Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Lately I have been so obsessed with landing a good parking spot that I have been cutting short my time at the beach. Last Saturday I had to rush home to attend a concert of the group I used to sing with (they are doing just fine without me), but come Sunday I just could not leave the beach until I had inhaled every whiff of rose my head could hold and heard every bird and imprinted on my mind’s eye an image of the ocean, rippled as far as the horizon, with clear, pale bands of sky stretching out, panorama style.

Sometimes all of Queens smells like roses. This weekend, the breeze coming off the dunes held a light, waxy fragrance, something like laurel. On a cinder path at Fort Tilden I came across a stand of wild white wisteria that was still in bloom. At the top of the stairs there is a viewing platform, but I didn't linger, because two guys were up there with a sad-eyed boxer named Max.

I had a doctor’s appointment at 8:30 on Monday morning—and I was hoping to get a 7:30-8 spot on K Street, but by eight-thirty on Sunday night the cars were parked bumper to bumper. No other Monday-Thursday spot would do, which seemed a great pity, because alternate side is suspended on Thursday for Shavuot, the feast of cheesecake. No cheesecake for me . . . I was lucky to find a Tuesday-Friday spot that a couple were just leaving.

So this morning I organized myself for an hour and a half in the car and headed out into a light rain. I was parked on a friendly block where I have never or rarely participated in the double-parking exercise—I’m not even sure it’s customary there—so I decided to cruise a little, maybe check out the Sanctuary, just to see if there was a Monday-Thursday spot somewhere, so I could quick convert to Judaism. Down the street, a right on the avenue, a tie-up at the intersection, a left on the block where there is hardly ever a spot because of the car-rental agency . . . and there on my left, before a curb cut, was a spot that was just my size. I made sure I wasn’t crowding the car behind me, and then sat there for a while, stunned. Suddenly I was free not only for the next hour and a half but on Thursday and Friday morning as well. I could have my cheesecake and eat it, too.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

K Street, Mon., 7:30 A.M.

I am parked where the garbage truck usually double-parks, and a truck from some industrial supplier, with long black pipes on its bed, is double-parked opposite me. It is an excellent spot, which I squeezed into (without tipping over the Ducati at my rear) on Sunday at a little after 6 P.M., especially desirable because alternate-side parking is suspended this Thursday for the Ascension: the first break we’ve had since Passover. I don’t know when I’ve looked forward so ardently to an event in the life of Christ.

I’m here with no coffee and yesterday’s paper. But wait: here’s something I threw into the car last Thursday, before my life was hijacked by a flat tire—an issue of Psychoanalytic Dialogues (Vol. 12, No. 4; 2002), salvaged from two pathologically neat stacks of psychiatric journals in the basement of my building. It opens to an article called “Naughty Girls and the Adolescent Tendency.”

The bill at the mechanic’s was steep: $440. I’m not sure how it added up so fast. He didn’t replace the battery, but the air-conditioner sealant was leaking, and the transmission fluid was dangerously low, and it was time for an oil change. The tire had a nail in it (how mundane). I picked up the car on Saturday, and just as I found a parking spot—I knew the spot was legal because it was raining and I could see the dry outline of the car that had just left it—my cell phone squawked, and I parallel-parked one-handed for the first time, while answering a serious question about which brand of beer I would like to drink that night at a party. (Palm, a Belgian beer, but it would be impossible to find.)

On Sunday, in Rockaway, the cacophonous work on the elevated platform at Beach 98th Street was suspended. Instead, there was a big operation on the beach, moving sand. I get a kick out of it when people write letters-to-the-editor insisting that their congressman do something about beach erosion. But then various government agencies actually try! It was low tide, and an enormous pipe was spouting sea water and sand onto the beach, and a bulldozer was moving the sand into pyramids, later to be redistributed in places where the last winter storm bit the sand right out from under the boardwalk. They're supposed to be done with the "beach replenishment" by Memorial Day. Meanwhile, it looked like some vast Egyptian sandworks.

