Doktor Kaboom Drops Science on the Queens Theatre

Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park is not one of the park’s better-known attractions. The iconic Unisphere gets much more attention, and the Queens Zoo probably sees a lot more foot traffic, but the Queens Theatre is a lesser-known gem in the large park.

This past weekend it was the sight of a recent performance by Doktor Kaboom, a comedic science performer who has a family-friendly show that targets impressionable young children and works to give them a love of science.

The good Doktor, with his spiky blond hair and thick faux-German accent, looks and sounds like the love child of Guy Fieri and Angela Merkel (who has a PhD in Physics), but he’s actually a native of North Carolina who lives in Seattle and found a way to combine his love of comedy and science.

The whole family went and we were lucky enough to have extra tickets for a friend and his daughter. The Queens Theatre mainstage theater seats 472 and the rows are on a gradient generous enough to provide decent viewing from all angles.

After a brief introduction, Doktor Kaboom took the stage and we were on our way. The entire show is geared towards children, working to spark an interest in science and there’s no better way to do that than to show them that science allows you to make a mess. Using a catapult to try to help a young volunteer from the audience catch a piece of banana in his mouth, the bit had the stage littered with banana pretty quickly and it was good fun. I vowed to never feed my children bananas the same way again, but I’m not sure I am going to be able to build a catapult fast enough to realize this dream.

One of the best parts of the show was when the good Doktor implored the kids there to have confidence and faith in themselves. He said that at a previous show a 10-year-old kid said that he was a failure, even though he was a bright young man who could speak three languages. That base level of self respect is sadly missing from a lot in our society.

Unfortunately, some basic theater manners are also lacking. The Doktor had to remind the audience to refrain from using mobile phones, which is Theater Manners 101. Lack of civility as well as a dropping aptitude in the sciences are general signs of societal rot and sad to see, but at least there’s one guy out there fighting the good fight. That guy wears old-fashioned goggles, a bright orange lab coat, and shoes with flames painted on them.

But that didn’t slow down the show. There is a lot of safety instruction in the Doktor Kaboom show, even though the worst you may be exposed to is high-velocity banana and some soapy residue. He manages to use some optical illusions to trick your mind in ways that even jaded adults will find fascinating, and he takes time to explain what is happening in terms that children can understand. There are also plenty of under-the-radar jokes for adults as well.

There were no loud explosions as the Doktor Kaboom name might imply, but fear not. The show is well worth the time and has a big impact.

The continuous triumphs of raising girls

I was driving my three girls home from the Queens Botanical Gardens and as I merged onto a highway overpass that would take us home, our van overlooked some athletic fields where several teams were playing soccer.

“Daddy, do girls play soccer?” one of my three daughters asked.

“Yes, of course,” I said.

“Then I want to be a soccer player!” she said

“Yes, me too!” one of her sisters chimed in.

They expounded on their plans to dominate the sport of soccer. I reminded them they could play both soccer and hockey and they agreed that they could excel at both sports.

What struck me about this conversation was not my girls’ enthusiasm for soccer, but that they thought, at their early age, that they could be limited because they were girls. It was heartbreaking that in just over four years, they could conceive of being constrained in what games they play.

It was an interesting discovery that before they were three years old, my daughters craved representation of females in media; they were very conscious of what characters were in front of them. Most cartoon characters are boys, and the female characters in most popular children’s television are either princesses or fashion-obsessed mice. There are some notable exceptions (Dora the Explorer and Doc McStuffins), but even in cartoons with some positive female role models, they are usually a small part of the larger action.

This is one of the reasons my wife and I bring our girls to professional women’s hockey. The Metropolitan Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League have been a must-see for our family. Besides being a fun sport to watch, women’s professional hockey, by the very fact of its existence, provides an invaluable service for the parents of girls. Our daughters can see women held in high esteem and being celebrated for hard work in their chosen field.

While my wife is a stay-at-home Mom for now, she is active in local civic affairs and has a leadership role in her local Community Supported Agriculture Group. We like to think that we don’t avoid the facts of life but present the world as honestly as possible, but there is no reason our girls should think that there are limits to what sports they can play.

There are efforts underway to have more portrayals of girls in various roles in different media, not just in hockey, but in all of life. People are making their own books, controlling their own art.

