NO PHOTOS PLEASE

NO-IMAGE

I always wondered where the people sitting behind the tables at the polling stations on Election Day came from. Yesterday I found out for the first time.
I saw an ad on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, Translators wanted for Election Day. Since I haven’t had real steady work lately and because I can speak Spanish fluently I went to the website called Election Day worker. I filled out all the info and got an email a day or tow later saying I had been approved as poll worker. Nothing about translating, but you get the same amount of money for either job.
I figured there would be some kind of training, so I scheduled a training session for myself. Four hours of it two Tuesdays ago.
The training was interesting; twenty-five or so average New Yorkers of mostly middle age and of all races gathered in a classroom of a converted Public School on 127th Street in Harlem. I found out that both Sylvia’s and The Red Rooster are on the same block on Lenox Avenue on the way there. I looked at the menus posted outside and determined that they are both a little pricey. I can smell a tourist trap anywhere.

voted

Three women, one Chinese American and two African American, led the training. They were very thorough with the training, which can be a little complex. The sanctity of the secret ballot is taken very seriously and there are many steps taken to insure the accuracy and honesty of the vote.
The best part was the call and response chanting of:
“What time do the polls open?”
“Six A.M.”
“”What time do you have to be there?”
“Five A.M.”
“What time do the polls close?”
“Nine P.M.”
“What time do you leave?”
“When the site coordinator says we can.”
“That’s right, you won’t get paid until you sign out, and you can’t sign out until the coordinator says you can.” We repeated the chant a few times that afternoon.
At five A.M. yesterday I strode into PS 153 on Amsterdam Avenue after a brisk five block walk from my apartment on 152nd Street. The school lunchroom, which was the poll location, was already a scene of controlled chaos as complete strangers pitched in to set up tables, chairs, scanners, and privacy booths. There were posts to put up and signs to hang. Each table was an Election district. I had no idea what to do, so I wandered around with my report to work order, hoping someone would give me some direction.

tag

I determined who was the man in charge, and approached him at a moment he took a break from barking orders.
I noticed he was collecting the report to work envelopes and handed him mine as I asked where I was supposed to go. He handed it back and said:
“OK everybody, I’m gonna say it again, Take your report to work envelope, and cut out the part that has your name and job printed on it. Write your poll worker number on the back. Put that in the name tag holder you’ll find in your district box.” Then he glanced at the back of my assignment card and said, “ED 31, AD 71 table. Inspector.”

D

If I had bothered to read the inside of the card I would have known that my job was to be a table inspector at the table for Election District 31, Assembly District 71.
I found the table, which had been set up with no help from me and there was a thin African-American woman in glasses rooting around in the election box. The election box is a big steel locked box that contains all of the blank ballots, the ballot sleeves, pens, ID card holders, and most importantly, the voter lists of that district. Each district has its own box, and it’s own two inspectors.
I approached the table and introduced myself. I’ll call her Kim for the sake of anonymity. She looked a little older than me, and joked that she was letting her age show by mentioning Petticoat Junction. I used to watch that show too.
Kim was heaven sent to a first time election worker like me. She’d done three elections before and knew the whole process top to bottom.
At six the polls opened and people started drifting in. Kim showed me how to find a person’s name, how to direct them to the right table if we didn’t have them in our book and how to keep track of our ballots. If a voter or one of us screws up the ballot it must be voided and put in a special envelope.
There were a lot of rules to follow but thanks to Kim we got through it pretty smoothly.
The unusual thing about yesterday’s election was that one of the candidates for mayor, Sal Albanese was running as both a democrat AND a Reform Party candidate. What was more unusual was that his name was the only name on the Reform Party ballot. This led to endless confusion. We only had one reform party voter and that’s how we found out. She went to the privacy booth and came back to us.
“There’s something wrong with this ballot,” she declared, “there’s only one name on it.” We looked, and sure enough only Sal Albanese was the only name on it. I wondered how someone could be both a Democrat and a Reform Party guy.
“Well, you’re registered as a Reform party voter, and that’s your ballot. You want to vote Democrat instead?” We had been informed they could vote Democrat even if they were registered as Reform Party. But no Republicans could vote.
There was a pregnant woman who was very angry about the world who was in charge of the time sheet, and she walked over to our table at some point and asked when I wanted to take my morning break and evening break. I opted for 9AM and 3PM, respectively, after offering Kim first choice. Kim took 10 and 4.
“And I want everybody back by 5 after the evening break!” She shouted angrily to the room at large.
“Who the fuck does she think she is?” Muttered Kim.
The day went quickly and slowly by turns, and Kim and I settled into a routine. I would look up the voters and she would hand them the ballots with instructions.
“There’s three people to vote for, Mayor, Public advocate, and City Council member,” she’d say as she stabbed at the ballot with two extended fingers bracketing each office. “Only one vote for each, you have three votes to cast.”
Most of the Latinos only wanted to vote for Mayor.
“Who are these other people?” They would ask.
“Well, you don’t have to cast a vote for city council or public advocate if you don’t want to,” I’d explain to them.
Sometime late in the day a woman at the booth closest to me called for help.
“Can somebody please help me?” I walked over, careful not to look behind the privacy booth.

