"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Archive for January, 2015

Blizzard ’15: Update

Service changes rule the System as the MTA normalizes service.

Service changes rule the System as the MTA normalizes service.

 

QUIET…

The City was silent last night. But for the sound of salt trucks and snow plows, an unnatural, yet welcome silence blanketed the City. Yes, a blanket. Puffy, white piles of snow mounded on the sidewalks, cars, trees, fences.

But now we’re getting back to “normal,” that is, what is abnormal: the busyness of the City. I hear distant sirens; is it some poor ill soul or a vehicular accident?

Restarting trains and buses, the MTA’s progress seems to be a health report of the City. The transit system is its pulse, its heart, and its medical condition is revealed in the transit schedule.  Right now, there are no buses on Broadway—at least none I can hear—and I usually can hear them.

The baby next door cries and quiets. A few children outside sparkle the air with their amusement. My husband, home from work, makes cooking and washing up noises from the kitchen. It is peaceful. An automobile drives by, its tires sounding slushy. Someone’s shovel scrapes the sidewalk.

This lassitude, this ease, this torpor, this languor, this lethargy, this tranquility, this calm—THIS is what it’s like to live “out of town,” i.e., NOT in New York City. Peacefulness. As much as I like the activity in the City, I miss the quiet of “town,” my type of normal, snowy day.

A snow day is rare. Rarer still is subway shutdown. Is the patient moribund? Or just having a heart transplant? I hope it’s the latter. NYC can do with a change of attitude.  A storm can take her to her knees but won’t take her down all the way. She’ll rise again, a remade entity, and wait for the next challenge thrown her way.

We’re safe, we’re warm, we’re well-fed. We’re grateful and taken care of.

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Blizzard ’15: Winter Storm Juno

Is this the view I'll see from my window tomorrow night?

Is this the view I’ll see from my window tomorrow night?

NYC is girding its loins for a blizzard! All the media agree: we are going to be hit with a massive winter storm some time early Tuesday morning.  It’s a little after midnight on Tuesday as I write and the streets are still.  All day snow plows have scraped the streets.  The snow started coming down in the early afternoon but mostly as fits and less as starts.  It is under control out there. We are battened down, waiting.

The MTA has put out a severe service advisory.

Snow View 2-09-13 017

Shopkeepers clear the sidewalks.

New York City Transit
The MTA is committed to the safety of its customers and its employees, and due to the forecast, will be suspending service on all bus, commuter rail and subway service at 11:00 p.m. this evening. All nine MTA Bridge & Tunnel facilities will also close to non-emergency vehicular traffic at that time. If you don’t have to travel between now and later this evening, we urge you to stay home….

Prior to full service suspension, express service on several NYC Transit subway lines will be curtailed to allow subway trains to be stored underground in anticipation of the storm. Bus service will gradually be curtailed. Railroad cars will also be moved to locations to protect them from the storm….

Before suspending all subway service, NYC Transit will store trains underground on express tracks to protect the fleet from the elements and ensure that trains are ready for the next rush period.  As trains are stored underground, only local service will be available and all overnight construction work is canceled.

Wow! This is an admission that we are whipped, that we are brought to our knees in the face of the storm.  I like the image of all the train cars being pushed inside the tunnels, deep in the bedrock of the city. The trains are sleeping inside tonight.  They are being tucked in by kindly old Aunt Juno.

Anticipation of what the next few days hold.

Anticipation of what the next few days hold.

All traffic has been banned from city streets after 11pm. Emergency crews only. Schools are cancelled. Who will be able to report to work tomorrow morning, IF there is work tomorrow morning? I am waiting to hear the jangle of the plows on the streets again as they shave the asphalt. They screech and moan, banshees of the canyons.

I am humbled. A city of 8.5 million trapped, immobilized. Where else but here?

This is a life challenge of a different sort than I usually write about.  It’s a good things I have stores of toilet paper and eggs.  We’re in for a bit of a comeuppance.

Happiness is My Choice, 4

I attended a funeral last week. Yesterday I attended a wedding. The circle of life constantly wheels around.