A former co-worker who has daughters older than mine said that girls are more likely to drop out of playing sports when they reach age 10; she noted that her oldest daughter made it through that age with her love of sport intact. It was a relief.

While hockey for me is a more interesting sport than soccer, I’m happy to have my girls interested in soccer. It is an easier concept to teach. Everyone knows how to kick a ball and run after it; hockey requires players to be proficient ice skaters to play.

I’m cautious about pushing hockey on my girls too hard, not because I really care if they play hockey, but I’m determined that they remain interested in playing sports.

So yes, girls play soccer and much more. Let it always be so.

 

There is no such thing as too many books

“The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be.”

—Theodore Roosevelt

“We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.”

― John Waters

 

When I first moved back to New York City as an adult, I made it a point to make regular pilgrimages to The Strand to stock up on books. There was no way I could manage to leave there without several bags of books.

My small studio in Queens had two windows that looked out over a bus stop on 101st. Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard. One of those windows was home to my air conditioner, the other window became my extended library. I already had a hutch bookcase filled with books but as my trips to The Strand and other bookstores multiplied, I needed more space for my books. Soon I was picking up plastic milk crates I found on the street to use as bookshelves. Then I acquired more milk crates, and soon had to double-stack books in them. More than once I found a great deal on a classic book at The Strand and bought it only to find that I already had that book at home.

When I moved to new apartment a few years later, I had space for actual bookshelves and bought four of them. They were quickly filled.

No longer single and free to binge at bookstores, my wife and I are now in the process of trying to make more space in our apartment for our family of five. That includes making more space in our living room, which currently houses most of our books. It is not an easy task.

It is not easy to part with books, nor should it be. Each book is an adventure waiting to happen, to give away a book without having read it is to deny a future possibility, a potential new thrill or idea. To turn away from books is to turn away from inspiration, from moving dreams and a new way of looking at life. Books are the lifeblood of the soul, and the building blocks of a civilized society.

Some purists may not forgive me for trying to adapt to the confines of space in our urban environment and using a Kindle. I know, I know: there is no substitute for the printed page, and the satisfying heft of a hardcover tome cannot be replicated by any electronic device. I agree. But as a commuter it is helpful to be able to read things with one hand, and while I would love to fill every spare inch of wall space in my apartment with shelves full of books, my kids need space to sleep and play. The Kindle has been a great evolution in the reading life if you can adapt to it. Some die-hards will not have it and I understand. If space and convenience were not factors, I’d be there.

But I have not given up printed books altogether. I will buy printed books when I can and use the Kindle as much as possible as well.

My collection of printed books will continue to grow, albeit a bit slower than in my bachelor days. My children are growing up in a home with plentiful books. They already love reading and if I fail in every other aspect of life, I have already achieved great success there.

 

The Riveters Bring the Championship Home

New York has another championship to brag about. The Metropolitan Riveters are the National Women’s Hockey League champions. They played for the NWHL’s Isobel Cup this past Sunday.

It was a packed Barnabas Health Hockey House for the final game between the Riveters and the defending champions Buffalo Beauts. The game sold out and was probably oversold, but it happens. We got there about half an hour before the game and by the time we got to the stands there was not a seat to be had. There was a strong contingent of dedicated Buffalo fans there taking up a large area of seating near the visiting bench.

The place we usually go to find seats was completely filled. There was additional seating added on the top walkway of the stands but those were all reserved. But we were directed to the other side of the rink where there were chairs and open space against the Plexiglas. This actually worked out better. Parents pulled chairs up closer to the rink so their kids could stand on the chairs and get a good view. There was also more room for kids to move around and we didn’t have to struggle to keep them sitting or to stop them from kicking people in the back as is an issue with the general admission bench seating. Also, we were closer to where the Riveters emerge from the locker room, allowing our girls to give fist bumps to the team as they made their way to the ice for each period.

The camaraderie among fans that pervaded the season was still in full effect at the final game. We stood with other die-hard Riveters fans and it was great to be closer to the action.

Taking young children to sporting events is a hectic undertaking. One has to keep an eye on the kids at all times, which is not easy when you’re watching a fast-paced championship game.

The game’s one goal was scored in the first period by Alexa Gruschow, who made an amazing diving play that showed why she was named the NWHL’s Most Valuable Player of the season. At one point in the first period, Riveter Madison Packer was down on the ice after being checked from behind by one of the Beauts. This earned Buffalo a 10-minute misconduct penalty on top of a two-minute penalty for hitting from behind. It was no matter though, Packer was back in the game in the second period. Later in the game I saw Harrison Browne take another cheap shot from behind from Buffalo.

