Friday, November 20, 2009

Son of Plumber

“The mayor and his aides are extremely sensitive about his luxury lifestyle.” Quoth the Times on Mayor Bloomberg’s victory celebration, at an exclusive restaurant in Paris.

I don’t think the Mayor will be getting a lot of sympathy on this issue from the hoi polloi, especially since he came out against a bill, before the City Council, that would give the little people who park at meters and observe alternate-side parking a five-minute grace period before getting ticketed. Now that he is in his last and final terminal term, Mayor Bloomberg has no reason to court us wee voters anymore, and it’ll be No more Mr. Nice Guy. Our days of sleeping in when it snows are over.

The parking has been easy for me lately. I came back from Rockaway last Friday evening, having seen the ocean under the influence of a nor’easter, and slid into a Tuesday-Friday spot. Returning to the car on Tuesday morning—at eight-thirty sharp—instead of double-parking and sitting in the car for an hour and a half, I adjusted my attitude and went hunting for a Monday-Thursday spot. I found a beauty, on a street I haven’t parked on in ages.

On Thursday I had an appointment with the plumber in Rockaway, to turn off the water in the bungalow for the season. It always makes me sad to turn off the water. For one thing, I know that as soon as I turn off the water, the temperature will go up to sixty degrees. But the longer I wait, the more likely it is that a routine procedure will turn into an emergency, and the plumber and I will be out there between the bungalows in icy sleet and gale winds, our fingers frozen around frigid wrenches. Brrrrrr.

As it is, this year I waited so long to call that when the plumber called me back he was already in Florida. But at least he called back. He said his son Gary would turn off the water for me. Jimmy the plumber is bound to retire one of these years, so I figured it was just as well to begin the transition. I got everything prepared for Gary, and even started the job myself, cutting off the gas to the hot-water heater and fitting the key over the underground valve to turn the water off, a feat that, to my utter amazement, I accomplished in one swift try. (I used to allow three hours for this blind maneuver alone.) I was trying to connect a hose to the hot-water heater to drain it when Gary showed up, with a pump and a better hose. We went about our business, flushing toilets and opening valves and removing plugs.

It had started to mist a little. “I told my father, ‘It always rains when we turn Mary’s water off,’” Gary said. I loved the way he talked about his father. He said his father has earned those winters in Florida.

Gary went back to the truck for the compressor that he uses to pump any standing water out of the pipes. “Feel this,” he said, letting me heft the vintage gizmo. It was heavy, all right. “It’s copper and brass.”

“A family heirloom,” I said. “So are you in business with your father?”

“I take his calls in the winter,” he said. “I’m an accountant. My business is accountancy.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, you’ll never starve.”

Gary saw that I had been working from notes, and before he left he told me to check my list. Let’s see, red plug in waste pipe, check. Antifreeze in traps, check. Antifreeze in toilets, tanks. “Did you put antifreeze in the tanks?” I asked. He said it wasn’t necessary, and I could see that he’d scooped every last drop of water out of the tanks. “You want me to pour some in?” he said, taking the jug of antifreeze from me. “Will it make you feel warm and fuzzy?”

I had filled a bucket with hot soapy water, like a proper cleaning lady, and after Gary left I mopped my way out the door. Both of us had left muddy footprints. I emptied the bucket in the storm drain on the street. Then I moved the car to the next block, into a Thursday 8:30-10 spot, where it will be good for two weeks. I seem to have decided to stay in town or take trains over the holiday. Then, instead of getting on the train, I walked up the boardwalk to the next station up. The iffy weather was getting worse. A few bouquets were tied around a pole, a tribute to a surfer who drowned last week. It had been a horrible story: the leash on his board got wrapped around some underwater pilings and trapped him underwater. There was a hand-printed sign on a pole that said “Memorial Services for Alessandro Will Be Held at Cassese Funeral Home at 101-07 101 Avenue, Ozone Park, 6 PM-9PM. All Are Welcome.” There were a few surfers in the water.

