Archive | May 2015

Remembering on Memorial Day

As someone who was rejected by all four major branches of the military in one form or another, I don’t have much authority to preach on about the sacrifices made by our armed services.

I have family and friends who have and continue to serve in the military, and I am very grateful for the sacrifices that they’ve made and for the fact that all I’ve known personally have come back alive and in one piece. I still know people who get deployed and they and their families go through a lot that most of us aren’t willing to go through.

Most citizens don’t serve in the military and are far removed from the everyday toils and struggle of the people who wear the uniform, and that’s a mistake. It’s a mistake to remove the burden of national security from the common person.

This country was forged by common citizens, and the first people who gave their lives to create this country were outlaws using illegal weapons. Nothing could be less American than becoming a slobbering hag enthralled with anyone in a uniform. Memorial Day honors brave men and women who died in service to our country, in or out of uniform.

“Supporting the troops” has becoming such a meaningless phrase that it includes anyone who sticks and American flag on their lawn and stands for the national anthem. I’ve been to baseball games with friends who are commies and refuse to stand for the national anthem and I have family and friends who want to punch those people in the face.

But this is America, and the people who stand for the national anthem do so because they want to, not because they have to. If we force people to stand for our national anthem, we won’t survive as a country and don’t deserve to. I refuse to live in a land where we force our own citizens to salute our flag. Millions of Americans died for our freedom, including the freedom to be a snotty ingrate.

The few people who would desecrate Memorial Day or step on or burn an American flag do so to be offensive, and they are. Do you know what I find more offensive? That military families have had to raise money on their own to pay for their loved ones’ body armor and other supplies. That we insist on wars halfway across the globe while our own borders are porous and that we have generals who think increasing the racial diversity of our military is more important than not having our troops murdered by their own doctors. I don’t like burning the American flag, but people who do offend me a lot less than whoever thought it would be a good idea to pay private contractors twice what our service members make.

None of the actions of our government, nor of the military itself, shrouds or negates the sacrifices made by men and women who fought and died for our country.

It’s unfortunate that such a solemn holiday is the unofficial start of the summer season. I wish I could say I’ll be spending Monday at a veteran’s cemetery putting flags on graves or quietly reflecting on the sacrifices made by our war dead. But I’ll be at a friend’s house eating hot dogs and playing music among a haze of cigar smoke. And I don’t even like summer.

I cannot share in the glory of any military victory, but I experience the benefit of our fallen fighters every day.

And evidence of this sacrifice is all around us. We take the security of our country for granted and laugh at the idea of being invaded by the military of another country. That comfort comes at a very high price. Please remember that.

A Long Angry Summer is Coming

Local Law 11 is the ordnance in New York City that requires all air conditioners be installed with proper reinforcement on multi-dwelling buildings. It’s good that this law exists because too many people are doing what I did and installing their air conditioners with a jerry rigged effort involving a 2×4, cardboard and tape. People without drills still need to keep cool too.

So in our apartment we recently had a new air conditioned installed in the manner that meets this requirement. Our old air conditioner was broken anyway. The problem is that the company we bought this service from installed the wrong air conditioner (#FirstWorldProblems). They’re coming back to replace it, and just in time. The official summer season starts this coming Memorial Day weekend and it’s going to be a long, angry summer.

Despite the harsh, snow-heavy winter, we had a record-breaking warm March and we’ve already seen temperatures approach the 90s before May hit double-digits.

The subways are getting more crowded and service is deteriorating even as fares increase. People cram on to subway cars even when there’s really no room. Being pressed up against strangers is a lousy way to start your day, turning up the heat on this commuter bullshit sandwich is only going to make things worse tenfold. I’m surprised I have not seen more violence on the 7 train as people try to make room where there is none. Maybe the increased temperature will finally bring things to a boil.

New York, like the rest of America, is a melting pot that is always on the verge of boiling over into something ugly. Summer adds more tension to the played-out and media-fueled racial dramas that have come to consume our news feeds with controversies both real and manufactured.

But despite all of this, despite the humidity that turns my skin to an oily slick before I’m even done getting dressed for work, despite the fog of heat that shrouds you and clings to you through every day, despite the intense blowback heat reflected off of our streets and buildings and topped off with car exhaust, New York does not lose its magic over the summer.

