This was blooming in New York City on the first day of October, and though it's not a great picture, it seemed to me remarkable. I have never seen magnolias bloom in the fall before.

The Mayor has been all over the papers this week, having decided to bust through the term limits and run for a third term. I guess he thinks we need him, what with the economic crisis and all. His work has just begun. Actually, those little pedestrian strips he's creating at the Crossroads of the World? Another mayor would bulldoze right over them.

The mobile surveillance tower in Bloomberg's Broadway bench zone has moved to the other side of Forty-second Street, where it takes up less pedestrian room. The best use I've seen so far of the tables and benches was by a homeless person. He was just resting there, among the tourists, with all his worldly goods in a post-office-issue canvas bin-on-wheels. Tourists sit on the benches, taking a break from hauling their luggage between the train station and a hotel. I wonder what it's going to look like in the winter. Will someone shovel? Or will they use it to pile up the snow from the street?

Bloomberg has all three New York papers in his pocket, and of course he has a lot of money, so he could buy the city, if he wanted. He doesn't have (and here's the rub) too much competition. One guy who wants the job is Anthony Weiner, a congressman whose district includes Rockaway. Weiner is a little guy, and hard to take seriously. (Mayor Weiner?) Another contender is the City Council president, Christine Quinn. We can probably wait four more years before having our first lesbian mayor.

I must admit that none of what the Mayor has done so far has seemed too onerous to me. I'm a little worried about those windmills. It has already been decided that they'll be built off the coast of Queens, but they are supposed to be far enough offshore that they won't ruin the view from the beach. I'm still not convinced about the people sanctuaries. I think Bloomberg thinks it's cosmopolitan, something the French do, have places for people to sit outside. I told my hairdresser this (he's French), and he said, Yes, but not in the Champs-Elysées.

Here is the evil-eye that I got the ticket in Pennsylvania for.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy New Year 5769!

I have to admit that I returned to the city this fall with a certain degree of reluctance: instead of being on the Rockaway ferry, gazing out at New York Harbor, I would be sitting in the Éclair, looking at the back of an S.U.V. But a wise person said to me, “Once you cross that bridge”—meaning, in this case, the George Washington—“you’ll find you have inner resources.” And she was right. I found that beautiful spot in the Sanctuary.

Last week, I got an e-mail from the D.O.T. reminding me that alternate-side parking would be suspended for religious holidays Tuesday and Friday (Rosh Hashana and Id al-Fitr). The Sanctuary is a Monday/Thursday spot, a circumstance that has increased my religious feeling for those days of the week. I fully intended to use the car over the weekend and look for a Tuesday/Friday spot when I returned. But the weather was not such that it inspired me to go to Rockaway (I asked myself “Beach or boat?” and the answer came back: “Movie”). So I stayed in the Sanctuary, though I would have liked to observe the Jewish New Year and Id al-Fitr (I think this is the holiday when the Muslims get new clothes for the pilgrimage to Mecca, but I could be wrong).

Today I was inspired to pluck my Alternate-Side Parking Rules off the refrigerator and prepare for the new season. No wonder I draw inspiration from autumn in New York: Rosh Hashanah kicks off several months of good parking. Next Thursday (Oct. 9) is Yom Kippur, the following Monday is Columbus Day, followed immediately by Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simhat Torah (though this last falls on Wednesday and doesn’t do me any good); then comes Diwali, on Tuesday, October 28, and All Saints Day (this falls on Saturday, following what is sure to be a Sarah Palin Halloween—the streets will be littered with wigs); then Election Day (can it finally happen after this eternal campaign?) and Veterans Day, both Tuesdays, which brings us to Thanksgiving, the Immaculate Conception (Monday, Dec. 8th), overlapping with Il al-Adha (Monday-Wednesday, Dec. 8-10), and Christmas. What a whirl!

