Thursday, March 27, 2008


I passed the Broom on the way to my car this morning, idling a block away from where I was parked, the driver resting behind the wheel. The car with the flap in the back, driven by the bicyclist, was still in front of me, the bike chained to the pole. Today I could see that the flap is more like a big ribbed plastic floormat, and it is not there accidentally: a heavy-duty cord runs through a hole on either side and both mat and cords are held in place by the trunk lid. I think it must be illegal to obscure your license plate like that.

Across the street, on that treacherous Tuesday-Friday side, were the dreaded signs—“No Parking Thursday,” “No Parking Friday”—as well as orange cones and blue police barricades. Directly across from us, a truck was standing where we’d all had the luxury of diagonal parking for a moment on Monday, its driver loitering on the sidewalk, waiting for something.

The Broom was flashing in my side-view mirror at 7:30 on the dot. The guy behind me, in a black pickup truck, rode up over the curb in reverse and parked on the sidewalk to get out of the way. I think that was my doing, because I backed up as soon as he backed up: I always like to get a little behind my spot, if possible, to increase my chances of getting back into it. (It turned out that the pickup truck was blocked by a dumpster behind it in the street.) I pulled over to the other side and backed up as close as I dared to a car whose owner, a trim white-haired woman, watched me warily from behind her wheel. The car ahead of me pulled over to the opposite corner, and the car ahead of him turned the corner onto the avenue, against one-way traffic. The truck driver stood on his tailgate, surveying the scene. He seemed amused, and after the Broom, our prima ballerina, had made its exit, and all of us cars in the corps de ballet had found our spots again—and the pigeons had swooped back and forth across the street—he came over to ask the guy in the pickup if we did this all the time.

Yesterday the Times had an editorial about congestion pricing in response to a recent announcement by the MTA (the folks who run the subway system) that they would not be making good on their promised improvements after all, despite the recent rise in the cost of a subway ride (not the flat two-dollar ride but the unlimited cards and the multiple-ride cards). The Times thinks income from congestion pricing is the answer. The plan has a lot of sticking points, though, and for the second time now the Mayor is pressing the State Legislature to approve it in time to meet a deadline (April 7th) for federal aid. It also has to be approved by the City Council. Meanwhile, the Muni Meters come marching on. There are still no actual meters affixed to the pedestals on my street. I am trying to memorize the position of the old parking meters to see what kind of scar is left when they get ripped out.

I was dying to ask the guy ahead of me what that flap on the back of his car was for, but at eight o’clock, when it was time to go, he remained seated in his car, with some paperwork spread out on his steering wheel. His car is his office, and he commutes to it by bike. Maybe the flap has something to do with the bike. Maybe he puts the bike in the trunk, but it doesn’t fit completely, so the mat absorbs the shock of it and protects the car’s finish. But why not just buy a bike rack? Perhaps it is against his religion.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Car Show

The New York International Auto Show is on now at the Jacob Javits Convention Center, and I spent an hour or so there yesterday afternoon. Mostly it was people taking pictures of shiny new cars, or sitting in them. Some of the cars were on turntables, others on deep-pile carpeting. The whole cavernous crystal palace reeked of new-car smell. The spokesmodels were dressed in excruciating outfits, some with skirts so short that they wore bicycle shorts under them, and tottered around on high, high heels, their hidden microphones throwing their voices way up in the air.

I made a beeline for the auto accessories pavilion. In Padua, this took up an area the size of an airplane hangar, and had everything from hubcaps and socket wrenches to fine leather driving gloves. The selection was not so grand at Jacob Javits: two aisles of the kinds of things you see advertised on late-night television. There were fake chamois cloths, nozzles, a purple solvent for washing eyeglasses (a young man offered to wash my eyeglasses, and as they were quite spotted I let him; I was impervious to his sales pitch, however, as I have my own method of using diluted Palmolive dishwashing detergent at home). There were vulgar license-plate holders, a model of a AAA tow truck, neckties (100% silk) printed with a map of the east coast of Florida. I bought an “optician approved” Lighted Superview Magnifier, for reading small print in the dark. There was a book called “Lots” put out by the city, listing all the parking lots by geographic area and amount of time you wish to leave your car. There was a cop-recruitment booth, manned by two women (I know that “man” is not the correct verb here, even though they were very macho women; one of them actually thumped her chest to show how brave and strong she was). I was going to ask them if they knew where I could get one of those parking permits the police use, but I thought better of it.

