Thursday, March 31, 2011

Luxury in small doses

I consider anything that is not a necessity to be a luxury.  As I do not lead a life of leisure, this means I can do without an awful lot of things, including those which others may consider necessary:  car, regular hot water, bathtub, closets, drawers, light switches, rubber boots, microwave....for several years, I lived without a knife or a hair brush.

This isn't to say that I don't have many possessions, but my miniscule living quarters demand that I do not accumulate too many things, and I like it that way.  And, I've certainly spent enough money over the years replacing things that, suddenly broken or gone, become necessary.  When my fat ass broke the couch, I had to buy a new one; when a flood took out the ceiling light, I had to buy a new one; when the vacuum stopped sucking, I had to buy a new one; when my only baking dish exploded in the oven, I had to buy a new one; when the super broke the toilet seat while repairing the get the idea.

So, I can't remember the last time I bought something that was not meant to replace something else. Imagine my excitement to bring home something that I did not necessarily need, but bought just because I wanted it...


Yes, that is a doormat.

Now, I'm not completely crazy - there is a bit of history here.  When I moved into the apartment, there wasn't a doormat, so there was never one that needed replacing.  For several years, there was a lunatic tenant in the building who terrorized the neighbors by either destroying their doormats, or moving them around and leaving creepy notes under them.  Eventually, she succeeded in eliminating all the evil doormats. 

A year or two ago, the lunatic moved on to greener pastures and there was quite a bit of turnover in the building.  The new tenants brought their friendliness and doormats with them and I began to feel like the odd one out - the old ogre of the building without a welcoming greeting at my door. 

When I placed my new purchase out in the hall, I was hesitant to shut the door.  I don't think I've ever left any possession outside, unattended and vulnerable.  Throughout the evening, I kept cracking open the door to look at it...  

Still there?   



Now I can relax, kick my feet up on the new couch, look up at the new ceiling light as meatballs heat up in the new baking pan and feel I'm living in the lap of luxury.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Centennial of a Nightmare

March 25th marks the 100th anniversary of the horrific fire that claimed the lives of 129 women and 17 men at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on Washington Place.

Much has been written about fire, and you can read the history and details here.

Something also worth reading is this eye-witness account of the horror, recorded by United Press reporter, William Shepherd.

Some excerpts:
One girl climbed onto the window sash. Those behind her tried to hold her back. Then she dropped into space. I didn't notice whether those above watched her drop because I had turned away. Then came that first thud. I looked up, another girl was climbing onto the window sill; others were crowding behind her. She dropped. I watched her fall, and again the dreadful sound. Two windows away two girls were climbing onto the sill; they were fighting each other and crowding for air. Behind them I saw many screaming heads. They fell almost together, but I heard two distinct thuds. Then the flames burst out through the windows on the floor below them, and curled up into their faces.
[ . . . ]
Up in the [ninth] floor girls were burning to death before our very eyes. They were jammed in the windows. No one was lucky enough to be able to jump, it seemed. But, one by one, the jams broke. Down came the bodies in a shower, burning, smoking-flaming bodies, with disheveled hair trailing upward. They had fought each other to die by jumping instead of by fire.

Painful interviews with several survivors can be found here.  It's sickening to know workers had complained about fire safety in the factory - even on the morning of the fire - and management chose not to listen.  In some instances, even ridiculing the women, saying, "If you'll burn, there'll be something to put out the fire."

Many events will be happening on Friday to commemorate the fire, details of which can be found at WNYC.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Sometimes, little things get to me.

Once such instance happened the other day as I walked home from work and came upon a dumpster in the street. What drew my attention was a sad-looking elderly man standing next to it while a little girl excitedly pulled a game of Operation out of the pile, saying, "Look, it's a real Operation game, Grandpa!" He nodded at her, but seemed uninterested in her discovery. As I approached, I saw the dumpster was full of records, books, games, toys and some other interesting items. This stuff looked pretty good - too good to be in the trash.

Then I saw this envelope...

It looked important, so I pulled it off the pile.


It was a social security check.

That's when the elderly man turned to me and, with a vacant look on his face, said, "He was such a nice man."

Twilight of Honor

He went on to tell me the owner of the contents had lived in the building behind us for many decades and had passed away. The new landlord had bagged up the entire contents of the apartment that morning and threw it all down the stairs. No one had come to clean out the apartment, sell anything, give things to charity or even salvage anything of value.

Nothing is sacred

By this time, people were gathering around the dumpster and pulling things out. There were some very nice books a young man was collecting in a stack. The little girl pulled out a Battleship game. The old man said there were many bags at the bottom of the dumpster and seemed to be waiting for people to dig down far enough to reach them.

I pushed aside a 1977 Saturday Evening Post featuring Jane Pauley and pulled out a black book with 'Archdiocese of New York' stamped in gold on the cover. Inside was a diploma. This was not right. I showed it to the man and he sucked in his breath. "That's him!" he said. "He was so nice...I can't believe they did this." He said he knew the family lived in Staten Island, so I gave him the diploma and said if he couldn't pass it on to them, I would.

In the photo below, the paper under the horse is a letter regarding a last will and testament, which appeared to be that of the deceased man's father. This was getting to be too upsetting, so I walked away.

Put to pasture

The following day, I hoped to find the dumpster empty, its contents taken away by people who would enjoy the games, books, records and toys. There wasn't much left, but my heart sank when I saw this:

What's left of the man...

The man's cane.

*I did take one thing away...

Any guesses?

See more dumpster photos here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

You'll have to use your imagination

I saw the most beautiful thing this morning.

First of all, it was cold - about 20 degrees - and I was pissed because winter has been dragging on for what seems like years now and I've had enough. The buttons are falling off my coat, but it's already March, so I keep thinking I won't have to wear the coat much longer, but then the temperature shoots back down to zero and the wind bites me through the open button holes. So, walking to work this morning, I was feeling pretty grumpy and bitter.

Adding insult to injury, the sun shone as brightly as, well, the SUN. Blazing away, blinding me at every turn, but providing absolutely no warmth. You might say it was being a tease and that just irritated me more. So, I kept to the shady side of the street so as not to burn my corneas and muttered to myself as the wind was only that much colder in the shade than on the - heh - sunnier side of the street.

I kept up this grouchy attitude all the way down Thompson Street when, in an instant, that negative cloud completely evaporated.

That's when I saw him: a street cleaner, bundled up in gray coveralls, gloves, scarf and a red sweatshirt with the pulled hood up over his head. One hand gripped his trash can on wheels and the other a broom handle. His face was turned up and towards a beam of sunlight that cut through the gap between two tenements on an otherwise dark street. He appeared to have stopped abruptly, maybe walking along until that beam of light hit him on the face and BAM, his feet anchored right to the sidewalk.

The thing that stopped me in my tracks was the expression on his face. Eyes closed, mouth blissfully smiling, he was the picture of happiness and contentment. In an instant, I was envious, then glad, then feeling it myself. I crept closer and he didn't move. Nothing was going to tear him from that enchanted embrace. As I walked past, I smiled up at him and he continued to grin at the sun. I continued smiling all the way down the block and when I turned back, a shadow had fallen over the sidewalk and he was gone.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Much ado about nothing

There are times when the city goes quiet for no apparent reason. Last night was one of those times and it never fails to scare the hell out of me.

It was a regular Tuesday evening around rush-hour. The sky was that shade of sapphire blue that only lasts a few minutes between sunset and sundown. The air was not too cold, but just chilly enough for a jacket: perfect walking weather. Ahh, what a lovely evening. But why is it so quiet?!

The road not taken

Where is everyone? Where are all the cars?? The entrance to the Holland Tunnel, normally clogged with honking cars and buses, is empty. The lone traffic cop stands in the middle of the intersection with his hands flapping at his sides. Does he know something I don't?

Parking lot

I head along my usual route and nothing seems to be out of order - the shops are open and a few people wander the streets, but there is an unignorable absence of sound that increases my panic with every block. I get to Houston Street - normally 5 lanes of revving engines - and it's so dead, tumbleweeds could actually take root in the middle of the road. WTF?!

I look around me and the few people out walking are oblivious to my frantic state. If something was happening, they would be panicked, too, right? There's a guy on his phone and he's talking about nothing. If there were something amiss, he would most certainly be screaming into his phone. Right?


Forsyth & Henry

I reach Broadway and almost laugh because there is - you guessed it - absolutely no traffic. None. Did Bloomberg pedestrianize all of downtown and not send me the memo? Ok, ok, I'm just driving myself crazy now. Crazy because I'm not hearing/seeing traffic. Anyone in their right mind would be celebrating this moment, not having a fit over it.

With a few deep breaths, I relax and start to enjoy this mile-long walk on a beautiful pre-spring evening. The air smells fresh, I pick up my step and, then, suddenly, from every direction, comes the blaring mwah mwah mwah of fire engines. Many fire engines.

Oh. My. God. Fire engines! As if I'd never heard fire engines before, my heart skips a beat. One engine flies north, another west, followed by another FDNY vehicle with flashing red lights and they pass right by the fire house on Great Jones Street, sirens wailing so loud, I can't hear my own footsteps. More fire engines race down 4th Street and up Bowery. Are they headed to my house? Omigod, they must be going TO MY HOUSE!

Engine 55

[Side note: I must blame this irrational thought on the firemen who came to my elementary school and scared the crap out of me with their film about the little girl who walked home from school one afternoon to find her house on fire and her parents burning to death right in front of her because she left a pot-holder on the stove. I think there are several variations of this fear-inducing tale, but those firefighters succeeded in teaching me to, 1. never use pot-holders, and 2. always assume it's MY house that's burning.]

Totally panicked now, I practically run the last two blocks to my street and round the corner only to find...


Green doorway

Because out of nothing, only something can grow...