Friday, October 29, 2010


The return address on the envelope was NYC Finance, Adjudication Division.

The document was headed: Decision and Order.

Under “Notice of Violation Decision Summary,” it said, “Disposition: GUILTY.”

It elaborated: “Respondent claims that the summons incorrectly describes the sign posted at the cited location. Pursuant to Traffic Rule 4-08(a)(1)(i), ‘one authorized regulatory sign anywhere on a block, which is the area of sidewalk between one intersection and the next, shall be sufficient notice of the restriction(s) in effect on that block.’ Respondent’s claim is not supported by persuasive evidence about the signs at the place of occurrence. Neither of the photos showed any name(s) of street and building numbers. Respondent did not show, with substantial, detailed persuasive evidence that no part of the vehicle was within the No Standing Zone.”

One should not read things like this before breakfast.

I have to admit that I knew if I had walked down the block I could have figured out which side of the street the “No Standing Anytime” sign referred to (see "Not Guilty," September 2, 2010). But you know what? It’s all too annoying to go on about. They got me. I’ll pay. And I’ll never park in that spot again.

At the bottom of the document is this instruction: “Retain this record of your hearing for 8 years and 3 months.” What? That brings us to January 26, 2019, before the matter is officially closed! That’ll teach me to try to fight City Hall.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Playing with Fire (Hydrants)

Orange cones have been proliferating in my neighborhood lately, thanks to the film industry. Last Saturday, I drove back from Rockaway (in relative silence—got the muffler fixed, for $275) and found a spot on the Monday-Thursday side of K Street, just far enough (I fervently hoped) from a fire hydrant. Orange cones were all down the other side of the street, along with signs announcing a movie shoot (through November 11th!). Returning to the car for my half-hour sit on Monday and then again today (Thursday), I was worried that the cones might have multiplied and crossed the street . . . but I was lucky. No cones and no hideous orange parking tickets.

Ahead of me, in front of the fire hydrant, on this sultry pre-Halloween morning, was a motorcycle under a shroud. It looked as if someone had just picked it up and moved it there, perhaps because it was in the way of a legal spot. I’ve noticed more motorcycles getting tickets lately, but in this case there was no place to tuck a ticket—a cop would have to use a safety pin. The opposite side of the street was a mess of semis and fork-lifts and trucks delivering hydraulic elevator platforms. At 7:50, a little red Geo pulled up in front of me, no doubt hoping to insinuate itself between me and the fire hydrant. But the Broom hadn’t come yet, and he gave up and left. Two motorcycles zipped down the street and squeezed in between cars farther down the street. It was 7:55, and still the Broom had not come.

A black BMW with a fancy silver license-plate holder double-parked alongside the fire hydrant, and a black guy got out. Tall, suave, and Obama-esque, he worked the line of cars behind me to get everyone to back up and make room for him between me and the hydrant. When he got to me, I said that I didn’t mind moving but that the sweeper hadn’t come yet, and if it did, we were going to create one unholy mess, mixing it up with the trucks and the fork-lifts, leaving room for the Broom and thru traffic. He looked at his watch—it was about three minutes to eight—and shrugged. Well, O.K. Maybe the Broom couldn’t get by all those film-industry trucks and orange cones on the next block. I backed up. Then it turned out that the tall, suave black guy couldn’t parallel park to save his life. A super from a nearby building helped direct him, and I kept backing up to give him more inches.

At eight o’clock, there was still no sign of the Broom. We fortunate few started getting out of our cars and locking up. Then I saw it, up the street: the idling Broom, its lights flashing, trying to intimidate a car into moving. I exchanged looks with the man who had gotten out of the S.U.V. behind me. All the alternate-side parkers were now pretending they had nothing to do with any of these vehicles. “If he’s late, it’s nothing to do with us, right?” I said to the S.U.V. owner as the Broom swept disconsolately down the middle of the street. “Right,” he said. “HE should get a ticket.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Defense Rests

The New York City Department of Finance leaves only four short lines on a parking ticket to describe your defense if it doesn't fit into one of their categories. So I edited down my screed to this: "There is no driveway at [address on ticket]. There is a curb cut in front of a Christian Science Reading Room with no vehicular egress. See enclosed photo." I think the photo came out pretty well. It even shows a car parked where I was when I got the ticket (except that it is farther from the fire hydrant, the long shadow of which can be seen at lower right). I'm also rather fond of "vehicular egress." I don't know where that came from.