booths

“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“There’s something wrong with this ballot. There’s only one name on it.”
“Does it say Reform Party on it?”
“Yes.”
“Well, you’re registered as a Reform Party voter, which is why they gave you that ballot.”
“What the fuck is the Reform Party?” She asked. I decided not to get into it with her, how she had no idea she’d registered in the Reform Party without knowing what it was, and I just said,
“Ma’am, just go back to the table you got your ballot at and tell them you want to vote Democratic Party. That one had more options.” I saw her return a few minutes later with a new ballot.
There was some name confusion, and one woman who had to use an Affidavit ballot (our only one) because she’d been out of the country for a while and had been taken off the rolls.

It turned out to be a 17 and a half hour day, but at the end our numbers added up and nobody got into a shouting match with the pregnant woman who had some kind of shit fit soon after the last voter left.
I was exhausted by the time Mr. Green, the coordinator said goodnight to me and I walked out into the cool air of Amsterdam Avenue.

 

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DUELING GARDENS

ConventDUELING GARDENS

As some of you have read before Danusia and I are members of the community garden up the block, the Garden of Hope. There is also the Convent Avenue Garden just up the block at the foot of St. Nicholas Avenue. And of course the garden of cars in the middle of the two.

cars

The garden of cars.

Our garden is huge, almost the length of the block between Amsterdam and St. Nicholas. Convent Avenue garden is about a quarter the size of ours, occupying the corner formed by the intersection of St. Nicholas, 151st Street, and the foot of Convent Avenue. It’s a beautiful garden, a wrought iron fenced triangle with years old wisteria vines covering most of the fence. It’s lush and green with spots of bright reds, yellows, violets, and whites from the multitude of flowers within, and the rosebushes that grow along the borders of most of the garden.
There is one entrance at the corner of 151st and St. Nicholas Avenue. Just inside of the entrance, at the foot of an entry path bordered by the aforementioned rosebushes sit three chairs side by side.

three chairs

When we first moved into the neighborhood Danusia walked into the garden one day, after all the gate was open and approached the three elderly women who occupied the three chairs, and told them what a beautiful garden they had. Danusia’s like that, very open and generous. She told me she was met with suspicious stares. They were clearly not welcoming.
So now every time I pass the garden and see the three women sitting there I think of Charon’s dog Cerberus sitting there guarding the garden from outsiders.
Our garden, on the other hand has a big welcome sign on the front gate. Juan, the garden president usually opens the garden at 10AM and then comes back to close it at 6PM. Last Saturday Juan was out of town and I volunteered to do the closing duties.

hope 2

Hope garden is so big it has two gates, the main one on 152nd near the Northeast corner of Amsterdam Avenue and another gate on 153rd Street near the Northwest corner of St. Nicholas. It’s also so big it’s a lot harder to care for, and we have a lot of patches of “just plain dirt,” as Juan calls it. We are looking for a donation of pavers to at least cover the pathways. And sod for most of the other open bare areas.
We’ve got two peach trees, a whole bunch of mulberry trees, oaks, evergreens, and tons of wild weed bushes everywhere. Very lush in the center of the garden, and very shady. We have a half- finished gazebo. We have a stage that needs work. We have 18 3×5 plots where most of us grow food. Danusia and I have a tomato plant, three lettuces, a habanero plant, some mint and oregano. Danusia planted some flowers but they died.

plot

Most of the other gardeners opted for just produce, and there are plenty of collard greens, tomatoes and eggplants to go around.
We had some strawberry bushes and the strawberries were delicious but nobody harvested them and most ended up on the ground or eaten by squirrels. They love strawberries. And peaches. I keep finding unripe peaches on the ground with a few bites taken out of them. One of the peach trees is dead and the other had leaf curl which was being bravely battled against by my friend John, the one with the heart problem.
John’s in the hospital, having undergone some major open-heart surgery last week. But before he went in he showed me the spray we’re supposed to be using on the leaf curl. I haven’t had the chance to spray the tree since then, though.
I was happy when I met John, a new friend. He’s an artist and a teacher, and we spoke the same language. I have a hard enough time meeting people, especially men that I like and respect and want to be actual friends with as it is, so meeting him and befriending him was really welcome.
But when I visited him in the hospital the other day I learned that not only does he have a heart problem but metastasized cancer. Finding that out was pretty unpleasant, a real letdown.
But if I could find a friend in John it means I am capable of making other friends, I just have to let my guard down some, leash up the Cerberus inside of me.