I looked in vain for either of the cars I would consider buying: a Mini Cooper or a Smart car. The Honda Civic that runs on natural gas piqued my interest. Instead of going to the gasoline station, you hook it up to the same supply that fuels your stove and hot-water heater at home. And it entitles you to drive in the car-pool lane. ($25,000)

My favorite exhibit was the Air Car. “Does it run on air, or does it fly?” I asked the guy at the exhibit. (I had eliminated the possibility that it was inflatable.) “It flies,” he said. Or, rather, it will fly: the brochure said, “The initial prototype is a non-flying but drive-able vehicle. It demonstrates solutions to problems inherent in building a car that flies and an airplane strong enough to drive on public roads.” The prototype has foldable wings and a canard in front. (Don’t ask me what a canard is; it has something to do with ducks and something to do with stability in aviation.) The idea is to drive to the airport, unfold your wings, fly to wherever you want to go, land, then fold your wings, stow your canard, and drive to your ultimate destination. You will have to have a pilot’s license to operate an Air Car. I wouldn’t want to be the test driver.

There was also something called the Tri-Fun, “The Ultimate 3 Wheel Vehicle.” It’s a tiny three-wheel truck, with “optional box.” I watched as someone described how you could make the box into a cooler. “This is just what we need,” a customer said. Tri-Fun has a showroom at City Cycles, on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn. The cost is $9,995 (plus freight—that would be the box). It’s cute.

The one booth where they were giving stuff away was the DMV, with two ladies filling in for Marge Simpson’s sisters Patti and Selma. Free pencils, key chains, red blinking lights for seat-belt awareness (one of these pulsed away in my purse all night), cheesy blue plastic holders for your driver’s license ... You could heap these freebies in a plastic shopping bag with “GOT PLATES?” stamped on it: a collector’s item in itself, because it bore the name of the newly deposed governor, Eliot Spitzer. Come to think of it, maybe that's why they were giving all this stuff away.

The New York car show was nowhere near as much fun as the one in Padua, but I am not exactly their target audience. Sipping a beer on the mezzanine, looking down on the lobby, I wondered why the exhibits included racks and racks of used coats—it looked like a flea market in Palermo. Then I realized: it was the coat check.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Parking today was easy. I found a spot yesterday at 6:15 P.M., at the far end of K’s St, and when I returned there this morning at 7:30 there were three cars in a space big enough for four. The sweeper was idling at the corner ahead; he started up, went around the block, and reappeared in my new side-view mirror. There was adequate curb space across the street for all of us to pull over diagonally and reverse into position after the broom swept by. Meanwhile a man had approached from ahead to ask us to make room for him. Everyone cooperated, and the new guy in the fourth car fit easily. We were all in place by 7:35.

At eight, the guy ahead of me got out and unlocked the bike fastened to the pole on the sidewalk between our cars. “You ride your bike to your car?” I said, teasing him. I was headed for the grocery store, on foot.

“Yeah,” he said. “I used to live on this block, but I moved.” He named a street about ten blocks away. “The bike is quicker.”

He had a wide sheet of something like tarpaper sticking out from under the lid of his trunk, hanging down behind his car, like a bed skirt, or a horse blanket, concealing his license plate. This is the first time anyone has admitted to me that he came from a different neighborhood to park here. I thought it was interesting that he felt he had to establish his neighborhood pedigree.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pope Phones It In

I have been soft pedalling the religious news lately, but now I'm opening all the stops. First there was the news, back in February, that the Pope had revised a prayer in the Good Friday service, Latin version, to express the wish that the Jews would be enlightened and recognize Jesus as the Savior. Conservative Jews disapproved, and said the prayer could set back relations between the two religions. The Times, however, noted, "Most Catholics worship in the vernacular, and their prayers will not be affected."