Perhaps, to sweeten the package, I should have enclosed a picture I took in Rockaway of my passionflower vine, which finally bloomed.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Condolence calls came from as far away as the West Coast about my recent spate of parking tickets. I paid the two for the hydrant offense right away, just to get some of those orange envelopes off my desk. The Department of Finance does make it easy for you: the water-resistant ticket comes with two peel-off labels, one of which says “I want to pay.” I didn’t really want to pay, but I am saving the other peel-off label—“I want a hearing”—for my defense in the matter of the obsolete curb cut fronting the Christian Science Reading Room.

Meanwhile, it seemed like a good time to get the muffler fixed out at the mechanic’s in Rockaway. On the way, I reported to the marina. High winds were predicted for Saturday, but I didn’t believe it until I saw Jamaica Bay: whitecaps fluttered on the surface like a huge flock of birds. Down at the marina, the boats were rocking in their slips. My boat had about four inches of water sloshing around in it, so I got my rubber boots and a bucket out of the trunk. But the slip itself, the narrow dock off the main dock, was rocking almost as much as the boat, and I was afraid I’d lose my balance trying to get in.

I stood and stared for a while, and when a man came up the dock I asked, “Can you give me hand? I want to bail it out, but I’m afraid to get in.” He kindly came out onto the slip with me. “Kind of flimsy, isn’t it?” he said. I took his hand, but I was still scared to get in: I wanted to take his other hand, too. “Get rid of the bucket,” he said. “That way, in case anything happens, at least you’ll have both hands.” That made sense. I put the bucket in the boat. Then he said, “You’d be better off stepping in backwards.” That made sense, too. So I turned around, took both the man’s hands, as if we were dancing, and stepped backward into the boat. “Thanks,” I said.

I started bailing, but soon I had to sit down. The water was as choppy as I’ve ever seen it, and the boat was tossing around. The Boss came running down the gangplank, saying, “We’re gonna have to get you an electric pump.”

“Good idea,” I said, bailing.

“How ya doin'?”

"O.K. How are you?"

“Goin’ to save a boat,” he said, and hustled down the dock in his blue hooded sweatshirt. Soon another man ran down the gangplank after him, and I saw them busy with the lines on one of the boats at the far end of the marina. It struck me for the first time that the Boss looks a little like Popeye. He and the other guy and a lot of the men at the marina have that build: the upper-body strength and the nimble legs.

When it was time to get out of the boat, I played it safe: I sat on the dock and swung my legs up out of the boat. Then I scootched down the flimsy slip to the main dock, where I hauled myself up by the gangplank rail. I wanted to rinse off the outboard, because my weight in the boat had lowered it into the salt water. So I filled the bucket with fresh water and walked back out on the slip, but when it was time to risk losing my balance by lifting the bucket to slosh it onto the motor, I lost my nerve and danced back to the dock, terrified that I was going to fall into the bay. I'm not used to negotiating surfaces that are pitching about underneath me. Every muscle in my legs quivered for the rest of the day. Now I know why sailors are famous for doing jigs.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Disaster Strikes

Thursday morning when I got to my car I found it festooned with parking tickets: four fat orange envelopes, two stuck under the windshield wiper and two wedged into the sideview mirror. Arg. When I drove in from Rockaway last Saturday for Dee’s show, I was determined to get a Monday-Thursday spot so that I could celebrate Columbus Day (observed on Monday, October 11th), and I settled for the first spot I saw—actually, I went around the block once, hoping for something better, because I knew it looked a little close to the fire hydrant, but I paced off the distance—about ten feet—and decided to take a chance. I respect the need to keep clear of fire hydrants, but sometimes it looks to me like people overdo it, leaving great swathes of space on either side.

