Archive | September 2015

Poetry: Long Beach Island

Long Beach Island, New Jersey is a tourist haven and I have no doubt that when the summer season is in full swing it is crowded and obnoxious. But going there during the off season, even a week or so after Labor Day, the place retains its beauty on the beaches but the towns take on a somewhat empty appearance, which makes it even more interesting. You can see starts at night there and the island is narrow enough that you are never far from the ocean.

The hum and crash of the ocean is constant. Even when you can’t see the water beyond the buildings or the sand dunes, the ocean keeps up its end of the bargain and sings you to sleep.

This poem care of Impolite Literature tries to convey what it’s like to enjoy Long Beach Island in the off season. I think we’ll be back next year.

Rockport at Night

Rockport, Massachusetts has a certain surreal and extremely beautiful quality about it, especially as you experience sunset there in the summer.

Rockport is a relatively small town that experiences tremendous tourism over the summer and has struck the right balance between quiet residential life and tourist mecca. The town handles large volumes of visitors but without surrendering the picturesque and friendly charm that attracts them.

This poem, “Rockport at Night”, attempts to capture the beauty and spirit of a place that is becoming too rare in American life today.

Children of the Corn Maze

Every year in the underrated borough of Queens, New York, the Queens County Farm Museum holds the annual County Fair. It’s pretty small as far as county fairs go, especially when you consider that Queens is one of the most populated municipalities in the country and is undisputedly the most ethnically diverse place on Earth. But it has all the features of a good country fair: there is overpriced junk food, agricultural exhibits, arts and crafts, and even hay rides.

There is also a corn maze. Adults can pay nine dollars apiece for the honor of finding their way through the corn maze and feel like completely lost fools for an hour or so. Every year the maze is in a different design with an image that carries a theme throughout the whole ‘The Amazing Maize Maze’ experience. This year the corn was planted in a design of a jokey on horseback to celebrate American Pharaoh winning horse racing’s Triple Crown just outside of Queens at the Belmont Stakes.

I went through the corn maze with my wife a few years ago before we had children. I didn’t enjoy it very much. My wife wanted to get our toddler daughters out of the apartment and give them something interesting to do. A corn maze is an old American tradition and one you wouldn’t think you’d find in New York City. But the Queens County Farm Museum is a verdant oasis in the middle of our sprawling metropolis, and it seems wrong not to take full advantage of all it offers.

We got to the fair and made our way through the petting zoo and to the corn maze. I paid our admission and asked if we would be allowed to take the stroller with us. The people working the maze said that while we could bring the stroller with us, the corn maze could be narrow and muddy in places and we were better off without it. Our girls have been fully mobile for months now, so a brisk walk through the corn would do them some good. It would serve to tire them out and get them ready for their post-lunch nap.

We were issued a flag on a tall piece of narrow PVC pipe and a paper map that we would fill out as we found clues and mailboxes with map pieces throughout the maze. We started our walk, holding our daughters’ hands and relishing the lovely afternoon among the corn stalks.

I quickly remembered why I didn’t like the corn maze several years ago. It embodies two things that I like the least: being hot and sweaty and getting lost. It was an unseasonably warm day and the corn provides no shade. The sun was at its highest and no one had a choice but to get lost. Our daughters tired out first and my wife and I had to carry them everywhere. The girls cried whenever we tried to put them down, which we needed to do frequently to gather clues and map pieces.

We kept at it though, not wanting to bail out before we found our way out of this confounded crypt of corn. We kept running into many of the same people who were trying to make their escape as well. Every few minutes another group would find their exit and a happy-sounding employee would announce it over a public address system that was otherwise belching warmed-over pop tunes. “OK, we have another victor, what is your name??!”

Workers oversee the maze from a raised platform and a separate tower. In at least one spot within the maze, a length of irrigation tubing serves as a communication conduit and a monitor in a tower will provide a clue once you give him or her the password.

“I need a Triple Crown,” I gave the password to a young man at the other end of the tubing.

His answer was a cryptic clue-laden sentence along the lines of, “Sectors five and six are the hardest ones you seek, mount the horse to get a peek.”

“You want us to start doing heroin,” I mentioned. I actually took it to mean that we should head for the part of the maze depicted as the horse or jockey, but he offered no advice on how to get to that location. Other maze workers who roam around within the giant puzzle offered more tangible clues and to the staff’s credit, the corn maze is run very well. Just be sure to bring lots of extra water and if you have children under three bring something to carry them in.

After much walking around and getting lost over and over again, we eventually found our way to the exit. We emerged as victors, thirsty and miserable and vowing to do it differently next time.

It took us 56 minutes to get through the corn maze and we got out too late to catch the Great Cordone’s 12:30 show, which had people spilling out of the show tent.

We made our way through the fair and over to where most of the food was. My wife celebrated our surviving the corn maze by ordering some roasted sweet corn. The girls couldn’t have been happier.

Just another weekday explosion in New York City

It was a quiet Wednesday night and we had just managed to put our girls to bed when we heard and felt an explosion. Even though it had been raining, there was no way that this was thunder. The explosion was quickly followed by a burning smell. We looked out our windows but did not see anything. The burning smell persisted.

A few short minutes later a legion of emergency vehicles arrived. Fire engines and police cars with screaming sirens and lights ablaze rushed down Union Street. The fire trucks positioned themselves near our building as police cars rushed passed them to block off traffic coming in both directions. The problem seemed to be coming from across the street, but we couldn’t tell what had happened. Was there a burning vehicle? Did someone detonate a car bomb in our neighborhood? Was there a meth lab in someone’s apartment that caught fire and now toxic chemicals are in the air?

I decided to investigate, taking a basement exit in case police were blocking off the front entrance of our building. When I got to the front of my building there were many people on the street already there to bear witness to the events. I noticed smoke coming from an open manhole on the street. A firefighter was connecting a hose to the fire hydrant nearest our building. The hose led across the street.

I encountered a Spanish-speaking man who was standing near my building. I asked him what was going on. In thickly accented English he told me that he saw flames coming from a building across the street and he had called 911. He didn’t know what had happened but he saw flames and smoke coming from a manhole and a building. A South Asian woman wrapped in a traditional sari came by and spoke with us. She mentioned that she had been saying her prayers when she heard the explosion; the burning smell had driven her from her apartment to investigate.

After chatting with these neighbors I headed across the street where there more people gathered. One of the buildings was completely dark and it was towards there that the firefighters were all streaming. Police officers and fire officials talked to one another as more FDNY personnel arrived. A few more fire department vehicles showed up. A Q44 bus found itself trapped, hemmed in by first responders on both sides. Its driver stood outside the bus talking into a cell phone before signing off and standing there resignedly.

As I stood watching, a friend, J. Dip, approached me. He lives across the street. I know him through music: he plays guitar for New York hardcore stalwarts Bloodbeat. He lives in a building next to the affected one and told me that he heard and felt the blast and saw flames coming from the basement windows of the next building as well. He told his wife to be ready to move their kids out of their quickly and he went to investigate. We talked about other things: how we were doing and what our lives were up to. He and his wife are expecting a third child in November. We are both still playing music, but life slows down a bit when you have kids.

Another bystander said that it was likely an electrical fire and explosion caused by corroded wiring. He explained that with the large quantities of salt put on New York City roads during the winter months, some salt seeps underground and corrodes utility cables there. When it rains later in the year, water can touch those exposed wires and cause fires and explosions.

That seemed like the most plausible explanation, and the firemen were not evacuating any buildings, so my adventure was done. Con Ed trucks were already pulling up to start fixing things as I walked back across the street for home.

This was some excitement that one might think would make it onto the television news or merit a mention in a newspaper, but nothing doing. There were no fatalities or grisly injuries. “If it doesn’t bleed, there’s no need,” would be the appropriate adage for lack of news coverage.

So no big deal, just another explosion in New York. We live in one of the largest cities in the world and the infrastructure is always being revised. Sometimes by tragedy or accident, sometimes by design, New York always reinvents itself. As long as this metropolis stands, its story will be one of grinding, sweat and broken concrete, of taped-off work zones and slap-dash detours. We’ll face them all down, one odd weekday explosion at a time.

Two Presidential campaigns, one city

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have their presidential campaigns based in New York City. If both get their respective party nominations, we will have an all-New York presidential campaign. New York loves a big media circus, but America can do better.

Hillary Clinton moved to New York so she could someday run for president. She wasn’t the first person to do so. It was fitting that she held the seat Robert F. Kennedy once held, she was following his example. New York is now her political home. New Yorkers don’t resent her for this. Ours is the city of opportunity and even our current and most recent former mayor are originally from Boston. If she hadn’t quit her seat to run for president, New York voters would have returned her to the Senate even if she was found in bed with a dead girl or live boy.