Then there was this bit on new sins, in March, also from the Times: "To its ancient list of sins like lust, gluttony and greed, the Roman Catholic Church has added pollution, mind-altering drugs and genetic experiments."

And today's glorious mysteries bring this A.P. item in the Times: Pope Stays Dry in Procession:
Pope Benedict XVI presided over the Good Friday night way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum in Rome during a driving rainstorm but did not carry the cross as planned. The pope wore a long white coat as he stood sheltered from the cold rain under a canopy on the Palatine HIll overlooking the Colosseum. At the end of the procession, Cardinal Camillo Ruini handed Benedict the tall, slender, lightweight cross, which the pope gripped briefly."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pretty Good Friday

A Lutheran friend, a minister, told me that Purim and Good Friday will not fall on the same day again for ninety-five years. Easter is as early as Easter gets. Orthodox Easter is more than a month off. I don't know the intricacies of the calendars, but the Last Supper was a Passover seder, so Orthodox Easter can't take place till after Passover.

The good thing about all this, besides the benefit to Alternate Side Parkers of having a double Easter, is that my Last Supper pillows, which I got out for Holy Week, can stay out for months now. They are a set of seven—two coffered ceilings, two under-the-table views, and three sets of apostles (double-sided)—cut from a tapestry I bought on Fourteenth Street. It's a long story, and I felt as if I were seriously deranged while making them. Originally, I thought I'd give them away, but it turned out I was the only one I knew who wanted Last Supper throw pillows. Besides, somebody would have had to get the Judas pillow.

I knew exactly what I was going to wear when I got up today. I had been looking forward to it. I put on my Topolino T-shirt, which is a third-class relic of Padre Pio (diluted). See, I bought a T-shirt featuring the Fiat 500, or Cinquecento, also known as the Topolino (LIttle Mouse), at the Padua car show, and had it with me when I sat in Padre Pio's Mercedes Benz. So the shirt, which is red, was a relic. Someone told me that if it was truly a relic, I couldn't wash it. At first it was fun not to wash it. It got stained, and I didn't mind. But then it started to itch. It began to feel like a hair shirt. I folded it up and put it away, but I don't have that many items of clothing that I really enjoy wearing, so I missed it. Finally, I decided to handwash it. Of course the fabric bled. Now Padre Pio is part of the whole cycle of drain and rain: he goes out to sea, condenses into clouds, rains in the mountains, and gets drunk.

This is news that the Times had not yet seen fit to print, but the Catholic Church (in its wisdom) has exhumed the body of Padre Pio, and will be putting it on display in a glass coffin to "celebrate" the fortieth anniversary of his death. The details are, not surprisingly, ghoulish. This from BBC News: "As soon as we got inside the tomb we could clearly make out the beard. The top part of the skull is partly skeletal but the chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved," said Archbishop Domenico D'Ambrosio. "If Padre Pio allows me, I might say he looks as though he just had a manicure." No sign of the stigmata.

I can't think why they had to dig him up. They don't have the excuse, as they did with Antony of Padua, that they wanted to make sure people were venerating the right remains: he died only forty years ago. Earlier this year, on February 11th, on the 100th anniversary of the first vision of Bernadette at Lourdes, a rib of Bernadette's was taken in solemn procession to the Vatican. I found this in questionable taste, because Bernadette's body was said to have been incorruptible. She died at the convent in Navarre where she went after attracting so much attention in Lourdes. The other nuns didn't like her very much, and she was sickly (and looked nothing like Jennifer Jones in the movie). Apparently just because her body was incorruptible didn't mean it was inviolable.

I wonder who is head of relics at the Vatican. I would make more savage fun of him, but then I remember that I am wearing this T-shirt. I think I'll keep it on till Sunday.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hold the Cabbage

Although St. Patrick's Day is not on the alternate-side parking calendar, it turns out to be an unofficial holiday—at least it was on my block. I arrived this morning for my 7:30-8 A.M. shift, and the parking pattern had bizarrely shifted. The cars of government officials and military personnel—naval units, infantry, United States Marine Band—were parked diagonally on one side of the street, displaying a breathtaking variety of permits, some of them expired.

