Thursday, December 29, 2011

In Den Haag



The venue for Baby Dee’s show on December 17th in den Haag (which in English we call The Hague, and is much easier to pronounce than the Dutch) was Paard van Troje (Trojan Horse), site of the State X–New Forms Festival. I have been trying all this time to figure out why it is called Paard van Troje . . . The entrance is deceptive: you go up a flight of stairs to what looks like a grand old town house on Prinsengracht, a wide street with a trolley running along it, knock on the door, and nobody answers. (I was early.) I entered through the stage door, around the corner, and was led down a hall and through a door and along a ramp behind a screen, on the other side of which was … Baby Dee!

Dee and the band were in the midst of their sound check. For this gig, Dee had reassembled some of the musicians who played with her at the Holland Festival, two years ago: the drummer Alex Neilsen, from Glasgow, and the bassist Joe Carvell, from Coventry, as well as the cellist Matthew Robinson, who had come from Brooklyn earlier that week and rehearsed with Dee in Rotterdam. (Dee will do a show in Rotterdam on January 24th, which will include an exhibit of work by Christina de Vos, who did the wonderful snail paintings for “Regifted Light.”) The performance space at the Trojan Horse was decorated with white tuffets that looked like big marshmallows and smaller black tuffets that looked like licorice Dots. There were also black and white dots on the floor. Dee lamented that she had not worn her Dalmatian pants. There was a piano at stage right and the harp at stage left. Dee’s inestimably valuable friend and producer Richard Guy, of Tin Angel, had driven all the way from Coventry with the harp and the bass.

Dee was not playing till 11 P.M. I had thought we would explore den Haag and have dinner somewhere before the show (den Haag was cute; I especially liked the garden houses that I saw from the train on the way there, and the outdoor cafés featuring tiny braziers in glass cases), but the festival organizers had other ideas, and the musicians and their friends were escorted across the street to an upper room, where caterers had set up a buffet. Afterward, we kept Dee company in her dressing room upstairs at the Paard van Troje: Christina, her friends Hans and Marleen (who maintains Dee’s Web site), Matthew, Rich, and me. Dee was sharing the dressing room with Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose group the Apparat Organ Quartet, from Iceland, plays all sorts of organs, really LOUD. Dee did her makeup at a mirror surrounded by light bulbs. She drew on eyebrows. She put on blush from a kit with a tiny brush. She sprayed stuff in her hair, brushed it upside down, teased it a little, and, still upside down, drew it up with a comb on either side: when she stood, her hair looked like the fabulous red plumage of some mythological bird.

“I’m going to struggle into my outfit,” Dee said. Baby Dee has lately been taken up by the fashion world—before leaving Europe, she would be playing at a party for Fiorucci, in Milan—and her outfit consisted of layers and layers of dyed tutus and a pair of velvety black high heels. “Rotterdam,” she said, showing them off. She also had a new hot-pink fake-fur hooded jacket, made for her by Christina’s mom, Anneliese de Vos, a.k.a. Mrs. Foxy. It literally stops traffic—at least bicycle traffic (remember, we were in Holland).

“Do you have a set list?” I asked.

“A set list!” Dee said. I tore a few sheets out of a notebook and gave her a pencil, and she consulted with Rich about what to play. She would start with the accordion, then go to the piano and do “Brother Slug and Sister Snail,” finishing with "The Pie Song," before moving to the harp to do a set-within-the-set with Matthew on the cello, and then go back to the piano. She included several songs from “Safe Inside the Day,” because “people like them,” she said. She decided against some longer ones from “A Book of Songs for Anne Marie,” because the set could last only an hour. She was going to end with “The Earlie King,” and I had to bite my tongue, because that’s a scary song, and I have a weakness for the silly, stupid songs, but nobody asked me, and "The Earlie King" is a great song, certainly one of the best on the new live CD, “Baby Dee Goes Down to Amsterdam,” which was for sale in the lobby. (It sold out.)

Showtime! More friends of Christina’s had arrived, and my friend Ella, from Amsterdam, came with her niece, and we all perched on tuffets. Dee entered in her tutu and heels, and played a beautiful show. The set list had evolved until the last minute. I realized that Dee’s choice of instruments (bass, cello, drums) brings out the darkness in her music, though the drummer, Alex, has a wonderful feathery touch. The audience grew as she played; we had to move our tuffets to make room behind us. The sound system was great—very sensitive—and so was the lighting, from big aluminum cones, like outsized reading lamps. Dee played an encore, ending with “Teeth Are the Only Bones That Show,” and made her exit in her stocking feet, then came back to reclaim her shoes. (She had to take them off to work the pedals on the harp.) By the finish, her hair had shaken loose and she looked gorgeous.

When it was over, we partied until the wee hours, first in the Trojan Horse and then in the hotel, and the next day we all went down to Amsterdam.

Thanks to Marcel Musters (above, with Dee and me) for letting us stay in his place, and for the video shown here (shot in New York on Christmas Day). Here are some pictures taken by the official photographer for the festival (note Nos. 20-25).

video

Happy New Year! And Happy Birthday to Dee!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

In Dutch


Somehow it had escaped my notice that the festivities surrounding the celebration of the hundredth birthday of the artist known as Ele D’Artagnan at Post I Perdu, a theatre belonging to a poetry foundation (adjoining a bookshop dedicated to poetry in many languages) in the university neighborhood of Amsterdam, would be in Dutch. Three large works by D’Artagnan floated against black velvet drapes while Ella Arps, owner of the gallery Arps & Co., which handles his work in the Netherlands, led the audience through his incredibly colorful life “on the margins of La Dolce Vita.” Ella has absorbed the biographical details as well as anyone: how the child born an orphan in Venice and given the name Michele Stinelli rented a room in the home of Pietro Gallina, in the ancient Forum of Rome; acted in films by Fellini; painted; pursued the question of his parentage (mother, of the Lombardi family, a harpist with La Scala; father unknown but believed by D’Artagnan to be Toscanini); died homeless in Rome; and, through the efforts of Pietro, his lifelong friend, came to be represented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and to underwrite a school in Savador de Bahia. Although the artist has yet to be recognized in Italy, celebrations of his centenary went forward on three continents: in Amsterdam and Limburg, Germany; in New York and Chicago; and in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.

In Amsterdam, two poets read, in Dutch, which sounded easier to understand in verse than in conversation. One of them was a young man with a bottle of beer who accepted as a stipend a photograph of D’Artagnan reproduced on metal. It was lovely to see people crowding to get up close to the paintings, which are full of charming, minuscule details. Ella introduced me as a collector. Just for the record, I am not a collector, though I am the proud of owner of a drawing that D’Artagnan did on a matchpack.

My stay in the Netherlands began at dawn yesterday (I am not sure of the exact time of sunrise in Amsterdam so near the winter solstice, but it was raining when I arrived and stayed dark until about ten in the morning) and continues tonight in The Hague at a concert by Baby Dee to celebrate her CD, “Baby Goes Down to Amsterdam,” a live recording of a concert that took place during the Holland Festival in June, 2009. I think you could say that D’Artagnan and Baby Dee are both outsider artists, in that they are more celebrated outside their own lands.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Parallel Park

It took me a full half hour this morning to get into position to park: a twenty-minute walk to the car (in a distant 11:30-1 spot) and an agonizing ten-minute drive to a nearby 8:30-10 block. By 8:50 A.M., I was double-parked and waiting for the broom. It came at about nine, later than usual, and by 9:02 I was happily situated in front of a building whose doorman kept popping out to sweep up ginkgo leaves. A generous spot in front of me was claimed by a silver Lexus at 9:09.

