Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Blow In The Wind (Adventures In Dog Walking Part III)

Two weekends ago on Saturday night at about 10 pm I decided to take the dog out. I wasn’t at my apartment, but rather the apartment of my lady, who was due to return home a bit later in the evening from a trip across the big water.

As the pup and I are exiting the elevator we notice a well dressed man crouched in the foyer moving his hands about frantically.

“Lost a contact” I thought.

It was then I could see him shoveling a white powdered substance from the floor into a tiny vial. The powder was all over the tile in the foyer and as we got closer and opened the door he stood and spun quickly, vial in his right hand.

“Thanks for opening the door,” he said, trying to play it off.

“Not a problem.”

I made sure to keep the dog clearly to the side away from the, what I can only surmise was the gentleman’s cocaine.

As I walked the dog I thought about it and figured he must have gone for his keys and out popped his drugs which then spilled all over the place. Then he decided to try to salvage as much as he could… dirty floor be damned. Hell the stuff already probably had enough chemicals in it that a little filthy NYC floor wouldn’t harm it.

Then I got to worry a bit. Harmless enough fellow, but there are a lot of dogs in the building and I started to think about what would happen if a curious dog, like Jack, the little man I was walking, was curious and sniffed it. Not good. Not good at all.

I finished the walk and got the dog safely away. I then wet some paper towels and went down and mopped it all up and threw the paper towels down the garbage shoot. I got really angry thinking about the carelessness of some people.

Then it made me think what would have been the Miss Manners protocol. Should I have said, “Pardon me, sir. I don’t mean to be rude but you seem to have misplaced your illegal substance. Would you mind disposing of it properly?” or “Yo, clean up yer coke. I don’t want any dead dogs around here.” I wish I had… but instead at first I was as embarrassed as he was in a way, running into a neighbor in an awkward situation of their own devising.

Next time I’m not going to be nice and polite the way I was raised. Next time I am in a situation like that I’m going to turn on the New York that has been built in me the past decade and make the other person feel the fool and clean their own mess.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

No Blood On These Tracks

In early February I’d had a typically great lunch with my father. It consisted of the best Lobster Roll to be found in this city (Mary’s Fish Camp) then I accompanied him to a tailor that specializes in fixing torn leather in the Murray Hill area. We even saw Samantha Bee from the Daily Show who came to pick up an item there. My Pops, being as gregarious as he is and acting as he does, joked with everyone in the place.

We said our goodbyes and I headed to the 28th St. subway stop for the 6 train downtown. I walked down the platform a bit, stopped near the entrance and leaned on a pillar and cracked my biography of Houdini that I was reading at the time.

I never stand near the edge of subway platforms. I lean. For some reason it makes me think it would be harder to be pushed onto the tracks if I lean on something. I think it has to do with my fear of ledges. I have no problem with heights so long as I can touch three points of contact. Feet down and hand just touching some other contact point… it doesn’t even need to be holding onto it. When I’ve looked at the video of when I bungee jumped 440 feet, I’m standing on the little jump gangplank suspended over a huge chasm and I have one arm extended and the tips of 2 fingers barely touching the platform behind me. I don’t know why but the tripod of touch keeps the fear away.

I was engrossed in reading about Houdini’s handcuff escapes when I hear someone cry, “Help Me!”

I look up from my book and across the tracks and could see a woman who had fallen off the platform and onto the tracks.

You could feel everyone freeze for a moment, suspended in their bewilderment of what was happening in front of them. I found myself wondering for a moment why she wasn’t standing up to climb out of the tracks as she continued to yell for help.

It was then that I noticed her wheelchair beside her on the tracks.

When she cried out again in a more plaintive wail it broke the spell that everyone had been under. About 10 men from her side and 5 from mine jumped down and started running across 4 sets of tracks and 3rd rails to help her out.

I ran over to the useless MTA worker in the token booth on our side.

“There is a lady on the tracks!” I yelled.


“There is woman in a wheelchair that fell on the tracks and is in trouble!”


