WALKING IN THE CITY

This one is dedicated to my favorite cousin, who recently lost a shoe to the vicissitudes of the city streets.

The most ubiquitous outdoor sport in New York is walking. Everyone does it. You have to. To and from public transportation, around the neighborhood doing errands, visiting friends, shpatziring (that’s strolling), or exploring. The streets are filled almost 24/7.

But what must we all contend with, we brave and hearty New York soles (see the pun there)?

Dog poop and pee. Self-explanatory – pooper-scooper laws are never enforced. And the permissive attitude to animals pissing on the streets…well, I’ve never understood that one.

Cracked sidewalks. Ubiquitous. There’s not a street in the city that you can safely walk on without looking down.

Crazed drivers – Not only the ones who run red lights or bear down on you just because you’re a pedestrian; there are those who occasionally drive up on the curb. Yes. Even someone I’m VERY close to has been known to bypass a traffic jam by driving up onto the sidewalk. He only does it on side streets.

Free-range psychotics – the breed becomes more plentiful in warm weather. A combination, I think, of the impact on fragile psyches of New York heat and humidity plus the compassion of their usual gatekeepers. Why shouldn’t everyone get some “fresh” air? I’ll tell you why. Because they scare the bejesus out of me. When a wild-eyed, disheveled man or woman approaches – and they’re talking to themselves out loud – I bolt (like the Flash) to the other side of the street.

Random toxic spillage. Who can even identify the strangely colored, viscous substances that show up in the gutter? Another element to which I give a wide berth. It always calls to mind the classic 1950’s sci-fi movie, The Blob, so it’s not just “yuk,” it’s “yikes!” too.

Elbows-out friends and neighbors. By this I make reference to the unconsciously hostile bumpers. There is never a cause to crash into someone on the street. Step aside if you’re about to occupy the same space. But there are some who, I suspect, relish the collision: a little dislocating shoulder-bash, or an elbow that whacks you in the side (or the ear, depending on your height), or the head-on impact – usually caused by cell phone override.

Umbrella wars. I have written extensively on this matter. See: A pride of wet dogs; a herd of drowned rats, Nov. 18, 2014.

So, that’s the skinny on walking. If you want to break out and move through the streets at a faster clip, you had better be trained in the NFL to do broken field running, cause no one will get out of your way.

Let’s hear it for negativity. Everything has its place. So, here goes…

DEBBIE DOWNER DAY:

If you really want to live a long time, join me in hell. Nothing lasts as long as misery. So, here’s the ironic twist on longevity: You will feel like you are living forever if you are unhappy.

That just doesn’t seem right, does it? Who made up this ridiculous reality anyway?

Never mind. I think I’ll extend my life a little today…

DON’T READ THIS BLOG

We’ve gone through another round of ersatz winter. But you already know that. It’s a beautiful warm Wednesday – but you already know that.

That was intro. I felt it was required. But this is about calling out some of my friends, who tell me: “Oh, sorry, K, I haven’t been reading your blog. I feel a tad guilty.”

Why read this? Just because hundreds of strangers find it worth their time, why would my closest and dearest bother?

Am I hurt? A little. Am I pissed off? More than a little. Here’s the thing. You don’t have to like it, but I know you like me. And this is a part of me. SO, get off your collective duffs, stop ginning up the guilt excuse, and just read.

Come on.

THE LAST POST

Every so often (like after each blog entry) I am absolutely sure that I will never be able to come up with another one. This time I’m REALLY sure. And the fact that the post concerns not being able to post…we’ll how many times can I use that subterfuge? (I think this is the second time.)

I know I’m not alone in my writer’s nightmare. Since I can’t tell where the writing comes from (the words seem to be granted to me, like an unexpected gift), I don’t have any conviction that they will come again.

So, here’s my sayonara…just in case. Thanks for reading. This has been fun.

THERE ARE THINGS THAT ARE BETTER ON THE STREET

And things which can only happen on the street.

First category: Street chicken. Where can this delicacy be obtained? Patience, I’m about to tell you.