We discovered a doll with wings that was close to the media backdrop for the Riveters. With it was a note, claiming the doll was Izzy, who had come from Buffalo to stay with her favorite team but needed the Riveters to retriever her cup. A witty good luck gesture, and it took several readings aloud of the note and the explanation to keep my girls from playing with the doll or going in search of its owner. I tasked them instead with making sure the doll was not disturbed. Someone did move the doll to a more prominent location, but the note, and the good mojo, stayed with the Riveters Nation.

As the final seconds ticked down in the third period, the excitement was palpable and when the final buzzer rang the team piled on starting goalie Katy Fitzgerald. This is the team’s first Isobel Cup championship.

While they currently play in Newark and have forged a partnership with the New Jersey Devils, who now have an ownership stake in the team, the Riveters are a product of New York City. They played their inaugural season in Brooklyn at the Aviator Sports and Events Center at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. They began as the New York Riveters and I still have a hat bearing that name.

The Riveters have made great progress as a team and brought new fans to women’s hockey and the NWHL. We can say we were there to see them win their first championship.

 

The Riveters can win it all

Last year I took my two older daughters to see the National Women’s Hockey League Metropolitan Riveters play two games against the Boston Pride. It was a blast and made us committed Riveters fans.

This coming weekend, the Riveters will be competing in the championship game against the Buffalo Beauts. We will be there to see them play for the Isobel Cup, the NWHL’s championship trophy (named for the Isobel Stanley, daughter of Lord Fredrick Arthur Stanley for whom the NHL’s Stanley Cup is named for).

It has been a great season for the Riveters, and they had a long winning streak that lasted late into the season. The family and I have been to all but one regular season home game, and we traveled to Stamford to see the Riveters pull out a thrilling overtime win against the Connecticut Whale.

We have a regular place that we like to sit for games and it’s near a group of dedicated fans who often ring cowbells. There is Dmitry, a superfan who was the first that I can remember ringing the cowbell – he offered to let one of my girls ring it at the game in Connecticut. There are a few others in the growing cowbell contingent. Also near us is Manpuku the Puppy and his human companion, both dressed to impress. We’ve also sat next to Kelsey Koelzer’s mother a few times and chatted with her about the team. My older daughters have given hugs to Rebecca Russo.

We make a point to bring our daughters to see these games because it’s important that they see women in sports. Even at a very young age girls crave representation in what they see. So much of our culture presents women is nonsense, and the NWHL allows us to go to events where young women are the center of attention in a very positive way.

And it has been a joy to watch the hockey. Madison Packer’s smooth and aggressive style of play is a thing of beauty – she will circle around, almost as if she’s leisurely skating around the rink, and then wind up exactly where she needs to be, taking control of the puck against the boards or winding up in front of the net to score. And I have never seen a player hustle down the ice like Harrison Browne – breaking away ahead of everyone else to drive to the opponent’s net.

This past Sunday, the Riveters shut out the Whale 5-0 to earn their first trip to the final game.

The only team to beat the Riveters so far this year has been Buffalo, who have been playing very well and are the defending champions.

The NWHL has been gaining momentum with every season. This season, the Riveters entered a partnership with the New Jersey Devils, which took a part ownership of the team (that hurts as a Rangers fan but if it’s good for the Riveters, so be it), and the Buffalo Beauts were purchased by the company that own the Buffalo Sabres NHL team. And the cause of women’s hockey was given another great boost this year with the U.S. women taking the gold in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The final game is at the Barnabas Health Hockey House in Newark, New Jersey and it’s easily accessible via public transportation. There is ample, affordable parking if you drive. If you like hockey, you won’t be sorry to be there for this big game.

Meeting Farmers in Queens, New York

In 2012, when Hurricane Sandy created shipping delays in the New York area, gasoline shortages arose quickly. Within the span of a week, 1970s-era gas lines formed on city streets. A cab driver I spoke with in the weeks after the hurricane told me he had woken up early that day and driven to Stamford, Connecticut to buy gas.