At the train station, I found out that the shuttle wasn’t stopping there—they are reconstructing the 90th Street station—and I had to ride back in the direction I’d come from, cross over, and ride back up again. The weather got worse and worse. It took forever to get home.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Plan C (continued)

When I woke up this morning, the Éclair was still way across town in a spot that was good till nine. I wanted to get over there early so I could get back to my side of town in time to snare an 8:30-10 spot. I left the house at about 8:20, and, I must say, my timing was perfect. I got to Penny Lane just in time to pull in behind a white S.U.V., in the first spot on the block. I had to ask the driver, a woman (a skier, judging by her vanity plates), if she would mind pulling up a foot—my rear end was sticking out a little too far beyond the pole with the sign for metered parking. “I don’t want to get you in trouble,” I said. “I know the parking lot is right there.” (Someone has put a splotch of yellow paint on the curb to communicate the need for clearance at the parking-lot entrance.) The woman was very nice: without interrupting her cell-phone conversation, she started her car and pulled up two feet.

A Mack truck turned the corner and I watched in my sideview mirror as it stopped and the driver got out and moved two garbage cans into the crosswalk, blocking the street. This was not anarchy but a thoughtful (if wasted) civic gesture: the truck was delivering oil to an apartment building, and the street would be impassable for a good half hour. A delivery truck went around the garbage-can barriers and parked behind me. The stuffed animal strapped to its grille was a camel, I decided. Then a U-Haul went around the barriers, followed by an off-duty cab, the silver truck that picks up dry-cleaning from the Chinese laundry, and several cars, a few of which squeezed into the parking lot. Soon cars were lined up all along the street, honking. Finally, the cabdriver got out and motioned for everyone to back up and the street cleared—until a garbage truck turned onto the block, and the whole exercise began again.

The skier left her car at 9:20; I noticed that she had a parking permit. It occurred to me to pick up a few shirts that I had left at the Chinese laundry weeks ago. And then there was nothing to do but sit in the car. I haven’t sat on this street for a long time. I meant to try to notice whether the Mack truck circled around and the driver moved the garbage cans back to their respective curbs. But I got absorbed in the jacket of an audio version of “Crime and Punishment” that I found last weekend in a funky little store attached to an orchard in Massachusetts. Books on cassette are almost obsolete now, and my technology for playing CDs with a converter on my car’s tape player has broken down, so I was delighted to come across this used two-dollar Dostoevsky. When I ran out of radio stations in Connecticut, around Hartford, I slipped Raskolnikov into the tape player. He is a strangely compelling travel companion.

The book, in a translation by David McDuff, is abridged, a literary act that I usually don’t hold with, but in the case of a Russian novel on a short trip it was a good idea. Raskolnikov commits his crime right away—none of this sitting around gassing till page 400, as in “The Brothers K.” There is a riff on the difference between being poor and being destitute (Raskolnikov is destitute), and a long letter from Mom. When the reader, a British actor named Alex Jennings, who is excellent, does a woman’s voice, he sounds hilariously like one of the “Monty Python” troupe playing an old frump. I broke off on Tape 2, Side B, in which R., who has been ill and delirious (uh-oh), is taken by a friend to a party and overhears gossip about the murder of the old pawnbroker and her sister …

I will have to plan another trip to resume my adventures with Raskolnikov. Meanwhile, here is his garage.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wit’s End

My Friday-morning strategy went all to hell this morning when I made the mistake of sleeping in. I got to my car at eighty-thirty and found it surrounded by orange cones; notices posted on both sides of the street announced that they would be shooting an episode of “Nurse Jackie” today. O.K., no problem, I’ll drive around. Jeff Spurgeon was playing excellent music on WQXR—something Spanish, a Mozart Horn Concerto, a souped-up version of Vivaldi’s Autumn . . . As it turned out, I got to hear quite a lot of music.

I made my usual rounds, even visiting the Sanctuary, though I had little hope of finding solace there, and after a half hour I gave up and headed for the parking lot by the river. A woman there said she had nothing for me and directed me down the road to a section of the lot that has to be entered through a toll gate. She said it was the same price—fifteen dollars if you get there before ten-thirty. I have never liked this lot, so when the attendant said it was full and I would have to double park and leave my keys, I said no thanks and headed out again.