This continued for a moment and by the time I got her to understand what was happening on the other side of the tracks and to even start to comprehend that maybe, just maybe doing something about it was in her job description, the men on the other side of the tracks had been able to help the woman and her wheelchair up and onto the platform.

She was hysterical and people from her side of the station tried to help her and calm her. Some wiped the dirt from her face, one man held her in a hug as huge wracking sobs came from her. Someone from our side yelled across that an ambulance had been called and should be there soon.

It was then that my train came and I got on to go home.

I thought about it later… and even looked for any accounts on the news. I half expected to see it on the local news at 5 because this was a few weeks after Wesley Autrey, “The Subway Hero” did his thing and jumped onto the tracks to save a man’s life. I found myself happy that it didn’t.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Kitty Genovese, 35 Years Later.

The year was 1999. I was walking with my friend Wilson on my way to go see the movie “Dogma”. It was opening night and we were quite excited because up to this point we’d always enjoyed Kevin Smith movies. “Dogma” would change that.

Wilson and I had enjoyed a pre-movie drink and were walking acriss 14th Street between 4th Avenue and Broadway, very close to the theater. We passed the Virgin Megastore on our left as we went chatted away and then we heard it.

There was suddenly a screech of tires followed not by the crunching, rending of metal, but the solid “thump” that you know has to be either a deer or a person. Not many deer in Union Square.

Everything in Union Square went silent at that moment.

Everyone around us froze.

I looked back and could see a taxi halfway through the light at 4th avenue and 14th stopped in the middle of the intersection.

I reached for my cell phone and froze.

It was then that a thought went through my head that I’ve been ashamed of for the past 8 years.

“If I call 911 will I miss or be late for the movie?” went through my head.

I did a quick scan and saw about 15 people already on their phones and figured my call wouldn’t make EMS come any faster and we continued on our way.

Wilson told me he had seen it happen. A taxi blew a red light and took out a guy crossing the street; he’d seen the guy go under the cab. We laughed in bit in our shame because he’d had a similar reaction to calling 911.

It’s one of those things that I think about to this day and feel horrible about. I know it wouldn’t have hurt if I’d done the right thing and called 911.

It is something called the Bystander Effect. It’s a psychological phenomenon where persons are less likely to intervene in an emergency situation when others are present than when they are alone. It was coined here in NYC after the death of Kitty Genovese in 1964. She was killed by a serial rapist and murderer in the courtyard of her apartment complex over the course of 30 minutes during which at least 38 people who lived in the complex alleged to have seen it occur and failed to help the victim or call the police. No one called because they figured someone else was doing it.

I’m ashamed of the fact that my thought was of the movie and not someone else’s life. That I could be so callous and selfish horrifies me.

Never again will I fail to act and live with feeling that I could have done one tiny thing that could have made a difference in someone's life.

Years later I got to redeem myself in small part. But that is for tomorrow.

Ninja Detection 101 (Adventures in Dog Walking pt. 2)

Last fall there was a beautiful Saturday. There was a few but this one was spectacular. It was like one day of summer transplanted to the beginning of October. A sunny day, mid to high 70’s, gentle breeze off the river. The kind of day where everyone in this city forgets their problems and goes outside and just walks and grins, knowing that soon enough the cold will be here and they’d best enjoy this reminder of the way every day would be if they lived in California while they can. That is live in California with all the kick-assitude of New York City, but that is a story for another day.

My lady, myself, and Jack, our West Highland White Terrier and I had taken a stroll from her place on the west side to the park that they have built along the Hudson in recent years. It is a fantastic spot that people from all over come and walk, bike, roller blade, sun themselves, people watch, and relax. The walkways by the river were jammed and people were smiling at strangers as they walked by… and especially at Jack, who always gets a lion’s share of attention.

We had strolled him down to the dog park on Leroy Street where we had spent 45 minutes watching him run, bark, and steer well clear of the kiddie pool at that dog park for the dogs to use and were on our way back. It is a bit of a walk for the little pup especially after the play session, just over a mile in each direction in fact. He gets along pretty well on those short legs, but I tend to let him overdo it and end up carrying him about halfway home.

