Archive | May 2014

The Wounded Warrior Project Should Not Exist

Memorial Day is a day when millions of Americans pay lip service to people who gave their life in service to our country. It’s happening at a time when the government’s treatment of our veterans has never been worse.

Laying a wreath for the dead is not a substitute for respecting the living. And our veterans have been mistreated in ways that ought to shame a nation that claims to be a serious military power. The current state of neglect of our veterans is about as respectful as taking a piss on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Why are there celebrities making commercials for private charities that care for veterans? Why should any private charity exist to support wounded veterans? Our government accepted full responsibility for the health of our veterans when the veteran signed on the dotted line to join. There should be no issue with veterans getting the things they need.

Yet our TV broadcasts are teeming with entertainers taking to the airwaves to beg couch potatoes for money on Memorial Day weekend to help wounded American veterans.

Ours is supposed to be the most powerful military in the world. Our armed forces operate drones that can send a missile up a camel’s ass two thousand miles away but can’t afford a few shekels to build a wheelchair ramp for a crippled soldier? Am I the only person in TV land who thinks this is horrifying horse shit?

Health care for your soldiers is a basic, like ammunition for rifles, boots and helmets. You wouldn’t send a soldier or Marine into battle without ammunition, you don’t bring them home without the ability to provide health care.

What better way to tell our enemies that the U.S.A. is a paper tiger than to let them see that private charities have to help care for wounded U.S. service members?

And it’s gotten worse. The Bureau of Veterans Affairs was shown to keep secret waiting lists at some of its hospitals to cover up the terrible waiting times for medical care. So upper management knew how bad things were and tried to cover it up rather than fix it.

So while the efforts of the Wounded Warrior Project are noble, such charities shouldn’t exist because they shouldn’t have to. Veterans with serious injuries should have all of their health needs tended to. They shouldn’t have to raise money for wheelchairs or artificial limbs. Those benefits should be a given and not subject to debate.

We have an all-volunteer military and haven’t had a draft since the Vietnam War (although the “stop-loss” programs and activation of inactive reservists during the George W. Bush administration served as a kind of draft, with the lottery restricted to veterans who had already served). So it behooves the government to make good on its promises to veterans. Among the outraged public are potential new recruits. If the military is willing to break its promises to the aged and the infirm, why should a patriotic American want to join. (N.B. – Years ago a family member who was then enlisted in the armed forces described recruiters as “hired liars.”).

So while I hope everyone at least takes a moment to reflect on the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country, we should determine that there won’t have to be private charities tending to the needs of our veterans.

Parking in New York: A New Path to Anger and Disgust

When I moved back to New York City years ago, one of the greatest benefits was that I didn’t need a car.

My luck with cars has been terrible. My first car, a 1987 Plymouth Horizon, broke down constantly. I was a broke college student who couldn’t afford a new head gasket when my car put itself out of its misery via self immolation.

I bought my second vehicle from a shirtless man in the back woods of Georgia who was drunk at two in the afternoon and called his son “Molson” even though that wasn’t his name. My giant 1977 Plymouth Voyager van was mustard yellow with a big white strip. If you viewed it at the right angle you could still make out the lettering from the church that used to own it. It didn’t perform much better than my old Horizon. Its drive shaft fell off on Interstate 285 in Atlanta once.

My 15-year car-free life came to an end a few years ago when the wife and I bought a used truck. I don’t live in Manhattan anymore and Eastern Queens is not as much of an automotive purgatory as Manhattan. And being involved in music means I have to haul large speaker cabinets, guitars and drunk musicians throughout and beyond the five boroughs.

But the conveniences of city car ownership are paid for with the wages of anger and aggravation.

The roads are full of bad drivers and New York City is rife with people who not only drive terribly but feel entitled to do so. I’ve seen people in Inwood triple park rather than walk an extra 20 feet to a supermarket. I’ve seen cab drivers wait until they have a red light to drive across an intersection.

And parking in New York City is a misery that never goes away unless you are somehow incredibly wealthy. The city’s parking laws are a Byzantine morass of prohibitions that are consistently poorly-signed. A liberal interpretation of a sign can get you a fat ticket or worse, towed. I have not had the experience of paying vehicular ransom at a city impound lot, but every account I have heard from survivors indicates it is a Kafkaesque nightmare that can make someone hate our city for life.

My wife has lived in the co-op apartment we share for more than twelve years and was on a waiting list for a parking space for five years.

We thought our parking troubles were mostly over. We have a regular space. But the perpetual douchery of New York City driving revealed itself again just this past weekend.

My wife had taken our baby girls to visit relatives in Nassau County and returned home from three hours of tied-up traffic on the Long Island Expressway. to find someone had parked in our spot.

Normally the travails of someone with a reserved parking spot would fall firmly in the confines of “First World Problems.” But when you’ve waited five years for that spot and you’re a barely middle-class family with no margin for parking tickets or private garages and someone rudely parks their Mercedes Benz in your spot, violence is justified.

If someone had left a note on the car with their contact info and let us call them to move the car, it would have been no problem. We would have been annoyed but impressed by their willingness to be decent upon notice. Because of the late hour and our building management’s inability to get a towing company right, we were stuck without legal parking for the night.

Normally this would be license to get creative with vandalism. If this car had a sunroof, my dream of justifiable shitting through a sunroof of a snotty dickhead’s car would have finally been realized. I would have loved to stick bananas in the tailpipe, pissed all over the door handles and leave a steaming log of justice on the windshield. It would have given me joy to superglue some tasteless gay porn all over the windows and scratched giant curse words into the expensive paint job.

But since our space is reserved, the authorities would have us as their prime suspects easily. There was little we could do but leave a tersely-worded note stating that they were parked illegally and we had been forced to call the towing service (which was true, even though the towing service was out of business).

So justice has not been served. If you see a dark-colored Mercedes Benz S550 with New York license plate FTX-2898, please vandalize the shit out of it. Thank you.

A Bridge Adventure Near 59th Street

Since four out of five New York City boroughs are on Islands, living in New York means dealing with bridges (and subway tunnels) if you want to get anywhere. Since I became a driver in New York a few years ago, I have mostly driven over the Whitestone Bridge, which is closest to my home.

Lately the authorities have gotten into the nasty habit of adding or changing names to some of its bridges. The 59th Street Bridge was officially called the Queensboro Bridge until a few years ago when they decided to also name if after former New York City mayor Ed Koch. It’s now the Ed Koch/Queensboro Bridge. The Triborough Bridge has been renamed the RFK Bridge after Robert F. Kennedy, who was a U.S. Senator from New York when he was gunned down. This has been aggravating. I don’t want to call the Triborough the RFK Bridge. Triborough works better – it connects three boroughs and the name sums that up nicely.

The 59th Street Bridge is a depressing and aggravating bridge for drivers. It has all of the congested traffic of midtown Manhattan with the sooty industrial character of the more neglected parts of Queens. But it is free, so people will stew in hellish traffic to save themselves the $7.50 it now costs to take the Triborough Bridge. (Public policy experts note that the systems of tolls we have on bridges in New York is backward, that we should charge tolls for bridges over the East River that cause more traffic congestion and instead encourage people to use the larger, highway-connected bridges, which now charge tolls).

This past Saturday I was driving home after dropping off some good friends in midtown Manhattan. I made my way east from Times Square and seriously considered taking the Triborough home. No, I thought to myself, I must overcome my apprehension about taking the 59th Street Bridge and make a success of it this evening.

I found myself on First Avenue but did not make the first turnoff I saw for the bridge. I came upon another turn for the bridge and took it, following behind another pickup truck. I saw a sign saying that the outer roadway of the bridge was closed between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. I thought nothing of it; I hadn’t planned on taking the outer roadway of the bridge, which I had never heard of anyway, and those signs usually referred to weekday construction.

The truck ahead of mine came to the entrance of the bridge, which was closed. It was blocked off with orange traffic barrels. The man got of his truck and just moved some of the barrels. He looked at me as he got back in his truck and his face wore the expression of someone who just did not give a fuck about closed roads. For all I knew he was an off-duty cop. I paused for a minute, not sure if I should follow this driver to a new illegally-opened section of the bridge. Fuck it, I thought. If the cops stop me then I’ll play dumb and just say I didn’t know the bridge was closed because the roadway wasn’t closed. That was technically true.

I could have been driving into a dangerous construction zone or have been tailgating some kind of undercover police operation or been intruding on some other kind of high crime or misdemeanor taking place over the East River. All of those unfortunate circumstances still sounded a lot more fun than contending with the convoluted traffic that would have been required to stay law abiding. I drove up the closed ramp of the bridge.

The outer roadway of the 59th Street Bridge (a.k.a. the Queensboro Bridge a.k.a. the Ed Koch Bridge) is one narrow late separated from the lower roadway by bridgeworks and thick concrete walls. Every once in a while there is a break in the wall and someone driving a smaller vehicle than my pickup truck could probably get away with maneuvering in and out of the lane. I was stuck on the outer roadway until the bitter end.