There is something printed at the top of parking tickets that I’d never noticed before: “Write only one violation per ticket.” Two of the tickets were issued by an Officer Winn at 2:16 A.M. on 10/11/10. (Note that I had been there for more than twenty-four hours before my alleged infraction drew any notice, so it can’t have been that egregious. Also note the hour that Officer Winn was skulking around my car.) One ticket is for the fire hydrant (he judged that I was only seven feet from it). The other is for a violation of Code 98, Subsection F2: Obstructing Driveway. Now, there is a curb cut at the address recorded on the ticket, and I was parked at the curb cut, but I’ve been down this street before, and that curb cut is a vestige of a former time, when the building it is in front of was a garage, or even a stable. What is there now is a Christian Science Reading Room, and the place where the cars (or horses) passed through is now a plate-glass window that serves as a showcase for religious tomes. There would be no reason for a car to pull in there, or a horse, unless it was a Christian Scientist.

The second set of tickets are the same as the first, except that they were issued approximately twenty-four hours later, by an Officer Santiago, on 10/12/10 at 12:15 A.M. (the hydrant) and 12:17 A.M. (obstructing driveway).

Whenever you contest a ticket, the Department of Finance offers you a discount if you’ll shut up and go away. (Recently, I received the expected offer to reduce the fine for my “No Standing” offense from $115 to $90, but it doesn’t seem like a big enough discount. Besides, I am sincere in my defense, and it’s worth $25 to me to see if it holds up.) I could contest the two tickets for parking too close to a hydrant ($115 x 2), but I just looked up the rule and it turns out that the prescribed distance is fifteen feet, not ten. So I'm screwed.

But blocking an obsolete curb cut? Google maps has a good shot of the Christian Science Reading Room. (Here’s the link; I realize that by publishing it I risk having someone take my spot, but this one doesn’t seem to have been very lucky for me, does it?) The street view on Google even shows a car parked right where I was parked. If the “Obstructing Driveway” offenses ($90 x 2) are dismissed, I can maintain the delusion that I've saved $190.

I found a spot on the same block on Thursday, far from any fire hydrants or curb cuts. When I walked up the block after sitting in the car for an hour and a half, fuming, I noticed that no one had dared to park in front of the Christian Science Reading Room.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Baby Dee with Swans

Baby Dee’s opening for the Swans on Saturday at the Bowery Ballroom was one of the best sets I’ve ever heard her do. She started on the accordion with an instrumental piece called “Early Spring,” and then sat down at the harp and, with Matthew Robinson on cello and Sarah Alden on violin, sang “The Robin’s Tiny Throat” (which is an excellent song to open with, because it kind of explains why she’s up there singing to begin with), “A Book of Songs for Anne Marie,” “Lilacs,” and “So Bad.” She said she had never told the story behind “So Bad” (“Jesus got my mom in there, and beat her up so bad”), but that someone in the audience had witnessed it, and she dedicated the song to me. (She didn’t tell the story, and I’m not going to either—yet. “So Bad,” oddly, is the song of Dee’s that is easiest for people to lay their own story on.)

Then she did a song that is not on any of her CDs but is on one of David Tibet’s: “Idumea.” She followed with “Set Me as a Seal on Your Heart,” which has a long, beautiful instrumental introduction. Then came a surprise: she introduced “Fresh Out of Candles” as a song about growing up in Cleveland in the fifties and early sixties. I’ve only heard this (to me) tragicomic song (it’s partly about saints who got deposed after Vatican II) with piano accompaniment, and Dee had rearranged it for the harp/cello/violin trio. She played a new song called “The Day I Died” (it will be on her next CD) and finished with one of her two slug songs, “Brother Slug and Sister Snail.” For this, Sarah created a shimmering trail of slime on violin. Matthew had a cello solo on one of the songs. And Dee is playing the harp better than ever.