Now imagine if our food supply was so adversely affected. For this reason alone, it is a good idea to get food that’s grown closer to your home whenever possible. You want to live close to your most vital supplies, especially since we can’t all plant vegetable gardens in our living rooms.

Luckily, entire networks of local farms serve many large cities, and New York City has its own ecosystem of networks that allow residents to get their food locally – locally in this case being within 100 miles of the city.

My wife is one of the founders of the local C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture), Flushing C.S.A., and this Sunday they are holding a Meet the Farmer event at the Flushing Quaker Meeting House (the oldest continually used house of worship in the city – no joke, it dates back to the 1600s).

The central purpose of Meet the Farmer is to meet the farmer who grows the food for Flushing C.S.A. and other C.S.A.s in the city. But there will be a lot more. There will be local food vendors there and a free screening of Farmers for America, a documentary that explores the troubles facing our country’s local farms.

There is something for everyone at the Meet the Farmer event. You can peruse the historic site of the Meeting House between snacks provided by the local vendors. You can learn about the local farms that supply Organic produce and other goodies to networks within the five boroughs and beyond, and you can learn about larger issues facing agriculture in America today.

I often gave little thought to where food came from. I went to the grocery store when I needed and got whatever was the tastiest food that was easy to make. As a bachelor I lived off of egg sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and Chinese food. That was good living for a while, but that kind of thoughtless consumerism has its limits. My wife has had a much longer interest in agriculture and nutrition. When we met she was running a small health supplement store that had a lot of well-to-do clients. For a while she was a member of a C.S.A. that was not very close to her home, so she helped found the local one that we use to get our vegetables.

Living in New York, we are often far removed from rural life and agriculture is something alien, done in faraway places. But knowing where your food comes from and being part of a community that supports a stable foundation for supplying it is a good thing. In communities where there is dissipating cultural cohesion, people forge their own groups and find common ground where they can. It is helpful that they can do it to help other local communities and ensure their basic survival.

So come to Flushing and learn more about Flushing C.S.A., or find out what C.S.A.s serve your area. It is well worth the journey to Queens.

New York Becomes a Windy City

Years ago I was meeting with two men from Chicago for work. I noted that the downtown financial district of Manhattan can get very windy, as breezes come in off the harbor and are funneled down the streets by the tall buildings.

I asked how the downtown area of New York compared with Chicago. It didn’t. It could get windy here, they agreed, but in Chicago the wind had once dislodged a large window pane from a tall office building, and the loose piece of glass had cut a person in half. I haven’t been able to confirm this story anywhere, but it didn’t sound like these guys were trying to bullshit me.

This story came to mind recently as New York was hit with extreme winds amid a storm that couldn’t make up its mind. I set out to work in a rudimentary rain storm. A few hours later, I looked out the window of my building to see snow blowing sideways and obscuring much of my normally pleasant view.

The snow turned to rain when I stepped out of the office during lunch time. Large snowflakes flecked my umbrella as I made my way to my bus stop in Herald Square. None of the snow was really sticking in Manhattan. The wind was bothersome but I did not have an idea of the scope of the problem.

Arriving home from work on Friday via commuter bus, traffic to the Whitestone Bridge was backed up at least one mile, with the backup spilling onto service roads; we later learned that tractor trailers and busses were banned, and heavy restrictions on the number of cars crossing imposed. As cars turned right up a local street near my building to try to steer around the traffic, a felled tree forced them to make a U-turn and plunge back into the gridlock. A few days later, the tree was still blocking half of the road and felled tree branches still littered lawns, sidewalks and streets.

The video of a truck being blown onto its side on the Verrazano Bridge began circulating over the weekend. Upstate on the Tappan Zee Bridge (no one calls it the Mario Cuomo Bridge) at least two tractor trailers were blown onto their sides.

In New York, we live in such a large, man-made metropolis, we like to think that for the most part we have conquered nature, that natural disasters are things we see on the news happening in less fortunate places around the world. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 sobered some people up and forced building code changes to those neighborhoods most in danger.

Within the past decade, we’ve been bombarded with one hurricane that did damage that is still being repaired, endured at least one earthquake that sent people fleeing their office buildings, had tornadoes touch down within city limits, and faced heat waves and cold snaps that cost lives. Despite the powers that we wield over our environment, despite our ability to carve and crush bedrock to anchor our buildings and lay track for our subways, we are still at the mercy of what the Earth will do.

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