Now Hillary Clinton is running for president again and her campaign headquarters is in fashionable Brooklyn. Democratic voters are desperate for someone else. She has unexpectedly fierce opposition from Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who originally hails from the Brooklyn that was. There are so many strikes against Sanders by the dictates of conventional wisdom that his rise as a viable candidate is somewhat astounding. There are a few other candidates in the running for the Democratic nomination: former Virginia Senator Jim Webb and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

Donald Trump has been a New York City fixture since he was born. His father, Fredrick Trump, was actually a self-made man who started his construction business at age 15 and built things that weren’t tacky pieces of crap. Some of his earlier buildings have historic recognition in Queens. Donald Trump gets credit for investing and revitalizing parts of Manhattan and Atlantic City, but his business acumen is highly suspect and he’s been a famous bloviating loudmouth for decades. Like Democratic voters who are drawn to Bernie Sanders, Trump supporters are desperate for anyone who is not an empty suit corporate mouthpiece. Trump has taken populist positions that run counter to what corporate donors want to hear. If he’s not willing to spend a lot of his own money on his campaign, he will likely not win since his campaign will run out of money without the support of large wealthy donors.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump share some important things in common: both coasted to their notoriety through family connections, both will take whatever position will earn them the most votes, and both would rather enjoy the trappings of power without having to talk to real people.

Clinton at least comes across as knowing what the job actually entails and having the capacity to do it, but she would be the same kind of vacillating, self-interested establishment politician the public despises; it’s no mystery that many Democratic voters are sick of her and rightly so. Donald Trump may not realize that being President would seriously restrict his accustomed lifestyle, and what works in closing real estate deals in Atlantic City isn’t going to work when negotiating nuclear arms deals. The cabinet is not a game show.

Trump has at least pushed the Republican Party to the right on immigration. His plan for mass deportations is poorly thought out but at least he’s saying a resounding “no” to what was considered standard conventional wisdom.

New York City would benefit from the media circus a Trump-Clinton matchup would bring, but we already are a 24-hour media circus. And New York and the country can do a lot better than a Clinton or Trump residency. A Trump nomination, or another Clinton or Bush nomination, will demonstrate that our republic has slipped past the point of no return down the slope of oblivion.

New York City Eats Activist Mayors for Black Brunch

It is frustrating to see gifted people throw away opportunities and waste their talents, and that’s the impression I get when I read about New York City’s current mayor, Bill de Blasio. Mayor de Blasio set out to be a more liberal Fiorello LaGuardia but may go down in history as the white David Dinkins.

Our mayor is in trouble because he’s pursuing a very liberal activist agenda and New York mayors never really get a mandate to pursue a liberal activist agenda.

The problem isn’t that New York City voters aren’t liberal, it’s that New York City is comfortable enough with its liberal political leanings that the large cultural issues that consume debate in the other parts of the country have long ago been settled here. Gay civil unions in the city started more than 20 years ago. In New York even the Republicans are all pro-choice. New York City’s gun laws are among the strictest in the nation (unconstitutionally so in my opinion).

So a liberal Democratic mayor who has big ambitions to make waves on social issues is largely going to be preaching to the converted and, more importantly, not focusing on actually running New York City.

Running the city takes the full attention of City Hall. New York City has a larger population than some states. The New York City Police Department is larger than some nations’ standing armies. There is a large public transit system that is at the mercy of the State of New York government, an enormous educational system and a multitude of public services and complexities that need constant management and planning.

When a mayor becomes enamored with causes beyond the very real world applications of running New York, they quickly lose their bearings and earn the city’s scorn. This is what has happened with Mayor de Blasio. While he was swept into office with high hopes and a lot of progressive promises, his attempts to be an activist mayor have left the city in need of a no-nonsense manager again.

Our more recent past mayors fell into this same trap. Rudolph Giuliani squandered his political capital on trying to position himself to run for higher office. Michael Bloomberg went off the rails trying to police our diets.

Mayor de Blasio seems to have done himself in on several fronts, but most importantly is that he appears willing to undo the work that Rudolph Giuliani did in cleaning up crime in New York. He voiced support with those protesting the police and let protesters shut down parts of the city. His treatment of the police has been so shoddy that cops turned their back on him en masse when officers were killed in Brooklyn by a #BlackLivesMatter-inspired madman.

This perception doesn’t entirely match reality. The crime statistics don’t say that New York is sliding into the crime-ridden morass of three or four decades ago. But de Blasio had already painted himself into a corner. He aligned himself early with activists who see racial bias in everything the police do; he doesn’t have the luxury of speaking truth to the activists who helped elect him. Not content to simply stop traffic in protesting the police, the #BlackLivesMatter movement started targeting diners in restaurants that they deemed “white spaces” in BlackBrunchNYC protests.

As a parent of girls whom I expect to enter the New York City public schools, de Blasio’s efforts to degrade the standards on gifted programs and elite high schools terrify me. The best defense for my girls’ future will happen in 2017 when we get a chance to make Bill de Blasio a one-term mayor.

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