I drove on the closed outer roadway as quickly as I could while trying to look normal and blend in with the traffic, though there was no other traffic in my lane at all, except the daring barrel-mover, whose tail lights I could dimly make out far ahead of me. I drove on expecting the law to come bearing down on me any minute or to dead end into an impassable construction site. None of those things happened. I drove over the bridge with a paranoid mania until the regular traffic patterns of the bridge shunted me into a lane that didn’t help me get home.

The worse thing about it for someone driving home from Manhattan over it is that it is very tough to find your way when you reach the other side of the bridge. Whether you take the upper or lower roadway and what lane you take on either roadway can quickly determine your options when you reach Queens. Driving eastbound, it transports you from an anger-fueled Byzantine knot of Manhattan streets to a clustered maze of impossible roadways of Queens.

I eventually disentangled myself from whatever unappealing part of Long Island City I was in and found my way to Northern Boulevard and a more pleasant drive home.

Revenge of the Outer Boroughs

This past weekend the wife and I attended a co-ed baby shower for my friend and spiritual advisor Rabbi Jay Levitz and his wife Sarah. We were in Oceanside, Long Island, New York, a short drive outside the city for us, as we live in Eastern Queens. As we talked with Jay, the conversation turned to what constitutes the “bridge and tunnel crowd.”

We all agreed that the term was more of a cultural construct than a geographic one, though we acknowledge that the two go hand in hand in many ways. Where I live now in Queens is not a trendy area at all and is too far from any of the celebrated night life to become popular among the moneyed classes or the upwardly mobile youth any time soon. That is actually a blessing. We happen to have decent access to public transportation, though getting into Manhattan always involves at least one bus and one train. My commute to work is at least one bus and two subways, and it is terrible, subject at all times to the fickle whims of the increasingly incompetent MTA.

The “bridge and tunnel” term may have been initially meant to denote people coming from outside of New York City—especially from New Jersey, considered by many to be a cultural leper colony filled with only guidos and hill people. But my current settings would qualify me as a bridge and tunnel crowd person when I venture into Manhattan for cultural events.

Manhattan was once the undisputed epicenter of New York City’s cultural life. Now that cultural life is much more diffuse and spread through the outer boroughs, most prominently in Brooklyn. New movie theaters, restaurants and music venues are more likely to be opening in Brooklyn or Queens today than in Manhattan. Accordingly, real estate prices in the outer boroughs are still going through the roof.

This shift has made use of the term “Bridge and Tunnel” a bit outdated, but the cultural chasm between whose who perceive themselves as cultured city residents and the people who travel to the city only on the weekends to party is not gone. Someone who takes the Long Island Rail Road from Mineola to see a concert in Brooklyn is considered part of the bridge and tunnel crowd, though they did not use a bridge or tunnel (yes, I understand that the LIRR in Brooklyn does use subway tunnels and uses overpasses on its way to the city; shut up).

And these social demarcations between what is city and what is not stretch to the outer boroughs as well. I mentioned that I drove to Long Island to attend a baby shower this weekend, but as I live in Queens, I already live on Long Island. When New Yorkers talk about “Long Island” they don’t mean the Island itself but Nassau and Suffolk Counties, the parts of the Island that lie outside of the border of New York City.

I could never justify the expense of living in a more trendy or celebrated area of Manhattan. I had a chance to move to the Upper East Side one time. I looked at an apartment in Yorkville and realized that I would be doubling my rent and would still not be able to fit the modest furniture from my small studio in Ozone Park, Queens into the new place. It wasn’t worth the money. I could have said I lived on the Upper East Side, but I’d be living like a hobbit.

So while proximity to Manhattan is become less and less of a cultural touchstone to judge a neighborhood, I propose a new measure of the value of where you live: proximity to live Shakespeare.

A good measure of the value of any place to live is how far away you are from some free Shakespeare. When I lived in Inwood in uptown Manhattan, it had yet to become a trendy place to live and people hadn’t heard of it. But I lived across the street from Inwood Hill Park which had free Shakespeare plays every summer. Score.

I can’t easily walk to free Shakespeare like that, but I am a very short trip from more than one of the venues of the free Shakespeare in the Park in Queens.

Some will argue that this Shakespeare standard is an unfair way to judge where you live, but I don’t think so. I don’t want my children to live in a world where they can’t easily see some free Shakespeare every summer. I’ll be dragging their soggy asses to Two Gentlemen of Verona this season; I won’t need a bridge or tunnel to get there.

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