I didn’t even bother getting inside my car, because it was obvious that the street sweeper (if he came) wouldn’t be able to get near the curb. I stood outside, drinking my coffee and admiring my new vent window in the back on the driver’s side and my new side-view mirror on the passenger’s side. I spent hours on Saturday afternoon tromping around in Far Rockaway while the auto-glass guys worked on my car. It is in good enough shape now that I might be able to offer a ride to the woman who sold it to me without her suffering a coronary.

Only one other person showed up this morning to tend a parking spot. I had the definite sensation of having been left out of the loop. I guess all the cops were marching in the parade, or warming up their bagpipes, or had gone to Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The street sweeper appeared at 8:47 and saw all the illegally parked cars, and just drove down the middle of the street and off the block. He, too, had the look of someone who had been left out of the loop.

Alternate side is officially suspended later this week on both Thursday and Friday (for Purim, and Holy Thursday and Good Friday), so I am good for the week. Once I was sure the car was secure, I went grocery shopping (oatmeal, juice, cat food), and paused in front of the cabbage. People think because you’re Irish you crave corned beef and cabbage. People are wrong. I associate cabbage with the kitchen of my childhood: the corned beef and the cabbage and the inevitable potatoes boiling away on the stovetop in March, like extract of claustrophobia, and I want out of there. The cabbage I was looking at was Chinese cabbage, or Napa cabbage; it is an ingredient in Marcella Hazan’s recipe for minestrone (I usually leave it out). I hefted a big sodden head of it; it was heavy, and had a few black specks on its outermost lower leaves. I had a vision of it two weeks from now in a plastic bag in my so-called vegetable crisper, totally liquefied. I put it back.

I subscribe to some of the Irish national vices, notably Guinness. But I don’t think I am ever going to develop a taste for cabbage.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Unholy Wednesday

I tried to fix the words in my mind: “That fucking idiot, you bastard”—words uttered (in my direction) by a white-haired woman at the wheel of a white S.U.V. first thing this morning. My offense: I had held up traffic, first to determine whether the guy who was opening the back door of a parked vehicle was going out (he was!) and then to claim that spot by backing up into a space alongside a fire hydrant across the street and letting the traffic go by as I waited for the guy to leave. A line of maybe four cars had built up behind me. It’s not nice to block traffic, but sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

This was a rare Wednesday that found me out cruising for a spot. No one moves on Wednesday, because, at least in my neighborhood, no one has to move. Last Sunday night I went to check up on the Eclair, parked on K.’s Street, and ended up moving it across the street into a Tuesday-Friday spot, for the sole reason that I was fed up after the break-in and wanted Monday off. I checked on it again Monday on my way to work, and the car was O.K. (the seal of duct tape had not been breached), but there was a lime-green sign on a pole that said “No Parking Wednesday.” I might have been tempted to ignore it, or tear it down, but I had a errands to run this morning anyway, so I resigned myself to moving the car, possibly even to the $15 parking lot. But before it came to that, I went on my usual rounds.

The only hope of finding a spot on a Wednesday is to happen on someone who is just going out. I was held up on one narrow street while someone five cars ahead of me blocked traffic waiting for a spot. Did I yell obscenities at him on my way past? I did not. I said to myself, Oh, that explains it. Clearly the lady who cursed at me keeps her car in a garage.

The new spot is a Tuesday-Friday spot, and I spent a lot of time going back and forth in it, nudging the car closer to the curb, so I was somewhat dismayed to notice, just as I had achieved perfection, a sign saying “No Standing—Temporary Construction Zone.” Then I noticed that the car behind me had a permit saying “Active Fire Fighter.” Above me, a guy in a cherry-picker was adjusting a street light. I got the attention of one of the workers in the construction zone and asked if this was an O.K. spot. He said yes. So the signs must have applied to the other side of the traffic island.

On the walk home (I was at least a half mile away), I noticed one of the city’s dying breed of parking meter revenue collectors at work. He has a little safe on wheels that he pulls along, and a ring of keys. “I’m not trying to rob you,” I said, coming up behind him. “I just want to see how this works. You can’t take any quarters?”

“Nope,” he told me. He turns a key in the meter and unlocks a cylinder that looks like a bright-orange Campbell’s soup can. He screws it into the safe and dumps the quarters. “Can’t get to the quarters.” He showed me how the cylinder can’t be removed until he has twisted it into position again. “See? No quarters.” He was a white guy, in a jacket and hooded sweatshirt, and he worked fast.

I found myself checking out the various parking permits on dashboards throughout the neighborhood. There sure are a lot of them! 142,000, according to the Times. There are handicapped permits, of course, and in Loading Zones and on blocks where there is no parking 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. there are lots of cars belonging to policemen working out of the local precinct. Some of them say “Authorized Parking” or “Official Business” or give the precinct number. Some cars just have a Policemen’s Benevolent Association insignia lying on the dashboard. There was one unusual-looking permit, and I went into the street to get a closer look at it: it turned out to be the takeout menu from a restaurant called Fatty Crab.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Muni Meters

Here is the guy frying on the top of the new Muni Meter pedestals on my street.

And here is the exquisite wording that someone chose for "Don't Steal This."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Jackpot … Not

I had a feeling Sunday morning about the Sanctuary, and I went out early—ten-fifteen, on the first day of daylight savings time, so it was really nine-fifteen—to see if I could find a better place for the week. I walked by way of the 7:30-8 block where I have often had good luck. What a bonanza! There were five free places. I hustled to my car, two blocks away. The cars on both side of it were different. And my car had a shattered rear vent window on the driver’s side, damn it. Someone had broken in, pulled out the ashtray and spilled the contents of the glove compartment. They didn’t take the chair in the back seat—the little Italian chair that still hasn’t made it to the caner—and miraculously they didn’t find my new CD player with its nifty adapters, or the cache of CDs, under the comforter artlessly flung on the back seat and covering the floor. Small triumph.

So I drove around the block back to what I used to call K Street, because my friend K lives on it. (I stopped calling it that because I’ve been mad at K. The truth is that he is not a good enough friend to take an interest in the car of a friend who parks regularly on his street. And he plays the ukulele.) The last time my car got broken into, a year ago Halloween, it happened on this block. I took the first free spot, just past the Muni Meter, but noticed that the alternate-side sign is gone (an ominous development). I did a shoddy job of taping an old plastic bag—two old plastic bags, one black and one clear—over the window with packing tape. I fully intended to leave it just like that, and go about my business, which was to take a walk down by the river. But now I had a pit in my stomach the size of a bowling ball: this is anger. Grrrr. It’s not hunger—I know because I had just eaten a hot bowl of oatmeal. Grrrr. It is the urge to kill tangled up with the urge to eat. Grrrr.

So I carried the Italian chair and my petite sound system and CDs back home, and returned to the car with a pair of scissors and a cardboard box top that I’d painted with the ravishing blue of my bedroom, for the long-winded purpose of taking with me if I should go visit a friend who has offered to make curtains, or maybe a bedspread, or pillow covers, for my bedroom. Luckily, I had recently bought a fresh roll of duct tape. I put a patch on from the inside, using half the cardboard, then I went around and peeled off the temporary plastic-bag patch. It was too shabby even for me. I’d found another clear plastic bag in the car, and I covered the other half of the box top with that and taped it over the window from the outside. I did not clean up the glass.

This has got me so pissed off. I am going to Rockaway this weekend, to get my sideview mirror fixed, and now, instead of taking the job to the mechanic, I will ask the guys at Far Rockaway Auto Glass to attach the mirror, too. This sounds very familiar. Lent seems to require a trip to Far Rockaway Auto Glass. Usually I take a break from the alternate-side-parking routine in winter, and now I have the definite sensation of having stayed too long.