Surviving summer in New York is like going into a hot tub filled with bum piss and meat sweat, but you haven’t lived in New York until you’ve been through a few summers here. There will be times you will retreat to the sanctum of a heavily air conditioned movie theater but be relieved to feel the awful yet real and true weather on your skin when you come out.

Living through summer in New York means being happy that on some weekends the city is less crowded, that many of the effete snobs who crowd our weekends are off in the Hamptons.

Summer in New York means not having to deal with people who would use summer as a verb. Summer in New York also means free Shakespeare in the parks, good people watching, ice cream trucks, air conditioning and iced coffee.

Living through a New York summer means you’ve endured a crucible that makes you a stronger person and a more seasoned urbanite.

New York City is a cauldron of fetid misery between June and August. Don’t miss it.

Jury Duty, the Right We Have Come to Despise

Civic duty is much nobler in speech than it is in action. Jury duty is an honorable civic duty that most citizens do everything in their power to avoid.

I received a jury duty summons in the mail to serve in my home borough of Queens. But rather than get a definite day to report, the system keeps you guessing and requires you to call by telephone to see if you must report the following day.

So for a few days I lived with the Sword of Damocles over my head wondering if I was actually going to serve. I called on a Friday after 5 p.m. per the instructions on the notice only to be told to call again on Monday. At 5 p.m. Monday I called and learned I’d have to be in Kew Gardens the next day. Fantastic.

It was a warm Tuesday and I took the wrong subway and ended up taking a very long walk along Queens Boulevard to the central jury room, which is actually in Queens Borough Hall across 82nd Avenue from the large criminal court house.

I arrived a half hour late but was not the last one there, and I filled out a few notices and settled in for a long wait. The waiting room was filled with people that reflected the wide ethnic diversity of Queens, which is both a blessing and a curse. It is definitely interesting and good to meet people from faraway lands and learn about their language and cultures; it is bad when a sizable portion of your jury pool can viably fake not understanding English.

I had my work laptop with me and just as I was starting to make some progress on things, my name was called. About 40 of us were lined up and brought to the court of Judge Gene Lopez. We filed into the audience and the clerk randomly drew names and those called took a seat in the jury box. Both attorneys and the accused were there.

The defendant was an elderly Chinese man who had a Mandarin interpreter with him. He was charged with several serious crimes including assault with intent to maim, causing grievous bodily harm and menacing with a firearm, among others. I almost wanted to serve on the jury just to find out what the hell went down.

Judge Lopez appears to be a distinguished and amiable jurist. He has also probably heard every excuse known to man as to why people can’t serve on juries in his court.

Just about everyone wanted out and was willing to say anything to be excused. One women, a chiropractor, said that if she were chosen to be a juror she would be so emotionally distraught that it would affect her impartiality. Several people requested private conversations with the judge in order to discuss personal or medical issues. Each time both attorneys and the stenographer had to position themselves on the far side of the bench from us. The success rate for these private conferences was very high. Most people got out of being on the jury after one of these.

People who voiced religions objections were let go without any questioning. The first man let go said he was a Jehovah’s Witness and said he couldn’t sit in judgement of another person. He even cited a Bible verse. Good for him if he did the research on that religion to come up with that. I don’t know if it’s possible for jury duty to be so bad as to forgo a lifetime of Christmas and birthday celebrations.

The only juror that got excused on a language excuse that seemed believable was an Asian woman who didn’t recognize her own name being called. She was gone pretty fast. The others hammed it up and got some righteous guff from the judge.

A typical exchange went like this:

JUDGE: Miss Kwan. You say have an issue understanding English?

Ms. KWAN: Yes.  I don’t understand some things so good.

JUDGE: What is your profession?

Ms. KWAN: I a nurse.

JUDGE: Are you a licensed, registered nurse?

Ms. KWAN: Yes. Registered nurse.

JUDGE: And you had to take an exam to get your license, yes?

Ms. KWAN: Yes.

JUDGE: And was that exam in English?

This could go on for a while. The results were never different: if you could pretend you didn’t know English that well, you would eventually be excused. Eventually more than half of the potential pool was excused and the rest of us were called to the jury box except one person. By the time we were seated it was 4:30 p.m. and the judge let us go home early with instructions to be back by 9:30 a.m. the next day.