Many of these holidays fall on Tuesday, so I am going to have to adjust. I sat in the car yesterday (Monday) for a half hour, telling myself that even though I hadn’t scored a completely free pass for the week by finding a Tuesday/Friday spot, it wasn’t so bad to get out early and guzzle a latte in the car, and I was resigned to do the same on Thursday. But this morning I took another look at that e-mail from the Mayor: I had misread it. The Mayor’s missive says, “Alternate side parking (street cleaning) regulations will be suspended on Tuesday-Friday, September 30-October 3, for holiday observance of Rosh Hashanah (September 30-October 1) and Idul-Fitr (October 1-3).” So I don't have to sit in the car on Thursday—I am good in the Sanctuary for the rest of the week. What a difference a hyphen makes!

Friday, September 26, 2008


It has been so long since I found a spot in the Sanctuary that I forgot whether I had to be there from 8 to 8:30 or from 8:30 to 9 on Thursday morning. Naturally, it was better to be there at 8, and, also naturally, as I sat in the car and gradually noticed that no one was sitting in any of the other cars, I looked up and saw that the sign said 8:30-9. It’s almost too civilized.

So I took a walk to the drugstore, bought some things I needed (razor blades, shaving cream) and resisted some things I didn’t need (O, The Oprah Magazine; “Live your best life”—it depressed me), picked up the Times (which also depressed me, with its disastrous financial news), and stopped at a flea market that has sprung up in a pedestrian area, a sort of piazza, west of the Sanctuary. A woman was arranging items that she said had been used in catalogue shoots but were otherwise brand-new. For five dollars, I got a straw-colored linen top that I would change into at the first opportunity. Then I went and sat in the car. Again.

A week ago, I woke up in Millheim, Pennsylvania, at the Millheim Hotel. Millheim is about halfway through Pennsylvania, on Route 45, which is parallel to I-80. I had left New York on Wednesday afternoon, having decided to stretch the trip to Ohio over two days, and arrived at the Millheim just at dusk. You walk through the restaurant (which was packed) to the bar at the back and ask the bartender for a room. The Millheim, which is more than two hundred years old, is under new management, and the bartender must be new to innkeeping, because when he explained that the bathrooms were communal (I knew this) he added that I was the only guest. A seasoned innkeeper probably wouldn’t let you know that you were the only guest.

For fifty dollars, he gave me a room with windows onto the fine broad balcony over 45. Unfortunately, the windows didn’t open, but I could sit out on the balcony, even though it was under construction. In one corner of my room was a birdcage with a bird perched in it. I wasn’t sure whether it was a toy or a specimen of taxidermy, but it was certainly not a live bird. It was a Monty Python bird. I decided to put it out of sight, and as I lifted the cage off its stand to set it on the floor, the bird flipped and swung upside down from its perch, clinging by its tiny wired claws.

Before settling in, I took a walk. Parallel to Route 45 is a narrow road along a stream with a thriving population of ducks. A woman and a little boy were out there with a loaf of sliced bread feeding the ducks, trying to make sure the ducklings got their share before the big ducks swooped in.

There is always something going on at the Millheim Hotel. I had missed Lobster Night (every Tuesday), and regrettably would not be in town for the Goose Dinner (the following weekend). “It’s Pizza Night,” the bartender told me. “If you order a pizza, you get a free pitcher of beer.” I was just one person—what was I going to do with an entire pizza? One of the regional specialties, advertised over the bar, was a Cheese and Bologna Plate. One of that night's specials was the Pennsylania Dutch Pizza, which comes with steak and brown gravy.

When I'd had enough pizza (mushroom and pepper), the bartender let me take the pitcher upstairs and quaff beer on the balcony, and it was while sitting out there, with a waning but still substantial moon in the east, thinking about ducks and watching traffic come around the bend on 45—horse-and-buggies (there is a large Amish population in Penns Valley), a semi carrying a load of hay—and pondering the meaning of a sign across the street that said Hamper to Hanger (. . . oh, it was a laundromat), that it came to me: Millheim is not named after some eponymous founder, one Herr Millheim; its name is Pennsylvania Dutch for Home of the Mill.