It’s time…can you feel the burgeoning excitement? What’s coming? you ask. Street fairs. One of my favorite New York things. Truth: They are all pretty much the same – same items for sale, same food, and, if I’m going to street fairs in my neighborhood, the same people. But I LOVE them. Walking down the center of the street, cars relegated to one side of the road, milling about and allowing whim to direct us, my husband and I stroll amiably. Everyone is amiable at street fairs. It’s an instant respite for the rat-race-wracked.

There are tasty treats – cotton candy, turkey drumsticks, fries of a few different kinds and the exotics: Thai, Ethiopian (if it’s a more uptown fair), fried dough (ummm!), you name it. And there are reliable products: socks for sure, some high end women’s wear, some low-end synthetic-but-so-appealing stuff; really nice leather goods and crappy – but pretty – umbrellas. It’s a veritable cornucopia of bizarre and comforting predictability. If you need a new wallet or a nail clipper, or maybe some opera glasses – you can find it all at the street fair. Oh, must not fail to mention the giant plastic containers of spices: can’t get those anywhere else (except Amazon – but let’s not talk about that now.)Twenty blocks at the outside and the sun (if you’re lucky). A great way to spend an afternoon.

There are some things that are the big-time drool inducers in our little family: Pickles – sour and hand packed. It’s a must stop (on the way back –who wants to be laden down unnecessarily? Part of the fun is in the planning.) And the ubiquitous street chicken. On every block, there is at least one purveyor of skewered, grilled and it-must-be-something-unhealthily spiced chicken. I’m kind of an obsessed nut for hormone-free chicken. That is, unless I’m at a street fair. Then, health be damned! Gotta have it. And where else do you see your average citizen strolling along, munching happily on a roasted ear of corn? Permission is granted to eat barbeque food and shop at the same time. Heaven!

In the non-gustatory category, there are items that I believe don’t exist anywhere else: Step inside a black-lit tent. Tee shirts reveal their unexpected messages. I never buy one, but I always stop. Regardless of how warm it might be, there are the hand-knit, itchy but beautiful, Peruvian (I think?) sweaters.

There’s color everywhere, much of it from the array of jewelry items: they range from cheap crap earrings that will instantly turn your ears green, to one of a kind hand wrought gold and silver – proud artisans happy to discuss the hows and whys of each piece. It’s all somewhat reminiscent of the magical bazaar in Granada, Spain. Imagine, here is a charming, endlessly stimulating swath of place out of time – and there’s no airfare involved. No pickpockets either.

Hate to do it, but must end on a sad end note: There were no socks. I know. This is devastating. What happened? Is it a sign? I’m at a loss to interpret it. Just know that there was a pit in our stomachs as we searched fruitlessly for the ever-present rows of crew and dress socks. Only a second skewer of street chicken could fill the yawning emptiness.

 

 

ON THE MEAN STREETS

Permit me to rant about Chinese Food delivery men…Or is it Chinese, food delivery men? Politically incorrect? I’m not being a racist, just an observer.

If you’ve never been almost run over by one of their bicycles flying balls-to-the-wall down the sidewalk – I say you’re lucky. But, keep an eye out, or you’ll be knocked on your keister (yes, that’s how it’s spelled. I was surprised, too.) by a member of the Asian Hell’s Angels that bring piping hot egg rolls to your door.

If they were taking a still-beating heart to a transplant recipient, I could understand their singular focus. But, if the Wonton Soup doesn’t burn my tongue, I’ll live. I’m not sure I can muster the same certainty for a walk down the street when one of the unmistakable crazed couriers of Chicken Lo Mein are bat-out-of-hell-ing it at 20mph down Amsterdam Avenue.

In my fantasy (which tends toward the murderously vengeful), I hold my ground and stick my foot out at just the right moment to deflect the bike. Down goes the roast pork. And a measure of respect for those of us who are just walkin’ here is gained. No, I don’t have the actual stones to do that. But, I can dream.