He was enjoying the weather though and seemed as happy as everyone else as we headed home. We were chatting and then I noticed a black form on the horizon.

“Look,” was all I could manage to get out.

We stopped and stared as the huge black V-shape of a B-2 Stealth Bomber flew low straight at us.

After being here through 9/11 any time I see jets flying over this city I stop and think. Seeing a Stealth Bomber fly low is not a sight that instills any sense of comfort. But it was such an awesomely huge and dead silent sight.

It was flying so low and we stopped, mouths agape as it proceeded to fly straight over us and south towards the ocean.

There was a couple behind us who stopped and stared too and looked at us and all started kind of laughing because it was such a strange thing to see and in person an absolutely incredible sight. It seemed so alien in this environment, so alien.

As we looked around I realized something. Other than us and this other couple, no one else reacted. Hundreds of people around us and it seemed that NO ONE had noticed it.

We stood there for a minute then moved on, strangely moved and giddy after witnessing it. Even Jack got a tad more pep in his step.

It turns out that it had just come from a flyover of Yankee Stadium and nothing sinister was happening to ruin the perfect day.

Looking up in this city is deemed to be a tourist thing to do. People who live here don’t do it enough, but they really should. I do it all the time because I’m constantly amazed by the level of detail in the old construction and stonework on many of the buildings here. I notice new things every day, gargoyles on one building, or even some of the houses that are built on top of buildings. Yes, tiny houses built on the roofs of buildings here which I would kill to live in.

“Come over to my house.”

“Your apartment you mean.”

“No, my House.” I would say with a smile in my fantasy.

Telling about spotting the stealth bomber isn’t to tell you about my awesome stealth detection abilities that would have made me ultra-popular and rich in feudal Japan. They could have used me as a Ninja detector. It’s that there is much to see when you look up.

There is history in up. You never know just what you might see.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Rudy the Robot

Friday night at about midnight I was out walking the dog. I don’t much like going out to bars and whatnot on Fridays in my neighborhood, it’s too crowded with non-regulars and you can never get a seat. One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older, if I can’t get a seat I’ll find another bar… I’m not going to stand for three hours just for the honor of giving you $5-$6 a beer.

It’s a beautiful night, pleasant temperature and the pup is even actually walking for once instead of trying to sniff every surface ever created. As we stop for one of the rare sniffs this walk I spot a group of five African-American gentlemen who are probably 40-50 years old hanging out on a stoop across the street from myself and the pup.

I hear one fo them whistle and immediately know the song.

The theme to “My Three Sons” followed by one of the guys shouting out the name of the song.

We cross to their side of the street and the next thing I hear is one saying, “Remember this?” and he begins to whistle the theme to “The Munsters” at which point all the others join in and finish the song with a laugh.

As we sniffed and worked our way closer they seemed to be trying to remember the name of the robot from “Lost in Space” and one decided it must have been named Rudy.

“Robby the Robot” I piped up.

“Oh yeah!” says one guy who then rips off the names of the rest of the flight crew/family from that old show.

One then started riffing on “Space 1999” and “Buck Rogers”. Another started to try to remember the name of the old sci-fi show with the evil Asian guy. I had already passed them but looked back and joined in with a “Flash Gordon. It was Ming the Merciless. Queen did an amazing theme song for that show.”

They laughed and as I got further from them I could hear them start to talk about how in the old cliffhanger sci-fi shows you could see the strings holding up the ships and then they started in on a favorite of mine, old Ray Harryhausen animated movies such as “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.”

One of the things I love about this city is that you run up against people and situations that strip away any preconceived stereotypes. If I had run across those guys in a movie or TV they would have been sitting, drinking 40 oz. bottles of Colt .45 and been generally threatening, as they were hanging out on a stoop at midnight on a weekend night. I love that you come across the exact opposite, some guys talking and laughing about classic TV and movies that they enjoyed as a kid to this day. I love that they were people, doing what people do and enjoying the night.

Not a bad way to spend a midnight on a Friday.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Reverse Mug

A few years ago I was Mugged in Reverse... call it the Anti-Mugging. I was strolling home at about 2:30-3am with a happy drunk on from yet another evening out with some friends. It was beautiful end of June late-night/early-evening and I was listening to my iPod on my way home (not smart late at night and drunken to shut off your sense of hearing from potential ruffians) looking quite forward to the feel of my pillow upon my face.

I had just rounded the corner to my street when a cute girl of about 25 came out of a building on my street and sat down on the buildings stoop... looking a tad distressed or really drunk, it was hard to tell which, primarily because I was in my own inebriated state.

She stopped me as I walked by and asked what I was listening to. I told her that it just happened to be a bit of Jamiroquai which she then told me she liked. We talked for another awkward minute my mind racing the whole time. People don’t stop strangers on their way home at 3 in the morning in this city. It’s just not done.

This strange girl then said that she wanted to give me something. I didn’t know what to say and she shoved into my hands what I thought was maybe 3-5 $1bills crumpled together. I gave them back to her and told her I couldn’t take them. I was now very confused. She then said to me that I seemed like a good guy and that I should take it.

At this point I noticed that at the top of the stoop looming in the doorway was a man who was just watching the entire exchange and kind of smirking. To say I was unsettled by him would be an understatement. Was he orchestrating this? Was I on a hidden camera show? HBO’s Stoop Confessions?

I asked her if she was ok. She said she was… but this girl had such an air of melancholy about her that I couldn’t take her response at face value. I stole a glance at the man in the doorway and asked her if she needs to talk or anything. She said “No” and wouldn’t stop trying to force the money on me. She seemed desperate and eventually begged me to please take the money.

Eventually I relent and the half a block home. Had I not been into the cups I might have sat down and chatted with her more about what’s going on or flat out refused or at the very least checked how much she was giving me. I figured when going home that if it was just a few bucks then it’s ok, it’ll take care of breakfast or lunch for me.
I finally relent and head home. It was only when I got home and unfolded the crumpled bills that I realized what I’d been handed.

Sure, there were singles… but there were only 3 $1 bills wrapped around 4 $20s and a $10.

A random distressed girl hands you $93 at 3 am. What do you do?

I immediately ran back out to try to give her the money back because it was just way too much money to randomly accept… but she was gone. A paltry 2-3 minutes had passed and she was vapor.

It made me start to think… what did the unsettling Smirker in the door have to do with things? Was the cash counterfeit? Did I look so indigent at the time that I needed the money? Was the guy making her give away her drug money? What the hell had happened?

It was found money in a sense and didn’t belong to me so it would have been terrible karma to be selfish with it. I took that money and vowed one thing; I would not spend a penny of it on myself. Two days later I found myself in Coney Island with a group of friends and treated them as long as the money lasted. We rode the Cyclone, ate some food, rode a vintage carousel and later one of my friends and I went to a movie and out to drinks… all courtesy of this sad/drunken/mystery girl.

I guess I'll never know... but I was been Anti-Mugged... and in a way it felt stranger than if someone mugged me. At least if you are mugged you know the rules. Shut up, hand over your wallet and whatever else they ask for, and wait for them to leave, call the cops if you are so inclined. But there are no rules for the reverse mug.

I still, almost 3 years later look for her and the Smirker in the doorway, wanting to ask them what had happened and if she was ok.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Perspective Check

The evening my pretty lady and I went to the theater. Granted it wasn't Broadway, in fact it was quite far from Broadway on the Lower East Side in a Community Theater/Center that I believe at one time may have been a Church. We went to attend Point Break Live, that is an Off-Off-Off-Off-Off Broadway show that recreates the clasic Keanu/Swayze film pairing with almost no sets and a lower budget. The kick is that a new Keanu is chosen for each show from the audience, which I'm sure some nights doesn't work so well, but for us it did. The nights Keanu then performs the part through the use of cue-cards and it ends up being a quite rigorous hour and a half for them. They idea being anyone could act as well if not better than Keanu, not a stretch by anyones imagination. The skydiving scenes alone were worth the cost of admission. Quality theater, much more economical and entertaining than any of the shows that cost $80 bucks a ticket uptown.

As my lady and I exited the theater laughing and commenting on the show and what the Keanu had had to endure we notice a young thug/gangsta in front of us. He seems to be adjusting the pants of his powder blue sweatsuit outfit and is crinkling for some odd reason.

We continue our conversation as if nothing strange is going on because that is what you do in this city... pretend everything is status quo and continue on your merry way so you do make it home. It was about then as he hiked his sweatsuit top up a last time that I noticed something black tucked into the middle back of his sweatpants.

I suddenly recognized it as the grip of a pistol.

He tucked his top down over it and glanced back at us because he could hear us chatting. We continued as if we hadn't seen a thing but my heart sped up a bit and he slowed down a step to allow us to pass him as we got to the corner.

It was then that I noticed a cab pull up and someone getting out of it. I hustled us over to it and opened the door for my lady and rushed around to the opposite side and jumped in. We sped off homeward bound.

My lady didn't see the gun, she thought it was what had been crinkling so she wasn't as concerned as I was... but I know the grip of a gun when I see one. I believe the crinkling was coming from whatever was in his other pockets. It could have been drugs, penny candy wrappers, or whatever, but he was definitely packing.

I forget sometimes about this city. I forget that the areas I live in and pretty much don't leave are areas I probably wouldn't have set foot in about 15 years ago. I used to only walk left out of my apartment building because to head right was to head into a scary un-gentrified zone. I forget that a couple years ago a girl younger than myself and my lady was killed not far from where we saw the play because she got mugged and refused to give her money over.

You forget that just because the bars and hipsters and hot restaurants move in that it can still be a pretty rough neighborhood. You forget that you still have to watch yourself and watch out for the ones you love.

Strange as it seems, it's good that I saw that gun in the waistband, it really snapped things into perspective.

When I saw that gun all I wanted to do was get my lady safe.

And she is.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Lovely Day

I was walking through Tompkins Square Park today looking for a park bench in one of the two spots I enjoy sitting and reading at. It was a beautiful sunny day, low 70's and perfect for just breathing the air, feeling the breeze and perhaps... delving into a good book by a favorite author. Having just had lunch with some friends I decided that I would indeed spend an hour sitting, reading, breathing and enjoying.

I noticed some musicians in the park and I usually avoid them like the plague infested rats I imagine come out at night and skitter through the bushes. Daytime is for squirrels... the bushy tailed rat, nighttime is for their pale tail bretheren. I digress. These musicians were different... they weren't the usual 3 guys with bongos and drums that sit and drum a tattoo into your brain all day, rather a guy with a single snare and some brushes, another guy on an amplified acoustic guitar, and a portly lady. They messed around playing some jazz that was easy to tune out for a bit and I was one of the only people in their area.

After sitting for about 10 minutes I realize I know the song they are playing now... it's Bill Withers song "Lovely Day" and the woman's voice is sublime. Powerful, earthy, jazzy, yet still with enough Motown in it to make you smile. They then play some Stevie Wonder, some Marvin Gaye... and I look up and notice more people sitting near me now. The people just 15 feet away sunning themselves in the grass start tapping their feet and nodding their heads. The punk rockers pause walking by, the hipsters pull their iPod earphones out, the mothers pushing strollers stop so they and their small children can enjoy the music. One child about 8 and his mother park their bikes near me and the child leans back against his mom and they smile and listen to the music.

The woman singing is smiling, eyes closed, swaying as she sings the songs in almost quiet but forceful voice... not belting, not trying to draw attention, just hitting everything perfect in her own breezy style. The drummer sways a bit with a silly smile on his face, keeping his own beat but it's true enough to each song that you know exactly what beat is coming next. The guitarist taps his foot and bobs his head, smiling at a stranger who stops in front of them and sings harmony with the lady for a few songs.

People suddenly start applauding after each and every song and I feel it too... they realize that not only is it a perfect day and fantastic music from skilled musicians but it's more than that. It's a perfect moment and way to celebrate the end of winter, the spring weather, and the soon to come summer. We are outside again, we are breathing the air, we are feeling the sun warm our pale gray NYC skin, we are feeling the wind take away the suns burn, and we are living and happy and alive.