In the morning, I went looking for a cup of coffee, and this is my only complaint about Millheim: no coffee. There was a café down the street, but it is for nightlife. The only store that was open was the butcher; it had a sign in the window advertising Homemade Bologna and a smokehouse in the back. I had a chance to look at the town’s new mural, which I’d noticed on the way in and read about in the local paper, the Bellefonte Gazette: “Millheim Celebrates Intersection of Art, History and Culture.” The mural, designed by Elody Gyekis and realized by her and a group of local volunteers, takes the form of a trompe-l’oeil quilt hanging on a trompe-l’oeil clothesline. It’s full of wonderful details: cows, local produce, elaborate church towers, Victorian porches—“icons of Millheim and Penns Valley.” Along the top border, as if rolling down Route 45, are a horse-and-buggy followed by a car followed by a skateboard. A millstream pours down onto the sidewalk.

I hit the road, and while negotiating a detour I found a country store. I asked a codger sitting out front if there was coffee inside, and he said he thought there was a fresh pot. The grocer greeted me with “Howdy-do.” He had only one size cup—50 cents. “I don't have any heavy coffee drinkers,” he said. “Only sippers.” I thought about taking two, but I wasn't sure I liked his emphasis on the word “heavy.”

That detour was short, but it led to a longer detour, and it was a while before I got back on I-80. And it was shortly after that that I got stopped by the state trooper and ticketed for my evil-eye worry beads.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Did you know it’s against the law in Pennsylvania to have worry beads hanging from your rearview mirror? It counts as a windshield obstruction. They won't stop you for worry beads, but if a state trooper happens to see you, say, speeding on I-80, he might, if you are lucky, write you up for worry beads instead, and save you $72 and points on your license. In gratitude, I kept it under 75 for the rest of the trip.

I also took a few detours on scenic routes. This was in on Route 6, in Ohio, alongside Lake Erie:

An alpaca looks like a cross between a sheep and a camel. It looks like something out of a fantasy novel, like those animals with seedpod wheels in "The Amber Spyglass," the third volume of the Philip Pullman trilogy.

Beyond the alpacas was a beautiful rose garden, and I doubled back to smell the roses. They were planted in a big round arrangement, like a mandala: red, yellow, white, coral, pink. This deep-pink rose was the sweetest, sweeter than Kool-Aid.

While smelling the roses, I heard mariachi music. I had stumbled onto the Lorain County Latino Celebration, in Lakeview Park. The singer, playing a guitarron (a jumbo guitar), was holding his high notes in shameless showoff fashion. Lorain, Ohio, calls itself "The International City," and between the mariachis and the alpacas, I was inclined to go along with it.

On the way home, back on I-80, just as I was getting into that part of Pennsylvania where traffic starts to build toward New York, there was a sign flashing the auspicious message “FAIR TRAFFIC.” I never thought of traffic in tidal terms before, but I guess the two rush hours are exactly that: the morning rush, or flood tide, starts at about 7:30; the ebb begins at perhaps 3:30 or 4. I was going against the tide, and with cars that is a good thing.

I arrived in Manhattan a little after 6 P.M. I can never decide, when I come back after a long trip, whether to go straight home and unload and worry about alternate side parking in the morning (once I get out of the car, I am not getting back in), or to cruise for a spot and carry my baggage several blocks. I decided to cruise, as K Street was not far out of the way (nothing), and then I might as well try the block where the good independent coffee shop used to be (nothing that wouldn’t make me feel like Cinderella’s stepsister trying to squeeze her big foot into a tiny glass slipper), and as long as I was fantasizing I visited the Sanctuary, where, lo and behold, even though the car in front of me turned into the cul-de-sac, with room for only seven cars, and paused as if to back up into a spot at the far end, miraculously it left the spot for me: the best possible parking place, good till eight o’clock on Thursday morning.

So I had to carry home a basket containing a rust-colored chrysanthemum with a crown of blossoms about a yard in diameter. It was worth it.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Clean, Shop, Park

I returned with the cats to Manhattan last Friday morning, and found a Tuesday-Friday 9:30-11 spot outside the good independent coffee shop, which is now closed, gone, defunct, kaput. Then I rushed home (via the bank) to await the bathtub reglazers. The apartment was an unholy mess, having been uninhabited most of the summer: dusty, sticky, stale. I needed a cleaning lady.

I’d been hoping for a Portuguese cleaning lady, because I noticed how clean the Portuguese island of Flores, in the Azores, was (except for the beach: I guess Azorean women don’t swim). My last cleaning lady was Polish, and she was a pro, but somehow, perhaps deliberately, I lost her number. I may be destined never to employ the same cleaning lady twice: they clean once and they know too much.

