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Running for Flushing Bay

New York City has a myriad of opportunities to go running. Every weekend somewhere in the five boroughs you can find a race or a fun run to suit your needs.

Being an out-of-shape middle-aged office worker with more aspiration than perspiration on my calendar, I like these organized events because it means I’m going to get out the door on time and get a nice bit of exercise as I am striving to get myself into better shape.

So it was fortuitous that I learned of the Guardians of Flushing Bay 5k this past weekend. It is close to home and for a good cause, raising money to help the organization work for a cleaner and more accessible Flushing Bay.

Flushing Bay is a piece of waterfront that needs the cleanup help and is underutilized. It’s got a paved running path, benches to sit on, and even a boat launch and a pier, but not that many people use it and it’s not easily accessible. There is a marina there where people have their boats, but there is not a thriving waterfront that could be there.

There are a lot of improvements that could be made for cleanliness and accessibility, so it’s great to see the Guardians of Flushing Bay group start to organize. They took photos of all the runners gathered there to show support to local politicians and the run raised money to support their efforts. There’s no reason Northeast Queens can’t have an excellent waterfront as well.

My wife is a member of the Flushing C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture), a local farm share chapter that lets members order food directly from local farms. She set up an information table and sat our 10-month-old daughter there with her. She had a good number of people coming over and joining the mailing list. “Babies and puppies can sell anything,” she explained.

The run was well-attended but not a large gathering like you would find at one of the large Roadrunners events. It maintained a very helpful community spirit throughout. A large number of the participants were members of dragon boat racing teams that frequently practice in Flushing Bay.

My wife’s cousin, who runs 5k races frequently and has run the New York City Marathon and other marathons, joined us. She had a later start time than I did and fell and hurt her thumb, but still breezed past me.

I normally like to listen to music when I go running both to inspire me and drown out the sounds of my own wheezy breathing. I forgot to bring it this time. But the sights and sounds of Flushing Bay, of Queens waking up on a Saturday morning, were inspiration enough. There were also volunteers along the way offering encouraging words to fast runners and slow-pokes alike.

When I run a 5k, I make it a point to run the whole thing and not walk part of it. I may be slow but I want to be consistent and until I get in better shape I need to push myself to keep going.

It was a good day for the race as the weather was sunny but not too hot. During the run you could smell the briny essence of the Bay and see the pollution that washes up at high tide. You could also see the great promise of making better use of the esplanade and marina. The run took us from where Flushing Creek branches inland from the bay to within a few hundred yards of LaGuardia Airport’s Delta terminal and back.

When I approached the end of the run, a small crowd of volunteers and runners cheered me on. As tired as I was, the cheers and the sight of my two older girls standing just beyond the line encouraged me to pick up the pace a bit. I wheezed my way over the finish line and scooped up our three-year-olds and carried them back to my wife’s C.S.A. table.

As more runners finished and took advantage of the water, oranges, and bagels, some dragon boats appeared in the bay near the run and began racing one another. It was a pleasant end to a good event. We hope that the Guardians of Flushing Bay do this every year.

Join my army of warrior poets

I moved back to New York City nearly 20 years ago. I packed all of my belongings into a small rented moving truck and drove north from the sprawl of suburban Atlanta to the sprawl of New York City. It was early November when I arrived at my mother’s house in suburban Briarcliff. The trees rained yellow leaves like gold vermillion onto the damp, black streets.

I came to New York to find literary fame and fortune and I’m still fighting the good fight. My enemies are my own laziness and self-doubt and the regular pressures of needing to make a living and feed a family. I have friends who no longer write and are comfortable in their day jobs. I have friends who have found great success as writers and published books. They make me green with envy sometimes but I can’t scream that things are unfair: they worked hard and have been more on the ball than I’ve been when it comes to managing a career.

I sometimes doubt my abilities to put words to the ideas coursing through our lives that will move people and help them see themselves in greater things. I sometimes doubt my odds in gaining success in the creative field and rising to the esteemed literary heights so widely celebrated.

What I do not doubt is my love of creativity and burning need to produce good work. I am confident in my connection to the orgiastic madness that powers the human animal and makes our Gotham such a powerful crucible. I will never question my love of truth and the embrace of human kind’s true carnal nature. I will never surrender my ability to be a black flame helping fellow travelers navigate the cold dark realities of an indifferent world.