For a while last week, I was a two-car family. A friend came down from New Hampshire late on Thursday, and we were up at eight on Friday to find her a spot. I didn’t want to worry her, but I was not that optimistic. Friday was Veterans Day, and alternate-side parking was suspended: it is never easy to find a spot under those circumstances, because no one moves. Then again it was a Friday, when people sometimes leave town early for the weekend. Still, Veterans Day meant a Veterans Day Parade, and veterans driving into the city to march in it.

My friend was at the wheel, crawling along, looking for a spot on blocks where I know there is no legal parking, and I kept waggling my fingers at the road ahead and saying, “Zip along.” We drove east, we drove north, we drove west. “Stop!” I said. “I thought I saw a spot. Back up.”

“I don’t like backing up,” she said, and she inched backward reluctantly to the spot I had seen, in front of a fire hydrant I had not seen. Oops. Zip along.

We drove west, we drove south, we drove east again, and I saw a possible spot near a fire hydrant and directed her into it. I swung open the passenger door, intending to hop out and see if we were too close (we were), and a car that was squeezing past us had to swerve to avoid getting doored. I apologized left and right, literally: to the driver on my right and to the friend on my left, who had had visions of a delightful weekend spent shopping for a used car door. I never don’t look when I open the car door. There must have been something about driving around with my friend that made the streets feel like my own driveway.

Yesterday, the Times ran an Op-Ed piece about how the alternate-side parking calendar fosters tolerance ( “Alternate Side Parking Brings Peace”): it “is actually a model for managing the challenges of diversity.” It is true that car-owning infidels are fine with Islam if it means we don’t have to move our cars on Idul-Adha. Occidental parkers love Asian New Year, and parkers of all persuasions celebrate the Jewish holidays. Perhaps Jewish car owners feel more kindly toward the Blessed Virgin Mary when alternate side is suspended for the Immaculate Conception (coming up, on December 8th). Many religious holidays—Passover and Easter, for instance—are determined by the sun and the moon. Parking (or, rather, not having to move your car on these precious days) makes you feel you’re part of something bigger than you are—a part of history, a child of the universe.

But as a religion in itself, Alternate-Side Parking has a major disadvantage: it doesn’t offer much in the way of an afterlife. About the best you could hope for is to be reincarnated as someone who can afford a garage.

We drove south, we drove west, we drove east, executing a U-turn as necessary.

The author of the Op-Ed piece, Alan Draper, is identified as “a political scientist at St. Lawrence University.” His idea is that the European Union, some citizens of which have exhibited xenophobia, could use a little of the spirit that animates alternate-side parking. In fact, on Veterans Day my friend and I were thinking about Europe. Our fathers were both veterans of the Second World War. My father was in the Infantry, and was part of the Normandy Invasion. Besides England and France, he did a tour of duty in Alaska, and after he got home he never wanted to go anyplace again. Her father was in the Air Force, a bomber pilot who got shot down over enemy territory and sent to a German P.O.W. camp. He traded the cigarettes in his care packages for chocolate and sugar to scrape together the ingredients to make fudge. After the war, he was famous for his prisoner-of-war fudge.

Finally, at the far end of the block, between a car and a crosswalk, there was a space for us, in the last spot before the river. I realized later that we two daughters of veterans of foreign wars were parked in the same spot, two blocks apart. Talk about parallel parking.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bicyculture

If the weather report featured a beauty index, last Sunday would have set a record. It was dazzlingly clear, sunny but not hot, with no humidity and barely a breath of wind. It was the day of the New York Marathon, in which I was not running, though I always get the urge, during the marathon season, to buy sporting goods. This year it was bike accessories: a copper bell (ding-ding!) and two lights (it’s the law), on rubbery straps, which can be removed to foil thieves.

So on Sunday I was riding my bike on the boardwalk, having given up an excellent parking spot to spend the day at the beach, when I came upon the birth of a new sport, one that I think may be indigenous to Rockaway: duneboarding. Sand deposited by the hurricane had been bulldozed into three big hills on the beach just west of 116th Street, and the neighborhood kids were “sledding” down them on their Boogie boards. Some kids were sitting, some were doing belly-flops, others were lying on their backs, in the luge position. The sand made for a nice soft landing, and then the kids dragged their boards back up the hill to go again. There were dozens of kids, from toddlers to teens, climbing and sliding and shrieking on the artificial dunes. Maybe they’ve been doing this in the Sahara for millennia, but if so why has there never been a bid to make duneboarding an Olympic sport?

I was back in Manhattan by a little after sunset, which occurred at 4:47 P.M. on the first day of standard time, cruising for a spot. I was determined to find a Tuesday-Friday spot, to take advantage of the High Alternate Side Holidays—Idul-Adha and Election Day on Tuesday, and Veterans Day on Friday. I spurned a Monday-Thursday spot, hard as it is not to take the first spot you come to. I have been trying to figure out how to combine bike riding with car parking. On days when I have to sit in the car, should I ride my bike over to where the car is parked, lock it up there, and come back for it in order to ride to work? Or do I dare to put the bike where I hope to park the car, so I won’t have to backtrack? Last Friday, I couldn't decide, so I took the train to work.

The new bike lanes were the subject of an excellent article in the Times this week, in the Arts section, by Michael Kimmelman (“Pleasures of Life in the Slow Lane”), who made some of the same observations that I was just about to make. For instance, now that Janette Sadik-Kahn, Mayor Bloomberg’s transportation commissioner, has built more bike lanes, the same thing is happening with bikes as happened with cars when Robert Moses built more bridges: there are more of them.

The last time I biked to work regularly was during the Koch Administration. He had painted some lines on Sixth Avenue and called it a bike lane, but by the time Rudy Giuliani took over, those lines had been erased. No one took them very seriously anyway. The new bike lanes are more permanent-looking, and some of them are downright dedicated, with medians of potted plants or lanes of parked cars between the bike lane and heavy traffic, and even an extra lens in traffic lights to regulate both bikes and cars in turning lanes. I was curious to see if I would actually feel safe in a bike lane. And the answer is:

No, not particularly. And it’s not because of the trucks double-parked, or the taxis dropping off passengers, or the jaywalkers popping out like Jack-in-the-boxes from between parked cars. It’s because of the other bicyclists. With rare exceptions, they are as cut-throat as speeding taxi-drivers.

My model for bicycling is European: I think of the matrons I saw in the French countryside, pedalling serenely into the village for a cabbage or whatever, wearing flower-print housedresses, bedroom slippers, and maybe an apron. In Ravenna in winter, Italian women in fur coats cycle majestically alongside the canals. New York City is not exactly the People’s Republic of China yet, but there are throngs in the new bike lanes. O.K., I exaggerate: at one red light I counted nine bikes waiting to cross the street. But I do not exaggerate when I say that everybody is trying to get ahead of everybody else.