Our garden isn’t a pretty as the Convent Avenue garden, but defiantly more nurturing and nutritious.
Usually when I go to meet john in the garden I’ll find him sitting on one of the benches under the big mulberry tree near the entrance, eyes closed and arms extended in a meditation pose, fingers curled in a gian mudra.
I’m gonna have to try it one day, judging by the way he let it drop about the metastasized cancer like it was only one more thing think about.

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THE DINING CAR

the dining car

I went to the gym this morning and opted for NY 1 on the TV while I did my quasi-elliptical (no arms on this one) machine for 40 minutes. I usually watch CNN and last week ESPN because they were showing the Wimbledon games but Wimbledon’s over and I’m sick of hearing in-depth discussion of what new nonsense our commander-in-chief has to spew. So it was NY 1 today.
Pat Kiernan was doing his “in the papers” segment, and every time I see that it makes me think of when I was a kid there was a newspaper strike where somebody, I forget if it was Sonny Fox or Chuck McCann read the Sunday comics on the air. Now that was a real public service- I really needed to know what Lil’ Abner was up to despite union politics.
But there’s no strike and the only advantage to listening to Pat Kiernan’s in the papers is that I don’t have to buy a half dozen papers and slog through a bunch of articles (and advertisements) I have no interest in to get the pertinent news of the day.

 

dnr
The one thing that caught my eye (or ear, rather) today was MTA chairman’s declaration that food on the subway is one of the causes of track fires like the one that paralyzed the A, C, B, and D trains Monday morning. Not the actual food itself, mind you- but the food packaging that ends up on the tracks. And on the floors of subway cars, on the seats, and yes, sometimes even on you with a good subway swing or jolt.
Watch out for hot coffee!
This has always been a pet peeve of mine, I once saw a guy eating an oxtail stew (with lots of yellow rice) and watched as he spit each little bit of oxtail bone on to the floor after sucking it dry. Not a qualm in the world about what anyone else thought about it.
There are plenty of slobs on the subway, and I’ve seen people finish their meal and casually toss the plastic bag, Styrofoam plate, and whatever else (napkins, plastic utensils) under their seat after they are done. Sure, some people take their garbage with them, but what about the smell? I think the smell is even grosser than watching the people eat. As one guy on NY 1 put it today (Yes, they did a companion piece) “Goat curry! It smells like armpits…”

stew

Not goat curry, but I made it myself and it was dammed delicious!

Well, goat curry may smell like goat curry and be the most delicious thing in the world (quite good, I’ve had it) but in the confines of a crowded subway car it does resemble an intense armpit smell, as would just about any fast food take-out hot mess would smell mixed with the odor of various colognes, perfumes, musk oils, and yes, actual armpit smells. And whatever other miasma might be floating around. I don’t know how people do it, I can’t.
Of course some of the people doing shit like that are just waiting for someone to say something- they are ready for it, they are looking for trouble. You never know when the son of Bernie Goetz might be enjoying that goat curry next to you.

Bernhard Bernie Goetz in court at 111 Center for resentencin
So I keep my mouth shut. I move away if I can.
But it’s hard to move on really crowded trains. Haven’t each of us had the experience of some guy getting on and raising his arm for the handrail and you are treated a whiff of week-old BO? Danusia and me had to endure a whole flight from Arizona to New York with an overweight man with week old BO sitting next to us once.
Well, the MTA can’t force people to shower, but they can sure give people tickets for eating and drinking on the subway. I’m all for that. A round of applause for Chairman Joe Lhota!
When he ran the subways in 2011 service improved visibly, and I hope it improves again.
The subway is the subway, and it’s there for us to be able to get from one place to the next. I know some people’s lives are so incredibly full that the only time they get a chance to eat is when they are on their way from one important event to the other, but we do adapt. I think if it cost you $200 a table to eat on the subway people would certainly find a cheaper table somewhere else. Make that $500! I don’t care. I got a ticket once for moving from one car to the other. If they can find cops to ticket you for that, I’m sure they can hand out tickets for eating (and drinking!) on the subway.
There is absolutely no reason to wait till you get off the subway to enjoy your meal. It’s not like you’re stuck on the train for three or four hours. Well, sometimes, judging from a few recent subway debacles. But we can all make it through without a full meal. Or a big gulp, Venti, or 40 of your favorite malt liquor.
I once saw this guy on a crowded M train over the Williamsburg bridge throw up into the armhole of his jacket. The puke made its way down his sleeve and out into the lap of the woman seated next to him, then of course it ended up on the floor. I think that’s the grossest thing I’ve ever seen on a subway ride, but the smell of a BBQ rib dinner can be a close second.