Art and creativity make life worth living; it’s how we express the truth of human existence as we struggle to understand it and find our place in the world. I have been very fortunate to have friends who have helped me indulge in reading James Dickey on whiskey-soaked nights in the sultry summer night of Georgia, friends who have written poems that have been turned into songs and that can still bring tears to my eyes to this day, and friends who held Burns Night parties complete with haggis where the party would come to a dead stop to read from the Bard of Scotland.

As I struggled to get a handle on writing fiction, I continued to write and publish poems, and my earliest successes have been with publishing poetry. I have come to the realization that I may be better at writing poems than writing fiction or non-fiction and that I at least owe the form more time and attention than I have been giving it. Poems can be written quickly and can express an idea in its rawest form. It can inspire by telling a narrative story or not. Either way it echoes in the hearts of the reader who feels inspired to do great things. I lapsed in recent years in writing them but I have recently redoubled my efforts to write poetry every night. Last year I also starting finishing and publishing one poem per week through Impolite Literature’s Web site.

This national poetry month, join me in reading poetry, in understanding that poetry is the testament of our civilization. The future will judge the worthiness of our times by our art and literature as much as by our wars and monuments.

I hope to raise an army of warrior poets, to make poetry part of the life of blood and iron that defines our existence on Earth. Join me in making our world great by insisting poetry be a part of it. I stand with sword-pen in hand.

Socialized medicine is not a bad idea

This past weekend I went to the eye doctor. I had tried to order new contact lenses online. You can order all kinds of abominable things online without any hassle but for some reason buying contact lenses online requires that the seller contact your eye doctor. Well my eye doctor said that my prescription was expired and I had to have another eye exam.

My eye exam went well enough. The people there dilated my pupils to run some of the usual tests and did another special “contact lens test” that cost another $40 on top of a $50 deductible. After an hour and a half, I was released back into the world wearing a pair of oversized disposable sunglasses that made me look like a Florida retiree shuffling to an early bird special. And my eyeglass and contact lens prescription did not change one bit. I spent $90 just for the honor of getting permission to buy contact lenses online. I can’t apply that to the purchase of any new glasses or contact lenses. That’s an expensive two-year rubber stamp.

I’m lucky enough that I can afford to pay off the doctors to let me buy my contact lenses. I have good health insurance and I’m gainfully employed. Someone who is unemployed or under-employed or not paid as well at their job would be shit out of luck if they didn’t have the cash for this.

Even with the good health insurance we have, for-profit health insurance companies have earned their bad reputation for their treatment of consumers. When our youngest daughter was born, we sent in all the paperwork on time to have her added to our insurance policy, but for some reason the insurer didn’t process this in time and for several months we got letters from doctors and collection agencies looking for the money that the insurance company was supposed to pay. When my wife was in the hospital, she was being charged $1.50 per Tylenol pill. Why?

These experiences illustrate some of the inadequacies of our current healthcare system and they are MILD in comparison to some of what goes on. The Affordable Care Act (A.C.A. a.k.a. “Obamacare”) curtailed some of the most blatant insurance company abuses, but there are so many bad actors in the healthcare system that piecemeal reform hasn’t worked to fix things. For example, one of the first efforts of the Obama administration to pass its health plan was to make price guarantees to pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies.

The Trump administration’s effort to repeal Obamacare only accomplished in proving that the Republicans have had no real healthcare plan from day one. For all the meaningless votes to repeal the A.C.A. that the Republicans held in the intervening years, the half-assed effort to pass “Trumpcare” showed that this was all silly games. They have no real plan. Democrats would prefer to have socialized medicine but few establishment Democrats will come out and say that.

Socialized medicine doesn’t sound good to Americans because socialism in general has a deservedly bad reputation. Venezuela’s ongoing collapse is a lesson in how “progressive” authoritarians are best at running their countries into the ground. But socialized medicine does pretty well in capitalist countries. The Japan, Ireland, Sweden, the U.K., France, Germany, the list goes on– these are all civilized democracies with healthy business communities. This doesn’t mean they are immune from recession or fiscal difficulties, but it means that healthcare is not a confusing patchwork of providers trying to grab what they can from every consumer.