The next day I got to the court house with time to spare. In the lobby of the court building, a gruff female court officer who sounded like Harvey Fierstein directed foot traffic in the main entrance of the criminal court building.

I had no problems getting through security on my first day, but as I entered court on day two of jury duty they discovered the multi-tool knife in my bag, and the key tool and the handcuff key on my key ring. Those court officers on duty are sharper than the police who arrested me (twice), other court officers in every other court I’ve been to over the past 17 years, and countless TSA agents. I’d had that handcuff key on my key ring since 1998. They told me I wouldn’t be getting it back. It’s OK though. I have others (and you can pick handcuffs with a staple as well). They gave me a voucher form so I could get my knife and key tool later.

Eventually we were all gathered and jury selection resumed. The prospective jurors ran the gamut: a NYPD police detective who worked in the department’s bomb squad, a Kentucky-born actress who managed a deft exit after a private sidebar with the judge, a future law student trying to decide between the University of Virginia and Fordham University law schools, a few college students, an accountant, a music producer from Whitestone, and an elderly retired nurse, among others.

After another battery of questions from the judge and the prosecutor and defense attorneys, we were sent out of court to wait for a while until being called back in. And from these 16 last remaining from the jury pool, none of us were selected. Of the 40 or so that were called, only two had made the cut. We were sent out of the court room and a court officer told us to be back in the central jury room by 2:15 p.m.

I got my lunch at a deli and went to Maple Grove Park, a small area on the side of the court building. The small and underused park is basically a wedge between Queens Boulevard and the Van Wyck Expressway. I noticed the park from the third floor of the court building and saw only one person use the park: a homeless man sleeping on a bench. He was gone when I went there. I used a napkin and some of my water to clean away a film of green pollen so I could sit down without looking like I was sodomized by the Incredible Hulk. There was construction going on in the area around the park and construction vehicles came and went under the direction of a flag-waving hardhat worker. A few other people followed my lead and brought their lunch to the park, but it was relatively solitary.

After I was done eating, I had the chance to do something I hadn’t done in a long time: sit on a park bench and read. If nothing else, this jury duty outing gave me a half hour or more of peaceful, unconnected living of the kind we used to take for granted.

I still returned to the central jury room before 2:15. I sat and read some more as my phone charged in a corner along with other smart phones soaking up power from some inconveniently placed outlets. I kept a cautious eye on my phone while it charged and waited for some kind of announcement. I looked around for people I recognized from the panel and didn’t see any. Finally they called up people who had been to court earlier that day and gave people letters signifying that they had concluded their service. After they were given out, I and one man from my panel were left.

“What about us?” we asked the clerk.

She went back to the office and found another stack of jury ballots with two letters. “They called these at one,” she said before handing us our letters. I was one of two lucky or unlucky people who waited an extra two hours. I got to read a book outside in the nice weather and enjoy a leisurely lunch, so I regret nothing.

I made my way home in the pre-rush hour traffic but still couldn’t avoid a packed Q44 bus. I should be safe from jury duty for another four years.

The Lemon Ice King of Corona

Weekends during the spring and summer are crowded in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. You can tell how bad the crowds are when you pull off the highway and every inch of available parking and then some is taken up on 111th Street. Keep in mind that a minority of people arrive by car too. When you get there on the 7 train and look down 111th Street towards the park you can see a sea of humanity clogging the sidewalks and moving toward the park.

Still, despite the crowds, Flushing Meadows Corona Park is not a bad place. It can be crowded, for sure, but you can still have a pleasant stroll through it on a busy Sunday.

This past Sunday the wife and I went to the Queens Zoo to visit with my friend Jay Levitz and his wife and infant son. Jay is an awesome musician and plays lead guitar for Endangered Feces, one of my favorite bands of all time. Small world: ace punk rock drummer Chris Ara, freshly graduated from the New York Fire Academy, was also in the park that day and it was cool to offer my congratulations to him in person.

After the walk through the zoo with children, we were tired, and my wife thought it would be nice to stop by the Lemon Ice King of Corona on the way home. It was a great idea.

This modest ice store is an essential place to go during the warmer months.

The Corona neighborhood is dominated by Hispanic immigrants from a multitude of Spanish-speaking countries. That brings with it teeming crowds, obnoxious music and bad traffic with worse drivers but it also comes with some awesome food street vendors. Walking down 111th Street you can encounter some delicious empanadas or roasted corn on the cob that’s out of this world.