But what a dazzling day. I went for my deferred walk, although as I was not feeling peaceful and serene it was more of a forced march. I couldn’t resist going by way of the Sanctuary, and there, right smack dab in the middle, like bitter gall, was the sweetest parking spot you've ever seen. In my thrill over hitting the jackpot on K Street, I had forgotten to check out the Sanctuary, where the Éclair would have been much safer. Where she is, a homeless person would be crazy not to sleep in her. I did take the comforter out of the back seat and stash it in the trunk, to make it less inviting. While I was feeling sorry for myself, waiting for the light to change, I turned around and noticed a little red car whose whole front end was held together by peeling duct tape. She was much worse off than the Éclair.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Early Signs

In my madness, rather than double park today, I left the block where I had an 8:30-10 spot and drove to a secret place where you have to move your car only once a week. Sadly, this tactic failed to produce a miracle, so I parked temporarily in a 9:30-11 spot, took a walk by the river, bought coffee on the street for 65 cents (all I had on me was 70 cents), and miscalculated how long it would take me to return to the car and get in position for a legal 10 o’clock spot. I got back at 9:20; the Broom had passed, and on the first block I cruised, there was nothing. As I turned the corner to the next block, I found myself touching the evil-eye worrybeads that hang from my rearview mirror. There is nothing like needing a parking spot to make me fall back on religion.

This block had filled up, too, but there was a space I thought I could fit into between a pickup truck and a Nissan Maxima. I hopped out to ask the driver of the pickup truck, east of a fire hydrant, if he would mind moving back a little. “I’m already at the yellow line,” he said. I checked and reported to him that he had two feet. Then I approached the Nissan, hoping it didn’t belong to that young woman whose license plate I accidentally crumpled last week. No, this was an older woman, on her cell phone, who fumbled to roll down her window—she had to turn the key in the ignition first; damn those automatic windows—and who was very agreeable.

However, as I am extremely careful, for the moment, not to bump the cars of my fellow-parkers, I got wedged halfway into the spot and couldn’t complete the maneuver. I left the car there, half in, half out, and ran ahead to the two cars in front of the Nissan and asked their drivers to please pull up a little. After what seemed like an eternity, all three cars complied, and I slipped into my spot. It was 9:23.

The rearview mirror offered the best view today: the familiar neighborhood storefronts, their signs reversed, receding into the distance: copy shop, TV repair, Chinese laundry, barbershop, parking lot with concertina wire. A black Mitsubishi Eclipse passed, went around the block and reappeared in the rearview, its driver entreating the person on the other side of the fire hydrant to give him an inch. I recognized the Eclipse owner as one of the waiters at the Greek diner on the corner. He was in that spot so snug that you couldn’t have dropped a slice of toast between the two cars.

There was a front-page article in today’s Times following up on the Mayor’s plan to rescind parking placards for employees of various city agencies (here). I was not surprised to see it, because I seem to recall that something was going to happen in March. I did not find much new in the article, except that some of the placards out there belong to ex-Mayors Koch, Dinkins, and Giuliani (it must be hard, once you’ve enjoyed full mayoral parking privileges, to go back to being an ordinary citizen). The biggest whiners are auxiliary police, who volunteer and don’t think it’s fair that they should have to pay to park if they are not getting paid to patrol. Plus, they have to buy their own doughnuts.

So far, the only sign of parking reform in my neighborhood is the appearance of pedestals for Muni Meters. The Muni Meters, which are electrified (they dug up the sidewalk to lay wire for them), have yet to be installed, but when they are, they will make street parking more expensive and more sophisticated. They will also make the old parking meters obsolete.

I wonder what will become of the old parking meters. Will they chop them off at street level and dump them in the ocean? Create an artificial reef? Or donate them to some country where the parking technology is a generation or two behind—say, Cuba? And what will happen to the people who collect the quarters from the parking meters? I have seen them on the street, mostly black guys, trundling buckets with special cylindrical spouts that clamp on to the meters to receive the quarters. Actually, it doesn't look like a bad job for someone who likes to be outside and not have anyone looking over his shoulder. Wouldn't hurt to have a fetish for small change. The Muni Meters will take coins, and issue little slips to lay on your dashboard. So perhaps we needn't worry yet about the decline of the parking meter revenue collector.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Spring Break

Today’s parking adventure was pretty much split-second timing. I painted the fourth wall of my bedroom—I dithered so much over the weekend, deciding between White Satin and No. 7330, that it was dark by the time I got to the third wall, opposite the window, and I couldn’t see whether any color was going on or not. That was the White Satin. This morning, in the light, it was so pale that if I hadn't known I'd put paint on that wall I wouldn’t have been able to tell that I’d painted it at all. That was what decided me on what color to paint the fourth wall, opposite the door: definitely the deeper blue, No. 7330. It also has a name (something stupid like Blue Boy), but I think of it as Ravishing Blue. It is exactly the color I wanted, the color of pale-blue hydrangeas, and the only reason that I didn’t paint the whole room that color is that I was afraid if there was too much of it, it wouldn’t be so ravishing.

My car was in an 8:30-10 spot. I thought about moving it yesterday to a less time-consuming spot, but it would have been too time-consuming. This morning I considered going out early to see if I could score a 7:30-8 spot, but what are the chances? I even thought of moving it to the lot by the river ($15), and then going home and painting. Instead, at 7:30 I decided to attack the fourth wall. By 8:20 I had finished and dashed out in my paint clothes and moved the car to a meter (50 cents) in front of my building. I had thirty minutes to stop at the store for cat litter and skim milk (the two perennial items on my grocery list), wash and change for work, make coffee (poured half in a cup and half in a thermos), and blast back out to the car before the meter ran out, at 9:10. I got to my chosen block—the one where the violence broke out (I decided I really ought to give the block where I banged into that woman a rest)—at the optimal time: the Broom had passed and there were still a few choice places left. I took the first one I saw, of course, just west of a fire hydrant, east of the barbershop and the Chinese laundry, in front of a copy shop. There was a Mini Cooper behind me.

Finally I got to enjoy my morning coffee. (The coffee I put in the cup I never got around to drinking.) Sitting in the car for fifty minutes with the Times and a thermos of coffee might seem like a waste of time to some people, but to me, after a weekend devoted to home improvement, it felt like a much needed vacation, from paint fumes, if nothing else. It was spring weather, and I could bask in the knowledge that I'd found the perfect shade of blue. I got a lot of conflicting advice while I was choosing a color. My friend G. came over and examined paint chips with me, and after an arduous session with two hundred colors and a dozen pictures of wisteria (and a few shots of gin) we settled on Hydrangea and Naples Sunset. G. instructed me to put the darker color on the back wall: it would make the room recede and look deeper. Another friend, the Catwoman of Rockaway, told me that if I was thinking of using two colors I should put the paler shade on a wall that got the light, and the room would look bigger. My bedroom gets direct light in the winter for about twenty minutes at two in the afternoon. It hits the bed (the cats love it), never reaching the back wall. Otherwise, I get only refracted light in there, the sun bouncing off the windows in the high alley of receding buildings that is the view from my south-facing window.

Anyway, I bought a quart of Hydrangea and a quart of Naples Sunset and dabbed both shades on two walls: they were hideous. We had failed to take into account the difference between studying paint chips under a reading light in the living room and living with deep colors on whole walls of a bedroom that is already dim. It didn't help that my splashes were in the shape of huge molars. It also doesn't help that I am so susceptible to the names they give the colors. I am always evaluating the name instead of the color. Give me Billowing Clouds! Give me Spring Lilac! Blueberry Ice! Ocean Breeze! I would never have chosen Little Boy Blue, or whatever, if the name had been on the front of the sample instead of discreetly on the back.

At 9:40 a black Maxima with a Jamaica bumper sticker pulled into the space by the hydrant. The Jamaican (I assume) got out and walked back along the line of cars, judging how much space we were wasting. Jamaicans are good at conserving space. They have to be: they live on an island, and one not connected by bridge and tunnel to more spacious places. The Jamaican went from car door to car door, working like a diplomat to get everyone to back up and make room for him. In the end, he fit with ease.