But socialized medicine is not the imposition of socialism and not a stepping-stone to a Stalinist state. And the most recent political debacle of Congressional Republicans calling off a vote because they knew they would lose was pathetic. There was no real reason to bring this vote within the first 100 days of the Trump administration, but Congressional Republicans still think it’s 2009.

The latest political shifts have given us an opening to resolve this issue once and for all. There are calls for a single-payer system in the populist right as well as the populist left. The cultural wars that have been using the healthcare debate as a proxy are now out in the open. We can have those discussions instead of hiding behind the skirts of medical policy.

Let’s have the healthcare debate we ought to have. Doctors in France get paid and people in Denmark don’t go bankrupt when a loved one gets cancer. Canadians don’t have to launch a GoFundMe campaign when they sprain their knee.

America is a great enough nation to establish and manage socialized medicine. Let’s go for it.

How to be a pedestrian in New York City

New York is a very walkable city. We have horrible traffic that makes driving regularly in the more densely populated parts of the city nearly impossible and a grossly imperfect but extensive mass transit system that makes owning a car in the city unnecessary.

Walking the streets of Gotham is mostly a joy. But there are also a lot of frustrations in getting about on foot, as not everyone is up on their pedestrian etiquette.

I think we can safely exempt tourists from some of the walking rules, because we need their money to keep the city’s economy afloat and many tourists are from far-away places that don’t have the same customs or don’t have the same walking-friendly infrastructure. Lots of American suburbs, for instance, don’t have sidewalks in their residential area (something that threw me for a loop when I moved from Yonkers to Yorktown Heights).

Here are five essential rules for how to be a pedestrian in New York City:

Keep to the right of the sidewalk or stairs. In most countries people drive to the right. The same applies to pedestrian traffic just as it would automobile traffic. Walk to the right and you don’t have weave around a million people going the opposite direction. It’s a very simple concept and usually works well for motorized traffic.

Stay focused on walking. You may be a master multi-tasker when you are behind your desk at work or in the kitchen of your home. The sidewalks of New York are a different place. Do not look read a book or mobile phone while walking. You don’t look like a deep literary soul when you try to read a book while walking, you look just as stupid as a smart phone zombie but twice as pretentious.

Keep your eyes ahead of you and avoid gawking. There a millions of dazzling sights and no city in the world makes for better people watching than our bustling Gotham. It’s tempting to soak in all that’s around you and give in to the wanderlust and marvel at the vibrant life of our city, but some of us are trying to get to work or catch a bus or subway. If you keep your eyes straight ahead and let the foot traffic ebb and flow around you easily, you’ll get to where you are going with much less of a hassle. The bearded strangers trying to make eye contact with you are likely panhandlers and not the next Walt Whitman.

Remain considerate of others. Walking three abreast is OK in some places, but we have limited sidewalk space and if you are traveling in a group, others are going to be moving quicker and need to move around you. Our sidewalk cut-ins are often limited and not as easily maneuvered by people in wheelchairs and the elderly, so go ahead and step upon the curb like the healthy person you are.

Remember when cars and other vehicles have the right of way. Pedestrians have the right of way, except when they don’t. It’s OK to cross against the light when there are no cars coming, but if there are, stay out of their way. Pedestrians who blindly walk into traffic like they haven’t a care in the world are the ones I prefer to see smooshed.

So please be alert. Everything in New York requires thought and mastery, even walking from place to place. Life is too short to stumble through it cluelessly. If you focus on where you’re going you’ll be a happier person when you get there.

I’ll always be friends with someone you hate

“Say it’s not so, Matt,” my friend’s message read, accompanied by a photo of a public figure that I don’t know personally but follow on social media. I explained that I follow/befriend people on social media that I often disagree with, and that while I find some of this person’s views extreme, they were not the murderous villain popularly portrayed in the mainstream press.

My explanation was lost and I found myself “blocked.” It’s a real shame. This is someone I’ve been friends with since college that is generally open-minded and intellectually strong. I know this person from a college debate society, the whole purpose of which is to listen to people you disagree with and debate them peaceably without tantrums or emotional self-immolation.

Maybe this person will find it in their heart to befriend me on social media again, but if not, so be it. I can’t please everyone and I can’t apologize for the opinions of others.