Biking in the city does have its aesthetic pleasures. If not for the (unprotected) bike lane on Sixth Avenue, I would probably not go out of my way to visit the flower district. And from the (protected) bike lane on First Avenue I admired a brick wall with ivy growing nine stories high and changing color. The bike lane on Broadway below Times Square is a joke, clotted with oblivious pedestrians, tourists lugging wheeled suitcases, and panhandlers in Minnie Mouse costumes. But Robert Moses’ Law also works in reverse: if you narrow Broadway down to one lane and have it dead-end at Herald Square, the cars go elsewhere, leaving a few precious blocks of midtown wide open for bicyclists.

The first day I rode to work, I got all the way to Times Square before realizing that although I had remembered my Kryptonite lock, I had forgotten the key. I had been planning on checking out this garage that rents parking spots for bikes, so I went over there: the Hippodrome. “Sure, we can lend you a lock,” the manager said. I gave them my credit card, they lent me a chain and a lock, and I signed up to park my bike in midtown for twenty dollars a month.

Am I crazy? Who would have believed that a car owner who goes to so much trouble to find free parking on the street would pay to garage a bicycle? The fact is that it’s not so easy to find a pole to lock your bike to in midtown. There are no more old-fashioned parking meters—they have all been replaced by bulky MuniMeters. The bike racks that the city has provided are always at capacity, at least in midtown (another example of “Build it and they will come”). Twenty dollars a month for a safe place to park a bike seems like a bargain—it costs ten times that to garage a car in the city. And I enjoy coasting onto the smooth floor of the Hippodrome, past the arm lowered to keep cars from leaving without paying.

Bike parking is vertical: you heft your front tire over a hook high on the wall and line up both tires along the groove of a rod that extends below it. It is not without its surprises. The other day after work, I went to get my bike and found a huge heavy chain on it, like something that belonged to Marley’s Ghost. I went to the office to see what was up. I still had time to get where I was going, so I wasn’t unduly upset. “Someone has put a big heavy chain on my bike,” I told the attendant. He came to take a look and then went back and checked the computer. Apparently, the monthly fee had not yet been charged to my credit card. He took care of that, and put a little blue sticker on my bike, so the inspectors would not incarcerate it again. Now I know what happens if a cyclist tries to park for free in the Hippodrome. It’s the bike equivalent of having a boot put on your car.

Meanwhile, back in the car, cruising for a parking spot last Sunday evening, I set my watch to amuse myself by seeing exactly how long it would take: twenty minutes, including a few minutes spent in a spot that I thought was a bonanza until a study of the signs revealed that it was in a No Standing Monday-Friday zone. Finally, at the far end of my range, in the last spot before the river, I got lucky. While I was getting my stuff out of the trunk, a car pulled up and the driver asked if I was going out. I smiled and shook my head no. He gave me a thumbs-up to acknowledge my triumph in finding a spot that would be good for the next nine days. In the morning, I rode my bike back to the car to get a jar of mayonnaise and some Kalamata olives out of the trunk (I had cleaned out the refrigerator in Rockaway) and passed a tow truck removing a car from the No Standing zone.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

King Tide

Sitting in the car at high tide on Thursday felt like camping in the rain. Hopes ran high that the streetsweeper wouldn’t come, but why would a little rain stop him? The cops were out: they waddled from car to car like members of the Wide Family, their chartreuse foul-weather gear stretched over the multiple items of police equipment padding their hips.

The Broom comes early on this block. On Monday, it rumbled around the corner at 8:40 A.M. Thursday it showed up at 8:44. That means that if you get here at nine looking for an 8:30-10 spot, you may be too late. But if you happen to be sitting here already, in a nice, single-car spot between a No Standing sign and a curb cut, once the Broom has passed, the pressure is off. You can turn off the lights and the windshield wipers, move the seat back, and enjoy the view: gingkos (still green), an ornate tower top, a line of pigeons silhouetted on a roof.

Last week, after getting the water shut off at the bungalow (let it snow!), I went down to the boatyard to turn in the lanyard—the red coil with the black plastic ring that fits over the ignition on my outboard—so that the motor can be put away properly for the winter. The boat has been out of the water since the hurricane.



I went out on the bay three or four times this summer: visited the BOATEL, the art project/hotel made of boats at the 59th Street Marina, and ran aground at low tide off Broad Channel (I had to use the oars as poles to get out of the muck and then row). But I had no engine trouble, and that, combined with being away a lot, made me decide not to put the boat back in the water. I like having a season where I can say I had no engine trouble.

Ahead of me, a car left its spot and zipped across the street to take a spot that that had just opened on the Tuesday-Friday side. No sooner had he pulled out than another car swam in. It was strangely silent in the car: I had to keep the windows rolled up against the rain. The only sound was the swish of tires on wet asphalt.

The marina boss had left for the weekend, so I put the lanyard in the office with a note and called to make sure he'd found it. I also wanted to ask if he'd heard about the king tide. It was in the Times on October 26th: “A king tide will be running Wednesday and Thursday because gravitational forces of the sun, the moon and the earth will be lined up in a cue shot of fleeting geometry and rare power.” (The article, by Jim Dwyer, was about how this extra-high tide was a harbinger of things to come: the ocean level has been rising and could be this high all the time by 2080.)

The Boss had not seen the Times. “That’s all I need,” he said. “Another high tide.” During Hurricane Irene, he had had a foot and a half of water in his house. “Did they say how high it would be?”

"One to two feet above normal."

“Didja hear I got robbed?” I had heard, but I wanted him to tell it. “The restaurant barge. Twice.“ The barge, formerly a restaurant, is moored behind the dock. I've been dying to get in there; I see that they've been working on it, but it doesn't look much like a restaurant yet.

"What did they get?" I asked

"Tools and liquor. There were five of them. They saw the liquor, so they came back for more. My good tools. We’re trying to catch them. We got cameras. We took fingerprints.” There are cops living on the dock, so they may very well catch them. He didn't sound as mad as he must have been when it happened. I heard he was in a really bad mood.

The garbage recycling truck pulled up alongside me and started crunching glass and plastic. When it moved on, the garbagemen followed it, on the sidewalk. One of them was wearing big orange gloves, rubber boots, and gold earrings—she was a garbage girl.

Across the street, in a pile of bulky recyclable items, was a memento mori: the grille off a small truck or an S.U.V., silver gray. “Don’t look at that,” I wanted to say to the Éclair. The rain had tapered off by the time I got out of the car, at ten. I'd been sitting there so long that in Jamaica Bay the king tide would have begun to ebb already.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Milestone


It happened in Mifflinburg. Or was it Mifflinville? No, it was definitely Mifflinburg. I had taken my usual detour off I-80 on the way back from Ohio, cutting south in the middle of Pennsylvania to state route 45. I was poking along, sharing the road with the occasional horse-and-buggy, watching on the right for Wenger's Discount Grocery Outlet, where I like to stock up on dented cans of soup (I don't know why I get so excited about half-price dented cans of soup; it must be genetic). And then it happened: the odometer flipped over to 77,777.7.

Soon after that, my detour sprung a detour, because of flood damage along the Susquehanna River. I drove north along the river to Milton, a small but industrious town (home of Ettore Boiardi, a.k.a. Chef Boyardee), and when I got back to I-80 I found out that I had been on something signposted as the "Blue Detour." After another hundred miles or so, there was a massive traffic jam near the Delaware Water Gap, so I got off 80 again, and found myself on the "Green Detour." I have been seeing signs for these detours for years, and can report that they are indeed quite colorful.