This was the final concert on the Swans tour with Baby Dee. It was also my first experience in an audience for heavy-metal New York punk. I was advised to bring earplugs, and I did. The Swans are wonderful to look at: three craggy veterans and three younger musicians. One of them is a guy named Thor, who has waist-length blond hair and hammers a set of bells. After he took off his shirt, he looked like nothing so much as a sweating blacksmith. There were three guitars and a pedal steel and another percussionist, all banging away. At one point, two slide trombones joined the act, and I couldn’t even hear them (maybe it was the earplugs). I saw Michael Gira’s lips moving, but I couldn’t hear what he was singing. I am told—and I believe—that the loudness is necessary, that it is part of the point. For a while, I found a place on the balcony, right by the railing, and I could look down at the heads of the people below, standing shoulder to shoulder and vibrating. And it was kind of thrilling in a visceral way. It blows everything else out of your head.

Then I descended to the lounge level and hung out with Baby Dee and Little Annie, who are taking their act to Europe later this month, until it was time to go home. Dee’s next gig is in London, October 16th.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Spoiled by the Jewish holidays—five in a row, freeing up the entire month of September—I returned yesterday from a weekend in New England, unloaded the car, and wondered what to do with it. The Eclair now starts reliably, but she needs a new muffler. My friend’s son showed me where the exhaust pipe has come loose. At first it just rattled, but now it roars. It seemed wrong to make so much noise only in order to move the car from one side of the street to the other. I decided to go to Rockaway, check on the boat, and find a parking spot out there.

I had driven up to Massachusetts in the storm last Friday (there is some kind of leak in the well beneath the windshield wipers, and rain dripped on my toes as I drove), so the clear weather when I left for the drive back, at dawn on Sunday, reminded me why people love to drive: it was an intense pleasure just to see the road stretching ahead into the hills. I’d had an excellent weekend, replete with good food and the scratching of several modest consumer itches (a jar of honey, a bag of apples, a new flat-screen TV). I didn’t need the radio or tape-player for company: I was content, for a change, to be peacefully absorbed in the Connecticut scenery.

I planned to take the Sawmill River Parkway all the way down to the West Side Highway—I love the part where, just as you emerge from the tunnel-like toll plaza, the Hudson River opens out on your right—and in my determination I barely registered an LED highway sign that read (in red) “HENRY HUDSON PKWY CLOSED TO 54 ST.” What? Surely if this was true it would be repeated. I passed the exit that offered me a last chance to give up on the Sawmill and take the Cross County Parkway to one of the other approaches to Manhattan, and turned on the radio. Just as the cars ahead of me congealed into a long ribbon of parking lot, I learned that the West Side Highway was indeed closed for a five-borough bike ride.

Cursing all cyclists, I got off in Yonkers. I figured if I went north, I could work my way back to that crossover. Instead, I found Broadway, the old Indian trail, which at least was going in the right direction: south. Where Broadway went under the El, I saw a sign for Route 87, the Major Deegan, and made a left along Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. Soon I was in another traffic jam, but most of the cars on the Major Deegan split off for New Jersey at the junction with 95.

A few hours later, the traffic to Rockaway was light. I went directly to the marina: someone had bailed (or more likely pumped) out my boat. It was too windy to even think of going out in it. I started looking for a parking spot near the bungalow—the next alternate-side holiday isn’t until Columbus Day, next Monday—and had just come to the realization that I was going to have to ask my neighbor to move the car at least once, when suddenly I remembered George’s street: a block of newish two-story attached brick houses, with driveways and parking pads, and no street-cleaning regulations. The people who live there sweep up in front of their own houses. There was one spot left, up against a rosebush planted on the tree lawn. I had time to talk with my neighbors, notice that my passionflower vine has finally put forth a blossom, and take in a major sunset before catching the bus and train home through Brooklyn.