Monday, June 17, 2013

Service Restored

Today I tried a new maneuver, one that I have seen performed but had never executed. I was parked at the end of the block, the last space before the intersection, and when the street sweeper came  I pulled up into the crosswalk, not so far as to block traffic or cause a head-on collision but far enough to permit the street sweeper and other traffic to get by behind me.

When the sweeper had passed, I reversed into my precious Monday/Thursday 7:30-8 space, which I found last night when I got home from Rockaway, where I dipped in the ocean for the first time this year. The water temperature was 58 degrees.

The beach has changed, of course. The Parks Department has heaped up dunes where the boardwalk used to be, and there are new signs, long mats at select spots between the dunes for pedestrians to reach the ocean, and lots of red flags to indicate swathes of the beach that are closed to swimming. There are also many guards posted to enforce the closings. It’s sad not to have the boardwalk, but at least now I don’t have to choose between the boardwalk and the sand.

The Éclair spent the winter in Maspeth, Queens, in the care of my displaced Rockaway neighbors. She was parked on high ground, in Manhattan, during the hurricane, and suffered no flood damage (thank you for asking). Those neighbors, who have now returned to Rockaway (yay!), have a new used car, their third in as many years. The last was ruined in the flood; the water came up to the EZPass.

Since my car was still parked at the beach, I took the A train to Rockaway for the first time since the storm.

Who ever would have thought we would miss the A train? Sadly, one trip was all that was needed to remind me of the frustrations it delivers. First, at West Fourth Street, the train marked Lefferts Boulevard came instead of the Far Rockaway train. I got on anyway, because I always take the first train that leaves the station. Then, while I was waiting at Rockaway Boulevard to switch to the Far Rockaway branch, another Lefferts Boulevard train came by. (A friend once asked, “Just what is at Lefferts Boulevard that makes it so popular?” Good question.) At last my train came, and I glided over Jamaica Bay. There is a new stretch of corrugated steel along the restored tracks, rusty like a Richard Serra sculpture. It was high tide, and there were what looked like white sacks, or swan rumps, in the water. The Broad Channel station has been freshly painted. I always go down to the end of the platform to peer around the station wall—not that I have ever seen anything except swamp grass—and there on the ground beside the tracks was a blue metal trunk stenciled with the words “SNOW DESK.” I was just getting out my smartphone to take a picture of it when another train came on—I assumed it was another Far Rockaway train, but as it approached I saw that it was the Shuttle, and I had to run for it, because the shuttle is a short train and the last car lines up with the middle of the platform. The shuttle used to wait on a siding, in plain view. I guess they haven’t repaired the siding yet, and I wonder where the shuttle sits between runs.

Fortunately, I have lost my watch, so I was not able to keep track of how long the trip was taking, and I had brought along a copy of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s book “The Mani,” about travelling in the southern Peloponnese, which is completely absorbing. Still, one trip on the A train was enough to cure me of nostalgia, and I drove back to Manhattan. When I went out to park the car early this morning, I felt alive for the first time in months.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Written in haste on April 16th

I have been to a lot of Baby Dee shows, but Sunday night was a first: Baby Dee and Little Annie at a bowling alley in Cleveland—Lakewood, actually, one of my favorite suburbs on the West Side. I drove there straight from the airport in a rented car, with directions printed out from Google maps. I felt like some out-of-body version of myself. For one thing, it was a late-model car, and I am used to trolling around in a 1990 Honda Civic. For another, I don’t usually require printed directions to get anywhere in my home town. It probably added to the disorientation that I had flown in from Madison, Wisconsin (I usually arrive by car from the opposite direction), and that I had seen Dee and Annie perform in New York two nights earlier. 

The bowling-alley venue was not as odd as you might think (though I did accidentally get in line to rent shoes instead of to buy a ticket). The lanes were on the other side of the building, past the bar, and you couldn’t hear the pins crashing. My friend Paula was there with her sister Donna, and my cousin Nancy brought Alice, who is also my cousin. Alice was raised by my grandmother, and as a young mother she was our upstairs neighbor, in the house just up the hill from the Cleveland Zoo, where the peacocks shrieked in the night and a Galápagos turtle occasionally made a break for it.

There was an opening act: a girl called Blisse, who hopped around like a boxer and sang to the accompaniment of her laptop. She introduced Baby Dee, who made a spectacular entrance and vamped as Little Annie took the stage. They did songs from their new CD, “State of Grace,” and indulged in an occasional anecdote. One number that is not on the album but was in the show was “The Dance of Diminishing Possibilities” (“Bobby Slot and Freddy Weiss were not so nice but I like their names a lot, so I’ll say them twice”). Bobby Slot and Freddy Weiss were actually known to three people in the audience: Nancy had lived at the family compound long enough to have an indelible memory of Bobby Slot, and Alice had lived there earlier and knew things about them that we never knew. For instance they were brothers from different fathers. (Dee said, "I always thought they were gay.") Freddie was the older, and he was born without testicles. When his father died, Rose, Freddie’s mother, remarried and had Robert, as Alice called him. So Bobby Slot’s mother was Rose Slot.

As it was a home-town crowd, Dee favored us with a few extra songs: she did “Fresh Out of Candles,” and for an encore “I’m not the only pisspot in the house.” There was another liturgical number (“Jesus has a plan for you”) and she finished with the Mormon underwear song. At the end, Dee, acting as her own impresario, shouted out “Little Annie!” and the audience applauded. Then she shouted, “Me!” Wild applause. The next morning, they were off to Toronto, and then on to Detroit, Minneapolis, Cedar Rapids, Calgary, Dee Creek (in Washington), San Francisco, Los Angeles, and—whew!—Louisville.

And I am on the way back to New York, worried about friends who regularly attend the Boston Marathon. Dusty, are you O.K.? Deni? Hoping to hear from you.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


I left my car with my Rockaway neighbors for the winter, so I have not gotten out much lately. I was delighted last weekend to find myself in New Jersey, in the passenger seat of a vintage Corolla, with a friend who used a GPS, but mostly to defy it. (The GPS is especially useless when it directs you into one of New Jersey's infamous jughandle turns.) We stopped at a place called Taste of Crete, which was having a moving sale (not surprisingly, a small Greek specialty shop all by itself at the side of a road did not thrive in the Shopping Mall State), and then proceeded through Princeton and past some gigantic sculptures of figures like something out of a Monet painting, set down on lawns across from manufacturers of ceramic plumbing fixtures, to the Grounds for Sculpture. The forsythia and magnolias were just starting to unfurl their blossoms, amid scores of sculptures, all mind-boggling. The biggest surprise, though, was the peacocks gliding low in the shadows. Anyone who grew up around peacocks, as I did (believe it or not), knows what they sound like. We lived up the hill from the Cleveland Zoo, and once someone new in the neighborhood ran outside in the middle of the night because he thought he heard a human cry for help.