I have been taking full advantage of the traditional fall parking holidays—between Columbus Day and Succoth, I didn't have to move the car for a week. But on the way home from New England last weekend, I was kicking myself for not having a copy of the alternate-side-parking calendar on me. I knew there were more holidays coming up, but I didn't know which side of the street to park on. I found a Tuesday-Friday spot, behind a huge Army truck, like something that had gotten separated from a convoy. It turned out that either side of the street would have worked, since both Thursday and Friday are religious holidays.

I was hoping the Army truck would be gone when I returned to do my civic duty on Tuesday morning. But no. It made for a dismal prospect: the back of a huge convoy-style armored truck, with tires as big as office cubicles and a dipstick the size of a pool cue. Needless to say, the US Army does not observe street-cleaning rules, so when the Broom came, I expected to have trouble squeezing back in between the tank and the lineup of S.U.V.s behind me.

The Broom came at 7:40, and I was able to zip back across the street and get in position (albeit about two feet from the curb) while the S.U.V.s were still lumbering around, holding up traffic. I had to pull up practically under the Army truck so that they could parallel park, and then ask them to back up so I could get closer to the curb.

Actually, I will be moving the car on Friday anyway, because I have to go out to Rockaway. It's time to turn the water off for the winter. My wonderful neighbors, who for the past two winters have been parking my car in exchange for getting to use it, recently told me that they're getting their own car, a GMC Jimmy. "We'll still take care of your car!" my friend T. said. I know they love my car. Who could resist her? Here she is enjoying a ferry ride, surrounded, as usual, by S.U.V.s

I am going to have to come up with a new plan for the winter.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wundervoll!

I got a dose of German this week, because Baby Dee played Berlin the same night as the Pope. (Here is an interview from the Berliner Zeitung: http://www.babydee.org/press/the-pope-is-on-the-guest-list.php). Luckily, she has lots of alternative hymns. She went from Berlin to Leipzig to Vienna, and tonight she is playing Hamburg. A few days ago, another piece ran in the Berliner Zeitung, a column (Die Warheit) by Michael Ringel, in which Baby Dee meets the Pope. Here's the the English translation, on Dee's Web site: http://www.babydee.org/press/rupture-in-being.php

Parking this morning was a breeze. There were two spots available upstream. Two cops came by (black chicks in white hats, with about twelve pounds of equipment hanging from their belts). The Broom turned the corner at 7:42 A.M., and the exercise went off like clockwork.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chaos and Recognition

It started off slowly: a guy in camouflage pants lovingly washing his hubcaps; a black fellow pulling a boom box on wheels; a young father pushing his little girl in a stroller (I recognized them from alternate-side parking last spring). Then an orange Tasty Hot Dog truck pulled in behind me, blocking a previously unobstructed view. A Move It … Yourself rent-a-truck parked across the street from the hot-dog truck, and a garbage truck double-parked behind it. Then there were sirens and flashing lights and a fire engine turned the corner. The garbage truck pulled up next to me and started grinding away.

I got out of the car. I had just found myself thinking that the day is coming when I'm not going to want to sit in the car anymore, even for a half hour. I joined two men, fellow-parkers, who were standing on the sidewalk observing the chaos.

We had not been standing there long before one of the men asked me, "Do you have a blog?" I was thrilled—he had recognized my car! "I work around here," he said. “I’ve noticed your car before.” He lives in Long Island and gets into the city at five-thirty in the morning. His car, a late-model Honda Civic with those cool retro license plates, was parked three cars up ahead of mine. As we talked, I was dismayed to see first the fire engine leave and then the garbage truck. “I was hoping we wouldn’t have to move,” I said.

“Here it comes,” my beloved reader said. The street sweeper had turned the corner. “We’re not moving,” my friend said. “It’s eight o'clock. They can’t make you move.” Actually, it was seven-fifty-five, and they could make me move. Maybe we girls are more easily intimidated, but I got in my car and started it up. I tried explaining to the driver of the street sweeper that there was no one in the car ahead of me and it was pointless to make me move, because the curb was parked up all the way to the end of the block. But he stayed behind me, all but pawing the ground like a pent-up bull.

Because I had not backed up preemptively, to give myself room to get in again, I was in a bad way. There was an interloper, a Subaru Outback, double-parked just ahead of me on the opposite side of the street, hoping to squeeze in. The hot-dog truck had moved up behind him. Damned if I was going to go around the block and let the Subaru usurp my place. But I couldn’t just sit here and refuse to move. Then the hot-dog truck backed up, which gave me room to pull out diagonally. I was still blocking the Broom from getting around the unoccupied car in front of me, so I honked at the Subaru. Miraculously, he moved up. The Broom swept through, followed by an endless stream of traffic.

That was when my beloved reader, who was still standing on the sidewalk with the other alternate-side parker, stepped into the street in front of a taxi and held up traffic while I reversed into my spot. Sometimes a knight in shining armor looks a lot like a businessman in a Honda Civic. Chivalry is not dead. Thanks!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Season's Greetings



Wow. I can't believe my luck on this first day of the new parking season. I left a Monday/Thursday 9:30-11 spot at about 8:45, to be well in time for a spot that would be good at ten. Last week at this time (given the time difference), I was sitting in an outdoor cafe in Rome with Mr. Zimmerman (pronounced TZEE-mare-mahn in Rome), watching Smart Cars zoom around. Also, the Segway seems to be enjoying a vogue in Rome—I saw whole fleets of them. The Eclair was safe in Rockaway, having survived an earthquake and a hurricane while I was on terra firma in Umbria, of all shaky places. Just before leaving in mid-August, I had the car inspected and got her air-conditioning fixed. It cost a month's rent (which, fortunately, in my guise of capitalist landlady, I had collected, not paid), and I had to think about whether to go through with the repairs, but not for long: not to get the air-conditioning fixed would be to admit that the Eclair was on her way out.

So I'm on my way up the avenue, snarling at Mayor Bloomberg for having reconfigured traffic so that I would have to commit myself to the left-hand lane in order to turn in case I saw a spot in the Sanctuary, when, lo and behold, I saw a spot in the Sanctuary! It was well clear of the fire hydrant, one of only six spots available in that sacred space. The spot would be good at nine, and it was 8:53. I didn't even need the takeout coffee and the Times I'd brought along. So, I would like to give something back to the city for bestowing this gift on me. Accept these figs, the first picked from the tree in the garden behind the house in Umbria, where I spent a fruitful couple of weeks.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bad Moments in Parking

You know it is time to get off the street when you have had three bad parking experiences in a row. Yesterday morning at nine, I had to move my car from a swiftly expiring Tuesday-Friday 9:30-11 spot to an 8:30-10 spot before work. I went up one block and down another before finding a spot between a Dodge Caravan and a Toyota Camry. It was tight—those Caravans are so massive that it is hard to parallel park behind them—and my first try did not go well, so I pulled out and tried again. There was no one in the Caravan, and it looked like the Camry was unoccupied, too—that is, until I gave its front end a little kiss with my back bumper. Oops.