Damn, here comes the garbage truck: 7:42. At least I am at the right (front) end of it. Cars thread between it and the double-parked industrial-supply truck. The trucker, down from Newburgh, loosens the straps on his load. He’s very systematic. So are the garbagemen. I notice that they don’t recycle (these are private haulers), but one of them removes a five-gallon plastic jug from the cardboard box it came in and reserves the cardboard, which he uses to chock the wheels of the empty dumpsters, so they won’t roll into the street.

When the garbage truck pulls out, the street sweeper is right behind it. I back up quickly as far as I dare before pulling over to triple park next to the double-parked delivery truck. Through traffic is unhappy: there is no lane left for it. But in two minutes it’s all over. At 7:53, I’m back in place. The industrial truck makes its delivery, tightens its straps, and leaves; another truck pulls in behind me, and men in white offload food to the hotel. I barely have time to notice that the city has planted four new trees on this block, where there was already a ginkgo, when an acid-yellow truck belonging to NYC DOT Meter Maintenance double-parks alongside me and a man gets out and unlocks the Muni-Meter. He is wearing big gold rings. He returns to his truck just as I am leaving my car, at the stroke of 8, and I have a chance to survey the inner workings.

Some things are worth getting up early to see.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Too much adventure this morning. I arrived at my car, in a lovely Tuesday-Friday spot on K Street, between a Toyota and a Mercedes-Benz, at seven-thirty, and checked out the right front tire, which has had a slow leak. Well, the slow leak had speeded up since the last time I put air in the tires, and now the tire was flat as a potato pancake. I thought about it for a while: Was it absolutely necessary to spend this glorious May morning dealing with a flat tire? Or could I throw myself on the mercy of the street sweeper and let it wait a day? While I was thinking, the street sweeper came brushing and blinking down the street. He pulled up and idled behind me, and I cupped my hands at my mouth and shouted “Flat tire!” He nodded and went around.

I called AAA—might as well get it over with. Then I hauled the doughnut out of the trunk. The tow truck came in pretty short order, but got held up at the intersection while a garbage truck digested several dumpsters’ worth of trash from the hotel on the corner. The driver was a big guy with a big, close-shaved head. The car was parked close to the curb, and he asked me if I would “tip its nose out a little.” I complied. He took the flat off and was about to put the doughnut on when he noticed it didn’t have any air in it, either. I was afraid of that.

Now what? I did not want to be towed. My idea had been to put the doughnut on and leave the car right where it was until at least tomorrow. But I can’t go anywhere without air in that tire. The driver said he could tow the car to the garage that he works out of. “Let me make sure they fix tires,” he said. But when I found out where his garage was, I decided I would rather get towed to my own mechanics, nice guys who like my car and would take care of some other little matters while they were at it: like the air-conditioner, which isn’t working (as I discovered during last week’s heat wave); like the battery, which went dead over the winter (so far, it has held its charge); like the oil, which hasn’t been changed since last fall.

So the Éclair gets hoisted onto the bed of the tow truck, and I hoist myself up into the cab, and away we go. The driver seemed pretty mellow for a guy with a job that was potentially so frustrating. He had only been on the job for this company for two weeks, he said. It was a second job for him; he was retired. A few blocks later, I asked him what job he had retired from, and he said, “Corrections.” Right away, I asked him if he knew Tommy, but he said, “State, not Rikers.” He decided he was going to have to make an illegal left turn, but it was O.K. “If I get a ticket, it won’t stick,” he said. (Apparently he is very close to someone who is related to Ray Kelly, the Police Commissioner.) He then told me, in quick succession, a raft of stories about convicts he has known: serial murderers, child murderers, even cannibals—things I thought happened only in Greek mythology. I kept remembering, with relief, that he was the Corrections officer and not the convict.

When we got to the mechanics', I placed in his meaty hand a ten-dollar tip. He does not live in the city, and so he had no idea what I gave up when I left that parking spot. The Eclair will remain in the garage overnight.