Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Foot Notes

Some of you may have been wondering what ever happened to the Alternate Side Parker’s right foot. Did it ever heal? Or did she Google her foot surgeon after the fact and discover that he was a barbaric quack? What sort of alternative therapies did she seek for chronic irritability due to minor foot pain? What finally worked?

Answers: Sort of. Yes. Acupuncture. Herein lies a tale.

I did not go out to the bungalow much this winter, though it was so mild. My neighbors, after scaring me last fall by acquiring a car of their own, sent that car back (it had a rusty underbelly) and kept the Éclair, using it to take their little boy to nursery school, thus continuing our winter long-distance valet-parking arrangement. The last time I saw the car was when I got my winter coat out of storage, in the trunk, in December. That day, I puttered around the house for a few hours—my friend C. had come out with me—and only when I was leaving, after I had potted up the last of the tulip bulbs and put the padlock on the door to the back porch, and had come around to insert the hook into the eye on the inside of the porch door, for added security, did I notice that there was a hook, but there weren’t no eye. Just then, C. put her hand to the screen next to the door and lifted it like a flap. Security had been breached.

Because I am always trying to stretch the season, I hadn’t completely closed up the house, which means locking the windows by the rather primitive method of sticking nails through the frames. So anyone who gained access to the porch would be able to open the windows and climb in. I accosted a neighbor and asked him if he’d noticed anyone in my bungalow, and he said, with maddening casualness, “Oh, yeah.” Another neighbor had noticed it, too, he said, but they didn’t have my phone number, so they didn’t do anything. This neighbor, whom I call Pee-wee, and to whom I now reluctantly divulged my phone number, is the kind of guy who, when you take an old falling-apart grill that belonged to your neighbor on the other side who got evicted and that you were tired of looking at and put out on the street for the garbagemen, retrieves said grill and hauls it back and installs it on the other side of the house, where you get to look at it some more. Once, last summer, I heard someone calling my name and went to the door to find Pee-wee, on his bicycle, the basket full of pesticides—partially used spritzers of aphid poison, etc.—that he had scavenged and that he now offered to me like a door-to-door salesman: "Ma'am, can I interest you in these perfectly good insecticides?" And I accepted! So now I am indebted to my neighbor for an unwanted arsenal of bug poison. What was I thinking?

But I digress … The stapler, of course, picked that moment to run out of staples, and it was not immediately clear how to replenish them—at least, not to me and not to Pee-wee—but while Pee-wee went home to get his own stapler, C. read the directions, inserted fresh staples, and calmly reattached the screen to the porch frame. I fretted and went around with a paper cup of rusty nails to drive through the window frames, and made sure nothing was missing (there is not much in the bungalow worth taking), and that no one had slept in my bed or defiled my space with empty Budweiser cans. I had, after all, been in the house for at least two hours without noticing anything wrong, so if there was a squatter at least he was a highly respectful one.

It was only when we were on our way back to Manhattan that I realized the upside of the situation: it was not that I had engendered good karma by giving shelter to the Bodhisattva on a rainy day but that for several hours after the squatter, in the crazed effort to secure the place with staples and fishing line, I completely forgot to remember that there had ever been anything wrong with my foot.

(Cartoon by Joe Dator; The New Yorker, February 13, 2012.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Spots

I went to see the 9/11 Memorial with a friend over the weekend. Admission is free, but you have to reserve tickets in advance and show up at the appointed time. Our time was ten-thirty on Sunday, March 18th.

My friend had driven down from Massachusetts and was willing to give up her parking spot to take the car to the financial district. “How likely are we to find a parking spot down there?” she asked. I honestly had no idea. My friends think I know my way around, and although I used to live in the financial district, I have not tried to park there since the day I moved here from Vermont in my Plymouth Fury II.

It didn’t begin well. The Google map I had printed out did not reflect any of the street closings surrounding the construction of the new World Trade Center or the changing traffic patterns of the Bloomberg administration, a circumstance that was complicated by my deep skepticism and resistance to authority, so that if a sign saying “Chambers St. Detour—Broadway, Brooklyn Bridge” had an arrow pointing left, I said "Turn right." After many thwarted byways, we followed the detour and eventually found an amazing parking spot on Cortlandt Street, right in front of Century 21. Too bad we weren't shopping for underwear.

We passed Zuccotti Park, which was conspicuously empty and being power-washed, and walked to the southeast rim of the construction site. It hadn’t occurred to me until just that morning that security would necessarily be tight at the site, and sure enough: it was just like an airport, only you didn’t have to take your shoes off—the maze and the trays and the conveyor belts, X rays, and metal detectors, ending in a chaotic bottleneck. Once we were out on the open field, there was still a tendency of the people to move straight ahead in a column.

As you approach the memorial, you see a big square pit of a waterfall in the “footprint” of one of the towers: water combs down four walls into a pool and then pours into a center well, which is black and apparently without bottom. It is an image of heartbreak. The names of the dead are carved in the stone around the edges, and you can put your hand under the slab into the water. It was a gray morning, so the elements—the sky, the stone, the water—were gray and black and silver. An identical fountain (but with other names) occupies the footprint of the other tower. There is also a building containing old beams from the Twin Towers. It is designed to look shattered.

Neither my friend nor I had lost anyone on 9/11. I’m not even sure why I wanted to go down there. It was impossible not to be moved by the falling water and the sense of loss and the thousands of names engraved in stone. After slowly walking the rims of both fountains and running our hands over the names, we found our way out.

I was completely turned around. “Is that where I said the Hudson was?” I asked. Back in the car, I thought we were headed north when we were going east, following that damned detour again, along Chambers Street and over the Brooklyn Bridge to Atlantic Avenue and Washington Avenue, which runs alongside the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and where we scored a generous parking spot amid daffodils and winter honeysuckle, and saw an apricot tree in bloom on our way to the magnolias—saucer magnolias, star magnolias, hybrids, white-white, creamy-white, pale pink, vivid pink, yellowish, with that wonderful thick flesh and that faint perfume you don’t catch until you’re at the end of a very deep breath.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Friday's Times had a front-page piece about parking in San Francisco, featuring our friend Donald Shoup, the parking professor at U.C.L.A. He starts one chapter of his book, "The High Cost of Free Parking," by quoting George Costanza, who, like many of us, felt it was his birthright to park for free. Professor Shoup says that, in the great scheme of things, there is no such thing as a free parking spot. His idea is that the more a metered space costs, the sooner a driver will leave it, making it available for the next guy. The most expensive metered parking spots on the streets of San Francisco cost $4.50 an hour. (On my block in New York it's $3 an hour.) The city has embedded sensors in the streets to track the popularity and availability of parking spots. Professor Shoup envisions a parking utopia, with all the revenue from the meters going toward maintenance of the streets the meters are on and improvements in public transportation.

I looked for Professor Shoup on Facebook, seeking to "like" him, but what came up was a YouTube video of the Professor, looking all tweedy, with a bow tie and a beard, cycling the campus like Mr. Chips. What an odd academic subspecialty: parking theory. And yet how admirable: here is a guy who not only does not pay for parking but makes parking pay him. I suppose I should break down and buy his book to keep in the car in case of emergency—that is, in case I am sitting in the car on an alternate-side morning with nothing to read. But somehow by buying the book (a textbook, which costs anywhere from $29 to $60) I would be spending money on parking and thereby demonstrating the truth of the Professor's theories. This guy is a genius.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Second Cousins

I recently posted a piece on the New Yorker Web site in which I recycled a photo from the family reunion, on the occasion of my cousin Dennis Kucinich's loss of his seat in the House of Representatives. (Here is the link.) I also recycled a mistake in the nature of my kinship with Dennis Kucinich. and here is the correction: Dennis Kucinich, shown here with Baby Dee at the family reunion in 2009, is my father's first cousin once removed and my second cousin.

Various cousins have tried to impress this on me over the years, and I hope I finally have it right. I don't know how to work in the fact that my father and Dennis's mother were double cousins without sounding kinky.

With thanks to Nancy Saegel and Mary Ellen Nowel (both first cousins), and abiding affection for Dennis Kucinich, even though he deleted my post on his Facebook page.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Scene: Bike Lane on Sixth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets, Monday, March 12th, 10:15 A.M.

Bicycle Cop (gliding up alongside citizen on bicycle): Ma’am, what color was that light back there?

Bicyclist: Um, red?

BC (exasperatedly): What are we going to do? You know, there’s a fine for that.

B (sheepish, lowering head onto handlebars): If I promise never to do it again?

BC: I don’t understand. You stopped, and then you went through it anyway.

B (brightly): I let all the pedestrians pass, and there were no cars turning, so . . .

BC (sternly): The fine is $240. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of money to give to the City of New York.

Bicyclist maintains silence.

Cop pedals away.

Moral: Take Madison Avenue.