So, will these high-speed nemeses (and that is the plural…) turn me away from the quasi-eastern delicacies I was brought up on? [For those who are uninformed, Chinese food is what Jews eat. Period. Every Sunday; on holidays; when they celebrate; after funerals. My parents love to tell how I was almost born in Joy Fong’s. My mother had to have one last meal before she went to the hospital. My father (and I – precociously) understood.]

No.I will continue to be part of the problem…sending these homicidal pedalists into action when I’m too lazy to walk around the corner. That doesn’t mean I can’t complain…

I’M NOT NEARLY F’D UP ENOUGH. OR, REALLY, ARE YOU KIDDING?

For those of you who have never used nitrous oxide – don’t bother reading this. It won’t have that deep resonance I’m after. I don’t even get my teeth cleaned without it. Since the 1970’s, it has been my often-pleasant crutch, transmuting my dental anxiety into a semi-religious experience.

Today I had a root canal. Two words that strike terror into even the most stalwart heart. My wonderful dentist had referred me to a new specialist. As it turned out, he is an endodontist to the stars. As I sat in his chair, before he set to work on my mouth, pictures of Jason (he introduced himself as such) – arm in arm with a veritable gaggle of easily identifiable celebrities – scrolled across a screen that was set up in my line of vision.

Was this supposed to make me more comfortable? Was it supposed to instill confidence? The only thing it did was to confirm that I would be hosed when the bill came. And that narcissism was in the house. The final fee was, in fact, an obscene amount of money. But, would Dr. D be worth it? [Foreshadowing: The use of an initial here rather than his actual name, is an indication of a negative review about to unfold.]

I have a new theory. People whose professional lives are devoted to removing sensation (the nerve) from a person’s tooth, are themselves insensitive. It’s as if they have had emotional root canal.

Despite a pleasant demeanor, and the promise of empathy, Dr. D. did not achieve an “A” or better rating (the only acceptable score for a proprietor of the little shop of horrors). There was a glitch in the nitrous delivery system. The tank ran out of something. I was the one who discovered the problem when I noticed that my air supply had stopped. They (the slightly flaky dental assistants) said the oxygen tank was empty. Really? Not cool.

Anyway, it was a bit of a roller coaster from there. Nitrous working – but not so much. As I told the good doctor, a “7” on a scale of 1 to 10. Nitrous not working. Then they moved me to another room. Was this always in the plan, I asked? It was. Huh? Why? Just to make things seem more complex? Then the nitrous – the previous effects of which had quickly worn off, was working again. On the second round, Dr. D. said he would now crank it up. Okay. He suggested I would be “flying.” Not looking for that, exactly. I told him  I was just aiming for “who cares.” No problem, he assured me. Tell me if you get too high.

But, as the title says,I wasn’t f’d up enough. That never changed, so my anxiety remained palpable. Just this side of intolerable, definitely not what I was aiming for.

Back to my insensitivity theory. While the good (or average) Dr. D was successful (after several addendums) at numbing the necessary area, he managed to lean painfully on the opposite side of my mouth while he was working on the root canal. Hello! (It had become clear I was not in the best hands.) I’m actually alive and sensate. Did you forget?

He did. And that was that.

We wrapped it up and said fake things to each other. He was well practiced, I could tell, in over-acknowledging his patients. The many actors who he was excessively proud of treating probably require that. All I require is someone who knows how to administer gas.

 

FUBAR

A well used military term. For those of you not familiar – it’s an acronym. The last three letters are “beyond all recognition.”

What’s FUBAR? The surface transportation in Manhattan. Buses. Yes, again.

I was on my way to get root canal (a blog for another time) and – as you might expect – already a bit tense. On the crosstown bus at 96th Street, which I’d waited for far too long. It was raining and the bus was crowded. No one was happy. But we didn’t know how good we had it…

At Central Park West, a huge mob was waiting to get on. Where would they fit? Half squeezed in and then it happened: A young (no more than 18 yr. old) woman got on WITH A STROLLER. No, not one that was folded up (which would have been bad enough) – an open stroller. I really needed a cartoonist to animate my response at that moment. My eyes would literally have boinged out of their sockets. She pushed the wide and long stroller onto the bus and blithely began to move down the center aisle. People in her path, leaned and moved aside; I’m sure I saw a few go under the stroller wheels. No one said anything. No one ever does. When she got to the beginning of the perpendicular double seats, she stopped. There were about fifteen people behind her – squished and waiting.

