RIP in NYC – Counting the ways

indexNew York City is a very safe place to live until it isn’t. And then it so very isn’t. There must be about 1,000 ways to end up taking a long dirt nap in the City that Never Sleeps.

It’s certainly possible to be almost beaten to death by a gang of bikers on West Side Highway in Manhattan or nearly crushed to death by an SUV during such an altercation, as reported recently. But you could also be randomly stabbed by a homeless man with scissors in a city park in the Upper West Side, eaten by a Siberian tiger in the Bronx, beheaded in a party bus near the George Washington Bridge, die on subway tracks for a religion not your own in Queens or be the victim of a random butt stabber, also in Queens.

Since we moved here a year ago from North Carolina, I’ve been trying to learn all I can about the art of survival in New York City. I believe every experience that isn’t fatal can be a learning experience.

Lesson 1. Never run with scissors in a park. (9/25/2013) In less than 10 minutes, a man slashed or stabbed five people, including a two-year-old boy in Riverside Park on the Upper West Side. Bystanders eventually tackled the man and held him there until police arrived. The man had Texas identification on him, but had been living in a homeless shelter in the Bronx. Victims suffered varying degrees of injury, though none were fatal.(http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/02/nyregion/four-people-stabbed-in-riverside-park.html?_r=0)

Lesson 2. Don’t pet wild animals while on a monorail ride. (September 14, 2012.)  A man riding the Wild Asia monorail at the Bronx Zoo jumped out of the open air car and dropped down 17 feet into the enclosure housing an 11-year-old 400-pound Siberian tiger. Though he was not killed, zoo officials say he easily could have been. Tigers typically grab an animal by the back of the neck, killing them quickly. Zoo officials were able to distract the tiger using fire extinguishers until he could be lured back into his den and secured there. The monorail leaper suffered various bite wounds to his arms, legs, shoulder and back and was listed in stable condition at a hospital later. The tiger was not put down as zoo officials said he “did nothing wrong.” Asked by a first responder why he jumped into the tiger’s den, the man responded, “Everybody in life makes choices.”(http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Bronx-Zoo-Tiger-Den-Man-Attacked-Loses-Foot-170748326.html)

Lesson 3. A Party bus can be a grim place if you’re not careful. (8/31/2012) A 16 year old Queens boy was on his way to a birthday party in New Jersey in a double decker party bus carrying 65 kids when he stuck his head out of an emergency hatch on the top of the bus. The bus passed under an overpass a moment after the teen stuck his head up near the George Washington Bridge. A security guard on the bus had warned the kids not to mess with the emergency hatch several times. The party-goer had been drinking heavily and had a blood alcohol level of .209 percent, a subsequent investigation showed. The boy was pronounced dead at the hospital.(http://abcnews.go.com/US/teens-death-party-bus-blamed-booze/story?id=20144369)

Lesson 4. No pushing on the subway. A woman pushed a man to his death on a Queens subway platform on December 29, 2012. She told police she did it because she hates Muslims and thought he was Muslim, according to court documents. He was Hindu.(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/14/erika-menendez-accused-ny-subway-pusher_n_2472887.html)

Lesson 5. Watch your butt. (September 9, 2012) Caught on video, a man standing in a line at a deli in the Forest Hills section of Queens was repeatedly stabbed in the butt by another man for no apparent reason. The man who was stabbed was later reported to be recovering. The random butt stabber –  still at large. (http://nypost.com/2012/09/11/watch-man-repeatedly-stabs-stranger-in-buttocks-attack-called-completely-random/)

RIP in NYC – Counting the ways

Guided by voices

imagesManhattan is for shamans. The city is unexpectedly populated with new age mystical sages. Flexible gurus who drop pearls of wisdom too deep to be understood in one sitting. Register their words now. Only later, perhaps after months of research and life experience, will these things make sense.

“You have a lot of fear in your shoulders,” my Tai Chi instructor tells me. “Yoga merely suggests, never demands,” explains my yoga teacher obliquely. “Climb your leg with your hands and then move it in slow circles as if it were covered in honey,” instructs my Pilates zen master. Why honey and not taffy, syrup or jello? He doesn’t explain. Perhaps that’s the next lesson. The city provides exercise classes for free, so I attend them through much of the summer. Soaking in all the mystic stretches, poses and instructions I can.

“Push through the wall,” suggests my yoga instructor as we are stretched against a very real wall. How? And also: What? Again, no explanation. “This is called picking up a penny from the bottom of the ocean,” my Tai Chi instructor says of one pose as we labor with our efforts exposed to all on a broad esplanade on the Hudson River. This is called Looking ridiculous in front of tourists, I think to myself as we bend down to pick up the imaginary penny.

Continue reading “Guided by voices”

Guided by voices

Shelter from the storm

indexThe creek will rise. One day when you think you are safe, high above it all. You have plotted and planned for safety. It comes to naught. The river will swell up and overflow the banks. It will run amok and wild in the streets, crashing and tearing and scraping along. Things you love will be carried away while winds rage and waters gurgle indifferently. All your plotting and planning will look like the foolish work of a simple child.