No matter who you are or what your politics, you are going to find I am friends with someone you hate. I can guarantee that to everyone: someone on my list of friends is going to piss you off.

I won’t have it any other way. I refuse to live in an echo chamber only occupied by people who share my view of the world. No matter how right you think you are, no one is above having their opinions and perceptions challenged and there is absolutely nothing virtuous about a closed mind.

In our era of divided politics, trolls on both sides of the spectrum feel morally justified in becoming increasingly uncivil. I’ve had a few people block me or “unfriend” me. One even called me names and blocked me so I couldn’t see or respond, a cowardly low. People engage in this kind of behavior when they have no real ideas or don’t have the wherewithal to defend their beliefs.

But I also have lots of friends that don’t block me. The friends with more substantial progressive activist bona fides – the people who’ve actually been in the streets and done battle with the cops, who’ve been to jail for their activism or actually rumbled with real Nazis in the real world – don’t find the need to block me on social media or prove their online virtue through their computer keyboards. I have friends who are law enforcement officers and military veterans who have been shot at in the line of duty at home and abroad; none of them have expressed horror that I’m friends with people that are communists or anarchists. They don’t need to wear their patriotism or their toughness on their sleeves, they live it every day.

Fortunately, the majority of my friends are confident enough in who they are to listen to other’s people’s views. That doesn’t mean they agree with me or like that I’m online friends with people they deplore, but they have strong enough wits to disagree without name calling.

I can’t judge people based on their ideology alone. Some of the people considered most virtuous in public life have been some of the most miserable human beings; egos rendering them incapable of treating others with dignity and respect. How you treat the waiter or waitress at a restaurant tells me much more about you than whatever politician you voted for last November. So many people who check all the right virtue boxes can’t be bothered to act like a decent human being in real life.

I hope my friend comes back online. I won’t block or unfriend someone just because they hold opinions we may despise. There’s something about my collection of friends that everyone can hate. But I have a great group of friends nonetheless. I’ll never apologize for keeping an open mind to different ideas, no matter how offensive they might seem to others. If that makes enemies out of some friends, then that’s too bad.

If you’re not making enemies, you’re not living life.

Five people you should be allowed to beat senseless on public transit

Recently a mother was charged with beating a 71-year-old woman who criticized her rude manners and child rearing and a man was arrested for kicking a pregnant woman in the belly on a 4 train. Such savage assaults are not surprising, sorry to say. While people join in the moral hate of these accused, it begs the question: who does deserve to be beaten on our subways and busses? We agree that the pregnant and the elderly should be spared violence except under extremely rare circumstances. But there are certainly many for whom swift and destructive violence is richly deserved.

Below are modest descriptions of the five people who are worthy of vigilante justice.

People who bring bicycles onto trains. Does anyone have any excuse to bring a bicycle on a train, ever? This is your method of transportation. If you got caught in the rain, too bad. Read the weather forecast before you bring your two-wheeled throne of entitled ineptitude onto our train car. The worse I’ve seen was a guy with a motorized scooter on the train. A motorized scooter! This also applies to people who bring awkwardly large objects onto the subway. I’ve seen people bring all manner of inappropriately large items onto public transit during rush hour. Baby strollers are the most tolerable item since some mothers don’t have a choice as to when they travel. But a bicycle on the subway? With the exception of the rare bike race in town, there should be no such thing.

People who stand in front of doors or enter the subway before everyone leaves. I have often dreamt of investing in some sort of spinning blades on a stick that one can set on fire while pulling into the station. I feel with the right tools we could eliminate much of the population in my neighborhood of Flushing. No subway seat is so precious that you should surrender your dignity.

Rush hour panhandlers and performers. One should never give money to panhandlers at all as a general rule. Even the most sympathetic advocates for the homeless will tell you that the majority of cash you hand over to beggars is used for drugs or alcohol (giving food is another issue). But if someone is trying to walk through a packed subway car to collect money, then they deserve a knuckle sandwich and should appeal to their bleeding-heart suckers during a less-crowded time. I usually go out of my way to give money to performers. Musicians and other people who make our lives richer with their art deserve our support. The sensible performers would not walk through a crowded subway car at rush hour. They know to avoid crowded trains because they are considerate and good at what they do.