It was necessary to stop at a deli for coffee and a muffin before implementing Plan C: Drive across town and poach a spot in someone else’s territory. By the time I got over there, the street sweeper had passed, and I pulled into a very luxurious spot, all town houses, playgrounds, and yellow leaves. At ten, I got out of the car, and the man in front of me also got out of his car, a black Lexus. “Is it ten or ten-thirty?” he asked me. “Ten,” I said, looking at my watch. “I mean the sign,” he said. Oh my God, he was right: the sign said “No Parking Tuesday & Friday 9-10:30 A.M.” I certainly was in foreign territory. “I wish it WAS ten,” he said. “I’m tired of sitting here. But you just know as soon as we leave the meter maid will come along.”

As long as I was out of the car, I went to a diner on the corner and got another cup of coffee. Then I resumed my vigil. Fortunately, I had bought a copy of the Times and it had this great article on lobstering by Charles McGrath.

Otherwise, it was the kind of morning that makes a car owner's thoughts turn fondly toward garages.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Alternative Candidate

I drove into the city from Rockaway just before sunset on Halloween, determined to find a Tuesday-Friday spot, to take advantage of the suspension of alternate-side parking for Election Day. I felt out of practice, almost as if I were in a foreign country; my strategies are all geared to Monday-Thursday. I went all the way to the outer limits of my cruising range, and saw a band of Mexicans in sombreros walking up the street—and Marie-Antoinette in the crosswalk—before I gave up. Luckily, I had a plan in place: enough quarters to buy an hour at a meter, after which parking was free. A woman wearing a painted paper cat mask and a kimono stood on the corner, waving one white paw up and down. In downtown Manhattan, Halloween is for grownups.

We set our clocks back, and on Sunday morning I spent my extra hour cruising for a parking place. Actually, I spent less than ten minutes. Down the street, a left on the avenue, a decision not to turn right at the first block with Tuesday-Friday street-cleaning hours, because the car in front of me turned right, and I knew it would beat me to any spot on that street. Instead I took the next right, watching on the south side of the street: hydrant, driveway, hydrant, driveway, metered parking only . . . nothing. I went around the corner and up the next block, watching on the left: double-parked van, hydrant—there were a couple of spots on the Monday-Thursday side, but I was holding out for Tuesday-Friday—another hydrant, and, finally, up ahead a van pulling out of the last legal spot on the block. Yes! I nosed in to claim the spot while through traffic flowed past, then pulled out and did a proper job of parallel parking. All set for Election Day.

Mayor Bloomberg has been pretty friendly to the parking lobby, ever since he riled up so many car owners in Queens by implying that they were too lazy to get up in the morning and chip out their cars, which were embedded in the ice like mastodons in the Swiss Alps. Over the weekend, a friend was trying to talk me into voting for Bloomberg's Democratic rival Bill Thompson. What Thompson has going for him, according to my friend, is that he has two cats. (She seemed pretty desperate to find common ground between us.) I have to admit that there are a couple of reasons to stick it to Bloomberg: the term-limits thing (he was very much against an exception to term limits when Giuliani was so popular, in the wake of 9/11), and the cynical assumption that with his vast wealth he can simply buy New York City. Also, I am tired of getting junk mail from him—there’s another pamphlet every day—and his telephone campaign stepped over the line by calling me on Sunday.

So I ask myself the eternal question: What would Dennis Kucinich do? And I remember that Bloomberg and Thompson are not my only choices: I can vote for Reverend Billy, of the Church of Not Shopping. Actually, now it’s called the Church of Life After Shopping, but Reverend Billy really is on the ballot, as the candidate for the Green Party. He has about as much chance of being elected mayor as my cousin Dennis had of being elected President, but it will still be fun to vote for him (check out this video of him dissing Bloomberg), and better than not voting at all—a truer expression of patriotism.

Some flowers for All Souls' Day: