Sustainability and the environment are not just for hippies anymore.
Although when you think about it, hippies were late to the game on wanting save the Earth. The greatest environmentalists in American history is most likely the 26th President of the United States and great New Yorker, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt used the power of his Presidency to create national parks and other public lands. And when you think about it, accomplished hunters like Roosevelt are among the best environmentalists.
Ask yourself what would Theodore Roosevelt do? If he were still with us today, he would probably be bold enough to bicycle from Oyster Bay to the Flushing Quaker Meeting House (a trip of only 25 miles, an easy two hours for T.R.) and find common cause with the many diverse people working for the preservation of our natural world at the Flushing Eco-Fest on Saturday, March 23.
The festival is being organized by Flushing C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture), a local farm share group (full disclosure: our family is a member of the Flushing C.S.A. and my wife is a core member and Eco-Fest organizer) and being cohosted by the Flushing Chamber of Commerce.
The Eco-Fest is free and offers free workshops, eco-friendly kids’ crafts sponsored by Macaroni Kid, and a host of vendors with locally grown and organic goods. There will be well over a dozen vendors and groups there, each one is in some way working towards making things on the planet more sustainable.
There is guaranteed to be something to appeal to everyone. My personal favorites are some of the local food businesses such as Spice Tree Organics and Astor Apiaries. You will be doing something good for the environment when you attend, even if you just stick around to learn something about watersheds or how to compost or get a few cycling or energy-saving tips. There will also be environmentally-friendly soaps, home décor, seedlings, and baked goods for sale. And a raffle. Nothing is too small to do to make a difference.
You will also meet an interesting group of people there. Events like this can give you a great cross-section of this part of Queens. The Flushing Quaker Meeting House is the oldest, continually-used house of worship in New York City, and Flushing has several important landmarks in the cause of religious freedom in the U.S. Inside the Meeting House, you will be surrounded by history older than the United States. And whatever you think of the current trajectory of the U.S. or its politics, there is no disputing that this is an interesting time to be alive.
And it is a perfect time to increase your civic and conservationist involvement. Don’t let cultural stereotypes about environmentalists dissuade you from joining with those who want to keep our nation’s land strong. Everyone has a part to play.
Teddy Roosevelt promoted national greatness, and he understood that a nation that depleted its natural resources and did not invest time in strengthening its land and future could not sustain itself. In Flushing, people will gather and, consciously or not, help build on Roosevelt’s vision of a great America that treasures its natural resources and strives to be a unified community.
This past weekend, my wife and I took our three girls to the Cradle of Aviation Museum not far outside the New York City border in Nassau County, Long Island, New York. The museum is located on the spot where Charles Lindbergh took off on his historic first trans-Atlantic flight in 1927.
The museum is a nice one and wasn’t too crowded even though it was a Saturday. There is a play room for children that our older girls enjoyed as well as plenty of airplane and helicopter cockpits they enjoyed climbing into and pretending to fly.
As we were busy wrangling our children and enjoying the exhibits, I saw people I recognized. I saw my friend Poppy and his son Mike there at the museum. It was a great coincidence.
I worked with Poppy years ago when I first moved back to New York City and worked as an immigration inspector at JFK Airport. Even though I was only on the job for about two years and left it more than sixteen years ago, it remains the most interesting paying job I’ve ever held.
The immigration service attracted an interesting mix of people, and most of my fellow immigration inspectors were excellent people. Some of them, particularly some of the supervisors, liked to put on airs even though they did little but order people around and make things easy for the airlines. Some people like to inflate themselves or wear needless tactical gear and pull power trips on passengers or other inspectors.
Poppy didn’t have to yell at people or strut around pretending to be tough. He’s a decorated veteran of both the U.S. Army and the New York Police Department. He saw combat in Vietnam and on the streets of New York as a housing cop during some of the most violent times of the city’s history. Rank-and-file inspectors like me respected the retired cops like Poppy because they had real and more impressive law enforcement experience and had no use for the petty politics of the federal bureaucracy. There was nothing that a paper-pushing supervisor could threaten him with that was going to scare him. He’s fought off Vietcong and hardened criminals. He’s seen humanity at its worst, repeatedly, and retained the ability to laugh at it.
His ability to laugh at bullshit that would otherwise drive a normal person insane is one of the qualities makes him so valued. After I left the airport to work in journalism, I worked with Poppy to write a book of funny stories about his time as a police officer. He gave me some recordings of conversations he had with fellow retired officers so I could write them up. I decided to listen to a few minutes one day before heading out, but these stories were so funny that I couldn’t stop listening and sat in my apartment listening to these stories and laughing out loud.
Among all the people I am in touch with from the airport, Poppy is the central figure in our network of friends. He is the one we will plan to meet for dinner months in advance, the one we’ll call when we make our one pilgrimage to a wrestling show for the year, the one we want to go to opening day at Yankee Stadium with. Some of the most memorable dinners I’ve had were with Poppy and other JFK friends at Two Toms Restaurant in Brooklyn.
Poppy has faced his share of troubles. He has faced health problems, his house burned down, and the useless airport bureaucrats held up his retirement paperwork. But despite that he has lost none of his humor or his ability to make you feel like you are one of his crew. My discussion with him and at the museum lasted only a few minutes, but it brightened my entire weekend.
We live in troubling times and we’ve seen New York and America enter difficult times that strain our concept of survival. But I take comfort that our country produces men like my friend Poppy, who is strong enough to face any danger and help you laugh at the absurdities of life.
There is much to decide in what direction our country heads this election season, and choices in this general election are so discouraging that I’m not sure I’ll find a suitable third party to vote for (besides Sid Yiddish).
But coinciding with the degradation of our politics is a crumbling of general competence across the country. This was driven home recently by a few incidents where people and systems just didn’t work and no one really cared.
One was the recent birth of my newest daughter. My wife had the baby at what is a very good hospital by all measures and standards. It is very highly rated and overall we’ve had excellent care there. Mother and baby are home and healthy, but not without extensive delays that could have been avoided altogether.
Our new baby was judged to have low blood sugar, but this was exacerbated by being tongue tied, which my wife thought was the case right away as one of our older girls was born tongue-tied as well. It was days before our daughter saw the right specialist to correct that despite my wife’s alerting people early and consistently.
The first night fell into a familiar pattern. The baby would show signs of being hungry and we would buzz the nurses’ station to ask them to test her blood sugar. “OK, I’ll tell your nurse,” the nurse over the intercom would say. Twenty minutes late the nurse would arrive. “How can I help you?” the nurse would say. We’d tell her about the blood sugar test. The other nurses didn’t tell her what this was for so she’d have to go get her blood testing kit. By the time she’d return with her testing machine and wash her hands, the baby would be too hysteric and miserable to latch onto a boob.
My wife was hooked up to an IV that gave her fluids. It was important for her to get fluids, but not life threatening. The IV bag was on a stand with a machine attached to it that would blare a loud and obnoxious alarm whenever it detected something irregular. If my wife moved her arm a certain way and pinched the IV tube, the alarm would go off. This alarm didn’t alert the nurses’ station or any doctors, it only annoyed us and in one case woke the baby up at four in the morning. We would alert the nurses to this, but it would take a while for them to react and by then the alarm would have gone off again despite our efforts to stop it.
The nurses were very friendly but that’s not adequate compensation for things not getting done. All the smiles in the world can’t replace professionalism.
While we were dealing with this, I would journey home from the hospital to try to take care of business on the home front, including getting UPS to pick up a package. We ordered something from Amazon that arrived missing parts (there was a big hole in the package when we got it). Well after UPS showing up at random times when no one was home, I left a note when I stepped out so we could be alerted and dash home to effect the pickup.
However, when I got home, the UPS driver had stuck the latest notice on top of my note, declaring proudly that he had seen these instructions and was blatantly ignoring them and screwing us over. There was chicken scratch writing on the note, which I interpreted as indicating a package had been left in “Apartment Y” (there is no such apartment in our building). I called UPS to let them know this wasn’t acceptable, and the representative who called me back told me that it was too bad and that this was the final attempt at a pick up (the note had not indicated that even though there is a box to check off if that’s the case). They had it in their system that they had made three attempts, and they refused to try again.
It was an act of taking pride in their own incompetence, of being purposely bad at their job because they don’t like it or because jobs make people expect things from them. I understand the sentiment completely, but I and many (most?) others have a concept of dignity that means we want to be good at our jobs because we take pride in ourselves and our own abilities, not because we like dealing with people. I do not like having to deal with other people; I’d rather sit alone and write things and make millions of dollars doing it. But no matter what job you have, even if you achieve your dream job, it means dealing with people and meeting other people’s expectations. There’s no way around it unless you want to be a hermit in the woods.
I know because I’ve been there. I’ve worked lots of jobs I hated and resented the masses of slack-jawed idiots who demanded and expected my service. But I learned that I didn’t have to bow and scrape to get by. People wanted me to kiss their ass, and needy and entitled people make any job dealing with the general public difficult.
But until you become a self-made billionaire, having to please other people never really ends. I work in an office and deal with professional people about high level things, and at least eight times a day I might as well be saying, “Would you like fries with that?” The company I work for has clients (client is a fancy way of saying “customer” FYI) and they pay us to write things for them and liaise with the media and they also pay us to listen to them bitch at us and for us to be there for them to throw under the bus when it’s professionally convenient.
No matter how high you rise in life, you’re going to have to answer to some asshole and be nice about it. You’ll feel better about yourself if you stay professional. People who want to make a dramatic show of being a customer and bossing you around are counting on an emotional reaction from you or gaining some kind of moral high ground; don’t give it to them.
You don’t have to stay at every job forever, but have the personal integrity and dignity to be good at your job and see to it to the best of your ability that things are done right. You will be glad you did, believe me.