The celebrated lemon ice store—it is officially named Benfaremo – The Lemon Ice King of Corona—is on 108th Street and the 111th Street stop on the 7 train is the best way to get there via public transit.

The Lemon Ice King of Corona offers flavored ice. Would you like to have some ice cream or a shake too? Too bad. The Lemon Ice King has a lot of flavors to choose from (but won’t mix them).

My wife went and stood in line while I found a place to temporarily park the truck and wait. Our babies were sleeping after a long day at the zoo (a long day for a 15-month-old can be about two hours when you let them walk most of the way). The line was long but moved quickly and my wife soon returned with our ices. I went with the classic lemon flavor and my wife had strawberry banana that had pieces of real strawberry in it. Our babies got nothing; you snooze, you lose, girls.

I ate my first lemon ice of the year sitting in my truck parked in front of a fire hydrant. I powered through the large lemon ice, pausing only to wait out some brain freeze. It felt like I was starting the New York summer on the right foot.

One place I feel I should mention is Uncle Louie G, which operates a chain of stores in the five boroughs and Long Island. They have some of the best ices you’ll ever eat as well, but they also have regular ice cream.

Either way, it is going to be a long, hot summer (it always is in New York City), so don’t forget to treat yourself to a refreshing ice.

A Bronx Zoo Tale

The Bronx Zoo is not on everyone’s to-do list but should be. No year in New York City is complete without at least one long visit to this great zoo, which insists on calling itself the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The Wildlife Conservation Society has a Run for the Wild 5K run/walk every year to help raise money for its conservation efforts. Each year has the theme for some endangered animal and this year it was gorillas. In the past it was fun to run the 5k and then spend the day at the zoo. Nowadays the wife and I walk the 5k with our babies in a jogging stroller and then spend as much time as possible at the zoo until our offspring become too tired and cranky to make the zoo pleasant.

So it was a fun family trip to the zoo and we of course got there much later than we expected. We parked in a field farther away from the starting line of the 5K than we had hoped but in the process of finding our way to the 5K starting line, we happened to walk on the Mitsubishi Riverwalk, a nature walk with a lot of informative displays about local wildlife. It opened in 2004 and totally free and open to the public every day.

It’s a rarer thing to find stuff to do in New York that is both family-friendly and free. It was nice to see waterfalls and woodlands and know that you are in the Bronx.

We did a brisk walk for the 5K though there were lots of slow-moving people, parents and grandparents seriously lacking in stroller-parking etiquette, and mobs of people stopping to gawk at the animals.

We still finished the 5K walk in good time (I assume, who really gives a shit) and we collected our prizes, which included stuffed gorillas for our girls. Then we began traversing the zoo and seeing as much as we could while letting our 15-month old girls walk. Walking with them while also steering a double-wide jogging stroller is a new and unique challenge. It is like other parenthood skills in that you will master it just in time to not need it anymore.

The Bronx Zoo now kind of nickel-and-dimes you at every turn though. Lots of the cool exhibits cost an extra three or four dollars, which can all add up if you want to see the more popular animals. We were lucky in that we got a zoo membership as a gift, but also running the 5K gets you discounts during your zoo trip.

There were long lines at the World of Asia Monorail line, and you get to know people waiting in line just because your kids are interacting with one another and you have to be minimally sociable. A couple of parents with very well-painted faces were asked a half dozen times where they had their faces painted. A bald father with tattoos on his head berated his children and joking (I hope) offered to exchange his daughters for ours, although his daughters weren’t behaving badly at all. An Asian grandfather in the family ahead of us shot me a look of insulting contempt every time my crankier daughter cried and fussed. I hope my devil baby put his panties in a bunch. Full disclosure: his infant grandson was an absolute angel.

For all her fussing, my older daughter became quiet and seemed to be enjoying seeing the animals on the monorail, but that was because she fell asleep. That was our signal to head home after the monorail ride.

Luckily we got to swing by the bison on our way out. After viewing animals from every corner of the globe, it feels right to visit the bison, the great and very American animal that we have here in our own land. They are not native to New York, of course, but I vow that one day I will travel west and see buffalo in the wild. Until then I will be happy to conclude my Bronx Zoo visits with them.

%d bloggers like this: