Archive | July 2014

Head to the New York City Woods

Summer is a traditional time to go to the beach and be near the water, and New York City has 14 miles of public beaches where you can contract skin cancer while being eaten alive by horse flies. I never understood why people would want to go to a sunny place and let the sun burn them during the hottest time of the year.

But believe it or not, New York City also has woods and you would do well to spend some time in the shade this summer. There’s something immensely satisfying about going for a walk in the woods and knowing you are still within the five boroughs of New York City.

For more than 10 years I lived in Inwood, the northernmost neighborhood in Manhattan. I was lucky enough to live right across one of the wooded sections of Inwood Hill Park, which contains the last piece of natural forest in Manhattan as well as Manhattan’s last surviving salt marsh. It is also the highest natural point of elevation in the city.

I moved into Inwood on a Saturday in the summer and the following Monday went on a jog in the park before going to work. Not familiar with the park and its paths yet, I became lost. I couldn’t believe it that I was lost in the woods in Manhattan, but I was. I eventually found my way home and wasn’t too late to work, but Inwood Hill Park remains a treasure with lots wooded paths to walk. Even on weekends in the spring and summer when the park is typically crowded, you can find some solitude in the woods.

Be careful though, there are no shortage of shady characters who know this as well, and while I was living in Inwood a young Julliard student named Sarah Fox was murdered in a wooded part of the park one afternoon while she was jogging.

Inwood Hill Park may be one of the best and most overlooked wooded parks in the city but it’s not the only place to cool off in the shade.

Now that I am in Queens, I live not far from several parks that have real woods and wooded trails.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided we would go to Alley Pond Park. My wife, who grew up in Queens, knew it as a place high school students would go to drink alcohol under the cover of darkness. The park is the second largest public park in Queens (Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which doesn’t have dense woodlands, is the largest).

Alley Pond Park would be difficult to reach via public transportation as it is not near any subway lines; you’d have to take the bus if you don’t have a car or can’t walk or bike there. We found a parking space in a small parking lot that looks like it overflows during busy times. We put our twin daughters in a jogging stroller and managed to navigate it through much of the wooded paths in the park. Of course, being in New York City, the paths in the park were sometimes paved and sometimes led to steep staircases that we dared not traverse with a stroller, but we were always able to turn around and find another suitable path that would let us enjoy the woods a little more.

We saw lots of birds and even a rabbit. There were plenty of mosquitoes as we got near swamp areas of the park. We came across other strollers in the woods but like Inwood Hill Park, one can achieve a certain solitude in the woods even on days that the park is crowded.

No matter what borough you reside in, there is no shortage of wooded parks in New York. It will be cooler and less crowded in the shade.

The Luxury View at Yankee Stadium

I entered a haiku writing contest and was judged one of three winners. The haiku had to be about the World Cup.

Here is my winning haiku:

The American Way
We are new at this
Chant U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
But don’t know the rules

I am originally from The Bronx and I was raised a Yankee fan. My father went to high school not far from Yankee Stadium and I stood by the team even when they had the worst record in baseball. I quit watching the 1996 World Series after the Bronx Bombers dropped the first two games to the Atlanta Braves. They won the next four games and began their late 1990’s dynasty.

I had been to the new Yankee Stadium only twice before. Once for a game and another time for a Big 4 concert. The new stadium had not impressed me. From the cheap seats you could not see the entire field (Stadium Building 101: one must be able to see the entire field of play from every seat. They had the technology to do this in 1923). From where I was a few years ago at a game, I couldn’t see all the way to the right field wall even when I stood up.

There are numerous other reasons to hate the new Yankee Stadium. The upper deck is two decks, there’s a moat keeping people from getting close to the field unless they have expensive tickets. The Yankees, one of the richest sports franchises in the world, got a sweetheart deal from a broke city to build a luxury stadium on city park land. And it’s a leaky concrete slab with no soul.

So the chance to experience how the well-to-do take in a baseball game was something I wasn’t going to pass up. I would likely not have the chance to take in a baseball game from such a seat of luxury again. I made sure I could make the game and gladly accepted my prize.

I got to the stadium more than an hour before game time and met an attorney from the firm that hosted the contest. We chatted until the other two prize winners arrived. One was a media attorney and the other was a corporate restructuring specialist.

