Back on the hunt
I have been hunting for about a dozen years and have three deer to show for it, but I don’t regret a minute of hunting. As my friend Steve reminds me, “A day in the woods is a good day.”
This past deer season was my first back in the woods since the pandemic, and in the past decade I had exactly two deer to my name, both button bucks (male deer with no antlers). These were great personal victories but small potatoes in the world of hunting. Some of these years of hunting consisted of only one day on a weekend; another year I went both bow hunting and several days of gun hunting and still came out of the woods empty handed.
The world and personal upheavals of the pandemic and post-pandemic life made it imperative I get out of town and spend time alone in nature. I took the days off from work and hoped beyond hope that I would be able to do it—past years and past jobs I’ve had to cut my hunting trips short and work on days I had planned to take off, an unpardonable sin in the real world if the real world worked right. But this year I managed to do it.
I go hunting in Connecticut. My Connecticut friends got me into hunting and it’s where I keep my shotgun (I don’t have a permit for a gun in New York City—getting a permit for a gun in the five boroughs is more expensive than buying a gun). There are also more plentiful woods in Connecticut.
Heading to Connecticut also means connecting with old friends. I remember when my friend Steve’s oldest daughter was still in utero; now she is acting in films and planning her first tattoo.
The night before your first day of hunting is a poor sleep; memories of past missed deer and the prospect of returning empty handed weigh on your conscious, preventing the restful night’s sleep you want. Alarms set for enough time to get into the wood before legal hunting time, which is one half hour before sunrise.
Hunting makes you get up at a crazy early hour of the morning on your day off from work when everyone else is asleep. I found it’s possible to forgo the morning coffee. The frigid air and the urge to get out hunting is an effective wake-up of its own, and the surge of adrenaline at seeing a deer (or what you think is a deer) is enough to keep you awake through the day.
After having some quick snacks for breakfast and drinking a can of soda for the caffeine, I dressed and forced my feet into hunting boots, gathered my gear, and headed out. I first had to defrost my truck—first frost of the season and I didn’t think I would be scraping my windshield that early into November but it was New England in the fall. Another pickup truck sailed by on the dark road as I was getting the truck ready—Are they going hunting also? Will they get a better spot by the side of the road, and do they know my favorite hunting spot? My fears were unfounded. I drove to the entrance to the Cockaponset State Forest and was the first one there. I walked into the woods alone, wondering how odd a spectacle my truck with New York license plates would be for local residents driving by or heading into these same woods to hunt.
Out in the woods, it’s sometimes hard to focus on finding deer so early in the morning and not marvel at the beauty of the forest in the early morning, pre-sunrise light. Human beings are not meant to be boxed in by glass and concrete. We are of the Earth, and we diminish ourselves the more we remove ourselves from it. Being surrounded by natural beauty is a human need; just being within view of a river can make sitting in a city office much more bearable.
Being in the woods is the drastic reset your body needs. But the marvel at the natural world wears off a bit as the sun comes up and the imperative to get a deer kicks in. This is why you are here: you don’t want to return empty-handed even if you are getting much-needed time in the woods.
When you hear gunshots going off around you—some closer and definitely in the same state forest, some farther away on private land—the urge of the hunt surges again, and you get more restless. This is where I have erred in hunting. Staying in one place for so long and not seeing any deer gets the wanderlust going, and powers up your self-doubt on how well you’ve selected your hunting spot. Did I pick the right spot? Why are other people finding deer so close by and none are coming here? Did I make too much noise? Are there better hunting grounds elsewhere I can get to?
On my second day of hunting, I caught this wander bug and decided to see if I could find better places to hunt. The upside is that I found a good spot; the downside is that I walked around too much and the one deer I saw that day was one I scared away by hauling myself through the leaf-crunching woods. I also discovered an old illegal hunting camp set up on public land, a big no-no. It looked like it hadn’t been used for a while, with man of the structured dilapidated or filled with water and leaves.
Finally settling in on a spot at the end of the second day, I heard the sound of running feet and saw a dog chasing a deer through the woods. A large white dog was barking and giving chase, and my heart raced as I aimed at the deer that was heading my way. As it got closer, I realized that this fast brown animal was in fact another dog; the sound of its collar jingled as it got closer. I lowered my shotgun and cursed whatever idiot owner let their dogs loose in the woods during deer hunting season. The rest of hunting that day was quiet save for the sound of those dogs, who likely chased away any deer that would have come my way. That day was another wash.
You realize how much of a city person you are when you go out into the country and do country things. What do you mean a supermarket closes at 9 p.m. on a Friday? Closed on Sundays? Are these people insane? I drove to Robert’s Food Center, a supermarket where I had my first on-the-books job for less than $4 an hour (not as horribly cheap in 1987) only to realize that they carried no Pepsi products at all, so I had to drive to downtown Madison’s Stop & Shop to stock up. I later messaged Robert’s to ask why they carried no Pepsi but have not yet heard back.
Every time I go hunting, I’m reminded of the sweat and grit and cold that goes into it, and how I quickly forget about this rough unpleasantness the rest of the year. Before I made hunting a regular event, I had a romanticized view of it. I dreamt of expansive adventures where I would collect large trophies and other relics from my travels in the wild. I fantasized about being some kind of contemporary Hemingway and shooting exotic game and then retiring to my tent to sip brandy and draft powerful novels. In reality I mostly return with sore muscles, cuts and scrapes from brambles and thorn bushes and a pile of muddy clothes.
On my last day I parked myself at a spot I had found earlier that I named Anunnaki Rock. “Anunnaki” is a name given to a race of extra-terrestrials that conspiracy theorists credit with helping build the pyramids or creating or cloning human life on our planet. This spot features a large boulder shaped like a large alien’s head. A tree has fallen on it, so it appears that the alien is being smacked in the face with a baseball bat; a sad but fitting metaphor for how we would treat intelligent life on our planet.
When I got there, I kicked leaves out of my way so I could pace back and forth soundlessly throughout the day. There was a natural ledge I could sit on and still get a nice, elevated view of a good swath of woods, but my area of coverage was greater standing and I stood and paced around most of the day.
The day remained cold and at certain times of the day I heard gunshots going on elsewhere in the woods; it sounded like everyone was having better luck than me. I paced relentlessly but quietly. Around 2 p.m. that afternoon, Steve texted me to ask if I’ve seen anything. I had not, and told him that I was considering coming out of the woods early and getting a head start on the drive home. Steve said he was going to go into the woods for the last few hours of hunting. I figured that if Steve was going to hunt until the end of the day (hunting ends at sunset, which is usually around 4:30 p.m.), then I would hunt also.
A half hour later I heard one of those blasted dogs again, I kept looking in the direction that the barking was coming from, on the chance that the barking was sending a deer my way, and if not then maybe to give its owner a piece of my mind if they were heading my way.
A deer bounded in my direction from the sound of the barking, and I raised my shotgun. It saw me and stopped short. I found it in my scope and pulled the trigger.
A shotgun blast is loud and unless you go shooting frequently you do not get accustomed to it. The deer took off and ran past me. I thought my race to get zeroed in on the deer again caused me to miss, I watched the deer head past me about 30 yards and then come to a stop. The buck stood there for a second and then fell over.
A sense of glory and relief washed over me. My hours of cold frustration in the woods had paid off; I had done it! I got a deer.
It’s customary to give the deer time to make sure it has died. That is both respectful and practical. Respectful in that you let the animal be alone in its last moments, surrounded by the woods rather than probing hands of our alien human race. Practical in that if you approach a deer that is dying, it will sometimes get up and run away for a bit in a panic fueled by a last rush of adrenaline, or, worse yet, gore you with its antlers. After at least 10 minutes of the deer not moving, I slowly made my way toward where he had fallen. Approaching it from the back (the customary practice to avoid startling a deer that may still be alive), I confirmed it had died. It was an antlered buck that would be a four-point deer but one of its antlers had been damaged. Nothing you would have mounted but it was another buck, and I was proud of getting it. I set about field dressing it.
Again, a reminder from my friend Steve about the post-shooting part of the hunt: “Everything from pulling the trigger to eating it on a plate is a pain in the ass.”
Field dressing a deer means removing its internal organs. It had been six years since I had shot my last deer, which was only the second one I ever got, so I still feel new to field dressing. But despite my confusion and frustration, I managed to get the deer field dressed and was ready for the worst part of hunting: the drag.
I was deep in the woods on the far side of a ravine split by a stream. The majority of my drag was uphill, and I also had to carry my shotgun and backpack out of the woods also. The drag started fine since I was going downhill, though there were brambles and prickers that could not be avoided. I had to drag farther than I thought in order to get to a part of the stream that was shallow enough. I carried over my gun and pack first—the backpack is blaze orange so easy to see—and then brought the deer. The deer got heavier since it now had water weighing down its coat. I was going uphill now. I took the gun and backpack and scouted ahead a bit, finding the path of least resistance, then walked back and dragged the buck to my gun and backpack. Through more brambles, scraped by a low-hanging tree branch, and over a stone wall, each more tiring and frustrating than the next. I kept this pace up and took my time so as not to throw out my back or trip and fall (dragging a deer out of the woods with a broken ankle or sprained back wasn’t going to happen) and feeling every one of my 50 years.
Throughout the drag I banked on things becoming much smoother once I finished the uphill portion and found the main path that I would take to get back to my truck. A deep sense of relief washed over me when I reached this path. There was still a long way to go. I changed methods again and put the backpack on my back, taking an antler in one hand and the shotgun in another and went faster that way. That became very tiring and then impossible to navigate around the ruts and puddles that dotted the path. I kept taking my time and taking frequent breaks. At one point while dragging the deer to the next stop I tripped over a small rock and fell backwards. It was past sundown now. It was 2:30 when I shot the deer, it was close to 5 p.m. by the time I got the deer to my truck, with my friend Steve helping me drag the deer the last 20 yards or so. We got the deer into my truck and headed back to Steve’s house.
Hunting has been the adventure I need more than the adventure I had envisioned as a younger person. I had dreamed of hunting as a manly affectation that I would indulge in on my way to being a literary icon, surrounded by dashing young flappers and a devilish halo of cigar smoke. I wound up downing Diet Pepsi in my friend’s shack, taking puffs of a store-bought cigarillo, but could not have felt better about life.
Here’s to the hunt.
The coming crypto reckoning
The lure of being lucky and striking it rich is a powerful opiate in America. From our very foundation as a place of refuge for the unluckiest of Europe, the self-made millionaire has a place of reverence in American lore. Very few attain that status, but millions have exhausted that dream and put themselves in an early grave working to attain it.
The chase for American riches has taken many forms, from the California Gold Rush to endless swindles, and the latest destination is cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrency is digital currency that can be exchanged for other currencies. Bitcoin is the most famous but there are more of them than I care to count.
There is absolutely a place in the world for a digital currency, but many of the current crop of these currencies defy what a currency needs to be: a stable unit of value measurement. If Bitcoin can lose 22% of its value in the matter of days, or drop precipitously in the course of a morning based on the whims of Chinese regulators, it is missing an essential element of being a usable currency.
And there will be a time when crypto currencies are real and have real value and usefulness. It’s important to note that in some totalitarian countries like China, the use of crypto currencies have been a force for good, enabling people to do business without oppressive government interference. But we are in such early days of the cryptocurrency world that the safe and regular use of cryptocurrencies is still years away.
There are cryptocurrencies pegged to regular currencies—such as Tether, which tracks the U.S. dollar—known as Stablecoins. In the future, some kind of Stablecoin may be used globally that would enable secure, anonymous use with the kind of stability that a currency needs.
But that kind of legitimate use is a long way away from the rampant speculation that is captivating the imaginations of get-rich-quick investors. What’s worse, the same kind of faux populism that gave us the GameStop rush of a year ago has been de rigueur in the crypto world.
And this rampant, pure speculative increase in value is based on hopeful dreams and nothing more. Even stocks that are widely overvalued are supported by an understandable business model. With crypto, you can lose your shirt in the course of an afternoon and have no one to blame but yourself. Most world currencies – U.S. Dollars, French or Swiss Francs, Euros, British Pounds—are backed by powerful governments that have a vested interest in maintaining a stable currency. You can argue that U.S. Dollars are propped up by the Federal Reserve Bank or even an Illuminati conspiracy, but they are doing a better job than they keyboard commandos, Russian bots and other shady characters running the crypto world.
What is so shameful about the current state of crypto is that people are being drawn in who otherwise would invest in something more constructive. Hard-working people who find it hard to get ahead and save for their kids’ college tuition are plowing money into the latest online toy money when they could be investing in something real. At this point I’d be happier with these people stuffing money into mattresses rather than putting it into the latest cryptocurrency that’s being talked up by social media shysters.
But like major speculative rushes of the past, the crypto world will experience a “shakeout,” where those that don’t have real values drop quickly and investors lose money. It could be quick and violent. There will be stories of people losing their life savings because they were told they could double their money in months.
Crypto currency speculation is going to be one of those things future generations read about and ask why people of our generation didn’t do something about this global boondoggle. The reckoning is coming; please don’t get burned.
Strength and creativity in 2022
We entered 2022 in a state of sickness but also with a determination to reenter life with meaning and determination.
I sat on a couch with a plastic cup full of soda and a non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice as the giant Waterford crystal ball dropped in Times Square on television. The children that wouldn’t to go sleep were there, getting to see the real ball drop and real New Year’s Eve countdown despite our efforts to get them to bed at a decent hour.
What would have normally (is there even a proper normal anymore) been an easy, low-key get together took several rounds of COVID testing across three or four households to make happen. So many events were canceled and postponed I didn’t think our small gathering was going to happen until we were on the road to upstate New York (update New York as defined anywhere north of the Bronx-Westchester border).
Good food and good conversation made for a fitting end to 2021. Everyone’s other plans were canceled, and this was what we could do, but we pulled it off anyway. All of my Double Satanic Deviled Eggs were eaten, and everyone survived the night.
Having left the drinking life many years ago, I missed out on some of the revelry but also missed out on all of the danger and hangovers. But the next day, the first day of the year, was spent eating, driving home, and unpacking from a brief overnight stay.
The year may see things get worse before they get better, and with so many false ends-in-sight to the global COVID pandemic, anyone who ventures a guess is foolish. But…
Between fatigue at the length of this pandemic and disgust at the lacking leadership in fighting the Coronavirus plague, people are determined to live again in 2022.
This year will be one of continued challenges and changes. No one knows what the dawn of 2023 will look like, but the next 360+ days are going to be busy getting things settled and starting new chapters.
There is new music to be made, new books to be written, new lives to rebuild.
The holiday lights are still shining throughout New York City; we will let them burn as long as we can. We need reason to celebrate, and we’ve been cheated out of a second holiday season.
And so, we are ready to get living again and forge into whatever new normal we can shape. There is no time to waste; we’ve lost too much time already.
Quarantined for Christmas
New York is aglow in holiday glory. Within walking distance of my home are houses and apartment buildings adorned in beautiful lights and holiday displays. Midtown Manhattan is deluged with the stunning accoutrements of the holiday season, and parts of the outer boroughs and the suburbs have homes that take yuletide cheer to new heights.
And New York and the world are in the throes of another pandemic surge. Despite being vaccinated and still generally cautious, I’m quarantined in the bedroom of my apartment as Christmas approaches, testing positive for COVID-19 for the second time this year. The whole family had it in February, luckily the rest have tested negative. I’m sequestered in my bedroom and my 10-day Coronavirus quarantine ends two days before Christmas.
This is the second holiday season in a row, at least here in the Northeast, that has been disrupted by this global pandemic, and I share in the fatigue of constant waves of variants, surges, and arguments over masks and vaccines. The COVID pandemic has become a pathetic Greek alphabet soup with everyone going through the motions until the next surge or the next new variant.
For most of the country, COVID doesn’t impact daily life until it does. A few months ago, hospitals in Georgia were so flooded with unvaccinated COVID patients that one of my stepbrothers had a tough time getting non-COVID-related hospital care he needed. The Delta variant surge failed to convince the population that won’t get vaccinated to get vaccinated. Much of the U.S.A. is already mentally past the pandemic, and rightly or wrongly, looks at our continued precautious and inoculations as a form of cultural snobbery.
Getting COVID a second time is frustrated, as I’m doing things by the (often changing and hastily re-written) book. I am fully vaccinated and have been going to places in the city that require full vaccination. I had a few cold symptoms and some general weariness, nothing I thought could not be knocked out with more rest and vitamin C. Then a coworker I had seen recently informed me he tested positive for COVID, so I took a home test that came back positive. The rest of the family got COVID tests at a clinic and tested negative.
I went online and scheduled a COVID test at a local clinic.
Arriving early to check in for my 1 p.m. appointment, I waited behind a woman boasting of her position as a pharmacist and carrying on an extra-long and unnecessary conversation with the desk attendant at the clinic; she kept asking the same questions and laughing and looking at the growing line behind her for some kind of validation and camaraderie. “I fill Z-Pack prescriptions all the time…”
The desk clerk was very patient and kept telling her they couldn’t register any more walk-in patients; there were people who had been waiting there since 10 a.m.
Once the verbose pharmacist moved on, I gave my name and my insurance card and ID, and signed my scribble on an electronic pad without seeing any version of what I was signing—the clerk told me what it was and to be honest, I rarely read these documents anyway—and I was told I would be called when my time comes.
I waited in my car for 45 minutes before I had to go back inside to use the restroom. While I was waiting for the restroom, more people showed up, looking for COVID tests. One man said he had driven in from Long Island, that this was the fourth clinic he had visited today, and that one clinic had told him to arrive at 4 a.m. He was going to travel soon for the holidays and needed travel clearance.
My call finally came, and I got my test in the forms of swabs up the nose; not as intrusive as the one I had in February, we’ll count that as progress. The doctor came in a few minutes later with my results. He was thorough but harried; he had seen about 50 patients before I got there and would see at least that many more before he left for the day. He confirmed my home test and gave the information I needed. I was soon on my way home, walking through a small crowd of people who had arrived at 3 p.m. to try to put their names on the new walk-in waiting list.
This isn’t the holiday season we wanted; we were supposed to be through this by now. When the initial outbreak happened in early 2020, we thought the upcoming spring and summer would spell an end to the lockdowns. After all, this wasn’t 1918, we have advanced technologically very much since then. But human nature does not change, and a deadly combination of partisan theatrics, bureaucratic ineptitude, and general boorish ignorance have kept this going.
I’m not sure what relief 2022 will bring. I have lost count of the number of times that I thought we were on our way to being done with the Coronavirus pandemic. I’ll remember to be thankful for the good health that I have—my symptoms are mild, and I will be through it before Christmas.
I’ll look ahead to the New Year with hope and the resolve to keep living life, no matter what the world puts in the way. See you there.
Hellish punk anthems for a decidedly sinful New York
This Halloween season finds New York City in a state of awkward transition to whatever post-pandemic world will eventually be shaped by the COVID outbreak, which continues to strut and fret its prolonged hours on the world stage.
Our city, the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak, is setting a template for recovery and establishing post-pandemic standards that make sense. It’s still a struggle in a lot of ways. Companies are struggling to hire enough workers to keep business going, while also struggling with return-to-office plans for a workforce that does not want to work in an office five days a week. “The Great Resignation” continues to churn as companies compete for workers at all levels and even entry-level positions can become bidding wars.
Public transit is far from being able to handle a return to normal. Our transit system was falling on its face before the pandemic, now bus and train routes are regularly canceled for lack of drivers and train operators. Crime and quality of life continue to be a persistent problem.
New York has always been a place where sin is welcomed and the need for law and order is informed, if not restrained, with the libertine permissiveness that has characterized our Gotham since Dutch times. But there is a need for balance. A law-abiding person should be able to walk down the street with an open can of beer, they shouldn’t be stepping over piles of homeless people and their rancid detritus on every corner, or robbed or worse on their way home from a night out.
New York has reached an imbalance; the tolerance for the night life and marijuana has been accompanied by a very real and dangerous rise in real crime. People find themselves being robbed by criminals that a few years ago would not have been back out on the streets from their previous arrest.
But amid this tumult, New York is working to return. While people are understandably in no hurry to return to offices, people want music, and theater, and art, and even want to watch sports teams like the New York Jets. These regular joys have been forcibly dormant by a historic pandemic, and should return with a historic vengeance.
So good news comes this Halloween season with the return of Green Hell, New York City’s Misfits cover band that has entertained dozens of people since 2004 (full disclosure: I have served as Green Hell’s bass player since their second show in 2004, giving me more rights to claim “Original” membership than Doyle of the Misfits). Green Hell has two shows lined up on Halloween weekend: one at Manhattan’s excellent Otto’s Shrunken Head and the other at The Shillelagh Tavern in Astoria Queens.
Misfits songs are fantastic anthems for any Halloween, and it feels very fitting that our modest band of middle-aged punk rockers get the band back together as the Coronavirus is (hopefully, for real this time) on its way out. They are fun to sing along to and not difficult to learn how to play. And no matter what nonsense the “Original” Misfits get into, these songs have stood the test of time.
Green Hell was last seen in 2016, and two members who live far out of town are braving the skies to fly back to New York for two shows. In true Green Hell tradition, we will have time for only one rehearsal, and in true Green Hell tradition I can guarantee that absent of someone’s on-stage death, we will play a tighter set than the Misfits.
We’ll be in excellent company both nights with some of the best bands one could hope to share the stage with, and I will not be satisfied until Green Hell singer Marc Sucks shouts “Fuck the MTA” with Shillelagh owner Russ.
New York continues to suffer the effects of a global pandemic and domestic neglect. This Halloween, as it resists both the death dirge of disease and the growing savagery of its streets, it will have the sounds of raucous horror punk rock to voice its orgiastic rage against an uncaring world.
Clawing our back to a “new normal”
Early in May, I returned to a company office to work for the first time since March 2020. The company I worked for at the time is headquartered in Times Square.
The earliest express bus that comes through my neighborhood arrived at 6 a.m. and it was at about half capacity—pre pandemic this bus would often be close to full capacity, even at that early hour.
Times Square is never empty, but the crowds did not meet the massive levels that were typical in the time before COVID-19. That will likely start to change as NYC declares a larger reopening. In the few weeks I’ve been working a few days in the office, the crowds in the streets have been getting larger.
New York’s reopening is picking up steam, there’s still a lot of damage assessment going on in real time. The go-to salad place across Broadway in Times Square I was hoping to visit shut down; luckily, the Times Deli on 44th near Broadway survived, as have several halal carts. But some places are gone and not coming back for a while, and those places that are open are in some cases struggling to find workers.
I switched jobs in mid-June and the company I work for is smaller and not pushing people back to the office. I usually go into the new office once per week, and that’s because I have band rehearsal in midtown Manhattan. This past week, I ventured into Manhattan after hours because someone at my new job is leaving, and there was a farewell party for him at a bar. It was the first-time meeting some of the coworkers I had been working with for three weeks.
Connolly’s Pub on 47th Street near Madison Ave. was doing good business on a Wednesday night. They were short-staffed but their harried waiters were working hard to keep up. I saw few customers wearing masks. More than two decades ago, I went to Connolly’s to see Black 47 ring in the Year 2000. If the Y2K threat—a threat that seems trivial and quaint compared to the problems of today—was going to wipe out civilization as we knew it, I was going to out with a pint in my hand and rocking Irish rebel tunes ringing in my ears.
And it may be many more months before I work in an office with any regularity with my new coworkers. The “hybrid” working model of combining home and office work should become the “new normal” of the post pandemic world. Things were headed in that direction before Wuhan bat stew threw the globe into a tizzy, and the model was proven during the past year and a half of lockdowns. Especially now as people see opportunity to leave their current jobs, companies are going to compete for workers and those trying to push people back to the office will be on the losing side when other things appear equal.
It was interesting from a corporate perspective to see how different companies handled the “back to work” question. More modern tech companies like Facebook quickly gave employees the option of working from home for as long as they wanted. It was more old-school companies like JPMorgan that have been pushing for people to come back to the office.
As before, cultural life is the vanguard of New York’s general wellbeing. If people feel safe enough to cram themselves into Broadway theater seats, we’ve entered the post-pandemic world. Broadway is reopening slowly, with different productions coming back at different times.
Free Shakespeare in the parks has returned to the Delacorte in Central Park and in Queens the Hip to Hip Theatre Company announced they have approval for in-person performances from Actors’ Equity and will be performing productions of Twelfth Night and Antony & Cleopatra. That’s good news for a city that needs it.
Live music is coming back as well. In May I went to the first live music show in nearly a year and a half at the Shillelagh Tavern in Astoria. The bands were great, and it was a catharsis to feel the blast of the music and see people I hadn’t seen in person in so long. I’m happy to report that Blackout Shoppers already have two shows booked for August. Every week it feels great to rehearse and make music. We were able to take our girls roller skating at an outdoor rink on Father’s Day at the TWA Hotel, where I actually used to go to work some days when it was still an airport terminal. One more outing in the emerging world.
There’s not going to be a sudden flip of the switch to reset our world back to normal; we’re going to have to work and scrape and put it back together ourselves. Our work is cut out for us, but it is underway.
Vaxxed to the max
We’re approaching the end of the biggest global pandemic in more than a century, and New York is ready to dive into Spring and Summer with renewed fervor.
Much of America is reopening prematurely, with some states flouting mask mandates and common sense the way they have for the past year and a half.
In New York City, Mayor de Blasio declared we would be fully reopen on July 1, which is about eight weeks from now. Not to let a deadly pandemic stand in the way of a pointless pissing contest between awful lame-duck officials, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is hoping for a full state reopening before July 1.
People can’t wait to do normal things again and I can’t blame them. Recently, a large free concert was held in Tompkins Square Park featuring popular New York Hardcore bands Madball and Murphy’s Law. It was a crowded and largely mask-less affair, with the usual mosh pit and stage diving and a crowd that would not have been able to socially distance within the confines of Tompkins Square Park and still see the stage. Videos of the concert were shared widely online and there was a lot of heavy criticism of the event. No way were any reasonable COVID protocols observed, and in a group of that size at this stage its unlikely that there was a 100% vaccination rate among participants.
The Parks Department gave a permit for this event, and then declared it was investigating it and pulled permits from upcoming shows. I’m not sure who the Parks Department would investigate besides itself—it gave a permit for the event and then was shocked that people actually showed up for it after a year devoid of public concerts. The most rudimentary Google search would have informed the powers that be that these are popular bands, and this was likely to have a large turnout.
And worse, the upcoming concerts that the Parks Department canceled are likely to be smaller events with greater likelihood of social distancing.
But despite this malarkey, this is a good sign. It means we’re in a transitional period and moving back to a time when having public gatherings and concerts will be commonplace again. People are aching to make music again, yearning for the New York City Spring and Summer of outdoor drinking and music and fun.
Living in Eastern Queens and having a car made things easier to schedule, and my wife used the TurboVax Twitter feed to learn of openings at SUNY Old Westbury, and she let me know. Within a few minutes of her telling me, I had my appointment, though the time slots all near hers had been filled and I had to go hour later. Still, I grabbed it.
The early days of the vaccine rollout were rough, but by early April things were running very smoothly in New York. I was seated and ready for my shot within a few short minutes of arriving at the mass vaccination site. When I returned for my second shot three weeks later, I was given the dose even faster.
It’s been two weeks since my last shot, and I’m vaxxed to the max and ready to rock and roll. I’m still making up indoors and keeping one ready if I get close to people outdoors. And honestly, I’d like to stay six feet away from everyone else forever.
But life won’t stop and clawing our way out of the pandemic means getting vaccinated and keeping with some of the habits we developed during the past year. It’s gotten easier to do.
Get vaccinated, you filthy animals.
A death in Whitestone
A mile and a half from where I live, at the same intersection where I’ve used the ATM countless times and taken my children for numerous fast food happy meals, a man was killed outside a bar after being punched in a fight.
A 35-year-old-man punched a man 20 years his senior. The older man fell to the sidewalk, striking his head; he was pronounced dead at Flushing Memorial Hospital soon afterwards.
The local news media picked it up because the assailant who has been charged with assault in the case is a New York City firefighter. Even though the person he stuck was dead, he walked out of jail a few hours later—New York City’s revolving door of justice works its magic. He claimed to be acting in self defense.
Whitestone is a more suburban area of New York City. It has a downtown area like that of a village you would find on Long Island or in Westchester County, and most neighborhoods consist of single-family homes. The affluent Malba area of well-heeled mansions is part of Whitestone.
While it does not have the cultural cache of Manhattan or the trendy panache of Brooklyn, I take heart on knowing that the Parkside Lounge a half mile away from me puts on great punk rock shows, and that Dee Dee Ramone once lived in Whitestone. It also has nice parks, good public schools walking distance from our home, and
There are many nice features of Whitestone, Queens, but it’s also a place where you will wonder how so many wretchedly stupid people manage to live in nice houses and drive expensive trucks. There is a bogus working-class posturing on the part of upper-middle class people here, a vociferous ignorance that cannot be excused by poverty combined with a shallow cultural posturing that consists of thickly pantomiming stereotypical New York mannerisms. Because they live within the boundaries of the five boroughs of New York City, they think they need to size everyone up for a fight even when they are buying groceries.
When you love something, its faults drive you all the crazier because they blemish something you cherish. That is one of the reasons why this death outside of a bar in one of the outer boroughs is more troubling besides being literally closer to home.
Though I left the drinking life more than a decade ago, I cannot deny the good times that they have given me and the central role they still play in cultural life. It was in a dive bars that I helped form punk rock bands, got ideas for poems, traded quotes from “Repo Man” with both financial journalists and bouncers. Dive bars are the respite that people have needed from their daily grind for decades, and dive bars in the outer boroughs is where you can find the soul of New York City trying to drink off its last hangover. I don’t know if they have good punk rock shows at juice bars and I’m not going to find out.
I remember being alone and living in New York City on my own for the first time and meeting a friend from work at the Wee Pub in Ozone Park one Saturday night and it was a rambling joy that made me feel like I was home. Years later, I met up with friends and toured all the dive bars we could fine in Hell’s Kitchen. I’ve spent countless hours in some of the seediest drinking holes in the city and regret not a minute of it.
So, if we’re ruining dive bars, we are ruining life. Our civilization will not function if people don’t decent, affordable places to drink.
New York City will survive and thrive again. If anything be sacred, let it be our dive bars.
Truth and civilization
More than 30 years ago now, I was selected as my high school’s intern for our local Congressman. I spent a week working from the Capitol Hill office of Representative Bruce Morrison, a Democrat who represented the third district of Connecticut.
Though he was running for Governor of Connecticut that year, he still kept a very full schedule, and as Chairman of the House Immigration Subcommittee he was working on a bill that was instrumental, for better or worse, for bringing in tech workers from outside the U.S.
Bruce Morrison did not win his contest for governor, though I turned 18 that year and I am proud to say that the very first vote I ever cast that year was for him. The winner, Independent Lowell Weicker, instituted a deeply unpopular state income tax, was hanged in effigy in Hartford and did not run again; the Republican candidate, John Rowland, later became governor and wound up serving time in federal prison for bribery and campaign fraud, so Connecticut judged extremely poorly that November. Rep. Morrison did not run for political office again but left a lasting legacy. Among his many credits is that he was instrumental in helping bring about the Irish Peace accords by normalizing relations between the U.S. government and Ireland’s Sinn Fein.
I was only working in Congress for one week, but it was thrilling to be at the center of our country’s government, being part of what was making the news and seeing the workings of government up close. I helped write a letter to a woman in Mystic about the Women Infants and Children program, sent faxes to other Congressional offices, and did tasks that were menial office tasks but felt like they carried the gravitas of democracy nonetheless.
I would spend hours after work in the visitors’ galleries of the House and Senate, watching the debates. It was thrilling to see Senators and Representatives argue their positions with eloquence and mutual respect. The formality of how they addressed one another, as “Senator” on the Senate and “Gentleman” or “Gentlewoman” in the House, lent grace and dignity to the proceedings, even amid what counted as partisan rancor in 1990.
Among the tasks was going around to various offices collecting signatures on a letter to the Secretary of State in the wake of army killings of students in Zaire, which later resulted in Congress cutting military aid to that country (their dictator would be overthrown in a coup seven years later). I walked the halls of the House office buildings, finding my way to the various offices and sometimes meeting the different Representatives along the way—I usually only handed the letter to a staff member who would go into the inner sanctum of the office and return with the signature of the Congressperson, but chatted with a few in person. At one point while gathering these signatures, I ran into my sophomore year English teacher, Mr. Degenhardt, and my high school’s former Principal, Gilbert Cass, and showed them to our Congressman’s office.
At another point, a Congressman who pledged to sign the letter was on the floor of the House. I was not allowed to go there. Only Representatives, pages, and certain other staff were allowed. Luckily, someone—I think it was another Congressman—ran the letter to the floor and back for me.
The floor of the House of Representatives was a kind of sacred ground; it was for people who got elected, who entered by the will of the people. It is not another part of the office, or a fancy perk Congress gave itself. People died to keep it free. In fact, the British burned the U.S. Capitol and the White House during the War of 1812.
So last month when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, it took on a kind of unfathomable horror. There was an element of watching something we didn’t think could happen here. Even in the most depraved days of Trump’s two presidential campaigns, I had a higher level of faith in his rank-and-file supporters than to think they could be led so far astray from reality.
The past several years have shown us that the fringe elements of our politics have gained traction among the mainstream and have no allegiance beyond their own ideas. The history and honor of our country mean nothing to them, as they see themselves as elite warriors correcting injustices rather than as citizens with obligations and responsibilities. Whatever destruction they or their allies cause is considered justified by the morality of their cause.
What the last four years have laid bare is that both political parties are broken, with great swaths of voters and activists that will be led to violence based on misinformation and propaganda.
Overwrought self-styled patriots, who thought Donald Trump was the last bastion of defense of law and order and America itself, stood with crowds that attacked police officers in an attempt to thwart a democratic election. Self-indulgent social justice advocates, who looked the other way as mobs burned down police stations and created “autonomous zones” in major cities, posted tributes to fallen Capitol police offers and talk of meting out punishment for sedition.
The partisans stuck with extremists in their midst want to blame someone else. Trump supporters claim these were really Antifa activists in the Capitol on Jan. 6, and Black Lives Matter supporters would have us believe it was secret Trump “Boogaloo” militia burning and looting U.S. cities last summer.
Two central tenets can guide us forward out of this decades-long quagmire:
- There must be an absolute and unwavering respect for and obedience to the truth.
- American institutions deserve our utmost care and protection, not because they are perfect but because they are ours.
The truth knows no political allegiances and always disappoints dogmatic partisan politicians. Our institutions were created in different times by different people than comprise America today, but they were made to last and have survived multiple wars and upheavals. If we respect them, they can thrive again.
RIP Kathy Shaidle, Five Feet of Fury
In the midst of a brutally chaotic and violent week, we lost one of our fiercest and funniest voices with the death of Kathy Shaidle in Ontario on January 9.
Kathy Shaidle was an opinion writer, poet, film, and cultural critic and unrelenting defender of free speech. She was a conservative Catholic who made enemies on both the left and the right. The biography in her memoir Confessions of a Failed Slut reads “I’ve been called one of the nation’s worst racists by the head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and a tool of the Zionist conspiracy by Stormfront.”
Oftentimes, more conservative commentators discuss the arts and modern contemporary culture as a kind of alien civilization so foreign and depraved as to escape all comprehension. Part of what made Shaidle so effective an advocate for conservative ideas is that she wrote about contemporary culture fearlessly and with authority. Her time in the punk rock world gave her familiarity with counterculture and informed her arguments in favor of tradition and faith. She had been there, done that, and had the t-shirt.
Few conservative columnists could discuss “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with deft expertise or delve into the memoir of Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones with a knowing eye, but Shaidle could do all of that and make you laugh out loud. Even if she did not convince you, she would present a great argument with logic and, most importantly, a sense of humor that never quit.
She titled her blog “Five Feet of Fury” in reference to her short stature. Whether you agreed or disagreed with her views, she was always fun to read. She had a poet’s eye for language—she published several volumes of poetry—and became a devout Catholic later in life. While religious, she did not preach, and modern secular sanctimony was her most common foil.
I exchanged emails with her once, six years ago, after she linked to one of my articles in her column. The article was in a now-defunct Web site, and she mentioned she was a fan of the site and was jealous I wrote for them. Getting a link and compliment on opinion writing from Kathy Shaidle was like having Michael Jordan admire your jump shot or seeing Lenny Bruce laugh at your jokes. It was a boost of morale that has stayed with me years later.
A year ago, Shaidle revealed she had Stage 3 ovarian cancer with a piece titled By the Time You Read This, I Will Be Bald. She wrote, “After more than 50 years, I finally got my hair to look just the way I wanted. So of course I got cancer.”