Sublime Happiness - the Bride at Her Wedding

Sublime Happiness – the Bride at Her Wedding

A woman from my congregation passed away, the first person I actually knew since I’ve moved to NYC who died. Her death occupied my mind after I learned of it. She wasn’t particularly young, but she didn’t seem quite old. I spoke to her at a congregational function a few weeks ago, just a few words, and didn’t remark that she looked ill or odd. No death touches nobody; this one touched quite a few. A wooden barrier closed the street to traffic.  Mourners lined the street and sidewalks outside the synagogue as short eulogies were spoken into a microphone by the rabbi and one of her sons. As is our tradition, we followed the hearse, walking a way with it, accompanying the deceased for her honor. Though not very overcast or cold, a mood-swallowing chill engulfed the participants. No laughter, just a smattering of voices, most were silent or reciting psalms while escorting her as far as we could walk.

This lady, her son recalled, dedicated her life to making people happy.  She followed a directive of the former Rav1 of the community, Rabbi Shimon Schwab. When you are walking on the avenue and see a woman, compliment her on her outfit, say something nice and brighten her day was the gist of the message. The son also requested from the crowd that everyone consider honoring his mother’s memory by taking on one mitzvah/positive deed. Smile at someone once a day. Say psalms. Do a kindness for someone.

How wonderful a concept: remembrance through deeds and positive actions. I can choose to create peace and harmony in my corner of the world. I can commemorate a life well-led and carry on her good deeds. Every time I have a good word for someone else, I send a blessing. A smile, a thoughtful gesture, a small courtesy may not take much time or mean much to me… but it could make a whole lot of difference to someone else.

I can choose to be a better person and get over hurts and slights, move on from difficulties, aim my efforts to improve the situation wherever I am.

Yesterday I danced at a wedding! I hugged and laughed and dabbed at my eyes which filled with tears of joy.

I watched the proceedings with my own personal blessings on my lips: wishing the young couple a happy, harmonious life, a long marital bond.  I sat amongst friends, relatives, people I’ve seen before and those I’ve never seen and may never see again. I reveled in their happiness, delighted in the pleasure of the parents, friends, and relatives. A new start, a bright new future as this couple forges a permanent bond.  How special! What a difference from the experience of last week.

Sure, I can focus on the bittersweet: the ones who are not here, the ones who cannot be here, the ones who are not yet married or engaged, the ones who yearn to be so. But now is for the present. Keeping in the present keeps me grounded, not guessing about the future or lamenting the past.  I choose to live in the moment and let my heart soar.

Flowers at a wedding.

Flowers at a wedding.

My philosophy is simple: Happiness is my choice, and I can frame my experience through happy eyes… or choose to see the world as impoverished, mundane, gray and something to be muddled through. I am not the progenitor of this philosophy; I only claim the role of spreading the idea. Through simple action and leading a life aware of blessings and gifts, I can make my corner of the world a better place.

Now isn’t that fun?

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1. Rav, honorific for a rabbi, usually the head of a community or distinguished by great scholarship.

Coolest Subway Stations?

Photo credit: Kristine Paulus  - , used under CC BY-NC 2.0

The entrance to Narnia a Hobbit hole? – Photo credit: Kristine Paulus , used under CC BY-NC 2.0

Did you know that the A train’s 181st Street Subway Station (IND) is on the National Register of Historic Places? I wouldn’t have known that had I not seen am New York’s article on the Coolest Subway Stations in NYC. So is the 190th Street Subway Station. Of the eight locales featured, the station entrances on Ft. Washington (181st) and Bennett Avenues (190th) ironically earned their attention in the company of the gleaming new Fulton Center station, where virtually every line converges, and the gleaming Smith-9th Streets station (F & G trains).

“The National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation,” states the NRHP website. Four local subway stations became listed in 2005. Including those mentioned above there are the 168th and 181st Street Subway Stations (IRT, 1 train). Renovation is ongoing in these stations (as well as the 191st Street station), restoring the old tile, upgrading the facility, and counterbalancing the lack of modern functionality of the early 19th century designs.

The amNY article only highlighted the station entrances and didn’t distinguish the relative pleasantness or ease of use of the underground facilities, both of which I find lacking at these stations. Still, it’s kind of “cool” to have my local stations called out for their art deco styling (181st) and Narnia-like mystique (190th).

I’ll want to explore this further.  I want to see the petition for adding the 181st Street Station on Ft. Washington (and not its art-deco counterpart at 184th St. and Overlook Terrace) to the NRHP, which is not on the website. What, actually, is registered? The façade? The peeling doors? The vestibule? The concrete entrance fronting the elevators?

We shall see, because there is a mystery to get to the bottom of, and I’m the person to do it.

Andromeda

We, humankind, are insignificant specks in the universe. Yet, we matter.

“NASA released the largest picture ever taken earlier this month, with a staggering 1.5 billion pixels, of the Andromeda Galaxy.”1

The images received from the Hubble Space Telescope, deployed in 1990, have rewritten scientific theories about the universe. This video from USA Today highlights the engineering and magnificence of the findings. (I can’t embed the video’s preview so you must click on the link. It’s worth seeing.)

G-d’s creation cannot be entirely captured by the most powerful telescopes. Indeed, these recently released images from NASA only hint at the complexity of detail yet to be uncovered. Still, we only need look up to see that there is something more than us. Even in the city, with electric lights obscuring the heavens, the light of a few stars reaches us down here. Tiny, insignificant, distant novelties we may think, but they hint at the hidden wonders beyond our view.

As a young woman I sat in a rural Connecticut field with a telescope one clear autumn night. The closest town was about 10 miles away yet it cast a subtle glow on the horizon. Still, it was one of the blackest skies I’d ever seen, studded with stars not even imagined in the city. We pulled sleeping bags around us in the increasingly frosty air as the telescope was trained on the moon. Its surface leaped into sharp relief revealing details I’d only seen in photographs. Luminous, and seemingly as close as if I could reach out and touch it, the moon moved imperceptibly and the telescope needed subtle readjustments.

Then the telescope was trained on the planets. Jumping Jupiter! We could see the largest planet and four of its moons! Astonished, I tried to view this as long as possible and only reluctantly allowed my partners to share the sight. This memory and the feeling of being enveloped by that dark night, with the sky as a cloak around my shoulders, stay with me. The wonder and excitement, the feeling of vastness, never faded with the sunrise and reside with me yet.

The scientist in me adds facts: Jupiter is roughly 5 astronomical units2 from Earth (approximately 465 million miles/750 million kilometers). If the sun’s light takes about 8 minutes to reach Earth, the light reflected from Jupiter back to Earth takes about 40 minutes. When we look at the Moon, Jupiter or any star, we’re looking into the past. Indeed, all of the visible lights in the sky, the Moon, all the galaxies, stars, and planets, are represent light from the past. It takes light time to reach us, and by the time we process it, the events are over. That is true for even for things that happen closer to us, like looking at a face of the person next to you; the light is delayed by infinitesimal fractions of microseconds from close objects to our eyes. At this scale the age of the light we see becomes meaningless when compared against the distances in the universe.

The poet in me contemplates splendor: Meaningless. Negligible. Inconsequential. How small is man compared to the heavens. How trivial his concerns against the workings of the cosmos. How true that seems on face value, except…

…we matter. Shakespeare said it well:3

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? — Hamlet

We are not insignificant amongst all the billions and trillions of stars in the sky. What we do, how we act, what we bring into the world has consequences. We mold the universe around us—the only important one—the one of the human experience. Our attitudes, activities, beliefs all go into partnering with the Creator. Each one of us is a galaxy by himself, full of hopes, dreams, feelings, experiences, knowledge, and passion.

Remember where we came from, whether looking outward or inward. We matter.

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If you want to see more of the Hubble Space Telescope’s images, check out this YouTube video.

 

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1. USA Today online, http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/01/20/nasa-largest-picture-andromeda-galaxy/22052513/, accessed January 21, 2015.
2. 1 Astronomical Unit (AU) is approximately 93 million miles (150 million km), the average distance of the earth from the sun.
3. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet Prince of Denmark (2, 2).

The 1 Train Tunnel

IRT at 191 and Broadway

The 1 Train Station at 191st Street and Broadway

I’m enthralled with the subway—at least the parts I’ve traveled. Choosing between the A- and the 1- trains was simple until recently; the A train always won. The entrance at W. 184th St. is a short walk up Overlook Terrace, and you can grab a book from the Nomat Book Club’s bookcase situated at the curb if you lack reading material. The walk homeward is flat, too.

NoMat at A train

NoMat Book Club at W. 184th St. and Overlook Terrace. Last summer it was on the wall. Now it is at the curb (“New Location”).

The IRT 191st Street Subway tunnel from Broadway always spooked me. Its dark and gloomy aura promised nightmares with the light fixtures dim and dust-filled. Mysterious mile markers (190.52, etc.) appeared high on the walls, but not regularly. Recently I took the 1 train when a track emergency caused the A train to halt at 168th St. I reluctantly exited the 1, dreading the tunnel. However, I was delighted to see new LED lighting and bright yellow walls (albeit vandalized by graffiti). This development, along with the renovation of the platform, will make the 1 train more desirable a transportation choice… even though the walk homeward is uphill.

I Feel Your Pain

 

A friend told me the following subsequent to reading my post from last week, The ‘Subway Hilton’ will be Full Tonight.

One day recently, after the Xmas shopping rush, his daughter had the occasion to go shopping in town. She set out armed with all of the “Mom paraphernalia,” a full diaper bag and snacks, plus her own handbag. She strapped her bundled up baby in his stroller and set off for the City. She muscled the stroller up to the train platform in Brooklyn. It is not an unusual sight to see young mothers with strollers struggling up these stairs as there are rarely elevators at those stations. I suspect the trip was uneventful.

When they arrived in the City she rolled the stroller off the train amidst the departing travelers. She faced two long flights up. She started wrestling the stroller up the steps. No passerby stopped to help. She reached the first landing panting. Suddenly she saw motion above, someone jumping over the turnstile. “Here, let me help,” he said extending his hand. He took the foot bar and made light work of carrying the stroller up to the main floor. They passed through the exit gate and she thanked him profoundly. “I appreciate your help. I couldn’t have done it as easily without you,” she said.

“Glad to help,” he replied. “You get to feel someone else’s pain when you’ve been there yourself.” She watched his disheveled form walk away and settle in the corner near the gate amidst some jumbled bags and crates. The man, she realized, was one of the denizens of the subway, an underground resident, willing to lend a hand when most would not.

One can experience kindness anywhere and everywhere.

There is no comment possible

The Eiffel Tower Cries for its people.

The Eiffel Tower cries for its people.

There is no comment possible for the slaughter in France. Radical Islamists struck again.

Twelve cartoonists murdered at publication Charlie Hebdo.

Innocent Jews shopping for Sabbath supplies in the Hyper Cacher Kosher supermarket were targeted by madmen. Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, François-Michel Saada, and Phillipe Braham were killed by a gunman who stormed the market, and were buried in Israel. Thirty were protected by hiding in a freezer, led there by a Muslim shopworker, now a hero.

We are heartbroken, shocked, and outraged. We cannot process the horror. What is happening in France, cradle of Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality? What is happening around the world?

Pray, my friends. Pray.

The ‘Subway Hilton’ will be full tonight

He lives here. People walk by with only a glance at most.

People walk by with only a glance, at most. -Rockefeller Center

We’ve all seen homeless people in the New York City subway system. They stake out some turf and occupy it with all of their possessions. Or, they’ll occupy a subway car, riding it as far as they can before getting hassled or chivvied onward. Their fug clouds the air. Who are these people? Mentally ill? Down on their luck? Alcoholics? Drug users? Poor? Or just plain unlucky? Some are sick and not getting healthcare; their bare ankles have open sores and teeth rot in their mouths. How can they be eating right or taking care of personal hygiene?

Mr. Purple Hat rests his head on his arm. I can’t tell if he’s feigning sleep or truly in a daze. He owns this location, sits in this same position at various times of the day, on various days. He parks himself and his belongings close to the collector’s booth and not far from busy turnstiles. Much foot traffic passes him. People sometimes glance over at him but I’ve never seen anyone talking to him. I’ve never seen him stir although sometimes just his black plastic crates are there as if he’s left to do some shopping and will return “home” shortly.

People live in the subway system. Does that make the subway their home? So they’re not really homeless then?

The subway tunnels are covered at least, out of the wind, protected from rain. With the onset of icy winter weather and single-digit temperatures, the Subway Hilton will be full tonight. Men stretch out on the wooden benches scattered on the platforms. They appear to sleep even as the train clatters down the rails, shaking the ceiling at greater than 90 decibels. That’s the sleep of innocents, of babes, and others who are oblivious to their surroundings.

Never have I seen Mr. Purple Hat look at a passerby or show any curiosity. I think he’s biding time, hanging on to the little he can control by his fingernails. We walk by. A young man veers toward him then swerves. Two women turn their heads around to look at him while piloting forward. Most just stride by on their way to work, appointments, lunch, or to catch a train. Mr. Purple Hat is background, a breathing NYC wallpaper fixture. We presume they are hopped up on dope or drunk. We wonder (with righteous sniffs) why they aren’t being rousted by the police. We pause to think of the agencies or organizations that could possibly help them… assuming they let themselves be helped.

I doubt any mother ever suckled her baby thinking he would end up at the Subway Hilton. I doubt we ever thought ourselves capable of ignoring another human’s plight. But there are so many of them, these poor disaffected souls! We look at them and see the surface. Surely G-d sees their souls and rejoices in them.

I chip at the armor covering my eyes and heart and yearn to see their G-dly sparks, too.

 

A N-E-W Car!

Uhura-mobile

A new-ew-ew-ew car! (What’s an ’88 Jeep Wagoneer got to do with Star Trek?)

I’m sitting in the repair shop waiting for my car to be finished and The Price Is Right (TPIR) is on the TV. Drew Carey receives a bear hug from the petite woman who ran onto the stage. He reveals the next game and the prizes to her. The announcer’s voice rings out, “…a new-ew-ew-ew car!” and the audience cheers wildly, insanely. The contestant shimmies like jello and swoons with pleasure. “A new car” crowns the prize pyramid on TPIR. Winning the car fulfills the American Dream.

I want to go to California and be a contestant on TPIR.

I want to jump and carry on like a maniac. It wouldn’t suffice to sit in the audience; I’d have to be assured a chance in Contestant’s Row, the closest to Nirvana you can be on TPIR without actually being there.  I’d want to be in the front row wearing a t-shirt with a sappy saying like “It’s My 83rd Birthday and I’m Celebrating on TPIR,” “Waiting 40+ years to ‘Come On Down’,” or “Bid $1 More Than the Previous Contestant.” I know the shirt is the key to getting to Contestant’s Row.

My TPIR wishing features (sorry, Drew) Bob Barker (never just “Bob”) in his dark-haired years, a blast from my youth. Johnny Olson (not Rod Roddy) enthusiastically announces, “JustHavingFun, c’mon down! YOU are the next contestant on TPIR!” and I look around for JustHavingFun then give a double take when I realize he’s calling me! Jumping up from my seat at the back of the studio and climbing over four people, I stumble into the aisle.  I run to the stage and the camera hungrily emphasizes my massive bosom’s vertical motion and my monumental tummy’s sideways lurching. The shirt must have worked.

In Contestant’s Row I’m smokin’ hot! Jumping up and down, I guess the actual retail price on the price of the range, lower than everyone else’s bids. They all bid over the actual price! Ding ding ding ding! I get a cash bonus, too! Now I’m ready for the Big Time! I sprint up to the stage… next to Bob Barker!!! He greets me and I stutter my two-second intro: “I’m a writer slash environmental scientist from Pittsburgh trapped in NYC. I also like doodling, burping (thanks Soda Stream!), and detangling my hair.” “OK,” Bob will say, looking at me with his trademark interested look, “let’s play TPIR.” I grin and do the happy dance.

Toasters, cat treats, trips to Cancun, Dior sunglasses, smoker grills, and motorbikes–I know all the prices. I’m in the groove! I could really clean up. I hope for the ‘Clock Game’ (Higher! Lower!) because I don’t like games that rely on chance (except Plinko–everyone loves Plinko). I’m ready to putt in the ‘Hole in One’ game. I can select the wrong number in ‘Squeeze Play.’ I’m ready. Wonder what game it will be….

I get ‘Any Number’ with the car, a microwave, or the darned piggy bank. Of course I win the car.  I go on to the Big Wheel, win that, and then to the Showcase, winning both Showcases. Another car, a catamaran, and a trip to Belgium.  Easy peasy. Bob looks at my shirt. It says, “I came to TPIR and won two cars, a boat and a trip to Netherlands.” Close enough. Bob Barker hugs me and says, “Remember to have your pets spayed or neutered.” He could say whatever he wants at this point. I’ve won enough to boost the economy of a small country and life is g-o-o-d. Or at least, life is consumer g-o-o-d-s.

But who needs California and TPIR?

I could get that new-ew-ew car… for $1.29 at Target. A very special customized vehicle, with girl power by Lt. Uhura. That way I’ll be prepared if there’s a planetary disaster in the Sigma Quadrant.

 

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