I asked a neighbor whom I ran into last week on the elevator if she knew the name of the blond girl on my floor who had given me the Polish cleaning lady’s number, thinking I must face down this peculiarity. She didn’t know the girl’s name, but her own cleaning lady happened to be in her apartment just at that moment. “Do you want to meet her?” she asked. Her cleaning lady is Peruvian, the sister of a porter in our building, who died suddenly a few years back. I can still picture him in the basement, energetically breaking down cardboard boxes and bundling them for recycling. Maybe she had his clean gene.

She arrived on Saturday morning, late, with a sore big toe. I ran to the store for proper equipment: rubber gloves (size medium), Clorox cleaner in a spray bottle, scratchy sponges, paper towels. She started in the kitchen, while I sorted my clothes in the bedroom and did the laundry. More than an hour later, she was still in the kitchen. I began to feel anxious. The laundry was in the dryer, and I was running out of things to do. I had already removed the brown paper and masking tape from around the blindingly white, freshly reglazed bathtub, and told her not to touch it (I had to wait twenty-four hours before using it: plenty of time for the reglazers to disappear into Queens with my $335 before I noticed the little nubs on the surface). She knew my vacuum cleaner better than I did, which was heartening. But it looked as if she was never going to get to the part where she mopped. I began to think there might be a reason that I had never heard of a Peruvian cleaning lady.

Finally, after vacuuming the bedroom, she requested the mop, and then she was done. “So,” I said, broaching the mercenary topic, “you’ve been here about four hours—”

“I no work by hour,” she said. Ah! That would forgive a lot of moving at one’s own pace. She considered briefly, and then said, “Eighty, for you.” She had not bustled around, but somehow everything was clean. She had handled all my little treasures—the tile from the Alhambra, the chicken Christmas ornament, the two mosaic-glass candleholders—and arranged them prettily, as my mother would have done. It took me a while to realize that I no longer had to move around my apartment in a spirit of recoil.

On her way out, lying in the hall between her and the door was Norbert, sprawled on his back with his hind legs splayed, airing his prosperous white belly. She got out her cell phone and took his picture.

I think I have a cleaning lady.


Too much excitement attended my return to the alternate-side-parking circuit. This morning I put on a new dress that I bought yesterday, the pink of certain French geraniums. I was parked in an ordinary 8:30-10 Monday-Thursday spot. I drove home first, to unload the trunk, which was full of things I had brought back from the beach. In my absence this summer, the Muni Meters went up. I attempted to feed two quarters into one, realizing that I wouldn’t be able to leave the windows rolled down because someone might steal the little piece of paper off my dashboard. The Muni Meter refused to admit my coins. A doorman told me it wasn’t working and pointed me to one up the street. I started out for it, clutching my quarters, and then decided that I might as well take my bags out of the trunk and ride up the elevator and drop them off in my apartment, which, after all, was on the way to the Muni Meter. Then, of course, as I had not yet gotten a ticket when I came out, I couldn’t resist pushing it by going across the street for a cup of coffee from the guy with the cart, and by the time I got to my car, two—not one but two—cops were giving a ticket to the truck that had pulled in behind me.

Back on Penny Lane (Italian barber, Chinese laundry, Greek coffee shop), the Broom had just passed, and I pulled in behind an S.U.V. with vanity plates, which had not moved. (Later I saw that it had a permit on its dashboard from the D.O.T. The agencies that make the rules are always the first to flout them.) It was hot, sitting out there facing east, once the sun rose over the high-rises. I had with me the ticket for my winter coat, which I left at the Chinese laundry last June. Occasionally in the summer I thought about my winter coat, but not with longing. I never had the ticket with me when I was near the Chinese laundry, and I wasn’t about to make a special trip. Belatedly I noticed the warning on the ticket: “Not responsible for items left over 30 days.” I was almost in front of the Chinese laundry, so I went in to see if they still had my winter coat. Eureka! The cost was $14. I gave the man a twenty and said he should keep the change, to cover the cost of storage. “Thank you,” he said, accepting graciously.