Once we were all there we entered the stadium through the special ‘Legends Suites’ entrance. We got special wristbands and were shown to a very nice restaurant area where waiters brought drinks to your table and there were several food stations for all-you-can-eat food. There was a special guest chef serving his take on a lobster roll (they were on small toasted hamburger buns and had a plastic Yankees flag in them). I got an obscene amount of food, even enjoying a big plate of sushi. I couldn’t finish my dessert. Overhead, TVs broadcast the pregame show, though one large row of televisions was broadcasting the current World Cup game (of the U.S. losing to Belgium). All the food and drink was free unless you wanted alcohol. Towards the exits to the seating area, there was a wall of shelves with baskets of candies and other snacks for the taking.

We got to our seats, which were amazing. We were the second row behind home plate. My family and friends saw me on television. I got to see the game from a perspective I never have before and I could see the entire field.

Baseball great Bill Veeck once said that a fan’s knowledge of the game is usually inversely proportional to the price of their ticket. My few visits to the box seats at Yankee Stadium have shown this to be accurate. I’m sure there are some knowledgeable baseball people among the well-off denizens of the luxury sections, but they would probably get their asses handed to them in sports trivia by your average Bleacher Creature with a bad hangover.

Of all the talk overheard among the other luxury seat occupants, there was a lot of talk about business and vacations and other facets of life, but there was not a lot of talk about baseball. There was only one person nearby who was acting like a real baseball fan, yelling criticisms at the home plate umpire with bellowing gruff wit, and he was looked upon askance by people sitting around him.

A group of four women arrived late and sat in front of us. The ushers seemed to know them, or know at least one of the women, an attractive blonde. One of them, the one sitting directly in front of me, appeared to be some kind of model. She was very young and unusually tall and thin. I saw others looking over at the group so one or more of them may have been celebrities. The blonde that the ushers seemed to know was friendly and told me where I could find complimentary hot dogs in the luxury dining area. While I had feasted on high-quality seafood, the thought of not having a hot dog or two at a baseball game was sacrilege.

These supermodel women actually tried to get the rest of our section into the spirit of the game and stood up at the very end. It was two outs and two strikes with the tying run on base for the Yankees. This is a traditionally a time when the crowd stands to applaud to help rally the team. The supermodels stood up and I stood with them (I also would not have been able to see the game otherwise). An usher came along and told us to sit down.

One of the more depressing aspects of following the Yankees in recent years was the press decrying the “aging” Yankee lineup, made of players who are my age and younger.

Shortstop Derek Jeter, the captain of the Yankee team and a fan favorite for a long time, is retiring after this season and is considered over the hill by many sports standards. He’s a year younger than I am.

While I was at the game, I got to see Jeter tie Lou Gehrig’s record for most doubles hit by a Yankee. I also got to see a great play by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is now my new favorite Yankee player. Ellsbury was caught in a rundown between first and second base, and let himself get hit by the ball—when a player is hit by the ball during play he automatically advances to the next base—turning what looked like a sure out into a stolen base.

Derek Jeter looked over in my direction several times during the game. I’m guessing someone told him about my awesome haiku and he was hoping I’d stick around to give him an autograph after the game. But because I left as soon as the game ended he probably had to make due with hanging out with the supermodels in the first row.

The game itself didn’t go like I wanted. The Yankees lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 2-1. Continuing on the theme of luxury, I treated myself to a cab ride home, enjoying the sight of the New York skyline at night capped off a nice evening.

The Central Park Five Are Probably Guilty and Will Soon Be Rich

This past week, New York City’s Comptroller approved a settlement reportedly totaling $41 million to members of the “Central Park Five.”

The five men were convicted in 1990 of the brutal rape and bludgeoning of a woman jogging in Central Park in April of 1989. No one who was living in New York at the time could ever forget it. The jogger was so badly beaten that a friend had to identify her by a ring she was wearing on her finger. There was no telling how many people took part in the assault. The five who were convicted were part of a mob that numbered in the dozens.

Four of the five had confessed, and videos of their confessions were shows on the news. They renounced their confessions, claiming they were coerced, and went to trial.

Because several of the accused were juveniles, there was no way they would serve enough time in jail. They were somehow acquitted of attempted murder. They were convicted of several crimes committed that night, including the rape and assaults on other people in the park, and were sent to prison.

Years later, a serial rapist named Matias Reyes claimed that he had attacked the jogger that night and had acted alone. DNA evidence showed him to be guilty. The Manhattan District Attorney asked that the convictions of the Central Park Five be vacated as a result.

Here’s the first big problem with the confession of the alleged lone rapist Reyes: his tale of being the only attacker goes against the medical evidence that indicates the Central Park Jogger was attacked by multiple people. Part of this evidence includes bruising on both legs of the victim indicating she was held down by more than one person and cuts from a blade (Reyes said he only hit her with a rock and tree branch).

After the verdicts were vacated, the New York City Police Department published a detailed examination of the case, the Armstrong Report, which details evidence beyond the confessions that indicate that the defendants were involved in the assault. This includes statements some of the defendants made to police outside of the interrogation, things they said to family members, and details of the crime some of them provided that were not known to police at the time (for example, the NYPD did not know what property had been taken from the victim but two of the five separately described her Walkman being stolen).

The five sued the City and were helped along by filmmaker Ken Burns, who declared them “exonerated” despite the significant evidence of their guilt and made the documentary “The Central Park Five.”

The Burns documentary is an interesting examination of the case, but it is very one-sided and contains glaring omissions.

Fans of the Burns film are buying into a narrative that lets them feel righteous indignation at a supposed injustice, but the evidence in the case does not gel with the idea the Central Park Five are victims of injustice at all.

The documentary presents its case without any of the skepticism required. It assumes that self-proclaimed lone rapist Matias Reyes is some kind of born-again angel for confessing to a crime (after the statute of limitations had expired, by the way), even though his story is full of holes.

Part of the reason that there is a belief in the innocence of the Central Park Five is what is known as the “CSI effect.” People believe that there is always going to be a mountain of DNA evidence with every case, though there often isn’t. Keep in mind also that the use of DNA collection and examination was in its early stages in 1989. Yes, DNA evidence proves Matias Reyes raped the Central Park Jogger; the evidence shows he was not alone in doing so.

But the public wants to buy into the popular story. Earnest and well-meaning New Yorkers are smitten with Ken Burns’ films and want to believe that the violent men about to become millionaires deserve it and are getting some measure of justice. They are very wrong.

Bum Coin Mystery Still Unsolved

A little more than two years ago I found a strange object in downtown Manhattan and I have been puzzled by it and would like to learn its origins. I am reopening the case as I remain curious as to its origins.

I spotted it as I walked past Delmonico’s restaurant. I noticed what appeared to be an odd coin sitting on the edge of the landing.

The coin is roughly the size of a quarter and appears to be plaster. It resembles a quarter that has been plastered over. On one side reads “Give Money,” and the other side reads, “To Bums.” Underneath that is the cryptic “bw 12.”  Should I take that to mean that this was created by an artist with the initials B.W. in 2012?

Is this perhaps a coin created by a mysterious artist? Has some anonymous artists been handing out coins with the insistence that recipients leave one in a public place? Have I found such a coin?

When first mentioning this find a few years ago, a few people posted comments that they found these coins elsewhere in downtown Manhattan. None of the others who found them had any clue where they came from.

If you have any clue as to the origins of this coin, please let me know. Until someone tells me otherwise, I’m going to assume it’s a priceless Banksy work that will be worth millions of dollars when I am ready to sell it to a fancy art collector

But whether it’s the work of a well-known artists or not, it’s anonymous public art that is looking to both entertain and provoke thought. Someone took the effort to make something solely for the purpose of provoking a change in the general public as well as the free enjoyment of the work itself.

Would it be a violation of the aesthetic to reveal the artist’s name if I learned it? If the artist contacts me first and lets me know who they are, I would honor their request to remain anonymous.

And while I very much appreciate finding this piece of art, I have not heeded the strange coin’s advice. Giving money to bums is a bad idea. Most of them will spend the money on drugs and alcohol and handing over your money will only encourage them to stay bums. There are plenty of legitimate homeless charities you can give to if you want to help the homeless and destitute. They should know that our streets and subways are a not place of bounty and willing donors.

I promise to keep the coin as an interesting work of art, and will only sell it if it is given a ridiculously high valuation or I become poor and desperate to sell anything of value. Until then, the coin stays with me and the bums will not get it.

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