I began to perseverate. What’s she doing? What is she going to do?
My pre-dental anxiety shifted into a new gear.

She unzipped the protective plastic cover, reached inside the stroller, grabbed a small knitted blanket; then, with out the merest of facial tics or any overt indication that she was doing something untoward, she grabbed a very small person – maybe 6 or 8 months old – by one arm (with one hand, I might add) and lifted and flipped him up onto her shoulder. Now, there was some reaction from my fellow travelers: Oy! Oh, my God! Much intake of breath. With that same hand, which was now free again, she deftly folded up the stroller and stood, totally blocking the aisle until someone got up and offered her a seat.

The auspicious journey continued, all of us jammed in like sardines, a few actually disabled people balancing precariously on canes and whomever was near them. And so we rode on. Tell me, is this not FUBAR?

WALKING

This might be an old person thing…Nah. I don’t think so.

Beware, don’t hesitate, or you will be run over by the New York street tank. It’s a relentless machine that will mow you down – especially going in or out of shops. Particularly dangerous are the entries to food stores. Why? OUT OF MY WAY (bump, crash!) I MUST HAVE FOOD. MUST EAT

In general, New Yorkers walk at a pace. I mean, anywhere else it would be considered running, but for us, it’s just first gear. Whoosh! There goes a speedy couple; blink and miss the family of four who nearly collided with an only moderately fast 80-year-old. It’s a race to the finish, a finish that never comes.

Very rarely, on one of the first warm days of the year, before the black-clad hoards have adapted, there is a bit of a stunned slowdown. It’s the unfamiliar glare of the sun and the feel of that as-yet-unidentified warm breeze on the skin. Give us a minute, we’ll adjust and reassert our pell-mell baseline, even if it’s 95 degrees. Sweat is no deterrent.

You may not know this, but when you move into New York (and let me qualify this: I mean New York City) from elsewhere (could be anywhere – if it’s not New York, no one here really cares where you’re from), you receive a welcome packet. Oh, you didn’t get one? Sorry. In it are some discount coupons and the like, but the essential element is the Book of Rules. Yes. We have rules here. Number two is: You are required to speed walk. Always. Any strolling can be cause for deportation. What’s number one? You’re curious? None of your business. No. That’s number one. To digress for just a moment, if you’re going to live in New York, you’d better respect the hard boundaries that most everyone has erected. So, don’t you be asking, “How’re ya doin’?” That’s just looking for trouble.

Back to the issue at hand. The quick brown fox was a New Yorker. All New Yorkers that you see on the street are on the spectrum from breakneck to just plain swift. Slowpokes must stay home and order in. I’m just reporting the facts.

In summation…If you can’t keep up, move out of the way. That’s the only way to stay in one piece.

IT DIDN’T KILL ME. WHAT KIND OF STANDARD IS THAT?

So, I was talking with my son about someone very close to us, who is now living in a really rough part of New Jersey. No, New Jersey is not just the garden spot you all thought it was. I know, that’s shocking news. “Well,” he said, making some quick lemonade out of my sour, lemony fear for her well-being, “There are worse places to live.“ Where, Afganistan?

It could be worse. To my way of thinking, an ass-backwards standard. Why is it comforting to know you haven’t achieved the ultimate bad outcome? Does it really make you all feel better? I don’t get it. It’s not infrequent that this kind of statement is made by people struggling with the dark side of life. “I survived,” they say. Sure you have, but can’t we move the bar up a bit? Just surviving isn’t my idea of a laudable accomplishment. Stop being so proud of yourselves because you are still drawing breath!