Over the past year, her spirit and humor did not waiver and she informed her readers of her journey through ovarian cancer. She neither wallowed in self-pity nor attempted to give her readers a rose-colored view of this journey. Earlier this month she posted a note that she would soon be in hospice. A few days later, a self-penned obituary appeared online:
Kathy Shaidle 1964 – 2021
Following a tedious rendezvous with ovarian cancer, Kathy Shaidle has died, wishing she’d spent more time at the office.
Her tombstone reads: GET OFF MY LAWN!
She is relieved she won’t have to update her LinkedIn profile, shave her legs, or hear “Creep” by Radiohead ever again. Some may even be jealous that she’s getting out of enduring a Biden presidency.
Kathy was a writer, author, columnist and blogging pioneer, as proud of her first book’s Governor General’s Award nomination as of her stint as “Ed Anger” for the Weekly World News. A target for “cancel” culture before the term was coined, she was denounced by all the best people, sometimes for contradictory reasons. …
It was exactly the kind of sendoff one would expect. Kathy Shaidle was a fearless writer who defended free speech with unshaking certainty. She faced death with the kind of grace and humor that her readers admired. She will be greatly missed.
2021 New Yorker’s To Do List
Happy New Year from New York City, where neither the Coronavirus, incompetent leadership, nor burgeoning crime can kill us. We have been through a lot over the past year and will go through much more before our current pandemic is over. Things may never return to pre-pandemic “normal” again and that’s not all bad.
We will not let the stressful state of our world stop us from listing some priorities for the New Year. Here are what I see as our guiding principles for 2021:
Stay frosty. I am fortunate that I live in a region where facemasks and social distancing are both the law and the social norm. That is fragile even here and even more difficult in areas where anti-maskers/science deniers have a greater dominance. There is no such thing as being too careful about your health when there is a once-in-a-century pandemic happening. Seriously, no matter your political proclivities, do you really feel the urge to be closer to your fellow man right now? I hope not. Keep your distance and wash your hands. Here is your chance to mouth a hearty “fuck you” to half the people you meet behind your fashionable mask. Stick to it because this is not over yet.
Read more poetry. This oft-ignored form of literature is much more diverse than it gets its due. We need poetry and the madness of literary dreamers now more than ever. You could do worse than perusing Impolite Literature or Outlaw Poetry.
Pursue the things you miss most. This pandemic has left us hungry for things that we miss. It’s has shone a big spotlight on things we love and hate. Remember the things you miss the most and chase them with dedicated abandon. I plan on spending more time making music than I have in recent years. I could never tear myself away but having played only two shows in 2020 has left me with a fever for being back playing shows, no matter how small the stage or the crowd. Some people need to be loud. Maybe you rediscovered a passion for painting pumpkins or making weird videos or trying to grow ghost peppers in your garden. Go for it all.
Chasing normal for normal’s sake won’t work. I miss the benefits of the non-pandemic life but working 12-hour days without seeing your family is bullshit, no matter how much money you make. Just because it bears that pre-pandemic shine does not mean it’s Shinola. Some of the stuff that COVID kicked to the curb belongs there. Leave it.
Don’t wait for the pandemic to be over to reach out to family and friends. You do not have to do a Zoom call or a Skype call for everything. Use your telephone the old-fashioned way and call people. You will find it be a refreshing exercise. Convert the tiresome Zoom calls into regular visits; we can build better rituals in the flesh when that becomes possible again.
Order as much takeout as you can eat without becoming obese. Our favorite local diner cannot let us sit inside, so I brought my girls there this morning and we ordered takeout and had a car picnic in our mini van before driving to an aquarium. Those restaurants that are able to stay open are hanging on for dear life. If you can afford to give them your business, please do, and tip generously.
Time is getting shorter for everyone; and we have put enough of our lives on ice. Grab the New Year by the lapels and make it dance with you.
Dispatches from the Secret Playground
Thanksgiving came and went with still much to be thankful for in New York, at least for my family. While a second or third Coronavirus raged through the city, our immediate family remains healthy and those in our larger family circle that have been ill have recovered.
Everyone in our family has food in their stomach and a roof over their head. Even before COVID-19 rampaged through the world there were billions of people who could not say that much, and that’s getting worse now. I am gainfully employed and have not been sick and have more than enough food; I am thankful.
New York perseveres, but suffers a crisis of confidence. While we were the first place in the U.S. to see widespread COVID infection and death, we were the first to “flatten the curve” with social distancing and masks. Now we’re having a critical relapse with a spike of infections. Schools closed, now are reopening again in a swift reversal of policy. Crime continues to surge.
And all the while, we see thousands of our fellow New Yorkers not taking their own lives seriously. A Hasidic group worked secretly to arrange a large indoor wedding, sans facemasks, and was given a slap-on-the-wrist fine. I go food shopping and see people who can’t wear a facemask properly going about their business in blissful, entitled ignorance.
Yes, we’re not supposed to be judgmental during these difficult times, but this pandemic has revealed just how many of our fellow human beings are unfit to breath the same air.
Having children in a city apartment can be trying during good times; it has been especially trying during this extended pandemic. What we have though is a place we call the secret playground. It’s not really a secret playground, but a little-used playground in a neighboring co-op that we’re not really supposed to use. The old fogeys that run the board where we live did away with the playground for our building years ago, so to use a local playground is to be an automatic scofflaw.
But I take my girls to the secret playground as often as I can. There are rarely other children playing there, so I can let my kids take down their facemasks, if our family is alone. Usually a few residents will walk through on their way to and from their homes, and we’ll put our masks back up as they come through; they are still almost always more than six feet away. It is an oasis that the unseasonably warmer November weather has given us access to and I don’t want to let a single good weather day go to waste as we endure another lockdown.
Sometime next year, we will hopefully begin adapting to a post-COVID world, and some things we will want to stay the same. I’m not alone in hoping that the world remains one where we’re given more personal space and take extra steps to reduce indoor crowds and make spaces safer, with better ventilation and more protections. These are good ideas outside of pandemics.
And therein lies the appeal of the secret playground: it is a respite from the current world and a model for how to best rebuild when we emerge from our currently dismal state. We cannot live in a bubble world, but we can look at our better adaptations of today to keep our joy and our priorities in line with where we need to be.