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MY LIFE IN THE MOVIES

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 1.36.06 PM

 

Film Forum is running a series called “Ford to City-Drop Dead. N.Y. in the ‘70s.” It’s 44 films so I won’t name them, I’ll just say I’ve seen most of them, and most of them on the big screen when they were released.
One I didn’t see on the big screen, or ever in its entirety is Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese’s Little Italy classic starring Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel. I was psyched to see it for the first time on the big screen.
In 1983 I was working in a shoe store on 6th Avenue and 11th street and living on East Houston Street in the East Village. One morning I was walking to work up 6th Ave near the Jefferson Market library when I saw two fairly zonked-out men trying to hail a taxicab. As I got closer I recognized them, it was Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel. I stared as I approached, and just as I got within touching distance a cab pulled up to them. Keitel opened the door and slid in, and as DeNiro started to duck into the car he saw me staring and gave me one of those “whadda you lookin’ at” looks as he slammed the door behind him. I didn’t merit the waste of words. But it’s a look I’ll never forget.
My wife Danusia’s away for a couple of weeks, she’s in a play premiering at Bard, and I’ve been looking for ways to fill the time that don’t include sitting in front of the TV eating. So going to the movies was a great idea.
There were two showings scheduled yesterday, 2:45 and 7:45. I didn’t want to get home really late, so 2:45 was my choice. I made it to the theater just in time, bought my ticket and went to pee before entering the theater. I asked the ticket agent which theater was showing Mean Streets and he pointed- “the first door.”
But there were two doors. Did he mean the first door on the right? Or the left? I chose the first one. The left.
Twenty minutes later the lights dimmed and THE FRENCH CONNECTION flashed on the screen in big white letters. I jolted upright in my seat, and almost jumped up to run next door, to the door on the right. But I thought for a second, that movie had already started, and I’d have to look for a seat in the dark. So I sat back and watched The French Connection for probably the 5th or 6th time. But it has been a while.
In the opening sequence Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider chase a drug suspect up Broadway in Bed-Sty and into an empty lot where they do the whole “pick your feet in Poughkeepsie” routine. When I saw it the first time I recognized both Broadway and the approximate location of the empty lot, only because I recognized Queen of All Saints church and school in the background. My high school sweetheart went to Queen Of All Saints and I would pick her up after school so I was very familiar with the buildings. The church and school buildings are still there, I know because I lived around the corner on Broadway for 8 years not too long ago. Then I realized the empty lot is now occupied by Woodhull Hospital.

queen of all saints

As the movie progressed I recognized Little Italy when they start tailing the drug dealer Sal Boca (Tony Lo Bianco). Then over the Brooklyn Bridge and eventually Bushwick.
The first time I saw the movie I recognized the scenes by the Brooklyn Bridge and Brooklyn Heights, as a kid I’d lived in Boerum Hill briefly. I always thought Sal and Angie’s Luncheonette was near Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn, but as I watched yesterday I realized it was in Bushwick. I caught a glimpse of Suydam Street and I was now sure, since I spent a lot of time in the ‘90s in Bushwick looking for what Sal Boca was trying to sell in the movie.
Today with geometric logic and a little help from Google maps I found the exact location of Sal and Angie’s, Wyckoff Avenue between Suydam and Hart Streets.
A couple of years back Danusia and I had lunch on Wyckoff Avenue at a new hipster burger place (Fritzi’s) that belonged to a friend’s son. Sal and Angie’s is now Mesa Azteca.

sal & angies

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Another insight I had into the movie now that I hadn’t had in 1971 is knowing the actual story, and that made some of the scenes and dialogue laughable. I still like the part where the chemist called Harold calls the stuff “Junk of the month club, grade ‘A’ poison,” when testing the purity. The rest is a lot of crap, including thinking that someone would leave a car loaded with half a million dollars worth of dope parked near Peck Slip without a minder for even a second.
Then there was the improbable assassination attempt on Popeye Doyle in the middle of some Brooklyn projects (Would a white cop actually live in projects? Did Eddie Egan?) And the subsequence car-subway train chase scene. The chase scene is cool though. I didn’t know it, but the train crew on the train were the actual crew, the MTA wouldn’t let an actor drive the train and the actor that was to portray the conductor called in sick and the actual conductor got a speaking (and dying) part. Kudos, my friend.
The only weird part is that the motorman faints when the killer shoots the conductor and the train keeps going! Anyone that’s ever seen The Taking of Pelham 123 know about the dead man’s switch!
But the biggest bone I have to pick with the movie was the depiction of the federal agent in the movie, Mulderig, who gets killed accidentally by Popeye Doyle in the movie.
He’s portrayed as an incompetent guy who thinks Popeye doesn’t even have a case and constantly needles him.
I knew the guy who was the actual Federal Bureau of Narcotics agent who worked with Eddie Egan, and he told me it didn’t go down the way he was portrayed. He was the one who played hide and seek on the crosstown shuttle with the Frenchman played by Fernando Rey. (Who was Spanish, by the way, and didn’t speak the best French) The guy’s name was Frank Waters, and when I met him he was a licensed therapist that ran a therapy group. There was a lot of mutual respect between him and Egan, and the animosity in the script is stuff Friedkin insisted on.
I liked Frank, he was quite a character who was among other things a bartender and then a bouncer at Elaine’s for many years after leaving policing behind.
In they end of course they run that disclaimer about this being a work of fiction and any similarities between real people are merely coincidental, but knowing the truth sort of spoiled the movie for me.
It did capture New York in the ‘70s, though; I’ll give the movie that. But the events depicted in the movie happened in 1961-62. Well, Friedkin didn’t have much of a budget, from what I read.
And one last thing, the Popeye nickname. Some people remember Sonny Grosso saying it was because Egan flexed his muscles like Popeye, but the FBN guys said it was because he spent so much time using binoculars on stakeouts his eyes bugged out permanently. Egan had a bit part in the movie, the supervisor Simonson. Not much of an actor, but check out his eyes.

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LONG LINES, DOLPHINS AND A ROGUE WAVE

sea sky

It’s beach season again and we’ve been to Rockaway twice in a week.
The plan Sunday was to catch the 9:30 NYC ferry from Pier 11 at the foot of Wall Street. We were supposed to leave at 8 but it was closer to 8:30 by the time we were walking to the subway. The Google map told us it would take 57 minutes on the A train. We missed the A (by seconds) but got on the next C train. Miraculously we got to Fulton Street at 9:02 AM. We hopped a cab and alighted at Pier 11 five minutes later. There was already a huge line.

long lines

These people were all behind us.

The first time we took the new Hornblower NYC ferry was last Tuesday, and we took it pretty late in the day, around 4. Still a big line but we got on the first ferry that came. We weren’t so lucky Sunday.
We were to meet friends, and they arrived a few minutes after us. We waved our friends Jennifer and L.J. to join us on the line, something people behind you in line grumble about but nobody out and out bitches you out. It’s a New York thing, save me a place in line. We had to hold our tongues when people in front of us started letting their friends in.
The catamaran ferry whooshed into slip 2 at 9:32, late. Remarkably it was almost full of people coming in from the Rockaways. A woman in front of me looked at me and said, “don’t they know they’re going the wrong way?” “Maybe they want to go to Central Park,” I replied.
Boarding started and the line inched closer to the boat. We almost made it to the shaded platform before the line was cut off. We were going to have to wait another hour.
“I know a secret,” a very young woman ahead of us breathlessly announced to her group of friends.
“On the weekends they add extra ferries, so there’s another one coming at 10! They just don’t publicize it…”
Well, 10 AM came and went with no additional ferry appearing. So much for this girl’s insider info. I went to the bathroom and L.J. went for coffee and a bagel.
There was a flurry of activity a little after 10, something called The American Princess pulled into slip 2 and everybody got excited. It was a different kind of ferry, but sported the NYC Ferry logo. Then an East River ferry pulled into another slip, and a NY Water Taxi into another. It was a very busy 15 minutes of boats churning water and lines colliding. At 10:20 our boat rounded the pier but had to wait for the American Princess to vacate slip 2.