Here’s a little homily for you – no extra charge – courtesy of my late, great father. (Okay, I embellish his nature posthumously): Good, better, best; never let it rest; till the good is better; and the better is the best. He said gratuitous things like this all the time. But it was the fifties and the sixties and post-war America was a hopeful place. Anyway, I think it’s a better motto. I have my own favorite words of wisdom, as well: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Thank you, Kelly Clarkson by way of Friedrich Nietzsche (the man, for sure). Now, that extracts the good from the crapola.

I implore you out there in the land of rationalization: Don’t take acceptance too far. Don’t take it on the chin, or lying down. Stop swallowing and spit some of life’s stinkweed back out. Say “no” to living an existence based on the lesser of evils. Just because it is what it is, doesn’t mean that’s all there is. Go for the gusto, my friends.

THE RETURN OF FANGIRL

Here’s why I love the Upper West Side…

I was having a late lunch with a dear friend at a neighborhood restaurant today: Le Pain Quotidian. It sounds way fancier than it is. It’s a laid back, euro-rustic place, with very helpful servers and good soup (among other things). My friend and I sat at a table in the back of the long room which had small tables against the walls and a communal table running down the center. I faced the entrance. We were pretty engrossed in our conversation – which ran the gamut from the profound to the pragmatic – when I saw a trio enter.

Even from a distance I could see that he was elderly: his white hair and cane were prominent. Two woman accompanied him, both considerably younger, but not young. They moved in our direction and in a quick second I knew. It was Jerry Stiller, the wonderful comedian and comic actor I had followed for decades. He is one of the highlights of the Seinfeld reruns I still watch. I began to be aware of him back when he was half of Stiller and Meara. Very funny. But his run on Seinfeld as George Castanza’s father was classic. There he was: bra salesman, inventor of Festivus, the always anxious guy who stopped short, a man whose lawyer wore a cape.

I was thrilled to see him and, as he got closer, my friend opined that he’d had a stroke. I looked at him pretty closely over the next few minutes. He didn’t seem to have had a stroke; he just seemed old, but he struck me as really intact.

I very much wanted to let fly my inner fangirl and go gush at him. If you remember my encounter with Time Gunn, that’s pretty much what I did. In this case I decided to go for a slightly more mature approach. I took out the small notebook I carry to capture thoughts for blogs and other things I’m writing. I tore out a page and wrote: Dear Jerry, I have loved your work for so long. It was a thrill to see you today; Be well. And I signed my full name (just in case he wanted to respond…yeah right.) As I was leaving , I stopped at his table, assuring him that I wasn’t interested in disturbing them. The older, dark-haired woman smiled at me. I handed the note to Jerry.

As I walked away I looked over my shoulder. Jerry Stiller was reading my note. I hope it made him feel good, because just seeing him made my day, my week, my month…

 

THE ESSENTIAL GOD-LIKE NATURE OF CHILDREN

I spent the better part of a ferry ride on Sunday, smiling and waving to a two-year-old. She banged on the seat: I banged on the seat. She patted her head, I did the same. She pounded her father’s shoulder, I pounded on my husband’s. She had me. I would copy her every move.

We’re supposed to be teaching and leading them – I’m talking about the adult/child storyline we believe in. I’m not sure it’s the truth of the matter.

I’m reminded of a magical moment on my grandson’s fourth birthday. There were eight of us at a local restaurant, celebrating. He began to drum slowly on the table. One by one each of the seven adults joined in the drumming. He picked up the beat. We followed suit. We continued in this way for several minutes, until he decided to stop.

Children are small gods. We serve them willingly, and they are benign in their power…usually.

Back on the ferry, the little girl switched to hiding mode. So we spent some time peaking at each other until finally she lost interest. Take note: she lost interest in me. I’m the fascinating grown-up who was willing to play her game. Insufficient, it seems. She – of the short attention span theater – had moved on. I wasn’t the irresistible draw I thought I was.

I admit to feeling a bit hurt. She was unfazed. Her father was lifting her high in the air and she was a happy child. I hope he knows it can all change in a moment. Gods get easily bored.