I will spare you the regular gibberish about this being the most important election ever and the dire warnings that we will descend into civil war. I think all Americans of voting age should vote because it is our patriotic duty no matter who is on the ballot.
I endorse Joe Biden for President and hope you vote for him. But even if you support Trump or a third-party candidate: go vote. This is your country, and you owe it to yourself to be counted.
My history of picking winners is pitiful. I volunteered for the Bill Bradley campaign in 2000 with zero regrets. Bill Bradley was a Rhodes Scholar who became a basketball superstar and served as a U.S. Senator from New Jersey for three terms. He was the kind of intellect we need in public office but also had a breadth of life experience that made him rise above the pack of regular career machine politicians. He opposed the establishment favorite: Vice President Al Gore.
At his campaign event on the night of Super Tuesday, I noticed none of the big screens in the hotel ballroom were showing any primary results. The party swelled and Bill Bradley came through the crowd toward the stage. Bradley towered above everyone else. He gave a brief speech where he mentioned that he would assess the future of his campaign over the next several days but also made us proud to have been part of the campaign and focused on important issues facing the country. The party wound down and I saw various political and intellectual celebrities there. Professor Cornel West was on the stage close to Bradley and I was glad to see former New York City Mayor Ed Koch (who for me is the one person in the world who will always embody New York City) giving interviews in support of the former Senator.
It wasn’t until I got home and clicked on the TV news did I see the actual results and Holy shit, we got killed! Al Gore’s political machine had made quick work of the Bradley campaign, and Super Tuesday was the coup de grace. Bradley dropped out of the race a few days later. I cast my vote for Al Gore that November with no enthusiasm for Gore but with the indignity that someone as much of a vapid empty suit as George W. Bush had no business getting the nomination of a major political party. I couldn’t believe Republicans could be so gullible to pick Bush over Sen. John McCain, who would have wiped the floor with Al Gore in the general election.
In 2004, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was the one who seemed to get it the most, who told Democrats that the people who drove around in pickup trucks with Confederate flags on them needed to be voting for Democrats too, because they needed healthcare and their kids needed an education. He was promising to take Democrats off the dangerous course of our own culture war. That promise evaporated with Dean’s campaign; I sent in my absentee ballot for John Kerry because he wasn’t George. W. Bush.
Both political parties are now broken. With Trump, we have the same incredulity that came with George W. Bush’s nomination: How could a major political party elevate such a fraud to the highest office of the land? With Biden, we have an establishment politician who had to embrace the excesses of the Democratic Party’s activist wing to secure the nomination.
But the disaster of the Trump presidency, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, makes this election a no-brainer. Biden was not my first choice, but he is the best choice of the two main political parties, and we stand to lose too much ground as a country with another four years of Trump.
All I ask my Trump supporter friends is that they judge the President by his record of the past four years. Would you have forgiven a Democrat who talked big and delivered little on patriotic immigration reform? Would Barak Obama have been able to shrug off reports of Russians paying bounties for American troops killed in Afghanistan? Would even George W. Bush have had the delusional gall to tell the nation that we’ve turned the corner on the Coronavirus pandemic as the U.S. breaks its daily record of new cases?
Doing our part to save The Strand
There are some places wherever you live that you take to represent an important part of your life. Maybe a restaurant where you always go or a movie theater where you saw your favorite movie for the first time. Whatever the reason, these are places that you sentimentalize, maybe sometimes to a fault, because you identify them so closely with good memories.
One of those places for me is The Strand Bookstore. It was one of the first places I frequented when I began living in New York City as an adult.
At some point on just about every weekend I had off (I had to work most weekends), I would make a visit to The Strand a part of my routine. I would never fail to come home with a big bag full of books, sometimes two big bags. Wow, Crime and Punishment for only $3.99—how can I not buy that?? At some point I ended up with two different paperback copies of Anna Karena and gave one copy to a friend.
The Strand would be buzzing with people and I would spend hours wandering its cramped isles. I had a routine of starting with browsing the outside cheap bins (books for as little as 48 cents; it would be a crime not to rifle through every row of books) and making my way through the store, spending most of my time in the fiction section. Years later, I got to meet my guitar hero, Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, when he did a book signing event for his memoir ‘Lonely Boy.’
But like many parts of my early life back in the city as an adult; I frequented The Strand less and less. At the time of the pandemic lockdown in mid-March, my time in Manhattan mostly consisted of sitting at a desk in the financial district or midtown and then getting home to Queens as quick as I could. I would occasionally go to a concert or local punk rock show, but those got fewer and farther between. The Strand has a kiosk in Times Square close to my job’s offices there, so I would get a chance to buy some books and a ‘Make America Read Again’ refrigerator magnet. But I ceased being a regular customer.
With the pandemic comes rafts of closures of institutions we thought would continue to be with us, at least through the duration of the virus. This was supposed to be over by now, but we can’t get our shit together enough to contain COVID-19, so things are still ground to a halt.
Recently the owner of The Strand bookstore issued a plea for help from the public to save it from closing. People responded, lining up around the block to buy books at the fabled institution or ordering books online from its web site.
The Strand is a landmark, but being a landmark is not enough. Many friends point out that other important cultural institutions, such as CBGB’s, did not survive to see the pandemic. Other places with deep histories have also not survived.
And The Strand’s ownership has not been entirely forthright. Earlier this year the owner accepted $1 million in in loans and still laid off workers while buying millions in stock, including more than $100,000 worth of Amazon shares. The Strand made a public show of its support to progressive causes while turning a blind eye to the plight of its own workers, so an important part of the store’s natural constituency is either indifferent or hostile to its future.
But an institution can be more than the sum of its owner’s conduct. I have loathed how the New York Yankees’ ownership tore down the House the Ruth Built and treats its fans like absolute garbage, yet I cannot bring myself to disavow the Bronx Bombers. We can detest the people who run our country and still be patriotic Americans. Do we owe The Strand loyalty for all that it has given us, despite the lack of principles by its current owner? I feel a loyalty to this great bookstore, though I understand those that don’t.
I yearn to lose hours of time in a bookstore again; to get the warm ego boost of a Strand cashier complimenting my choices, to amble to the subway laden with more tomes that will add to the ever-expanding walls of books in my home. Those days cannot come soon enough. In the meantime, I will do what I can to help keep the miles of books going.