“So sorry I nudged you,” I said, jumping out of the car to apologize. The woman behind the wheel scowled and got out of her car to see the damages. Her car was a later model than mine, but its front license plate was every bit as mangled from parking on the street as the Éclair’s, and any smudge I left could easily have been attributed to a preexisting condition. She had to have seen me struggling, and there was a good two feet of clearance behind her, so I said, “You could have backed up a little.” Mistake.

“Well, I was reading the paper and you didn’t have the courtesy to ask me to back up,” she said. She was mean: heavy, with messy gray hair, a rumpled shirt the shade Crayola calls Orchid, and blue polyester pants. A big bunch of keys dangled around her neck, giving her the air of a prison warden.

I shut up and got back in my car, and read my own newspaper. The Times had a story about Dennis Kucinich, saying that in anticipation of his district's being eliminated in Ohio he was investigating the possibility of a run for Congress in the state of Washington. Poor Cousin Dennis. He had to give up his run for the Presidency in 2008 to protect his seat in Congress, and now he might have to leave Cleveland, our ancestral stronghold, to stay in the game at all. I bet he could win in Washington, even as a carpetbagger. Though the Times ignored him when he was running for President, now they are admitting that he has name recognition.

At 9:40, the Warden got out of her car and zipped up a fleece jacket with a Navajo print. She was way overdressed for alternate-side parking—it was a steamy morning. Maybe that's why she was so crabby. Her newspaper was a freebie tabloid that she wadded up in a big ball and threw away. I kept hoping she’d leave, and a cop would come and give her car a ticket. But she patrolled the street as if it were a cellblock and her shift was up at two minutes to ten.

This was the third of three unpleasant experiences, one of which was vicarious. Last Friday, Baby Dee was in town, and we both had to move our cars at seven-thirty in the morning. Dee gave me a ride to my parking space and then went off to find her own. I got home at a little after eight, and Dee didn’t make it back until almost eleven. “What happened?” I asked. “Just a little bad luck,” she said. “There were a million people driving around in that hour or so before the alternate side thing kicked in. I should have done that thing of putting it at the meter until the change came. We did that once before.” I somehow hadn’t had the energy that morning to suggest the three-step parking routine and offer her four pounds of quarters. Usually there are free spaces on Fridays, because people are leaving for the weekend. Dee had driven around for almost two hours, she said. Then, “I found myself behind the street sweeper and all the cars were lining up for a spot to wait until 10:30 and I realized that was as good as it was going to get.” She parked a mile away and had to walk home. Later, she said she had seen a lot of young people in caps and gowns, and figured that their parents had come to town in for graduation and were taking up all the parking places.

As if to punish me for not giving my spot to Dee and trying my own luck, when I wanted to leave for the beach on Saturday, my car wouldn't start. That was the day the world was supposed to end. Was the first symptom a dead car battery? The steering wheel was jammed and the key wouldn’t turn in the ignition. I couldn’t even roll down the stupid automatic windows to get some air while I agonized. I was about to call AAA when a guy drove up beside me who wanted my space bad enough to help. He knew how to unjam the steering wheel (stomp on the brake and give the wheel a good jerk). But still, when I turned the key, nothing happened. I tried jiggling the cutoff switch, an anti-theft device that I have never mastered. Eventually, with some combination of jumper cables, the right key, and a flick of the cutoff switch, the car started and I drove off, bequeathing my spot to the Good Samaritan.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Deetroit

This review on the online calendar of Cliff Bell's (http://www.cliffbells.com/events.php), where Dee appeared on Friday night, is worth reposting. The author is Kurt B. Reighley.

"It takes nerve for a grown woman to bill herself as “Baby” and expect to be taken seriously—unless you’re Baby Dee. If anyone’s earned a moniker like this, it is she. In her storied career, the Cleveland, OH, songwriter has worked circuses and sideshows. Yes, her cackling laugh and wild eyes can unnerve, but she doesn’t seem the sort to lock her older sister in an upstairs room and serve rats for supper. She’s too good-natured for that.

As curious as she is—there aren’t many transgendered harpists who love a good cigar—Baby Dee doesn’t peddle “outsider” music. And even though she’s releasing records on Drag City these days, she still runs in the same circles as Current 93, Little Annie, and Marc Almond. Her Art-with-a-capitol-A speaks of a commitment to discipline and stylistic choices far removed from traditional indie rock.

With its references to German lieder (particularly Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig”), Baby Dee’s 2008 breakthrough Safe Inside the Day flirted with classical music. Regifted Light embraces it further. Eight of the 12 selections are instrumentals, arranged for small ensemble: piano, cello, a few winds and brass, glockenspiel and other percussion. Producer Andrew WK contributes pump organ. The instrumentation may evoke programmatic favorites like “Peter and the Wolf,” but the execution—particularly in the lively mid-section of standout “Yapapipi”—rings closer to Stravinsky’s theater piece “L’Histoire du Soldat.” As for the vocal works, it isn’t difficult to imagine some earnest young mezzo-soprano warbling “On The Day I Died” or the title song in a recital hall. But even a singer with superior technique couldn’t top Dee’s performance of “The Pie Song,” which brings surprising depth and range of feeling to a seemingly frivolous little ditty. And that is the magic of Baby Dee: she illuminates her music—however you define it—with a mix of childlike exuberance and hard-won experience few others, in any discipline, can match." -Kurt B. Reighley

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Morning After

“It was like a ferris wheel ride where the operator keeps letting you go around once more.” That’s how J. Kathleen White described Baby Dee’s show on Tuesday at Joe’s Pub. Dee is touring with a cellist (Matthew Robinson) and two guys from Mucca Pazza, the Chicago marching band: a percussionist (Jon Steinmeir) and a bassoonist (Mark Messing), who had also brought his Sousaphone. An ear-splitting fire alarm went off just as Dee was starting her first lovely slug song, “Regifted Light”; we didn’t have to evacuate, and when it stopped, she simply started over. The false alarm would not have bothered a slug. Dee has played Joe’s Pub so many times, she said, that she has gotten used to feeling the subway rumble underneath, and wonders if the people on the train below ever think, hearing music from above, “I could get used to that.”

The instrumentation was more conducive to funny songs than to dirges. Little Annie made an appearance; she and Dee are working on an album together. And, after playing most of the songs on the new CD (“Lullaby Parade” was especially beguiling), as well as "The Early King" and "Teeth Are the Only Bones that Show," Dee got out the Baby Dee Hymnal: she did the Mormon Underwear song, led the congregation in “Pisspot” (to raise our self-esteem), and sang “Jesus Got a Plan for You” (“He’s gonna fry your fat ass in Hell”). She finished with “Tranny Girl,” a song that, when I first heard it, back in the nineties, made me want to dive under the table. When I realized what she was playing, I thought, Oh, no! I’ve invited all these people from the office! But they enjoyed it! Even I enjoyed it—which says at least as much about my evolution as it does about Dee's delivery.

A few days later, Dee and company were on their way to Cleveland to play a house concert, and I was back at my post on Little Kiss Street (formerly K Street), behind yet another black S.U.V., this one presided over by a woman of a certain age who wore a black sweatsuit and a green hairband. She was very bossy, but she lives on the block and she had my interests at heart, so I can’t complain. In front of her was a small white car whose owner had incurred her wrath by not showing up on Monday, thereby complicating our parking maneuvers, the son of a bitch. She showed up on Thursday, though, and we all joined forces against a guy who tried to insinuate himself into our lineup. He had been too close to the fire hydrant, and when the Broom came, he backed all the way up the street and stood in the spot that I had been planning on occupying while the Broom went by (followed closely by a Lay's potato-chip truck in a big fat greasy hurry). The bossy S.U.V. owner and I had no choice but to go into wedge formation and block the guy from taking one of our spots.

“That guy has never parked on this block before,” a man said when eight o'clock came and we all trudged off, having earned our spots until next Monday. "He doesn't know the drill."

Friday, May 6, 2011

Little Kiss Street

Last week, when alternate-side was suspended for Passover, I found a highly vulnerable spot on K Street, just around the corner from the avenue, the Éclair’s back end protruding slightly into the crosswalk. The cop who came last Friday morning was super friendly. (I had found room to move the car up out of the crosswalk by then.) “Do you know this guy?” she asked, indicating the black Nissan Murano in front of me. I said I didn’t know him. (Nor do I know why an S.U.V. should be named after an island of glassblowers.) “Why can’t people wake up on time?” she wailed. She was an attractive cop, with loops of long brown hair tucked under her white metermaid cap. “I like to give them a few minutes, you know?” She wrote the ticket slowly, and had placed it reluctantly on the windshield when a harried-looking guy approached carrying a baby girl. Everyone felt bad about the ticket, with the possible exception of the little girl, who thought it was fun to sit in the car with her father first thing in the morning.

I was back out there at 7:30 A.M. on Tuesday, having been lucky enough to score a spot after I returned from Rockaway, this time on the other side of the black Murano, better protected from turning buses. There was a beige Toyota Corolla in front of me, and a potbellied guy with a Mini-Cooper in the spot up at the corner. The street sweeper came, and we pulled diagonally across the street in the time-honored fashion. Getting back into my spot was a bit tricky, and I did something I've never done before: I accidentally grazed the bumper of the Toyota. Oops. I got out of the car to apologize and inspect the damages. There was a gray smudge on the bumper about the size of an eraser. The guy wasn’t happy about it, but he wasn’t insane, so he accepted my apology.

The Murano was still there today, but the car in front of me was a black GMC pickup called a Canyon. So I was between Murano and the Canyon. When the street sweeper came, it idled in my spot, because a car farther down the street had not moved, and the Canyon owner, a big guy who looked like a K.G.B. agent, refused to pull up a little and let the street sweeper squeeze behind him. Meanwhile, the Murano had returned to its spot, and somehow the Canyon also got back in before I did. It sometimes happens that somebody’s spot shrinks after the street sweeper goes by, and today that happened to me. "I don't know why it got so tight," the Murano owner said, as I parallel-parked with his guidance. I tapped the bumper of the Canyon in front of me. Oops. (This is getting altogether too much like the Bump'em Cars concession at Coney Island.) I got out and went up to his car window to apologize. “Sorry for tapping you,” I said. And the K.G.B. guy's face split open in a big gaptoothed grin, and he said, “Little kiss!”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Before & After




The foot surgery has been over for two and a half months now, and until I can walk without pain or lurching, I am going to take comfort from the things that made it almost worthwhile. Chief among those was:

Taxis. Taking taxis is an expensive habit and, once acquired, hard to break. The commute to Times Square cost anywhere from eight to twelve dollars (including tip). The best, most efficient drivers got screwed, because I calculated the tip from the meter. Only one driver asked me what route I wanted to take. Coincidentally, he was also the only driver who was a native-born American, and the only one who asked me what happened to my foot. Others were Greek and Egyptian and Indian and Algerian and Tibetan and Pakistani and Bangladeshi. One driver took me straight up Park to 42nd and then couldn’t make a left turn, so I had to take a crosstown bus the rest of the way. Another took me to Herald Square instead of Times Square, and then had to go over to Eighth Avenue to get uptown and couldn’t make a right turn onto 42nd, so I had to limp from there. For some reason, I thought he was Samoan.

The scooter was a big hit around the office. I tried taking it out on the street, but it had no shock absorbers, and rattling over the city sidewalks was pretty bone-jarring. I soon learned to use it only for essential errands, like exchanging cat food when Petco delivered a case of the wrong stuff.

Home delivery is one of the things I had been saving for extreme old age, but no longer. I don’t know if I can be bothered to carry home my own groceries ever again. It’s so easy: I call, give my order to a surprisingly smart girl, she picks out the biggest bunch of bananas in the store, the guy shows up with a twenty-pound bag of cat litter, I tip him, and I end up saving money because if I went to the store myself, even if I picked out a smaller bunch of bananas and bought only a ten-pound bag of litter, I’d end up spending more because I'd buy all kinds of things that weren’t on my list. Home delivery from Petco did not work out that well (see above, under Scooter). You know how the cashiers are always on the phone when you’re trying to check out? Well, it wasn't with me. I was on hold in the hamster department.

Sneakers: Before this winter, I had never worn sneakers to the office. I have never been one to overdress for work, but under doctor's orders to wear sneakers, I found myself sinking to new sartorial lows to make the sneakers blend in. I observed not only Casual Friday but also Casual February, March, and April.

It is almost impossible to get a taxi in Times Square, so to get home from work I have had to resort to buses—another thing that, like home delivery and matinees, I was saving for old age. Now that I can take the subway again, guess what: I prefer not to. I like the bus. I like to sit up front in one of the seats reserved for the handicapped and look out the window. I used to think buses were too slow, but if you're not going far, it doesn't take that long, and a bus ride is blissfully quiet compared with the subway. Once, my bus got rerouted from Fifth to Seventh, and instead of getting irritable I realized I could transfer to a crosstown bus that would let me off even closer to home. A woman with her leg in a cast got on at Fifth Avenue and sat down next to me, and I recognized her: she was a friend of a friend—I'd been to her place for dinner, and I'd heard that she had killer shin splints or something. We thought it was hilarious that our various ailments had landed us both on the same bus. She'd been on a Fifth Avenue bus, and knew that my bus had been rerouted because of a fire—flames were shooting out of the top of a building. You would never find this kind of camaraderie in the subway.

Baby Dee's Spring Tour


Baby Dee's new CD "Regifted LIght" was recorded at her home in Cleveland, Ohio, on the Steinway grand on loan from Andrew W.K., who produced the album. Also with Matthew Robinson on cello and members of Mucca Pazza, the fabulous Chicago-based marching band, on bassoon, glockenspiel, melodica, sousaphone, and more. The lovely cover art, by Christina de Vos (above), was inspired by Dee's slug songs. For interviews and photos, visit Baby Dee's Official Web Site (link at left).

I am looking forward to the show at Joe's Pub, on May 10th. The house concert in Cleveland, on May 12th, is going to be the event of the season. I don't know where Nelsonville, Ohio, is, but all ye in the Columbus area, put it on your calendars: "Baby Dee—May 14th!" Dee is talking about playing the whole album, straight through. Members of Mucca Pazza will be along on the tour.

Hooray for Baby Dee!