People who wear backpacks on trains and buses. If you wear a backpack onto a subway or bus, you are a jackass. Not only are you taking up too much space and making it difficult for people to move around you, you are putting your own personal belongings out of your view and at greater risk of theft. True justice would be to slice open these backpacks and allow the contents thereof to spill onto the floor. This may end up causing a stamped to grab these items, creating a greater disorder and inconveniencing law-abiding commuters. Also the authorities may take issue with a knife being used in this way. A good public prank would be to glue very large and garish dildos to these backpacks. According to the police, such acts are not vandalism and they’ll have no reason to report you to the authorities if you are caught in the act (note: not all police may take the same view as the slacker cops I encountered in Flushing).

Pole hogs and seat hogs. Unless you are a stripper performing in a strip club, you have no business putting any part of your body other than your hand on the subway pole. If you weigh 800 pounds and take up more than one seat, then OK, you’re doing us a favor not trying to stand on the subway and you’ll die of a heart attack soon enough. If you are a more regularly-proportioned individual and you are taking up more than one seat, then you deserve a boot to the face. Your luggage didn’t pay $2.75 to ride the bus or train.

Honorable mentions for New York street justice in transit: people who neglect to wear headphones while listening to music or watching videos, those clipping their nails on the bus or train, and anyone who stands on the left side of an escalator.

Our public transit will never be a cocoon of luxury and good tidings. We don’t need that. But some common decency and courtesy would go a long way. There’s nothing morally wrong with a little bit of “the old ultraviolence” on some of our fellow Big Apple denizens who weren’t raised with the same manners, I realize that these are but fleeting dreams. We cannot visit such extreme justice on all who deserve it. If we did so we would do nothing else. But let us join together in these sweet day dreams and get through our day the better for it.

Happy commuting everyone.

New York City driving madness

Police in my part of the city are looking for a driver that ran down a 76-year-old man on a bicycle and drove away. The man is in the hospital and there is video of the car believed to be involved.

I would love to say I’m surprised but I’m not [insert typical joke about Asian drivers here—the stereotype is generally true but other ethnic groups are much worse]. Driving is terrible here because people get away with driving like savages in New York and the police rarely do anything about it. A woman was killed by a hit-and-run driver in downtown Flushing a few years ago. A three-year-old was run down and killed not far away and the driver was barely given a slap on the wrist.

While the quality of driving in Flushing is awful I’ve found driving to be worse in other parts of the city. I noticed it is extremely bad in uptown Manhattan where I once lived and saw an incident that I think sums up driving in New York and the police’s lack of response to it perfectly.

I saw a cab driver make a left turn onto Broadway and he not only ran a red light, he didn’t have room to merge with drivers that had just made the light, so he was started driving on the wrong side of the road towards a police car! That’s right, the cab driver was playing chicken with a patrol car of New York’s Finest and essentially won since the police didn’t seem to notice or care. Think about it – you can run a red light and drive on the wrong side of the road in front of cops here and they won’t do anything.

It’s good that the police are at least drawing the line at hit-and-run attacks on elderly cyclists, but they likely could have prevented this if they took vehicle infractions seriously.

When my truck was vandalized late last year, I reported it to the police. Three officers showed up to tell me that there was nothing they can do since a sticker on a window was not considered vandalism for some reason. I was pretty sure that if I had stuck a sticker on the window of their car in full view of them that I’d quickly find myself riding in the back of their car. But I didn’t want to waste time arguing with them when I had to get to work getting the sticker off of my car (and I did it perfectly with no residue left—take that asshole sticker vandal; I haven’t forgotten about you).

I was pulled over once by the police while driving in Flushing. It was because I made a left turn at an intersection where turns were no longer allowed. The city has created a lot of these no-turning zones and it makes driving more difficult all over the city. I didn’t plow over any pedestrians or run a red light. I’ve seen charter busses make real illegal left turns against traffic and running red lights and not be pulled over at all. To their credit, the police did not ticket me when they pulled me over, but told me not to commit that infraction again.

I hope the police catch the animal that ran down an old man on his bicycle. I hope they throw the book at him (or her) and they never drive in New York again. I’m going to continue to be one of the last civilized drivers on the streets of our city. Being right is its own reward, sometimes its only reward.

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