The creek that rose a year ago for us living in New York City was the Hudson River. It came bashing and crashing over the banks. It bruised its way across city streets looking for a fight. It sped into the open mouths of subways and flooded them through and through. It drowned cars and pushed rudely into homes. It bore people away in the night and caused their deaths in a hundred nefarious and less obvious ways. It weakened foundations and knocked over heavy objects so that a young couple out walking their dog in the storm was crushed by a telephone pole.

Continue reading “Shelter from the storm”

Shelter from the storm

Stupid things we do for love

imagesDrove all night from North Carolina to Georgia with a busted radiator with smoke steaming out of the car so that I rode inside a thick and toxic perpetual cloud. #5. Assisted in the purchase of an over sized gold minivan by signing a lot of papers when a perfectly good cobalt blue PT Cruiser was sitting there in the same car lot calling my name.  #4. Agreed to go to a pet store in Mid-Town to “just look” at a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel puppy and believed my wife when she said she would help walk him. #3. Attended a showing of the movie “Little Women” all by myself in a little theater in Murphy because my girlfriend was simultaneously watching the movie in Chapel Hill, and I wanted to feel close to her despite the distance #2. Went to a Yes concert in the early 80s without earplugs with a coed I thought was cute, resulting in questionable musical taste for three weeks and loss of hearing for three and a half hours #1. Barreled down the side of a huge mountain on skis in the Poconos just avoiding killing a small girl frozen like a deer in her pink ski suit and coming to a nice stop in the arms of a safety net with a thud only to be told later by my wife that this was the “bunny slope.” #1/2. Continue reading “Stupid things we do for love”

Stupid things we do for love

Expiration dates on fresh perspectives

imagesMilk sours. Eggs outlive their freshness. Bread turns stale. Meat goes grey and bad. What’s the expiration date for mountains, beaches, rivers and skyscrapers? When do beautiful landscapes start feeling empty? Hard to say. What does it look like when your landscape turns as grey as ash? Like a total eclipse of the heart.

“Our K-Mart is gorgeous,” I announce one day to my wife in a parking lot. “What?” She doesn’t see it. She’s looking where I’m looking and not seeing what I’m seeing at all. “No, really look at our-K-Mart for a second in its entirety.” My wife looks at it. “It looks like a K-Mart to me. Like every K-Mart in the world. Why is it gorgeous?” she asks. “Just look for a second at the view we have,” I say. Continue reading “Expiration dates on fresh perspectives”

Expiration dates on fresh perspectives

Carrying heavy things

imagesI broke my father. It is a horrible thing to see your father broken. It is worse to be the cause of it. I broke him under the weight of my stuff. All the stupidly inconsequential stuff we had crammed into our apartment back when we lived in Zelienople, Pennsylvania under perpetual gun metal grey skies that were always cloudy with a chance of heavy snow. My father was pretty much invincible until I broke him that day.

We had played backyard basketball and football together. Wrestled relentlessly on the floor of the den. He had a racquetball serve that made younger men weep. The ball bounced off every corner and died just after tapping the front wall. You would race around the court with the certainty of youth, bringing the pain during your service game. But when he served, you looked foolish no matter how fast you were.

Continue reading “Carrying heavy things”

Carrying heavy things

You could be a carpenter if you tried

indexI did odd jobs once upon a time. That’s not exactly true. I worked for a guy who did odd jobs, and I made those jobs way odder than they needed to be by driving in nails at impossible angles and dropping things that shouldn’t be dropped. This was back in Florence, Alabama more than a decade ago. A friend had handyman skills and needed a helper. I had two hands and a lot of time on my hands. Fate seemed to have brought us together. But neither of us knew how exactly unhelpful I would turn out to be.

It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. I have a pioneer’s optimism in that regard. I would have been on a covered wagon heading west with a little gleam of gold in my eye. Back in the real world, I had left journalism behind a few years before and had just gotten my autistic son into kindergarten. The pretty wonderful Bill Redding said, “Why not come work with me? Are you handy?” The order of the two questions might have been better reversed. “Well. I have hands,” I replied. “So, in that sense, yes I am handy.” I have always been an incurable smart ass, but I try to be polite about it and honest at the same time. Bill’s daughter Lilli attended kindergarten with my son. His smart and funny and pretty wonderful wife LuEllen and I would talk from time to time as we helped kindergarteners take reading tests. Their daughter Lilli was Avery’s first and best friend in the world. Lilli had a generous nature, a lot of patience and a big heart, qualities my autistic son Avery desperately needed in a friend.

Bill and I got along famously while working. I just wasn’t any good at the work itself. This hampered our working relationship a bit. If he needed a hammer, I handed him the hammer as well as anyone could have. If we both needed to be hammering, there was a qualitative difference in our job skills. His nails went in straight and true. Solid pieces of work. Mine frequently had to be dug out and driven in again. One day, I got home from work. My wife said, “How did it go?” I nodded. “Great,” I said. “I drove a nail in straight today for the first time.” Robyn blinked. “Haven’t you been working with Bill for two weeks now?” she asked. “Umm hmm,” I replied. And went to another part of the house where something else desperately needed doing right that minute.

images

We were demolishing one thing and building up something else one day when I suddenly had a burning question. “What kind of bee is that that just stung me?” I asked Bill. “That was a carpenter bee,” he said. “Does that make me a carpenter?” I asked giddily. “No,” he said slowly. “It does not.”

Continue reading “You could be a carpenter if you tried”

You could be a carpenter if you tried