May 04 The Strutt Kalamazoo MI
May 05 The Hideout Chicago IL
May 06 Andy Warhol Museum Pittsburgh PA
May 07 The Music Gallery Toronto Ontario Canada
May 08 Casa Del Popolo Montreal Canada
May 09 Cafe 939 Boston MA
May 10 Joe's Pub New York NY
May 11 First Unitarian Side Chapel Philadelphia, PA
May 12 House Concert Cleveland, Ohio
May 13 Cliff Bell's Detroit MI w/ Raw Truth Ensemble
May 14 Nelsonville Music Festival Nelsonville OH

Monday, April 18, 2011

Corrections

In the spirit of Tax Day, my New Hampshire friend points out that I miscalculated the amount she spent on parking back in February, when she devised her own parking strategies, independent of my hectoring. Metered parking on my street costs 50 cents for 12 minutes. That’s $2.50 an hour (or ten quarters)—not, as I wrote, $5 an hour. So for four hours of metered parking—one hour the first morning and three hours on the morning she left, running down to feed the meter hourly between episodes of “Top Chef”—the grand total came to ten dollars (or forty quarters), half the amount I reported. I stand corrected.

She would also like me to point out that it was well worth that amount—and the trouble of collecting quarters and watching the clock—not to have to schlep her luggage to a free parking spot several blocks away. (She does not travel light.) I could have countered that it would have been possible, if she had parked at some distance, to drive back to my street and pack the car before getting on the road. I saved my breath, however, because I knew she might not be able to find a spot on her return, and then I’d never hear the end of it.

Alternate side parking is suspended for the rest of the week and on into next week, for Passover and Easter. Spring is in the air, the price of gas has shot way up, and it’s time to bring the Éclair back to the city.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Back-Seat Parker


Most of the time when people with cars visit me they defer to my parking wisdom. Baby Dee always asks my advice, and I’ve given very specific directions to a friend from Massachusetts, which she has followed with great success. (No parking tickets.) So it was a surprise last weekend when a friend from New Hampshire proved resistant. As she prepared to go out to find a spot on Sunday at around noon (good instinct), she announced—after I had expended considerable breath recommending that she take advantage of Presidents’ Day, when alternate-side parking would be suspended, by driving several blocks to the Sanctuary (though it would probably be full already)—“I’m parking across the street.”

“But then you’ll have to feed the meter,” I said. She seemed not to mind. I had told her how to find a spot the Thursday before, and apparently she did not enjoy my machinations. I laid out for her a three-part parking scheme: (1) At 7:30 A.M., she had to move her car to the other side of the street, where it was good till eight. (2) At 8 A.M. she had to move the car back to my side of the street and feed the meter (1 hour = $5, in quarters). (3) Nine was the best time to look for a spot on an 8:30-10 block, after the street sweeper had gone by, and when she found one [exhaustive directions suppressed; she ignored them anyway] she had to sit in the car till ten. She particularly resented this last part, telling me that lots of people left their cars. And there she was, a prisoner, in a car with New Hampshire license plates, which say “Live Free or Die.”

I just couldn’t impress on her the advantages of being parked a half mile away. She probably suspected (rightly) that I was trying to get her to stay longer. They were forecasting snow for Monday, and if it turned into a blizzard it would definitely be better for her to be in an unmetered spot. Anyway, she found a spot across the street that was good till eight on Monday morning, when she moved to my side of the street and started pumping quarters into the Muni Meter. Fortunately, I had plenty of quarters, because I am one of those people who empties the change out of her pockets every day and takes it to the Penny Arcade to be counted once a year. And being parked right in front of the building did make it easier for her to pack the car. She spent another fifteen dollars—or sixty quarters—on parking, which is at least a hundred dollars less than she would have spent if she had put the car in a garage for four days. And we got to watch three episodes of “Top Chef” together before she left, at noon, when it had stopped snowing.

The highlight of my friend’s stay came last Friday, when the temperature reached sixty-seven degrees, and we cruised up Park Avenue in a Mustang convertible with the top down and the radio blaring. The Mustang belongs to my Rockaway friend the Catwoman, who visited me in Manhattan for the first time. Sorry I didn’t get a picture of the car.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rolling Rolling Rolling

When I went to move my car last week from in front of the Taj Mahal, it was not there—the Taj Mahal, I mean. The car was fine, and made it up over the hump of snow and out to Rockaway, where I left it on the Street of No Parking Restrictions. But the Taj Mahal hologram in the window of the gallery I had parked in front of had dematerialized, and I am not sure if that is just in the nature of holograms or if the gallery has closed.

Not that I will be in any condition to follow up on it soon. Yes, dear readers, the Alternate Side Parker has been sidelined with a pedestrian injury. I had surgery last week on my accelerator foot, and am currently using a Roll-a-Bout to navigate the three rooms of my apartment.



The Roll-a-Bout is an evolutionary leap over crutches, and I applaud it heartily and rely on it heavily, except when crutches are necessary to play on the heartstrings of plumbers. (My recovery coincided with a plumbing crisis: something behind the wall or under my bathroom floor was leaking onto the newly renovated bathroom in the apartment below. Thanks to my pathetic invalid condition, the plumbers were able to find and fix the leak with a minimum of damage or inconvenience.)

I was hoping that yesterday’s mail would contain a valentine from the New York Department of Finance’s Adjudication Division. Earlier this month, I received the decision on my appeal in the matter of the curb cut. The form for this is evenhanded to a fault. It is headed “In the Matter of the Appeal of,” under which find my name and address, license plate number, and summons number(s). Then there is a choice of verdicts: “Upon review of the entire record before us, we find no error of fact or law. The Judge’s decision is upheld” and “Upon review of the entire record before us, we find error. The decision is reversed and the prior payment will be returned.” Below that, it says, in parentheses, “A mark has been placed next to the applicable decision.”

The letter was artfully folded so that the faintly crossed-out verdict fell on the fold, and it took a while to decipher the fact that the judges unanimously (O.K., so there were only two of them) found my appeal persuasive: “we find error.” Yes! It is signed (indecipherably) by two Administrative Law Judges, above a section headed “Codes,” in which the letters “O / M / O / N” are printed, just like that, between slashes, twice, in a space that would accommodate six codes. I don’t know how to decode it, but I figure it means “That first judge was an idiot.”

The point is that I won. But I don't expect to feel the full triumph of judicial victory until I receive that check for $195.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Big Dig

“You need a hand?” I’d call these the four most beautiful words in the English language, especially when spoken by a man holding a shovel and crossing the street to where I was digging out the Éclair. I had left work early to go to the hardware store and buy a shovel—a yellow plastic model with a steel-rimmed blade. It was not ideal—what I needed was a pickaxe—but it was all they had. The Éclair has been out on the street through two storms. She is parked on the right-hand side, meaning that the plow was angled against her. Not only was she buried in snow but tree limbs had fallen on her, and two of them were sticking up on the roof like antlers.



My new friend, Jose, knew exactly what he was doing. He told me to dig out the door first, so that I could get in the car and warm it up. Great chunks of crusty black plow leavings were barnacled to her side. We chipped away at them, tossing clunkers into the street behind us when there were no cars passing. He worked at the front end, and I worked at the back end. On either side of the car was a ten-foot mound. On the sidewalk, garbage bags were piled against the snowbank. I was parked in front of a gallery, and the two men inside, closing up shop, watched to make sure we didn’t throw snow on the sidewalk they had painstakingly cleared. A taxi-driver stopped opposite us, rolled down his passenger-side window, and laughed: "Hah-hah."

We cleared the exhaust pipe and the wheel wells on the street side. After a while, Jose told me to turn on the defroster. He dug a path through to the sidewalk, while I pushed the snow off the roof and the hood and the trunk and the windows. (I was relieved to find no parking tickets under the snow.) He had an excellent shovel, a garden shovel, squared off, the better to chop ice. He called it “my baby.” He kept showing me his technique, and mentioned that he was with the Department of Sanitation. When it came time to move the garbage bags, he said, “I do garbage, too.”

I wasn’t actually going anyplace—word arrived today that "Alternate Side Parking regulations remain suspended Citywide until further notice"—but the weather report was so dire that I felt I ought to do something. We are in for fifty hours of wintry mix: freezing rain, snow, regular rain, and then ice. Imagine that on top of ten inches of old snow. Jose recommended that I come out in the morning and start her up again, and I knew that would be a good idea. I paid him handsomely, and we parted, but not before I took time to admire what a handsome parking place we had carved out. Only then did I notice that the gallery I was parked in front of had in its window a hologram of the Taj Mahal.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I [Heart] Snow

This just in: Alternate Side Parking suspended UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE! Hurray!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Design Flaw

Much as I love the Éclair, there have always been a few things about her that I could do without. One is the automatic windows. I like the kind of windows you have to crank up and down, and that you don’t have to turn on the ignition to roll up if you forget. Also, I would have preferred a stick shift, and I’d have loved to have a moon roof. But the most irritating feature of the vintage 1990 Honda Civic four-door sedan is its newfangled (at the time) seat belts, with their two-pronged approach to pinning you in your seat: a lap belt and a separate shoulder belt that automatically slides back and strangles you when you turn the key in the ignition. (This design was short-lived: in later models, the two belts were combined into one.)

There is also an annoying beeper that tells you when the seat belt isn’t fastened. My Rockaway car-sitters, T & T, called last week to say that it was beeping nonstop, even when the seat belts were all securely fastened, and asked if there was some trick to turning the damn thing off. Apparently the Eclair had been beeping since New Year’s, when I left it parked with one rear wheel up on the curb (I was sober; it was the snow banks that were at fault). Mr. T. solved the problem by turning the radio up. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand it on the five-hundred-mile trek across Pennsylvania, so last Friday, when I went out to Rockaway to pick up the car before leaving for my literary debut in Cleveland, I drove straight to my mechanic, Sir James Bulloch.

“All we’ll do is disconnect it,” Big Bulloch said when I described the problem. And that was all I asked. He put a mechanic to work on it, and right away it was clear that it wasn’t going to be easy. They had to bring the car inside and put it on the lift. It was about noon, and I was hoping to get back to Manhattan and on the road before rush hour. I went for coffee, and when I got back, maybe a half hour later, Baby Bulloch was in the office. “That must drive you crazy,” he said. Then I heard it: she was still beeping. I suddenly remembered something I had to do and went across the street to the liquor store. When I got back, the garage was blessedly silent. “They had to take the whole panel off,” Big Bulloch said. “They’re just putting it together now.” He said I would have to buckle the seat belt manually. As the automatic seat belt had never been my favorite feature, I didn’t mind. He charged me forty dollars and threw in a gallon of windshield-wiper fluid.

Anyone who has ever ridden shotgun in the Éclair will probably be pleased to hear that not only has the beeper been disabled but the entire shoulder-belt assembly has lost its will to throttle. You can buckle it, but the belt doesn’t ride back against your throat. The bad news, of course, is that it’s illegal to drive without the shoulder belt (I have been stopped for not wearing it), so it is extra important not to do anything that might attract a cop’s attention, like run a red light, for instance (which I would never do), or make a U-turn (which I would do only if it was strictly convenient) or speed (which this would be a good incentive to give up).

I was on the road by about three-thirty, and everything was going according to plan until dusk fell. For some reason, the dashboard lights weren’t working. When I’d asked, back in Rockaway, what might have caused the car to beep without ceasing, Bulloch had shrugged and said, “Could be a bad module.” I pulled into a rest area and made sure that the headlights were on, wondering what else might have gotten disconnected. While not mechanically essential, the dashboard at night is a sign of intelligent life, and I missed it. Without the dashboard lights, I couldn’t see how fast I was going or how many miles I’d gone or how much gas I had left. It was as if the car had had a stroke.

I got 177 miles into the trip before stopping at a Days Inn in Danville Pennsylvania. The gas tank was nearly empty. The next day, in addition to the stroke symptoms, the car developed Parkinson’s disease. It shook violently, especially at low speeds (my solution, of course, was to speed up). In Cleveland, I drove straight to the neighborhood mechanic, Wally, who told me I needed two tires. I asked him to take a look at the dashboard lights, and he was able to fix that problem, too. "I plugged in a module," he said. I snuck back into New York, on my new tires, between two storm systems, and found a parking spot that is good until next Tuesday or maybe longer, depending on whether the Mayor keeps having to suspend alternate side parking on account of snow.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Unkindest Curb Cut


I have been in a bad mood since New Year’s Eve, when my mailbox contained two thin, identical envelopes from the Adjudication Division of the NYC Department of Finance. At first I took the thinness for a sign of innocence: no return envelope, ergo no fine. But I was wrong. The judge in the case of the curb cut (see post of Oct. 20th) found me GUILTY and said that my evidence—a photo of the Ninth Church of Christ, Scientist, the only church so designated in the metropolitan area—was “not probative.” As if I would send in a picture of just any old curb cut and not the one I was parked at when accused of obstructing a driveway.

I had purposely kept my defense succinct in order not to waste anyone’s time, but since that didn’t work I sent an appeal that runs to 736 words, written at white heat, as well as seven pieces of evidence, including a series of digital photographs designed to locate indisputably the Ninth Church of Christ, Scientist. In the course of my research, I discovered that there used to be a fire house at that address, which accounts for the curb cut. Unfortunately, I had to enclose payment ($190) with my appeal (grrrrr).

As if that were not enough, in mid-December I received another communication from the Department of Finance, saying I hadn’t paid yet another ticket, one that I’d never received. I went online and found a copy: it was for allegedly violating a “No Standing—Commercial Vehicles Only” sign on November 15th, at exactly the time that I was bragging about the spot I found on K Street where, if I wished, I could stay until Martin Luther King Day (which is upon as at last). The ticket was written completely in error by a blockhead who conflated the street number with an avenue address, and didn’t see which way the arrow points on the “No Standing” sign. I confined my defense to a single scathing typewritten page, and included four photographs to document the exact location of the sign with reference to local landmarks (I couldn’t take a picture of the address on the ticket, because it doesn’t exist) and printouts of relevant passages from two blog posts. All this took hours, and it still makes me mad just to think about it.

The only good thing to come out of it is the above photo of the Birdman of K Street, taken, totally by accident, I have to admit, while trying to document the legality of my beloved parking spot.

Meanwhile, alternate-side parking has been suspended for weeks, to facilitate snow removal and garbage pickup, and there has been delicious coverage in the Times, including this great story on how car-owners in the neighborhood of Boston known as Southie reserve dug-out parking spaces by placing things like lawn chairs in them, and then doing violence to any car that dares to park there. (I hope it doesn’t come to that in New York. They play mean in Southie.) There was also this piece, about the longest-ever period that alternate-side has been suspended in New York: 56 days in the winter of 1978, the year after I moved here and junked my ’65 Plymouth Fury II.