water taxi

At exactly 9:30 we started to board. They only allow 130 people on board each trip, and we barely made it. Only ten or so people behind us got on.
The surprising thing about it is that there were plenty of empty seats left. Even after more people boarded at Sunset Park there were empty seats.
The boats go pretty fast and the ride is relatively rough if you are standing, so I can see why they don’t pack the boat S.R.O.
At 11:30 I led the troops off the boat and up to Rockaway Beach Blvd. for the short bus trip to Beach 98th Street. We wanted to go there because it’s near the food stands and bathrooms. We made our way onto the already crowded beach.
You have to keep the area in front of the lifeguard stations clear, so the wonderfully empty spot of beach we headed to was off limits. More and people came behind us, there was a mad dash for any open bit of beach. We found a spot, a little to close to the tidemark for my taste, but it was now or never. We made camp.
I’d made a bunch of chicken drumsticks in my special molè and jerk sauce, my contribution to our outing. I know Jennifer is vegetarian and Danusia didn’t want meat so I brought five drumsticks, two for me, and one each for L.J., Olya, and Nicolai, who were joining us later. Jennifer and L.J. had a big bag of cut up fruit and Danusia had made a nice bean salad. We had six hardboiled eggs and a salt grinder as well. One cannot enjoy a hardboiled egg or a chicken drumstick without a little salt.
L.J. declined the chicken because he’d hit a deer upstate last week. The deer had run off, but the car damage was enough to sour him on meat for now.
Olya and Nicolai arrived close to 2 PM, along with our first brush with the tide.
After some pestering from me Nicolai accepted a drumstick. I was worried that despite our little cooler the chicken would go bad.
Afraid of the tide swamping us, I put down my crossword long enough to start building a berm against the tide. I pointed out that it was also important to have runoff channels on either side to divert the water away from us.
The water was cold, and the first time I only went in waist deep. Danusia and L.J. went in all the way.
The tide crept closer, and I looked up high tide on my phone. 4:45 PM. We weren’t going to make it; our spot would be underwater soon.

our seawall

L.J. did the majority of the engineering on the project following my direction.

We all furiously worked on our berm, and after our neighbors got a taste of a wave they joined in.

neighbors

Danusia and the neighbors work furiously.

Pretty soon there was a berm 25 or more feet long in front of us, much to the annoyance of the “Nutcracker” salespeople marching up and down the beach, who were trying to avoid the edge of the tide.
I was alone, and I put down my crossword for a minute when the inevitable happened. A monster wave came and smashed right through our almost 2-foot high berm and soaked out entire bed sheet. I barely had time to snatch Danusia’s handbag out of the water, it did get somewhat wet. Our entire beach blanket was now soaked and covered with the remains of out seawall. My crossword was ruined. The whole incident just took all the fun out of the day for me.
Since I got soaked as well, I figured I might as well go all the way into the cold water to wash off all of the sand I was covered with. I did that after we were able to reposition ourselves a bit further back.

wiped out

One wave wiped it all out.

I caught one good wave and body surfed in, but when I stood up a bigger wave caught me and knocked me under. Then it happened again. I went to dry out on our secondary beach blanket, a third the size of our bed sheet. I sat to dry and sulked, both ears clogged with seawater. I stared off into the ocean. I just wanted to go home but everyone else was having fun, so I just sat and stared.
Then I saw dolphins frolicking about a hundred yards off shore. I watched as their fins crisscrossed the area in front of me, sometimes three of them would hump their backs in the air in unison. I was riveted, they were beautiful. Some guy tried to swim out to them, but the closer he got, they further they swam. I wished I was a better swimmer so I could give it a try, swim out to them and forget about my ruined crossword and ego. For a bit I felt a little better, but I knew only a good shower was going to make me happy again.

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INSIDE THE GARDEN OF CATS

plot

A couple of months ago we learned that the garden of cats is actually called Hope Garden, and we were invited to join for this season if we wished. There is a guy, Juan who is the president of the garden and also the unofficial mayor of 152nd Street invited us. The cost of the assignment of a plot would be $10 apiece plus 40 hours worth of work for the season, which runs from April till late October. Danusia and I were excited about growing our own vegetables.
plot 1

The first meeting took place the first week of April on a very cold Saturday morning. A bunch of people, mostly women gathered in the garden along with me, mayor Juan and one other fellow who volunteered to be the garden webmaster. It was so cold the ten or so of us migrated down to Wimpy’s Hamburger Palace on Amsterdam Avenue. Names, numbers and email addresses were exchanged and recorded, plans were made and dates were set.

The week after Easter there was an official opening of the garden, which I discovered is actually a garden of cats because someone found the time to create a cat village of plastic boxes filled with hay somewhere in the back of the garden. I missed opening day because I had to work but Danusia went and filled many big plastic bags with leaves and other debris. The fist order of business is to clean the place up.

cat houses

these are the cathouses. Somebody feeds them every other day.

On a drizzly Saturday morning two weeks ago a bunch of us met to pay our dues and get our plot assignment, plot # 8. There are 19 3X5 plots for people to plant whatever they wish. There is also a water tank, a gazebo, three sheds, a compost bin and lots of weeds. More on the weeds next week.

That afternoon Danusia and I trekked down to the Union Square Greenmarket and I scored six baby lettuce plants. Danusia convinced me to wait on the tomatoes and she brought a bunch of flowers to plant. We went back and started our plot. Last Saturday after finally getting the code to the gate we were the first ones there and spent a few hours raking and gathering dead leaves from the rear part of the garden, which extends almost the whole length of 152nd Street between Amsterdam and St. Nicholas Ave. We filled 10 garbage bags with leaves.

lettuce

Our lettuce

As we worked we met a fellow named John, a guy around my age who’s been involved with the garden for a few years. He told me about his plans for shoring up a wooden fence that seals off an empty building foundation. There was talk of digging a hole and securing a steel post into concrete at the corner of the fence to secure the corner of the fence. I promised to help, offering to contribute a bag of cement. I told John I’d be available on Friday at 10.
John started calling on Wednesday, and he told me not to buy a bag of cement because there was one already at the garden. He called me twice on Wednesday and once on Thursday, when I told him he’d already told me about the cement. But we agreed to meet at 10 AM on Friday.
Friday morning I got my work gloves and a bucket for the water and set off down the block to put up that fence post. John wasn’t there yet so I started by first planting a bunch of Carolina Grim Reaper seeds I’d harvested from some hot peppers around Christmastime. I did not germinate them, so I’ll let you know if the grow.
Then I watered our plot and started digging the hole for the post. I went to the shed and got the pickaxe and a shovel and started the very hard job of digging a three-foot deep hole. I haven’t dug a hole in the ground since I was in the Army and it hasn’t become any easier. I decided to call John and remind him of our date around 10:30.
“Oh, you’re there already? I’ll be right over.” I was going to call this blog post “Harlem Time.” He arrived presently and I asked him to show me the cement, he’d already left the bag of sand by the fence. We walked over to the shed, and there was a big bag of something lying next to it. Even though there was a plastic bag on it, with all the rain we’ve had it didn’t look promising.
The paper of the bag peeled off in layers, and the stuff in the bag was white. It was plaster of Paris, not cement. Wet plaster of Paris.
“Juan said it was cement,” John stammered.
“It’s not,” I had to say. I found a hand truck in the shed and set off for the nearest hardware store to get a 94 Lb. bag of Portland cement. It was $17 plus tax, five dollars more than Lowes. But I didn’t have to carry it on the subway, so I shouldn’t complain.
Back at the garden we gathered out materials, a big planter that a large plant or tree had been in, the sand, the cement, and our water. I emptied the sand into the vessel and started adding cement, 3 to 1 ratio is recommended but we only had one 50-pound bag of sand so I was generous with the cement, making it almost 1 to 1.
“Should I add the water?” John asked.
“No, I have to mix it dry first, when it’s a uniform color we’ll add the water.” Thank god for You Tube. It was hard work mixing a hundred pounds of powder with a shovel in a big plastic tub. Coupled with digging that hole this was like a two-hour workout at the gym. Finally I got John to start adding water. At some point as he was adding water he clutched his chest à la Fred Sanford.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Well, I have a bad heart,” he said.
“Don’t keel over on me John,” I warned. “At least until we’re done.”
That made him laugh and we got through the mixing and pouring of the cement with a minimum of chest clutching. We found some pieces of wood and made a makeshift cover for our poured cement and secured the post to the fence so it would set level. I was exhausted, but we got it done.

pole
After some more discussion and planning I told him I had to go and left, happy with the morning’s work.
Yesterday we had our weekly garden meeting, in Wimpy’s again on account of the rain. But that’s another story. Tune in next week for the “Garden of Cars.”

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LOOKING FOR MAMA

Me and Momma

We did out taxes with our accountant last week, on Tuesday. Our accountant lives in Melville, Long Island. This was the second year we went out to his home to do our taxes. Before he had an office in Richmond Hill, and we’d take the long train ride out to Lefferts Blvd. every tax season, so the trip keeps getting a little longer.
To get to Melville, we take the train out to Wyandanch, a dirty little town if there ever was one. Our accountant Phil’s wife Beverly picks us up there for the short drive to Melville.
The first time we went I was looking at the LIRR schedule and noticed that the stop before Wyandanch is Pinelawn. And according to my brother Luis, that’s where our mother is buried, in Pinelawn cemetery.
The reason my brother knows is that he would drive my father out there many years ago, when he was still living in New York and our father was still alive.
We were supposed to go last year, the plan was to do our taxes, then take the train one stop to Pinelawn, find my mother’s grave, and then catch the train back to New York from there. But because a combination of circumstances like going late, bad train schedule information and my own reluctance to go through with it we never made it. I was saved from dealing with my emotions for another day. I made lame allusions to get out there someday before the year was up but never got around to it.
I don’t know why, probably guilt, maybe a little fear with some shame thrown in.
This year we made an appointment to see our accountant Phil during the week, and we made it an earlier time than last year. Plenty of time to stop off in Pinelawn on the way back. I was committed.
After we finished with our tax preparation Beverley generously offered to drive us to Pinelawn instead of Wyandanch. No bother, she’d said; just a couple of extra minutes for her. We said our goodbyes to Phil and got in her car.

li nat cemetery.

Soon we were driving alongside a cemetery with rows of identical white markers. Hundreds of rows, thousands of markers, extending for what seemed like miles. Beverly found the entrance and we pulled in. I noticed a big sign with the Veteran’s Administration logo on it and wondered about that. We found a trailer labeled “temporary locator office.” Inside a gentleman directed me to a small monitor screen that seemed real familiar to me; they have the same thing at the VA hospital I go to for treatment.
“Just type in his name and the year of internment,” he said. I wondered why he assumed I was looking for a he. I typed in my mother’s name and got a “no matches found” message.
“My brother told me she was buried here at Pinelawn,” I explained to the man.
“This isn’t Pinelawn, this is the Long Island National cemetery.” Oh. Like Arlington. No wonder all the markers were the same.
“Pinelawn’s next door. Go out the gate and make a left, and it will be the first entrance on your left.
Pinelawn had a much nicer locator office, a big building with marble walls and a big counter with people quietly doing the things people at cemeteries do. There were two women trying to buy a family plot ahead of me.
“Can I help you?” A middle-aged woman asked. I told her my mother’s name and she typed it into her computer.
“She’s not here,” she announced. “Are you sure it’s Pinelawn? There are six cemeteries in the area, you know.”
“Six?”
“Well there’s us, the VA next door, the Jewish cemetery, St. Charles, the Catholic cemetery,” a Catholic cemetery… that sounded right.
“Where is St. Charles?” I asked.
“Go out the gate, make a left, and it’s on the right after you cross the railroad tracks.”
We piled back into Beverly’s car, and she graciously insisted on driving us to St. Charles. After a four-minute drive we found ourselves driving though rows of headstones. A sign said “Office”, and “Chapel.” I recognized the chapel right away, it was the last place I’d seen my mother’s body some 40 years ago. This was the right place.

Mama's gravestone

At the office the woman who typed my mother’s name into her system took one of her sheets printed with a map of the cemetery and wrote my mother’s name on it, and circled the row and section.
“Section 132, row PP, number 65.”
Beverly drove us to section 132, and we thanked her, said we’d find our way back to the Railroad station.
Danusia and I began walking along the rows of gravestones, and I realized that the row letters were cut into the top edges of the gravestones along the path. We were at AA, and walked down the path till we found PP. I walked down the row looking at the names of strangers, mostly Italian and Irish names until I came to the one that said, “Maria Trevino, April 21,1920-July 27, 1977.” Below her name was the inscription, Descanza en paz, rest in peace.
I started to cry, not surprisingly. 40 years of pent up guilt, shame, and fear came pouring out of me. But I’d made it.
“Do you want to be alone, talk to her?” Danusia asked.
“Sure,” I said. I sat cross-legged in front of the stone and silently apologized for taking so long to get here. I noticed there were flowers on some of the other graves and wished I’d thought of bringing some.

IMG_3433

But then again, it’s something I was never taught how to do. No one ever told me what you are supposed to do after your parent dies. When my mother died my sister took care of everything, all I had to do was show up. And be a pallbearer, of course.
When my father died, I was the only one around and I took care of everything myself, on a much smaller scale. My father was 97 and alone, so much different than my mother who when she died at the age of 57 had touched many lives and was so honored. I guess we determine what will be done and said for us when we’re gone by the lives we lead. At least most of us.

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